Friday, April 21, 2017

Irrationally Unmotivated

I realized this morning, getting ready for work, that I am unmotivated.

Oh, I have lots of things to do of course.  It is just that there is the increasing sense of moving from one required task to another instead of a purpose and action to them.  Marking time, one might almost call it.

I worry that this stems from a sense of "doing what you have to, blooming where you are planted." Yes, I get the application of that in real life - at the same time, I am wondering if it also can lead to the development of a essentially a programmed life instead of a life lived (The two outcomes are not mutually exclusive).

Every time I get in this state of mind, I have flashes of "initiative", where (mostly out of frustration)  I get aggravated enough to take action.  I say "aggravated" because there is a certain sense that it stems from an emotional area I usually do not find myself dwelling in. Then I suddenly feel guilty that I was this emotional and completely fall back into my previous passive state of mind.

Which gets me nowhere, of course.

In one sense this strikes me as completely ridiculous, this back and forth of passivity interrupted by brief moments of frenzied acivity.  It does not make for a lot of forward progress - but neither do I necessarily feel good about things when I make progress in that state.  To be frank, it feels like I am angry all the time (or perhaps frustrated - but angry is how I feel).

And thus, irrational motivation.  I get motivated, but it is scarcely the sort of thing that seems sustained or even productive in the long term.  Precisely what I do not need, of course: I need the sort of motivation that will be sustainable and will not leave me in a state of constantly feeling guilty or relapse into periods of "maintenance" that will eventually push me back the other way.

It seems a loop as I write this, an endless loop that prevents me from actually making any progress while feeling as if I am either doing "the right thing" or am pushing limits.

If a loop, how do I break it?

If a behavior, how do I modify it?

And if I am guilty when I try to make progress, why is that and where is it coming from?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Dwindling Need for Things

Sometime between last year and this year, we seem to have passed the great divide of Needing More Things.

I am not sure when it happened.  I wish that I could point to a day, a moment, some even that would make the demarcation tangible.  But that simply did not seem to happen.

I can see the evidence of it, of course.  Actual, practical discussions about spending and money.  Edging around the discussion of how we will pay for a retirement and help support college (3 of them, mind you).  Which wonderfully focuses the mind, as it turns out.

Practically speaking, every expense now gets questioned.   Even previously simple tasks like shopping for food becomes a contest in "Why did we buy that?" and "Do we need it?"

It has turned out to be a good personal exercise for me as well.  In a way, refreshing:  I can almost the material desires peeling away from my soul.  The need for money is there, but not the need for things to buy with the money.

My own personal list has dwindled significantly.  The remaining things I want are expensive (mostly iai related) or long term development related (such as bees and a beehive and the land to go with it).  Beyond those types of things and a simple desire for books, there really is not much else.

Well, one thing I suppose: Financial Freedom.  The power to not have to go day after day and do that which matters little to me, and certainly the desire to be free of wagery.

Hmm.  Perhaps then this development is the first step to bigger and better things...

Monday, April 17, 2017

Unsettled

On the whole I avoid talking about or considering current events.  I find that in general it tends to make for either breathless blogging (where every next event is "the great plunge") or blogging that is irrelevant in years to come (for example, read any blog in the last eight years that repeatedly predicted martial law).  And ultimately that is hardly what I am hoping to accomplish here.

That said, something feels afoot in the world. 

We have not been this close to an actual outbreak of hostilities with North Korea in all the years I can remember.  Whether you are for or against, we have re-entered the Syrian Civil War.  Turkey has essentially voted itself willingly into a dictatorship.  And acts of violence seem to have become almost common place in the daily news, to the point of not even causing the slightest stir when we read about them.

Or, as that great philosophy collective Aerosmith once said.  "Something's wrong with the world today, I don't know what it is".

In the back of my mind it feels like a threshold has been crossed, the sort of thing that one only realizes has occurred looking back.  The great events of one's lifetime are almost never started in such a way that one looks and says "Ah, this is it".  For the most part they start as small events, perhaps far away, that only resolve into a the great changing event after time has passed.  Like small rills that turn into large rivers, the source is often only guessed and and intuited, not seen fully.

I have honestly started to look at individual events and say "What if this is the last time I ___?  What if this is the last time I speak to _____?"  I would say that I am working to get my house in order - and it is true - but is some ways getting it in order simply means making do with what we have (for better or worse, we finally seem to have turned the corner on the acquisition of things and are starting to move the other way).

There is a rather unreal peace about this entire thing, oddly enough.  In one very real sense I have been confronted (rather visibly, as it were) that He is ultimately in control of everything in my life; in the other, there is an acknowledgement that all of these events are far beyond any ability of mine to influence.  What will come will come; my job is to face it head-on.

All civilizations crumble and die of course, but up to this point we have only had these happen regionally.  For the first time ever, we have the opportunity to observer (perhaps unfortunately firsthand) the decline and fall of a global civilization.  An unsettling thought indeed.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rejoice!

Now Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–10; John 20:1–8after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene Matt. 27:56, 61and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4; John 20:12an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. Dan. 7:9; 10:6; Mark 9:3; John 20:12; Acts 1:10His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like Rev. 1:17dead men.
But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, Hos. 6:2; Ps. 16:10; 49:15; Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 17:23; 20:19as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed Matt. 26:32; 28:10, 16; Mark 16:7He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”
So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. 
And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Mark 16:9; John 20:14Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell Ps. 22:22; John 20:17; Rom. 8:29; (Heb. 2:11)My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
- Matthew 28:  1-10, NKJV

Saturday, April 15, 2017

_________ Saturday

It struck me yesterday that we do not have a name for the Saturday of Easter.

That is a bit odd to me, because we have names for the rest of that week: Palm Sunday, Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. But not Saturday.

It is true that of the days of Holy Week, it is the one we know the least about. “They rested according to the Sabbath” is what is written. But we can theorize from what we know, of course: His followers, being observant Jews, would have stayed wherever they were, perhaps not eating or at least not cooking one. They were most likely numb and filled with grief: their Master, the one whom they had thought to be the Messiah, was dead and in the tomb. Three years of following, the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday – all blown away on the winds of mob rule and Temple and Roman politics. And perhaps more than a hint of fear as well – the Temple guards that came for Jesus might come for them after the Sabbath and they knew all too well how that had ended.

We should also be less than honest to think that the Devil was also not hammering the disciples at this point (Should we be surprised? Does Satan not hammer us at our weak and low points as well?): All the feelings of human grief and sorrow and failure, compounded with the powers of Hell bearing down on them, mocking their faith and their decisions and hopes, showing them only a future of helplessness and hopelessness. “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” - and the Devil would chase Christ's followers to ground.

They did not know the ending at that point as we do of course: the stone rolling away, the empty tomb, the Angels, and the Resurrection of Christ. That was all invisible to them in the darkness of that Sabbath, a Sabbath (for tall intents and purposes) without any promise. And perhaps that is why ultimately the Church has never mentioned it beyond one of the three days of the tomb: it ill comports with the message of Easter.

But it seems to me that we do ourselves a disservice in failing to recognize it as part of the Easter experience itself.

We are quick to note the horror and seeming end at the Resurrection but without recalling that Saturday (the only twenty-four hour period of the three days) we minimize the lost condition of ourselves and all humanity. Because for that one full day, with the hours slowly sliding by in the silence of Sabbath, the disciples found themselves completely and utterly without hope.


Which makes the following day all the more remarkable.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Slow and Focused

I do the best work when I work in a slow focused manner.

This is a bit of a consciousness awareness thing - you would think after all these years I would have gotten that - but it has been borne out time and time again in the recent past.  If I can focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else and work on it in a manner that is methodical (read "slow") I can do it without any errors.

Great. Self awareness. You think it would be more useful, correct?

It is, but it has two major issues confronting it.

The first is, of course, that we live in a driven age.  Speed is the nature of the work world - first to market and that sort of thing.  The luxury of having the time and focus to work on one thing at a time would simply seem to be that: a  luxury.  And in an age of "multi-tasking" (which all the writing and research say is terrible but all employment world continues to love) the concept of presenting "attention to detail given sufficient time" is not going to win a lot of applause.

The second issue is much more personal.  I can take the time and do things right - but time is the commodity we never have enough of.  Accepting this about myself - and it really seems to be true - there are certain implications - like the amount of work I can accomplish well will drop by a factor of 10.  The amount of things I can do will also drop accordingly.

But is that such a bad thing?  I have written how I feel the circle of my world contracting; if it contracted into lesser things but much better done would that be so awful?

It is a matter of pride:  of admitting that I have this limitation and then working on it as a strength not as an impediment.  Hard to swallow, perhaps.  But perhaps far more stress reducing in the long run.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Most of My Friends Are Invisible

Over the last few months one of the things I have noticed about my life with its change into a new position is that my circle of friends has drastically lessened.

It is a bit odd, this thing called work.  Spend enough time at a position and the people you work with end up becoming your friends, simply because of the amount of time you spend with them:  year after year, brick after brick slabbed on until you have a wall you have built with others.  But then one or the other leaves, and suddenly the proximity is completely gone.

I suppose it is no-one's fault, of course:  we live in a busy age and for the most part there is always something that is there to take up the space.  But it is an odd feeling, after so many years of a daily routine and daily interactions, to find one's self isolated.  Alone, as it were.

My circle has shrunk more drastically than I had anticipated.  Beyond the immediate circle of my family and a much reduced group of coworkers (small company), I physically see a handful of people.  My iai dojo.  The regulars at the rabbit shelter.  My church group.  Even my throwing friends.  But all of these are for short periods of time only.

Isolation sometimes feel like being put on a shelf - and forgotten.  And while I do not fancy myself a people sort of person, it is surprising how the lack of meaningful emotional interaction makes one feel reduced.

And then I realized - most of my friends are invisible.

Well, not quite invisible - but certainly not present.  I talk to them almost every day.  It is just that they are not in my physical line of sight.

You all, of course - those who read and those who comment.  The folk on whose blogs I comment.  Even the friends I have made - some surprisingly good ones - on something as trendy as Facebook.

We talk about important things,  We laugh.  Sometimes we mock in a kind way.  And we support where necessary and coach where needed.

I realized my life is full of people.  Just people that I for the most part do not and may never actually see.

Perhaps the concept of "imaginary friends" was more trend setting than we realized.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Depression Again

Occasionally I still find myself in the throes of depression.

I am not really sure what starts the episodes – not so much something weather or some other environmental factor, that I can tell. Sometimes it does not even seem to be related to anything that is currently going on in my life. It can be a thing as random as a thought or a song, a turn of phrase that sets my mind running.

My depression also seems to have changed in how it manifests itself as well. Before it seemed to be this overwhelming sense of grief and hopelessness. Now, it seems to just to be this quiet little sense of despair that hangs with me throughout the day.

It is not crippling, at least not like it used to be. I can go for hours or days with it hardly interfering with my life. I have learned to (or at least it feels like I have learned) to manage it in a way that most people would not recognize that it is going on. Soldiering through, or some such phrase to cover such events, the expected course for something that is hardly visible to most.

It seems much more poignant that it used to be as well, as if it were hitting on the touch points of my soul, an old enemy that knows how to maximize the sadness and pain. Little things, forgotten things – the way the wheat comes up in the pots, a song from the long ago (always the music), a writing exercise that suddenly explodes in flashes of emotional ruin, leaving a stark trail of painful words on a page and me reeling.

I do not know really what to do about it. It does not cripple me to the point of not being able function, it is just more of low grade problem: the knee the hurts when you walk on it or the speck in your eye that will not seem to flush out.


It mutes the color of living – but then again, even in the muted season of winter, one can still find beauty.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Garden 2017: Compost Up

So here is the stretch of ground called my garden:


Just beyond the farther patch of green (my wheat) is where the Spring/Summer Garden will be:


My compost bin is a pretty simplistic affair:  a plastic trash can out in the sun.  I have loading it for about three years.  Let us see what is inside!


The Supervisor is not impressed:


I needed to shovel off the upper level, which has the more recent materials:




Underneath?  Black Gold!


It is much less liquid and most than last time - which is better.

My method is fairly simplistic.  Pull back the layer of wood litter and rabbit droppings and hay

And put the compost on and recover:


Sometimes odd things find their way in:


I still ended up with about half of the compost bin full - which I will use when I start on the current garden:


My side cracked a little bit when I removed some compost:


Being thrifty, I sealed it with glue:


The non-rotted material was reloaded.


And here is the finished garden:


We are supposed to have thunderstorms and downpours Monday and Tuesday, so hopefully we will be able to plant this weekend.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Wandering Attention

Two days ago the random thought came to me in the midst of my job “Is what you are doing critical to the task at hand?”

I have the rather dubious pleasure of becoming easily bored, and thus easily distracted. It never helps, of course, when things I am working on are not the most exciting in the world (like, for example, record review). I can sustain the effort for a while, and then my mind starts looking for other things to keep its interest.

But there was the question: “Is what you are doing critical to the task at hand?”

“Well of course not” I responded (to myself). “Following up on something more interesting has little to do with what I am actually doing.”

“Then why are you doing it?” came the response.

All of a sudden my mind started working in high gear, looking at my tendency to let myself get distracted from what I was currently doing. If I was honest, what I always distracted myself with was of lesser value than the item I was originally doing. Why is that, I wonder? And more importantly, how do I stop it?

So yesterday I took one step forward. I worked on what I was working on. If a thought wandered into my mind, boredom trying to get me to turn my head, I either politely ignored it or wrote it down on a piece of paper.

I do not know that I made a fantastic amount of progress. What I do know is that I got the task done more quickly than in my usual fashion. Which then caused me to have the thought of looking around at my life and realizing that I am often too distracted by what I should be doing with lesser things.

Call it focus. Call it attention to the task at hand. Call it not giving your lesser side quarter. Whatever it is, it made a difference.


Focus on the critical. First things first.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

A Certain Degree of Specialization

I realized this weekend that my areas of generalization are starting to contract a bit.

Part of it is really just simply the factors of time and money.  I find that my time, although differently distributed since I changed jobs, has not experienced a net increase in terms of availability.  As a result, when to do certain activities has become a bit circumscribed (after all, throwing heavy things above your head after dark is not a recommended activity).

Money.  Suffice it to say with the continued increase in taxes and upcoming college phase (we could have college expenses for the next 10+ years), budgeting matters more than ever.  And thus, the likelihood that a new activity will be "invested in" at some level based on a passing interest becomes less and less.

But there is another factor that I am coming to appreciate:  the power of expertise and specialization.

Being a beginner at everything gets to be discouraging at some point.  One begins to desire some level of expertise at a thing, from the practical sense of accomplishing something and the emotional sense of being able to accomplish it.  This requires a level of focus on a particular set of activities - and thus by default, a degree of specialization in them.

I have been considering this over the past weekend as I was about my business, taking stock of what is going on in my life.  Simply put, I could just work on the interests I have going on currently in my life for the rest of my life and not reach the outer limits of any of them.  I could probably also scale back my energy and time on some and still have enough to keep me interested and engaged.

Do not get me wrong: I will probably always be a generalist at some level, if for no other reason than being able to do a great many things turns out to useful.  But I also need to make peace with the fact that in order to advance meaningfully in some things, there must be focus and specialization - and a corresponding change in focus and energy.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

2017 Assessment

So today I got my assessment from the county for this year's property taxes.  According to the county, in approximately 4 years the value of my home has increase a whopping 44%.

What?

I know what you are thinking when you see that number: surely you must have improvements to your home!  Or your neighborhood is just blossoming with others who are making improvements!

Sadly, no.  The only "improvements" we have made are to fix the garage door that destroyed itself and the two fences that collapsed this year.  Beyond that, not a darn thing.  And our neighborhood pretty much remains the mid 1990's neighborhood that it was when we moved here.

I am not sure what this will do to our property taxes other than hike them. which means we will be in arrears (again) for the escrow fund where such money is stored and means our house payment on the whole will go up (again).  Our payment has increased 12.5% since we moved in.

Oh there is a good side, I suppose.  My theoretical equity has gone up from 6% to 37% in the same period of time.  Not that I feel it, of course:  it is all lost money until such a time as it is cashed out and even then buying and selling in the same market means that any such equity is essentially lost - it would taking relocating to a new, cheaper market to recapture it.

But it lays open a ticking time bomb for our finances:  at 12.5% over four years our payment is increasing by 3.125% a year.  Another 10 years at that rate - the outside amount we would have to stay here - and our payment is up another 31.25%, or possibly 42.5% all together.

That, my friends, is simply unsustainable.  Even with a crazy increase in value.


Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Choosing A College

So it is college choosing season.

Nighean Gheal is going to go away to college - does not seem real, does it?  When I officially started this blog she was 6 years old, if you can believe it.  Time, it seems, has a way of getting away from us.

The process of applying to college has changed drastically since the days that I applied.  Everything is on-line, of course.  And all the application fees have kept track with inflation.  And the competition (I am sure) is far more difficult - she has applied to 9 colleges, I only applied to three.

The end of March is the last date of the notifications, at which time one has approximately a month to select the college of choice.  It is a two fold decision, as you might suspect:  on the one hand is the question of where one wants to go, on the other the question of what it costs.  

Oddly enough, the decision is not as clear cut as it might seem: for example, the out of pocket cost of our local State University is almost the same as the cost of going to a fairly well known Private University.  Which is somewhat silly to me, if I stopped and thought about it for a moment.

(Yes, I know, you are asking about Community College.  Her concern - legitimate, I think - is that to go to a community college is to completely wipe away all the work she put in to get to where she is now.  Which is actually true, if you think about it - the record is expunged the day you walk across the high school stage).

Where does this end up?  I am not really sure.  We still have to find out about potential financial arrangements from one school (alas, I am not overly hopeful).  But I think the decision will be rather clear cut after that for purely practical reasons. 

On the one hand, this feels like a huge decision to ride on the outcome of such simple things.  On the other, at least more thought seems to be going into this than when I decided to choose a school.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

100,000

So sometime in the wee hours of the morning I surpassed 100,000 recorded views (since May 2010, I gather):


A milestone sorts, I suppose - although to be clear, I do not get paid or otherwise rewarded for the views.

Interestingly, my next biggest group of hits after the US is from Russia.  Perhaps I am an underground hit?


What was truly interesting was the distribution of browsers.  Firefox was number one.  I really have no idea why that is (I am an Opera man myself at this point):


None of this matters in the long run - for the most part, none of us are doing this for money.  Still, a milestone of sort  - and milestones should be recognized, if nothing else.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Progress Comes Dropping Slow

One of the great risks of our modern society with its almost instantaneous action and results is that we come to undervalue the nature of our own personal progress.

It seems logical enough, of course. We have come to a place where our water is heated within a minute and our questions on almost anything can be answered within seconds. Our materials desires are now only days or even hours away from fulfillment, thanks to on-line ordering and overnight delivery. We are living in an age of instant gratification.

And so we are often surprised by the fact that personal development of any kind takes far longer than we anticipated – and we may lose sight of the progress we have made when comparing it with the world around us.

A real world example: as part of my weight training program, I am directed to vary the number of my lifts every week. This week is 12 x lifts (e.g. 12 of the lift, moving upward in weight until I fail of exhaustion. So far I have done Squats (12 x 220 lbs, previously 12 x 200), Push Press (12 x 95 lbs, previously 12 x 75) and Bench Press (12 x 140 lbs, previously 12 x 130) – (Dead Lifts are today). My first thought last night was “I do not feel like I am the least bit stronger”.

So I looked back at my training log. When I started 1.75 years ago with this program, I could do 5 x 100 lbs Bench Press, 5 x 65 lbs Push Press, 5 x 155 lbs Squats, and 5 x 130 Dead Lift. So obviously, I am stronger because by simple volume it is more (Bench Press 500 lbs versus 1680 lbs, Push Press 325 lbs versus 1140 lbs, Squats 775 lbs versus 2640 lbs). But why do I feel that I am not making any progress at all?

Because real progress is slow.

Real progress – can we say natural progress – is slow. Look at the natural world around us. Trees take years to grow, cows take years to reach their final weight, gardens take years to reach their full potential. The natural world is slow – maybe because it (literally) moves at the speed of life. And we, being part of that world and and bound by its laws, make progress slowly as well.

But we perceive this to be wrong – perhaps that we are not making progress at all, because in the world as we life it things happen so very quickly. If things are not happening quickly, we perhaps think, they are not happening at all.

This is not true, of course – the progress is there if we will look for it and acknowledge it. It just may be slow and imperceptible in our day to day lives, viewable only over a panorama of time.


It is difficult, this living in the two worlds of speed and slow, of gratification and personal progress. But we make it infinitely more difficult on ourselves when we confuse the two in our minds: we mistake progress for something which should be immediately visible but is not, missing what has occurred in our rush to reach a place at a speed that simply not possible.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

What Do We Grow This Year, 2017 Edition

We are reaching the point of our Spring here that it is time to start thinking about what is going to go into this year's garden.

My garden concepts have changed since we arrived in this house four years ago.  Originally I tried for a much larger area, but found that the water and shade situation was such that it would be more effective if I concentrated on a smaller area.  I tried container gardening but between the water situation (it is either too much or not enough and dries too quickly) and the squirrels (who seem to view this as an alternate location for acorns) this also seems to be  a less than desirable option.  This leaves me with a stretch of ground about 2' wide and 14' long (0.6 x 4.2 m) - which I am actually okay with:  it is close to the water, has an largely unshaded daily sun exposure but does get some shade (helps when the temperatures breach 100 F here in the summer), and allows me to lavish my composts and rabbit droppings in a small space (the larger area, which receives a great deal more sun in the Winter, turns out to make a very adequate bed for growing Winter and Spring grains). It also makes the concept of square foot gardening made famous by Mel Bartholomew a great thing.

But what to grow?  Spacing wise, I already have 4 square feet dedicated to garlic and onions and another four to the remnants of grains that survived our freeze this Winter.  That leaves me something like 20 square feet.

I know that peppers grow well here and they take up not much room at all (at least the small hot ones I like).  I have some summer greens like Aztec Spinach and Egyptian Spinach, which are supposed to be able to weather the heat.  My okra did well two years ago but not last year, so that is worth another try.  I can always get beans and black eyed peas, so long as I manage to keep the rabbits away.

And then what?  I should be able to grow wonderful onions - we get 12 hours of sun at least in the summer, but that never seems to pan out.  I have tried for tomatoes every years since we moved and have failed miserably every year (7 years running).  Corn is another one that grew well in Old Home but never here - small and spindly.  Do I dare risk it?

I have to find something new to try - I try to order something new every year from Bountiful Gardens, partially because I like trying something new and partially because I want to keep getting their catalog?  But what?  Hopefully, something that (once again) I will not be disappointed in when it fails to produce.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Doing Life Completely Wrong: A Second Look

Tansy Undercrypt posts regularly on Facebook with a short story of the day.  She writes in the slightly macabre and often with a twist at the end, but inevitably they are wonderful stories (would that I could write as well).  I submit this story which she posted yesterday (all her copyrights, of course) as it hit on the post I made yesterday, almost as if she had seen my writing:

"Phil cared for every animal dumped out at the junkyard. He tended to their injuries (that first aid class at the community college had always come in handy), kept them safe (made warm and comfortable shelters out of scraps of this and that, heated with a caged lamp insert that he ran minimally off of a solar-charged generator), and fed them (he'd studied what they needed for basic nutrition online and sourced great deals on bulk ingredients around town). "We are going to have a great day!" Phil would say, dishing up breakfast. "We are going to snuggle in and sleep well!" he'd whisper after dinner time. Phil did a great job running the junkyard; it mattered less and less every year that he'd wanted to be an engineer. Things happen. Dreams change, end, and give way to other things. Eventually, he decided to concentrate on building a life that he could stand. "Got a great thing here," Phil cooed to a tiny little cat he'd found cowering under an old car door. "I know a bit about being lost and found.""

(Copyright Tansy Undercrypt 2017)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Doing Life Completely Wrong?

Did you ever suddenly get the sense that you are doing your life completely wrong?

Oh, it may not seem like it is.  You are doing everything you think you should be doing.  You are a responsible citizen and pay your bills and obey the laws.  You are a responsible employee and try to do your best at work.  You try to be a good husband and provide, a good father and guide and listen and transport around, and try to be a reasonable Christian (well, probably not all that good).  Your house is relatively not falling over and your oil is changed on a semi-regular basis.

And yet it completely feels like you are doing your life wrong somehow.  There is a gap, a grinding going through the motions, a hollowness that stares down the quiet corridors of your mind.  The harmony of what your life is supposed to sound like is off key but you cannot find the source of the divergence.

It is not quite a rut, because you realize that doing anything else would probably start to create issues as they would most likely be irresponsible (and possibly bad) decisions.  It is not as simple as a change in job or church, because in reality there is nothing really wrong with any of the things you are doing in the life.

You ask yourself the opposite question:  what would life look like if I were doing it right?  You do not come up with an answer you can use, however.  It seems like life would look a lot like it looks right now, except that it would be somehow different.  What the different is you cannot tell, only that it would be different.

Do you scale things back?  Do you simply ignore the feeling and hope it goes away?  Do you try making some kind of significant change - which possibly seems irresponsible - in the hopes that this will shock the system into something else?

Or do you simply do nothing and live with the feeling, accepting it as the price of having a life which seems like it is going well, even if it feels like you are completely doing it wrong?


Friday, March 24, 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lemons and Limes Revisited

You may recall that in July of 2015 I invested in some lemon and lime trees that were on sale at the Nursery.  My idea was a sort of French Greenhouse thing, moving the trees in when Winter came and moving them out after the cold.

My idea never really worked in practice.  Citrus trees it turns out, are incredibly sensitive creatures and I would end up losing leaves twice a year;  when I moved them in and when I moved them out.  As you can imagine, this cut down on the yield of any fruit.

Finally this year, in a fit of desperation, I took on of my lime trees that literally had four leaves left on it and planted it outdoors.  What did I have to lose, I thought?

Guess what happened?


No-one is more shocked than I. Really.  I really thought it was done.  It even gave me blossoms:

I swiftly moved to get the others in:

And this is my true experiment.  No leaves at all.  I am anxious to see if anything happens here as well:

This does not obviate the problem of winter, of course.  I will still have to figure out a way to protect them for true cold snaps.  But already the results are enough to convince me this is what I should have done in the first place.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How We Make God To Be

“Those strange beings that populate the world of mythology and superstition are not pure creatures of fancy. The imagination created them by taking the ordinary inhabitants of earth and air and sea and extending their familiar forms beyond their normal boundaries, or by mixing the forms of two or more so as to produce something new. However beautiful or grotesque these may be, their prototypes can always be identified. They are like something we already know.” - A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

This comment, crossing my eyes last night, caused me to stop and look afresh.  I have read this book at least four times and never before has this presented itself to my consciousness in such a fashion.

But it is true, is it not? I would argue that most in Western Culture wish for a spiritual dimension to exist and be true - or if not spiritual, than a dimension in which there is something "Out There Amidst The Stars" ready to press into us.  We have no idea what these creatures would be like, so we tend to present them in thoughts and forms that we can comprehend. Our fantasy, our science fiction, even some religions are all like this - oh, we generally tend to picture those beings as intelligent and kindly (except of course in apocalyptic fiction), but they still hold some tangible grip in the world we know.

The Christian Church, of course, has done this to God as well.

I suspect in the beginning the Church never intended to do this on the whole.  They sought to make God more "culturally relevant" to the people of their time - after all, late 19th and early 20th century Western Civilization was bursting with ideas and technology and somehow God had to fit into it all.  The problem, I suppose, was that rather than the Church separating God as He is and the world as it is and hold both ideas separately, they were combined (I would argue this is no great feat.  We constantly hold two ideas together in the same time; I suspect some were just not as diligent about their philosophy and theology as they should have been).

The result?  Tozer captures it well:

"Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like, and what He is like is of course a composite of all the religious pictures we have seen, all the best people we have known or heard about, and all the sublime ideas we have entertained.

If all this sounds strange to modern ears, it is only because we have for a full half century taken God for granted (n.b. published 1961) . The glory of God has not been revealed to this generation of men. The God of contemporary Christianity is only slightly superior to the gods of Greece and Rome, if indeed He is not actually inferior to them in that He is weak and helpless while they at least had power.”

In other words, the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, of David and Isaiah and the Apostles, is now not the God of the Christian church.  Add on another 56 years and we have almost a century of taking God this way.

There is a litany of items that could be inserted here about what the Church has made God, most of which some of you will heard.  That is not really the point:  the point is that we have made God something other than what He is; should we be anything but surprised when, like Tozer suggests, His glory no longer manifests itself among this generation?

God, Tozer argues, is completely other. Those that saw Him used words such as "like" and "as" express what they saw, acknowledging that what they were actually seeing and experiencing was completely different from the world the dwelt in.  But we have doggedly tried to tie God to our conception and our physical laws and what we think a supreme being should look like, act like, and be like.

God is Other.  Which is what makes the coming of Christ all the more amazing (something else we enervate by this doctrine of "like us').  The Unknowable, the Unsearchable, the Un-Us became like us.  Suddenly God was here, present among us, not a Raging Fire and and Unapproachable Light but a man we could see and talk to. 

Which makes for the relevant question for me:  Am I treating God like He is? (I am not, of course, and this is mostly written to me).  And more importantly if I am not, how do I begin to to do so in a way that reflects who He really is?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Brought To You By Rabbit

So one of the things that Kymber recommended I do is take 30 minutes a day and just sit.  Time has been a bit on the unavailable side to sit outside, so this blog comes to you courtesy of the Rabbit in the chair.

The Rabbit is Midnight, our big black bunny who will have her eighth birthday with us in August, our first rescue bunny.  She is sitting here, next to me on her pink towel as I type.

Rabbits, if I have not said it enough, make excellent pets.  They are quiet.  They are relatively clean, if you keep up with their litter box - and their waste (combined with hay and wood pellets) makes an excellent mulch for the garden.  Their food is inoffensive - hay, hay pellets, and fruits and vegetables.  For those that trouble themselves about such things, they are supposed to be as smart as cats.  They purr, in a sort of way, just like cats (actually, they grind their teeth together.  Means the same thing).  They give bunny kisses, also like cats.  They are incredibly fluffy.  And they have personalities.

Midnight has a very restrained, reserved personality.  She generally prefers attention on her own terms.  She will happily sit beside you (as she is doing now) rather quietly and contentedly.  She does not seem to be bothered extensively by the new puppy (as opposed to I-bun, who is definitely not a fan).  She gets rather excited about the carrot that comes her way every morning - in fact, she is rather insistent on it and gets grumpy if it is delayed.

But the best thing about her- and really about any bunny - is just the sense of calm and peace you have when you are with them.  I am not sure what it is - all I know is that being with the bunnies makes me far more calm and happy than not being with them.

Sometimes peace is just a few bunny hops away.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Reliving Regrets

I have a tendency to relive my regrets.

It is not something that I consciously set out to do, a sort of penitential walk down the memories of my life.  Usually there is very little penitence  involved. Nor does it seem to be some kind of perspective seeking exercise, a means to examine the errors of my life and learn from them.

No penitence.  No learning.  Just that shock of the bad decision and the moment right after it, played over and over again.

It surprises me how vivid these memories can be.  I have difficulty remembering important items for my employment or a conversation I should have knowledge of,  yet can remember a situation that happened 5 years ago - or 30 - with an accuracy that would put any film maker to shame.  Not just the decision, but the time, the scene, the cast of the sunlight, the scents that were present and of course the decision that inevitably went horribly wrong.

I would love to say that there is some usefulness in all this - and to a certain extent, I suppose that there is. I find I write far more clearly about my failures and regrets than I ever do about my successes, partially stemming from (no doubt) that ability to remember them so clearly (I suspect Augustine of Hippo suffered from the same thing; his Confessions  have a lot of rather sordid details in them for someone that eventually compose The City of God).  But the ability to write well of them seems a scant reward for the suffering that one endures in recalling them.

Just let go, you suggest?  Easily said in words, more difficult to perform in practice.  In a way, regrets are often like music from your youth:  you cannot hear it dispassionately but will always find yourself caught up in where you were and what you were doing when you heard that song (Example:  Don't Stop Believin' by Journey, first heard in a specific gym on a band trip in 1981). There are too many emotions caught up in the experience to ever just become a dispassionate viewing exercise.

Just do not remember?  Ah, there may be the rub.  Perhaps I can choose not to remember, but should I?  My regrets often contain within them the seeds of the decisions that did work for the best; the stupidity or greed or lust that were revealed at the denouement for the dead ends that they truly are, leading me to both do better the next time and to ultimately make decisions not based on things like these.  

But perhaps there is a third reason: somewhere buried within the inability to unlive an emotional moment or the learning experience that came out of it, there remains a certain part of me that takes a sort of perverse joy in reliving such things, the constant replaying of a song or clip from a movie until it has burned itself into your brain until you cannot forget it.  I wonder if this would have less to do with an inability to forget and more with that inner core which, knowing we could have done differently and better, extracts the only revenge it knows:  the pain of endlessly reliving the times it was ignored.

Friday, March 17, 2017

On The Knowledge of Scripture

This week at our church group one of the members mentioned a debate she had observed between a Christian scholar and a Muslim scholar.  One of the things that came out of the debate was the comment that Muslims are far better educated in their holy scripture (The Koran) that most Christians are in theirs (The Bible) and thus it creates an impediment in some circles to discussion and debate - after all, went the argument, how can I take you seriously when you do not even know your own holy book?

It was a thought that gave me pause.  It has mirrored some of my own thoughts in the past (in different ways) and gave me a chance to revisit it in a new one.

The Christian, at least in Western culture, finds themselves in a curious position.  On the one hand they are encouraged to seek out knowledge and become experts at something and understand what they believe and why; on the other, the Bible (and I choose it here specifically - I perceive this is not an issue with other scriptures) is not considered something that is worthy of that level of study and knowledge.  Western culture has reduced "religion" to the equivalent of "culture", thereby dividing in their mind what others study and take seriously versus what they can dispense with.

You could make, I think (as Os Guinness did in Fit Bodies, Fat Minds) the cogent argument that the Christian Community in the West - well, perhaps at least the U.S. - does not value the intellect or study of almost anything and thus the Bible falls into that realm.  This is also a fair argument, although I suspect somewhat overstated (I have plenty of highly educated, believing friends and acquaintances where this argument is quietly overlooked - after all, such "uneducated believer" arguments fade away in the face of a engineering/scientific Ph.D. or a legal J.D.).

But I think it is a fair statement to say that, on the whole, Western Christians do not know the Bible as they ought.  Oh, we know of it, know there is an Old and New Testament, know perhaps even that it has 66 books  and maybe even that it was written in a number of languages, but we do not really know it.  We do not know that actual words of it - we may know concepts or themes but not the actual chapter and verse (thus, the phrase "Chapter and Verse") where things appear. We build apologetics and arguments based on feelings, not on the foundational beliefs of our faith.

I concur that there is nothing magical to complete memorization.  The Pharisees memorized the Old Testament and still missed the point of it.  Rote memorization without application will accomplish no more than not knowing at all. But not knowing at all is no better.

I defy those that say such deep knowledge - indeed, such memorization - is no longer possible.  The reality is that we live in an age that glorifies physical achievement and finding the ever expanding limits of the human body. And we glory in the minds of the young which have the ability to apply themselves beyond their years.   We know that in times past people have done such things, that the entire database of a culture existed in the minds of its people - it really more a question of the will and time than it is of what is possible.

I find it interesting that the the stereotypical "wise religious" that exists in our culture is the rabbi or ascetic (even a priest or pastor, I suppose) that has the ability to call up not only the holy Scripture but application of that Scripture.  Sadly, we miss the part that what we value about this is just as applicable to ourselves.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

On Rage

It is odd to me how easily a rage can come on.

Perhaps more oddly, it is almost never the doing of an outside force or action.  It is, at least for me, almost always an internal business.

The fault that I have is that I can dwell on something - and once I dwell on anger, it quickly passes over into the realm of blind rage.  It feeds on itself, a sort of personal nuclear fission that grows and rages like a furnace in my soul, building and building until all of my moods and thoughts have been overcome by it.

If I am honest about it, I know when it is happening and could, if I so wished, stop it.  Pretty easily, too:  pick another chain of thought, turn my inner eye away, or even just tell myself "No".  It is a choice and like any other choice, can be chosen otherwise.

I do not, of course.  And that is the more frightening reality.

Why do I do this, I wonder?  Why would I willingly create a holocaust in my heart and soul over something which is almost always unworthy of such an emotion?  And why do I go back - repeatedly - to bathe myself in its fiery and unholy light?

The one thing that is true about rage is that it requires little thought, once achieved.  One's mind is focused and anything like self doubt or an examination of where one has done wrong is banished.  It is a singular emotion, a one way thought pattern to amazing energy and forcefulness of action -  a very dark energy of course, and the sort of forcefulness that can irreparably harm one's own soul or others by harsh words (or worse).  But it can be almost addicting in its power.

So why do I return?  I, as with barrenness of thought, wish I knew.  But it worries me, this willingness to engage in patterns that are neither useful nor helpful.  The only road it leads down is one no sensible person wants to take.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Struggling To Write

This week has been a real struggle, writing-wise.  The creativity just does not seem to be there.

This happens sometimes, I suppose.  I just really cannot remember a time when I felt this completely empty for writing.

It probably reflects a larger blandness in my life.  Unfortunately, I seem to have hit a rut in my life that I cannot get out of.

My life has become bounded by 12 miles in any one direction. By an emptiness of people rather than a crowd.  By a sense of futility in almost everything that I do rather than a sense of purpose - even my hobbies that brought me so much joy feel like chores.

There is an emptiness, a senselessness to everything that leaves me dry and brittle inside, on the one hand not feeling and on the other hand not caring.  I wish I knew what the cure was to this: is it a rut? If so, is there something that I can do to break out of it?  Or am I simply going through a phase for which there is no resolution but to quietly continue on, seemingly without relief?

I certainly do not like this sensation - but ever within my not liking it, I can find nothing to do but simply endure it.  And hope for better days.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Monday, March 13, 2017

Winter Again

So our weather has been playing with us over the last three weeks.  Essentially, it gives as a solid work week of good, early spring weather (70-80 F), followed by weekends which are cold and rainy.  Which, of course, means very little gets done outside (I note in passing that it is almost as cold here than where we stayed in Montana last July).

Frankly, it makes me grumpy.

I had a careful list all planned out for the weekend:  raking leaves (yes, where I live this is the season in which the leaves fall), mowing (the grass, of course, has been responding to the "mock spring" we have been undergoing), and even some potential pre-Spring gardening activities.  Instead, The grass is dripping, the leaves are soggy, and I have managed to miss another weekend  for making any forward progress.

There is just nothing quite as annoying as planning for something which you do not really enjoy doing, psyching yourself up to do it, only to find that all that mental energy is wasted.  Grrr.  Makes me not want to plan and just be "spontaneous" (Fancy Latin word for 'procrastination').

I am taking today and Tuesday off for Spring Break. Perhaps the weather will co-operate with me enough to get some kind of effort put on these items.  Or, if nothing else, at least I can mentally prepare myself and fortify myself with coffee for the continued drearies.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Statement Re-mission

Two day ago  I posted about the fact that in hiring for an open position, I try to emphasize that the job involves a great deal of ensuring that the work of other people can get done by creating an environment to make that possible - both the physical environment (plant/facilities), the operational environment (IT, amenities), and the laboratory environment (supplies) - in my words, "Creating an environment where science can happen". It is an important role, although arguably one which is sometimes difficult to accept on the terms that at best you become invisible, at worst noticed only when things go awry.

I have been mulling it over since then - not just because I still have to fill the position but because of the implications that it has on my own career and the growing realization that at work, I am much more the servant (see above) than I am the one being served.

 I was mulling it over so much that today it overflowed into my home life.

For years I have struggled with create that elusive "Mission Statement", the statement which virtually every book on leadership or accomplishment tells you that you need to have in order to succeed.  Oh, I have wrestled with creating such a statement.  I had created one some years ago that I had clung to almost bitterly - clung to because it was the sort of statement that (if I am honest) gratified my inner pride and hubris.  It was a grandiose statement constructed in 2008, appealing to my big plans for the Ranch and writing and taking the world by storm.

None of which came to pass of course, when everything fell apart in January of 2009 and never really recovered - although I clung to that mission statement for another 6 years in my vanity before finally admitting that my mission - what I felt "called" to do - was more about my own wants than any sort of real calling.

And so, mulling over the thoughts of work and my life as it is, the thought suddenly occurred:  "What if your mission statement for your home and marriage is the same as the one for work?"

Whoa.  Let us not get ahead of ourselves.

It was too late, of course - my brain was already coursing through the possibilities.  "What if your mission statement for home and marriage was 'Create an environment where your family can grow and accomplish their meaning in life?'  What if your life's mission statement was 'Create an environment where everyone you are contact with can grow and accomplish their meaning in life?'" my brain spit out faster than an old-school dot-matrix print rolling through the sheets on the draft setting.

I grasp what this means at my home, of course.  It is doing the things that need doing - be they maintenance or keeping up with care or raking and mowing or the chores that come up day after day - not for reward or recognition (and certainly not only when being prompted) but to allow the other members of my family to have an environment where they do not have to concern themselves with those kind of things.  It would be the acceptance that these are things that I would be doing - perhaps (said the brain) need to be doing - as long as I am able to do them.  Extend that to my circle of influence at large and there you have a life's mission statement.

Be assured that this looks not at all - even remotely - like the previous mission statement at all.  It had bold action words to lead it off, but "serve" was not present.  Because this sort of statement would be everything that is opposed to the world being about me.  It is taking that great big spotlight of life and turning it not towards myself (which I subtly tell myself is the right thing to do) but towards others and being okay with that.  And not just for a day or two, not a one time charitable act, but having it becoming the core of one's life and one's actions.  Ultimately it is the confession that you consciously putting off whatever you believe will make you "successful" to help others do the same.

I would be less than honest to say that my initially reaction was not that quiet, gentle zephyr thought of "Ah, that is it.  That is the thing I have been searching for".  It rankles.  It screams every bad experience of customer service I was ever exposed to, multiplied in my feverish imagination to an endless stream of doing not only without visible advancement but with the happy experience of having the boot heel of those you are helping ground in your face as they climb over you - an over-exaggeration of how things actually are, but hubris and pride never die easily.

So what will I do?  I would say think and ponder but if I am honest those are merely ways to put off what I now understand to be true.  Far better to take such a thing at face value and act on it - after all, if we ask the questions we have to be responsible for acting on the answers we are given.

It strikes me as ironic that the pride that lead me to question my definition of my role at work has led me to the very place pride least wanted me to go.  It is the unexpected answer to the question we asked  thinking we knew the answer - only to hear it and find that in the mere seconds those words came to be, everything has changed.



Thursday, March 09, 2017

Nostalgia Stalking

Nostalgia vexes me.

There is a good and right nostalgia, the sort that comes perhaps at moments of wistful thinking or gentle sadness when needed.  It may bring a moment to mind or perhaps a picture when we need it most, something to carry us over the hump of currently difficult circumstances.

Alas, my nostalgia does not typically operate in that fashion.

Mine seems to be much more insidious, quietly waiting in the back of my mind for a downturn in mood or situation.  Then it leaps to the forefront with those magical moments of the past and the "what ifs" of a future it tries to script out in my mind.  Not that any of this is based in reality, of course:  in my case, not only can I not enter the same river twice but I seem to have the unfortunate habit of burning the bridge over it and everything in it back from the bank for two miles.  The nostalgia does not care, of course, and usually I am not in the mood to examine the geography of the emotional at that time.

I am trying to be more aware.  I figured out this week, perhaps for the first time, when it strikes me hardest:  when I am emotionally upset or fragile or even somewhat depressed.  And I can see where it is trying to take me - if not to a point of bad decision making at least to the point of thinking that there are options when quite often there are none. It works on my mind and soul like a good masseuse works on the back and shoulders, massaging out all the current tensions and leaving the mind relaxed and open to what I am sure it hopes will be its kindly recommendations.

Why this is, I have not fully determined.  The nostalgia is coming from somewhere and it seems rather bent on ultimately causing chaos and emotional harm.  Am I trying to subconsciously destroy myself?  Is this simply the attempt to ease a pain that exists by floating a false past and unknown hope?  Or is there something else at play here that I cannot see?

I know little and see less.  All I can say with certainty is that even as I write this I can feel it stalking the back of my soul, whispering its siren song of pastel pasts and translucent futures to a heart that too often seems to see and feel only in shades of gray.