Friday, November 17, 2017

Outer and Inner Collapse

I have been wrangling back and forth with myself what to write about.

Part of me really - REALLY - wants to write about current events that suggest that the country, as whole, is pretty much politics.  But that is politics, which we do not do here.  Another part of me wants to write about what appears to be the complete and total moral collapse that seems to have engulfed Western civilization to the point that I do not think that it can be come back from - but again, that seems to border on politics.

And then I realized that really, all of the outside angst I am feeling is really more indicative of my inside angst.

I am feeling cast adrift, caught between the reality that I live in and the reality that I would like to live in - only to discover that the greater reality seems to be completely unraveling.  What good is it if you are good at a job in an industry that failing, or even a society that is failing?  What good is getting halfway to the life you want to live only to have everything around you dissolve?  It is as if you were trying to drive halfway across the country only to run out of gas in the middle of New Mexico with no town or car around:  you are stuck.

Societies, just like economies, are built on an array of almost invisible relationships that ultimately reside in trust and faith in others and circumstances.  Without this faith and trust that a certain cause and effect exists in social affairs, people have no reason to continue to invest in them.  If crime is ultimately not punished, why should one approach the authorities or report the crime - or on a broader level, why pay for the taxes that support the government that is not  doing their job anyway?  It is as if I can see the the strands unraveling before my eyes even as I am powerless to stop it - and am running out of time to do what needs doing before something serious collapses.

It is a bit selfish, I confess, to be more worried about me and mine rather than the greater masses out there. But I am exactly as all I see:  my own trust and faith in this society and civilization has been unraveled, almost to the point where collapse is viewed not so much with terror or anger but rather as something which simply needs to happen so we can all move on to the next phase.

And so I have come to view current events not so much as omens of worse to come but rather as evidence that things are simply crumbling - perhaps a little more quickly than anticipated, but collapsing none the less.  We are not surprised that the waves destroy the sand castle, only that it does not destroy the castle sooner.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

My Dwindling Consumption of Entertainment

My consumption of current entertainment has dwindled to almost nothing.

This has been a gradual process, of course.  The last television series I kept up with was almost 20 years ago - and with The Severing Of The Cable ten years ago, such things are now non-extant.  My theater/film attendance, which peaked somewhere around the time of The Lord of The Rings, has also steadily dwindled away to where if I attend more than one movie a year in a theater, it is a remarkable thing,  My attendance of the theater, never something of note, is now essentially limited to plays and musicals I know a child in.

Part of this, to be sure, is financially and technology based.  NetFlix and You Tube have made it easy to find almost anything I want to watch for almost nothing - and if I am really pining for a film, I can go to my local large Quarter Price Books and spend less than the cost of a ticket:  $5 to $10 to own it.  When the cost of a theater ticket is $7 for an afternoon showing and $12 for an evening showing (and even more for one of the fancy Dinner and A Movie places), this begins to make a difference (to be fair, we have a "Dollar" theater near us, although they never seem to be in quite as good repair).

Part, I know, is the fact that these sorts of things are a time sink - and for an unknown product, a great risk.  The average film or play is 1.5 to 2.5 hours, television shows 25 to 55 minutes: is it worth it to risk my precious time on something that I am not sure that I will like with time I cannot get back?  And part, of course, is that the entertainment industry long ago seems to have departed from my values and mores.

But the biggest contributing factor seems to be, remarkably enough, that the entertainment is no longer entertaining. 

Oh, they can be exciting or gripping or occasionally moving.  But even within this there is little sense that I am entertained, that I am being taken away from my existence into another reality and come out on the other side as a better or more thoughtful person.  More often than not, it has come to be something that fills the time (and kills it) and something that is anything that just entertaining.  And why would I pay someone for that?

I am sure all manner of entertainment shall continue to be produced (after all, it does make money for someone), just as I am sure that my consumption of it will continue to decline.  After all, is not part of self sufficiency not that ability to entertain one's self?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Great Dropping Out

One day - I do not wonder any more if it is in the all that far future - thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people (in my wildest dreams, millions) are going to simply drop out of the world at large.

It is happening, I know, in small numbers now.  But in my soul, my bones, I feel like this is going to start to becomes more and more of a movement.

In is, perhaps, in a sense the quintessential "Going Galt": people realizing that the world simply has nothing to offer them except grief, destruction, and treatment as the financial mule that moves society.

Most people will not notice it in any meaningful way, of course.  Folks will suddenly just seem to be not "around" any more - not in society, not (mostly) on-line, not in the stores, not in the entertainment venues, not really anywhere except the places they choose to be, which likely will be away from the public eye (and consumer spending).

Governments will eventually notice of course:  incentivize people long enough not to be successful and guess what:  they will not be, at least not in any way that is remotely taxable.  Commercially people may notice as large chunks of the economy stagnate:  retail, entertainment, indeed many sorts of things that are not essential to daily living.  Religious institutions may be the beneficiaries of this - not all of them of course, as such people tend to be less about the appearance of the church and the worship but rather about the integrity of the message and the presence of the Holy in the place.

There is a perfectly viable argument to made that even now, to a large extent, society may be disengaged from with none the worse for wear.

Not notified of elections or financial events?  Be honest: to what extent does your involvement in such things matter beyond the initial vote or investment?  Not much, to be sure, until the next vote or next investment occurs.  Things might go really bad?  Possible, but again what will your involvement do except to remind people that you are there?

One day, in the land of drained coffers and wrecked economies and spiritual wastelands and urban centers of decay and rural pastures where all the farming was for corporations, the question will be asked "Where did all the producers go?  How do we get them back?"

The reality will be is that mostly likely, they will not be coming back.  They are perfectly content to live their lives in solitude and engagement the daily act of living without the need of involvement or oversight. 

In the end, it is not those that leave that are the most needy; it is the institutions that drove them away.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Goodbye Bountiful Gardens

Friends - Sad news today. I was notified via e-mail that Bountiful Gardens (www.bountifulgardens.org)  is going out of business after 30 plus years.

This saddens me greatly.

I think I first found Bountiful Gardens in 2004.  They had an amazing selection of heirloom seeds reasonably priced (my wheat, corn, and barley yields that year were never beaten).  The service was prompt and friendly, and it came to where every year I looked forward to getting their catalog and planning both for my regulars as well as my 2-3 larks I would try just to see if they would grow.

I have no idea why they are going out of business (and they apparently have not announced it) but I will miss them a great deal.

One thought: currently they are selling almost everything at 15% off, so if you want to pick up some unusual seeds now might be the time.  I am building up my grain experiments....

Any suggestions for other heirloom, non-GMO seeds?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Winter Garden 2017

My 2017 Winter Planting is done.

I have fairly low aspirations this Fall:  Garlic (always the Garlic), two kinds of lettuce, two kinds of spinach, leeks, beets,  barley, and wheat.  This probably a little less than what I usually plant, but then again, my summer garden was nothing to brag about.

A little bit different than other years, of course.  My continued heaping of rabbit droppings and horse litter (wood pellets that have degraded) have composted nicely into a lovely humus that is fairly easy to work and retains a great deal of moisture.  Basing  a little bit off of The One Straw Revolution I have covered the lot with leftover hay from the rabbits.

My plans for this winter?  Not much.  I'll cover the planting with more hay as it becomes available and let the okra and jalapeno peppers (I managed to get three) go until the cold kills them off, but not much more than that.  There is a certain elegance to practicing natural farming, and I intend to see how far I can do it in the home garden.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

Lt. Colonel John McCrae 03 May 1915

Thursday, November 09, 2017

On Thinking Deeply

Re-reading The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, I realize that I am not nearly as deep thinking as I need to be.

"A person can analyze and investigate a butterfly all he likes, but he cannot make a butterfly."

"If you hit the mark on the wrong target, you have missed."

"The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings."

"I probably know more about what can go wrong growing agricultural crops than anyone else in Japan."

Why can I not think like this on a more regular basis?

Two factors, I believe:  Lack of contemplation and lack of purpose.

My days - almost from the time I get up to the time I go to bed - are filled with activity, both mental and physical.  Work has become (literally) a cyclone of activity where I do not seem to have five minutes to contemplate anything, let alone an hour.  But deep thoughts only grow out of the soil of thinking deeply and having the ability to do so (silence plays an incredibly important role here as well).  A constant stream of information flow and decision making, both internal and external, prevents this.

Deep thinking also occurs about something - we thinking deeply about farming or life or love or the nature of rabbits.  Such thinking does not occur in a vacuum.  Without a purpose - in our life or in our thinking beyond the day to day activities we undertake - we do not provide grist for the thought mill.  Bills and documents and pulling the trash out to the curb on Fridays scarcely has the power to generate the sorts of thoughts that change lives (or maybe they do - if your gift is thinking about the very hum drum nature of existence).

Do I have an answer?  Not one that I can readily apply.  Yes, I can perhaps create a little more space in my life for the thoughts to occur?  But on what?  And more importantly, how do I increase that amount of space to think deeply?


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Week of Coupons

This week is the Major Used Book Store's Week of Coupon Sales.  It is my equivalent of Halloween - for 7 days.

It is an escalating addiction:  2 days of 20% off the highest price item, then 2 days at 30%, then 2 days at 40%  and a last gut wrenching day of 50% off.

Oh, I have worked it out to a science, of course.   I start scanning as soon as I get notified of the sale.  There are five locations in my relative area, and I go one by one, looking through the sections that I always peruse for this once in a three month opportunity to build my library.

Once I have decided the what and where, then it is the when - after all, I only have one 50% coupon and that has to be used sparingly.  If I buy this book at 40%, does it come in at or below the book at 50%?  And so it goes.

You may find it a bit foolish that I put this much effort into book purchases.  It probably is.  None the less, for one week every so often I get to to live in the world of possibilities, of maybes and what ifs.  And what a wonderful place it can be.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have something I have to go read...

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Thinking On "The Next Phase"

So last night The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I had our second discussion about "The Next Phase".  

A great deal of this, of course, revolves around what the financing of "The Next Phase" looks like.  Sadly (or at least sadly from my point of view anyway) taxes form a fair amount of consideration here.  I have started doing the math on tax rates in places I would consider living (yes, I know, there are tax free states and I currently live in one.  That said, tax free does not always make it a home).  Then balance the tax rate against things like property taxes, housing costs, and cost of living.  Then balance that against what one thinks one is likely to make in a different location, perhaps doing a different thing (acknowledging that what I currently do means I have to live in certain places, so to relocate would be to live in one of those places or change what I do).

The second is simply "What would we do there?"  Here things diverge a bit more.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB would like to travel.  I am not so much for travel but for staying home more and doing "things" - gardening, bee keeping, actual reading and contemplating, actually taking care of things (instead of packing it in around the margins). other sorts of things that I simply do not have the time to do at this point.  There would have to be a compromise, of course:  endless travel is not in the cards and (if I am truly honest) puttering around is not either.  There is a happy medium there somewhere to be made.

Why does all this matter?  Because it is helping me to frame my thoughts and my actions in the next few years, which have become incredibly important in determining what will happen in the years that follow (even something as simple as "Should I buy this?  Do I really need it or could I save the money?  And would I really want to move it?").  Thinking about possibly doing something very different in 30 years is nebulous.  Thinking about doing something different in as early as less than five is completely different.

Monday, November 06, 2017

10 Miles

Yesterday I ran 10 miles (16 kilometers for my Canadian friends).

I do not know that, had you asked me at the beginning of the year, I would have told you that this is a thing I would have ever contemplated running.  Earlier this year, after I ran 7 miles (10 K), I would have told you no way. 

So apparently I lied to myself?

Maybe.  I had signed up with a friend to run it and something else came up and he decided he was unable to make the run.  I was not going to let my registration fee go to waste. 

When I run a race, I have only two goals.  The first is that I complete the race.  The second is that I run through the entire race.  It does not matter how slow I go, only that I keep running.

The (somewhat) surprising thing about this race was how amazing supportive folks were that were not running the race.  A grandmother who just randomly set up a water booth on the course.  Kids who were cheering and ringing cowbells and giving high fives.  The police in general, who are standing there for 3+ hours managing traffic - and in one case, an officer who helped to pull a stroller up a hill.  And of course all the volunteers and support groups just there ringing cowbells and offering water and shouting their heads off.

The most difficult part?  Actually, not the hills (not too many, but I am not a hill person).  It was really miles 8 and 9 when I kept having to fight myself to stop from walking and keep running.  I think mile 8 was so hard because it was the farthest I had ever gone, mile 9 because it was not mile 10.

How did I do?  1 hour 51 minutes to complete the course, average mile of 11:06  Not bad for 50 years old.  I ran it in a kilt because I promised my friend I would, and I ran the whole race - perhaps very slowly at points, but I kept running?

Will I run so far again?  My brain says no, but my heart is already thinking  "You know, a half marathon is only 3 miles farther...."

Thursday, November 02, 2017

The Economy of Stuff and Ideas

We are passing from the Economy of Stuff to The Economy of Ideas.  And, on the whole, I do not know that this necessarily represents an improvement.

The Economy of Stuff is the economy that the global system has been based on since at least the 1950's.  It is the economy of the consumer, the economy of things at the lowest possible cost.  It is the economy of consumption, the economy of the disposable, the economy of the maker and sellers of things.

The difficulty is twofold, of course.  On the one hand, in order to keep making things at a low cost jobs end up moving from place to place.  Places that made things are replaced by other places that make things more cheaply.  For those that remain, the work they have is replaced - hopefully with something, but sometimes with nothing.  One the other hand, the drive to sell things as cheaply as possible ultimately leads to cheap ways to sell things: small stores are replaced by big stores, bigger stores by chains, and chains by stores on the Internet that can ship things from far away.

Eventually, of course people have more stuff than they need.  And we are making all the stuff we can.  Then comes the next shift, the Economy of Ideas.

The Economy of Ideas is somewhat more nebulous.  It still involves the creation and sale of things, but the things are nebulous, tools that help us accomplish things:  software, designs, plans.  They are higher value things that ultimately help to do lower value things. 

But there is a catch here as well:  ideas cannot be eaten.  They do not directly result in things that can be used.  And they require a fairly large infrastructure of support to make those jobs possible.  And, there are a finite amount of people that can do them due to the education and skill levels required.

What do we end up with?  A society that has started to reach the final point of consumption where it consciously starts to stop consuming.  A society where those who perform lower skilled jobs are replaced by the indirect fruits of those who work in the economy of ideas:  automatic checkouts instead of checkers or even no stores at all, just sorters and delivery drivers (and this, of course, discounts the field of robotics, which at some point will find its stride - and whole new swaths of career fields will become obsolete).  A society where you may have fewer and fewer wealthy and more and more poor, but a society which is also largely paid for by those wealthy.

Do I pine for a return to the old days of "handmade"  On the whole, no - I like convenience and the Economy of Ideas has brought things to my life I could have never imagined.  But economically there are causes and effects:  those out of work buy neither the Economy of Stuff nor the Economy of Ideas.  And the economy ideas often relies on the economy of stuff to accomplish what it is producing.  

If neither side thinks of the other, I am not sure how it ultimately turns out - except that, oddly enough, neither the Economy of Stuff nor the Economy of Ideas can exist without the other.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Reflect Jesus, Serve Others

Once upon a time - 2003 - I had a mission statement.  I was very proud of it.  I thought of it all by myself.  It was a pretty good one, I thought, full of purpose and meaning and scope:

To Write for Impact
To Preserve for The Future
To Lead for Change
To Glorify God

Quite the statement, right?  Very forward thinking and action sounding.  Very sort of "Live to leave a legacy".  The sort of thing that future great people have.

Nothing worked out that way, of course.

My "Writing for Impact" resulted in a number of items which did not become the best sellers I was hoping for but fulfilled a dream of writing (and little else).  My blog, although enjoyable (and through which I have met a number of very fine human beings) did not become the monumental change agent for future I expected it would be simply by its existence.  My "Preserving for The Future" seemed to have slipped away when I moved away from where I was thinking I was supposed to be preserving, halfway across the country.

"Leading for Change" never happened.  Despite my rather grandiose imagination, no leadership position appeared - except the sort of leadership positions that are not recognized positions but exist on the fringes of the light, more the sorts of things that one has to do to survive work rather than become drowned by it.  And "Glorifying God" - which in my mind was nothing less than church leadership on a public platform - disintegrated and melted into quiet service in my hands.

The statement itself died a sort of postscript death around 2014, quietly slipping beneath the waves of realities that could not support it.  But I never really thought to replace it until recently.

It has reduced to this:

Reflect Jesus
Serve Others

Reflect Jesus:  Make my life an image of Him in that people see Christ through me.  Be the mirror that reflects Him in their lives, the window through which He can be seen. 

Serve Others:  Always seek to be of service.  Do the work you see that is undone.  

There, I noted as wrote these four words, a rather marked lack of self in them.  Which is actually as it should be.  Nor is there a great deal of direction as to know how these things will be accomplished.  And especially there is no "This is how I will serve God - or not at all".  I think we can agree - or at least I can - that such plans such as I have tried in these matters have, on the whole, ended in rather abysmal failure.

Do I believe that this change in mission statements will somehow lead to all the success I thought I was entitled to?  Not at all - in fact, I have ceased to expect any sort of success at all.  Because the Christian life is never ultimately judged on how "successful" one is has been.  All I can do is reflect Christ and serve others and leave to direction and the outcome to Him.

Monday, October 30, 2017

On Not Being Called To A Career

So last week on Facebook this wandered across my feed:


Initially I posted it because I liked the thought - dig far enough back in my own feed and you will find that "calling" is something that I have struggled with.  But the more I thought about it, the deeper and broader my thoughts became. 

I came to question if there is such a thing as "calling" at all.

I have not totally abandoned the idea - after all, calling in the ministry is something I continue to recognize (with the caveat that fewer people are called than think they are) - but I am considering the concept that for most, calling is a mire created by modern social thinking.

You may, if you are of a certain age, remember a book called What Color Is My Parachute?  This book - updated every year and as far as I know at least in existence for 25 years - uses an assessment of your skills and interests to suggest career fields that you really are made for.   This book matches the zeitgeist of our age, that we are all truly unique individuals and therefore need unique life paths suited to our wants and desires (thus, in a passing mention, the explosion of college graduates with degrees that interest them but no work in their fields.  I am one of those).

There may some value in considering what sort of work we might better be suited for - if I do not enjoy math, perhaps accounting is not a choice for me or if I lack attention to detail, engineering may not be the way to go.  But I submit that the reality is that while these may be indications of certain fields we may do better in, they by no means constitute some sort of "calling" to enter that field.

Work is a great many things, but - as the original post points out - the real point of work is to make a living.  To pay our bills.  To be a responsible adult human being.   Sometimes this may result in a taking and keeping a job that is not our "path" but pays the bills and gives us the most reward for our effort.

A personal example:  Over the past 32 years I have (at one time or another) thought I was "called" to be a teacher, a performer, a writer, a real estate agent, a pastor.  All of these - if I am truly honest with myself - were not completely disinterested choices:  in some way or fashion, they were something I enjoyed doing and figured I was "called" to do.

The reality?  My career during the last 20 years, Manufacturing and Quality in the Biopharmaceutical/Medical Device Industry, has paid all the bills.  The time I invest in improving myself in it has direct and practical financial rewards, a far higher return on investment than any other single activity I have performed for income (by contrast, all 8 of the books I have written have returned me less than $50.00 all told).  If I want to feel like I am "following my path", I write a book or dream big of market gardening or practice the harp harder.  If I actually want to make more money, I learn about regulations and better ways to do Quality.

I have to be the first to admit that finally admitting this fact was one of the hardest things I have had to do in my life.  Admitting the fact that this is what I probably do until I retire is even harder.  There is no "calling" in this, no suiting of my personal skills or interests in this.  At best, I adapt those skills and interests to the job, trying to find ways to use them.  But that is a far different cry from feeling like they are manifesting themselves in my work every day.

I do not know that everyone is this way, but it seems to me that most of the people I have met and know are in the same position.  Ask them the question  - What did you major in during college?  How did you end up in your current position?  - and the answers you will quite often hear are a long winding road of searching for a job but taking the one that was offered. 

Perhaps it makes the world a little dimmer - and I would never say that God does not call people (I think He does).  But I think we have done a great disservice to all job seekers by telling them that only the job that matches their skills and interests is the fulfilling one, that all other jobs  which do not meet that requirement are little better than forced labor. 

It is time - and it would be a helpful thing - if those that make their living on finding people the "work they love" would change their thinking to admit that what we really need to start with is "work that pays".  The love - perhaps like the arranged marriages of old time - is something that might come later but if it does not, we shall at least have made a living in the meantime.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hands Of The Living God

"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."  - Hebrews 10:31

Our view of gods, and their power, is little better than the days of the beginnings of Christianity.

To be fair, some people do not believe in a god at all, let alone the God of the Bible.  To a great many others, they believe in some sort of spiritual being, but likewise not God as He is understood in Christianity.  A third group believes in gods or spirits - not necessarily a single one but a pantheon of deities or spirits the dwell within the world, to work good or ill.

These beings' power?  Depends on your conception.  To many, I suspect, their impression is that of Marvel's Thor or D.C.s Wonder Woman: beings that wield incredible power and have amazing abilities but are human like ourselves, possessed of emotions like jealousy and rage, who either seek to defend humanity or destroy it but - ultimately - are not really all that different from it.  To others they are the kami of Shinto or the amorphous being that some define as "God":  a sort of nebulous type, mostly benevolent, with perhaps some ability to do harm to those who do wrong to others.

The Bible's God is quite different, of course.

It refers to God as The Living God, The Only God, The Existent God.  To the Christians of the 1st Century (and the Jews before them) this was stark comparison to the gods around them.  In Isaiah God speaks of those who craft idols and then worship them, who take a tree and use part of it to cook and the other part as the representation of a deity to worship.  These gods, to the Christians, were dead.

But a living God?  And the hands of a living God? A Christian of the 1st Century would have been well aware of what hands could do:  help, hurt, plant, create, kill, destroy.  Hands are the tools of the mind, one of the modes whereby thought and emotion is giving action.

It would be indeed be a fearful thing if, after a life of believing otherwise or even actively disbelieving in any sort of deity or power, to wake up into a Reality that could be scarcely imagined or dreamed of this side of death, to find that so much of what one thought wrong or wrongly was a piece of tissue paper to be torn apart by winds from a Throne dimly seen until then.

The horror - the sheer, stark, unbelievable horror - to fall into the hands of an Omnipotent, Omnipresent God. Having rejected the hand of rescue and salvation, one can only imagine such hands clenched in holy wrath.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Take Delight In The Lord

"Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." - Psalm 37:4

This verse has been rolling around in my head ever since I heard it on the radio a month ago.  It has been nagging at the back of my consciousness with the low grade sort of noise one would expect from an important thought one cannot rid from their mind.

Why?  Because it seems to be both an exceedingly great and exceedingly simple process.  One the one hand, take delight in the Lord (whatever "delight" means) - on the other, the "then" statement, He will give you the desires of your heart.  Pretty heady stuff, right?  After all, who does not want the desires of their heart.

But what does it mean to take delight in the Lord?

Delight, in case you were wondering per Merriam-Webster, is "A high degree of gratification or pleasure, joy, satisfaction."  Hmm.  So replace delight:

"Be gratified in the Lord..."
"Find pleasure in the Lord..."
"Take joy in the Lord...."
"Be satisfied in the Lord..."

As I look at those alternates, satisfied is the one that makes the most context sense to me.  "Be satisfied in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  Why?  Because when I am satisfied with something,  I have no need to look to something else for satisfaction.  That thing fills my desires (whatever they are) because it has satisfied them. 

Which I find a bit confusing, of course. If you asked me what the desires - the true desires - of my heart is, they are all the sorts of things that (at least I think) the Lord cannot fulfill in a way that I understand: the career I would love, the relationships I wish I had, the places I wish lived, the things I wish I could do.  That sort of thing.  But perhaps that merely betrays the shallowness of my desires.

If all those things never came to pass, could God still grant me the desires of my heart?  Of course!  Ask all those who, through history, have seemed to have nothing yet have been completely consumed by Him.  It more likely my weakness of sight and insight rather than the facts themselves that preventing me from seeing this so.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Dry Writing Well

Sometimes the writing well is dry.

It is a funny thing, really, this whole concept of keeping an essentially stream of consciousness writing project going.  Sometimes I find myself inspired, almost burning up within from the words that are trying to pour out of me.  Sometimes I find myself in possession of interesting events that have happened during the day or a conversation that has settled into my thought patterns and will not let go.  Sometimes I actually do something that is blog worthy.

But sometimes, there is nothing.  No words, no events or conversations, no "thing" that is something one can craft words out of.

But writing, I have come to understand, is like any other activity - like weight lifting, for example.  If I only lifted weights when I felt like it, I would scarcely see any results at all.  There are nights - like last night - where the lifting hardly seems to be accomplishing anything at all. But one puts in the work even if it is boring or uninspired because it is the collection of such things over time that gives one the results, not the single event.

So writing is the thing - even when there seems to be nothing to write about.  So what is there to document?

That sometimes the writing well seems dry.  But you write anyway.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Few Words From... Leo Tolstoy

"The old man sighed, and said: 'You go about the wide world, Ivan, while I am lying on the oven all these years, so you think you see everything, and that I see nothing. . . . Ah, lad! It's you that don't see; malice blinds you. Others' sins are before your eyes, but your own are behind your back. "He's acted badly!" What a thing to say! If he were the only one to act badly, how could strife exist? Is strife among men ever bred by one alone? Strife is always between two. His badness you see, but your own you don't. If he were bad, but you were good, there would be no strife. Who pulled the hair out of his beard? Who spoilt his haystack? Who dragged him to the law court? Yet you put it all on him! You live a bad life yourself, that's what is wrong! It's not the way I used to live, lad, and it's not the way I taught you. Is that the way his old father and I used to live? How did we live? Why, as neighbours should! If he happened to run out of flour, one of the women would come across: "Uncle Trol, we want some flour." "Go to the barn, dear," I'd say: "take what you need." If he'd no one to take his horses to pasture, "Go, Ivan," I'd say, "and look after his horses." And if I was short of anything, I'd go to him. "Uncle Gordey," I'd say, "I want so-and-so!" "Take it Uncle Trol!" That's how it was between us, and we had an easy time of it. But now? . . . That soldier the other day was telling us about the fight at Plevna (A town in Bulgaria, the scene of fierce and prolonged fighting between the Turks and the Russians in the war of 1877). . Why, there's war between you worse than at Plevna! Is that living? . . . What a sin it is! You are a man and master of the house; it's you who will have to answer. What are you teaching the women and the children? To snarl and snap? Why, the other day your Taraska -- that greenhorn -- was swearing at neighbour Irena, calling her names; and his mother listened and laughed. Is that right? It is you will have to answer. Think of your soul. Is this all as it should be? You throw a word at me, and I give you two in return; you give me a blow, and I give you two. No, lad! Christ, when He walked on earth, taught us fools something very different. . . . If you get a hard word from any one, keep silent, and his own conscience will accuse him. That is what our Lord taught. If you get a slap, turn the other cheek. "Here, beat me, if that's what I deserve!" And his own conscience will rebuke him. He will soften, and will listen to you. That's the way He taught us, not to be proud! . . . Why don't you speak? Isn't it as I say?'

Iván sat silent and listened.
The old man coughed, and having with difficulty cleared his throat, began again: 'You think Christ taught us wrong? Why, it's all for our own good. Just think of your earthly life; are you better off, or worse, since this Plevna began among you? Just reckon up what you've spent on all this law business -- what the driving backwards and forwards and your food on the way have cost you! What fine fellows your sons have grown; you might live and get on well; but now your means are lessening. And why? All because of this folly; because of your pride. You ought to be ploughing with your lads, and do the sowing yourself; but the fiend carries you off to the judge, or to some pettifogger or other. The ploughing is not done in time, nor the sowing, and mother earth can't bear properly. Why did the oats fail this year? When did you sow them? When you came back from town! And what did you gain? A burden for your own shoulders. . . . Eh, lad, think of your own business! Work with your boys in the field and at home, and if some one offends you, forgive him, as God wished you to. Then life will be easy, and your heart will always be light.'
- A Spark Neglected Burns Down The House

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Acting Against God

That moment when you realize that you have been acting against God.

Oh, you did not view it that way, of course.  You were doing it for the very best of reasons - if you were really selfless, you were doing it for someone else (You were not, of course.  But it is always better to think that you are).

God tries to tell you, of course.  You hit a wall, bounce off.  If you were paying attention to what was going on around you, you would have realized that things were never going to go "your way" in the situation.  But somehow you magically ignore that and try again and again, always with the same result.

"Ah", you say to yourself.  "It must be because I am not serious and committed to (fill in the blank)". 

And then, when you least expect it, that something seems to move in your direction. 

You are ecstatic.  Finally, the noble intentions of your heart were able to do (fill in the blank).  You have enriched this situation, you have helped this person - you are doing it!  You fell yourself to be smack in the middle of God's will.

Never mind, of course, that you really are not, that if you looked at it clinically (the way you look at anyone else in the same situation) you would sniff your nose in disdain. 'That X.  They are always out for themselves.  Is this not evident to everyone?"

But then you fall flat.  On your face.  In fact, so flat on your face it is pressed into the earth.  You get up after a while but somehow in the back of your mind, something is wrong.  A thought is back there, the thought that maybe, just possibly, something is amiss.  You examine it, perhaps even roast yourself a bit over the coals of remorse - but all in the context of not questioning the underlying assumption.  You were "helping" - maybe just not in the right way.

But then you try again.  And get batted out of the sky like a cat catching a bird on lift off.

And then - maybe only then - you begin to see things very clearly.

It was never about you.  Your actions were ultimately about you, but not the situation or relationship.  Ultimately that was about something else, what God was doing in someone else's life.  You misunderstood your role:  you were meant as a support or resting place or even a pack mule to carry someone else.  But it was never meant to end in or at  you.

You were the obstacle.  You became the wall or wandering path or time sink that diverted the person from where they were really going, moved the situation away from what it was supposed to be about.  in the very worst of cases, you were in fact the very thing blocking them from where they were meant to go.

And just like that, everything turns to ash in your hands and in your mouth.

It is at that moment that you have one of two choices.  The first choice is to simply snap yourself back into the illusion of how you were before.  To think that the realization somehow will allow you to approach things or people differently next time (It will not, of course).

The second one, the far more painful one to the ego, is to -with actual humility - admit that this is what you have really been doing all the time.  And then to accept the fact - really accept it in your heart, not just in your head - that you are more than likely the support, the resting place, the pack mule.

And that it really, really is not about you.  And that your reward lies not in doing the situation or having the relationship or being with the person, but in simply obedience to the role - that actual role - that God has called you too.

Does it mean that such things will never work out?  I would be a fool to say "No" definitively, but to say "Yes" would mean a level of obedience and humility that I have never yet been able to observe.  But I suspect that those who actually do this would never actually consider things "working out" in their favor as an option at all.  They understand what their real role is.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Visit With Infatuation

Infatuation dropped by on a Friday Evening for a talk.

"How is going, friend?"  he asked with those dreamy eyes he always seems to have on - anime eyes, any normal person would call them.  He sort of waltzed in and simpered his way into the lounger that I kept for visitors with the big "sigh" he always - always! - seemed to have when he did any action.

"Oh, pretty well"  I responded, finishing up what I was working on and turning around to face him.  "Thanks for stopping by."

He smiled at me with the sort of smile that tells you he is precisely not thinking of where he is or what he is doing but dwelling on something internal that could not be seen by anyone else.

I sighed.  This was going to be harder than I thought.

"Look"  I said, "there is no easy way to say this so I am just going to do it the hard way.  Your position has been discontinued.  You are being retired."

The smile snapped off his face, replaced by the look of shock I had come to know only too well over the years from hearing the same thing.

"But why?"  he stuttered.  "It is not as if I am doing any real harm.  I think you could make a pretty good case that I am good for morale.  Better than those fools Duty and Obedience, always droning about how we "have" to do this or that.  Good heavens!  I actually a little zest to things around here instead of the gloom and morose feelings that those two spout off.  If it was left to them, we would have nothing but gray days and an ultimate death."

I nodded -after all, I could make the same exact argument about Duty and Obedience.  They did tend to be a little over the top when discussing every that had to be done.  Still, ER (Emotional Resources) was going to throw a fit if something was not done.

I gave a half hearted smile.  "What is or is not is not relevant now.  The fact is that we have had a number of complaints - and yes, before your ask, you know I cannot tell from where.  There is a sense that you running hither and yon is creating expectations that cannot ever be met and starting to force attention to a reality than can never be.  It was perhaps allowable once, but now we are simply past the point where it is anything more than at best a danger and at worst a distraction."

Tears welled up in his eyes. "But what will I do?  I cannot work in the Reality division and apparently Imagination will no longer have me.  I am not aware of another place within the corporate structure."

I smiled gently.  "We know.  And that is why we are not asking you to make the move.  It is a permanent traveling assignment - guaranteed income, health care, and even a travel stipend.  Write some articles that we can put in the corporate newsletter from time to time."

I handed him the letter detailing everything.  He took it with a faintly shaking hand, scanning its contents, then putting it down and sighing again.  "So I have outlived my usefulness, then."

I shook my head.  "Not that at all.  You are right - you do give zest to things around here and your accessorizing will continue to be legend.  No, it is just that we are all in a different place now.  We need you to continue as a morale builder and bringer of joy and brightness  - indeed, we cannot do without it.  It is just that we need to focus our attention on other areas now."

He got up, taking the packet of papers and sticking out his hand.  "I will clean out my office then"  he sad, grimacing.

"Not at all"  I replied.  "Like I said, you are a correspondent at large.  Go find us an interest to get excited about."

I could see him thinking for a moment, then the old smile returned to his eyes.  "Now that you mention it"  he said, "there is a great deal in Bulgaria that I have thinking needs to be investigated further.  I could start with the Thracian tombs..."  And with that he was out of earshot, already planning his next trip.

I sighed as I sat back down.  He was right, of course - Duty and Obedience were a lot duller taskmasters than his bright, shiny face.  But perhaps it was better that he got out now, before the real consequences of trying to have one heart in multiple places a came up at the Quarterly Review Meeting.

Hopefully he would enjoy the yogurt in Bulgaria.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Process

The Art of Manliness' interview with Ed Latimore (mentioned already here) gave me another concept, one of the most stunning and powerful I can remember hearing in a long time:

If you do not like the process, you will not succeed.

Latimore's point is a profound one.  If you do not enjoy the process of becoming better at something, you will ultimately fail in it because all you interested in is the end product - and if that product is terrible or unsuccessful, you will eventually stop doing it, because of course who wants to do something that ultimately ends in a failure.

Mind you, the enjoyment of process is not just something that comes easily.  Repetitive practice and action of any kind often goes through periods where there is no enjoyment involved. But buried within that grind should come something that we take pleasure in, even if it just the fact that we were able to do it again - all on the road to an ultimate goal, even if it remains unachievable in our lifetimes.

Think on it:  Any activity you have done and enjoyed required far more time that you probably intended:  the garden that needed to be tended every day, the writing that takes place every evening, the golf swings or basketball shots or heavy weight throws, the (literally) thousands of draws and sheathings without a single cut. If we did not somehow like this part - seeing the garden progress, occasionally writing the outstanding essay, visibly doing better as we practiced, or earning a commendation from our sensei - we would have stopped doing it a long time ago.

So the challenge to myself - and you - is twofold:

1)  Look at our activities and our life.  Do we find pleasure in the daily doing of them, the process?

2) If not, we have two choices:  to either find where that enjoyment is and embrace it, or to acknowledge that we do not really care for it and give it up for something we would enjoy.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Unadulterated Moment of Knowing

Occasionally, one gets an unadulterated, unvarnished view of how one appears in the eyes of others.
It can be a shocking thing.

In that moment, one of two things happens: either one's worst fears are realized or (less frequently) one is surprised by a reaction that was unexpected.

Sadly, the former is usually the case, something that leaves one reeling the moment after it happens.  The moment can never be called back of course, no matter how hard the other person tries or even pretends that it never happened in the beginning.  The truth is there, stark and unyielding, in a moment that a novel cannot express and and a cinematic trilogy cannot gloss over.  

That moment is the like the splitting of an atom, where the waves of power and destruction ripple around and through one while, somewhat shockingly, everything else in the room remains completely static.  To the outside eye, nothing has changed in the least.  The only evidence of devastation is in the eye's and the unseen realm of the soul, which suddenly resembles the burned-out court in a housing development overrun by fire.

We are a polite society of course, so we tidy ourselves up and pretend that somehow nothing significant has really happened.  An apology may be offered and accepted - as much for appearances as anything else - and the day continues on as if nothing had really happened.

Excepting, of course, the pain in our heart and the dimming of our vision with what might be tears.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Santa Rosa Fires

Reading about The Santa Rosa Fire with a heavy heart.

I know that country pretty well.  I have driven up Highway 12 numerous times to wineries.  For three years I cut across the Napa Valley and over into the Sonoma Valley  as part of mydaily commute.  For a short time, The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I lived just south of there in Rohnert Park.  And even as late as earlier this summer, we drove through the very Northern Section to Jack London State Park and then down to Marin County.

To help you visualize, Santa Rosa is an actual city.  When they talk about the Northern part of the city burning, picture an urban area like any other urban area you know, not some highly spread apart area.  The fact that it has reached into a city like this is shocking.  And the fires over in Napa will, undoubtedly, devastate the wine industry in the area (the one - and only -industry in that area).

At this time, they estimate 10 dead, 20,000 evacuated, and 1,500 structures destroyed - and I am betting that the devastation will go up.

Fire seems different, to me, than the risks of something like a hurricane.  A hurricane we can now see coming some days before it actually arrives.  But a fire can move quickly - terribly quickly - and leave absolutely nothing behind in the blink of an eye.  A lifetime's worth of things and memories and investment and preparation can be gone in an instant.

There are some things that we can prepare for.  And sometimes, there are some things for which we can simply weep.

Monday, October 09, 2017

If It Is Not Improving Your Life, Why Do You Do It?

Coming home yesterday evening listening to the Art of Manliness' podcast Not Caring What Other People Think Is A Superpower, I was struck by a singular comment that the interviewee made:  if something is not improving your life, you should not be doing it as it pulls time and resources from the things that you should be doing.

Which got me to thinking:  if it is not improving my life, why do I do it?

Understand me, there are lots of things that can improve one's life that may seem superfluous to an outsider.  I would argue that Role Playing Games, in some ways, do good things for my imagination.  Occasionally the odd NetFlix Episode helps me relax.  And I am sure for each and every one of us there are things which, although foolish or even seemingly time wasting to the outer world, actually work to improve some aspect of our lives.

But when was the last time I looked at my life and evaluated everything in terms of if it improved my life?

We all spend our time doing one of two things: things that improve us or things that that destroy us.  Sometimes the things that destroy us can cleverly be concealed as the things we "have" to do:  the job that requires 60 hours, the friendship that we are always trying to preserve, the thing we do because we have always done it or we have too much money invested in it to quit now.  The reality of these things is that while they may provide activity in our life they do not provide actual improvement.   We could work at the job forever and be neither richer nor better off; we could spend time and effort on the friendship that never goes anywhere other than down; we could invest in activities that we continue to do but never become more skilled at or improve in.  All that time and effort, lost.

The more reasonable position (it seems to me upon reflection) is to question each of these activities and items: Are you helping me to improve my life?  Is my life better because of what you bring?  Do I see a path forward where you will continue to contribute to the improvements I am trying to make?

To those activities or relationships or situations that should not, we should seek to let them go.  But to those activities or relationships or situations that do, we should seek to continue to invest in them and seek to become better at them. 

It is only through improvement that we can ultimately become the best us we can be.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Thoughts on Education - Louis L'Amour

The idea of education has been so tied to schools, universities, and professors that many assume there is no other way, but education is available to anyone within reach of a library.”

If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction. Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well, to understand what is happening about him.”



Thursday, October 05, 2017

Think With Your Body

One of the challenges that soke put before us in our most recent Tokai was to learn to think with our bodies.

(If I may interpolate....)

Think with the mind means I am always thinking of the next action - and only the next action.  I am following a pre-programmed course of action and not reacting the environment around me. I follow the form but without necessarily understanding why I am doing the form.

As Takuan Soho said:

"To speak in terms of your own martial art, when you first notice the sword that is moving to strike you, if you think of meeting that sword just as it is, your mind will stop at the sword in just that position, your own movements will be undone, and you will be cut down by your opponent.  This is what stopping means." - The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom

The true martial artist - as my soke demonstrated - is the one that understands all the inherent strikes within any attack or defense.  The novice performs the form as they have been taught; the master understands the purpose of the form and every potential attack or defense that can spring from it.

To understand this - the true nature of the form that one is doing with the ability to master all the potential strikes - is thinking with your body.  Or as Takuan Soho says again:

"Although if you see the sword that moves to strike you, if your mind is not detained by it and you meet the rhythm of the advancing sword; if you do not think of striking your opponent and no thoughts or judgments remain; if the instant you see the swinging sword your mind is not the least bit detained and you move straight in and wrench the sword away from him; the sword that was going to cut you  down will become your own, and, contrarily, will be the sword that cuts down your opponent." - The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom

Does this matter in actual, real life?  Yes, of course (all martial arts do).  How often do we do the form of a thing without understanding the intent?  How often do we reach a stopping point, sigh, and then turn away rather than figuring a way around or through the problem?  Understanding all the inherent strikes is really a very elegant way of demonstrating the ability to improvise and the gumption to not quit, something that we tend to place a very high value on.

It is not easy, of course - nothing good ever is - but thus the instructions from Musashi that "You must train diligently morning and evening".  Forms are good, but only meant as a starting place.  The true master pushes through.




Wednesday, October 04, 2017

One and One and Done

As part of longer term plans (and to give myself some forward progress), I have started to do One and One each day.  What is it?  Find one item I no longer need and either throw it away as useless or place it in the donate pile and fine one thing that I can do to become better prepared.

To be clear, these are not necessarily big items.  Yesterday consisted of recycling two flower pots that were crushed beyond use and reassembling the Bug Out Bag.  Today was recycling a woodworking catalog I have not looked at since I got it and oiling one of my sgian dubhs.

What is the point? Moving out and moving on will ultimately require a great number of large changes - but large changes are the sorts of things that take time and effort and money to do.  And if you running a full life, it is hard to do such grand plans on a daily basis.  But a pair of small things - these I can do, and every day I point to forward progress towards the larger goal.

I have no illusions, of course. Ultimately these activities may clean my shelves and garage and perhaps make me a little better in the readiness department, but they are not substitutes for longer range, more developed plans.  What it will do is keep reminding me that there is something that is coming - and prove to myself that I am continually taking action.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Hyperpolitical

Of all the alarming and saddening outcomes of the shooting on Sunday night in Las Vegas, the most deeply alarming and saddening of all has only begun to occur:  all things have become hyperpolitical.

We have been subjected to this development over the last year, where every event and comment is viewed only through the lens of what it does to advance one's political position.  Everything becomes measured by the advances that can be made for the cause, not responded to as the tragedy or evil act that it may have actually been.

We have now reached the point in our political debate that an executive of a major news network (CBS) can comment that she has no sympathy for the dead because they are not of her political affiliation and may voted against her candidate (she was also fired today) or someone posting on their feed they hope only one side dies (since taken down but, thanks to the Interweb, living on forever).  I will take these people at their word that they truly believe this and would somehow hope that their "opposition" dies.

Secretly, of course, both sides are holding their breath for more details.  They always do, now, hoping the perpetrator (or perpetrators) fit their stereotype of the opposition so they can count coup.  "Thank God"  they cry, "the shooter/bomber/driver/cheese slicer was a (fill in the blank with race and gender and personal creed).  This surely proves that the other side is (fill in the blank with the favorite word for evil) and we should (fill in the blank with the political or social agenda of choice)."  A sort of Mad Lib for politics.

We have (rapidly, apparently) reached the point where the opposition has become faceless and nameless, a series of ideas we need to punish and swat down rather than people (in some cases, theoretically fellow citizens) that share a country and a civilization us.  Everything - every nuance, every breath, every character - is now a weapon in an undeclared war.

This is hyper-politicization (not sure if it was a word, but it is one now), where everything becomes extremely political - in fact, nothing is not a political statement.  The failure to agree with certain things or be against certain things, the failure to virtue signal when appropriate, even the failure to say anything at all - all of these become small items stored away on somebody' score card, proof (or lack thereof) that one is is for The Cause or Against it.  Everything that occurs is only a step to make progress in one's own cause.

I sound bitter - and a little sad - because the historian in me can point to numerous times in history - The Roman Republic, The Crusader States, The Heian monarchy before the Gempei War, the Russian Monarchy, the Weimar Republic, the Republic of China - where hyper-politicization occurred.  It occurred right up to the moment that everything fell apart.  A third party - often from the inside - steps in by playing one side off against the other until at the end all power has come into his hands and the people, exhausted by the years of endless strife and sick to death of the political nature of everything, would happily take a dictatorship so long as it promised peace and food.

"The fruit of too much liberty is slavery" said Marcus Tullius Cicero, himself ultimately the victim of a hyperpolitical atmosphere.  It occurs to me that the tree boughs are full and almost breaking with the weight of the harvest.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Deciding It Is Okay To Move

So in what may be a first, both The Ravishing Mrs. TB and myself are both talking - openly - about where to move.

I do not know that a time line has been settled upon, tacitly or actively.  And some cases at this point we have an early out in 1.5 years or a later out after 5.5 years (the time it takes Nighean Dhonn to graduate).  But the consensus is in:  we are not staying here for the long haul. Urban living offers little enough to those who no longer have interest in the amusements and lures of the young.

A longer time frame would not necessarily be all bad, of course.  We have some things to take care of to prepare ourselves for that step - including deciding where (humidity and extreme cold are out of the question, which limits the field a bit) and what the next step would look like career-wise (barring an unseen windfall from my employment due to something going very right, we will need a job at the next place we go).

And it does not clearly state what the next step will be, either.  There is an argument to be made for smaller (and by my mind, less people around) but I do not know that either of those have been agreed upon.  Or what such a change would look like in our actually daily lives (in reality, we are talking mid-50's - hopefully still a long time left).

But we have passed a decision marker of sorts, the kind that tells you that the way forward has narrowed somewhat. It is moderately exciting - and gives a little bit of flavor to an seemingly bland rut of the daily grind in that there may be an end, after all.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Musashi's Way of Strategy

1)  Do not think dishonestly.
2) The Way is in training.
3)  Become acquainted with every art.
4)  Know the Ways of all professions.
5)  Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
6)  Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything.
7)  Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
8)  Pay attention even to trifles.
9)  Do nothing which is of no use.

- The Ground Book, A Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Great Unraveling

"Theoretically of course, no one intended for the Great Unraveling.  The concept was that one side could express its scorn, its hate, its disgust on any number of issues and that the other side was supposed to merely nod their heads and accept it as a "freedom of expression" (Heavens, how they loved that term!).  The fact that it went across every sort of belief was something that seemed invisible to practically everyone.

The reality of this "freedom of expression" - like any freedom - is that like an act, it has consequences that can go rather awry from the intended target.  When the words leave our mouth, we have no control over what they mean to others.  When the action is taken, we have no control over how others view it - or how it is used by others, over and over, in a media-saturated society (Note to self:  explain "Media-saturated").  As the 20th Century author Ayn Rand said, "You can choose your actions, but you cannot choose the consequences of your actions."

The rather unfortunate outcome of all of this "Freedom" was the slow growth of cracks in the body politic, initially the minor cracks in stone which are scarcely visible until one day, the entire fact snaps off and breaks.  The words and actions had very little to do with bringing people together - in spite of the intent - and great deal to do with driving people apart.

It is not that there were any major outbreaks of civil disobedience or civil war (See references to 16th and 17th century and 19-21st Century uprisings).  But what did happen was that people began simply not talking to others at all that did not share their views or conceptions.  The was a general drawing apart, like cracks in the bottom of a lake bed that continue to grow as the sun bakes it.

In the end it took very little for everything to Unravel.  So many had been patiently picking away at the ties that bound them together.  Perhaps the only surprise was how shocked these expressers of freedom and unravelers of threads were when things actually did come apart.  Of all involved, they ended being the least ready for the outcome of their labors.  The monster had finally returned home, but they scarcely recognized it as a product of themselves."

- A History of the North American Continent, 2000-2100

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Shugyosha

This year's Tokai - training with the head of my Sword Order - was perhaps the most meaningful of the six that I have attended.  It was the longest for me - 5 days of 5 hours a day - and perhaps for the first time I began to hazily understand what it means to actually be a swordsman.

During day four during the morning session, Soke discussed the training that takes place every year at Katsuura in Japan - the one I am going to next year.  This, he said, was very difficult training where shugyosha from all over the world studied to improve their skills.  It was very hard, he said, but you would improve massively in your technique.

Shugyosha.  I thought I remembered this word but could not place it.  Until I got home and reminded myself.

A Shugyosha was a warrior in Japan who had separated themselves from school and clan and wandered the countryside, honing their skills by practice and challenging other opponents.  The ultimate goal of the true shugyosha was to achieve mastery of their art.

This, then, was the challenge being offered to us.  To turn our own lives into musha-shugyo, the warrior's quest, by becoming shugyosha.

Soke was quite clear in his comments.  He wants each and every one of us to work hard to become his number one (ichiban) student.  And from him, I do not believe it to be the sort of "morale building" speech I would expect in most businesses I have worked for or organizations I have been associated with.  He believes that it is possible for every person that trains in his school.

His words moved me - both from a slight sense of fear (this training was intense - the fact that he considers Katsuura "hard" unnerves me just a bit) but more based on the experiences that I had during this year's training.  Faint flickers of understanding of what it truly meant to seek for and achieve a level of mastery - maybe not "the" mastery but a mastery all the same.

The pay, of course is low.  The benefits are few, outside of personal pride.  Like the shugyosha of old, there is little in the way of fame or fortune or recognition.

But there there is the knowledge that, at the end of it all, you did all you could to bring yourself to the very highest levels of your ability in your chosen field.

There is no other way but to begin my own musha-shugyo.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Tokai 2017 and Cape Breton

Dear Friends,

Last week (Wednesday through Sunday) I participated in my dojo's Tokai.  5 days of 5 hours of training a day in my chosen art, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Yamauchi-ha.

It was profound.  It was so profound that I want to write about it but do not feel I can yet.

To substitute, I am going to offer something else profound (at least to me):  from my friend Kymber's post, The Cape Breton Anthem.

(Click on this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apD1IuE5Lwo)

(Just click on the link; it should start playing.  Lovely pictures!)

It is profound in an entirely different, yet similar way.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

On The One Who Knows God

"The one who know God eats, drinks and marries, not as ends in themselves, but simply as necessary things.  I include marriage in this list only to the extent the Word dictates and only as it is suitable. For having become perfect, the one who knows God has the apostles as examples.  One is not really proven to be a man by the choice of a single life.  But one who has been disciplined by marriage, the raising of children, and the care of his household surpasses other men.  When he cares for his household without pleasure or pain, he becomes inseparable from God's love.  For he has withstood all temptations arising through children, wife, servants and possessions.  But he that has no family is free of temptation to a large degree." -Clement of Alexandria, The One Who Knows God

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Of Property Taxes And Moving

Driving home from work this evening, I heard on the news that one of the local communities surrounding our large urban community had just approved their city budget.  In doing so they had cut property taxes - again, for the 5th year in the row.  They estimated that overall their tax rate was lower than it had been 15 years ago.  This compared to our local, which has taken it upon itself to boost property taxes the full 8% it can without having to take the measure to a vote.

Jokingly upon arriving home, I mentioned to The Ravishing Mrs. TB "We should think about moving to Suburb X because they have cut their property taxes for five years running."

Her response was "I would be okay with that."

Oh, crud.

So I hop on the larger Interweb site that allows you to look at an estimate of your home values.  And I get the second shock of the day.  Somehow, the value of my house has magically "fallen" by $40,0000 from their estimate earlier this year - a 13% drop in 4 months or so (but still $17,000 less than what the county says it is worth).

I never really counted on the money, of course - long ago I learned the fact that the money is all theoretical until you have it in the bank. But I am a little shocked at how far it had dropped (and imagine if I had not gone in to protest my property taxes - man, would that have been a huge discrepancy!).

The whole thing makes the concept of moving a lot more silly, of course - now I really am buying and selling in the same market (and I am not sure how serious I was in the first place).  Still, an interesting and informative lesson in the dangers of suggesting a good idea and the shocking changes in value that can occur when you are not looking.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Living Wisely

My friend Reverend Paul over at Way Up North has been posting excerpts from Eugene Peterson's The Message, which is a more colloquial English translation of the Bible.  Yesterday the reading was from James 3:13:

"Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats."

The very first part of the verse caught me:  "Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom?  Here's what you do:  Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts."  Which brought to mind a question, after I had considered it a bit:  Does the Christian truly value living wisely?

I should think this is one of the places that Christianity could "shine".  We have the very word of God to guide us in the wise living of life - good heavens, we have a whole book - Proverbs - that is essentially devoted to wisdom.  And yet, somehow we look no different from the way the world lives around us.

It matters because wisdom literature is all the rage now via the Internet Meme.  I can post a quote from the Havamal (A collection of poems from the Viking Age) or any number of  laws or sayings from the Celts or the Sioux or even moving haikus from the 12th Century Tale of the Heike and be thought to be a wise man.  I can post a quote from Proverbs and be thought a provincial fool who believes in fairy tales and foolishness.

Remove the supernatural from Proverbs for a moment: just taken at its face, it is good advice.  Follow it and you would be on the road to a successful, wealthy life largely free from self-inflicted harm and fouls.  As good as advice as you would read in any of the works that I referenced above.  And yet somehow we as Christians fail to live according to Proverbs, leaving ourselves open to attack that we believe one thing but actively act as if we do not.

Take as an example Dave Ramsey.  You may or may not care for him (I enjoy his style; my children found him condescending) but his financial advice, even if disconnected from his Christianity, makes good sense:  Do not have debt.  Save.  Pay cash and avoid stupid credit.  Invest and save for retirement.  Any non-Christian Financial Advisor would tell you the same.  Instead, most Christians (including myself here) are not nearly that wise with our money and so we look exactly like the world in terms of our spending, our debt, and our finances in general.  Which begs the question:  If we claim we believe it, why do we not live it?

The reality is that we have the recipe for being thought wise, for living wisely in a world that is sadly lacking in wisdom. However, it will take an investment from ourselves that involves a lot less talking and a lot more living well by living in accord with God says, doing it humbly and silently.  If we live like that, we open the door to how and why we are living that way and where our wisdom is stemming from.

Or as the quote above says, "It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts."

Friday, September 15, 2017

Star And Bit Player

I often confuse the nature of the role of my life in the lives of the others.

I think myself to be the starring role in their lives, a major character that move in and out of the scenes with the cameras trained on me and the people themselves wondering what I am doing when I am off camera.  In point of fact I am not the star: I am a bit actor or at best a character actor, there to fill a particular role or function or even of proof of plot concept, perhaps occasionally in the camera's main view but more often in the background of shots and for a much shorter time than I care to believe.

It is not a dishonorable thing, of course:  if my car is malfunctioning or my air conditioning fails, I am of course going to call someone to come in and fix these things.  But I would find it highly odd if the car mechanic got into the car after the repairs and came out to us with dinner or the the air conditioning repairman stepped in after repairs and sat down on the couch waiting to watch a movie.  At best I would look at them oddly and cough slightly uncomfortably; at worse I would ask "Exactly what do you think you are doing?"

Yet somehow in the exercise of real life, I think I am different.

I am not quite sure where this sort of confusion comes from.  I feel fairly certain that it has always existed - I can remember times even in my own youth that I struggled with the same sort of thing and had others struggle with the same sort of thing, but on a much smaller basis. I blame (perhaps not surprisingly) social media with its almost constant focus on me, me, me.  I can publish so much about myself and my activities, my thoughts and my opinions, all so quickly and painlessly and in real time, that of course everything is going to be about me in the lives of others:  I can blanket them with myself. The camera really is always on me.

Until - at least for the self aware - that moment comes when the realization occurs that this really is not the case.  My role really was ever only that of the fourth officer or Star Trek Red Shirt or repairman, there to move someone else's life along - and once it is moved along, the ship course changed or the monster having demonstrated its method of killing for this week's episode or the air conditioning blowing cool air, my role is complete.  I may be back for other cameo appearances or I simply may disappear, to show up in the list of uncredited actors that almost no-one ever really stays for.

I can feel hurt or confused or even angry about this, but in reality there is little cause for me to feel so.  I made the cardinal mistake of believing that my life bore a greater import in the lives of others than my opinion warranted.  The fact that they do not "recognize" my gravitas and significance is no failure of theirs - they are, after all, truly the stars - but of my own confusion about the nature of my role in their lives.

Because in the end, of course, it extends to the greatest argument I can ever have within myself about my role:  I am, ultimately, a servant, not a star.  Servants never forget their roles no matter what circles they move in.  Those who are see themselves not as servants but as main characters often do.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Distance

The void between worlds
is not farther apart than 
the void between hearts.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

On The Past

In reminiscing with a former colleague this week, I realized there are two sorts of people and situations I have a great deal of difficulty letting go of.

The first is those people and situations that have hurt me.  I have realized, in talking with this former colleague, that I tend to cling to my bitterness. I hold on to my distaste and disgust with those that have hurt me.  Just speaking about them - years, perhaps, after I have seen them - is enough to make me sad and angry and enraged all over again.  And it is like once engaged, I cannot let go of it - I wonder how they are doing now, and (truth be known) perhaps even take a bit of secret and nasty pleasure if things are quite as good as they should be.  There is no good excuse for this of course, just the angry revenge of the powerless against those whom they made to suffer their tempers and speeches and attitudes and actions, things that affected my life in ways they should not have.

The other set are people and situations where I feel I should have done differently, whether by better behavior or different choices.  The spots where I failed others.  The spots where I feel like I should have made a different decision and chose not to.  In some ways those "Roads Less Traveled" Frost left us with, but just as often the roads that we traveled a distance and then, turning our back, went back the way we originally came. In these, perhaps, the situation is reversed:  here it is I that made others to suffer my tempers and speeches and attitudes and actions, my indecision or even my wrong decision.

How is that these things become lodged so deeply in our being that we cannot seem to rid ourselves of their tenacious grip?  How many times have I said "I am done"  only to find myself slinking back in the corners of my mind to the person or situation I have just foresworn (for the fiftieth time)?  Against others, is that I still seek some method to have my revenge, even if it is to dance on their graves?  Against me, is it that I somehow continue to seek an outcome that never came to be in hopes that somehow the situation can be made different? (It never can, of course.  You really cannot step into the same river twice.)

The past is meant to instruct, not to hinder.  And I have received instruction in both types of situation -but with that instruction comes the past that I can never really seem to release.

And yet, I have to.  The past that I think I see, that I think I relive, is really nothing more than a shimmering in my own mind rather than a reflection in a river - the river moved on long ago and what I think I am seeing is really something I am seeing with my eyes closed.  It has simply become time to open my eyes and step in, letting the shimmers dissolve in the sparkling daylight on the river that is, not the distant echo of the days that were and have long ago flowed out to the sea.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Life You Do Not Have To Retire From



I think I know most of my readers to know that this is goal we are working towards (or have achieved, in some cases).

It cuts across the grain of most Western - or at least maybe American - thoughts of retirement.  To most, retirement means the ending of something you have to do and moving on to the things you want to do. Which, if someone really sat down and thought about it, would seem to be rather backwards - after all, one invests almost half of their life working towards the point of being able to spend the last quarter of their life (if they are lucky)  doing what they "love", perhaps only to find out that doing what you "love" is not really doing what you want at all.

How much better to work your way into a life that you enjoy every day, not just in the latter parts of it.  To be engaged both early and late in the same sorts of things, to find that your life has become one long labor of love instead of a series of chopped up movements, hermetically sealed from each other in ways that the past cannot inform the present or the future.

For most (me included) it remains more of a dream to be realized that a reality to be lived.  Because be clear:  to do this means to sacrifice at some level.  It means staying true to yourself rather than being bewitched by that which society and civilization tells you are the appropriate paths to take.  Sometimes it probably means working harder and longer than anyone else and being willing to live in ways that the most could not imagine to get the ultimate results that most only dream of.

And to those who are not there yet, it means fighting.  Every day.  Fighting against the mind-numbing, spirit-sapping call of consumerism and mediocrity, of the concept of being taken care of rather than taking care of one's self.  To save where others spend, to make do where others buy, to go without when others cannot live without.

Ultimately, to live such a live is to reclaim freedom - freedom from "wants", freedom from dependency (and not just material - those that have such a life often seem just as free from psychological dependence on others), freedom from the concept of life as we have come be told "it is" in modern Western Society.  It is, some ways, the ultimate act of individualism in a culture that has come to demand the embrace of the consumer, riches driven society in which we currently live.

"Only a few prefer liberty - the majority seek nothing more than fair masters" Gaius Sallustius Crispus (Sallust), The Histories