Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The End of 2013

And so we reach the end of 2013.

Am I where I really wanted to be at this date?  That is the ruler and metrics I am using this year because these are the ones that matter.  When I started out 2013 I (theoretically) had a vision and a plan.  How did I do?

Not well.  In some cases these were due to items beyond my control, as they always are.  In other cases I simply did not reach where I wanted to be.  The failures are the most instructive part because they will tell me far more than my successes about what went wrong and why I did not achieve the results I was hoping for.  Bottom line?  I have what I would like to have happen and then I have what I am committed to making happen.  The canyon between these two is where I tend to fall in.

Okay, easy enough to say.  How do I fix things, you might ask?

I think one of the single biggest points of failure for myself is my inability to concentrate on a few things.  As I have noted before, I am a generalist.  It is almost an instinctive need to do a great many things.  This is a blessing in know a great deal about a great deal; it is a curse when trying to focus.  Therefore, the first point of changing is to narrow (considerably) my list of goals for the year.

The second point - and the harder one for me - is to focus on that mythical five and ten year plan.  I am a great tactical person but strategy comes slower to me - partially because I am not in a position in much of my life to be strategic, partially because I lack the learning.  I need those plans because then I can link my current goals to that larger plan and goal.  What do I want to be, who do I want to be in five and ten years - and even beyond?  These pictures need to guide what I am doing today.

The final point is focus on what I am doing.  I have fought indolence and sloth and a dislike of practice most of my life.  If I had the one big thing I need to get rid of this year (and why is it that we always focus on what we are going to do, not what we are going to get rid of), it would be this.  I need to do now what needs doing, not put it off or convince myself in my mind it will take too long or is too hard.

The great thing about the old year passing?  It is gone.  All that remains lies before us, a golden land of possibilities and probabilities.

Welcome to 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013

30,000

Sometime over the last weekend I exceeded 30,000 hits.

I am surprised - and grateful.  I have had this blog since 2005 (yes, the old records are still there) but did not really pick up with writing more regularly until 2008.  That has lead to something which is perhaps the longest project I have undertaken -  5 years of semi-regular journaling of my life (this is post 1629).

How many people are legitimate in that 30,000?  Probably about 90%. I have had a huge hit ratio on my posting of an Easter Meditation from March 0f 2008 which convinces me that most of that is a spam linked e-mail.  I am sure that if I look back I can find the same sort of thing earlier on, before I took steps to prevent the posting of random comments from spammers.

But even with that, that is 27,000 or so views from people that in some shape or form were sincere about reading it.  To them - to you - thank you.  I sit here 5 days a week in the morning, coffee in hand, writing up whatever comes to my mind.  The fact that you take the time to read my musings (or rantings, depending on how you want to look at it) is humbling.

Does this blog do everything I wanted it too?  At one point I would have said no - after all, this was going to be the mechanism by which I achieved literary greatness.  What I have come to realize is that this is really much more of an online journal, a way to touch bases with people of my life in a form that I might not be able to do. In one or two cases, I have (hopefully) served a purpose in the life of a reader as well, which is sort of what any author ultimately hopes to do.

So again, thank you for your support.  It is deeply appreciated and continues to encourage me.  On to 100,000 views.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Trimming and Cutting of Careers

What do I want to do?

I am continuing to struggle with my life's path as I go through this exercise of setting goals.  As I sat down last night and worked in a desultory fashion, what I found is that my list covered lots of interests that I have, but hardly anything around actually finding or changing what I do for a living.  This is a little counterproductive at first glance as none of these things seems to lead to something that would allow it to replace my primary form of income.  Which in itself is bothersome as I truly do not see a long term future - either in personal challenge or in employment - in the field.

So what to do?  I cannot force myself to suddenly embrace what I do in a holocaust of interest - I have tried this before with very limited success.  It is like pouring charcoal lighter on a fire:  big flame, then nothing.  Even a longer term slow attempt to find areas of expertise leads to another set of realizations about what is available locally and the thought of having to relocate and re-start all over.

But accepting both of those items leaves me where I find myself today:  finding many things of interest which I desire to do or pursue while leaving the largest area of my life at this moment essentially untouched.  It is as if I am gardening around a huge tree, knowing that it will block light to the rest of my garden but still continuing to plant in hopes that something will come up.

The tree's the thing of course:  it either needs to be trimmed up or cut down.  But in either of these examples those trimmings or indeed the entire tree itself cannot sit there:  it has to be hauled off to somewhere and either carefully trimmed after that or completely replaced with a new plant.  And it is in those things - the trimming or the cutting down and replacing - that I find myself caught.

It all boils down to two simple questions:

1) What do you want to do?
2) How badly do you want to do it?
3) How will replace what you currently have?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Certain Reluctance

A quiet day for getting ready for work.  No school so of course no-one else is up yet.  I myself did not set my alarm even though I knew I had to get up to work.  I am banking on traffic being not nearly as terrible as it usually is to get to work.  There is also, to be fair, a certain reluctance on my part to get out the door.  So I sit here in the early morning twilight with only the light of this year's Christmas Tree to keep me company.

There is a certain reluctance to leaving because I know the world is out there as well.  The world and the decisions that leaving the house will necessitate me making.  The thoughts that I will have address.  The feelings I will have to confront.

Perhaps it sounds overly dramatic.  I do not know that I intend it to.  At the same time I can say that there are times in one's life where one can sense potential changes and storms awaiting just beyond the horizon and one is possessed with the intense need to simply delay them.

Delay, any good achiever will tell you, is the killer.  It is the thing that will cause us to put off things that we should be dealing with. It is the the art of the procrastinator, the realm of those who consistently fail.  This habit of delay will create a life of delay.

And it is true.  The habit of delay will kill a life.

But arguably not every day is a day of action.  There are times and days where perhaps, just for a while, the idea of a certain reluctance has merit to it  Time like today where, in the midst of a quiet Christmas tree and colored lights,  the fate of a life can be pushed off for a little while.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

"For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His Kingdom
To order it and establish it with judgement and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."
- Isaiah 9: 6-7

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Words We Cannot Say

Most people believe that our relationships should be measured by the extent to which we can speak with another person, the discussions that we can ultimately have with them.  By this measure, the discussions become an indicator to the extent to which we trust the person.

I wonder if instead most people have this backwards:  that our relationships should not be measured by the extent to the which we can speak with them, but rather by the words we cannot say to them.

In most relationships there are a series of areas that we simply cannot address.  There are subjects too sensitive, areas too painful, thoughts too revealing.  These are the words that we cannot speak, the words that if they are spoken usually create great anxiety and consternation.  

We come to instinctively know these words as we discover the bounds of our relationships.  We come to understand the areas beyond which we cannot go.  Sometimes these barriers are immediately apparent; sometimes these barriers are erected over time.  But they are still there, corralling the words we cannot speak from the exposure of that relationship.

Think for a minute:  how many times in a fit of anger or melancholy are we willing to reveal to a stranger the innermost secrets of our lives because we are frustrated?  How is it that we cannot do the same to people much closer to us?  Thus the words that cannot spoken become the measure of our true willingness to be honest, not our so-called willingness to be honest with merely anybody.

How do such words come to be?  I truly do not understand it fully myself.  I wish I did, because herein lies the great key to true relationships.  They start, I suppose, by accident or even intent, the sudden realization that something creates pain or that something is simply "off limits" for a conversation.  Once discovered, these areas become protected, like the scar tissue of an old wound, becoming noticeably different than the parts of the relationship around us by its distinctiveness and silence surrounding it.  Left alone, these become the obstacles of our relationships as we spend our time threading through them as we try to seek to relate to each other in a way that does not invoke them.

Is there a solution to this?  I hesitate to suggest one.  Certainly one can make the argument that one should seek to tear away at these barriers, to make true honesty a policy in every one of our relationships.  But this does not always work either and too often "true honesty" is simply a pretense for hurting others in the name of exculpating ourselves - the very thing that these inner barriers were created for.  Perhaps we could look at doing this - we should always look to deepen relationships instead of constricting them - but always with gentleness and keen eye to when we are beginning to cause pain.  Even the greatest scar will in time fade - but it certainly cannot be forced along.

So we take stock of our relationships not be what we can say but by what we cannot, would we find ourselves in the same position of feeling that we are surrounded by true relationships?  Or will we discover that we are entrenched in a maze of built up barriers carefully designed to move communication down narrow paths specifically designed to prevent discovering certain things?

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Count of Monte Cristo

I re-read The Count of Monte Cristo  yesterday.  It was another one of those things: I started with a remembrance of a particular section, then I sat down to begin to read and before I knew if I was deeply engrossed all day in the novel all over again.  It took me all day to read - but is there really any better way to spend a cold winter's day than with a good book?

As I read it touched some deep places inside of me, places of self worth and value.  Reading of him I find that he is so much that I am not:  action oriented, knowledgeable, purposeful, clever, skillful, commanding, magnetic.  In other words, he bears qualities that I wish I had.

But then the thought bedevils me:  how do approach such qualities, especially as I am?  These things seem so far from my life as to be unapproachable - and even if I tried to integrate them I think I would only find that they create more dissonance in my life than good.

But could I create another life, another person?

This is the thought that tugged at me as I closed the book, then went back and read one or two select sections.  Create a new persona.  Be, essentially, someone else.

Yes, I am aware that the Internet makes it easier than ever to find out about anyone.  Yes, I am aware that my picture is undoubtedly out there.  Yes, I am aware there are certain things in which creating a "New You" is patently illegal.  I am not talking about that, of course.

What I am talking about is creating a persona, a person somewhat like myself but myself as I wish I could be, to live somewhere out here amongst the electric pluses of the Internet.  Someone who could give a platform to try some of the thoughts and behaviors I would like to try, maybe even give them a dry run or two before throwing them out to the wider public.

I have no idea what this gentleman would be called, although creating a back story might be fun.  I have no real idea what he wants to do yet or how he wants to make his mark on the world.  All I do know is that somewhere behind the real life is the life I want to be, the image I have in my mind - and it is not as I currently am, huddled over a computer screen trying to deal with the minutiae of a small company.  It is grander, more elaborate than that.

Who is this other man and how do I find him?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Southwest Solstice

Pregnant clouds blow in,
rain and warmth are left behind:
Winter has arrived?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Work Dreams

I woke up this morning dreaming about work.

It was not the cool part of work either - it was a dream about me coming in afterwords to pull some items together for a study and then explaining the background of what I was doing to some other individuals.  There were visuals, music, even an experiment or two.

And then I woke up - only to realize that I actually still had to go to work this morning.

There is something fundamentally unfair about this.  It seems that this is one of the jokes of the mind that is just wrong.  The concept that somehow one would think about something in one's off time that one then immediately gets to get up and do is possibly one of the most depressing things I can think of.

Why not the other way?  Why can I never dream of something wonderful - and then wake up to find that I am actually going to do the wonderful thing?  Is it that I do not spend enough time thinking about it? (If that is the case, it will never happen as I scarcely spend lots of time at any point thinking about those such things.)

And maybe that is the point.  Maybe I need to spend more time thinking about better or more enjoyable things than work.  Because waking up to work after dreaming about work is hardly the way I want to spend my life.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Speed of Christmas

Another Christmas when it scarcely feels like Christmas.

When I was growing up I remember Christmas as this magical time that seemed to go on forever, extending from Thanksgiving for some infinite amount of time until the actual day of Christmas.  Time, it seemed, continued to slow down until it was moving at a crawl.  We had the trappings thereof as well: first the boxes would come down from the attic and the lights would go  up on the tree, followed by various and sundry decorations and the presents as Bing Crosby crooned us on towards Christmas Eve.

Now?  December seems to move faster and faster every year.  Most of it simply seems to be that corporations, no matter how they like to try and extend their schedules across twelve months, always seem to wait until the last one to try to get everything done.  They have not heard of the concept of time slowing down into Christmas - instead, they tend to speed it up until it is racing by at a clip as I desperately try to hold on to the passing bumper.

This years seems to have been the worst of all:  we have some decorations and the stockings appeared and there may even be lights in front of the house but no Christmas tree has yet graced us: if we are lucky, we can get one five days before Christmas.  With everyone in the house whipping in and out for finals and Christmas concerts and parties and random events we seem to be in a blur of motion that does not seem to lend itself to the dignity of the season.  Instead it seems to be a race to the day with every day attempting to pick up a little more speed.

But activities and finals and school are winding down; by Sunday all but the last bitter day of work will remain.  The season will suddenly come crashing into my consciousness like an avalanche.  Who knows - I may even get my shopping done.

It bothers me of course - I keep believing that Christmas should be like I remember it being, a time of quiet wonder and beauty rather than the outward cyclone of activity that it seems to have become.  But then I recall the origin of it and realize that for Mary and Joseph things were probably quite busy as well.  It is all a matter of what the real purpose of the event was - and is.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Two Tasks

Sometimes I wonder why I continue to do what I do.

I did a calculation last night.  I spent about 25% of my time on work on two types of tasks.  Just two.  In both cases, they are two which are relatively invisible to most everyone else at the company.  That was a huge number when I looked at it.  One quarter a year  - 90 days - I am only working on one of two things.

Is this a way to advance my career? It does not seem so - certainly the number fluctuate, but they are always near the top of my tasks yet I have continued in exactly the same role for 4.5 years now.  And while they are certainly some of the most important things I could be doing for the company that importance does not seem to translate into anything concrete.

But back to the question at hand:  Why do I do what I do?

Because these two groups of tasks are not easy. They involve long periods of crunching data, presenting data, defending data responding to data.  Much of the data I have to respond to are not  of my own creation - instead I am synthesizing, analyzing, and calculating.  And while they are important - really not only just to myself but to the whole company - they are essentially invisible tasks to 90% of the company. 

Where does that leave me?  Stressed before it happens.  Drained after it happens.  Waking up anticipating those days with a sense of not so much anticipation as a mild sense of dread and accepting the fact that even after we have completed the tasks at hand they were be additional work that has to be done before they are truly put to bed.

I keep thinking that somehow I am going to move beyond these things yet I scarcely seem to be able to. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Brief Attack of Irrelevance

Somewhere around Saturday evening I had an attack of irrelevance.

It started simply enough, driving along as I was coming home from a Saturday of work in preparation for an important company project.  It was a productive day and I left feeling as if I had done everything I could possibly do to prepare for the event.

But then as I drove along, I began to get cranky.

Suddenly visions of possible events - all lousy ones - filled my head.  The extra preparation which would go unnoticed if things went well.  The extra blame that would be heaped up if things did not go so well.  The lack of impact on my year end review because of prejudgements others had made.  The fact that I was doing this at all when, in the course of events, it might make no difference at all.

By the time I had gotten halfway home, most of my productive feeling was gone.

I had to consciously pull myself back from this brink of irrelevance.  I was predicting events that I had no evidence would actually come to pass. The reality, as I had to remind myself, was that the possibility of everything that I had categorized did have the potential of coming true - but so did the potential of things going right as well.  I would know that no more than I would know that the first set of things I saw coming true would happen.  I had done what I could, made my preparations.  Now I would simply have to live out the event.

I finished the ride home in a better mood - perhaps not quite the mood I had started out in but certainly not the mood I had let myself wander into either.  It was simply a matter of realizing my perspective - and being willing to talk myself back out of what I had talked myself in to.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dark and Cold

Cold and cloudy gray,
bats no longer dive for food.
Winter has arrived

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Humility

Grappling with humility again.

Humility is tough for virtually everyone I suppose.  I am no different in that aspect.  What is always dogging me is the twin thoughts of 1)  I need to be more humble; and 2)  The humble are always overrun by those who are not.

As I have reasoned before, much of my life - choice of careers, family, friends - is really (or is really supposed to be) an exercise in servanthood:  serving the needs of those I am around.  Sounds really noble, does it not?  The (at least to my selfish mind) pathetic reality is that being a servant can be depressing: you are always getting "given" actions by others to complete and one can continually be doing things for others - to the point that you will have no time to do anything for yourself.  And recognition is often scant, a difficult pill to swallow for someone who loves to be the center of attention.

Another issue - one that perhaps bugs me even more - is that those who are "above" you somehow especially see it as a their job to make sure that you serve them.  Tasks that theoretically need to be accomplished as a group or team suddenly become largely your responsibility to orchestrate and accomplish, even though we are a "team" or "group".  While theoretically this should correspond to the concept of serving, what it actually does is create the sense of servitude, not servanthood.

But I am called to be humble, to serve others.  How do I make this work with my inherent desire to be important and feel noticed rather than to serve and be satisfied with obscurity?  How do I live out the Gospel commands to have a servant's  heart?  

How does one become humble - and be satisfied with it?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pointless Day

A day of pointlessness awaits.

Not that it is not busy.  Essentially I will hit the ground from commuting running, spending the entire day (excepting lunch) in meetings or trainings.  While I am in these meetings there is work that needs to be done:  documents that need to be reviewed, items that need to be signed, questions that need to be asked - all of which, of course, will have to be filled in around the margins.  Then I will commute back home (1.5 hours it took last night) to try and cram in whatever actual life I am trying to have.  If I am smart (and I seldom am) I will try to sleep at a reasonable hour, thus further constricting my other time.  This is what my life seems to have become. 

These are those days when I sincerely ask "Is this it?"  Because I can go through the entire day, meet everyone else's expectations of me and still feel as if I have accomplished not one thing.  Which of course leaves me completely cold about starting the day at all.

It is not that life is horribly bad, I suppose.  It is just that it is so bureaucratic, so layered with tasks and jobs of little seeming importance that must be accomplished that I scarcely feel that it will be anything but a day of life ultimately wasted in the pursuit of trivia.

In other words, a pointless day

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Hesitation Considered

I am continuing to work towards my shoden certification in Iaijutsu.  The testing ultimately involves a rather diverse set of knowledge - not only kata but terminology and history as well.  It is a rather extensive set of knowledge, much of it behind the scenes for anyone who is a casual observer.

The one part that I have struggled with the most is that open hand kata - in other words, the part where one is use just one's hands to defend one's self (the world pictures this more as "karate" or some other martial art).  Some of this is knowledge, of course - I am a slow kinetic learner and so I have to repeat things a multiplicity of times -  but some of it seems to be a true mental block on my part to be able to learn things. 

This is bothersome to me.

Is it a lack of confidence?  Perhaps.  I have never really done anything like I am doing now and so (in my heart of hearts) I doubt that I can do it.  Is it a feeling that I will never be able to do it correctly (different from self confidence in that it is not my ability to do it but my ability to do it well that is in question)?  Again, perhaps - although the great secret of iaijutsu is that in fact we are on all on a journey of constant self improvement, getting incrementally better over the course of our lives.  Or could simply be a simple fear that I will accidentally hurt someone in my practicing?  Again perhaps - I have accidentally done so before in my life, although in this I can my certain:  my jousting partners are far stronger and more experienced than I.

So what is it? 

I wish I knew.  The nagging doubts constantly assail me, that I will get to the point testing and choke.  Visions of a failed test assail me, even more so than the vision of holding the menkyo (certificate) in my hand.

So what to do?

Practice.  That is all I can do.  Practice and practice again.  Move my body in the ways it should until it does what it should be doing, even if my mind continues to suffer from a lack of confidence.  Practice until my body is simply able to put my mind aside and carry on.

The reality - something I happily quote to everyone else around me - is that all experts started out as amateurs with no better knowledge base than I have.  They just got better.

Time to practice what I preach.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Today

There are days where I feel
that Monday is here and I am ready:
ready to take on the world,
ready to take on work.
But not today.

Today I feel unrested mentally.
Today I feel physically out of sorts:
slept not enough - or too much?
Either way, I got up late.

Today my mind is cloud with debris of the weekend,
letting things of no importance eat away my time:
Avoidance perhaps?  Pretending that what I have to do
is not coming?

Perhaps.

But today is here.
And so I try to put aside that which clouds my mind and soul
and be about the business of living.

Tomorrow will be better.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Idiot

I do not like being called an idiot.

Oh, it is not like this is a common occurrence in my life or ever has been.  Certainly no-one has walked up to me lately and said  "You know, you are an idiot".  But what I do resent - or at least what a thought process lead me to realize I resent - is the implication that I am an idiot.

An idiot?  Stupid.  Uneducated.  Do not know what I am doing - so much so that people take it upon themselves to do the things they have asked me to do.

Where did this come from?  Stellar question.  I do not really have a good answer to give.  I think of specific incidents in my life where such a thing has occurred but never the "first time" that lead to all this. More relevant, of course, is why all of this matters.

Why does it matter?  Because of the reaction it generates within me:  I become defensive, angry, even sullen in a sort of "drag my feet I will do what you want but as slowly as possibly".  Not the sort of reaction one needs if one wants to move forward with one's life.

And why does it make me feel this way?  I have given this some thought.  The reason seems to be what you are implying when you effectively treat me as an idiot.  You demean me.  You ignore what I am saying or doing and treat it as it is not important - maybe because it is wrong or not the best way to do it but just as likely because it does not meet the way you want to do it e.g. your ego.  If you are really trying to do it effectively, you will do it in public so you can effectively humiliate me in front of  everyone else and make look stupid.  Or foolish. 

Like an idiot.

This realization was actually quite freeing once it happened.  Suddenly a great deal of my reactions to certain individuals and certain situations was clearly explained.  Why is it that I can freely make and admit errors to some with no shame or reaction - even good humor - why other times such things and the reactions set my teeth on edge?  Simple.  In one situation it an error, something I have done.  In the second, it is an error but the implication is that it is something that I am.

Could pride be involved here?  Possibly.  I tend to have a vision of how I would like the world to view me and how I see myself and the implication that I am stupid or ignorant or uneducated does not play well with that vision.  To that extent, that is something I will need to resolve myself.

But the other part - that part I need to parse out internally - is simply how to avoid reacting that way in those other situations.  How do I transfer that sense of being called an idiot away from a personal assessment and into another channel?  How do I manage my rising tide of anger and resentment when such a thing happens?  Here lies ulimate conquest and power.

Being called an idiot may happen from time to time.  Taking it to heart should not.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Reflections on a Winter's Morning

As I sit typing this morning the wind is whipping across the chimney and howling down through the fireplace.  If I go and stand outside the front door the trees are bending with the force of the front as it blows in.  The ground, which betrayed nothing but the appearance of summer yesterday, is now damp from the unheard rain that fell sometimes in the night.  After a brief foray back into the Autumn that never seems to be long enough we have careened directly into Winter.

The cold is the thing I like the least.  I can certainly deal with rain.  I can even deal with the wind (although we never had a great deal like this where I came from).  The one thing that I cannot wrap my head around is cold - not just the cold of winter, but the cold that cracks your fingers and makes sure that you are never really that warm, the sort of days you wish you had the covering of snow to at least make the cold worth it.

But these are some of the best days to be inside watching.  The trees dance in the wind here unlike anything I have seen before in my life:  not the gentle swaying of the pines at the Ranch as the wind blows over the Sierras nor the majesty of the Redwoods of my college days where the trees are so large and tall that they do not seem to move at all.  The oaks and cedars here flail back and forth as if shaken by a rather large hand, standing where the larger trees would probably break

It is a privilege - and one I do not feel grateful for often enough - that I have had the opportunity to live in some many places so that I can see and experience such things.  That I can look at trees and know that they do not behave the same way other places.  That the wind roars down here from Canada where in other places I have lived it roared from over the ocean.  They both roar and they both bring rain - but how differently they do so.

How wonderful - and suprisingly different while being the same - is God's creation.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Giving More Effort

One of the things I find I have difficulties with is giving my all in environments which are less than rewarding.  It is one thing, of course, to put your effort in where effort equals outcome.  It is quite a different thing to do where effort seems to go nowhere.

But I think I am viewing this incorrectly.

Jeffrey Gitomer at least got met to start thinking in another direction here with his article on customer service.  His point, simply put, is as follows:

"KEY POINT OF UNDERSTANDING: Once you understand that you’re serving for yourself, once you understand that your attitude will determine your communication excellence, and once you understand your personal pride will dictate your actions – at once you see your possibilities, and will have the ability to better improve your performance."

It is not about them.  That is something of a good reminder for me - them being the company, the client, the management, even other employees.  The amount of effort I put in should be somewhat divorced from any immediate results which I might not see because ultimately the level of effort (or service, as Gitomer puts it) that I put in is a benefit to me - whether from my sense of pride about how I act and what I output or from the longer return that may be realized from it )e.g. get trained, work hard, take the experience and move on).  It also allows me to work on improving my performance - that is, if I do not know where the edge of what I can do is, the change of me pushing that boundary is very limited.

There is also that indefinable quality that lets one go away from any situation like this and have the feeling that one did the best that one could, that one achieved something even if it was not recognized by anyone else.  That may seem a bit quaint for some and certainly may not yield any tangible rewards but it does give one the psychic boost of having worked as hard as one could.

So yes, effort is important even if the situation does not seem to immediately reward it.  I simply need to expand my vision to see all the possibilities.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Extroverted Invtrovert

On the way to something else yesterday I suddenly discovered that I am an extroverted introvert.

I actually realized that I like people.  I like interacting with them.  I like (heaven forfend) talking to them. Not all the time of course.  And not unconditionally.  But a great deal more than what I thought I did.

I have always considered myself an introvert.  But lately what has popped up a couple of times is that introversion is not so much preferring the absence of people as it is how you recharge.  Extroverts can charge up in atmospheres with people, introverts need quiet time away to do so.

The quiet time away for recharging has not changed for me - there are weekends where after a typical week all I want to do is crawl into a hole and read.  But recharging, as I have to make myself realize, is more of how we regain energy, not how that energy is spent.  It is like a cell phone:  the energy for it  can be used quickly or slowly but it is still used.  The phone still has to be plugged in somewhere.

What does this realization mean?  It means that I can actually concede that I like spending time with people - and it is okay to mention that to myself.  It means that I can give myself permission to seek out others to spend time with.  And it certainly means that I can (and need) to work on honing up my conversational and relational abilities to be better at making and carrying conversations.

If I realize this, I am excited to come to grips with what it actually means as move on with this knowledge.  Not that it really changes anything - but it would seem that everything changes.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Encourager?

What if your purpose in life was to encourage others in their purpose in life?

This is the thought that cross my mind over the course of the weekend - and having crossed my mind of course, refused to go away.  What if that was it?

Not a coach, you understand, or a counselor or anything as glorified as that. A cheerleader.  An encourager. 

Is it something that I enjoy?  Yes.  Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing friends and family succeed in what they are doing, to find their place in the world.  There are few things more pleasurable than watching someone discover what they want to do in life and then encouraging them to have the confidence to do it.

The good news?  This is something I could start doing now.  Today.  There is no special equipment I need, no special training I have to acquire.  It is as simple as making phone calls or reading e-mails and being supportive.

The bad news?  It is not really a paying position. 

Am I good at it?  I think so.  Certainly I can be great encourager to others.  I have certainly assisted many of my own friends in trying new things or finding what they really want to do.  And trust me - the world is full of people who can tear at one's dreams or rip the ground out from under you.  An actual encourager is quite rare.

Professional Encourager.  Hmmm.  I wonder if there is a title for that?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ruts

To what extent am I trapped in ruts of thinking?

Readings Inc.'s 2013 Entrepreneur of the year, the 28 year old who created Box.com, I wonder.  Do I not think broadly enough?  Do I not think widely enough?

Thinking and ruts have dominated my 2014 goal considerations as well.  I am contemplating something which I had not really tried before:  focusing within.

The thought is that I would not consciously add another new activity to those that I am doing this year.  Instead I would work to consolidate my gains in area where I have already made progress.  But even these may represent ruts in my thought patterns, consolidations of things that are essentially dead ends.  By focusing more deeply, am I merely focusing on things that will keep me in ruts?

I am seemingly held in chains which are largely of my own forging.  What if, as part of this exercise, I merely walked through these chains?

Heady stuff.  The stuff of the mad.  The stuff of legend.

"Common sense will not accomplish great things.  Simply become insane and desperate." - Nabeshima no Naoshige

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

2014 Goals - II

So I am struggling this morning as I consider the rough draft of my goals for 2014.  It revolves around deciding what the next step should be.  I have two choices really:  continue in what I am doing and go with that or look to something completely different.

Yes, I know that I was toying with the same thought yesterday.  It is a bit different though:  I need to seriously consider the implications.

Implications?  Three.  Time, money, and relationships - not necessarily in that order.

1)  Time:  Whatever I pick up, even if it were to follow something sensible instead of my own heart, will require the investment of time.  What would I be willing to put on hold while I pursued this (shadowy at this point) new career?

2)  Money:  No matter what I might think of doing some kind of investment is likely to be required.  Where will the money come from?  What sort of investment will it take - and what would I move to the side to do it?

3)  Relationships: Following something different would most likely change the time and energy I spend with those closet to me - quite possibly at the time where that energy is most needed here, instead of forging a new path of my own.  What are the implications of that reinvestment?

So balancing the two - what I do versus possibly something I might like doing but have to learn - is there a way clear?  If I had to sacrifice one to the other, which one would give?  I know which one should give - relationships should always trump all.  Is there a way that I could make such things work in the context of relationships?

I am not sure - but neither am I convinced that merely trying more, harder, will give me the results I seek.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Effort and Self Competition

One of the nice things about vacations is that it gives you time to think.  One of the not so nice things about vacation is that it gives you time to think.

Which I needed, I guess.  I see thinking and pondering much as I see the sleep which I am sudden catching up on:  you can go without it for a while, but in the end the lack of it catches up with you.

Part of the stopping and the thinking is looking at where I am - today, right now.  Is this where I had intended to be in any stretch of the imagination? No way - not all of it bad, you understand, just no way.  There has been a great deal of bouncing around in my life, of veering from one extreme to the other, of finding things and moving down paths which were never originally thought of but enjoyable.

I wonder, in the surfeit of additional thought, if this is a result of not being happy in what I do.  Certainly I have come to put more hope and satisfaction with anything else in my life in anything but my current career choice and there is no way I can possibly imagine that it would result in the sort of deep seated satisfaction with other things in my life.  This is a long term disaster waiting to happen, of course, because in the end I cannot simply advance in something that is done half heartedly.

I can argue (in the back of my head) that effort is not really noticed nor worth it, that no matter how hard I try it will not matter.  That is remarkably odd, considering the fact that this is the only aspect of my life where I am willing to accept this.  In everything else, I follow the very simple formula of effort = achievement.  And along with this first axiom, I have the second formula of I am really only competing against myself.  If I do better, then I have succeeded.  Why can I not apply this to my working life as well?

Is it because I have no control of those things at my work?  This is true to some extent - but at the same time, there are definitively things that I do have control over.  And certainly if I do something better, I do something better for myself first and then others, no matter what the reward is.

Which leaves me at the point of  a decision:  Treat work like anything else in my life with the same expectations and results, or abandon it in the realization that this formula does not work. Where would this leave me?  I have no idea.  But the simple fact that such a bifurcation exists cannot, for my own sense of wholeness, be allowed to continue.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dead Headed

My life feels deadheaded.

Deadheading (not the fans of the Grateful Dead, of course) is the activity whereby one removes old and withered flower blossoms to allow the new blossoms to take all the energy.  It also creates a more pleasing appearance to the plant:  instead of being littered with a combination of dead and living flowers, one sees only the living ones.

My life now feels covered with dead and living flowers.

Most poignant to me at this moment is writing.  I have had (in my more fantastic moments) the dream of being an author, of making part of or all of my living writing.  I love to do it.  Occasionally I like to believe myself talented at it.  And then I look at what the sales are for the book I recently wrote and finally published - indeed, for all of the books I have written, and realize that truly I am no author.  I might like to write, but am not an author. 

And then I go through the list of things in my life - the activities, the relationships, the dreams and the realities - and suddenly realize that I am not really anything that I would believe myself to be or even wanted to be.  The reality is that - like it or not - I am pretty much a mid-grade paper pusher with many hobbies that will lead me nowhere.  And, given circumstances, all I will ever be is precisely this.

I would love to say that the solution is simply to focus on what I actually do and become really skilled at it.  And maybe I should - certainly everything else I am doing seems to be leading nowhere.  But to do this almost smells of defeat and has no more guarantee than anything else of fulfillment or joy or even just a certain sense of satisfaction of living.

The frightening thing, then, is that I find myself in the position of possibly needing to deadhead my life - and the fear that, if I do this, there will be almost no blooms left.

And the ones that will be left are  the ones I do not want to have.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Discouragement

The problem with writing about encouragement, of course, is that discouragement also exists.  Like this morning, when I simply not feeling the slightest bit of desire to do anything.

Discouragement can come from two places. The one that seems to easiest to speak about, based on the writings of the last few days, is that of the external:  people who brings you down instead of up.  Circumstances that tear away at your desire to do anything, let alone succeed at it.  The minor bruises and chips of life that wear us down.

But there is a second, equally pernicious enabler of discouragement:  that which comes from within ourselves.

We are often the greatest purveyors of our own discouragement.  The circumstances around us do not ultimately determine how we will feel encouraged:   we do.  We can be shining lights in the midst of darkness - or pools of darkness within the midst of light.  We can take every circumstance of good in our life and still only be discouraged about ourselves.

Is it hard?  Certainly.  Sometimes it seems that there simply is nothing to be encouraged about.  Outside circumstances do not go our way.  Inner circumstances are not moving forward the way we would like. 

And suddenly, discouragement.

The solution?  Oh, I wish I had a better one than something that sounds trite like "give thanks" or "just fake it until you make it". Neither of these really seems to work for me on a regular or predictable basis.  Instead I just try to hold on, hoping that I can outlast it until I get into a better frame of mind.

Because between the times of encouragement, that is sometimes all you have.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Encouragement III- How to Create an Environment of It

So how does one create an environment of encouragement? 

It is certainly wonderful if one can wander in to such an environment - but the reality is that such things truly seem to be random.  And they are highly dependent on others, who may or may not also be interested creating such an environment.  Ultimately the only control that we have over such a thing is to make it ourselves -which also makes sense purely from the idea that we control that which we create instead of being a victim of it.  But how do we get from here to there?

The first aspect is the hardest:  a change of mind.  We simply need to embrace the fact that we are no longer going to engage in the same behavior as those around us, that we are going to seek to become a source of encouragement to ourselves and others rather than a source of discouragement.  This decision alone will absorb a great deal of our time as we try to reprogram how we think about the world around us and the environments we are in.

The second aspect is a change of behavior.  We consciously need to to choose to use our words and actions to encourage, not discourage.  This is, at least for me, a great deal harder than I would like to think it is.  My reaction too often in life to discourage right back or sign, shrug my shoulders, and woefully carry on - or seek to get in that "zing" that allows me to feel better about a bad situation by one-upmanship.  This needs to all be replaced by the conscious decision to speak encouragingly and act encouragingly to everyone we come across.

The third aspect, a longer term one, is to look for those environments that are encouraging.  Lived in long enough, even the most encouraging person will get torn down by the acidic environment of negativity and discouragement.  We need to take every opportunity to put ourselves in the right environment - even if it means making change in our own lives.

Encouragement will free us to accomplish more than we every dreamed of. We just need to choose to make in and find it in our own lives.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Encouragement II

This thing about encouragement is eating at me (in a good way). 

Encouragement equals achievement. I cannot think of a more clear way to state it.  To be sure, encouragement can come in many forms - perhaps in the form of self encouragement (the hardest, I am sure), perhaps in the form of a teacher, most definitely in the form of those around us.  And is not solely the  power of the encouragement alone - although that is a strong motivator.  It is the atmosphere that such encouragement creates that creates the place where achievement becomes not only more possible, but likely.  But how is such an environment created?  Herein lies the thing which, if properly understood, could be the sort of thing that changes individuals, families, companies, even cultures.

Encouragement is not a total blinding to the nature of things as they stand.  Instead, it is the underlying belief and resulting atmosphere that while the potential of failure is understood to be present, that the potential to do better is always possible - and likely - as well.  If one fails or does poorly, the individual does not collapse into a heap of discouragement without hope nor do those around them pile on.  The understanding is that one will - and can - do better next time.

Is such an atmosphere the same as a blind belief that we must support no matter what in order to build the self esteem of others based on nothing more than a sense that they need to feel better about themselves to achieve?  Not at all.  There are expectations in the encouraging environment to be sure:  that one is truly trying their hardest and wants to get better, that lack of effort is not the same as a low level of skill of talent and so will not be rewarded, that one is as interested in getting better as all others present, and that one is able to work within the environment to help others feel the same level of encouragement.  There is no free right of support of others in such a place.

But I am coming to believe that such an environment as I have described above is crucial to success.  With such things someone can do things they never thought possible because they are in an environment where such things are believed and expected to be possible.  That environment, as we have mentioned, can be as little as one person - but that one person makes all the difference in the world.

Which begs the question:  how do we find, create, and or nourish such an environment?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Encouragement

I have been much caught up in the process and results of encouragement this year, far more than I had intended to when I started the year.  Why?  Because I have come to see what a necessity it is to any sort of achievement and what a destructive force the lack of it can be.

I have noticed -especially through my throwing - that encouragement is the thing that makes all the difference.  Let us be honest:  I am not a man of particular height or build or musculature.  My ability to throw - at least now- is, well, less than significant.  But what I find -what everyone that steps out onto the Heavy Athletics field finds - is that the fellow athletes on the field are nothing but supportive.  Encouragement flows freely.   Assistance is more than available if one simply asks.  The only criticism that is allowed by unwritten rule is that of self criticism.

The result?  I continue to throw - as much encouraged by the fact by the encouragement is there as by the fact I enjoy it so much.  And who would enjoy coming to something where one knew that no matter how one was going to do one would be encouraged?

Take the opposite and unfortunate example:  a job, for example, where one's efforts and labor are never really noticed.  Work that is done simply fades into the background and there is no encouragement provided except the underlying phrase of "If you do not like it, walk".  The result?  An environment where effort becomes grudging, where individuals begin to quickly consider what their other options are.

My question becomes why.  Why can we find some things, such as hobbies or interests, where encouragement seems so freely given and received and other things, the "more important" things of life such as a career, where encouragement is so grudgingly given?   The results of encouragement - greater effort, happier people, a better environment - are true no matter where they are done.  Why is such a thing not applied universally if there are universal results?

I cannot change situations of course, but I can change myself.  I am trying - with greater success - to make sure that I am an encourager to anyone in the circumstances.  If they like something they are doing, great.  If they do not like they are doing and want to change, I encourage them to find themselves.  I want, at least so far as I can, to encourage people, to give them the boost and feeling of accomplishment that others have gifted me with.

It really does make all the difference in the world.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Chance Style Encounter

Profundities occur when we least expect them.

Yesterday I sat for a free hairstyling to help an intern at a friend's salon.  It is part of the consideration process they do:  they review the final cut to make sure she has the skill level necessary to be a credit to the salon.

The very nice young lady (we'll call her A) surprised me in more that one way.  She said she was 19 (but you would not have known it from her carriage and her dress - I know 30 year old individuals that look and seem less mature).  She and her boyfriend had moved here from Chicago?  Why?  He had found a job in his field (a power pole lineman - he is also 19) and so they moved.

I asked her how she had come into hairdressing.  She said that it was something that she had always wanted to do but people in her life, including her mother, had discouraged her as they had told her that she would not make enough money at it.  She took this at face value for a while until she had the opportunity to learn from someone.  She found that she enjoyed it and suddenly made the realization that "she could make money doing hairdressing.  You just have to go where the business is".  And so she and boyfriend embarked on a lifelong (and lifetime) adventure at age 19.

This is certainly not the conversation I expected to have on a Thursday.

I gave her what counsel I knew to give - that she was actually quite right:  if you do what you love, you will find a way to make it (I do not necessarily buy the concept that the money will come but I do believe you will find a way to make it work).  And it is far more important to be happy in what you do than just pursue money and hope you find happiness - this hardly every works out.

The conversation left me hopeful in two ways:  in the first, that there are young people who are actually going in and doing the work of the world that needs doing; in the second, that there is at least one other person in the universe that understands that doing what you love can be made to work.  It renews my hope that others - even myself - can find our way as well.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Illusion Interrupted

Yesterday was not the best morning.

I became frustrated by the fact that my computer - in fact both of our computers - were acting up.  They were acting slow and even when I got here to write the morning entry, they laughed at me with blank web pages and slowly spinning icons.  My mood quickly came to match that of the computers:  running from room to room I started snarling at everything and everyone. 

Why?  Because I could not get my morning post written and posted.

Imagine!  I, the great blogger of the blogosphere, could not get my thoughts out to my adoring and waiting fans.  I was trapped between the hammer of old technology and the anvil of having to run to my "job", the thing I hate to do but have to (when I really should be writing, after all). 

The whole thing ate at me:  all the way driving in and dropping off Na Clann at school, all the way to the office.  My writing, my career, my wisdom - half done and empty.

I hope at this point you grasp the foolishness I only came to see later.

The simple reality - the reality I like to ignore - is that I am not really a writer.  I write, yes.  I even have some books I have published (self-published, to be fair).  I certainly enjoy writing.  But none of this should distract from the actual reality that is.

I am a very small fish in a very big sea.  I have a core of loyal readership (thank you all very much!) but in no wise do I have some vast horde clamoring for me to express myself.  My need to write is simply that:  my need.  It is not a requirement or a geas laid on me by someone else.  Occasionally I touch the life of someone else for which I am grateful - but it is not a sure thing.  And it is certainly not anything (based on actual results) that I can argue is some kind of calling from God, something I should be doing to the exclusion of all else.

And an successful author?  The bright part (I suppose) is that I have sold enough to cover the cost of my hobby - but it is certainly nothing that is moving me in the direction of this high demand second writing career that I constantly see myself in.

Is it possible for me to improve?  Always.  Is it guaranteed that such improvement will make me a desirable author or suddenly make my blog one of the top 1,000,000?  And (let us be fair) is it something that I have any proof of is a legitimate calling from God?  Beyond the raw desire and occasional flashes of insight, no.

Perhaps the point of this whole incident is to remind me - gently the first time around, anyway - that my primary goal in life is not the writings I do or not do or the unseen people I touch or do not touch.  Perhaps it is simply to remind me that the mood I am in - the mood of the family that sees me and the coworkers I work with - is more important to their long term memory of myself and what it says about my God than any well crafted text could ever be.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An Unsettling Feeling

Last night we had our first reaction drill at Iaijutsu. In this drill, you are attacked by an opponent - perhaps knowing the strike, perhaps not.  It is your job to block the attack and then counterattack. 

When sensei announced it I felt a sense of discomfort.  I suddenly realized that I had not done a reaction drill since July. 

I felt a little discomfort.

I did not really know why.  It is not as if I do not train with these people week after week.  It is not as what happened was anything other than a true accident.  Still, I had a sense of something I had not had in some time.  I realized that it was fear.

Fear of what?  Fear of being struck?  Not really - everyone is very careful, especially now.  Fear of not performing well?  Possibly - I worry that I am not the best of students and compared to many, I am slow.  Fear of looking foolish?  See above - I am not a graceful dancer with the bokuto but more of a farmer flailing out his grain.  I am not totally sure - all I know is that I self conscious on a level I have not been for been for some time.

I went through the exercise of course.  My first round was rough.  My cuts were bad, my hands misplaced.  My blocks were not the best and I hardly tried to to do anything original or different like I should have.  I made the attempt and was not totally disgraced in it, though it was hardly my best effort.

In retrospect driving home I wondered what went wrong.  I am in situations which could create this sort of reaction all the time.  Why now? The fear of injury?  Or the fear that performance will reveal what I fear to be true, that my skill level is not what I want to believe it is.

I am not completely sure.  All I can do is practice harder and overcome the fear with competence.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Whose Kingdom?

This weekend the teaching at church revolved around Haggai 1, which concerns the rebuilding of the Second Temple after the return of the Jews to Jerusalem.  God chastens His people for not working on his kingdom first:

"This people says "The time has not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built."  Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses and this temple to lie in ruins.  Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider your ways!" (Haggai 1:2-4).

Consider your ways.  The Lord then reminds the people of all that they have tried to do to prosper yet have failed at because they did not put the Lord first.  They did not build His kingdom.

Am I building God's kingdom?  This is the question I find myself confronted with in the middle of my life.  I am busier than I have ever been - so busy, in fact, that I am drowning in both my personal and professional life.  But am I busy building my own kingdom or God's?

It is not meant as an idle question.  I feel like I am doing more than ever yet I am accomplishing less than ever and yet I am not seeing the rewards (not all monetary) that one would expect.  Effort is not translating into progress.  I almost feel trapped in a wheel I cannot remove myself from.

What is the Lord's prescription for His people of Haggai's time?  "'Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build my temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified', says the LORD (Haggai 1:8)".  Stop what you are doing.  Stop building your little empires and your small dreams and put me first in what I ask, He says. Glorify Me, make Me the center of your life, and see how I will act.

That is a hard prescription to follow, at least for me, trapped in the busyness of a life that seems only to move faster and faster.  But, to follow the phrase, if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. 

Whose kingdom am I building anyway?

Monday, November 11, 2013

More Time

Balance is key.

I found myself torn this weekend by the multiplicity of things that I wanted - and had to do:  Highland Athletics, iaijutsu practice for menkyo, cleaning the rabbits, writing more for Nanowrimo, running, and even just mowing the lawn.  Add to this the other activities I do infrequently - making cheese, making mead, gardening - and those which I wish I did more of - language, even more writing, getting back on the harp, more canning, maybe even bees again - and suddenly I felt overwhelmed. Like I was not going to accomplish anything at all.

This is always a problem for me.  My reach is always outstretching my grasp.  There is so much more that I want to do than I seem to have the time for that I simply become frustrated.  And feel like I cannot do anything at all.

This is ludicrous, of course.  In my saner moments I realize that the expectations here are the ones that I am putting on myself.  No-one judges my success or my failure in any of these things except myself.  I am the only one that feels the disappointment.

In the back of my mind I try to find the linkage between where I am and where I want to be.  My hope is always that I can find a way more towards something of this nature - because in these things I find my heart.  In these things I find a passion and zest for living.

I will keep trying, of course - the only thing completely failed is the thing which is never tried.  And my throws may not be quite as high, my cuts not as straight, my cheese not as round (and my lawn, of course, not as mowed) - but that is okay.  Each of these things makes me a better person, makes me more alive.

Even if I do not have all the time in the world to do them.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Tempus Fugit

Marching band season
over:  is it two months long
or thirty years gone?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The Making of Art

So on Monday my friend Carla came over to sketch me.  She needed a model and I am pretty good at just sitting there so it seemed like a fine idea.

The making of art, especially visual art, has always fascinated me.  This is not a medium I work well in at all (mine is words and the raw materials of fermented foods) so it always interesting to me how it was done.  To me it seems the equivalent of magic:  the artist looks, works on the paper, and produces a work of art. 

Having never sat for a drawing I was interested in what would be requested of me.  It turns out nothing much at all:  sit there and look out.  Try not to move to much.  Wait - can you turn the other way towards the light?  Good.  Just sit there.

And we were off.

The fascinating part to me was that she talked throughout the process.  This is very different than writing for me:  the more quiet things are, the better I write.  Not so with Carla.  She simply put her pad down, got out her charcoal, and got to work. 

Broad strokes, broad strokes, short strokes, rub rub rub.  Look, start sketching something else out.  Rub the charcoal more - when she brushes her forehead a random stroke of charcoal stays there as well, matching her hair.  Her right index finger becomes dark with dust as she continues to draw.  Short stroke, short stroke, broad stroke.  She looks again - Are your eyes really that crooked?  Yes, I assure her, they really are - bee sting and bokuto scar.  She nods and keeps drawing, a running stream of banter going between the two of us as the strokes seem to go as fast as the words. Look up, look down, draw.  It is interesting that there are not a great deal of facial expressions as she draws to indicate if she is happy with the work as it is or not.  Is this conscious, to prevent her prejudging the work or is she simply in the moment?  I wonder as she continues to move back and forth across the paper.

Near the end she starts to draw larger strokes to fill in the background.  Finally she looks at it, looks at me, and shows it.  I love it of course - it has the bold facial features of a Vulcan or Romulan, something which I have always fancied myself looking like.

All of this with the just a blank piece of paper and charcoal.

How do artists do this?  How do they see what we see but then transfer it to a medium that makes it look like it is?  How can they draw the essence of a thing outside of themselves and then put it onto paper with the essence of the thing in it?

I cannot understand it.  All I can do is simply stand back and be amazed.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Expiration Dates

How do you know when you have reached your expiration date?  How do you know when you have stayed too long at a thing?

I am tempted to say that everything has a shelf life - but in fact I know that there are some things for which such things merely mean we need to reach deeper within ourselves to grow.  But those things are really the few and far between, the essentials, the things of relationships and personal goals that make life worth living.

What of the rest, the things that do not fall into this category?  Is there an expiration date and when do you know?  It is not as if people smell and spoil when they go bad in their positions or suddenly appear to be covered with mold.

I ask this question not out of theory but out of fact.  I am increasingly confronted by the fact that I may have stayed too long at a thing, may have become one of these people that simply starts enduring something - and by enduring, is willing to live with the status quo rather than change it, because either I believe the thing cannot be changed or have given up hoping that it will be.

This is a dangerous thing - not necessarily only for myself and my life but for everyone around me.  People who settle become people who fail to try new things, who come to not even maintain the things that are in place, that ultimately become bitter and tired individuals who snap at anyone who suggests that they are really doing what they are supposed to do.

And in a sense they are not.  They are there to fulfill a purpose or role, not simply become a space server who is there to maintain a title or a place on the board or an appendix of a skill or interest.  The day that becomes true is the day that they become superfluous to the reason that they are there.

It is easy to see this in others.  It is much more difficult to see it in ourselves.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Artist

Charcoal-stained fingers
match her hair as the Artist
unmasks the unseen.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Nanowrimo 2013

So I might not have mentioned it yet but I am doing Nanowrimo 2013:




National Novel Writing Month - Press Start

You may remember the challenge from last year:  50,000 words, 30 days.  The idea is to get a manuscript written in 30 days.  Not a final manuscript necessarily you understand - this is as rough as it gets.  The point is to get one writing every day.

My plan was messed up, of course.  I had not decided what I was going to write until the last second - good heavens, I had not decided I was going to do it at all until the day before.  I was waffling because I did not think that I had the time.  It is ridiculous of course - you always have time to do the things you really want to do.

The second impediment was that I thought I was not ready to write what I was going to write.  I had it all planned out in my mind:  what I was going to write about, the research I needed to do, the plot.   But I ran out of time:  the book sat unread and the day was approaching.  I had a second idea, more of an undeveloped thought than a real thing, that was laying in wait.  I grabbed it and ran.

I am about 7300 words in now - like last time, the concept seems to have taken on a life of its own and the characters have started talking amongst themselves without needing much prodding from me.  A good way to write, that - as a recorder, not a generator.

Will I finish?  I will.  I have no idea what it will look like -and having done this last year, I am far more willing to do major editing now that I know that writing all those words is not the same as having a good book (it is okay, I discovered, to cut things out).

But the exercise is good.  And I feel better after it.  That will make four books I have written in three years.

A bit of a surprise there - somewhere I turned into an author and hardly knew it.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Terminal Velocity

This is blog of Rocky Smith.  He is dying of cancer.  And blogging it.

I can only say that I know Rocky tangentially and from a distance.  We both were/are involved in the same sport of Highland Athletics (I suspect he was far better than I can ever hope to be).  We both the know some of the same people.  And I stand humbled in his presence.

I have one definitive memory of him, one that I doubt he remembers as anything other than one athlete helping another.  It was at the Arlington Highland Games, where I was making my usual attempts at throwing the caber.  I cannot always pick and pull it but I am too stubborn to let go when I should. 

He called me aside and advised me that I should just let it go when it falls - he had seen men break their shoulders trying to catch a falling caber.  I thanked him for the advice, failed my last two picks, and carried on not giving it a second thought.

Until two weeks ago when someone posted that Rocky Smith was coming to the October Games - probably his last long road trip.

Killing time waiting for a pick up, I went to his blog and read.  And was shocked.  And humbled.  Suddenly I knew who this man with the garbled speech was who shared advice with me.  He probably knew he was not doing well in May - and yet he took the time to correct me, time out of a life that literally is measured in days.

I thought of Rocky and his advice when I threw two weeks ago.  The caber did not go up, out I stepped away.  As the judge said, "No broken shoulders, no broken caber.  All is well".  And I believe I shall think of him now every time that I throw the caber for as long as I throw the caber - the kindness of a man who gave the thing most precious to him, a gift of time.

I read his blog every day now.  I will warn you up front:  It is hard.  It is honest.  It is the last testament of a man who taking a very hard thing in his life, the hardest thing of any of our lives - dying - and turning it into a teachable moment.  He might argue it is for himself, but I would argue that it really is for everyone else.

Rocky has entered the last great throw of his life - and in an infinite act of kindness he is letting us peak into what the pick and pull look like.

Throw hard Rocky.  Throw far.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Computer Frustration

I am having a computer morning.

We have two computers I write on:  one, an approximately 2008 HP; the other, a refurbished laptop that I have had for about two years now.  They are both in the process of frustrating me to no end at the moment.

The laptop becomes randomly slow at times - like this morning, even though I left it on sleep mode last night.  I "woke" it up this morning, and Windows decided that it was time to try and update the system. Ability to write:  almost zero.  I ended the function and tried again but apparently the system had become unstable at this point.  Computers 1, TB 0.

Off to the stand alone computer.  Start it up (this seems to go pretty fast).  Try to start up the Internet without being patient.  Hey look, the Internet is now slow.  Open three tabs at one time and if one of them is Facebook, everything stops working for a few minutes until it manages to find its purpose again.

All the time, irretrievable time is fleeing.

It bothers me, of course, because writing is now a part of morning routine, of my life. I do not like feeling frustrated with the amount of time that I have available to write. It impacts how I write and how deep I feel I can go.  And without depth, my writing becomes shallow and not what it could be.

Do I have a solution?  Not really, outside of a new computer.  Try starting the computer when I get up I suppose and give it plenty of time to get its arms around being up in the more. And learn a little more patience as well.

Electronics.  The bane and blessing of the modern writer's life.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bifurcation

Something is annoyingly under the surface of my life.

There seems to be a bifurcation developing, creating two different parts of my life.  In one I am relatively happy, making decisions, planning, moving forward on things.  In the other I am plodding along, seemingly trapped in old paradigms and old ways, becoming increasingly unhappy.

Where is this bifurcation coming from?  It seems deeply connected to my ongoing endeavors in parts of my life which I can specifically control. 

Example:  My participation in Highland Athletics has been one of the great things to happen in the last 5 years of my life - not only because of the fact that I am in better shape, but that it is something that I have improved in and am continuing to improve in.  And all of this - participation, strength, improvement - lies completely within my control.

A lovely side effect of activities such as this is that I have connected with others that are interested in the same effort and improvement.  Everyone in Highland Athletics is seeking to do a little better, improve their score a little bit.  You cannot imagine what it is like to be around such a group.

And again, all of this is under my control.

I compare this with other areas of my life, such as my current career, where so much is not under my control and so much is more just getting through the day rather than really seeking to improve and get better.  There is no energy, no excitement, merely the continuing sense of a duty that needs to be accomplished.

(Why is it this desire for improvement is not everywhere?  Worthy of another blog post, I suspect).

Where do this two trails end up?  I am not really sure.  I suspect that two such very different experiences cannot continue to exist within the same frame of reference for a long period of time without one taking the other over.  I even suspect I know which one - because energy and drive and direction will always overpower the sense vague sense of merely needing to carry on.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Treadmills

I was speaking on the phone with Snowflake last night and we were discussing - okay, perhaps grumbling - about the various loads of what we have going on in our lives, how our work feels overwhelming and not productive and everything else in our lives seems to be coming down the pike all at once.  "It is like we're on a treadmill and we can't get off" she noted.

We laughed, both acknowledging the truth of her statement.  At the same time, there was a certain sad truth to situation.

Which got me to thinking:  if it is a treadmill, can't we get off?

The thing about a treadmill is that it is not something we are chained to, as if we were propelling an slave galley.  We put ourselves on there.  We continue to plod along mile after mile, maybe elevating the track or creating greater speed.  Ultimately, of course, we go nowhere - but we are the ones who continue to keep ourselves on it.

Can one even change treadmills?  This is a question fraught with even larger implications.  Changing a life is not nearly as clean as changing a treadmill of course:  there are a great many more implications than simply powering down and moving over.  But implications are not the same as impossibilities.

To start, as I think about it, is to simply check if one is on a treadmill.  Is my life essentially standing still?  Have I stopped moving forward in important aspects of my life, and am now simply creating ruts?  Have I become so enmeshed by everything that I have lost the ability to independently choose and act if I needed to make a change?

If that is the case - and it seems like my own - then there are really only two choices.  One is to continue to pound away the miles, going nowhere.

The second is to power down, hop off, and walk through the door into the open sunshine.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Throwing

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the Highland Games...  I found out that I could throw.

Not necessarily any better on the whole, you understand.  Overall my scores were my scores.  But what I found was that in certain events I had something that resembled a form that other throwers actually use.  Here is the funny thing:  when I threw with that almost form, my distances inevitably improved.

What happened?  Something that I had not really anticipated:  instead of constantly worrying about every thing, I just got out and threw.

The exception illuminates the example:  at one point in light hammer, I lost.  I almost threw and lost control. I reset.  I started again and hit the ground.  I reset.  I tried the third time and it circle wildly. I intentionally fouled to get my head out of the game.  After all, this was the light hammer - I had already thrown the heavy for a record.  Thoughts of hammer heights and winding and foot placement ran through my mind like a stream.

So I shut it off.  And walked up the next time, grabbed the hammer, wound it once, and just threw.  47'.  A new PR.

Am I going to ever reach the elite Masters?  Doubtful - genetics is against me: my body weight is at least 60 pounds below the next competitor.  But can I learn to throw and at least be a competitor? Absolutely.

I need only to do.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Caber

Branchless tree that stands
waiting to be picked and pulled
and hurled skyward.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Reinvention

Last night as I was driving home the local radio show host noted that in Forbes the 2012-2013 highest grossing living celebrity was Madonna with $125,000,000.  He pondered about this a bit and noted that she has been involved in entertainment since 1984 and still continues (apparently) to pull in popularity and revenue.  A caller noted that his wife had gotten a book written by her to give to their granddaughter.  It is interesting, noted the host, how she has been able to reinvent herself.

Which got me to thinking.  Reinvention.  Reinventing selves.  Celebrities do it:  Madonna, Elton John. Robert Downey Jr.  But do regular people as well?

And what is reinvention?  This is the part where I really began to ponder the implications of such a thing.  Is it simply taking everything in your life that is undesirable and doing the exact opposite?  Is completely changing your persona?  Is it a combination of both or is it even more drastic:  a complete reinvention of who you are as a person?

Admittedly most of us probably reinvent ourselves over the course of our lives as we slowly move in to new interests and relationships and move out of old ones as well.  But this seems to be something of a natural change in life, much as a tree may send out branches to chase the light without changing the underlying shape of the tree.  Reinvention - as discussed and practiced in this context - is much more drastic than that:  a total remaking of the public personality into something that someone is not or is at least perceived not to be.

There is certainly no consideration here in reinvention to stay in the public eye (since I am not in it anyway) - but there is some consideration in being able to move forward in my own life - as Socrates noted, the biggest problem with traveling is that we always take ourselves with us everywhere we go.  And if ourself is what is holding us back from moving on, perhaps it is time to change that - but in a very conscious and planned way.  A reinvention, if you will.

What would such a reinvention look like?  I am not fully aware of all the details as I consider it.  Surely changing those things that we dislike about ourselves is part of it.  But it has to be more than a simple change from one to another.  It has to be a grasping of an entirely new thing, as when one drops the sword when two swords are locked together to grapple with the hands to gain the victory.  Yottsu te o hanasu, dropping four hands, Musashi said.

I am not fully sure what it looks like - but I fully know it needs to be done.  In some ways I have come as far as I can as who I am. To do more, to go farther, I may need to reinvent who am I am, to become (in some ways) someone else.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Making Quicker Decisions

What is the precise point at which one decides that one is simply done and moves on?  Not the fiftieth conversation we have with ourselves about how we should do something, but the time that it suddenly because a decision made and to be implemented?

I know that it is real.  I know because I have done it before.  There is just suddenly a sense about you, a determination that this time it is an actual decision and that from this moment onward you are simply going to go about the business of moving in this new direction.

My real interest is probably how does one get to that point more quickly.

As I have discussed before, I am someone to whom the art of making decisions - real decisions, decisions that are acted upon - is difficult.  I procrastinate.  I temporize.  I find reasons to accept the status quo and continue on with it, even as I may become more and more unhappy with the situation at hand.  It is only after I seem to reach a point - which arguably I should have reached some time earlier -that I finally make a choice.

And this is the issue: the amount of time it takes to make that choice, to reach that point of commitment, to agree internally that it is time to move forward.  Imagine what would be possible if I simply chose to compress this cycle, to make the commitment to move on after, say, three times instead of fifty?

I was reminded of this last night at Nighean Dhonn's soccer practice where her coaches kept encouraging them to "make quick decisions, make quick decisions".  Slow decisions made in the course of sports telegraphs one's moves to the other team and gives them time to adjust.  It would seem to be no different in my life as well:  the amount of time it takes me to commit to making that next step, moving on from the bad situation, gives life or the people involved the ability to "fix" the problem - which never really seems to fix the problem as too often it addresses only the symptoms, not the root cause.

It is not that the evidence may be there - it often is.  It is not that need for the change is there - it often is.  It is a matter of simply finding the confidence and ability to say "Yes, this really is not right.  It is time to do something different.  It is time to change this situation."

Because the more quickly we move from the undesired situations the more quickly we are able to move to the better ones.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Work Hard, Get Experience, Leave

I had an epiphany at work yesterday.

It is probably no secret to those who know me that I am unhappy with my current position.  It is arguable whether or not I am unhappy with my line of work as well:  there are days when I can actually look and say that I am making a contribution to the greater good.  However, there are reasons which lead to believe that in terms of personal and professional growth, I have reached my limit.

The problem, of course, is finding another position. 

Part of that problem, of course, is experience.   With so many people in the market with experience it is becoming harder and harder to gain employment.  As a result of it being an employer's market, the list of skills and experience one needs to have is becoming greater and greater.  There are combinations which 10 years ago would have been unrelated which are now actively sought as requirements.

In other words, it comes  down to experience.  And thus my ephiphany.

There are days when I am completely unmotivated at work.  Days where I feel my effort is wasted and ignored.  Days when I try to find the motivation - and cannot.  But the experience is valuable to my future - everything I do, every task I complete, every experience I gather is something I can use towards a higher position and greater responsibility.

My ephiphany?

Work Hard.
Get Experience.
Leave.

If one only relies on motivation from the current job, one will inevitably fall short of accomplishing all that one can there.  Efforts will be ignored, thanks not given.  However, if one can find in the tasks the promise of taking the experiences somewhere else, the work has at least some purpose beyond the immediate accomplishment of tasks:  it builds your body of knowledge and what you have done.

But in this world it always needs to be conducted within the context of the greater whole.  I am not just working hard to work hard.  I am working hard to get the experience, to get the experience (or education or skills - fill in the blank) to move forward in my life;  ultimately, to leave.

Is this a panacea for all things work related?  Not at all.  The environment may still be toxic.  People may still be difficult to work with.  But at least the effort spent every day is not wasted.  It has the power of transmutation, of being transformed from lead into gold in the future.  We need only use it that way to make it so.

Work Hard.
Get Experience.
Leave.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013

Proof III

So my proof arrived this weekend.

I am excited because this looks like a real book - about 180 pages long - and represents my most significant attempt at writing to date - as you may recall, the genesis for this book was almost a year ago during National Novel Writing Month.  It is 50,000 words (more or less) - in other words, an actual book.

Going through the proof has been a little depressing - although I reviewed it three different times, I am still shocked at the amount of errors that I have missed.  That, of course, is a little disheartening as one continues to find them.  But I have to keep things in perspective:  1)  It is about 50,000 words; and 2)  I have no editorial staff (except myself) to catch these things.  Sometimes I am my own worst enemy.

But I need to makes sure that I do not lose the larger picture.  I have received back a proof - by the end of the month, I will achieve the goal of having released it.  In terms of writing, that now makes three books that I have self published - three books that, at the beginning of 2012, simply did not exist.

Perhaps I cannot do everything, but I can do more than I imagine.  I need only make the effort.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Expected Instead of Recognized

There is nothing worse than having your efforts and accomplishments ignored.

It happened to me yesterday.  In front a large group of people as part of the recounting of events, the accomplishment of an audit with no observations - arguably an important event - was not even mentioned.

One's mind runs the gamut in such situations.  First one lets it pass by.  Then one becomes angry, then agitated, finally settling into a simmering heat. Two weeks of preparation.  3 days of effort, accomplishing nothing else.  All to have it swept under the carpet.

This is one of the questions I have added to my repertoire of questions during interviews:  "How do you recognize and reward achievement?"  It is a bold question, I know.  But I have come to realize that how companies portray their recognition of effort is how the ultimately treat those that work for them.

To treat the extraordinary as ordinary is to ensure that efforts will become minimized.  There is nothing more enervating that to demonstrate in actions that the effort that everyone claims they want to see is nothing more than something to be expected - and ignored.

For me?  There is nothing much to do at the present time:  any public display of "look at me" looks exactly like the petulant activity it is designed to be.  It will hardly change the course of my year.    But it does (perhaps finally) give me some of the clarity that I have been seeking.

As Seth Godin would say, in today's economy no-one is going to pick you.  Pick yourself.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

People Who Do Not Want To Win

I have come to the conclusion that many people do not want to win.

Oh, they say the do.  They say they want to reach their goals or be the boss or win the lottery.  They say they want to see something through to completion or make the change that changes everything.  But in point of fact, they do not really want to.

Why?  This puzzled me a bit.  After all, is not winning - however you define that - the goal?  Is not moving forward towards victory - be it an election or a simple thing like losing 10 pounds - the point of what we want to do?  If we do not, life simply becomes a series of tasks that we have to life through, a treadmill which we on which we are constantly moving but never moving forward.

I think I know why.

Many people do not want to win because they have not been taught how to win.

What is winning?  Winning is victory.  It is an outcome which you sought and achieved.  It is the 10 lbs lost.  It is the local election won.  It is the race  you finished, even if you were the last one.

But winning - just winning - does not stop there.  There is always the next step.

Sports teams understand this.  It is called the season.  There is are a series of games in it. The team plays each one.  How foolish would it seem if the team decided after their first win "We are done!  We have made it!" - and then proceeded to lose the rest of the games.  No one would call them winners.  We would call them losers.

Is there an ultimate win?  Of course.  It is called the championship.  Even then, with the trophy and the acclaim, there is still another season, another set of games to win.

We have become trained to accomplish tasks, to check things off our lists.  We have not been trained to win - and by win I mean not only achieve the victory, but realize that there is another win, another task, another goal to complete.

Winning is not static and passive.  It is active and ongoing.  Those that are winners understand this.  Those that do not will feebly achieve once or twice, sigh, and then declare that that they do not have the ability to win.

Be different.  Be a winner.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Letting Go of the Need for Pleasing Others

I am finding that one of the hardest things to let go of is the continual sense of wanting to deeply please others to have them like me.

This is an old feeling, one that stems from a long way back in my own history.  It is not a bad quality in general of course:  if people feel pleasantly about your or concerning you, they are more likely to help you out or do what you ask.  That is a fine thing and certainly a cornerstone of general human interactions.  But it tends to consume your life when in moves into the personal realm as well.

It becomes an anchor - a thing which constantly holds one back from doing or trying other things.  One is always concerned with what others are thinking about you and how that impacts whether or not they like (or even love) you.  All one's actions become a series of carefully constructed events, while one carefully watches out of one's eye for the slightest hint (real or imagined) that the other either likes or dislikes what is being done.  Even the slightest hint of disapproval is enough to stop enjoyment of an activity; even the slightest hint of approval is enough to propel one into greater efforts.

This is  a fool's game, of course:  one becomes a construct of the likes and dislikes of others rather than one's own person.  Not only are interests and activities pursued based on what the other may think, but unchecked our very lives become not our own but what we think someone else things our lives should be like.

It is a terrible way to live.

What is the solution?  The simplest and yet most difficult of all things: simply be yourself.

Simply be yourself, unfettered by the potential likes or dislikes of those around you.  Pursue - truly pursue - those things which interest you.  Pay scant attention to those whose approval you used to seek as to their opinion of it.  Whether they like or dislike it is neither indicator of their level of like or dislike of you nor of the value you have as a person.

Because in the end, you will be you.  Truly you.  You will find those kindred spirits for whom such things hold interest.  And you will also find that the opinions of those who you thought mattered did not really matter at all.