Thursday, January 31, 2013


There are days
where it simply doesn't feel
as if I can do anything right.

The day where,
after working for hours on something,
you realize you've really made
no progress at all.

There is nothing as depressing
as such a day:
you spend the rest of the evening in shock,
reviewing everything you did
and seeing it turn to ash.

And then, sighing,
you get up to start the day again.

Is it simply that you have missed something
that was there all along,
or that you are so mired in today
you cannot see tomorrow?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Crossroads of Skill and Time

I am coming to find myself at a crossroads.

I keep looking for the ability to succeed in areas that I know and am comfortable; what I am finding is those areas (for the most part) are simply crowding me out.

The Ravishing Mrs. TB said it best to a friend:  "It's not as if he doesn't have things he likes to do; it's just that he can't get paid for them."  True enough, I suppose - and it tracks with my thinking that more and more, success is truly achieved when you are doing what you want to be doing - and doing it well.

Can people succeed at doing what they don't like doing?  Of course they can - people do it every day.  But what I suspect - at least what is true in my own life - is that succeeding in something you don't really care for is like binding a heavy stone to your back and walking up a steep mountain.  You can make it of course, but you will be excessively exhausted when you do and probably not have enjoyed the journey.

Effort equals skill and skill leads to success.  But effort takes time and time to succeed - time to practice, time to learn - and it only comes freely when we find something we are willing to spend the time in.  When we find something that we enjoy.

I write "looking to succeed in areas I know that I am comfortable" because in the last few weeks it has become apparent that in some of those areas, I am simply not going to move forward.  I can expend additional effort in them but the chance that it will result in increased reward is slim to none.

And thus, I find myself at the crossroads.

I have (in the back of my head) occasional visions of what I could and would if I were succeeding in what I truly enjoyed.  They are sometimes wild to be sure and off the beaten path (although, I suppose, not off the path for anyone who knows me), but they are the sorts of things that putting effort into is no difficulty at all but rather a joy.  The sort of things that one springs out of bed to accomplish in the morning instead of dragging one's self out with a shudder.

The crossroads is coming.  How do I turn?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Deciding and 40 Miles

I'm trying to run farther.

The genesis of this is silly thing:  in a fit of "I can set a goal" on my electronic trainer program, I put in a goal of 40 mile in three weeks.  Not a big deal, right?  That didn't account for the New Home cold, where I missed some days (as I mistakenly figured that 30 F was too cold to run).  Suddenly,  I looked to the timing and realized I had only 43% completed with a week to go.  I calculated the difference - and found that, with a little pushing on my part, I could make it.

And so, starting yesterday, my mileage went up.

The biggest challenge I found is not that the distance is about twice what I usually run.  That's not so hard as I'm not running for time (now) - maybe that will come later.  The hardest challenge has actually been the fact that I am really running that far.

It comes down to mental decisions - something that I have pondered and noted before.  The decision that, before I even step on to the road, I am going to run the distance that I am going to run.

Knowing that decision up front makes the whole event a great deal easier.  Certainly there are places where I can step aside and pull back, that I can peel off early and go home to the cup of coffee that awaits me.  But I've decided in my mind that I am going to accomplish this thing, and so I am committed to doing it.

The remarkable thing, of course, is that life is no different.

We complete that which we set our minds to.  Think in your own life: what are those things which you did completely?  They are the things which you decided to do - up front, before you even began the thing. 

This is a critical step and one often missed.  How often have I done the opposite:  started an activity not deciding up front that I would finish it and then, when I get halfway through and am suddenly bored or tired or have lost interest, finding the way out prior to finishing.

Commitment is the key.

Does it have to be a written commitment?  Some writers would say yes - and maybe in some situations that is true.  Certainly I don't write down finishing my run in the morning - but I decide it in my head before I step out the door.

Will I make my running goal?  I don't know - even without a commitment, it is still a fair distance to make up.  But even in trying, I have found another key to success:  Decide before you Do.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Ungrateful and Contentious

     "And they (the children of Israel) journeyed from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the Wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they departed from the land of Egypt.  Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  And the children of Israel said to them "Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full.  For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." - Exodus 16: 1-3

     "Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped in Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.  Therefore the people contended with Moses and said, "Give us water, that we may drink.
      So Moses said to them, "Why do you contend with me?  Why do you tempt the LORD?"
     And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said "Why is it you have brought us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?"  - Exodus 17:1-3

We know the story, right?  The Children of Israel, that ungrateful lot of grumblers, complained their way across the Sinai until, in the height of their sin and grumbling, they were punished by God with denial into the Promised Land and 40 years of wandering until that generation died off.  Next slide, please, showing the Conquest of the Promised Land.

But wait?  Notice the chapter heading.  Only three chapters previously in Exodus 11-12 God freed the people from slavery and only 2 chapters earlier in Exodus 13 He parted the Red Sea.  We are not talking about a long period of time between one event and another.  This was only weeks, perhaps days, after God's miraculous actions.

And God abandoning them?  The Pillar of Fire went forth by night and the Pillar of Cloud by day, a visible presence of God's guidance and protection.  They were hardly alone.

Yet in spite of all this, they seem to act as if none of this had happened and that they are completely alone.  Instead of remaining in a place of gratitude, they attack God for failing to provide for them.

They attack.  Notice that.  They don't ask humbly, in faith.  They don't beg.  They demand, they contend:  "Give us!  You brought us here to kill us!"

We snicker a bit mentally perhaps, say "idiots" to ourselves, and read on.  But are we any different?  We have God's spirit within us.  We have His promise to always be with us.  We have His daily provisions for us.  Yet we are no different, screaming "Give us this" at the top of our lungs and demanding that God fulfill our needs in our ways instead of trusting in Him.

God guard us from ungrateful hearts and demanding spirits that fail to see His goodness and fail to trust in His provision

Friday, January 25, 2013

Turning from Sadness

"Therefore, my advice to you, friends,
is to turn aside from troubled and anxious reflection
on your own progress,
and escape to the easier paths of remembering the
good things God has done.
In this way, instead of becoming upset by thinking
about yourself,
you will find relief by turning your attention to
Sorrow for sin is indeed a necessary thing,
but it should not prevail all the time.
On the contrary, it is necessary that happier
recollections of God's generosity
should counterbalance it,
lest the heart should become hardened through too
much sadness
and so perish in despair."

- Bernard of Clairvaux, The Way of Simplicity, Esther De Waal

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Last night at Iaido class we practiced toho waza, a very simple (and very old) kata that was subsumed from another discipline.  It is a series of five simple kata involving the basic cuts.  Five kata, one hour - we got a lot of practice.  But for the first time I paid real attention to the noto.

Noto, in case you do not remember, is the simply act of sheathing the sword.  In motion, it simply consists of  wrapping the thumb and forefinger around the koiguchi (mouth of the scabbard), flipping the mune (back of the blade) over the koiguchi and the arm, pulling the ha (blade) back to the right until the kisaki (tip) drops into the koiguchi, and then inserting the blade to the tsuba (hilt).  The speed of the insertion can vary - last night, we practiced putting 2/3 of the ha in quickly and the last 1/3 in slowly.

As we practicing the kata - nukitsuke, kata, noto - I came to realize that there was something almost mystical about the noto -  a good one, anyway.

The noto in and of itself is not the main part of the attack and defense, nor is it the critical part of removing the blood from the ha (chibori); it is the final step of the kata, the end of the process.  It can be the most overlooked part of the exercise - after all, it is not a block or a cut.

But it is critical.  The angle the elbow, the hold of the hand on the tsuba (hilt), the plane of the blade and the scabbard (they should be perpendicular to the body, making a "T"), all are a part of the larger whole of the kata.  Without a good noto, the work of the rest is essentially undone.

The mystical comes from a noto well done.  There is a way the blade slides into the scabbard when the angle is just right - where it does not catch slightly on the inside of the scabbard due to a misalignment - that makes the entire move feel right.  The movement feels not so much as a separate motion as it does the completion of the entire action of the kata.  I cannot fully explain the feeling in a meaningful way - but it is something that if it is done right gives a sense like nothing else I have ever felt.

I have commented before that iaido is really just a preparation for life in a different fashion.  The same is true of noto - a reminder that every part of our lives - the ending of actions as well as the beginning - deserves our utmost attention and that an ending well done is no less important - perhaps even more so - than beginning well.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Yesterday I relocated back to a cube.

This has been part of a larger move which will eventually see large portions of my area relocating to one space or another, a sort of corporate periodic migration which seems to occur from time to time as, driven by the call of efficiency or a new reporting structure or perhaps even just a fancy, people are uprooted from one workplace and move to another.

It's also odd because this will be the first time in almost 4 years that I've been in a cube - and many years longer since I've shared one with someone else.

I will not lie and say that it was not a bit odd yesterday.  It is odd to move your stuff from where you've been for almost four years - almost a cocoon of sorts, your safe office - to a place which is much smaller and where you feel much more exposed - in my case now, with my back to the entrance.  And even after you spend the hour readjusting your computer and your screens to get them right - although they won't really be right for another week or so - working there still seems odd:  what creatures of habit we become, that the perception of what is around our computer screen can affect how we work.  And the ambient noise is the most disturbing of all:  I went from no noise at all to the chatter of individuals around me, the hum of pieces of equipment I don't recognize, and the occasional "SLAM" of the door going outside as people leave.

It is not that the change bothers me per se, I suppose - I've maintained for a long time that work is not my home and wherever I sit is merely the location I happen to be at to do my work.  And supposedly good things will come out of this at the end, a reorganization that will make things more efficient.  The thing that does nag on me is the horrible sense that somehow I have been effectively demoted in the eyes of others - perhaps sort of a continuing sense that I - and my function - are considered to be of less importance than they were before.

The saddest part I suppose is the fact of moving from where I was.  There are a great many memories tied up in that office.  I spent time there rebuilding the understanding of QA by being a location for others to come and talk. At one time three of us were placed in tight quarters in that area; the camaraderie that was built there still lingers to this day.  Tears were shed, decisions to leave were made, in some cases lives really were affected in that office.  That part is gone now, dispersed to cubes with walls that fall short of the ceiling and doors that don't exist, a blip in the history of the company that has now passed with the wind.  

I am sure that I will get over such things - I always manage to and after all, nothing is forever.  Still, there is a lingering sense this morning that something has changed - something that was unique not just about where we were but how related - and that it will never be the same.

It will be much more

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Beauty of Holiness

"Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness,
fear before Him, all the earth!" -Psalm 96:9

We are a people who are obsessed with beauty.  We (at least we in the US) spend millions each year on things to make us more beautiful, be they clothes or make-up or gyms.  We have entire temples - call them malls if you would like - that are dedicated to the proposition that beauty is something that can be purchased and arranged, if only we have the right things.  Our entertainment is also possessed by an insatiable thirst for beauty.  Stars are ranked on beauty; people watch the arrival of stars to award ceremonies purely for seeing how beautiful they appear.

This obsession with beauty has its dark side, of course.  For every beautiful person, there are many who are not.  Husbands will leave wives and wives husbands because they have found someone more beautiful.  And for those that are beautiful, there is a huge pressure to remain on top of the beauty curve, sometimes leading to destructive behaviors such as anorexia or drug addiction- or even worse.

So what do we make of a comment such as above, where we are commanded to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness? 

What is the beauty of holiness anyway?  It surely cannot be something physical or corporeal - although we see the workings of such beauty in the world around us.  And it is surely not something which is widely recognized - for if it was, I am sure that our commercial society would find a way to market it.

It must be something beyond our ability to see, although not beyond our ability to comprehend as we are commanded to worship the Lord because of it. 

What is holiness? Ultimately it is the absence of sin.  It is what God is - pure, undefiled, without sin.

Can I imagine someone without sin?  Without a single attitude or action that does not honor God? Who never, ever does anything against the will of God?  Can I imagine myself even for 10 seconds being that way - not just by the absence of sinning (if I stand in a dark room and think nothing, I can do that) but by a total removal of the sin nature?

Imagine a being so pure that, like the beauty of an unspoiled natural setting, our hearts are lifted up simply because of the existence of such a thing.  Imagine the most beautiful natural scene that you have ever seen and how you felt - and then imagine that this existed in a Personality that interacted with you.

This, I think, is the beauty of holiness.

Holiness is not always attractive in our world, of course.  We do not see God on a daily basis - we see His people. And they are not only holy - no, let us personalize it: I am not always holy.  To the extent that I am not is the extent to which I fail to allow God to shine through me.  The extent to which I mar the beauty of holiness with the ugly of sin.  I am - as undoubtedly we all are - a marred imago Dei.  To look at any of us probably serves to not recommend holiness to anyone.

Which is why the psalmist directs us as he does.  Ultimately our hope and our source is not ourselves but rather the God who is perfect in all His ways.  Who is holy.  And Who through His holiness is beautiful, like the beauty of a red-gold sunset or the rugged beauty of the coast or the harsh cry of the hawk flying over the pines.

Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness,
fear before Him, all the earth.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Compliment and Castigation

"I can live on a good compliment for two months" - Mark Twain

There is nothing - absolutely nothing - like the power of a compliment, especially a compliment which one did not expect to receive.  It is simply amazing how such a thing can radically change one's day.

The funny reaction that I noticed when it happened (and yes, I actually did get one) was my own interenally response.  There was an initial burst of "Wow, that's great!  Somebody got it and liked it", which was almost immediately followed a second burst of a dampening of the spirits and justification of why the compliment was really not that big a deal, sort of a "Well, I suppose so, but..."

It was fascinating to watch, this internal discussion of point and counterpoint that occured with myself, as if I was a third party observing from the outside:  the one person, happy and reveling in an earned reward, the other person reminding them how little they actually did to earn it and that it didn't really count anyway.  I do not know that I have often been conscious of this interaction - or that I could watch it as a third person.

As I mulled it over last night, what I came to realize is I tend to do this a great deal to myself:  I consistently find ways to make things like compliments small and find reasons why good things like that are either undeserved or simply not that big a deal.  That strikes me as very odd, considering the fact that those are the sorts of things that (at least I claim) I would like more of in my life.

I don't know that this sort of thing rises to the level of a true self hatred; it does not seem nearly that severe.  It just seems to be more of a grumbling presence, someone who has determined that it will not be happy and therefore all around it will not be happy either, a sort of dour companion that (if I think about it) I have had hanging around with me for a very long time.

I am thinking, perhaps, that it is time I gave this fellow a vacation and see what his replacement is like.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dear Dr. Martin

Dear Dr. Martin:

I have recently received with interest a compilation of your Table Talks in the book Off  The Record with Martin Luther.  It is a summary of the conversations which occurred in your off moments - primarily at your dining table (thus the name), but also in other parts of your life - which others took the effort to capture.  I'm grateful to have the abridged version, as I learned that the original works constitute some six volumes.

First of all, thank you for be gracious enough for letting others capture your words.  There are many throughout history who have sought to control their image through their words and what they allowed others to say about them.  You were kind enough - or secure enough in yourself - to let the record stand as it was recorded.

In one way it is very difficult to read - 450 or more years have passed between when they were recorded and when I am reading them, and the world is (in many ways) a very different place.  My worldview is the output of things that you could have never envisioned at the time; your worldview is the product of things which I'm sure never made it into any history book.  And were we to meet today (we will meet someday, of course) we probably could not even speak:  my high German is different than your Saxon dialect, and the Latin you used as an international language is at best a broken form of communication for me.

But it is a pleasure - an extreme pleasure - to read your conversations.  It is amazing to me (so far as I can tell) about how honest you are - not just with your opinions, but with your inner thoughts as well.  You confess to anger and times of depression.  You have a great love for all children, especially children of your own.  You are bold in your opinions - perhaps sometimes too bold for my taste, but then again I was never threatened with death and had to go into hiding.  I also must confess (guiltily) that I enjoyed the story of your arguments with the town mayor for tearing down your heated tower study to build a town wall (I, too, would be grumpy as well).

I look forward to spending more time with you, and hope you will forgive the occasional questions which will inevitably arise.

Your Faithful Student,

Maighstir Toirdhealbheach Beucail

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Tire, A Screw and God

There is nothing more disheartening than looking out the window at work and seeing your car settling down on slowly leaking tire.  But there it was, no matter how I cocked my head at it.

Sighing, I went to grab my keys and re-park on the level area of the parking lot - a short 30 foot journey, but depression tends to add distance. I got out and started pulling out my jack and spare - which, it turns out, I've become very adept at doing over the last three years, seemingly having more flat tires in that time than all the previous years of driving.

The cold in the air probably sped along my efforts:  within 10 minutes I had the tire off, the tiny replacement back on, and the jack back in the car.  I walked back in but my mind was already moving to where I would get the tire fixed - I would have to leave early, of course, with no guarantee of what the cost would be.

So I pulled out an hour early to head back towards home.  The curse of the "doughnut" is, of course, that you really shouldn't go above 50 mph - which gives one even more time to think and grumble as you slowly make your way back home.

I arrived at the tire store and showed them the time.  We are a little busy, they said - it might take 30 or 45 minutes.  Fine,  I nodded, and went to sit in the waiting area amongst the stale coffee and History Channel to patiently wait.

About two hours later, I got the car back.

I started to snarl about the whole thing on the way home - the tire, the time - then I started to think of the actual events:

1)  My tire did not go flat until I reached work, so I did not have to change it while worrying about dodging traffic.

2)  The offending screw was directly on the top of the tire, allowing it to be repaired.

3)  I have a job where leaving an hour early is not an issue.

4)  The tire repair cost me nothing (apparently the hazard fee was worth it).

Does the whole event make me any happier?  Not really.  I still hate flat tires (although my changing speed has dramatically increased)?  But what it does, correctly, remind of is something that I posted last week from Bernard of Clairvaux:

"We are commended to gather up the fragments, lest they be lost,
which means that we are not to forget even the smallest benefits"

Even a tire and screw can be a potent reminder of the graciousness of God.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Day of Rest

Yesterday was a true day of rest.

I planned that way. As part of my revamping of goals and how I execute on them, I did some readjustment and some scheduling to ensure that Sunday by noon I would have accomplished everything that I hoped to accomplish for the day, leaving the afternoon available.  It turned out to be one of the most randomly frustrating things I have done in a long time.

Part of the issue was the fact that I had made some cheese in the morning and hoped to be done with it - which didn't happen.  I had to keep working with it all afternoon (note to self:  no cheese on Sundays).

Part of the issue was fact that my thigh and knee were not co-operating as I wish they would have, leaving me to a bit more inactivity than I would have like (note to self:  monitor your exercise a bit more to make sure you are not messing anything up).

But the biggest frustration?  Apparently I've lost the ability to be.

I found myself constantly trying to do other things:  I'd read something, then I'd immediately read something else.  My attention span flitted between three different books I have been reading - as well as the cheese on the back of my mind and anything else that seemed to wander through. 

So what is my assessment of my attempt at a day of rest?  Not very good, quite frankly.  My mind was a blur of activity, my body complained, and my attention kept getting split between a number of things, leaving it scarcely enough time to focus on any one thing.

A good learning experience, of course.  I intend to continue to work towards making Sundays more of day of rest and time with family. Like my goals for this year, I just need to work on learning how to execute on them.

Who knew a day of rest was so much work.

Friday, January 11, 2013

2013 - Two Weeks In

So - two weeks in, how is the goal structure going?

Interesting question.  The results I am seeing are not quite what I was expecting.

It seems that I have three categories the goals have fallen into:

1)  Things which, having set them, I am being very diligent in accomplishing.  This encompasses 9 goals or about 33%.

2) Things which, having set them, I am not yet regular in working towards.  This encompasses 11 goals or about 39%

3)  The remaining goals which I have taken no action at all on yet.  This encompasses 6 goals or about 28%.

Obviously, category one is going as well as can be expected.  Category three, for the most part, have not been worked on because there is no action I can take in the first two weeks of the year to move towards them.

It is the soft center that is of interest to me, that 39% which I have taken some action on but not regular action on.  What is it that hinders me from doing better on those and how can I move such things forward more towards completion?

One factor that seems to be playing in is time and scheduling.  For those items that I am actively making progress in, I have scheduled the activities into my day such that I do them approximately the same time every day.  It seems that at least some of those items in the soft center - especially those that need daily activities - suffer from the fact that I have not yet found a permanent schedule that allows me to schedule them in at a regular time to help me as a prompt to act.

Another factor is that some of the activities don't necessarily have many small tasks to move towards completion - they have perhaps a few infrequent things that may ramp up from time to time but most of the time stay at a single level.    Keeping track of these - and keeping motivated about them on a daily basis instead of only realizing once a week or so I didn't take action - is going to be a challenge.

Still, let us take things for what they are worth.  Doing something on at lest 72% of what I wanted to act on this year is far more than I could have hoped for.  With a little bit of tweaking I think I can move more into the "Take action every day" category.  That alone is cause for celebration.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Learn not to be tardy or sluggish in offering thanks
learn to offer thanks for each and every gift.
Take careful note, Scripture advises,
of what is set before you,
so that no gift of God,
great or moderate or small,
will be deprived of due thanksgiving.
We are even commended to gather up the fragments,
lest they be lost,
which means that we are not to forget even the
smallest benefit.
Ingratitude is the soul's enemy,
a voiding of merits,
dissipation of the virtues,
wasting of benefits.
Ingratitude is a burning wind
that dries up the source of love,
the dew of mercy,
the streams of grace.

- Bernard of Clairvaux, quoted in The Way of Simplicity:  The Cistercian Tradition by Esther De Waal

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


We were have a post-delayed Christmas lunch Pow-Wow around the Comppound, the sort of conversation which occurs when one is back but not quite ready to get back to work.  I commented in passing to Fear Beag that was nice to see so many people at the lunch table compared to some years past, when it has been so few.  I even noted that An Ghearmailteach was mentioned.  Both of them agreed, even noting in one case that someone that had never been mentioned - in a year - was noted.

I didn't think much of it until I was thinking later about the question of acknowledging people.  Suddenly I realized it for the insult that it was.

To acknowledge someone is not the same as to become their friend.  It is not the same as asking them to be part of your life.  It is, however, noted their existence and granting them the respect that one deserves for being and doing.  It matters more, of course, when the people in question are doing something for or around you from which you benefit directly or indirectly.

In wondering why this is, I wonder what it says about the people themselves.  Is it because they are uncomfortable?  Is it because they do not know what to say?  Or is it from a simple practice that unless someone is directly contributing to my life or my being, they are not worth notice?

It may seem like a minor point, but (having been on the other side of this multiple times) it is a matter of  greatest concern in situations where people live and work together.  There is a certain level of decorum that simply must be maintained if we are to function as a group.  Not acknowledging people - essentially pretending that they do not exist - does nothing towards accomplishing anything and certainly does not change the fact that they are actually there.  And believe me - people do notice.

The challenge for myself is to find that I do not fall into the same trap.

People exist - especially those doing something from which you benefit.  Take a moment to at least nod or say hi.  Just because they are not doing what you are doing does not mean they have no value.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013


I am going through the process of editing the manuscript that I generated in Nanowrimo 2013.

I have never much enjoyed editing.  I'm not really sure why - for that matter, I have never really wanted to re-read anything I have written after I am done with it.  In fact, it is almost to the point of being something of a phobia with me.

Why is this?  I'm not really sure.  Someone who feels that I suffer from pride might say that I am too proud to consider the fact that I would not question that I could make a mistake.  Someone who feels I suffer from insecurity might say that I have no confidence in what I wrote.  Someone who feels I am lazy might say that I just don't want to finish the job.  Someone who feels I am too much of a perfectionist might say I avoid it to avoid confronting the fact that I am not perfect.

My thought?  A combination I believe:  on the one hand the very simple belief the editing is not part of the creative process, not part of the "fun".  Writing is the making of someone from other things - or in the case of writing, making something from nothing but your mind.  Editing, I perceive, is not "fun":  it is the crawling through of each individual character, word and phrase looking not only for direct error but an indirect phrasing or something that could be improved.

The other fact is, I believe, my underlying distrust of criticism.

I have trouble with criticism (there, I've said it).  What is new, you might ask - it is not as if anyone really gets excited to receive it.  True enough I suppose.  Still, I have always had an issue with criticism, even if it is offered in a professional manner, even if it is offered for things that are not personal.  Why is this?  A combination at play again, I suppose:  on the one hand a sense that everything for me is personal, that everything I do (even if it is not personal) is an extension of myself.  On the other, a deep and abiding sense - fear, even - of how criticism has been used in the past, as tool not to correct and improve but to destroy.

Common enough in everyone's lives I suppose - we have all been the victim of criticism meant to do something other than improve.  But I know few cases where the individual themselves is concerned that their own self-criticism is designed to destroy themselves.

I think like anything else editing is a process - not only in learning to do it, but in learning that it is not the fearsome thing you perceive it to be, and that it is possible to trust even yourself to deliver criticism which is of use rather than destructive.

I do not know that I will ever come fully to terms with editing - as I said, it is not the most entertaining part of the process.  But perhaps I can at least come to a sense that it is a valuable one - and one that perhaps I trust myself to do without tearing myself down too much.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Course of Study 2013

One of the gems that Jeffrey Fox has in his book How to Become CEO:  Rules for Rising to the Top is that every year one should learn about one new area.  The point that he makes is not only is it a habit that all good CEOs should have - after all, one should be able to learn about a new industry or ways to better perform in the industry that one is currently in - but that it also makes for a more well rounded personality and allows a person to begin to see connections between things.

With that in mind, I have selected the course of study for 2013 to be the year of Alternative Energy.

Why Alternative Energy, you might ask?  Fair enough.  It's certainly not something I've ever talked about in great detail here or with anyone else.  And my reasons for doing so are not the typical ones:

1)  Cost:  Simply put, I'm looking for ways to reduce what I spend.  Utilities - electricity, gas and the cost thereof - are two factors that are controllable to some extent, not just by total amount of usage but by the generation  therelf.

2)  Independence: I've read enough economics and thought through the facts to realize that while I may never be able to completely divorce myself from any system (or want to), the ability to control any aspect of my life is a good one.

My first selection for the year for Off the Grid:  Modern Homes+Alternate Energy by Lori Ryker.  It was probably not the first book that I would have chosen to start with - but it was the first book that came through as a hold at the library.

The book was actually one of the type of the books I typically don't own:  a coffee table sort of book with a short primer of details followed by a series of 6 or 7 different examples of homes that had been designed for alternative energy.  It's always nice to look at pictures of what other people have created (even as I subconsciously wonder what the cost was).  It was a pleasant place to begin thinking about the concepts of alternative energy and its use.

However, the one thing that did strike me was exactly how unrealized my own reasons were in the text.  The book talked very little about cost or independence;  instead, it dwelt more on the environmental and aesthetic reasons for considering alternative energy.  That's fine, I suppose and motivates a great number of people.  The thing that surprised me was that an entire market - people like me - were left virtually unaddressed.  An interesting oversight or a trend in industry literature?  We'll see.

My aspirations from this exercise?  To acquaint myself with another area of knowledge, to be sure.  Perhaps to find some small ways to begin to address my own dependence on the system.  But I am also looking forward to the sheer pleasure of discovery, of learning something knew about which I know virtually nothing.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Screaming At The Top Of My Lungs

Oh, yesterday was a fine day.

Have you ever arrived home so angry you could hardly think?  So angry that you come in the door and nothing seems right - that everything that would not normally bother you has become a personal source of irritation designed to provoke you even more?

It is the sort of anger that builds, one that you carefully keep under wraps all day and try to manage because it is a new year and you are really trying to make a go of things.  You feel it rising and you push it back down, trying to take refuge in the things you can control or what the appropriate response that honors God is.  But things keep building up - not big things as if an avalanche had suddenly buried you but small things as if someone was purposefully building a wall, brick by brick.

You don't realize the wall until after your away for a bit.  Then you turn and suddenly realize that the wall is there - had been there for a while, quietly built behind you while you were trying to make a go of things.  You had just missed the building of it.  And the cliff that is now in front of you gives you nowhere to go.

In your frustration you try to tear the wall down - and discover a second truth, that walls built by others are often very difficult to tear down by yourself.  This increases your frustration even more as your nails chip and your fingertips bloody.    The anger builds as you try to get a grip, your mind gratuitously engaging in the things you would like to say which probably would not solve the problem, but would at least give you a sense of control in the situation - a sense of control that is missing now.

And then everything else simply doesn't seem right.  Things that were slightly out of place become personal insults, simple errors or situations become personal plots against you.  Finally you throw up your hands and decide you are going to bed early, because that is the only resolution to the situation that seems feasible.

Perhaps in bed you try to look at the situation a bit more philosophically, try to put reason and perspective to the situation, maybe even try to map out strategies to deal with it.  But you find that revisiting the situation only reminds you of the wall built behind you and the cliff in front of you - and you relive the emotion all over.

Oh, yesterday was a fine day.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A Lack of Control

How does one manage when one is not in control of so much of one's life?

This is the problem that haunts me frequently - even today, as I get ready to to head out.  My mind is already bubbling with the fact that it seems so little of what I face from day to day is in my control, but I am expected to live and work and produce competently within that lack of control.  It is as if one has no power, but all the accountability.

Stephen Covey fails me here in this regard.  He would say (as he does in The Seven Habits of Highly Responsible People) that I am responsible, that I have to power to choose my response. I may not control these situations, but I can control how I choose to act when they come up.  He would then (I think) point me to the the concentric circles of "Things in my control" surrounded by the larger circle of "Things outside of my control".  Concentrate on the things that are in your control, and you will expand the circle to include more of the things that are outside of your control.

My problem is that the even if I just try to manage the things that are in my control, the circle continues to contract rather than expand.  The things that I can control dwindle down (really) to those things that no-one else really wants to deal with, the things (that seem, at least) to be completely unnoticeable and unwanted.  Within these bounds, of course, I am told to "Exercise my authority" and "Be tenacious and dogmatic" - but being tenacious and dogmatic about the placement of the garbage can, in the end, is scarcely something that matters.

My time, I suppose, is still my own.  I can still choose how to use it and invest it.  I suppose even my responses remain my own, even as I recognize the fact that I can do very little to respond that will actually change my situation.

What am I missing that I could do to change the situation?  Or is this simply a reality that, like it or not, I simply need to accept?

Wednesday, January 02, 2013


"Our culture lacks vision in almost every arena.  How do you get vision?  You have to be passionate about something.  You must visualize the life you want to create and then be disciplined enough to get there.  Really, accomplishing your dream is not so much about mechanics and opportunity as it is about character qualities:  self denial, perseverance, commitment, focus." - Joel Salatin, You Can Farm

What is your vision for your life?  What is my vision for mine?

More specifically, what is your - or my - vision of our life for 2013?

I know individuals who are more passionate about sports teams they watch or the state of their automobile than are passionate about something in their life that will lead them somewhere.

Salatin is right that we no longer talk in terms of vision.  Vision, if anything, has come to mean a sort of metaphysical visitation - not a practical sort of thing that we can use in our daily lives.

But think for a moment:  those (at least in the Bible) that walked away from a vision of God came away passionate.  Isaiah in Isaiah 6, Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1 and 2 - even Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration - all walked away from their visions passionate about their calling and their God.  That vision sustained them, drove them on in the face of life.

But can the same level and intensity of vision be applied now, to our own daily lives?  Of course it can.  It's just that we have forgotten how to do it.

Think back to a time when you were really enthusiastic about something:  a new sport, a new author, a new hobby.  Thoughts of it filled you at all times.  You could not visualize anything that did not involve this thing.  You slept it, dreamed about it, lived it. 

For most of us, that is where it ends.  Life has a way of overtaking our visions and enthusiasms.  They don't play out as we expected or we had to get a "real" job or it did not live up to the promise that it offered.  We come to believe that visions are for the young and (perhaps) foolish, that we dwell in the world of reality and practicality.

But what if we are wrong?  What if is not the vision seekers that are unrealistic, but we who have allowed ourselves to believe that visions can never come true?

The reality is that every day there are individuals who are out living their visions - their dreams -while the rest of us plug along thinking that such things are simple not possible.

But apparently such things are.

We only need vision.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year 2013

Oh helper of workers
ruler of all the good,
guard on the ramparts
and defender of the faithful,
who lifts up the lowly
and crushes the proud,
ruler of the faithful,
enemy of the impenitent,
judge of all judges,
who punishes those who err,
pure life of the living,
light and Father of lights
shining with great light,
denying to none of the hopeful
your strength and help.
I beg that me, a little man
trembling and most wretched
rowing through the infinite storm of this age,
Christ may draw after Him to the lofty
most beautiful haven of life.

- Colum Cille (Columba) of Iona (521-597 A.D.)