Thursday, February 28, 2013


The words of others
may unconsciously destroy
what we wished to do.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Shelf Life

Does everything about our lives have a shelf life? 

No, not the actual living part of it - that I get.  And I even get that in some cases roles in our lives - like family and children, for example - have a sort of shelf life that may eventually change into something else.  But for other things - interests, careers, even relationships - do they all have a shelf life, a "best by" date, a point beyond which they fail?

I ask this question in view of getting answer I didn't really want to get for somewhere between the 15th and 20th time in four years.  It is the kind of thing that, in my industry, you are supposed to look at - a sort of feedback loop that theoretically allows you to make improvements and corrections to a system to make it better.

But in the example of shelf life, there is no coming back from moldy food.  There is no correction you can make (well, possibly cutting off the mold and eating the rest, but that is hardly a recommended option) to bring it back.  It is is really not good for anything except disposal.

Are our careers like that too?  Our interests?  Even our relationships?  Do they all have shelf lives, expiration dates that somewhere appear on the cans of our existence that I somehow cannot see?

And what do you do with that?  It is not like a store, where one simply goes in and purchases another loaf of bread or piece of cheese.  It is something that it in many cases has taken years to get to a certain point and in some ways is irreplaceable - in at least time and energy, if not relationships.

Can one - is it even possible - to get a dating extension on any of these things, to find out from the manufacturer that they have tested it and have given it a longer date? And if so, who would one apply to for such information?

One can only hope, I suppose - rather than live with the vision of sitting in the pantry of one's life, looking at can after can coming up "Expired".

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The still morning air
belies the blustering winds
that carried it here.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Do you ever have one of those weekends that is almost nothing like you plan it to be?  You hope for a weekend of both rest and accomplishment, of letting the body rest even as the mind is brought to life by activities.  Instead, what you find is a weekend in which you are busy running from place to place and task to task - none of them precisely what you were hoping for, of course - until you reach the end of Sunday and realize that another weekend has fled by and you have gotten so little accomplished.

It is terribly frustrating of course, because that was your time to do such things.  The week will rapidly be consumed by the dreadnought known as "Work" with a few hours plugged in here and there to make things seem palatable.  And the week, it always seems, precludes any forward progress on anything that you would like to be doing.  The weekend will come again, of course - but it always seems to have another set of tasks that need to be accomplished, leaving one a bit farther behind than the previous week.

And this, we grumble, is life.

But perhaps it really is life - just not life as we picture it.

Our lives are too often built on the theory that they belong completely and totally to us.  They are our possession: unearned by us, uncreated by us, they may appear to be gifts which are are to be spent however we will.  To not spend them on ourselves - to have them consumed by the parts of life we consider as useless or wasteful - seems like the greatest waste of time.

But what if our lives are not about us?  What if they are about the One who gave our lives to us, Who gave us 24 hours to spend each day?  We believe too often that we should be the arbitrator of what constitutes a good use of our time.  God says otherwise.

I have a series of hopes and dreams for my life, things I would like to do, goals I would like to accomplish.  I was hit last night by the very real thought that I may accomplish few or none of these.

Am I okay with that?  Can I deal with the fact that those things I consider important may never be accomplished by me?  Or can accept the fact that there are possibly more important things that God wants me to accomplish, carefully hidden in the guise of ordinary tasks I would disdain and interruptions that turn me from tasks I would rather do?

Ultimately our lives are not graded by what we accomplished for ourselves but what we accomplished for God.  And God is a good God - He gives us the opportunity to accomplish these things, sometimes pressing them into our lives  - cleverly disguised as the things which we interpret as interruptions.

The things we often call life.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Being Number 2

Life seems intent on reminding me that my place in it is as number 2.

Not the leader.  Not the starring role.  Not the one in charge - instead, I am reminded again that my role is second trumpet, supporting actor, someone pushing scenery around on a darkened stage.

Part of me simply thinks that I should have learned this lesson by now.  I've had literally years of practice doing it and yet, every time this situation arises again I feel shocked and amazed that it has occurred again.  It is as if my I consciously ignore what the circumstances are telling me and look to some vision only I can see about the way things ought to be.

I do get jerked back regularly though - every time the assignments come down as assignments, every time suggestions are pushed aside and I am "told" what I need to do and think, every time something I thought I was talented in is revealed to be not extraordinary (as if may have been in my mind) but simply ordinary - and if ordinary, easily replaceable or perhaps not even necessary.

Maybe the fault is my own.  Maybe I confuse leadership with visibility.  Sure, it is possible to be a leader without visibility - but if this is an acceptable situation, why do so many leaders insist on the attention as well as the acknowledgement?

Because ultimately being number  2 is about doing the work that needs to be done in a way that someone else gets the credit for it.

Maybe that is the source of my - I don't even know what to call it: anger?  despair?  depression? - this realization that the expectation by the ones leading is that you will do the work quietly and competently and then stand aside as the credit flows to them.  And that somehow, this is an acceptable situation for everyone concerned:  for them receiving such credit as the normal course of events, for number 2 to quietly return to the shadows and work in nameless recognition.

I keep trying to break out of this mold, yet constantly seem to be thrust back into it.  Is it possible that life is trying to tell me something?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Two Work Cultures

There are two types of work cultures.

One is the culture of blame.  In this culture, the primary push is to avoid getting blamed for failure or not accomplishing goals.  The work environment is one where everyone is keenly aware of what their particular task is, when they did it, and precisely how long the next person in the chain has had it.  Meetings in this culture usually devolve into discussions of what has not been done, who has not done it, and how long it has remained undone. 

The other is culture of getting things done.  In this culture, the primary push is to solve problems.  Individuals within each function may have tasks that are contributing to the whole, and may even find themselves in the position of not having accomplished certain things - but on the whole there is not a sense of any one person being singled out.  Blame is not emphasized (although responsibility may be pointed out for significant outstanding tasks); instead, the point of the work is to move things to completion and conclusion.

One of these cultures emphasizes the end result.  The other culture emphasizes not getting blamed and accomplishing your own tasks, even if the end result is not achieved.

The overall effect?  The first culture creates an atmosphere of back watching and documentation, where people spend as much time covering themselves as they do doing the work.  The other culture creates an atmosphere where people are willing to admit mistakes more freely, work collaboratively, and ultimately succeed together.

Which culture would you want to work in?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Unexpected Free Time

Yesterday evening something happened which has not happened in a very long time:  I had free time and nothing to fill it with.

It crept up on me unaware.  I looked up after dinner and washing dishes and it was only 7:00 PM.  I started going through my list of things I usually do.  Harp?  I had done it already.  Iaido?  I had class that night.  Weight Training?  Done yesterday.  Suddenly I found myself at a loose end.

Which struck me as ridiculous.  Here I am, someone who constantly has things I would like to be working on (or in the case of work, have to be working on), without an immediate thing at hand to do and no idea what I should be doing.  Had it really been so long since I had the concept of free time thrust into my hand?

What did I do? I finally read, something which I ordinarily love to do - but not the first thing that jumped to my mind.  Even when I was reading, I had this constant sense of nagging at the back of my mind, as if there was something else - some undefined quite important thing - that I should be doing instead of what I was doing.

The whole incident lasted only an hour, but the sense of it followed me to class, back home, and into the bed at night.  Perhaps I am wrong, but the fact that free time comes as a surprise and I have to struggle to fill it with something I enjoy tells me - perhaps - that there is perhaps not enough extra time built into the fabric of my life.  After all, activities we do should be something that we enjoy, not chores which become burdensome tasks in their own right.  And free time should not be seen as an unexpected guest with nowhere to sit but as an expected friend with a comfortable chair and a book waiting for it.

Because free time, like guests, will eventually find its way to other doors if not welcomed at our own.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Star Run

Stars shine above me
as I move through the darkness,
running towards dawn.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Not Feeling It

I'm not really feeling it this morning.

To be fair, I was not really feeling it all day on Sunday either.  It was just a lethargy, a sense that I didn't really want to do anything - and whatever I did try to do went nowhere.  No interest.  No energy.  No effort.  Just a sense of of "Leave me alone".

There was just this vast sense of things not making a difference no matter how much I try.  No matter what goals I set, no matter what I try to do, most of my life seems to be remarkably stable - or staid, depending on how you want to look at it.

And now Monday has come.

I don't quite understand this feeling.  It is not so much a feeling of depression as it is of having no energy to speak of at all - or at least, energy for action.  I don't feel unable to move and make efforts, I feel uninterested in moving and making efforts.

Why?  A very good question indeed, one I wish I had a better answer to.  In the back of my head is the suggestive thought that no matter what I try to do, it always seems to lead me back to about the same place.  Or perhaps it is processing the thought (yet again) that choices I made years ago have finally proven to lock me into a place where I did not anticipate being and now that I am here, leave me unable to attempt to move out from under them.

I wish I knew the cause, because existing without a level of interest in anything is as painful as it is boring.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Past and Present

Do do-overs exists?

I am not talking about the ordinary kind of course, the "Hey I wrote that wrong, let me correct it" or "I forgot milk at the store - let me run back and get it.".  No, I am thinking of the "Peggy Sue Got Married" kind,  the big step back in time or space to have the chance to re-cast a significant decision.

I ask not so much from the need to step back and retake a particular decision (although is there not a decision we would all like to remake?) so much as reconsideration of the purpose of wisdom in our life and how we use it going forward.  It is an interesting conundrum:  we only gain experience as we move through life, but it is always most easily applied looking behind us to what has been.  It is far more difficult to apply what we have learned to what is coming up.

That is the great part of movies that take someone back.  They have the benefit of having lived through the impact of their decisions - both the good and the bad elements - and can carefully weigh whether a different course would be worth it.  They can apply what they have already learned to the decision that they could make again and theoretically evaluate if a different one would have been better.

It seldom is of course, at least in the movies, and the character always determines that the decision they made was the correct one even with all of the bumps in the road that may have occurred since them.  Is it fear of the unknown of the new decision?  Is it a realization that every decision results in good and bad things in our lives?  Or is it that they are simply using the wisdom that they gained to inform their decision to live with the choices that they have made?

There are, of course, no time-space continuum jumps that allow us to go back and remake the decisions of our lives - yet interestingly, there are countless opportunities which cleverly hide themselves as new incidents or decisions to be made but are in fact simply versions of the choices and incidents we have faced in our past.  These, then, are the true "do-over" situations that occur to us every day:  not that we go back in time to remake a decision, but that we have the opportunity to make a decision using the wisdom that we have gained. 

The question is, will we apply what we have learned in the here and now based on the past?  Or will we continue to think longingly of the day our lives changed because of a decision, never realizing that the past is present today?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Carrying Motivation

Motivation can be a hard thing to capture at times, especially when the motivation you are trying to capture is to break out of a current chain which you care little for.

You want too, of course and you should have every reason:  the road that led to this point is has reached a wall that simply cannot be crossed and other roads seem to branch off from this point.   And to say on this current course of action is to ensure that nothing changes at all and nothing will change at all, that you will be exactly in the same condition you are, the condition you loathe so much.

And yet you sit there, looking at the wall, unable to turn.

Why?  Because you suddenly realize that every road that leads from this wall is really just leading to the same sort of wall somewhere else.  The scenery may change but the end result at least seems to be the same as the result you are facing.   And thus motivation slips between your fingers as you consider the fact that in changing, you are likely not to change anything at all.

Which is a bit ridiculous, of course.  Not all change is bad, even if it lies in merely shifting from one thing to another in the same palette.  We cannot see all things that will happen in the future even though parts of it look the same as they current existence we have.  The thing that looks so similar to that which currently know may in fact be the gateway into something we totally cannot imagine at this point. 

It is foolish not to at least try these other roads - but oh, the sinking sense of turning to face a road on which the pavement and lines appear so much like road that we are on.  In a sense it almost becomes an act of faith, a belief that things can change even when they seem that they cannot.

Which makes for an important lesson:  motivation cannot always be counted on to be the initiator of an action.  Sometimes we must carry it on our backs until, energized by progress, it is able to start walking on its own.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday 2013

The cold wind blows leaves:
I, too, am broken parts blown
in life's hurricanes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Commitment to Excellence, A Commitment to More

A commitment to doing more is becoming more and more difficult for many.

It concerns me, because I work in an industry in which the standards are always increasing, not decreasing - yet so often the response is "Why do we have to do that?  It is more work."  The problem is, I see that becoming more and more of an issue not just within the work environment but outside of it as well, where anything which does not enterain falls into the category of "boring".

I know - potentially I sound like a grumpy oldster, reminiscing on those days of yore when we pounded rocks to make our own sand.  But I am also an observer of human nature, and think I have lived long enough (and certainly read enough) that I can begin to make some consclusions about cause and effect.

To succeed in anything is to do more.  It is to consciously move beyond the minimum of effort to reach a higher level.  The hackneyed phrase "There is no shortcut to excellence" is true.  It takes more than just what we are willing to do - it takes what we must do.

I'm sure that many understand this in the context of things they like to do.  Where they would disagree with me in the things they have to do:  the unpleasant tasks, the boring tasks, the tasks that we "must" do.  To these sorts of tasks, the thought too often is that "minimal is enough".  The fact that the thought is often echoed consciously or unconsciously by those above them who are more concerned with results rather than doing things correctly and completely only strengthens this opinion.

But where does this thought pattern lead, this thought of not doing more simply because we don't like it or it bores us?  We hate to consider that those who serve us would also have such an opinion - after all, our food should be fully cooked, our paint preparation fully mixed, our car to be completely fixed instead of partially fixed.  In every way that impacts our lives, we believe that we should be the focus of an effort of 100% completeness, every time - even if it takes doing more.

But if that is our expectation of others, why is that not the expectation of ourselves?

The reality that history and human experience demonstrates to us is this:  given long enough, a lack of doing more in even the most trivial of things becomes a habit.  Habits become lifestyles.  Lifestyles become the societal norm. But society is a complex mechanism involving thousands, perhaps even millions of smoothly working parts.  If enough of those parts become broken - if the individual wheels of effort are removed from their axles because it is too much effort to do them - then eventually the machine will break down - and the society colllapse.

Overstating the case?  Possibly.  But ask yourself this:  if the effort I sink into my most boring task is the same amount of effort that my mechanic sank in to fixing my brakes, would I drive my car?

Excellence is something that springs from a sincere life of effort - sine cera, without wax to hide the cracks in our plateware but as a whole which is complete and thorough.  We cannot pretend to separate effort in some parts of our lives from a lack of effort in other parts of our lives and maintain that we seek to live a life of excellence.

Monday, February 11, 2013


I realized yesterday that I have made a fatal error in my writing:  I let myself become defined by what I was willing to do rather than what I needed to do. 

In a great many things I am self taught.  This has the advantage of 1) being able to understand how to pick up something and begin a course of study and 2) being able to learn something outside of the "normal" system of instruction.  The disadvantage, of course, is that one tends to feel that one may be missing specific or useful elements. 

And so one tries to compensate.  One writes, for example, but one has never had any formal training in creative writing.  The solution?  Buy a book of exercises and start doing those in hopes that additional improvements will present themselves.  Unfortunately, the problem with this theory is that exercises are never quite as exciting as writing - and so, one comes to define one's writing by what exercise one has completed.  Find a book with enough exercises to deflate the soul, and one stops writing very much at all.

Which is silly.  This is a paradigm that I really need to break away from.  In this era of multiple alternate learning techniques and technologies, I am still plodding away with something that does not seem to be working all that well.

What is the best way to improve writing?  Write.  Any published author would tell you that.  The important thing is to write - regularly, consistently - even if it does not result in the completion of exercises or a book.  By doing, we learn - not necessarily by performing exercises.

And so I have corrected this fatal mistake.  I have gone back to the model that did work for me via Nanowrimo:  a set number of words for a set period of time.  I'm not quite up to the level of November, of course- I'm not seeking to prove I can write a book in a month (I've done that already).  What I am seeking to do is to give myself a vehicle whereby I can insure that I write frequently and consistently.

Exercises do not determine results.  Results determine results - and reward.

Write on, Friends.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Specialist or Generalist?

Does one do one thing well, or many things reasonably?

This is the puzzle to which I keep coming back: is focus on one thing the path to success or a more generalized knowledge of many things?

Specialists are useful, of course, and well rewarded.  They have keen insights into the nature of whatever it is they are specialists of.  They are able in many cases to command high salaries.  The best of them never go without a position.

But my restraint in not wholeheartedly being a fan is that specialization is a fine thing as long as your speciality is in demand.  When it falls by the wayside, or even when it becomes less important than it was, you find yourself in the position of having too many crocodiles in a rapidly drying pool.  Spend time around a dying industry and you will discover precisely how polite even the most educated can be when the focus of their years of experience and expertise is disappearing.

Generalists are not nearly as well rewarded as a rule.  But they are useful:  the ability to pull from a vast store of knowledge can be a great thing for problem solving.  And perhaps they don't know as much about one thing, but they do know something about a great many things.  This makes them more flexible.

Specialists and generalists both have their place, of course:  without specialists we would not have the advances in technology and medicine that we have; without generalists much of the underlying work to make these advances possible would not be performed.  Both types are necessary to keep the ecosystem of society moving forward.

Which am I?  I'm generalist.  I'm just too interested in too many things (most of which will never be a direct career choice, of course:  the roles of harpists and swordsmen are fairly limited in our current society) to become an expert in one.  There are just too many interesting things in life to specialize:  even when I am reading, I inevitably find more that I could learn about.  I need to become better, of course:  if one wants to do something well, one must acquire some level of expertise in something.

But some level is not to the exclusion of everything else.  I may (as I do) have to learn more about my career field to move along in it; that will never replace the need (and want) to learn about cheese and cattle and Japanese history and why bees do what they do.

Because you never know when the battle of Ichi-no-tani will inform your day to day life.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Question Without Answer

Why am I doing all this?

I ask myself as I watch my schedule morph from day to day until I find the bulk of my time and energy is taken up by work - not just longer hours and more to do, but more time that it lives on my brain.  With the hours, of course, comes either less sleep or earlier bedtime, which cuts into doing the things I really do enjoy doing.  Before I know it, I am suddenly in the thrall of that which must be done with a sprinkling on top of that which I might like to do.

Why am I doing all this?

It is certainly not for any sense of getting ahead - that door has pretty much effectively closed at this point.  Nor is it from some glorified sense of "doing good" - I've been doing what I am doing long enough to know the limitations of that area.  Out of fear?   Possibly - fear of being singled out as ineffective, lazy, a non-performer - but even then that doesn't seem explain the larger sense of why I push myself harder and harder at something which I know in my heart of heart makes no difference.

Why am I doing all this?

There are no "good solider" awards for life that I am aware of.  Effort alone is no guarantee of any kind of reward - and I have been doing my line of work long enough to know that the lights can go off with very little notice indeed. 

It is just in my heart of hearts I cannot believe that collecting data and writing documents for things that will not matter in five years is hardly living life to the fullest.

Why am I really doing all this?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Rain Running

Shoes beating pavement,
the sky is beating my head:
wet hair and wet feet.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013


I wrestled last night with the concept of being a servant.

A servant.  Second violin.  Someone who quietly works in the background, doing what needs to be done without fanfare.  A very difficult concept for me - not the working quietly in the background of course - 15 years in my job field have prepared me for that - but the fact that this very well may be what there is.

There is - was? - a point at which I really kept hoping that I was leader material, that I would be a leader.  To set the tone, to be in front, to boldly move into areas with others following.  And to be recognized as such.

But the tone of my life - if I'm honest about it - is not that at all.  Whether if by seemingly taking myself out or being silently removed by God, those positions that I had thought I would do or was fit to do have turned into doors which quietly, peacefully were closed in my face.

Ah, says the world at large.  That's okay - the world needs doers.  We need a silent army of people to do the very important minutiae that needs to be accomplished.  It's not as if everyone can be a leader - but everyone can be a servant.

Which is fine, I suppose.  It's not as if my attempts at leadership have been that successful up to this point - and people are always ready for more help.

But I guess the thing that unsettles me as I see those horizons darken is simply the fact that a servant is never recognized.  The work is expected to be accomplished and more often than not scarcely acknowledged when it is.  To be a servant seems to be an acceptance of the fact that one will not lead - and by not leading, one comes to accept that the act of accomplishing a task is more than likely all the acknowledgement that will come.

To accept that fact that most of what one does will be unrecognized may be facing the truth as it comes, but it is hardly the sort of fact that makes the truth comforting.

Monday, February 04, 2013


There is nothing worse that being consumed by a problem that you cannot resolve.

This is what ended up consuming me last week, turning all of my attention inward, ensuring that I was essentially unable to work on anything else.  By the time Friday rolled around I was mentally and physically exhausted, wrapped up in a battle that I was not fighting with the problem but within myself - a battle that I simply cannot win.

It confused me a bit when I finally was able to sit and look at it relatively rationally on Sunday.  After all, how could something that I thought I could impact end up being such a dead end, leaving me exhausted (and incredibly upset)?  One is supposed to take action on one's problems; what happens if by taking action it simply means you do nothing at all?

The same story awaits me this week as it did last week.  The problem is still there and it still won't go away.  What will I do?  Will I seek to attempt to manage it via my emotions and energy and become the same person that I was last week?

No.  That simply won't do. 

Instead - at least for this problem - it is time to finally acknowledge the fact that there is simply nothing to be done about it in my power.  All I will be able to do go through my day head down, eyes on my tasks, setting emotion aside until I reach the end of my day, when I can begin to spend time and energy on that which is important.

That which we cannot change, we must endure.

Friday, February 01, 2013


Like the wind blown oak,
I woke up one morning and
found that I was strong.