Saturday, February 28, 2015

Too Much or Too Little

We are into ice this morning - ice that has caused the cancellation of some events and the delay of others.
I stuck my nose outside this morning and yes, yes it is cold.  According to the weather, it is 30 F outside right now.  It has been colder for sure, but it certainly feels much colder than it is.  We are, apparently, under a "Winter Storm Watch" until noon today with a mix of "Wintry Precipitation", whatever that means.

How remarkable for once this is a morning that I have little to do and  yet I am not anxious to be doing something. This is the opposite of problem of what I usually face:  having too much to do and too little time to do it in.

You think I would be reveling in this more.

I have these large swings in energy and activity, it seems, going from "I need to be about everything" to "I have the interest in doing very little even thought I have the time".  This makes it very difficult to accomplish anything of actual value, because one is sliding from one extreme to the other, making progress in spurts rather than a long steady drive in a direction.

Is it trying to do too much?  Possibly - this is always a potential consideration.  Or is it that I tend to substitute sleep for activity and tire myself out midweek?  Also a possibility.  Or can it be that simply will not decide on doing these things first and these things second because I do not want to lose the ability to do any of them?  That could be as well.  Or a combination of them all.

But the reality is this:  we are at the end of February and I am making very little process on anything at all.  And that is not a state of affairs that is either productive or can last.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Waiting For Spring

Our cold is back upon us in a big way.

It is beginning to annoy me a bit.  The combination of cold and early dark means that the chances of getting anything beyond minimal work outside done are minimal.  That is a bit of a problem as, where we currently live, the actually season called "Spring" is so short that handy things like planting a garden or doing other sorts of outdoor activities (even those less than exciting things such as mowing or raking leaves) are at best moved to the weekends to compete with other needs or at worst are completely put off.

As you may have guessed, we have had some remarkably good weather for a February - temperatures up into the 70's.  It is quite delightful to spend time in but, with the wild variations, hardly the sort of weather one can plant things in and hope that they will survive.  And even if the temperature climbs a bit (as it is supposed to do this weekend) we are still going to be caught in the midst of pretty steady cold rain, which makes working outside not pleasant at all.

It is not really a complete I suppose, more of an inconvenience.  Still, I am chafing a bit for either longer hours at night or better weather or probably both.  There is a lot to be done, and waiting for the weather to turn and the sun to hang around longer is not really getting me there.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Bunny Protocol

Yesterday was a little harder than most, so I invoked the Bunny Protocol.

The Bunny Protocol is invoked most often when I have had a hard day or am feeling a little saddened or alone.  It involves getting one or two rabbits (most often Snowball and/or Midnight), sitting in an a recliner, and pulling a large blanket up over us all, including my head.  The blanket helps both the keep the heat in as well as to cutoff any major exploring routes.

The rabbits like the attention, although it takes them a little while to get comfortable:  Midnight's most favored position is always right next to me on the side of the seat while Snowball is a little bit more squirmy, often wanting to move about or even be laying all over Midnight.  It is perhaps most successful with one rabbit of course, but then I always worry that I am giving enough attention to each.

What does this do for me?  Nothing terribly significant, I suppose.  I am not becoming a better person by doing this.  I am not really resolving any of my issues - in fact, this could be construed to be a form of hiding myself away from my problems instead of facing them.

But in that removal from the world and resulting focus, I find a certain peace.  The bunnies are furry and generally grateful for the attention.  They do not care what is going on or how or how much I have done or not done or expectations I have reached or not reached - all they care about is that there is somewhere warm and someone who loves them.

And they are happy to give love back.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Slice of Others' Lives

After class last night I had to make a quick stop at our local large grocery retailer for a couple of items that would not wait.  I parked, hurried my way in through the cold, and entered the "Open until 12 AM" entrance.

Right in front of the door was a display set up for the coming summer, seemingly quite foolish given our current cold snap:  a carpet of artificial grass on which sat a patio table with an umbrella and a glass tabletop and four chairs around it with various spring related products to the sides.  In the chairs sat four people:  a man, a women, a girl about 14 and a young girl.

There were two sheets of paper on the table so I assumed it was some sort of homework problems, being done while someone was shopping.  Then I did a second take - the adults were the ones doing the paperwork while the older girl was sitting there looking bored and the younger girl busy at anything but that.

It was a child swap.

I realized at that moment that moment that paperwork had something to do with some kind of unhappiness:  a divorce, a child custody case, something.  The grocery store, with its display of summer fun at 9:30 on a cold February Night, had become neutral territory, the Casablanca of its time; these people, with the mother and father signing away paperwork that probably represented a reduction of an emotional and physical investment of great measure and passion as shown in the young girl, became two agents of opposing regimes, shuttling life between them.

I wandered off down the aisle to make my own purchases but caught up with them in the parking lot as I left - to be honest, I hurried to do so, caught in the conclusion of a small drama.  They were getting into a car, the woman and the older daughter already in as the father carried the younger daughter in his arms and put her in the car.  "I'll see tomorrow"  he said waving as the door shut and I skittered to my own car, the cold driving me faster than my interest in others.

We cannot always know the circumstances of the lives of others and it is dangerous to make assumptions, let alone conclusions, based on a two minute observation of a scene.  But I find it somewhat sad, if not a little tragic and ironic, that a display became a display of two kinds that night:  not only of the potential of enjoyment of family and friends but the display of a relationship that did not work and the fallout from it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

Quiet Exhaustion

I am feeling a little empty this morning.

Chalk a lot of it up to exhaustion.  It was a long weekend - Highland Games (Did okay, nothing to really write home about) which included waking up at 0300, driving 3 hours, throwing all day, then driving 3 hours home and waiting until Nighean Gheal got home from her competition at 0030, and in bed by 0100.   Yesterday  was a very late rising, followed by helping the Bunnies then cleaning my mob out here and eating dinner at an Oscar party, then retreating to the house and waiting for everyone else to make it home safely (2300).

Needless to say, I am a little tired and a little mentally quiet this morning.

Secretly in my heart I am hoping for an ice day declaration which would allow me to simply finish my coffee and go back to bed, but I suspect that fate has decreed that this is not to be the case today.

Interestingly, at moments like these it feels like there is nothing that I can care about.  I do not want to call things exhaustion because I do not feel particularly exhausted; I just feel very very quiet inside.  The reservoir of thinking and feeling is either totally empty or at the point where there is simply nothing to be concerned about.

I am sure this will pass, of course:  the grind of ordinary living is about to return with a vengeance and by tomorrow there will be something I am aggravated about or concerned about or care about to the point that I have to write about it.  But I find it interesting in a period where I was incredibly busy yet spent large quantities of time alone that the only post-experience I can muster is simply that feeling that seemingly floats, still as a pond on a windless morning.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bureaucracies and Hierarchies

Bureaucracies and hierarchies are equally terrible.
The failure of the bureaucracy is that  getting anything done becomes impeded and mired in the importance of doing it "correctly".  And trying to do anything which is not your particular pigeon hole at best creates offense and worst creates a turf war with infighting over perceived insults and the threat of punitive actions.  Initiative becomes stifled and opportunity leaves, seeking friendlier shores.

The failure of the hierarchy is that the structure becomes more important that what is trying to be accomplished.    Ability to act and ability to make decisions are removed from the individual, replaced by the need to ask for permission to act.  Often in hierarchies the dictum is pronounced to "Take Action", yet if that action is not sanctioned by someone higher up the chain the decision and the individual become questionable or rogue.   The form becomes more important that what the form is meant to accomplish.

In reality such things are needed in some fashion:  without a bureaucracy of some kind very little would get co-ordinated or tracked for groups and without a hierarchy of some kind groups becomes a seething mass of humanity surging back and forth in their decision making (for a fine example of an essentially flat hierarchy gone totally wrong, review the history of Athens during the Peloponnesian War).  The problem, whether it is in business or politics or even in our relationships, is that we forget that these things are meant for the purpose of getting things done and instead become more interested in the forms that are being used to accomplish them.  At this point the forms acquire a life of their own and the actions become subservient to them.  Ultimately (as history shows) such systems are doomed to fail as the centers of planning action move far from the bureaucracies and hierarchies, leaving them to bury themselves under their own weight.

They are tools to accomplish tasks, as any hammer or computer is.  We forget this to our peril.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hope Takes A Break

There are times in every day when hope runs out.
Mine seems to be about 1:30 in the afternoon.  It is after lunch but usually before the onrush of afternoon meetings and usually finds me sitting in front of my computer, either scrolling through e-mails or reviewing and signing off documents (the bane of my existence).

It is an oncoming sense of lassitude that suddenly "thwacks" me over the head as I sit and look at the screen - the realization that in some way, shape or form, this is how I spent the great part of my current venture and that for all of my efforts or lack thereof, things never seem to be progressing forward.  The endless row of work that seems to need my attention stares back at me through the screen - and snickers.

There is always more work to do than one can accomplish.  Perhaps this has always been true of life; certainly it has been true of my own (and this, of course, does not include the work that needs doing outside of the the job itself, the many minor tasks and chores that make up daily life).  And yet somehow, I keep clinging to the notion that I can somehow catch up or even make progress towards truly completing things and moving on through them.

Yet I do not seem to be able to. And so, like a regular air leak in a tire that is never quite enough to justify a new tire but always needs to be filled, I feel hope sort of leak out and float away.

I will pick up, of course - just because hope seems to have left does not mean that my tasks have somehow floated away with it.  And certainly it is not a completely static condition - sometimes something happens that will engage me or someone says something just at the right moment to bring back from the brink.  Yet strikes as true and yet incredibly sad that somewhere out there, there a people who do things for a living for whom hope does not take an afternoon coffee break - and never return.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Perspective of a Teenager on One's Life

Having a child in their teenage years gives one a great deal to think about concerning one's own teenage years.

Teenagers, as I have come to discover, can be incredibly self-focused. I do not think they mean anything by this - it is not as if they are not capable of extreme acts of kindness and thoughtfulness - but the world as they see it has a great many things which they need to be about and so the world (often) should be about helping them do these things.

Initially this sort of thing bothered me a lot - after all, one of the hallmarks of an adult is supposed to be the ability to look into the future and concentrate on the humdrum things of life like food and laundry and paying the bill to keep the lights on.  But as I continued to consider it, I realized that I was probably just the same way.

I do not have any conscious thought or memory about how things got done when I was a teenager either.  I know they did, but I just cannot remember it.  I do remember having a great deal of schoolwork and the activities that I did (band rehearsal - oh, band rehearsal!) and friends and the job my senior year.  But the things about how life ran, the things that I think about every day - not a memory.

And maybe that is okay - after all, at some level teenage years are a transition period from childhood to adulthood.  It is like anything else - one assumes that this things are instinctively evident when in fact they need to be taught, just like any other life skill.  And if I am truly honest about it, I would do anything to have the ability to focus just on my own life instead of the lives of those in my care and the 101 things that one seems to have to track when one is an adult.

It does not make the whole thing more palatable, of course, especially when one ends up waiting in the car for an extended period of time (time is one of those things which is fluid, I suppose) or is driven to distraction by random cups and glasses that never quite seem to make their way to the sink.
But perspective, I am coming to appreciate, is not simply the ability to look back at one's own life and learn:  it is equally the ability to look at the lives of others and draw out new lessons from old memories.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Coming of The New Manager

Today is the first day of my new ultimate boss at work.

This thought makes me strangely nervous, nervous in ways that I cannot completely define. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to introduce someone to our company and how things are done with the apparent knowledge at some level this knowledge is going to be used (if not by this person, by the person whom they have determined to hire) to replace parts of my own functionality.

It is not a happy place to be.
,
Do I have any reason to be worried about what I have put together?  Certainly as with everything there will be small areas of disagreement as to interpretation (I suppose).  Still, I am confident that I have not left anything untouched or undone and I have not hidden any bodies which, when discovered, will give people significant pause.

That said, it is not very reassuring.

Change in the workplace is never very easy and never very comforting.  It holds an element which many other sorts of change do not:  if the change does not go well, one's livelihood is in danger.  The stress level rises when it involves significant change in management such as is happening today:  Priorities are moved, lines of communication are altered, plans change.  All of this is negotiated under the aegis of continuing to make a company function and ship product out the door.

What is the plan?  I do not really have one other than show up to work today and see where things go.   New managers can be quite quirky, especially when they just show up:  they have been brought in for a particular purpose and are trying to orienting themselves for that purpose and until one knows what that purpose is, one can either get in the way too much or even create a bad impression through the obsequiousness hanging around all the time.  Better to let them start their orienting and then find out what it is they are asking for.

But it concerns me in a general way that this is the second time in a year that a major shake-up has occurred: the first was last March, when my previous manager of five years was let go.  Now after wading through two (apparently) temporary bosses, a brand new one appears.

It does little to manage my longer term concerns.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

No Caffeinated Coffee

We are out of caffeinated coffee this morning.

Interestingly enough, I was not a coffee person for a long time - well into my Master's degree, as I recall.  I was primarily a tea person - coffee held the same attraction to me as many other perceived adult items: something adults did which almost most seemed more as a marker of adult status than done for actual pleasure.  The times I had it was overly hot and tasted burnt.

And then, one day, the heavens opened and wonders of coffee were (apparently) revealed to me.

Now, coffee is a daily occurrence.  I have it a cup in the morning at home, and then I follow up with a cup or two at work (really, never more than three - I am done by 0930 or so).  There are few things more pleasurable than a hot cup of coffee that has just bee brewed.

I am somewhat choosy about my coffee - I do not, for example, care for the Large Green Mermaid's coffee all that much.  It seems (again) overly burnt and certainly overly expensive.  At the same time, I am not so much of a connoisseur that I will only drink one kind of coffee or need a particular coffee machine and grinder - we have a reliable "Mr. Coffee" that has worked for more years than I care to remember and a French Press if we are really feeling snooty.

The best kind of coffee, in my opinion, is the Cafe du Monde's Coffee And Chicory  which is a dark roast with ground chicory in it.  It is intensely strong - so strong in fact that The Ravishing Mrs. TB will scarcely drink it when I have it which means all the more for me, I suppose (and, it still comes in steel cans which are great for all kinds of uses and projects).  For years I was sad because it was a special order item; it is now available in lots of places, which just makes my life better overall.

All of this is moot, of course, because there is no caffeinated coffee right now.

We have some decaffeinated coffee.  It is actually what I am drinking right now.  It meets all the requirements, of course:  hot, brewed, not tasting burnt.  No caffeine, of course, but that is more of physiological problem rather than matter of taste or habit  (although I will say in passing that the availability of different kinds of caffeinated coffee well exceeds that of decaffeinated coffee).  It is just more a matter of concept, much like non-alcoholic beer:  if there is no particular reason (medical or dangerous habits) that I need to do it, why?

I have contemplated such things as the fact that caffeine falls into one of my "Bad Four" food habits (Sugar, Fat, Alcohol, Caffeine) - not that I am probably terrible on any one but these are the ones most likely to cause problems and therefore the most likely to be surrendered at some point.  Of all of them, caffeine would probably be the one most difficult to surrender.  A man can life without alcohol and even without most kinds of sugar. (yes, I know fat is required - but not nearly so much as most eat).  Caffeine - coffee - is the one thing on that list that represents a pleasure for which there can be limited bad health effects but provides a mental balance and tradition in starting my day.

None of which, of course, helps me at the moment.  Sigh.  Well, I foresee a stop at a store in my near future...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Superseded

So in some fashion, I am on my way to being superseded.

I found out yesterday.  A new position was posted, a position which incorporates a fair number of things that I have been doing over the last 5 years.  In other words, portions of my job - the visible portions, the portions that are outward facing or inward facing at higher levels, are being re-assigned to a new position.  I assume the mundane and the behind-the-scenes work will remain with me.

I am not really sure how to process this information.  On one hand, this has always been my secret fear, the thing that I dreaded happening.  We are taught - or at least the system teaches us - that effort and following commands leads us to higher levels of responsibility and reward.  In point of fact this does not seem to work this way all the time:  just as often, it seems, hard work and effort and following orders leads precisely to the same place we would have traveled all along had we done none of these things.

On the other hand...I do not know that there is an other hand in this case.  There is no really good outcome that springs to mind, at least immediately.  One can make the argument, I suppose, that this is a good sign, that the company is willing to bring in additional skill sets to help grow the organization and that this is fabulous opportunity to learn from someone and eventually advance one's career.  My conundrum is this, of course:  by removing opportunity and redefining expectations to a smaller scope, how does one advance?

I will need to train this new person, of course, as well as the person above them who is coming is as well.  They will arrive with no knowledge of the past years or what has occurred to keep things going and move them forward, will take this knowledge, and then move forward based on the work that has already been done.

My sense in all of this is slowly fading into the twilight, a form that loses coherence and shape as the night approaches.  I assume I will still be present but in a reduced role, like a Betta that moves from the larger space of a tank to the smaller confines of a cup to shake its fins and swim in a muted silence.

I am trying to look for good in all of this:  surely something beneficial will come out of it.  But all I can feel at this moment is a sort of vague sadness, the sense of hopelessness that no matter what one does or the efforts one makes they are pouring buckets of water into dry sand in hopes of making a lake.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

On The Refereeing of Breakups

I have two friends that are in the process of breaking up.

This is kind of sad.  To anyone looking in from the outside it would seem as if they were made for each other - or at least, at one time they were made for each other, until the vagaries of life and the realities of their situations moved them apart.

Being a number of years beyond high school and beyond the typical rough-and-tumble of relationships it is a somewhat disorienting experience - after all, at my age most of the breakups I know of or am around are those that represent the ending of marriages, not the end of dating relationships.  In one sense these do not bear the same level (hopefully) as the ending of a commitment potentially involving others; on the other hand they are none the less obviously painful for all involved.

Most difficult of all, of course, is when both parties are reaching out to you.  The refereeing of such things involves the gentle art of listening to and being supportive of both sides.

On some levels both of these people are my friends - have been for years.  I have (occasionally) in the past made the error of taking sides in such things when I never should have done so because inevitably one or the other relationship goes away - and, of course, you get pulled in.  It become incumbent, therefore, to be both understanding and listening while keeping a certain amount of neutrality about the actual detail involved.

What do you do in such situations?  A lot of listening, by phone or by typing.  Interestingly, I found myself yesterday being a great deal different in some ways than I may have been in the past about such things - instead of merely commiserating or just listening I took the opportunity to push for some personal growth - not really engaging in the "Are you really sure?" or "You could work this out" or other sorts of looking backward but pushing them more towards the future - "What have you learned from this experience and what will you change moving forward?"  I do not know if either of them is actually willing to hear what is being said - perhaps it is too soon - but in this much I have changed from before:  I will be a sounding board and happily so, but I will not just sit and continue to allow you to remain in the same state that brought you to the point that got you here today.

Because at least in my own experience, sometimes referees can also be the greatest of coaches.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sensei

I lead my martial arts class last night.  First time ever.

This was not a totally unexpected surprise.  When I tested and got my menkyo, or teaching certificate, this allows one to possibly teach (a menkyo certificate is unlike the dan/belt system in most martial arts in that it certifies a body of knowledge, not necessarily a ranking).  I have always felt my knowledge to be moderate at best.  But our sensei was out of town this week and there were three of us with menkyo so we could split the duties.

Unfortunately due to circumstances, I was the only one able to attend.

It was a small class (Thank goodness!) but still, class leader is class leader.  Sensei had left us the course of study for the night - a single kata for the naginata.  It was one that I had done before and even had sufficient notes on to recreate.  We bowed in - very odd being the only one at the head of the class - and went to work.

I have taught before - U. S. History, U.S. politics, Asian History, even classes at work on what it is that we do - so I am no stranger to having to be in front of people lecturing.  This is different though:  one is not just transmitting information via words but with physical motion as well. One is expected to be the expert, even if (as was true in my case) there are more experienced members in the classroom.

I would like to say that I persevered but that makes it sound like I did much more than I did.  My students for the night were very patient and fortunately I am well aware of my shortcomings with the naginata, which at least gives me something to recommend for others to work on.  I also found it strangely difficult to watch multiple students at a single time:  I tended to watch on or the other when really I needed to watch all of them.

But we all survived.  We finished our practice with no injuries (the most significant accomplishment), bowed out, disrobed into our street clothes, and left the dojo.  My first immediate response was to e-mail sensei and let him know all was okay - more for the solace of trying to find a voice to tell me I did okay than any great need to communicate results.

It strikes me as odd.  Of all the activities I do, this is the one where I find myself least confident in my ability to teach others.  I could talk to people about Highland Athletics and demonstrate to them how to do it all day even though my own technique is okay at best.  I can speak to cheese making or mead making or gardening even though I do not always get the best results.  But Iaijutsu, this one activity that I love as much as any of the others, makes me nervous when the subject of teaching comes up.

Perhaps it is expectation.  The head of the our sword school is alive and I have trained with him as part of Tokai.  He has high expectations - he is, after all, the living embodiment of the teachings of the art.  And my sensei as well is an excellent teacher, quite knowledgeable and patient - the very essence of what a teacher should be.  And students come to class expecting the one leading the class to be expert, or at least knowledgeable of what the they lead.

All of this, I suppose, is simply a way of saying that leading my first class was a very humbling experience.  Not just that others look to you as the one to understand the art and pass it on.  It is humbling because others have entrusted you with their learning and their time and the leaders - of your dojo, of your school - expect you to lead in a manner worthy of the traditions which you are trained and training in.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Dream About Christ

Last night I had a dream about Christ.
I do not often have these dreams. Certainly they are not the sort of thing that I talk about regularly when I do - it strikes me that dreams (on the whole) are a badly misused medium by a great number of Christians today.  In a way I compare it to what passes for a great deal of prophecy right now:  a statement which may be heavy on biblical language but lacks the core of an actual revelation from God and is replaced with the speaker's own opinion. So I am careful to say that I did not have a dream from God - at least I can say it involved His Son.

In this dream it was right after the end of the world.  I cannot tell you what it was like because apparently that was considered completely secondary to the dream. It was just a sort of "lights out" moment and that was that.  The thing that came immediately out of it was - maybe for the first time in my life - I was actually excited about seeing Him instead of afraid.

I remember running up to Him and asking Him what I should do and He sent me off to do some looking into something.  I found it and ran back and just started babbling away excitedly at what I had discovered, with Him just sitting there smiling and nodding.  There was no sense of fear or concern about what I had done or not done, just a genuine feeling of excitement and happiness.

I want to emphasize again:  I am not stating and I do not believe this to be some kind of direct vision from God.  Certainly there is nothing to be drawn here about the end of the world or the closeness or distance of it (in all fairness, I tend to dwell on the end of civilization a great deal).   The thing I do want to focus on was that this was the dream I needed right now.

Not that this is news to anyone, but life is becoming...a bit pinched together for a lot of reasons.  Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the feeling that I am not doing enough of what I should be doing, or that I doing it badly.  Something like this - arguably based on Christ's acceptance of us through His death and resurrection (that is biblical enough) - can make the things that we face a little less overwhelming, if we can experience - even vicariously through something like a dream - who and what is waiting for us at the end.

I do not know that the dream was directly from God - but I do know that God controls all, and that includes what goes on in my dreams.  And in that, I think, lies the greatest comfort.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Fear of Strangers

Buried underneath I have a rather unusual fear of strangers.
I am not sure precisely where such a fear comes from.  It is not as if I had some sort of horrible event when I was growing up (I did not) or was mistreated by a random person (never happened) or some other sort of thing that would result in this sort of behavior - good heavens, I probably had more accidental bites and scratches from pets.  But the fear is there, and it manifests itself in strange ways.

I always hang back when I am put in new or social situations, sometimes to the point that they may wonder why the heck I am there anyway.  I find it taxing to actually introduce myself to people and even when I do, I tend to rush through my name.  Engaging in conversation is difficult as well:  partially (I am sure) because I am in many ways unlearned in what most people talk about  socially and partially because I am self conscious about my lack of fitting in.  And part of it, I suppose, is just the issue of wanting to be noticed by others but instinctively, not by making a spectacle of one's self.

Part of it too - if I am honest - is the fear of rejection and hatred of criticism.

I hate rejection.  I hate being rejected.  It has always been an issue, to the point that I will not try things rather than try them and be rejected.  Some people - I suppose many successful people - have learned how to deal with this and move on with their lives.  For whatever reason (and perhaps this is worthy of additional thought) I struggle deeply with this.

Criticism is an extension of rejection.  Criticism I fear because what is criticized is usual what one has poured their lives into - a project, a work, an extension of one's self.  To have something criticized feels like all has been ignored except for what is right.

I have to be fair - maybe I have been on the wrong end of these before.  Like many other things, criticism and rejection and joining groups can be a useful and helpful activities if the way it is handled is appropriate - for example, I have never (that I can recall) been hurt or put to shame by any constructive criticism offered by anyone watching me throw in Highland Events - partially, I suppose, because the intent there was never to wound but only to improve.

I am getting better.  I am more likely to talk to people when I go new places and sometimes will even talk to people before they have talked to me.  The criticism is still an issue - I try not to take it personally but it still hovers in the back of my mind and chews at me if I do not take it in hand.  But every now and again I completely freeze, tormented by the thought of the unknown and what might happen as represented in the form of someone I do not know.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Heater on the Fritz

Our heater is on the fritz - again.
This is not a particularly new problem.  This is the fourth time this year that we have had it almost or completely go into dysfunctional status.  We are fortunate (perhaps the only fortunate part of this) in the fact that climate we live in does not get bitterly cold, but nights close to freezing do not make for a pleasant wake up call in the morning (for those of you that are interested, there is about a 25 F degree differential between outside and inside so insulation and bricks can make a difference).

Interestingly the heater is not completely defunct.  It now works - once - until it suddenly ceases to work and then will not fire back up until a period of time has passed - perhaps five or six hours but who knows as no-one is home.  If we are lucky it gets the home up to our set point of 69 F- if not...well, we do not hit that number.

The one "good" thing we did when we purchase Taigh yn Rollage Unnane is we purchased a Home Warranty - so a visit from our local service provide is not time plus materials but a flat fee.  That means, other than having to co-ordinate a time of arrival, we are generally covered.

My concern, of course, is that the house is almost 20 years old and at some point we are going to need a new furnace (I do not have an idea if a new furnace is covered by the home warranty, although as with most warranties, I suspect it does not cover the really expensive things).

Could I learn to repair it?  I suppose - although messing with Natural Gas related items always leaves me feeling a little queasy.  It is kind of the same theory I have with doing my own brakes - I have no idea how much confidence I actually have in my work on something like that and question if I am willing to bet my life on it.

Other forms of heating?  I looked into a wood stove earlier this year.  They run $700-$900 for a unit that would fit our hose and, if I we lived in Old Home, I would probably jump at the chance - I could have had all the wood I could use.  Here, it is a little more difficult in that I would have to purchase all the wood I would use which cuts back on the economics a bit.  On the bright side, I think the house layout is such that a wood stove might actually be useful for heating (you would have the odd  one or two rooms, but I do not consider that a huge lose - and, after all, they are not getting heated right now either).

We will see.  The heating guy will show up today and hopefully we will get heat again - but it does not resolve the longer term problem.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Management in the Time of Utility

I was struck yesterday at the tone-deaf nature of so many of our human relationships in the workplace.
My belief in management and leadership is informed by a philosophy I heard attributed to the 19th Century British Army many years ago:  An officer does not eat before his men eat, drink before his men drink, sleep before his men sleep.  While I am certainly not an officer (and never have been) I try to adhere to this philosophy as much as I can.  If you are a leader or manager (true of families or other organizations as well as work), it is your job to put the people you lead ahead of you as much as you possibly can because you are asking them to do a great deal of things for you.

This is not always convenient.  It require, interestingly enough, the same thing that raising children effectively requires:  time.  Time to respond to their questions.  Time to walk through not just a resolution but the reasons for the resolution.  Time to just listen to their lives.  Times to build bonds, be they food or song or  general silliness.

It also means you have to listen.  A lot.  Not just to what they are saying but, as Peter Drucker said, to the things that they are not saying.  You have to answer the question they may not be answering but they actually want the answer to to respond to the concern they are not voicing but want to have answered.

Perhaps I make this sound like a chore.  I do not mean to - I find that leading the small teams I have lead (that sounds a lot more noble and romantic than my life actually is) is (usually) one of the great joys of my life - not from the "power" that I get from having control over the lives of others but from the relationships that accrue from it.

The thing that surprises me is not all leaders are like this.

Too many seem regard the people that work under them as servants or tools to be used.  It may not be intentional on their part - they may just have problems relating to people or feel that they themselves are too busy to "visit" with others.  The problem - the thing that they do not often understand - is that the impression that it gives to those underneath them is exactly that:  you are a tool to accomplish a tasks, a servant to execute my will, a cog to turn in the machine.  Whether you are happy or unhappy, satisfied or unsatisfied, engaged or not, you are here to serve.

They often miss the subtle undercurrents of what is actually going on in an organization because they are so focused on execution that they miss the reactions of their personnel.  Certainly most people will go along with what they are asked - after all, it is their job - but a grudging acceptance of direction is not the sort of thing that builds world class organizations of any stature or lasting value that accomplishes anything worthwhile, nor is it that sort of thing that individuals stay to invest their lives into.  They will eventually turn away and seek other opportunities - opportunities of advancement, opportunities of their heart - leaving gaps in the institutional knowledge which, if not remedied, will eventually consume any organization.

I worry.  It seems we have come so far in our pursuit and realization of productivity and efficiency that we have lost the art of relationship that makes not only productivity and efficiency possible but things  like helping others to be the best they can be (which may not always be what they are doing for us) or simply being their at a critical point in their lives when they need assistance.  We miss all of this - this subtle melange of relationship and emotions, of helping and being helped, of listening and laughing and doing and growing - when we seek to reduce others to merely tools on a rack, to be used at our discretion and then replaced on the wall.

We will go back one day, I fear, and find that all our tools have left our industrial workshop for the loving hands of craftsmen.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Humility

I am not a very humble person.

This is something I am trying to work on - indeed, this is something that I am commanded to work on.  But somehow I seem to constantly coming back to the most basic of lessons.

Humility, in case you have forgotten, is "The quality or state of being humble".  Which leads us to Humble:   "Not proud; not thinking, speaking, or acting  as better than other people."

Which are fine definitions and of course most people would say that they suffer from neither of this - certainly most people do not consider themselves proud and the person who acknowledges how wonderfully better they are than others in public is often ostracized.

But in point of fact, I often operate in a very different way.

Take my average day at work.  My job function is such that I spend most of my time doing something in support of something or someone else.  Do I simply do this without complaint or do I grumble and think that I should be just as recognized as the other person or in fact this task is beneath me?  Or am I willing to do it only when it is for an important person and not everyone - or worse, for someone who I think I should be past and yet seems to have surpassed me?

Or at home.  Same problem, different group of people:  do I demand that I be recognized for my contributions?  Do I sigh when there are certain tasks to do or do I just do them?  Or do I consider my needs to be the overriding ones of the household that should trump all others?

You probably see where this is going.  And it is not pretty.

Beyond just the fact that I am generally a sinner, I think humility is especially hard for me because I have the grand sense that I should be doing something important with my life and that my current tasks and circumstances are such that this is not the case.  The reality is that most of my day is filled with tasks and things to do that never enter the consciousness of most of the people impacted by them - as I have likened before, my job area is what most people consider to be a form of automatic transmission:  best if it is working, better if I do not have to think about it at all.  This makes it hard, especially if one thinks that one should be of greater importance.

The problem - or perhaps better state the reality - is that none of us is called to importance.  We are specifically called to humility.  And so humility literally becomes a day by day activity, every day reminding myself for this day, this time, to be humble.  Not to think of myself as better than others or act in a way that is better than others or to treat myself or my interactions with others as if I am better than them.

I need to be humble.  It is just a shame I am sometimes so terrible at it.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Three Dreams (or One Dream with Three Acts)

(Editor's note:  Sometimes (if I am lucky)  I remember my dreams and post them.  This is  one of those times.)

Crazy dreams last night - helped along by the fact that it felt like I was awake all night.  I do not think that I was, but I had the distinct sensation of dreaming while I could completely sense the environment around me - it was not like last week where I was consciously awake all night.

Dream  #1:  In this portion of the dream I had (apparently) finally gone to Japan but for some reason was on the island of Shikoku rather than the Honshu, the main island.  I was trying to find something - a restaurant or store, I think - and so I was driving around the neighborhood looking for a place a to park.  Driving and driving to the point that there was a line of cars behind me and I could not stop to find a place.  And then when I did and went in, it was not at all what I expected - dark and dirty and dingy and with someone there - an American - who was essentially mocking me because I would not be able to speak Japanese well enough (I have toyed with Japanese for years and one of my actual goals this year is to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (Level 5, the lowest level)  the year.  As I left I remember speaking back to him in Japanese in such a way that he was surprised.

Dream #2:  I was up after a rest. I walked out and saw the scenic beauty of Shikoku and started thinking I should take pictures to post.  As I was walking I found a dead animal - I cannot remember what it was but it was small and furry and recently dead.  I picked it up for no reason I can discern except to bury it somewhere and walked on.  Soon I found another, then two dead ducks (I specifically remember them being white ducks) - all recently dead.  Suddenly, as I am walking across a meadow or parklike field with pine trees around it, I was attacked by brown and white geese (I had a geese attack incident when I was 4 years old.  I have never trusted geese since then) who kept nipping and biting at me until I had thrown all the bodies of the animals at them and run off.

Dream #3:  My sensei and class were in Japan as well (no idea why, although for myself my goal is to go to training at Katsuura next year).  We were getting ready and sensei said we would have a guest tonight.  It turned out to be my new boss from work.

He was wearing a gi and  hakama  with embroidery on them, which means that he had some passed some level of testing.  After we introduced ourselves to him (I seem to remember my introduction being very quick and half done)  we proceeded to bow in, following his example.  But he was doing it all wrong- grabbing his obi (the wide fabric belt) and wadding it up in the front to put his sword in instead of sliding the sword between the second and third layers of the wrap. I wanted to say he was doing it wrong but my sensei and everyone else was following along (rule of thumb in martial arts: do what the sensei is doing).

And then suddenly we changed location again to a manufacturing plant in my industry that was outside, almost along a park path.  My sensei had left and now and old and respected boss ("Himself") was here with me.  Again, we were walking the new boss from work.  As we were walking, Himself was watching him and listening to what he was saying - as he did, I realized that he was saying things that I had been saying as well.  We came to a very steep spiral staircase going down (still outside, mind you - made of limestone) and I told Himself "Watch your step" - and no sooner than I had said that than he fell.  By the time I had reached him, the new boss was already there, lifting him up to a sitting position.

And then I woke up to my alarm.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Of Dropping A Burden

I had an epiphany of sorts this weekend as I was shuttling back and forth.
My thoughts, for better or worse, have been focused on work and the upcoming instability there (If you have never gone through a management transition, trust me - the best of them is unstable) - the unknowns of a new manager's foibles and preferences and the very real fact that this current place I work has politics and expectations in place that I am trying to get under and move in my favor.

As I sat and thought about this at length, I became more and more frustrated.  The manager is not one of my choosing, the politics are always something I have having to respond to instead of get out in front of, and the expectation held of me and the ones I am trying to move forward are always the difference between what I am constantly expected to to and what I actually have to do.

And then it suddenly hit me:  I am trying to lift and carry a burden that is not mine to carry.

I just work where I work. I  am not the owner.  I am not a senior executive.  If the company succeeds I may recognize something but not some great reward; if it fails it is not as if I have lost a project I have nurtured from inception.  

Can I change business politics? No, of course not - I am one man in a fairly obscure position.  Nor can I change business practices and procedures except in my one area of responsibility. And surely I cannot change the incoming ways and opinions of someone I have never met and is in fact being hired for their experience and expertise.

It is simply impossible.

So what do I do then?  I simply have to drop the weight and let go.

Let go, not of my need to do well or work hard, but rather of my constant concern and care for what is going on and how it impacts me.  Let go of my constant irritation of decisions and actions and personalities that impact my life but over which I have no control.  In a way, let go of my hopes that  a great deal more effort on my part will bring about significant change.

What to do instead?  This is part that I have not figured out, but I have at least come up with one useful realization:  planting and caring for new things can take just as much time as try to lift up the burden of the established and heavy.

And seeds weigh a great deal less.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Chicken Train


I found a reference to this on Blessed Little Homestead Life.  It is a song from 1976 called "Chicken Train"  by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.  It is simply delightful, completely silly and has provoked a great deal of laughter in our household.  I am pretty sure it will end up on someone's I-tunes before we are through.