Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: That Was The Year That Was

So here it is:  the end of the year.  How did we stack up?

Okay.  Actually, perhaps better than expected.  I got a lot of what I wanted to do this year done:

- Published two books (including one I had been holding for 5 years, putting off).
- Got my Chudon Menkyo for Iaijustu
- Ended my Highland Athletic Year in the top 250, which was an improvment - and successfully beat all of my previous records.
- Attended all of the Tokai for Iaijutsu
- Got out to see our family this year.
- Had a reasonably good year at work, including passing a number of important audits.


Ichiryo Gusoku:  Here, I was not so successful.  Singular success (with Nighean Donn):  getting quail.  Even though they are not producing eggs yet (hopefully they will), they are here and we have a local supplier.  Everything else (with the exception of some cheese production and a surprisingly fine yield of peppers) remains the same.

What did not get done?  New job - but that deserves perhaps a little more thought anyway.  Greater financial progress - but again, that seems like it will pick up speed this year.

So on the whole, not a terribly unsuccessful year.

What is on the agenda for next year?  I already have a listing of things I want to work on.  I need to give more careful consideration to them, hone them more over the next two days to put some meat and objectives on them.  I made successful progress on some of my goals.  I need to understand more completely why.

But that is for later.  For now, I am simply grateful that it was a good year.  We end it healthy.  We end it employed.  We end it together.

And one cannot ask for a great deal more than that.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Out for the Day

So today we are doing something we have not done in a long time:  taking a family day out!  We are off to a local ice cream factory (I know - in December, go figure) for a tour and a scoop of ice cream (which is only available in our state).  I will catch up tomorrow, slightly fattened up but happy!

Update:  Our quail seems to be doing better:  up and and around, eating and drinking.  He is located in our fabulous quail hospital (a large tub inside the house) until the healing process is complete.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Rats Again

Warning: Today's post is not a happy one.  If you are offended by blood or the way nature works, this might not be the post for you.

This morning as I went out to feed the quail I noticed one of them - the big one I assume is the male - just siting on the floor of the cage.  It is quite unusual behavior for him - especially as all other quail were doing their usual hop dance as I put my hand in.  I reached in to grab him and turned him over, only to find his entire great plucked clean of feathers.

Rats.

It is the only explanation.  There is not a single feather left on his breast (fortunately, there appears to be no other punctures than that).  I had thought I had cleared them out and had not seen any sign of them (I thought).  Apparently I was just fooling myself.

The quail is now in our homemade hospital suite, a large converted tub with sawdust and some food and water and a friend (who, I now suspect, also had a run-in with the rat).  He has food and water and will be (hopefully) spending an extended time there healing (I have no idea how long it takes feather to regrow).

I feel awful.  I feel like I should have seen this, should have done more to protect them.  I should have been more suspicious.  They count on my for their survival and protection - and I let them down.

Off to the store, of course, to get ready.  I am delving into an area I do not typically dwell in in my world - the conscious preparation of killing an animal.  It unsettles me greatly.  But then I remember the words of Gene Logsdon, that wise sage of country living, who says that "Mother Nature could just as easily be called Old B**** Nature."

And I am angry - angry perhaps without cause, but angry none the less.  Angry at this animal that has attacked a harmless bird - no, a harmless bird under my protection.  Yes, someone can make the argument that it is merely doing what rats do in the wild.

Fine.  Go do it somewhere else.

It is at these moments I think sometimes the entertainment industry does a great dis-service to us all by anthropomorphizing animals.  People think of things like rats and they thing of The Rats of Nimh or The Tale of Despardeux or The Great Mouse Detective:  animals that speak and have feelings - maybe a little evil perhaps, but none the less that are conscious, sentient beings that act rationally.

The sad reality - the one I find myself painfully reminded of this morning - is that this is not the case at all.  The rat is acting as it is wont to act in nature: find and secure a food source.  Not sing, not find a way to co-exist - find a food source.

As the Ents said in The Two Towers "We go, we go, we go to war to hew the stone and break the door."

But I am none to happy about it.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A New Writing Utensil

So yesterday for Christmas The Ravishing Mrs. TB got me a new computer.
This was unexpected.  But very welcome.

Currently the laptop I have been using was one we purchased as an original refurbished model in 2011 (I think) after my first laptop - the remaining item I owned from The Firm - died on us.  The laptop served in good stead but seems (like most older technology) to be chugging along after a while - it literally took the thing 30 minutes to start up to the point that I could make use of it.  Apparently I had been making enough complaints about the thing and apparently someone had a deal that could not be ignored - and thus, the computer under the tree appeared.

The single biggest significant difference?  My old laptop had approximately 20 GB of memory.  My new unit has 450 GB.

There are other differences as well:  no CD drive (but then again, when was the last time I loaded a CD ), no installed Office style program (apparently Microsoft wants you to buy their on-line things now; I may try that or just see if I can outright purchase what I need - after all, beyond Word and Excel, what do I truly use?) and the whole general set up  of the start and opening page (which, regrettably, is exactly what I am having to deal with at work as well.  I do not like it one bit).  It even has all four arrows in place of the three plus the missing down key I currently use.

But those are probably things that can be worked out.  The screen is huge.  The speed at which the thing starts up is amazing (to me, anyway).  The unit itself is remarkably light - no Airbook to be sure, but certainly a huge difference from my current unit.

What a pleasant and geniuine surprise - and what a joy to know that I can go into the new year armed with a new tool to write with.  I had better make sure my writing is equally up to snuff.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014

"Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign to you:  You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager.
      And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:  "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill towards men!"  - Luke 2:  10-14

Nollick ghennal erriu! (Merry Christmas!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Speed and Void

Swept along by speed of time, I suddenly find myself at Christmas.

How did this happen?  Surely the year cannot be so far spent already?  It hardly seems like any time has passed at all - and certainly not enough to legitimize the end of the year being here.  There was so much I had left to do this year that did not get accomplished.  Instead, so much got buried and lost by tasks that mean little more than paying to exist.

This is one of the parts of life that saddens me the most, I suppose:  the realization that I have spent so much of my time laboring (almost seventeen years by my count) for something that I have nothing to show for except a collection of things and the house that I live in.  Most of that labor has not resulting in anything of lasting value or in the sorts of changes that one can look back and point to: documents and signatures are hardly the sorts of things that pass the test of time - or matter.

This is the most depressing part of days like today, where the speed of life catches up with one and end of the year makes one realize how quickly it flies:  the fact that little of it truly seems to have mattered.  And this is where staring down the road of the future makes things even less exciting: can I imagine doing another twenty years of this for the privilege of "retirement"?

I crave - oh, how I crave - to do something with meaning, something of lasting value.  Something that one can say with pride "I did that - and look at the difference it made".  Something that matters.

Something that will not leave me at the end of the year looking back and saying "Is that it?  I was hoping for something more."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Points of Despair

Occasionally I reach the point when I despair of parts of my life.  Not all parts, mind you - in lots of ways a lot of things seem to be going as well as they ever have right now.  Some of the semi-important ones actually, which is always a good thing.

But somehow there always seem to be the outliers.  And sometimes they are very important.

What does one do in such situations?  Especially when they are some of the critical things of life?

I have tried various approaches:  pretending that I could just work around those particular areas.  Wandering off into my imagination to find worlds where such problems did not exist.  Gritting my teeth and attempting to just work through it.  Trying to be optimistic that things were going to change and get better.

The reality, of course, is that none of these approaches will actually work.  Why?  Because the fail to deal with the underlying problem (the "root cause", as we so often call them at work).  So the solution would seem fairly easy, right?  Just deal with the root cause.

So why can I not do that?

Some of them, of course, are circumstances outside of my control where I can only partially address causes but perhaps not the main cause - for example, I can be the best worker in the world and do what I can, but my ability to get promoted or get another job ultimately rest on factors that I cannot control.

But some of them remain fully within my control.  Yet I fail to address them.  Why?

Fear?  Fear of what?  Certainly nothing I am going to confront is anything close to causing my death.  Fear of discomfort then?  Yes, perhaps that - but is discomfort any worse than the un-comfort I feel now?

The fact remains that something needs to be done.  The clarity and flowing water that is moving through some parts of my life is only exposing the remaining stones more clearly.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Winter's Roar

Hail and lightning pound
the roof, as a cold front stalks
around my warm bed.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Request

Not a deep post today.  I'd ask that you do me a favor.

My friend G of GPS Music (he has posted here from time to time) had an actual tragedy in his life this week:  his wife of 4 years M, his high school sweetheart, passed away in her sleep last night.  She had been suffering from fibomyalgia and a number of other health conditions but this still was apparently a surprise as she was my age - far too young to pass.  She leaves behind her own three sons as well as her five step children and her husband, himself suffering from a rare disease that impacts his mobility.  Her position in heaven is assured; her family will still grieve.

I never know what to say in these situations.  "I'm sorry" or "I'll pray" sometimes seem as contrite as they do the thing you need to say.  Often there is little you can actually do for the people involved.  So I would ask that you do something in the name of the people involved.

My favor?  Today just go do one unmerited, unasked for, generous deed.  Could be something you always do but just were not going to today.  Could be something you might never do.  Could be something you have never thought of doing before.  That is okay - it does not matter what, it just matters that it gets done.

Thank you in advance for honoring M and G.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review Time

Time for the annual reviews.

Never a pleasant process and one that I always dread to some extent.  Our form is certainly more user friendly this year and far less difficult to complete, but there is still is the inevitable sense of slight dread that comes over one when completing the review of an entire year in a relatively small amount of pages.

As part of the process I referred back to my 2013 review to see my objectives for last year.  And found that I could not look at it.

Seeing that review - seeing those words - sent me back to last year, really the last five years.  All the old feelings came up again:  the lack of empowerment, the constant sense of being unsupported,   The words echo back from the paper:  "TB is not this.  TB did not do this.  TB did everything but  it was simply not enough to move ahead.  Ultimately, TB failed to show the proper deference to me"

TB, shut up and accept your lot.

I could not look at it again.  I started to, got about two sentences in, and then put it aside.  That represents such a blot on my life, such an aberration of what I have come to experience from all my other managers, that I chose to put it down and away.

In a nutshell, the review represents everything that I feel like I fight against sometimes.  Expectations without directions.  Targets without definition.  Vague promises about will happen with belief that they will be backed up or acted upon. The proclamation that we are a merit based system but the reality that we are system too often based on how you make me feel as a superior.  And the reality that all the effort in the world will not move the needle for many people.

In other words, it represents an unhealthy work situation.

Perhaps, just perhaps, it is time to seriously reconsider my options.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Going to Katsuura

So I have set at least one goal for 2016:  going to Katsuura.

Katsuura is a both a place (I think) in Japan as well as the annual training lead by the headmaster of my order. It is held for two to three weeks in Japan.  And I want to go.

Perhaps need to go is a little more accurate.  The reality is this:  no matter how hard I train, the chances I will ever travel to throw worldwide are, well, minimal.  Katsuura is something that is within my power to do.

Training all day.  For two weeks.  Who is not going to get better and more focused doing that?

But it requires a fair amount of planning.  These things just do not happen overnight, of course.  Plane fare alone will be close to $1000.  And then there is the actual training (from what I understand it is very reasonable, but it still has to be paid for).  And the time off from work, of course - 3 weeks at one time is a bit more than most people do.  

It can all be done, of course - but it starts with a commitment, a commitment that I am going to Katsuura in 2016. Once I say it - once I say it to others and believe it - then there is not reason that it cannot be so.  It merely becomes a game of numbers.

Ikimashoo!  Let's Go!

Monday, December 15, 2014

On Finishing

So I finished the manuscript of my latest book tonight.

It has been languishing since September, when I stopped work on it because it did not feel "right".  But it did not feel as not right as what I tried to type in November - it was not so much a painful experience as writing as it was I seemed to have reached a block.

But on Saturday I decided that it needed to be done.  So I sat down and did it.

It took surprisingly little time - a little over two hours.  The words that would not come for months suddenly flowed through my fingers like electricity.

In a way, I have to finish.  I have other ideas that I want to move on to, but I find that I cannot move on to the next.  It is as if the idea gets lodged in my head and it will not allow me to go forward unless I complete what I am working on.  Not a bad habit, really - it just sometimes seems annoying at the time, when you are ready to move on and cannot (which, actually, is one of my biggest issues:  not sticking with things long enough to truly succeed).

Just because I am finished does not mean that I am done, of course:  there is still a lot of editing to be done (a great deal probably, since this essentially written in two different time frames) with the catching of spelling errors and rough words - and then the fun part of course:  cover design.

But today I will be glad in the fact that finished is finished.  I can still hold to - and finish - things I start.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Moment of Commitment

The moment of confusion when you throw yourself into something fully, not knowing precisely where it will lead.

It is an odd thing, commitment:  that moment before which the thing was not as and important and the moment after when the the thing is the most important thing in the world.  It can be a conscious deciding, a deliberative move of the mind which comes about after hours of agonizing thought.  It can also be a seemingly innocuous move, something which seems to almost be done on the spur of the moment.

Either way, the world looks completely different after the fact.  Events, people, even time - the stuff of life itself - takes on a new meaning.  No longer are there seemingly random events or things that just happen:  everything needs to be put into the matrix of the thing which has been committed to.  The world focuses down to doing anything which moves you one step closer.

The odd thing is that for most of us, I suspect the moment of commitment is kept as a vague event for something which we cannot fully imagine - because if we truly comprehended all that we would have to do, all that would be required of us, everything that would happen in the pursuit the thing, we would turn away in fright and terror.  Because the realization at that time - the commitment, the choices, the pain, the agony - become far too real while the end of the commitment - the achievement - becomes far too ethereal.

But make no mistake: the choice once made, whether planned or not fully thought out, will result in the same thing if stuck to and carried out:  achievement.  Achievement because the choice, the commitment, was made.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Pull System

At work we are trying to convert to a pull system.

A pull system, for those who do not know, is a principle of organizational management where a product or service is pulled through the system by the next step in the process until it reaches the final destination.  The push system, its opposite, is a principle whereby the current step pushes the product or service through its system to the next step.  The product or service keeps moving; it is just who does the movement that is the difference.

A push system - what I am typically used to - to me has the advantage of making sure the current step completes their actions before moving on.  This disadvantage, I suppose, is that one is kept waiting until the step is complete before moving on.

The pull system - which we are trying to convert to - seems to have some advantages:  the process can move more successfully as the next step needs the previous step to continue processing and rate limiting factors may be more easily identified.  However there is one issue that seems to be of concern to me, something I hate:  the loss of responsibility.

In the push system, the current process holder is 100% responsible for ensuring that everything is complete before moving it to the next step.  If something is not ready to go, it is the responsibility of the current holder to complete it. In the pull system, the next or even ultimate step is theoretically responsible for moving things to the next step. The current process holder will complete their task and simply wait for the next process holder to come and take it off of their plate.  Maybe they transfer it.  Maybe not.  And any failure to move things along becomes the fault of the "puller", who failed to ask the question.

It bothers me (and I find it to be inefficient in its current incarnation) because the view of everyone except the ultimate stopping point (my group, in this case) is that "I did my part.  I do not have to do anything more.  In fact, I may not even have to make the effort to bring it to you or correct errors.  It is your job to ask the questions and fix the gaps."

It seems, well, counter intuitive to the maintenance of a functional system.  People get separated even farther in silos of what I do and what somebody else does.  There is no longer any sense of process overall; instead, my world has organized itself into the slot I have to do.  In fact, I may not care if the whole thing gets done - after all, that's not my part or even my responsibility.

Which is okay, I suppose.  Just understand that instead of training individuals who work things to completion you are training individuals to work through there part and be done.  Good training for drones, not so good training for building independent and completion oriented leaders.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Hint of Despair

A hint of despair
haunts my dreams, a faint tremor
of darkest day's night

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

On Picking Up Where One Left Off

I picked up at a writing place I have not visited in 3 months.

It was a book I was working on, a book that seemed to be going not quite as well as I had hoped - the narrative did not seem to flow correctly or well and the characters seemed, well, wooden.  So I set it aside, thinking that I would get back to it in a little while.  And then a little while got longer

I tried to work on something else for Nanowrimo, but found that the genera of the book was not working out.  The simple reality is this:  I like to write - and believe I am good at writing - a certain kind of book, the parable.  That is how I think and how I seem to write.  Other forms just seem less fluid and more forced.

So last night I went back to the manuscript I had.  Re-reading it, I suddenly thought "This is not nearly as bad as I remember".  Sure, the characters were a little rough and the plot not nearly as well developed as I would of liked, but I did stop in the middle of writing it, after all.

Ironically it was Nighean Dhonn that decided me fully last night.  She sat at the table last night writing a starter story on what she would do if she was an eraser.  Her dedication to sitting at the table and writing in pencil made me question my own - after all, if she can write for half an hour surely I can.

Because I forgot the most basic rule of writing:  write.  Always.  Even if it seems terrible and even if you do not like the way that it sounds.  Just keep writing your way through it.  Because if you do not write, you simply will never get through the part that you do not like to a place where you do.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Goals and Change

"Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor." - Brian Tracy

After I read this yesterday, I buried it in the back of my mind, the place I keep quotes which pique my interest a bit but do not really seem like something I would write down or post.  It sat there all yesterday as I walked through the day, quietly percolating its way through my consciousness.  And then, when I needed a quote, it reappeared.

And made me think all the more.

I have written - perhaps more extensively than I had intended -  about goals, in general and specifically my own.  As I have said in times past, goals are somewhat difficult for me:  I either set too many or set them too high or I fail to set them at all.  And even when I do, it often feels as if they are in a sort of isolation from both other goals and the rest of my life.

But this quote puts them in a slightly different context.

Goals, at least per this quote, are not just things to set and do.  Goals are something which are addressing a need which is already present, a need to grapple with life - and specifically the changes of it.  Life is changing -sometimes it seems it is changing faster than ever.  But goals, suggests Tracy, allow us to channel that change somewhat, to move the needle in a direction where we are heading instead of being driven like a ship before the storm.

Goals can anchor us - they place us solidly in the things which we think are important and have merit in our lives, the things we believe we should be spending our lives on.  At the same time goals allow us to direct that change that we see around us:  if we are placed in a stream which is moving and flowing (which we all are), goals help us to move towards one channel or another.

I do not know that goals will instantly become easier for me to set for this coming year, as I always tend to struggle with them.  But thinking of them as controlling direction instead of mere endpoints will certainly change how I look at them.

Friday, December 05, 2014

A Mouse

A mouse was in the trap this morning.

We have had problems with mice in the garage for some weeks now.  The evidence of them started showing up:  gnawed items, droppings.  I initially sort of hoped they would go away but they did not so last week during Thanksgiving I cleaned everything out in the garage.  We saw one and  chased him out.

Then everything started appearing again.

I  had procured a rat trap initially.  I really was hoping that I did not have to use it because I would just rather that the mouse be happy and free - somewhere else.  I even tried an alternate sort of trap to no avail.

Last night I was at it again, going through and trying to pull things out from shelves.  I saw the mouse - even chased it from the comfortable nest it has made in the base of the refrigerator.  After 90 minutes of chasing The Ravishing Mrs. TB saw it run outside and away.  Hurray, hopefully.  I swept up and, as a bit of an afterthought, baited and left the trap out again.

This morning, it was used.

I am not sure if it was the same mouse.  I thought I had blocked the access points.  It saddens me - I hate the seemingly senseless death of animals -yet at the same time it was something that had to be done.  It was being destructive and with the quail and rabbits in their winter quarters, competition for food might have erupted - or worse.

I disposed of it, saddened.  Sometimes this is life and the things we have to do are not always the things we want to do.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Feeling Holiness?

If I were holy,
would I think the thoughts I do?
Would it feel different than I feel now?

When I am in the middle of the day,
overwhelmed and scatterbrained,
what does holiness seem like then?

When I am at my low point,
energy deflated and tired and easily angered,
what does holiness seem like then?

Is holiness really something that we can feel?
And if it is not really a feeling,
what is it actual like?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Holiness

When did Christians stop taking holiness seriously?  Or more appropriately, when did I stop taking holiness seriously?

What does holiness look like?  I was reminded of this again in my reading of 2 John Chapter 2 today, where John talks about the holiness of God (and His righteousness, a similar term for the purposes of my musing).  Or perhaps a better question is what should holiness look like in us?

Holiness in God is fairly clear in Scripture - it is the utter lack of sin and the complete presence of righteousness in God, a thing which is likened to a blindingly pure light that no-one can look at.  But what does holiness look like for us humans, mucking around in the world that we live in?

Is it manifested in a stiff upper lip which will not engage in any way in the culture?  Is it manifested in living in a way that looks like a thousand years ago, eschewing any technology or anything that is modern?  Is it being so soft and yielding and a non-entity of which people say "That X, he's a pretty nice guy - pretty irrelevant for doing anything of substance, but a pretty nice guy."

Possibly - maybe - one can come up with a group of men and women of whom one could say are "holy" - but they are all religious folks:  John Paul II, Mother Theresa, John MacArthur to name a few.  But holiness in these cases always seems to be connected with a religious way of life (e.g. religion is your life) which is far removed from the way that most of us actually live.

So what does holiness look like in the life of the rest of us, the ones that have to live in the regular world?  And more importantly, where are the role models for those who are coming up in the faith?

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Body - Quote

Today's passage is taken from Chuck Colson's and Ellen Santilli Vaughn's 1991 book The Body:  Being Light in Darkness. The passage, when I read it this weekend, spoke to me:

"    What would it take to free today's church from its own Babylonian captivity - the twentieth-century enculturation we described earlier?  Some of the very same things that characterized the Reformers.
     First of all, it would require a commitment to the truth  - the One who says He is the ultimate reality - and from this a renewed passion for what God has propositionally revealed, His inerrant Word, and the orthodox confession of faith by which the truth has been preserved and pass through the centuries.
     It would mean an awakening to the fact that the church is the people of God and the church must be the church.  Away with consumer religion, the edifice complex, slick marketing plans, and syrupy sermons.  Equip the people of God with spiritual weapons so they may serve the living God of the world.
     It would mean a healthy fear of God.    No trivializing of the sacred, but a sense of living in the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute presence of the holy, majestic God.
     It would mean the realization that God is sovereign over all and we must, therefore, have a biblically informed view of all life.
     It would demand a passion for the blazing scarlet ribbon running through the whole of Scripture:  A commitment to be agents of God's justice in society at large and to see His whole world from the perspective of His truth.
     It would require us to have Luther's courage, to declare our independence from the culture and to take our stand.  To let truth infiltrate every area of life, to let God's righteousness roll down on societal structures and the people who live within them.
    And what if we did all this?.....The world would once again be turned upside down." (pages 266-267, italics author's)

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Last Big Old Year Push

The last great press into the New Year.

A goal of sorts for myself:  I would like to take the last two weeks of the month off.  In order to do this, I will have to compress all of my work into 15 days.  It is a lot - I already made the list before I left for Thanksgiving, and of that time I have two days which will be consumed with an outside visitor.

15 days.   Can I do it?

I am not alone, of course.  I have a ready team of associates that are more than able to assist me (we all win if we get this done now) so it should certainly not be impossible.  And there is even a sense across my place of business that this thing can get done - because again, we all benefit if it does.

It is interesting to me because it is the first time in a while I have the sense of saying that, at least for work, there is a fixed time point after which I can officially say "I am done for the year".   My projects should be taken care, work put into the background for a two week period where I do not have to worry about what might happen while I am away or what will be waiting for me when I return.  In other words, I have the potential to come back into the New Year with a complete sense of closure from the previous year.

And how awesome would that be?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday

Welcome to Black Friday - at least Black Friday the way I do them.

I am sitting ensconced in my bedroom in the chair beneath the reading light.  The cup of coffee that is not quite warm enough is next to me, but I am a little bit too lazy to get up and warm it.  Looking to my right I can see a straight shot out the window into the trees that grace our neighbor's backyards.  The trees - at least the ones that are likely to turn - have started to do so as all of them sway back and forth in a wind that just looks miserably cold from the inside.

The sky is dark with clouds, brought along with the wind that moves the trees.  Occasionally a smidgeon of blue sky peeks through but is covered over by clouds of variegated shades of gray and white.  The Sun is doing the dance it loves to do in such weather: fading in and out like a dimming light bulb, sometimes very faint and then suddenly bursting into full shining.

The house is quiet now:  Na Clann are all still abed due to being out late last night catching deals with The Ravishing Mrs. TB, who herself is looking out for round two.  Syrah the Mighty is lying beside me now, perhaps hoping that either a walk or the off chance of food is in her immediate future.

There are things to be done over this holiday of course:  a garage to be organized, walls to be patched, even  some planning for next year to be done.  Yet strangely I cannot shake myself from here and now of the silence inside and the dancing trees outside with leaves fluttering in the wind like flags.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

George Washington's 1789

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.


Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.


- http://www.wilstar.com/holidays/wash_thanks.html

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Cleaning A Hard Drive

This morning, upon having the luxury of a vacation and not going to work, I took the opportunity to organize my hard drive.

This is a task that I have sadly been lacking in.  My computer is giving me those handy shout-outs that say "Hey, you need more memory!" - and yet I have never found the time to sit down and actually go through the lengthy process of actually cleaning up the hard drive.

Why?  Because I am a pack-rat of my own materials, and going "electronic" solved absolutely nothing in that regard.  Whatever I create on the computer, I tend to keep - in fact, I think we still have old 3.5 inch disks from our Apple with things I created 20 years ago because I have this crazy idea that somehow, somewhere, they might be useful to me.

But the time came.  And the time was available.  So data transferring we went.

I still continue to get rid of very little, of course - instead, it all gets transferred on to other memory sticks, where it will at least take up less space until (once again) the technology changes and I am left with sticks of documents that I can no longer access.  And going through the actual process is a great deal like reading a diary of sorts:  as I organized and moved and transferred, I can see the various trains of thought I was following, the projects I was trying to set into place, the ideas that were set up on electronic paper yet never seemed to move beyond a certain stage.

They are all transferred now, the "current materials" on my hard drive, the other materials safely archived for a day which may never come - in a way, a reflection of so much the activity that fills our own lives, where that which was at one moment important loses criticality and eventually is transferred to the back of our memory or to our garage or closet on the off chance that someday it may become critical, although too often in our head we already know that it will never be.

It is just that we cannot bear to let go of it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Being Heihachi

One of the great aspects of Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa is the way that he brought not just seven samurai together but seven different types.  Western culture often lumps all into a single type called "samurai" but Kurosawa brings together seven men who are samurai as a group but are different as individuals:  the student, the wise leader, the deadly swordsman, the brash outsider, the competent lieutenant, the battle friend, and the cheerful warrior.

When watching the movie, one wants to be the great ones:  Shimada Kambei, the wise leader, or even Kyuzo, the deadly swordsman who lives only for his art. These are the two that perhaps most completely demonstrate what the Western idea of a samurai is:  Tactical.  Learned.  Deadly.  Admired.

And then one realizes that one is not- and will never be.  One realizes, in fact, that one is Heihachi.

Heihachi is not as skillful a warrior as Kyuzo and not experienced as Shimada - in fact, of the 6 samurai that are not students, he is probably the least impressive for weapons skills.  When we first meet him, he is chopping wood to pay for his food.  A friendly fellow, he takes the time to build relationships with the villagers and among the samurai.  And he is the first killed after a raid, trying to rescue his friend.

But for all of this Heihachi is not any less than any other of the samurai.  He is not considered less - in fact, at his funeral Kambei notes how they will miss his cheerful spirit.  He fills a critical role in the interactions of the group, even as he seems to be one of the least impressive of the warriors.

Just because we cannot always be what we think we want does not mean that we do not bring value.  Sometimes that value is being Heihachi.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Our Weather

In the interests of something completely different, I thought I would talk about the weather we have had here this past week.  Because it has been remarkable to my way of thinking.

About a week and a half ago we were enjoying what I suppose we have come to see as fall weather:  mid-60's during the day, high 40's at night.  On Sunday night a week ago the "Polar Vortex" roared through  - where we are, there is nothing between us and Canada except flat.  Temperatures plunged to the high 20's at night and low 40's during the day.  We held that weather pattern until Wednesday, when the temperature started to climb but not a great deal - we only had a 15 degree variation one day between morning and daily high.

By Friday the weather had turned nicer, but with clouds.  We had sprinkles all day.  By Saturday it was a full on rainstorm which extended through the night - by Sunday morning we had received 3.84 inches of rain.  And then yesterday the sun burst out in glorious view with a high of 75.

A 50 degree swing in weather conditions within a week.  We have never had such interesting weather since we moved here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

November Moon

The sliver moon-set
dances low across the sky
as cloud tendrils sail.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Challenge, Work, Reward III

The second part of the concept is work.

Work is in theory the easy part - after all, I should have already defined what the challenges are.  It is just a matter of doing, right?

Well sort of.  It is not just a matter of doing - it is a matter of doing the right things that lead to actual progress.

This is often a challenge for me.  I can spend a great deal of time doing - in fact, my days are almost completely filled with doing, yet most of this doing leads to nowhere.  Yes, part of it is due to the fact that it is not based on challenges and goals but rather on tasks which are never ending and not completed, but some of it is also based on the fact that the work is not directed towards the achievement of the challenge.

Once the challenge has been defined - let us say, for example, cheese-making as part of my concept of Ichiryo Gusoku - what is the work required for making cheese?  Pretty easy actually - make cheese.  But there are at least some steps involved there:  What kind of cheese?  Do I have what I need - not just the milk but any other supplies.  And how much time will the cheese take (cheese is not time consuming but it is time intensive in that certain things must be done at certain times) and have I the time to do this?  Once that is defined and agreed to then the work because directed and purposeful.

Directed work will always be productive.  Undirected work will ultimately never produce what is desired.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Challenge, Work, Reward II

Challenge (noun):  A difficult task or problem; something that is difficult to do.

So this, as I was discussing yesterday, is the element that seems to missing from so much of my life at this moment.  In reviewing the definition, a couple of things immediately leap out at me:

1)  A difficult task or problem - that is not just enough.  Every day is filled with difficult tasks and problems.  The difference is that it has to be a difficult task or problem that is something that I care about and is motivational to me.  Continually performing the difficult without it being something that matters to you merely wears you down.  It may build up any number of capacities - strength, resistance, even skills - but it will wear away at the spirit.

2)  A task or problem - it has to be something concrete to solve, do, or achieve.  Ethereal concepts or things which are not something which can be acted on become frustrating in the extreme because there is nothing which can be acted upon to produce a result.

 Part of this, I suppose, is handled by how one defines things.  Am I defining things in the context of a challenge?  Or am I merely defining things as something that has to be done?  More fundamentally, have I gone through the list of things before me and defined them in terms of a challenge?  And if they are not definable as such, have I redefined them?

Have I even considered how I define the challenges that I care about for my own life?

The challenges are there.  Perhaps the problem lies not so much in them as it does in me to recognize and then define them as such.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Challenges, Work, Reward

I had an epiphany last week at work.

It was Friday and I was enmeshed in preparation for the upcoming quarterly meeting which I have been responsible for for the last 5 years.  As I was laying all the slides in order and preparing for the updated portion, I suddenly thought "This is no longer challenging".   And my mind went racing from there.

Work, I realized, was no longer a challenge.  Yes, there is still lots to do - but there is always lots to do.  It is just that in doing it, there is no longer any challenge to it.  There are no more meaningful mountains to climb, only a series of hills to navigate.

I sat and thought about this further.  What I realized is that this felt true of much of my life as well.  The challenge from most of the things that I do has left.  It is more of going through the motions of doing the things that I have done because I have done them, not because there is something more challenging about them.

As I have realized in times past, I excel at something like going to school.  It is a pretty simple process:  understand the challenge, do the work, get the reward (a good grade).  Transferred into my own real life it is the same thing:  understand the challenge (shoden certification, publish a book, play the harp, raise quail), do it, and get the reward (certificate achieved, book published, music played, quail in house).

And then what?

Work is notorious for this, I suppose:  without an adequate challenge and reward system no company will achieve great success (because who can keep generating high level enthusiasm for the challenge without the corresponding reward).  But I had never before grasped that this is one of the elements of my own personal life as well:  after having done a thing gotten the immediate reward and not seeing the next challenge from it, interest wanes.

Another item related to this:  the challenge and reward has to be almost completely within one's control and ability to achieve.  Grades are great for this, of course:  do the work and get the A.  And something like physical activity can be like this too - in Highland Athletics, my performance is a direct output of my effort put in.  But for some many other things - even such as work - the reward is determined by things outside of my control, thus lessening the ability to re-engage when I find out that the challenge has (once again) not resulted in the outcome that seemed to be promised.

What to do?  That's the real issue, is it not?  If I know that if I am not challenged I do not do my best and if I know that I need the challenge/work/reward system to do my best and if I know that I need to angle myself towards those rewards that are as much in my control as possible (so they can be achieved), how do I restructure my life to find them?

The first step - the specially big one - is to simply realize and admit that this is the case.  I need challenges.  I need them defined as such.  And if I cannot find them where I currently am, I need to look elsewhere.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Clouds and Enthusiasm

I think it is safe to say that I am trying to find my way of a cloud of depression again.

My enthusiasm for doing almost anything at this point has evaporated. Things that I previously enjoyed seem gray to me now, something that I have to work up to doing. The thought of doing almost anything I used to enjoy seems to be a burden now, something I really have to work up to do.

I wonder if it is simply an extension of the way my life seems to working through other things currently:  a long sense of endurance, of doing without the belief that anything will get any better, rather than a sense that I am improving or making progress in anything.  When one is doing something because one has to and there is no realization that anything is getting better or one is getting better at it, there seems to be a significant loss of enthusiasm.

It is not a question of recognizing the issue.  It is a question of what to do with the issue.

How does one generate enthusiasm for anything?  This seems to be the core question.  How does one take where one is, look to the land of where one wants to be, and then find the fuel to take one there?

It has to be something internal.  I get that.  Trying to rely on outside circumstances or outside people to get the drive you need to succeed in anything will never work.  It has to come from you to weather the times when circumstances are against you or people are non-supportive or non-responsive.

The question is, where does one find it?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sick?

I woke up this morning to my body finally having its way with me.

Oh, I know it has been coming. I have received hints of this for three days running.  The tiredness of course, but I always seem to be tired.  The lack of interest and energy in doing anything but again, that has become something of a course du jour of late.  But last night I just had enough go to eat dinner and do the dishes before I went to bed.  That should have been the sign.

And so it was.  I woke up this morning, made a go of praying, and then realized that my body was simply done for the day.  I officially called in sick.

On the one hand it is a little surprising to me - after all, I think this is the first sick day I may have taken in two or three years.  My health is generally pretty good, a blessing I probably do not appreciate as much as I should.

The part that concerned me a little bit as I considered it further (from the warm Fortress of Solitude that was my bed) is that this is way I seem to feel all the time now:  Run down.  Tired.  Exhausted.  If I try to combat this alone with more sleep and better eating it never really seems to do the trick.  Why?  Because these do not seem to cut into the major areas that this is arising from.

I am grasping at straws at this moment, my thoughts half formed.  The sickness is the logic outcome of exhaustion and some level of poor nutrition, that I understand.  But (putting my investigation hat on)  what is the root cause of this?  Why am I feeling this way all the time?

Questions to ponder, I suppose.  For now, it will be a retreat to a chair with a large cup of tea and a book to sit and recover.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Winter Comes

Winter is here.

It arrived yesterday, blowing down through the Plains as the advance runner of a mass of cold air.  At 0500 it was 60 F and not windy; 1 hour later the temperature was steady dropping and the wind was up.   It continued to drop all day until, this morning, it is almost 50 degrees colder than it was on Saturday during the day. 36 F now, and 32 F tomorrow night.  30 F low on Sunday with highs in the 50s at best.

And so the wind down happened this weekend.  Rabbits and quail were safely relocated over the weekend to their winter quarters in the garage.  Outside furniture and BBQ were moved inside as well so the back porch is empty except for the lone dog igloo that Syrah the Mighty disdains to use but I keep in case it gets so bad she decides she needs shelter.

The desultory winter garden was planted as well, onions and garlic this year.  I have to seriously rethink my garden and wanted to make a fresh start of it in the spring.  The okra plants are there with the last little remaining okra as is the jalapeno pepper plant with its bounty; I suspect they will all be gone and withering by Friday.

The heater is ready to be fired up.  Larger quantities of coffee are being generated in the morning.  Running in the morning is prepared with heavy clothing to go out in.  And the wardrobe has completely changed to prepare for the inevitable fact that the heater cannot keep up at work.

Winter is here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Someone Else

"If you've signed up to be approved by, selected by, promoted by or otherwise chosen by someone who's not going to respond to your efforts, it's not a smart choice." - Seth Godin

When i read this comment yesterday I was almost speechless from the profound nature of it.  It was in the middle of what rapidly seems to be becoming a typical day for me:  a steady flow of people all with questions or needs, the hint that the day's activities are not going nearly as cleanly to plan as has been expected, and the hovering over my head of the fact that I am coming to realize that the instability I am feeling at work is not going to result in any sort of advancement not matter how much effort I put into it.  

And then, this.

Ironically this is the thing that much of the American business model (maybe the global business model - who knows?) is built on: the idea that we put our efforts out in hopes that someone is going to recognize them and reward them.  Turns out we - or at least I - have a tendency to do this in my personal relationships as well:  make myself dependent on what others will think or do in order to make myself feel better or move the relationship forward.  I even have a tendency to do this in my activities, taking the action and hoping that someone will recognize it and reward it then.

But to Godin's point, it is not a smart choice.  Said more succinctly, it is a stupid choice?

Why?  Not because it makes you dependent on another person (I should think that is obvious) but even more so that it keeps you laboring under a delusion: the delusion that some else is going to make you successful.  Your success - in anything - becomes not an output of your own effort and ability and time but rather the output of someone noticing, approving, selecting, promoting and choosing you.  If they do not - well, that is unfortunate, but please continue to work as hard as you have been and perhaps beg a little more - and someone may notice you then.

The solution?  Approve, select, promote and choose yourself.  Easy to write, hard to do.  But if I am truly honest, is it any more difficult than feeling the way I some often do - run down, ignored, trapped in my inability to get anyone in a position to make an impact to notice me.

Perhaps better if I go make my impact - and my promotion or choosing - myself.

Monday, November 10, 2014

End of Season

So the Highland Games season officially ended for me on Saturday.  Overall I was happy with my results -afte.r an abysmal no height in Weight Above Bar (Came in at 9' and missed, should have come in 8') I went on to get three Personal Records:  Braemar Stone (20'7"), Heavy Weight for Distance (18'4"), and Light Hammer (51' 5.5").  Out of seven total events, that is not too bad.

I ended the year by exceeding all nine event Personal Records that I started with in 2014 - in some cases, more than once.  Just for fun I looked back at 2011:  For example, in 2011 at my first games my Heavy Weight for Distance was 9'5", my Light Hammer was 41' 10", and my Weight Above Bar was 8' (I hit 10' this year).  That reaches one of my goals for the year and makes me feel like - overall - I am making progress in this sport.

It also makes me feel surprisingly good about myself in the sense that I can legitimately claim the title of "Athlete".  This is not something that I had anticipated happening at my age - at all, actually.  But here I am, actually doing a sport and even making progress in it.  I am realistic in the assessment that I will probably never be truly competitive in the sport, but since this has never been a barrier for me to do anything else, there is not reason that I should start no.

I have had a lot of side benefits as well:  meeting a lot of really great people whom I now count as my friends, getting to go all over the State to compete (goal for next year is to try one game outside of this State), and overall improving my health:  what's not to like about that?

What next?  Off season, of course.

Which means training for next season starts today.


Friday, November 07, 2014

Baxter's Folly

Foolish Baxter thought:
"Kill the man, kill the spirit":
but, Incandescence.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Career Mire

I'm fighting the middle age career blues again.

It reached its height yesterday when, in seeing a document, I realized that I am done.  My ability to go forward seems pretty much to have come to a halt.  Bottom line:  it appears that my current position - the title I have held for 12 years - is the only one I will ever have.

Disappointing?  Sure.  To suddenly realize that your ability to move forward in the thing that eats 45+ hours of your week is limited to cost of living increases for the rest of career is depressing.  The fact that you will spend the rest of your career bringing other people into systems, training them up, and then having them both command you and take the credit for the work you execute creates no incentive to really try harder.

I calculated again last night.  I have 16.5 years into this industry.  Almost too late - in fact maybe too late - to make a career change, which I have sort of already acknowledged internally.  That said, the fact that my ability to do anything else other than what I am makes me crumble in despair.

Is this it?  Surrender to the commute to a place (could be any place, at this point) that will keep me where I am for the next 20 to 25 years with essentially no hope?

How disappointing that the weather outside - cold, wet windy - matches the issues within my own soul.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Again II

Okay, so I am feeling slightly better today.  Sleep, as I have noted in the past, helps a lot.  So does Iaijutsu for the evening.

Not that anything wildly changed yesterday.  Getting to work was exactly the way the way that the morning felt:  almost from the time I walked in the door I found myself the center of need:  documents to sign, opinions to be given, meetings to go to, things to review.  All urgent, all needing to be done now, all with the sense of "I am here for no other reason than to serve you" splattered across the day.

It just leads one to walk with downcast shoulders and eyes.  Yes, I allowed myself to get pulled in to a belief that things were going to be different. But reality came screaming back at me with a vengeance.

This is the point at which I do not know what else to do.

The wise point, I assume, is to "change my attitude".  That is what I should do, I suppose. Change my latitude.  Make my life about "my decision", not about circumstances.

I should, I suppose. So why do I feel like this whole thing is an exercise in pointlessness?


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Again

That crushing moment when you realize you have been disappointed.  Again.

You let yourself wander into this.  You allowed yourself to believe - again - that this time things would be different.  There would be changes.  Implied promises would be kept.

And you acted on those beliefs.  You turned your efforts as if the thing was already done.

And patiently waited.  For nothing to happen.

And then comes the moment, the moment when you realize that you have allowed yourself to believe one more time.  Allowed yourself to pretend that this time things would work out.  No-one else seems surprised by this or to question this.

And so you shrug, lift your shoulders and promise yourself that you will not fail prey to your wishful beliefs again.

Until the next time it happens...




Monday, November 03, 2014

On Rocky and Dying

On this day my friend Rocky lies dying in a hospital.

The incongruity of this struck me last night as I reviewed the various websites last night and found that a young woman in Oregon, whose picture I had happened to see two weeks ago on a People magazine, had decided to end her life under Oregon's Suicide Law.

I want to be careful as I write this:  I have never had to face a death sentence as cancer.  I have never had to evaluate whether living longer is worth the pain.  I can discuss the decision on moral grounds only but that is not my aim today.  The point of this consideration is not a condemnation; rather it is an observation.

My friend Rocky found out that he had a relapse of cancer in 2012.  He chose to fight - and he chose to share his struggle.  For almost 2 years he has written about his ongoing struggle.  He has been remarkable honest in his struggles and reflections - sometimes painfully so.  Rocky is the real deal:  a man facing death in the face and telling all what he sees there.

What has come out of it is a series of writings which has helped a lot of people, including myself.  Reflections on living and dying.  Reflections on how it is important to spend your time wisely now on things that matter with people that you care about because (really) we do not know how much time we have.  The gift of seeing marriage as it was actually meant to function, when that "until death do we part" becomes a reality.  And for me, even a little advice on how be better at Highland Games.

Ultimately, what Rocky has done is to take his situation and make it a teaching experience.  The impact of his life will be far beyond what his uncooperative body had become.  It is ingrained on the hearts and in the characters of all that have read him and know him.   Rocky will continue to live - not as a internet picture with a catchy phrase to be lost on Instagram in a month but as a real example of how to live even in the process of dying.

There will be no internet extravaganza for Rocky this week.  But there will be the quiet morning of those whose lives he has touched - and the determination to take to what he has given us with his dying and carry it forward.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nanowrimo 2014

So National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is almost upon use. The question is, will I do this year or not?

I ask because I attempted it last year but fell off the band wagon pretty quickly - other things came up and I simply was not really committed to what I was writing.  This year is a little different already.

So the question is, am I going to do it?

The one year I successfully completed it - 2012 - I went in with a definitive idea in mind that sustained me through the struggle of generating 1567 words a day (it is not as hard as you think, but it is an endurance race).  This year, I find myself 2 days before I would start writing without the foggiest idea in the world what I would write about.

But I am wondering if this, too, is not a different aspect for writing.

The reality is that I have ideas rattling around in my head - lots of them, actually.  Most of them I simply self censor because they're not "good enough" or actually ready for prime time.

But what if I simply took one out and started watching where it went.

It is not that I will write The Great American Novel - I get that.  But it is interesting to wonder what I could write if I just let the story start telling itself.  Because the remarkable thing I have found about writing is that if I will simply start writing, the characters will begin to fill the story in themselves, sometimes so much so that I scarcely recognize the work as something I typed.

So maybe this year the question is not so much "Will I do Nanowrimo?" as much as it is "Where will Nanwrimo lead?"

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Practice and Real

Last night I pulled out my shinken  to practice.

I have been off and on with Iaijutsu class over the last month due to family related activities.  I have also, let us be honest, been in a bit of a slump.  It is a slump which I have dealt with in the past in many of my activities, the slump of having hit a plateau.

It is hard.  I like to learn new things and I grapple with the fact that part of doing is simply getting better at the things one has learned rather than always learning new things.  And this means practicing and re-practicing the things one has learned.

I do not like practice (never really have honestly) so this makes one level of frustration for me (and no-one is more surprised than I that I have stuck with this as long as I have).  The second level that makes it difficult for me is that I am constantly practicing alone.  That may be okay for many activities; it is harder for an activity where the intent (theoretically) is to engage with someone else.

So I have not been as diligent of late as I should have been but I have been trying, practicing with my bokken with cuts in the morning and kata in the evening.  But I was feeling low and tired and rushed last night, so I pulled out my shinken last night.

And fell in love all over again.

My shinken is a standard katana length (29 inches, 10 inch tsuka or hilt) and is very much lighter than my bokken - so much so, in fact, that it almost flipped out of my hand as I practiced.  The lightness of the sword gave me speed, speed I feel I am missing so much in my practice.  It moved and danced in my hand with a feeling of lightness, not the usual slowness I feel when I am practicing.  For a 30 minute period I felt like a swordsman, not just a guy out practicing.

When I went back in - feeling far more energized and rededicated to my art - I realized something I have forgotten:  practice is good, but we do not practice for the sake of practice.  We practice to perform, be it with our skills or our swords.  If we forget this, only living forever in a state of getting ready, we deny ourselves the great joy of occasionally looking up and realizing we are doing this for an actual purpose, not just for the sake of doing.

Feeling down or bored with something you used to love to do?  Do it - not for practice but for real, even if it is only displayed for yourself.  Remind yourself why you started in the first place.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Thinking on Responsibility

I am re-reading Churchill on Leadership by Steven F. Hayward.  I had originally just grabbed it off the shelf again because I felt like I needed a short book to read in the mornings; what I have found is a reminder to myself precisely at the time that I needed it.

One of Churchill's great beliefs was that being given responsibility without power was one of the most unsuccessful and least desirable things that could happen to him - or any individual:

"What you have no right to do is to ask me to bear responsibilities without the power of effective action."

"Few sensations are more painful than responsibility without power."

"My one fatal mistake was trying to achieve a great enterprise without having the plenary authority which could have to easily carried it to success."

"Someone has to take responsibility.  I will."

I compare this to my own work situation - certainly most of my work life but more specifically the time I have spent at my current job over the last 5.5 years.  What I realize - and I think is true of many if not most businesses - is that Churchill's complaint is a common one:  being given responsibility with authority or the power to execute.

Being given responsibility can be a wonderful thing.  It should be a sign of increasing skill and knowledge or a recognition of trust in one's abilities.  But when the responsibility is transferred without any authority to carry out the responsibility the responsibility becomes nothing more in reality than a burden, a weight given by others with the intent to affix blame when the thing is not accomplished.

It is being given the responsibility of the budget without any control of the spending.  It is being given responsibility for a project without any input into the project other than "Finish it".  It is being charged with the building of a relationship without any ability to speak directly with the person involved.

It is being asked to do that which you cannot control yet be responsible for the results.

What to do? I realized (as I wrote this) that there really is only one solution:  being clear up front.  Specifically asking "What is my authority to accomplish this?" - and if not getting the response that works (i.e. "Total") simply stating "I cannot take responsibility for this project.  I have no ability to requisition the resources, manage priorities, or drive the matter to conclusion meaningfully.  Otherwise you are simply setting me up for failure."

Harsh words?  Probably - but it will probably provoke a discussion, a discussion perhaps some people have not had in a while - if ever:  what is the nature of giving responsibility?

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Prayer for Rocky

As some of you know, my friend Rocky is dying from cancer.  He runs a small blog at http://rocosis1.blogspot.com/ where he has spent the last year and a half documenting his fight and his journey towards terminal velocity i.e. death.

It strikes me as odd:  I did not know Rocky before almost a year ago this month.  I have never known him with cancer.  I have never known the sound of his voice (He lost his voice a while ago) or seen him throw.  I have never known him as anything other than as he is now.

But what a knowing that has been.  He has been remarkably (remarkably!) open about his fight with cancer and his inevitable oncoming death.  In a way it is an online journal about dying:  not the dying we see in movies or the death that we so often come to know in our society - a sort of a quiet thing that happens to the side and we only know once it has happened.  Instead it has been open and available: the level of pain, the difficulty getting a trach tube in, the physical issues as Baxter (he has named the tumor) continues to grow.

He was admitted to Hospice last night. I am sure that he did not go willingly but necessarily.  He has beat the doctor's assessment by at least 6 months.  He has hoped to make it another 4 to February, to see the birth of his second grandchild.

I only have two requests for you today:

1)  Whatever is facing you, whatever you have to deal with, I can assure you that (for 99% of you) it is not nearly as bad as battling cancer and facing your own death.  Look at today with a sense of proprtionality.

2)  If you can (and if you are a praying person) spare a prayer for Rocky and his family.

Life is far more fleeting than we possibly imagine.  Embrace today.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cage Door

And then the moment comes when the cage door swings into place.

Suddenly one realizes that the course of the next years - perhaps really the last few years as well - has been set.  The creeping things that have edging up on one's life suddenly overtake one in one great overwhelming wave.  The die seems cast.

The illusion - and of now it appears to be an illusion - of choice and options seems stripped away.  Life - at least one's own life - seems revealed for what it really is:  a pre-programmed series of activities that leaves little to choice or chance.

Taxi to commute.  Commute to work. Work to commute.  Commute to dinner and the chores that need to be done.  And then comes the choice:  do I get the sleep that I need, or do something that I want to?  One cannot go forever without sleep.

The parts of life - one's own parts of life - get further and further wedged into the seconds and minutes that are available until, despondent, one is sorely tempted to start giving them up - after all, irregular practice does not lead to improvement and in fact just depresses one further.

Leaving what?  A rut.  A rut of work and responsibilities.

And then in a blinding flash, one understands why middle age crises happen.  Because others must come to the same realization, the same inward shudder as the door closes when there still seems to be so much of life left but it is seems beyond the reach.  The inward shudder, followed by the sense of depression, that comes when one feel's that life is nothing more than a shell of "musts" and "have to".

The sense that life is fleeting by while one sits in traffic, going to and from but never really doing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Autumn Moon

The Morning Breeze blows
the Sliver of White Midnight
through the Green Oak Leaves.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Breathless

Breathless.
Always rushing.
Always about doing something.

Breathless.
Always busy.
Always fifteen things that needs doing.

Breathless.
"I need to be here."
"Can you stop and do this?"

Breathless.
Wondering if ever
you can get to the truly important.

Breathless.
Taking a moment
to stop and breathe.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Turning a Caber

The air is warm and the sun beats down as I settle the caber against my shoulder.

It is our local city games and we are throwing the challenge caber, a 12 foot 65-75 pound blue plug of wood.  If you turn the caber - get it completely end over end- you can advance to the next level.  This is my great challenge - in three years and 20 plus games, I have never legitimately turned a caber.

I keep working my way my way down the shaft of the caber, fingers locked together and the caber standing almost straight upright.  My head is locking it into my neck and my legs are out to the side as I bend lower and lower.  The caber shifts back and forth with the breeze or my actions and I have to wait and settle it back into position.

Finally I get to the near the bottom.  Proper technique is to get your hands to the bottom, give a short lift with your head and shoulder, and scoop your hands under the base.  I cheat this a little bit:  I pull up and then get my hands in position.  Fortunately the caber is light enough and forgiving enough that I can get away with it.  My hands are not locked but are on the bottom.  Close enough.

I pull up and stand up, remembering to mash it into my shoulder the way I was told to do.  The base of the caber is now up at waist level, the head probably 15 feet in the air.  The Athletic Director who is announcing has said something and the crowd  is making some noise but it is all background noise to me.  My world is now a blue piece of wood I have to make fly.

I start running forward.  There is no defined distance except that you have to demonstrate forward motion.  I cannot tell how far I have run but I do not think it is far.  I stop.  The caber starts to fall forward.  I take my hands and pull them up to my crown as the caber head falls.  The end of the caber rises and the head hits the ground.

And I start yelling.

All of my frustration for three years of trying, all of the times I said I could not or believed I could not, all of the times circumstances were against me when they should not have been - all of this I channel into my yell, willing the caber over with my sonic emotions.

And over it goes, making a small "poof" of dust as it hits.

The crowd breaks out into cheers.  My fellow athletes - especially the ones who know how I have struggled with this - cheer.  I am jumping up and down, screaming like a madman.  And not caring.

Today I turned my first caber.

Today was a very good day.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Autumn Quail

White and brown puff balls
burrow into hay and dirt,
chirping at bug snacks.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Closing Doors

There is nothing quite as hollow sounding as the sound of a door closing in life.

We go through multiple door closings of course, be they with friends or interests or careers.  Life moves on, we move on.  Things change.  This is simply a part of life that we acknowledge.  And as a part of that flow of life, doors close.

They are doors of different appearances, leading different places.  At one time they may have ushered us to a friendship that was deep and abiding and seemed as if it could go on forever; at another one may have been that interest that consumed our lives.  The career we thought we wanted was behind this door, while over here was that one thing that we were convinced would revolutionize our lives and our understanding of ourselves.

And now we are going through, closing them behind us.

They may not have been bad.  They may have had their purpose at the time.  The door closing may not have even been our idea.  But the time has come - after all, a hallway with nothing but open doors makes it confusing to understand what doors we should continue to go through and doors which no longer serve their purpose let heat and light leak out for no purpose.

We pull the handle.  The door comes to the sill - maybe we have to pull a little bit harder because humidity has made the door swell or maybe it closes too quickly versus the strength we put into it.  Either way a hollow "thuk" sounds as it closes.

It may have been for the best of reasons.  It may be necessary.  But there is still nothing quite as sad as the sound of a door closing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Uncertainty

Uncertainty is the killer.

It is one thing to definitively know what the course is.  It is another thing to waver between the two, never really sure which direction one is advancing in.  It is disheartening because one never really has the sense of making progress; instead, one hovers inside of a sort of limbo bubble, drifting here and there as the bubble bounces from one random event to the other.

Decision is different.  Decisions is cut and dried, course set, moving fully speed ahead.  To decide is to have the course mapped out and be moving ahead.  To decide is to be done and moving on.

Uncertainty is something else.  The longer it goes  on, the more one is paralyzed in place.  Potential plans are all put on hold because no plans can be made.  The stress and discomfort levels rise because there is no clear path, only the possibility of two or more paths which are theoretical, not actual.  There is no forward progress, because no true progress can be made in the absence of a decision.

What to do?  Decide, of course - except if you cannot.  Then your only choice is to manage the not knowing - until the uncertainty is resolved.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Autumn Front

Summer a memory
as the bright dawn stars twinkle
in the cool dark breeze.

Monday, October 13, 2014

All Knowledge

Sometimes I wish we had access to all the knowledge we needed.

It is difficult working in a vacuum, especially when we know that the decisions we make every day have impacts not just on ourselves, but on those around us and even sometimes those we do not know.  We try to come up with the best actions, of course - but I too often find that my even best actions do not work out the way that I had intended.

"You can chose your actions but you cannot choose the consequences of your actions" is attributed to Ayn Rand and usually in the negative sense of decisions - but it is just as true for the good that we try to do as well.   Our best thoughts sometimes work no better than if we had never planned at all.

Would more knowledge help?  The back of my head tells me that it would.  Somehow, it tries to convince me, if only we knew more, we could make informed choices do things that would incline towards better results.  If only I knew all, I convince myself, I would take the best actions.

That is a fool's notion, of course, because that is predicated on the fact that having all knowledge is the same as knowing the future, which none of us can do.  "Always in motion is the future, difficult to see" said Yoda - and it is true.  We act based on the future we see, only to discover that the actions and decisions of others make the future we thought we saw very different.

Is there a solution?  Not really - except, if possible, to abandon the belief that we need all knowledge to act or decide.  Rather, we need to simply accept that we will do the best with what we have and make do with that.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Precisely when did the speed of life increase?

Once upon a time it felt like life was a slow journey.  School lasted forever, summers perhaps not quite as quickly but for a while.  Activities existed, but there always seemed to be sufficient time to do them as well as the things that had to be done.  Life was, well, fun.

Even later - through college and into the beginning of work - there was still a sense that there was time. There was more to do, but then there was still the time to do things that were fun and important and felt like it something I did because I wanted to for no good reason.

But then life began to pick up speed.

It starts with work.  Work begins to consume more and more of your time and energy.  You like to convince yourself that in fact you are building a career but in fact it just feels like you are working more.  And it is not just time - it is mental energy and emotional energy spent trying to make things work.  Your commute extends but you convince yourself it is not that bad.

If you have children, you have the additional critical mass of their activities as well.  You are helping them to develop in their lives - after all, doing well in school and doing activities is important - but this takes more time too.  Time that comes from somewhere.

And then one day you realize that you are doing almost nothing which you is strictly for you.  Life has become a blur of moving from place to place, rushing from drop off to work to pick up to another activity to home for a quick dinner and perhaps a little time for yourself.  Life has become a speeding car through which you occasionally see the blur of the scenery.

Which brings up this legitimate question:  If you have reached this level of speed, how do you slow it back down?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Apology and A Request

Friends, I beg your forbearance once again.

Life is happening again, in a way that I had not quite anticipated (it seems to be a great deal like that).  I have a decision to make - yes, I know that sounds a little cryptic (and it is meant to at this stage).  It is certainly not a bad thing,  

But it is a thing.  And it needs to be carefully considered.

And so today will be less than my usual (wishfully thoughtful, thought the writer) piece.  I would like to believe an apology, but almost a bit of an excuse I guess.  My apologies.  Hopefully things will begin to clear and I can turn my attention back to thinking tomorrow.

And if you have a prayer or a good thought, I would happily accept that as well.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Ways to Know That A Decision is Probably Not The Right One:

Ways to Know That A Decision is Probably Not The Right One:

1)  Your stomach ties up in a knot whenever you think about one particular outcome.

2)  You start avoiding people or situations that might cause you to have to make the decision.

3)  Your vision becomes narrowed from your complete life to the focus of that decision to the point that you cannot function.

4)  Every conversation somehow involves the decision and potential outcomes.

5)  Your mind actually starts bringing to mind reasons not to make the decision.

6)  By making the decision you will ignore some very common good sense.

7)  You are making the decision for one particular reason, not for a whole series of particular reasons.

8)  People you respect tell you it is not the best outcome.

9)  You have no peace about it.

10)  You actually think that it may not be the right decision.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Technical Difficulties

Today's extremely short memo is brought you by the "My Virtual Memory is completely full" and "My hard drive is really full too".  We'll be talking with our sponsors and get back to you soon...

Monday, October 06, 2014

Change in Perspective

Funny how perspectives can change in an instant.

One phone call, one e-mail, one conversation - and then the entire frame of reference shifts.

I guess it should not surprise me that this is the case - after all, I have been around long enough to know that such things can occur.  Good heavens, such things have actually occurred to me from time to time:  learning you will have a child.  Learning that your job has suddenly disappeared.

I guess where the surprise comes in is that more and more, it happens in the midst of life.  Not when you are expecting it or even when you think of things as being at a crossroads but simply occurring where we are, meandering through daily life.  The perspective changes, and suddenly everything that you have been considering or planning with goes completely to the winds.

In a way I suppose this is good - it means that we are constantly being brought back to what is truly important, not what we think is important.  This is often a problem for me - I let my life become too much about me and my life and what is going on in my head and not the bigger picture of what is going on in the lives of others - sometimes that is as much or more important as what is going on in mine, although I am often unwilling to acknowledge it.

But the one thing that must happen for the change in perspective to really work is that I must acknowledge it for what it is - not a minor interruption or a passing idea but a true change, that turn in the road before and after which nothing is completely the same.  To do anything less is deprive the change of what it is really saying and to then continue to operate in a world that is no longer completely true.

Perspectives can change instantly.  But we are the ones responsible for taking that change and incorporating it into our lives.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Apologies

I am sorry.

I feel I have not serviced the blog the way that I should be doing so.  I can only beg your indulgence from  the reality of daily living.

Life seems to have conspired to completely eat most of my available time.

School and activities seem to have taken over our lives.  Suddenly we have become "Them", those families that always seem to be everywhere else but at home and anywhere else but spending time together as a true family unit.  Instead we find ourselves rushing out the door early to drop one child off and coming home late after picking another child up.  Activities seem to be reduced to the radius of activities which are directly or indirectly done for Na Clann.  Time has become wedged into a small section in the morning and a smaller section at night.

This is not really the life I was hoping for, obviously.

Except.  Except that this is life as it really happens.  Except that life really does consist of the spaces between the things we thought we wanted to accomplish.  Except that every activity done, every volunteering second spent, every game or competition watched, is another item that goes into the memory banks and into the concept of others believing in you.  This stays with you long after the moment of my desire has come and gone.

So forgive me if I seem a little bit distracted and rushed and writing at less than my full capacity.  It is just that my time - and mind - are elsewhere being utilized, hopefully for the greater good.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Decisions

Standing on sword's edge
I look down, as mirror-bright
the blade says "Decide".

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reorganizational Chaos

So one of the most chaotic and disruptive thing any company can do is a reorganization.  I am always surprised by the fact that companies do not understand this.

In my experience and those I know, reorganizations tend to happen in one of two ways.  In the first version, the reorganization is lightning quick.  Everyone shows up and suddenly you are reporting to someone else.  Maybe you know who it is.  Maybe you do not.  And in some cases, the person to whom you are now reporting may know precisely nothing about what it is you actually do.

In the other version, the reorganization is pretty much an open secret.  Everyone knows it is coming, yet for some reason it is delayed  or held back, sometimes for days or weeks.  Not everyone may know where they are going and so a certain concern permeates the air as individuals wait, knowing that something is coming but not know what it will be.

In either of these versions, the results are the same:  Chaos.  Concern.  Often there is no clear reason for why the reorganization is occurring - in some extreme cases, it is announced but the full details of it are not so people know that something is changing even as they have no idea what it is.

People like communication.  They like to understand.  They like to know what is coming - maybe they cannot change it, but at least they can prepare for it.  And people certainly do not like the instability or lack of concern that is demonstrated when these sorts of things occur.  They begin to worry -first about the company's stability, and then most certainly about their own futures.

Why is it then that companies never seem to understand this?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Picking Cabers

One of the surprisingly great things about Highland Athletics is simply what you can learn about yourself in the course of throwing things.

Yesterday, for example, I managed to get three perfect picks on the challenge caber.  I do not believe I have ever had three legitimate picks on any caber that in which I got it to the point of throwing, even if I failed to have a full turn.  In the course of these picks everything went right:  the caber was balanced, I got low, and I scooped it from the bottom.  All of this with an actual crowd cheering for me.

The focus is what surprised me:  that in the midst of sun, cheering, and my general concerns about lifting the caber in the first place (the event I struggle the most with) I was able to start the first part of the process.

I have a great deal of work still to do, of course, such as overcoming that initial moment of realizing that I have picked the caber and what the heck do I do next and remembering the timing of the caber (you have to pull it sooner than you think you do).  But if I look back to three years ago when I first threw a caber at this venue - my very first games - and see the improvement over time - I can be nothing but amazed at my generally un-athletic self.  I can see improvement.  And it is measurable.

And I remind myself once again that I can do far more than I think I am capable of - if only I can focus.