Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Upon Seeing an Old Teacher

Yesterday I had the rather unique experience - and pleasure, be it known - of seeing an former high school teacher.

This was a first for me. Other than keep in direct touch with our band teacher (The Band Teacher From Whom All Things Good In High School Flow) for a number of years, all the others tended to fall by the wayside of contacts over the years: moving away, college, getting a degree, finding a job, children - and then moving very far away indeed.

It is for situations like this that (even I am forced to admit)Facebook is admirably suited. Suddenly last year, a friend request pops up from a someone that you literally have not spoken to in almost 30 years.

What constitutes a memorable teacher? In my day (I am old enough to say that now) we did not have a great pool of teachers - maybe fifty - and of those, less band of course, I could have possibly had a total of twenty. Of these twenty there are two that I can look back on and say had impacts that continue to resonate through my life to this Day: Mr. Q (The Band Teacher From Whom All Things Good In High School Flow) and Mr. D.

To analyze my relationship with Mr. D looking back, one would be hard pressed to say that it was something that should have had such impacts. He was my geometry and trigonometry teacher - subjects which I did okay in during high school but met only my minimum requirement for in college to get me degree (I am still not a fan). I TA'ed for him as well.

Math, one would think, is not the sort of thing that one would receive life changing lessons from: theorems are still theorems and triangles have not changed since the days of Pythagoras. And the time frame - one period a day for three years - is not the sort of time that one expects any sort of mentoring to occur. So why the impact?

Because Mr. D cared. He cared in two ways. He cared about my performance - when I was having trouble in class and it was due to my inability to focus (pretty much due to the fact I had rather focus on the pretty girl next to me) it was Mr. D that got my attention by sending me out of clas (the only time that ever happened) and having a meeting with my mother concerning the fact that he thought I could pass, but I needed to focus. Funny enough, he got his message across. I dedicated myself to passing that class - put away the distractions of my life and worked hard. As I recall, I got a B - not great, but far better than I could have done without his intervention. If I sit and think about it, I can trace most of my sense that I have the ability to do what I set my mind to from this experience.

The second way was in what he thought of my future - far better than I thought of it myself. For one of my college applications (one I did not ultimately end up going to) he wrote that while he believed I was capable of doing well he would be sorry to see me go so far away, as he would like to see my growth through the years. Of all my recommendations, his is the only one that I still recall. And his is the one that has stuck with me all these years: the belief that my life would be something worth following.

The lunch was great; catching up was that sort of experience that one can only hope for when seeing someone after a long time: no sense of time dragging or wandering into areas that someone else does not care about. It was a good experience, one I have an excuse to recreate the next time I am in town - after I collect a new set of adventures, of course.

I look at my own children now, as I try to infuse in them the sense that they can do anything that they want to and put their mind to and that they can have lives which are worth following to themselves and others - because somewhere back in my own misty past, a teacher took the time to look through the tangles of formulas and shapes on a board and do a little bit extra.

Thanks Mr. D. The next round is on me.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Always Coming Home

So we arrived at The Ranch last night.

I treated myself to a walk this morning. The woods were quiet, the quiet of mountains with nothing be trees and wind around them. The loudest noise was the crunch of my feet on the road as I walked towards the main road. I did hear the brief sound of two cars driving by - this constituted the rush hour for the day.

Coming back, one can almost hear the sunlight falling on the leaves and needles. The cattle in what was once (and now is again) the upper meadow looked at me curiously as I tromped past, a stranger outside of the usual rounds of owners and parents that they see. In the distance a flock of young tom turkeys, picking their way through the meadow as a disparate group of youth pick their way through the mall, slowly sauntered along picking at the occasional early morning grasshopper or other insect that failed to get out of their way.

It is high summer here now; the green of spring is long gone except for the needles of the pines and cedars that dot the landscape. The spring grasses are dry brown and cut short, their blandness only interrupted by small yellow flowers that seem to litter the area in front of the house.

There is a sense - I cannot truly define it - a sense of being at peace, of being home in a way that anywhere else does not fully fulfill for me. This place, nestled high in the mountains and overlooked except for those who know that it is here, radiates a sense of grounding and rightness that I cannot find anywhere else.

This is home.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Change and Stasis

I feel trapped both in a state of change and in stasis.

On the one hand my life feels like it is completely in a state of flux.  We are in the process of moving and closing out this house, even as I am getting ready to leave for a week of vacation to pick up a van and then motor back.  Essentially all of An Teaglach was out last week, and I will be out for the next week.  Part of my life is already packed away and who knows when I will find it; the other half is waiting to disappear into the vortex of packing boxes.  Na Clann start at different schools as well (the first time this has ever happened) so we are on the cusp of an even greater adjustment of schedules and times.

And yet so much feels the same.  My job is still my job, with its accompanying issues.  My life still feels and looks very much the same as it did before - a sense of a slow going in the same direction rather than any particular changes upcoming. 

In other words, the more things change, the more the seem to stay the same.

This bothers me somewhat.  I have always associated change with an overall good outcome, that something better was going to come of the situation. In this case I have no sense that something better is coming; rather, I simply feel that we are exchanging one living location for another without any sensation that this is an overall improvement.

I do not like change to no purpose.  Change is disruptive enough in a life; change that does not seem to improve anything simply makes it that much more unpleasant.

I keep waiting - perhaps hopelessly - for that moment when the better part of the change suddenly becomes apparent; where the life improvement reveals itself and all of a sudden the flux and change suddenly is revealed for the agent of a better tomorrow that I desperately wish they were.

But for now they remain silent:  the boxes slowly stack, the work continues one, and I attempt to manage my own sense wishing this change will go somewhere wonderful but managing my expectations that it will not.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Having Stuff

Preparing to move always has a way of getting me to consider the nature of the physical portion of my life i.e., the stuff that I have in it.  We pack everything up and it gets taken to the new location, where it either gets unpacked or perhaps simply left in its container until the next time we move, at which point we pry open the box, realize that it matches what is on the outside, and then seal it up to move on to the next place.

And as Charles Swindoll has noted, we seem to gain stuff as we move through life.  We start with what will fit in a car, then seem to move up to a truck, then a small U-Haul, then a larger U-Haul, until finally we need a semi-to take our stuff.

This thought process has taken a poignant ring to it as, two nights ago, Fear Beag's grandparents home burned to the ground.  It was totally destroyed.  At least 6 decades of stuff - of memories and life - is now ashes.

It gave me pause yesterday as he let me know and I sorted through the fact.  What would happen if our home burned tomorrow?  Everything we spent years acquiring and carting back and forth, including halfway across the country, would simply be gone.  Certainly we have homeowner's insurance and so would get our money, but that hardly replaces the real value - measured by comfort and sentiment - that such things have come to acquire.

The odd thing - odd to me at least - is that I like to pretend that I eschew the concept of being a person about stuff - yet here I am, swimming in it.  There are passing moments that I consider simply becoming a nomad - the times that I have had very little with me, as when I first moved to New Home or even when I attended Tokai this month - have been some of the most clear and thoughtful times of my life.  Why?  With little stuff the mind is free to spend its time on other things.  As Randy Alcorn says, It's like a balloon:  once releases from being tied down, it's free to soar.

Will I ever become the yurt-dwelling nomad of my occasional flights of fancy?  I doubt it - I am too much of a book lover to ever really become a man of truly few possessions.  But hopefully I can at least become more mindful both of what I think I need and the fact that this stuff is ultimately not going to be here forever.  Yes, we should care for that which we have been given, but let us never confuse that care with the concept that it will be with us forever.  Let us seek to define ourselves by the character of our lives and not the collection of our things.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Injury


Q:  So you didn’t post yesterday.  What’s up?
A:   I was running a little late yesterday morning.

Q:  Why?
A:  I actually got home at 3:30 AM from the Emergency Room.

Q:  Good Heavens!  What happened?
A:  A small training accident at Iaido Class.

 
Q:  Where did you get hit?  Did it hurt?
A:  On the bridge of the nose and under my right eye.  It didn’t hurt as much as some other things that I have had happen to me in my life. I honestly thought I was okay until I noticed I was bleeding a bit (by a bit, of course, I mean more than a bit).

Q: Did you black out?  Did you see flashes?  Did you see Elvis?
A:  No, unfortunately my life long dream of seeing Elvis failed to materialize yet again.

Q:  So you went to the emergency room.  What happened?
A:  I sat around a lot.  The initial ER doctor looked at me, and then another ER doctor looked at me.  They determined I had a “laceration with possible impact to the lachrymal canal”.  Also, I had a small piece of bone missing - a hole in my head, if you will (this will confirm what many of you have thought for years).

Q:  What happened then?
A:  I got transported via wheelchair to the CT scan (turns out there were no footrests for the wheel chairs – someone had been taking them all.  Go figure.).

:  How was the CT scan?
A:  It was cool!  It was like being in a StarGate:  The ring made noises and spun around, the table lifted you up and down.  I’ve been on rides that were less entertaining.

Q:  Good news there?
A:  Yup, no broken bones.
 
Q: And then they stitched you up.
A:  No.  I waited longer and they decided to send me to a larger ER to find an ophthalmologist to look at my injury. So I went by ambulance.

Q:  Was it a siren flashing, fun filled ride?
A:  No, really quite tame.  I shared the ride with a very nice woman who had her nose accidentally broken by her young son when he popped up from watching something and clocked her.  We were the “face trauma express”. I don’t believe the EMTs had ever had a run like us.  I’m sure we were disappointing in some ways:  virtually no pain to alleviate or anything to do other than monitor our vitals.  On the other hand, I’m sure they wish there were plenty more like us.

Q:  No sirens, huh?
A:  You’d be surprised how unoccupied New Home freeways are at 1:00 AM.
 
Q:  So you got to the next emergency room and then got stitches?
A:  Actually, no.  He was also concerned about the area of the injury – as he described it “There’s a lot of complicated machinery in there”.  This was about 2:30 AM.  I think we were all a bit tired and it was determined that I could go until the next morning at 9 AM with no risk.

Q:  So what then?
A:  By the time I picked my car up and got home it was almost 4:00 AM.  I got about 2 hours sleep before getting up to take Nighean Dhonn to Day Camp.

Q:  And then you got your stitches?
A:  No, then I went to the ophthalmologist.  Their opinion was that my eye looked fine (no damage to the retina, pressure was fine, ability to see was undiminished), but then wanted an ocular plastic surgeon to verify that there was no damage to my tear duct.

Q:  An ocular plastic surgeon?
A:  Yes.  Prior to about 16 hours ago I had no idea such a job title existed.

Q:  And then?
A:  I went to the ocular plastic surgeon.  Wonderful people.  They verified that my tear duct was working (turns out that it drains into throat.  Ask me how I know…).  Some Novocain and 10 stitches later, I arrived back home at 3:00 PM.
 
Q:  Are you going to have a scar?
A:  I’m sure hoping so.  I don’t know.  My surgeon was really, really good and I’m sure it would be taken as an indictment of their skill if there was one.  I, on the other hand, am hoping for the equivalent of the Heidelberg fencing scar of the last century.

Q:  Sounds like you saw a lot of doctors.
A:  I saw at least 5.  I saw more in the last 20 hours than I have seen in the previous 4 years.

Q:  How is The Ravishing Mrs. TB taking this?
A:  The Ravishing Mrs. TB is actually out of town on a mission trip with Nighean Gheal and Nighean Bhean.  I am convinced that between this and locking myself out of the house on Sunday she is never going to leave me home alone again.

Q:  You really locked yourself out of the house?
A:  We’re talking about my injury, not other issues…

Q: Best lines from the event?
A:  First Item:  Initial ER doctor examination:  She comes over to look at my injury, lifts it up, and says “C**p!”  This is not what you typically want to hear from your doctor.

Second item:  conversation with the EMT about my injury

“So you got hit with a sword?”
“Actually, a naginata.  Let me spell it:  n-a-g-i-n-a-t-a”.
(Silence)
“And that’s a …”
“It’s a Japanese pole arm.  It’s about six feet long and has a blade on the end-“
“Could we just say ‘Wooden pole arm?”
“That’ll work”

Third item:  conversation with the ophthalmologist:
O:  “So you do martial arts?”
TB:  “I do.”
O:  “So I should watch out?”
TB:  “Actually, no.  I’m pretty slow and more of a danger to myself than you.”

Q:  Overall Impressions?
A:  First of all, I was incredibly blessed.  God has been gracious in this entire event.  No serious injury (nor was anyone else seriously injured).  Insurance appears to cover everything. 

I was also blessed by a whole series of wonderful people:

-          My fellow student D who drove me to the ER and sat with me for 3 hours, took Laurel back home, came back and sat with me another 2 hours, then gave me a ride back to my car.

-          Our friend The Plumber who selflessly came over at midnight to stay here with Laurel until I got home.

-          All of my fellow students and senseis at my dojo who calmly and quietly went about cleaning up and not making a big deal about anything.

-          Without fail, every one of the medical personnel I met at four different medical institutions.  They were all pleasant, kind, professional and only interested in ensuring that I got the best treatment.  I never had any concern that I was not cared for or that I was forgotten.  If you have to be injured, New Home is a great city to do it in.


Second of all, I got to do a lot of firsts:

-          First CT Scan
-          First Ambulance Ride
-          First visit to an ophthalmologist
-          First visit to an ocular plastic surgeon

And a lot of other fun things:

-          Ride in a wheel chair.
      -          Got to sit in all kinds of chairs and beds that moved up, down, and in various pretzel poses.
-          My first visit in years to an ER that was for my own cause (and not one of my kids).
-          Learn all kinds of facts that will be useful in Trivial Pursuit:  Medical Edition.

Furthermore, I did my part for the art:  there are now at least 25 people who I am sure prior yesterday had never heard of Muso Jikiden Eshin Ryu that now know.

Q: Final thoughts?
A:  The short version?  I got poked and went to the hospital, where I got to meet many wonderful people and do a lot of neat things.  Maybe not one of my best days but surely one of the most interesting. 

There are times (like this) that Life turns out to be a great deal cooler than you anticipated.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Thousand Mile Stare

I have acquired the Thousand Mile Stare at work.

I am not sure when it really started.  My sense of it was sometime around Thursday or Friday last week.  I think it is one of those things that one notices only after it has happened; the point of crossing over the line is never so precise as to be able to be exactly labeled.

The Thousand Mile Stare (originally called Thousand Yard Stare), for those that may not have heard the term before, refers to "the limp, unfocused gaze of a battle-weary soldier, but the symptom it describes may also be found among victims of other trauma.  A characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder, the despondent stare reflects dissociation from trauma" (wikipedia.com).  It is the look and sense that events have simply overwhelmed one and retain one's sanity one has simply moved on.

Let us be clear:  I have been involved in no battle.  There is no trauma that I am aware of.  I have suffered no violent actions.  But my sense of the matter is the same.

It is the realization that, after four years of being in the same position, there may be a reason that traditionally I have moved on before this time.  The problems have simply become the every day accommodations that have to be endured.  Change is discussed about and talked about frequently but nothing ever really changes.  Power to implement change is denied or non-extant; dictates are expected to be executed no matter what their basis in reality.  There seem to be no consequences for the poor decision making of others, while any successes are simply brushed under the carpet without further adieu.

It is, in other words, an environment where failure is kept at bay by the simple expedient of ignoring it while success is allocated for the chosen few or simply slips away.

It is hard in such an environment to find motivation on a day to day basis.  Your work is never quite done.  Your successes are never quite noticed and failures, even if the result from the situation and not from you personally, are held against you.  The hope that something different is going happen, that something breakthrough is going to occur, has long disappeared.  There is nothing but the sense of the long slide petering off into twilight.

What to do?  This is the part that continues to bother and haunt me.  It is not an environment where effort invested results in perceivable dividends.  It is not an environment where professional growth leads anywhere.  It is not an environment where this time next year I will be doing anything different than this time last year.

But where else to go?  I have doing this long enough to realize that everywhere has elements of the same thing.  And something different?  What would that be?  How could that be viable?

I wish I knew.  All I know now is that every day as I get up in the morning there is a vague dread on my soul, a tiredness of spirit that I know will not disappear until I open the door to return home.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Closing My Eyes

I have a habit of closing my eyes.

Oh, not just physically (sure, I do that at night).  The larger concern is when I do it mentally to situations I simply do not want to address.

Where does this come from? Good question.  I am not really sure I can answer that meaningfully.  I suspect part of it stems from a sense of powerlessness about situations such that if I do not see I cannot know.  Part of it stems from the fact that I do not enjoy confrontation in the least, and many things that one closes one's eyes to require confrontation to deal with.  A third is even more basic:  I simply do not derive any pleasure from arguing about things.

The problem of course is that such things do not go away. At best they linger, not really getting any different.  At worst, they metastasize and become far more difficult - some times, too difficult to otherwise deal without radical measures.

A part of me quails, of course.  To begin to deal with those things that need dealing with is to push myself very far indeed outside of my comfort zone.  It is to begin to deal frankly and honestly with things that I would rather ignore.  It will probably result in some level of confrontation, maybe even some hostile words. And it requires changes - not just in the situation or the people involved but in myself as well.

So be it.  Because the reality of pretending that things will go away is that they never really do.

Friday, July 19, 2013

On Moving

The move is finally starting to become real.

Yesterday evening I was out in the backyard, rolling up the fencing around the garden and pulling out fence posts so that I can mow everything to a level before we go.  Our house is becoming a maze of boxes which seems to grow every day as additional units appear.  Things that we have not seen in four years emerge from the backs of closets and tops of shelves, a sort of slow moving treasure hunt.

Moving has always been sort of an odd thing to me, odder because of the fact that growing up we never moved at all.  I had no frame of reference before I went away to college.  Now, it seems that we have moved every 3-4 years since we got married.

It is not all bad of course - it is one way to ensure that everything you get is occasionally reviewed to see if you really need it.  The chances that you have a massive build up of stuff is minimal if you have to pack it and unpack it every so often.  And ultimately it is a very good reminder that in the end, we will all have to perform one more move - but in that case we will leave everything behind.

The packing will continue, the maze will grow higher as closets and shelves grow more empty - until there is suddenly a mass rush to get everything out the door.  The event  will be unsettling - moves always are - but there does come at least one moment where, standing in the doorway of the house or apartment you are vacating, you can look into the empty space and hear the sounds of the life and events that occurred while you were there.  That, ultimately, never goes away.

And then, of course, comes the unpacking....

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Heroes

Who are your heroes?  Who are the ones you seek to emulate in your life?

This thought fully forced itself to my consciousness about a month ago.  It is not a subject that I had paid particular attention to in the past - sure, I want to be better and there are people that I admire, but I had never really given it a great deal of thought. Another mitigating thought - peculiar to Christians, I suppose - is that we are enjoined to emulate Christ.  This has always been somewhat of an intellectual challenge for me:  the thought of emulating the Son of God is somewhat daunting and somehow seems doomed to failure (which, ironically, is actually the point - and for another time).

But the thought was there:  who, if given the chance, would I seek to be more like in my life?

Here are my answers, in no particular order:

Miyamoto Musashi
Socrates
Winston Churchill
Francis Schaeffer
Masanobu Fukuoka
Gene Logsdon
Joel Salatin
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Jan Sobieski
Martin Luther

A mixed list for sure.  Lots of names that are not commonly known (and a few that are).  Are there any similarities?    Some of them - Schaeffer, Bonhoffer, Luther - are men of faith who reached out to a world around them in the midst of transition.  Some of them - Fukuoka, Logsdon, Salatin - are farmers who emphasize small scale agriculture and returning to a balance with the land.  Some (Sobieski, Churchill) are military and political leaders who led their countries in times of great crisis.  And some (Musashi, Socrates) are simply my own favorites:  Musashi for his dedication to the martial arts and his encompassing of all things, Socrates because of his dedication to the truth and his ability to patiently teach it.

And with the (technical) exception of Socrates, all of them were writers.

What do my heroes tell me about myself?  I am not sure about that either.  They reflect the things in my life that I probably enjoy the most (agriculture, religion, history, theology, philosophy, nature, martial arts).  They are all men who are determined in their opinion and able to present them cogently to the world (something I secretly think I lack).  They are all - whether overt or quietly so - leaders to those around them.   And they are all writers.

Looking at them on the page, they are not a bad stable of men to seek to be more like.  I have their writings and history.  They are certainly knowable (to the point one can know someone through their writings).  They are easily accessible to me only a daily basis, should I wish to do so.  And ultimately, they all call me to a better more real version of myself.

These are my heroes, those I seek to emulate.  Who are yours?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Visit With My Interest in Japanese

A very old friend wandered into my campsite this weekend as I sat, reading. 

It was my interest in Japanese.

"How is it going?" he said as his flipped out the legs of his hakama,  making crane wings as he sat down on the dead grass.

"Well" I said as I put down The Art of Japanese Sword Polishing.  "It has been a long time since I have seen you around."

He nodded.  "It has been a little...constricted for a number of years.  I was finally able to get out for a walk as you attended Tokai. I faked out a number of other individuals and just moved on through.

We sat for a moment in the wind which, although seeming warm, bore with it the hint of cooling down before the evening was through.

"What brings you out?"  I asked, breaking a silence in which my interest just sat and breathed in the air.

"You, actually"  came the response.  "The Tokai has giving me a reason to think on things.  This other thinking you have also been doing in your life also has me thinking.  Have you thought about giving us another chance?"

I raised my eyebrows and looked at him.  My words stumbled in my mouth for a minute.  "I do not know.  It has been so long.  What has it been since we initially started - close to thirty years?"  At his half shrug, I continued. "That is a long time and a lot of water has gone under the bridge.  I am in a different place now."

"But you have toyed with the idea for years, have you not?" prodded my interest.  "It continues to linger at the edges of your mind.  You have never  truly given up on it as an interest.  And what do you read more often than not?  Japanese related books.  You have undertaken iaido, which constantly deals in Japanese language and concepts."

"I am too old"  I said brusquely.  "Too old to begin this sort of thing."

My interest snorted.  "Too old?  Nonsense. Perhaps lacking the will, but hardly too old."

I sat and thought about it as he continued to stare off into the distance.  "You have a plan?"  I finally asked.

He nodded affirmatively.  "Of course.  We can start with actually dedicating some time to do it.  Every day.  You know what your studying weaknesses are.  Overcome them.  There are opportunities which surround you to use Japanese.  Use them."

"And then?"  I asked?

"Well, there is a text for your school of iaido which has never been translated, you know. The sort of thing that someone with an interest in iaido, maturity, and a skill in Japanese might be able to do something with..."

I laughed.  "You think big."

He smiled in response as he got up and dusted off his knees.  "I always have.  We just have not communicated the way we ought."  He bowed once then turned and wandered back through the campground, his black-clad form cutting a path through the playing children and people with their bags of laundry until he disappeared around cedar tree lined fence leaving only the dust swirling in his wake, dust which formed characters which I thought I could almost recognize.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What and Who

Change is a powerful theme in my life now, something I had not grasped until this weekend.

I finished reading two books - both about change.  I continue my professional conversation - about change.  I went through and re-evaluated my goals - and what needed to change. 

Change is a powerful theme - but what do I need to change?

This is the question that has come to dominate my thinking since the weekend.  There seems to be so much that I could change about myself - not just the trivial things of what I look like or simple items like what to keep in my life the important things of character and behavior, relationships and what I spend my life on.  Which of these things need to be changed?  From what to what?  And in what order?

But a thought followed on after these thoughts, something that really should have preceded them: who do I want to be?

This is the key (or at least one of the keys) that has escaped me until now. 

Who do I want to be?  What do I want to be like? What character attributes do I wish to have?  Whom do I wish to emulate - and how?

If one has the answer to this, it seems, the other issues fall into place.  If I know who I am to be, then what I need to change becomes easy.  It is a bit like sculpture as I understand it:  if carving an angel, simply remove all pieces of stone which do not look like an angel.  This, of course, presumes that you know what you are going to carve in the beginning.

Not that this first step is easy.  It takes time and energy to determine what you wish to be like.  Ideally it takes a great deal of careful thought - after all, once the decision is made, it can be difficult to remake yourself.  But once made, the matter of what to change should become much easier, a simple exercise of carving away all that is about you that is not what you see in your mind.

If I can determine the who, the what should easily slide into place.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Computer Problems

Waiting to boot up,
My computer is too slow:
Aargh!  Late post today.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Accountability and Action

In a random discussion yesterday concerning the nature of change and response, I came to realization which has been surfacing in the back of my mind for some time know:  the relationship between accountability and action.

Accountability is a word that I hear thrown around a great deal, both at work and in other places.  Someone needs to be accountable.  You are accountable.  Another version (they are not the same in my opinion but are used synonymously) is that one is responsible e.g. accountable.

However, making one accountable without giving one the authority to make changes or take action means that accountability is less of an item which enables action and is more of an item which shifts blame.  Accountability becomes another concept for how failure will flow: if this fails, who was accountable?  It matters not that they the tools to execute or the authority to request, only that they failed.

Another area where accountability fails is that it is seldom linked positively to rewards.  If I am accountable, am I also not potentially in a position to reap rewards for successfully executing my tasks?  Too often the answer is no. To succeed is simply to do your task; to fail to ensure blame.

This, in turn, leads to individuals turning away from taking action.  If I am only to blamed, if there is no ability for me to execute or enforce that which I am accountable for, and if there is no reward for successfully completing my accountability, there is no incentive for anyone to take action.  Taking action can lead to nothing at all; certainly if I fail to take action, I am probably no worse off than if I took action if for no other reason than I have definitively ensured I will not mess up more completely than if I do nothing as all.

And thus the cycle of powerlessness:  I cannot change anything so I do nothing.  I do nothing (because doing nothing really does nothing for me) so I cannot change anything.  Anything I try to change, any choices I try to make are simply swept away as my actions become the equivalent of building sand castles in front of the ocean knowing that they will be swept away.

How do I change this dynamic?  I wish I knew.  In order to change it I would need to create or find a situation where accountability can result in success, where authority is given to execute and where reward and blame are equally possible as outcomes.

Where can one find such a situation?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Efforts Leading to Nowhere

There is nothing quite so destructive of effort as a long march in the same direction that results in nothing.

It is an interesting paradox:  we are told and come to believe that if we simply put 100% of our effort in we will reap the benefits of that effort.  Sure, it may seem like we are simply standing in place doing the same thing - but the promise is that somewhere, somehow, the reward is waiting.

And someday the realization  comes that it is not.

This year comes to look the same as last year - perhaps we are doing different versions of the same thing, but it seems like we are simply reshuffling a deck of cards and pulling out a different five and being told that this really is something new.    The issues remain the same, the arguments remain the same, the structure remains the same.

It surprises me somewhat that those in positions of authority do not see this for the very destructive and debilitating issue that it is.  People are the heart of any organization - be it a job or any sort of association, without people the work does not get done.  Yet too often those on top seem to cruise along in a sense of suspended belief, operating under the assumption that all is well indeed and that this year will be like the last. 

The reality seems to be that at this point the individual is confronted with two choices:  either accept the illusion that the effort is going to result in something different (which it seldom seems to) or make a conscious decision to strike out on their own - mentally if not physically - to reach a destination more of their choosing.

Neither of these ultimately benefits the leaders.  The first option ultimately results in individuals that are simply going through the motions of their tasks, doing the minimum possible to meet the expectations.  The second option ultimately results in individuals walking away from the job or association as they seek to pursue their opportunities elsewhere.

People want to change, grow, and feel that their effort is leading somewhere.  This is why, at the core, people have hobbies or interests that they continue to progress in - because they can see their effort resulting in a tangible improvement, which drives them to continue. 

It is when people are robbed of this opportunity that they choose to check out - mentally or by moving on.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Slouching Towards Change

I am ever so slowly pushing myself towards the precipice of change.

This is a thing that I am doing with some trepidation - after all, change can often go precisely the way you don't want it to - but with a hesitant sense of purpose.  I sense - and it has been suggested to me - that my ability to make the significant change I need to move to "the next level"- whatever that really means - is limited without some additional prodding.

How do I feel about this attempt to force change at a faster rate than I would undertake myself?  Excited and scared at the same time.  Excited, of course, because what I have tried to this point has not been the raging success that I have hoped for.  If I look over the last four years of my life I can see change, but it seems like tangential change:  change in activities which only indirectly result in a personal change.

Scared because, of course, once you open the can of change all sorts of things crawl out of it:  things that you hoped to resolve and all kinds of things that you either were not planning to deal with at all or perhaps worse, that you did not really intend to open up to the process at all.  One thing can lead to another and suddenly you discover yourself remembering and having to deal with an issue that is twenty years gone and (theoretically) forgotten.

It is at moment like these - when I turn away from pursuing the change or simply become lazy in doing what I need to do - that I ultimately fail because I ultimately let myself off the hook.  Faced with that which is too painful or too disruptive to consider I simply let it sink back to the bottom of my life.  The result?  The life which I maintain now - not bad by any stretch of the imagination but hardly the thing that I hope and need it be.

And so, trembling, I face the light - hoping not so much that I can find that which I need in short order but that I will at least have the courage to stand as the chest of my soul is opened and all that is inside raises its collective head to the unfamiliar light of day.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Wings

Swallows of the night
wheel and dart above me
as I plod forward.

Friday, July 05, 2013

The Change of Others

I cannot change people.

Oh, I know.  This should not be a news flash to anyone, even myself.  Someone could (and probably has) made a living of writing a number of self-help books around this entire subject:  titles such as "You Can't Change Anyone But You" and "Hoping To Change Someone Else?  Hope Again." litter used books stores under the appropriate sections.

But there is always this lingering hope, perhaps even a forlorn one, that if I simply perform the right series of events I will find the hidden combination which I seek.

Admitting - really admitting - that you cannot change people is actually a rather large step.  It is surrendering the concept that you have a certain kind of power.  It is conceding that people are really independent beings from yourself and not simply extensions of your own will.  It is admitting that you have much less power than you liked to think you had.

Can people change their behavior?  Of course.  Can you even be a part in that behavior change?  Again, of course - but by first surrendering the concept that you can make them do anything.

People will only change as a response to changes in you.  You can possibly still be the casual agent you think you should be - but in a much less direct way than you think possible.

This thought is not nearly as exciting, of course.  This moves the actual work of the change to a much different purview:  yourself.  And change - true change - is never very easy.

But I suspect there is a hidden outcome to this which is not readily visible from where we often sit.

I believe (although I have little to back this up in my own experience) that the very process of change in ourselves will modify the change we thought we wanted in others.  By the time we have changed to a new way of behavior what we may discover is that the very thing that we thought was so important to us - this person's approval, that person's buy in, the other person's interest  - is much less critical to us than we first thought it to be.  Or, even if the change we wanted comes, we can view it through a very different lens than we were first using.

But it all has to begin with that very simple, very humbling admission:  I can change no-one.

Except myself.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Why We Remember the Fourth of July

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained, and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
Source: The Pennsylvania Packet, July 8, 1776

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Moonset

Chasing the last moth,
the infintesimal bat
covers the pale moon.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Who?

Who is this man that has been creeping out from time to time:
confident, aggressive, no nonsense?
I cannot say that I recognize him.

We share something, of course:
a body, five senses, the same brain -
but I do not believe I have met him before.

He claims to have much the same experience as I:
same upbringing, same education, same family.
But there is something different about him.

He is what I seem not to be: 
He simply wades through things, determining and commanding
as he goes.

He seems to be so much of what I think I need -
hard to believe the lips he uses
are my own.

Who is this man that has been creeping out from time to time:
confident, aggressive, no nonsense?
I cannot say that I recognize him -

But I want to know him more.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Spray Nozzle

My spray nozzle for my hose is broken.

Oh, it had been going for a long time. The plastic ring which secures the handle to body and allows the pressure to be applied (thus producing water) has been slowly slipping for months now.  I noticed it every time that I used it, it was slipping more side to side.  Finally, one day it simply broke.

One would think that I would just go get a new spray nozzle.  I am too economical for that; after working with it I figured out that if I held it a certain way and made sure that I applied pressure directly to the trigger point it works just fine.  If I slip a little to one side or the other, I suddenly lose pressure.

Wonderful.  I saved myself $3.00 or so.  But last week, as I struggled to get it aligned again, I suddenly realized that this was reflective of my life as well.

Over time the ring of my life - the ability to fulfill a purpose, to do something -wears away as we constantly face the realities of daily life.  We learn to do what we have to, perhaps not what we like.  It keeps wearing, we keep going - until the ring breaks.  Then what?  For me,  I suddenly realized that I start learn to compensate.  Rather than go ahead and fix the process (it is not as if I can run to a garden supply store and buy a new life), I learn to compensate:  apply pressure right here and life will continue to work.

The difficulty, of course, is that one has to spend greater and greater time applying pressure to that one point - to the point that the effectivity and efficiency of the process is lost by the time spent trying to make the thing work.

My life (unlike the nozzle) is not made of cheap plastic.  I believe it to be able to be repaired.  The question is by mechanism.

If purpose is the ring which secures the effort of our lives (the handle) to the effort of our lives (the nozzle) then how do I re-discover it to reattach the handle?