Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Time To Move On

It is time to move on in my career.

The parting shot has slowly been building all week. With the big push of the recent months past, work has slowed down considerably - considerably enough that I am re-engaged in the very bottom layer of tasks on my "To Do" list, the sort of mind numbing tasks like cleaning out documents to check if they are still in process and deleting or pushing them through.  Important work some say; painful underutilization of my skills, says I.

But the final blow seems to have come yesterday.

My dear friend Nighean Ruadh was notified that after a year on the job, she is doing such a good job that they are adding to her job duties.  They like and trust her and like her attitude and are willing to have her do more for the company.  Very exciting stuff and I am very proud of her.

Then came the sinking realization that I have not had a new job responsibility in four years.

Think of that.  Four years and no change in my job.  No increase in responsibilities.  No real new talents or skills acquired.  Just four years - six years all old - of essentially treading career water, hoping against hope that either I would move to the next level or find something else that would move me there.   If you have followed my blog long enough, you know that precisely neither of those two things have happened.

So where to now?

I keep finding other things to do with my energy. Part of it, I know, is that I simply like doing other things than work anyway.  But if I am brutally honest with myself, I think part of it is the fact that I simply do not want to start the painful effort of a sustained job search that results in a job.

It is hard.  It is painful.  It requires hours that I would like to spend doing other things.  And in my case, it will require the effort of retooling my resume to make it non-career specific in hopes that I can move out in something more as my chances in my industry here are limited.

I do not want to do this.  My soul shudders as I think of the undertaking and the multiple rejections I am sure to take.

But then I think of my friend and realize that if I want that feeling of recognition and doing more, I am going to have to something different.

Because this is sure not working.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Moment of Giving Up

Is there a moment when you give up?

A moment when suddenly it has become pointless,
the moment you decide that the struggle
is no longer worth it?

Is it a moment you can recognize,
a moment you can taste?
Is it something your remember
what was playing in the background
as the decision was made?

Does it become something  you can look at
like an old faded photograph
from a previous generation,
slightly discolored and grainy
but bearing witness to the event?

Is it any of this?
Or is it, more likely, simply something
that is realized after the moment has fled,
the fading lights of the house in the mirror
you never realized you passed.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Selfishness

Selfishness is an terrible, beautiful thing.

It can become a blinding light in our lives, burning white hot in its intensity.  It crowds out all else:  common sense, decency, morals, even God.

It seems innocent enough at first:  a quiet interest in something, perhaps even a passing fancy.  But as time passes we find that it is hardly passing:  it slow grows in our mind, an object which becomes The Thing from which we can derive great personal pleasure.

And we need it.

Given enough time and space it will come to consume all of our thoughts, all of our life.  It becomes the raging fire to which our life is dedicated to, the Holy Grail we would sell our very souls for to seek.  We can push ourselves to the point that thing is so needed that other people, other relationships become obstacles in the quest for The Thing.

Even to the point that we will deny the happiness of others to achieve It.

I wish I had a better way to fight it.  I do not of course:  I fumble my way through, perhaps try to divert my mind or bring it back to where it needs to be.  And sometimes I am successful - only to find myself lapsing back, hypnotically entranced by the dancing shadow flames of desire.

It matters not that The Thing will not ultimately live up to what we think it will:  we know in our heart of hearts that it will.

Until that day, that the fire collapses, the illusion slowly drifts away, and all we find is ourselves holding the ash - not of the The Thing we desired so badly, but of the rest of our lives.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Relational Compact

We all dwell in relational compacts.
For those of you that slept through Political Theory (instead of those of us fools who majored in it), this is an idea based on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Social Compact which, in his view, was the agreement that we all make when we come together as a society. We surrender certain of our rights, and in return we gain the benefits of living in a group.  The group exists through the mechanism of the compact, this often unspoken set of rules and benefits that undergird society.

The same exists for our relationships as well.

Think about it:  in almost every relationship you (or I) inhabit, there are rules.  They are quite probably not spoken of openly between the individuals but everyone senses that they are there.  They are boundaries and limits around what we can do between each other.

Included in these are the things we cannot say, the words we cannot voice, the actions we cannot take.  Oh, they exist in our mind rightly enough, but the relational compact forbids us from mentioning them by name or deed.  To do so would be to violate the most fundamental laws of relationships:  doing that which is simply not to be done.

And so we dwell within the compact.  We move about our daily lives, interacting with each other on levels which may not approach actual honesty or fulfillment but do keep us together, functioning as a social unit in whatever we find ourselves.

Occasionally of course, I fantasize.  I wonder what it would be like to break the social compact, to do what please me more than what the social compact requires.  Tell people what I think.  Take actions which I would ordinarily not, things which would have radical implications.

And then, of course, I do not.  The Relational Compact ultimately seems to dominate all that I do.

Because breaking it seems to be the most heinous of crimes.  Odd, for something that is unwritten and invisible.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

2016 Physical Goals

I had to come up with physical goals for next year this afternoon.

The Ninja asked for them.  I tried to defer a question on them to Nighean Ruadh but she pushed my right back to The Ninja.  I squirmed and coughed and tried to come up with something different, but in the end I sat down and drafted them up.

What came out of them was somewhat surprising.

They are not fully approved yet and so I will not really discuss them except in generalities, but they came down to strength and speed for use in Iaijutsu and Highland Athletics.  This strikes me as kind of amusing as this is not something I would have ever predicted about myself 10 years ago, or even 6 years ago when I moved.

They included things like types of distances, number of games, and some things around Iai.  The relatively amazing thing to me is that, with a great deal of work,  they are things that are (I think) obtainable.

To be clear, they are hard.  They will stretch me.  They will make me work harder than I ever have in my life on such things.  But what I have come to discover is that the hardest things - like an endurance run I never thought I could do - make me the strongest when I am through with them.

So I am hopeful.  And a little scared.  This will be good.

But it will be harder than I think I can possibly anticipate.

On Suicide

Suicide was in my mental edge of vision today.
Two events pushed this in - one, an article from a complete stranger on how his brother took his own life in June, the other the news from a Throwing Friend that his father had committed suicide as well.

Both were surprises.  Both were, so far as I know, left without explanation or reasoning.  Just gone, leaving the survivors behind in pain and confusion.

I am not a counselor nor a psychologist.  But I do know a little bit about the road leading down there.

It was a long time ago - maybe 30 years gone now.  Life was simply not getting any better and did not seem to have the hint of getting better. I was 17 or so and simply did not feel that anything was going to improve.  And so I started toying with the idea of simply ending the seemingly unending pain of simply being.

If you have never gone through this sort of depression you cannot imagine what it feels like.   It is a sort pain, yes, but the worst part about it is that it feels as if it will never end.  There is no sense that tomorrow is going to come, just a long tunnel of bleak that simply feels as if it will never end.

How serious was I?  Fair question.  Probably not all that serious in that there was no "serious" attempt but serious enough that I tried to damage myself.  Serious enough that others took it seriously.

I was fortunate or blessed.  I got help.  Am I great?  Nope - surely if you read here regularly, you know that.  What I have come to reach is a sort of truce:  I get depressed but I understand that it is not a never-ending tunnel.   While there may never be full sunlight at least the cloud cover will allow patches of sunlight through.

The point of this excursis, I suppose, is that to those who are suffering and to those that are near them.  To those that are suffering, nothing is forever in this life.  I cannot know your pain fully, but I can tell you that whatever you face is not never ending, unless you freeze it so in death.

To those who are near them, understand that in suicide the ending of pain is usually the primary objective.  It is not that that they do not care, it is that the pain is more overwhelming than anything else currently going on.

It is real.  And people's struggles are real.  That is why it is critical to listen, even when one does not feel like they have the time or inclination to do so.  The sympathetic ear of one voice can be enough to give someone the realization that someone cares, that the tunnel is not without end.

Be mindful of others, because you never know what they are truly going through.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Mystery of The Disappearing Quail

Fortyfive Nation, I have a mystery for you.

The Situation: I go outside this morning to feed the quail as I always do.  I open the swing down door and put in the ration of meal worms.  No-one rushes out but that is not particularly surprising as it was a little earlier than I usually go out and so darker.  No big deal.

For some reason I come out later before I eat breakfast to check.  Still no-one has swarmed the meal worms.  I open the cage up.  Inside I find one traumatized quail with injuries and two quail that are missing completely.  The latch was closed.  There are feathers scattered around but very little blood indicating an attack.  What happened?

1)  Someone thieved two quail and left the third.  Possible, but does not explain the injuries on the third quail.

2)  A predator (I'm thinking a raccoon) - Possible, although the lack of blood and the fact the latch was replaced in position makes me wonder.

3)  Three...I got nothing.

Quail Three is in the converted hamster cage recovering in the air conditioning.  I would give its chances at not that great, except these quail have really surprised me as to their ability to recover from injuries.  Here's hoping.

Two lessons for those that seek to prepare for emergencies:

1)  Local wildlife will become an issue, especially as the easy pickings (otherwise known as garbage) disappear.  Imagine rabbits in your garden but much worse.

2)  Two legged wildlife can also become an issue.  Be prepared to disguise, conceal, or even more actively protect (as in moving closer to the house, perhaps even in your garage) that which is valuable.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Man Cave and Study

A few days ago this showed up in my inbox:


I love this.

I love this for two reasons:

1)  The first is that I love the implication of what it is calling men back to: greatness and wisdom.    These are traits which are valuable in any culture.  No one ever said "Be less great.  Be less wise".   It is calling men to a higher plane of living.

2)  The second is that it notes the subtle change in culture that has plagued us for some time.

The Man Cave.  Grasp the implications.  The place where men retreat from the world rather than engage in it.  A cave - a place to hide, a place where usually only the desperate and outcasts of a society would hide.  A place of darkness and boundaries.  In our current situation, a place where men gather with other men in a sort of inward looking engagement.

Compare this with the study.  A place of learning and knowledge.  A place where men train themselves intellectually to go out into the world.  A place where men gather to discuss matters of import.

One is a place of consumption and entertainment.  The other is a place of training and engagement.

I have never had a study.  I have always wanted one but with multiple children the potential study is always being converted into a bedroom.  I have had to make do with a desk or even a table top; my study is never more than 2" by 3".  But wherever it has been I have put the small reminders of my life and what I want it to be.  It my place to think, to study, to ponder, and to prepare.

Less Man Cave.  More Study.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Trapped And Reactions

Feeling trapped is a terrible thing.

Hope seems to dwindle a little a time.  First of all "soon" is the watchword, then "someday", then "I do not think it is every coming."  And that point, the match has been lost.

It begins to affect your reactions with folks.  Your frustration at the situation looks for outlets that it cannot otherwise find, and turns itself on those who are around you.  You cannot really yell at people above you, of course, because that just goes very badly, so it tends to channel to those around you.  Good nature tends to expire as the corridor seems to get longer and longer without relief.

How does one combat such a situation?  That is always the struggle in such circumstances.  You want to be understanding, to be the compassionate and the person you have always been, but always in the back of your head is the sense that this is never going to end and at some level, some ridiculous level, the behavior that makes it all tolerable is the same behavior that will someone, somewhere, is using against you as part of the endless corridor of nothingness.

I wish I had a better answer.  I truly do.  I find myself quite snappish at people whom I should not be so at.  My patience seems to have dwindled to a faded memory of what it used to be.  And my happy go lucky demeanor has become a hollow shell of what it once was.

The ultimate resolution, I suppose, is to escape the trap.  But sometimes that is more easily said than done.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Sudden Moment of Focus

And then the moment comes when you realize you want to move things to the next level.

I do not know that I have ever been conscious of this process before, at least not in the way I am this morning.  It seem likely, based on my immediate experience, that there is some sort trigger - some event, some encounter - that makes one suddenly decide, in an instant, that the time has come to move up.  To level up.

Suddenly things take on a new light.

Activities done in pursuit of this thing, whatever it is, are no longer just practiced for the sake of doing them.  Instead there is a purpose for them.  More does not always mean better.  It is the quality of what is being done and how it contributes to the final goal that becomes of importance.  Realistically this means a refocusing of time and effort on the activities that one is doing - not just the immediate ones of choice but all activities connected with it.  Time and effort need to come from somewhere else.

What is the result of all of this?  I do not know that I can fully tell as I have never been fully conscious of this process before.  There is certainly a sense about me that is different, something that has changed in the last 12 hours that was not there before.  A refocusing - I do not know any other way to say it - that empowers in a way that nothing else I have felt has ever done.

It is not that the goals were never there.  It is just that suddenly, one understands what one has to do to get there.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Mind Over-Extrapolating

Sometimes the mind gets away from itself.

I am subject to the over-extrapolating of circumstances.  Always have been.  I can take any circumstance and extend it in my mind to the worst degree possible in pretty short order.  It usually results in some level of depression and hopelessness about whatever the circumstance in question is.

Take work, for example.  My constant inability to get beyond where I am and the seemingly ever-changing organizational structure, if left to my mind, sends me down trails that never work out well for me.  My mind takes over, takes the worst of situations I have experienced in the past, and plays new movies on the screen of my mind, movies of changed positions and uncomfortable work situations and bad personal relations.  The sort of things that leave you feeling trapped and hopeless for long periods of time.

I would love to say that I have some kind of antidote for this sort of thinking, some way of taking this thinking and turning it on its head.  I do not, of course - for me, this sort of thinking begets more of this sort of thinking and circumstances, of course, are seldom such that I am able to magically find something else to pull me out of my pit. And the saddest part, I suppose, is simply the wave of pointlessness that tinges everything that I do after that point - after all, if there is no good way out, any effort in that direction will only result in no improvement.

Surely there is a way out of this sort of thinking.  Surely at some level, initiative and effort will ultimately result in some sort of good entering the situation.  Surely life cannot be as bleak and without a sense of hope in such situations.

But if that is so, is my mind simply too feeble to see it?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Working Out and Making Progress

So something happened yesterday that has never happened before.

As I may have mentioned before, I have engaged a strength coach (or rather, he allowed me to engage him. He is kind of a big deal in certain circles).  My coach (hereafter known as The Ninja), has provided me with a program since the beginning of August.  It is a simple program but one which, almost atypically for me, I have been following regularly.  Three days a week, I cut into my lunch and walk across the parking lot to go work out at our corporate gym.  I have been supplementing with some calisthenics programs loosely based on Bruce Lee and running and Iai (of course).

It is hard to measure progress when one is by one's self.  One can look at the initial results perhaps, and and determining "I am moving more weight" or some such, but then one returns to the mirror and the scale and seems to see very little change at all. One might feel a bit better or more energetic, but there is no sense that progress is being made.

Until one gets an outside opinion.

Most folks at work know I go over to work out.  I do it at lunch, so every day they see me tromping over in my tennis shoes and my old green Messenger bag with my change of clothings.  There are comments made about it, of course, but nothing more than occasional offers to spot or the good wishes of a coworker.  I have not said much about my goals in this area, more of just a general sense that this is something I am doing to get in better shape.

And then today, as I am wandering through to get a a drink of water, one of my coworkers says "You are bulking up."

I stumble a bit.  "Actually, I am losing weight" I respond, thinking that bulking up can only mean one thing and that is getting heavier (I have lost about 8 pounds over the last 6 months).

"No no" he replies, "not bulkier like that.  Muscular looking."

I laugh it off of course, make some silly comment about having to fit through doors sideways now, and stumbled back towards my desk.  My heart was singing inside, of course.  One does not hear that sort of praise often - and I, almost never.

Most of the times we do not get the privilege of realizing that we are making fundamental progress.  But rarely - very rarely- we actually get to see the progress being made.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Teachers and Bosses

There are two types of people that have immediate power over our lives:  Teachers and Bosses.  In some ways they both play similar roles.  But the outcomes are very different.

Bosses - call them managers or shift supervisors or even professors - are those that seem to exercise influence over most of our lives.  They can be tolerable or terrible, power mad or occasionally even great.  They can teach us some great lessons or they can ensure that our lives can become a very unfortunate place to be.  What unites them is the fact that they exercise power over our lives and in some cases our destinies, power that derives simply from the position that they occupy in our lives.

Teachers - call them coach or sensei or mentor or even a real teacher - are different.  They can exercise vast influence over lives, from reigning in our small vices to completely changing the course of our lives.  The difference is that we ultimately put ourselves under their guidance and control.  It is not something that we are forced to do - instead, we do this willingly in the hopes that we will emerge changed and improved on the other side.

I have had many bosses.  I have had few teachers - and the teachers I have had always improved me.  They have been hard on me - in some cases, far harder than even the worst of bosses.  But I have always trusted that in their difficulty, they have had my ultimate growth and success in mind.

Why?  Because to put ourselves in the hand of a teacher is to put ourselves in a position of vulnerability and trust.  It is to surrender some level of rights of ourselves to another, to make ourself vulnerable in a way that if the teacher fails, will at best embarrass us and at worst hurt us.   It is to believe that someone can come into our lives and exercise power over us in a way that will ultimately be to our benefit, not our detriment.

Bottom line?  Wherever possible seek out Teachers in every aspect of your life.  Bosses - at least all the ones except the Teachers - view us as something which is required for achieving their own goals.  Teachers view us as work in progress towards a better, fuller, richer us.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Rest of The Year

So where do I want to end this year?

That is really the question, is it not?  With the departure of Labor Day the year picks up speed as we move downhill towards the end of it - before I know it, Christmas will be upon us and then the end of the year.

And do not kid yourself - the weekends are full.  Between now and Christmas, I believe I have only four weekends that do not currently not have something filling them up.  Na Clann's activities, Throwing, a Training Session, testing - there is a lot packed in.  Add in the things I tend to do - Nanowrimo, winter planting - and things seem a bit overwhelming indeed.

So where do I want to end this year?

As I have played it over in my mind, the remaining portion of this year is largely an activity in staging to move into next year.   A launching pad, if you will, for what is to come.  It means that I will have to get next year's goals in order, of course - but that is something that I have been to lax about in years past.  Just as when we cut a target in tameshigiri we cut through the target, not to the target, so the work at the end of this year is meant to move me seamlessly into next year.

Where do I want to end this year?  Really, it is where I am going to want to start next year.  On 01 January:  feet running, sword drawn, charging into the next year with the intent of making it my own, instead of it making me its own.

And knowing where I need to go, it will make the charge that much more effective.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Friday, September 04, 2015

In Pursuit of The Perfect Noto

Of all the moves in Iai, none is more undernoticed than the noto.

Noto, or the sheathing of the katana into the saya (sheath), is an action that occurs at the end of almost every kata.  For every nukitsuke (draw), there is a noto.  Some are dramatic, some are subdued, some seem common in comparison.  But ultimately there is always a noto.

In martial arts, every aspect of every thing is important - in that sense it is the ultimate pursuit of a perfection which will never be fully attained.  The noto is as valued and trained on as any other aspect of iai.  There is a correct way and a way which is less correct.  The body, the angle of the saya, the crossing like a "t" that is made across the body as the saya and katana are moved together - all of this matters.  To perform a poor noto is as undesirable as a bad cut.  Everything matters.

In the six years I have been practitioner of Iaijutsu, I have probably performed thousands of notos in class or in practice.  Arguably only in the last month have my notos become consistent enough that I can perhaps believe that I have  begun to understand how to actual perform them. Perhaps.

This is stunning if I sit to think about it.  6 years to learn to perform a single action.  And a single action which is in some ways the least difficult of all the actions that I do.  In a world that values convenience and instant gratification this seems beyond a throwback, especially in that this is something which the world will never see and (most likely) never understand the value of.

But there is value in the pursuit.  Every time I practice a noto, every time I seek to move my shoulders less or keep my back straighter or my blade straighter, I force myself a little deeper into the discipline of the pursuit of excellence.  I make a little deeper commitment into doing things correctly not for the public recognition of the fact but rather for the sake of the art itself.

And thus I find that in pursuing the perfect noto I am in fact pursuing the very nature of excellence itself, a thing which I may never fully attain - but is fully worth chasing after.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Tuesday, September 01, 2015