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".