Monday, December 31, 2012

That Was The Year That Was

I write late this morning thanks to a vacation, looking out the window at a sea of gray clouds and the damp of rain.  It's a very fitting end to the year - very fitting because we find ourselves desperately in need of rain.

A very fitting end of the year as well because it represents the forces that have played out of the course of the year, a combination of the drought of some things and the refreshing rain of others.

It has been an interesting year, with many things that I had not anticipated happening.  I had not anticipated writing and publishing one book, let alone two.  I had not anticipated actually finishing Nanowrimo with a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  I had anticipated competing in one Highland Games; I got two.  I had anticipated writing in another blog; I had not anticipated finding a theme in that blog that would sustain multiple posts.

But there were other things as well.  I had not anticipated the fact that Na Clann would all do so well in sports, or that Nighean Gheal would have such a lead role in the school musical.  I had not anticipated my cheeses would do so well - or that my garden would do so poorly.  There was much to be grateful for.

It was also somewhat disappointing in all that did not happen.  A career change that didn't happen though I tried.  A number of personal goals which I thought would be achievable which were not.  The purchase of a new house which was delayed by the sale of the house in Old Home.

But in a sense that's all irrelevant at the moment:  it is 31 December 2012 and the year has about 14 hours to run.  Nothing new is going to happen today that did not happen up to this point, but neither is anything likely to fall apart that has not already done so.

All in all, a satisfactory year.

One of the great benefits of the end of the year is the following year, of course: the fact that 365 days of golden opportunity await us upon rising tomorrow, filled with the promise of reaching for even higher achievements, better developments and greater joys.

This year is now past,  Enjoy what one can, let the rest go.

The New Year is coming.  It will be a good one.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Firm Revisited

Yesterday as I was driving about doing errands I heard part of The Dave Ramsey program in which a wife was discussing her husband and a friend’s desire to go into business together.  Dave’s attempt was to encourage her that while the two of them might help one another, the idea that both of them should ignore the advice of others and continue on represented more of an act of selfishness or neediness on their part than a real business opportunity.

Suddenly I was swept away back to a day in February a long time ago when I made the decision to stop what I was doing and go to The Firm.  All of a sudden, as if the final pieces of a lock were sliding into place, I realized the last aspect of what I had done which I had never realized before:  it represented the ultimate act of selfishness.

Going to The Firm was ultimately about me.  It was about my needs – not so much the state of my life (yes, the commute was terrible, but otherwise everything was okay) as the need for me to be my own person.  To be in control of myself.  To satisfy myself.   Perhaps even to shortcut years of plodding along to leap to the head of the line.

What did it cost?  Well, we are still continuing to recover from that particular decision.  Costs include (in no particular order):
-         Being 12 years paid off on our mortgage instead of not owning a home and having lost our investment.
-         A cash count  from borrowing money other places to supplement the money I never realized.
-         Ultimately (perhaps) moving; certainly an argument could be made that the past seven years would look very different careerwise.
-         A fair amount of personal and relational stress as things slid downhill.
-         At least one friendship.

Was the cost of being my own person, of indulging my penchant for not being under the thumb of another and “doing my own thing” worth it based on these numbers?

And what does this mean for the future?  It’s a poorly concealed fact that I don’t really embrace that which I have continued to make my vocation – both where I am as well as what I am doing.  And somewhere deep within me (still) is the need to start something of my own, to be in control.  But at what cost?

I cannot allow the desires and perceived needs of my own psyche to put my family at risk again.  Even if that means plodding for another 20 years, it is not a thing that can ever be allowed to happen again.

Sometimes we tend to put a fine covering on painful memories to prevent that reality of what caused them from coming to the surface.  The sad part is it prevents us from learning all the lessons that we might gain from them.

Yes, The Firm made me grow.  It also cost me a great deal of financial security and ultimately freedom.  Was it worth it to make myself feel in control?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Orders of Service

One of the things that I have on my list of things to do for next year is cultivate a better prayer life.

Frankly, mine is terrible.  It has never been that great, but it simply seems to have gotten worse over time.  Had the best intentions, of course - but what I found is that I kept squeezing it into less and less convenient time slots (such as right before I go to sleep) or doing at less than conducive times (right when I wake up in the morning, where some mornings between falling asleep and repeating myself  I've probably prayed - on paper- for 30 minutes). 

Obviously, this sort of defeats the purpose of prayer in the first place.

But what to do?  Surely more of the same is not option.  Yes, I should probably try to not pray while I'm tired or falling asleep (C.S. Lewis had the same problem as well) but I need a more structured form of prayer as well.

My experiment this week has been to follow a more formalized set of prayers.

I'm using The Book of Common Prayer that belonged to my grandfather (yes, I know:  it's Anglican and I'm Lutheran.  It all works out) and following the office of morning prayer:  a short reading from a Psalm, confession, a canticle (usually a Psalm or based on one), the Lord's Prayer, a creed, and a final prayer.  After this I have added Luther's Morning Prayer (good Lutheran that I am).  In the evening I am using the office of evening prayer - quite similar to the order above - as well as adding Luther's Evening Prayer.  In both cases I append my own requests and my Scripture reading to it.

Thoughts after trying it for a few days?  I find that I like the formalized confession statement, both as a general practice as well as for the fact that it causes me to think more of my own sins (something I desperately need help with).  I especially like the fact that I have a guide to what I am doing rather than trying to constantly come up with my own order - which can eventually lead to just repeating myself constantly.

The risk is that this becomes too formalized and so loses its impact.  I guess its a risk - but the Orders of the Catholic church have been performing their orders of service for 1500 years plus and I don't often hear that they are "bored" with it.  Intent and focus, I suppose, are as important as what is being done.

We'll see how this plays out.  But something - anything - that forces me into new ways of thinking about God and my sin can hardly be a bad thing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Upcoming Year

So what do I want to do for next year?

Yes yes, I know I've talked about planners and goals and what didn't get done this year and what did.  But that was all in the past tense.  Looking forward, what do I want to do for the coming year?

I ask the question in the midst of what will be a changing year, whether I like it or not.    Nighean Gheal is moving from one level of schooling to another.  With the amount of time we've been here in New Home, it probably makes sense to buy a house - at the same time, being carefully conscious of an economic environment that can seem unstable at best (at least for my industry.  Your results may vary).

So what is it that I want to think about in the coming year?

As I went down my draft list (you're not surprised I already had one, are you?) what I found is that it mostly represents doing more of what I am already doing - just getting more serious about it.  More running and Highland Athletics.  More cheese making and dehydrating and gardening.  More writing. A deeper relationship with God and my family.  More music.  Better finances.  More Japanese and Greek and Gaelic.

In other words, with one or two exceptions doubling down on what I'm doing now.

There are one or two new things, of course - if they're weren't, I wouldn't be me! - but for the most part as you can see, nothing much different than what I've done before.

Why?  The biggest reason is simply the discovery I made this year (a slow learner, I am) that doing something more makes you better at it.  This year to some extent was a year in which I stuck with the things that I had been doing before.  In some cases (like writing) I finally reached goals I had been seeking for years; for others (like cheese making and Highland Athletics) I continued to do what I had done the year before and realized a greater return for my effort.

I'll think on these some more I trow, and perhaps some may change a bit.  But I think the course of what I want to do will end little changed from where it is today.

Last year was a good year.  This year promises to be better.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

     Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.  Then the angel said to them "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be the sign to you:  You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."
     And suddenly three was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
     "Glory to God in the highest,
      And on earth peace, goodwill toward men"

    So it was that when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us."  And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.  Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.  And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.  But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in here heart.  Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

- Luke 2:8-20, Holy Bible, New King James Version

Monday, December 24, 2012

Old Planners

Today I was struggling for a quote.

Oh, it happens from time to time, this need for something to post in the morning - two somethings, really - and not having one worthy of quoting.  Sometimes I am able to find one on the spur of the moment, sometimes I find something inside of myself that is worthy of quoting.  But because of the lassitude of vacation or the fact of luxuriating in writing from bed, I could not find any.

Then a thought occurred to me:  I have written them down in old annual planners.  Let me go draw them from there.

I have annual planners dating back almost 10 years at this point.  They are not the thin planners that so many use; instead, they are accounts payable books, thick with pages and plenty of space to write and paste in meaningful things.  Proud of my sudden thought and use of my work from the past, I hurried to the closet to grab a couple.

And sat down.  And was drawn away.

Here was everything I thought about The Firm.  Here was my justification to leave my career and start another.  My thoughts - in terms of the thoughts of others I saved.  Small e-mails from friends from jobs I had left, encouraging me.  Recurring goals I keep putting on year after year, and never reaching.

Here were my dreams and aspirations, frozen in time.

It made me pause a bit.  From 2003 - when I was unhappy in my career and looking to the Firm to now, when I am back in the career and still not terribly happy.  In one way, how little has changed.

In another, how much.  Those volumes do not display in the least the amount of life that went on during that period of time as well.  They do little justice to the depth of life that has been lived around their pages.  It's almost as if I was holding a Reader's Digest book summary of my youth and reading the abridged version, knowing that a much larger book was out there waiting to be read.

I found my quote and carefully the planner to the side.  Interestingly enough, it was Seneca - "We learn not for school but for life."  The irony was, I hope, not lost on myself.

I need to take some time over the next few days and wander through these old planners of mind.  It would be an interesting exercise as the end of the year approaches and the new one begins.  I will need to make myself a new planner, of course.

Perhaps the experience of my past will be willing to speak to me.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Last Day of Work Before Christmas 2012

It's last day of work before Christmas vacation 2012.

It's odd.  I think at one time such a day as this would have brought a smile to my face and joy to my heart.  It would be the official kick off the longer Christmas holiday - and even if it was not a long a vacation as some I have had, at least it would be met with a sense of excitement.

There is no sense of excitement as I write this morning.  All that looms before me a great sense of everything that I have to do today before I go - and everything that I know I will simply not get done.  It is a sort of numbing dread, a nameless fear that knows that even as I walk out the door I will be in worse shape when I return.

This is not the way a holiday - especially Christmas - is meant to be anticipated.  One should measure it in time spent away and items done with family and friends, not with everything that is not getting accomplished.

I'm sure that things will get better, of course.  Once I am finally done - that door is finally closed and I walk out to the car - there will be a sense of relief, perhaps a growing sense of anticipation that I will have some time to simply decompress from the world around me.

But it occurs to me that this is not - overall - the way things should be.  Every year it feels like the time frame becomes more and more compressed.  Every year enjoyment seems to take a little more of a backseat to the "realities" of the actual workplace.  Every year Christmas seems to come later and later in my life.

How does one break such a trend?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cold Front

Winds here mean cold fronts
on their way to somewhere else:
different from Old Home.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


There are few things worse than the sense of being irrelevant and trapped.

It is a subtle thing a first:  in a conversation with others, you suddenly come across a fact which everyone else seems aware of but you didn't know.  As you begin to look into thing further, you find that there is a whole chain of events which impacts you but about which you had no idea was even occurring.

Then the next step comes:  tasks and items which you are responsible for are suddenly being set and commanded by others, even if you are still expected to complete them.  At some point you may ask about this, but are told that "No, you're still in charge.  Just making a few changes to move things forward". 

But the undercurrents still continue.  The ordering of responsibilities and tasks continue.  You are still required to do certain things and make certain goals, but you find your areas of decision and input have slowly been stripped away until you dwell in a box without windows or doors where tasks are passed in and out through a small hole in the wall and a knowledge of the great outer world is stripped away.

The worst part, of course, is that you feel trapped.  You feel trapped in your current situation as the the ability to find a way to change it seems extremely limited.  You also feel trapped in your day to day life as you have that nagging sense of being irrelevant, kept only for the purpose of doing certain things that no-one else wants to do instead of being maintained for your what you bring to the situation.

The funny thing - if such a thing can be called funny - is that sense that no-one will really say anything about the situation.  Surely such a thing is known and self evident - such things seldom happen in a vacuum.  But nothing is said - it's a sort of open secret, the elephant in the room that all know is there but that no-one will address.

And so the sense of fading to gray comes, the idea that one had about doing something grand fading away as one fades into the background of the unnoticed, the powerless, the forgotten - left until the final action comes, perhaps years after the first signs of irrelevance were perceived. 

Idly perhaps, one day someone will ask why one suddenly seems different, where has the enthusiasm and drive gone.  You look at them, a score of items running through your head as your catalog the issues and the length of time things have really been this way.  Then realizing the actual state of things, you simply sigh and shake your head.

"It's hard to explain"  you say.  "It's a long story."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mountains of the Mind

We all build mountains in our mind.

What are these mountains?  These are the places where we go secretly to engage in those things which we know to be sin.  It's the place where we take our dreamings, our imaginations, our pride.  We take them to be worshipped.

"Worshipped?  That' a pretty big word, isn't it? I mean, I know I have faults and all, but the idea that I would take them and worship them is just silly.  After all, I'm a 21st Century sophisticate - there is no way I'm involved in any sort of worship."

But we are.

Every time we take one of these things - lust, greed, anger - and instead of dealing with directly go to someplace in ourselves to roll it over in our mind and consider it, perhaps even to glory in it, we come to acribe value to it - to give it worth by our spending time with it or "Worth Ship" it, as the origin of the word would have it.

And so we begin the process of building our own mountain. 

Every time we go back to the altar, taking that thing in our mind which we cannot or will not deal with, we bring a small bucket of earth with us to stand on as we go.  Over time, these things begin to build up until, towering in our psychic landscape, stand squatting hills with rough hewn stained altars on the top of them.

Of course worship can't happen without bringing something of value to offer.  Initially it is just our time.  This time becomes more and more as we spend more and more at that altar instead of out in the world.  The time begins to suck in other things - relationships, hobbies, activities - sometimes in the light sense of time, sometimes in the heavy sense of sacrificing those thing through adultery or workaholism or addiction or selfishness.

Given long enough we become slaves of the mountains that we have built, constantly toiling up them to offer sacrifice that we have pulled from other parts of our lives.  In the end, that which have initially built to please us destroys us.

There must be a solution, of course.  There is - but it is the hardest thing of all.  We must tear down the mountains of the mind.

How?  By refusing to climb them or indulge them.  By turning our steps away from them when formerly we go to them.  By refusing to indulge ourselves in our secret sins.

This is not something that can ever be done in one's own strength, of course.  Ultimately there will be parts that we can never reach, effort we cannot make.  Ultimately we are dependent on God and His power to overcome such things.  But that does not excuse us from not making the attempt.

Let not the picture of our lives at the end be someone who has carefully carried all his interests, his relationships, his family - his life - up a mountain and offered them up to something which ultimately was phantom that had power neither to save nor reward.

Let us not be slaves of that which we indulge for ourselves.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Questioning FB

I've begun questioning the purpose of my existence on Facebook this weekend.

You all know Facebook, that wonderful invention that allows individuals to reconnect and share pictures, links and information about themselves, that allows them to reconnect with people they haven't talked to in years.  It's a social extravaganza, a sort of ultimate reunion and new friend engine rolled into one.

Over the course of about 3 years that I have had the account, I have had the privilege of catching up with a number of people that I have lost track of over the years:  high school friends long disappeared into the mists of life,  a college friend or two - even my family has taken a swing at it.  As mentioned, it is great for keeping people up to date and keeping up to date with peoples' lives:  seeing them, seeing their pictures, seeing their jokes and their comments.

But watching Facebook over the past three months has made me doubt my decision to continue to exist there.

Why?  Because in the last three months I've come to see that Facebook is creating even more of a society that is unable to have serious discussions about serious issues.

The issue is this:  someone posts a comment.  Someone else posts a comments disagreeing with them - but since this is Facebook, this person may or may not have a relationships with them have a years long understanding of them and their situation.  Instead, it is just a comment.  They respond with their opinion.  Typically, the discussion quickly breaks down after that into a series of naming calling and accusations until, at last, it peters out.

Where does that leave the drive by participant - me, for example, who can see all of this even if I chose not to participate?  Either saddened or angry, offended or depressed - because I too react to the words as I see them on the screen.  At Face Value.

The reality is that this is may be creating a more "connected" environment but it is hardly creating one that is more thoughtful.  Instead words are bandied about like clubs and axes.  The ability to think, to discuss, to debate is buried beneath a wave of being in for the instant response.  It becomes the written form of verbal shouting.

And so I find myself more often than not either fuming at the screen or shaking my head.  I find myself more and more reluctant to engage in any discussion not directly personal or humorous in nature.  More and more questioning why I even bother to spend my time looking at or posting on Facebook at all. 

It's not that I don't enjoy reconnecting with my friends - I do.  But what I am finding is that Facebook has become less and less of the coffee house where you relax and meet and more and more of the friend's home you visit where you always end up leaving early because you feel uncomfortable.

I used to believe that chat rooms and texting would be the death of meaningful communication.  I think I've changed my opinion.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Freedom and Prison

"We [Christians] say, not lightly but very literally, that the truth has made us free.  They say that it makes us so free that it cannot be the truth.  To them it is like believing in a fairyland to believe in such freedom as we enjoy.  It is like believing in men with wings to entertain the fancy of men with wills.  It is like accepting a fable about a squirrel in conversation with a mountain to believe in a man who is free to ask or a God who is free to answer.  This is a manly and rational negation for which I for one will always show respect.  But I decline to show any respect for those who first of all clip the wings and cage the squirrel, rivet the chains and refuse the freedom, close all the doors of the cosmic prison on us with a clang of eternal iron, tell us that our emancipation is a dream and our dungeon a necessity; and then calmly turn around and tell us they have a freer thought and a more liberal theology." - G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Mighty D.

I had the privilege of attending a funeral today.

A privilege?  Yes.  There are two kinds of funerals: those that are filled with sadness and yet hope and those that are simple sad.  I have attended both kinds.

Today's was one of the former, for a woman I only knew briefly and in passing.  Her son and Nighean Dhonn shared a class for 3 years.  I would not have met her except that I ran in a 5k in October for a fundraiser for her.  She passed on Saturday night.

To listen to those that spoke - her father, her brother, her friends, her husband - was to listen to the story of a woman who knew what she believed and firmly lived it out, even in the face of living with the specter of and then the actual event of cancer.  To hear of someone who lived their their life to the fullest to the very last moment possible.

She died at 38.

It was a thing to think of as we wended our way back to the car after the service and after-meal.  The winter sun had heated the air a bit and the day was quite pleasant.  I had fully intended to return to work but the hour had grown too late for any productive work, and suddenly the reality of life made this seem to be not the most important thing in the world.

As I went about my business in the afternoon I did not plan of having, I found my thoughts drifting back to the morning, trying to distill what I had heard and experienced into something I could apply.  Truths are seldom presented more clearly than in the light of death - the challenge is to determine what do with them.

1)  We are never more than what we give of ourselves to others.   What came through the conversation and the stories of the afternoon was not what others had done, but what D had done for others.  Even in her pain.  Even in the uncertainty of dwelling under the Shadow of Death.

2)  We are never more ourselves than when we live for Another.  Specifically one Other - Christ, the Son of God.  Only through living out Him in our daily lives, by being not only those hands and feet of service but the eyes and ears of listening and compassion, the voice of life and encouragement, the brain of planning and executing the Plans of Another.  What we do here for ourselves stays here.  What we do for others in the name of Christ and for Christ Himself goes farther our eyes can ever see.

In reality, we all live under the Shadow of Death.  Most of us choose not think of it unless it is thrust into our face, but it remains true.  We would be wise to consider how we spend our lives in light of that fact.

Requiscat in Pace, Mighty D.  Your race is run.  May you inspire those who remain behind.


Cold and clear, the sky
mocks any hopes of moisture
as the grass withers.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Goals New and Old

The last part of the year has arrived - that time of year where planning for the new both increases and goes into decline.

Increases?  2013 is already dangling in front of my face.  Things I want to do next year - things I need to next year - are starting to shout for my attention.  They are waving sheets of paper in front of me, shouting "I'm a goal - do me next year".  Many more than I had originally thought are making an appearance, all demanding a turn to argue their merits.

And in decline?  The countervailing movement is largely expressed in the here and now.  It is the end of the year.  The ability to do most of what I was going to do this year has passed; better to concentrate on that time which remains say the goals from 2012.  If you become too enmeshed in what is coming, you will fail to complete what you can still do.

It is an odd counterbalance.  On the one hand, planning for a new year - at least goal wise - is something which is always a little exciting and intoxicating:  the year is a blank slate, ready to be written on.  And let us be fair:  I think in many ways 2012 has left me in a far better position in terms of setting and achieving goals than has been the case in some years.  There is a certain sense of of hopefulness - if not for some specific situations in my life, then for the general.

The part I need to look to - the part I often hate to look to - is my failures.  Where did I fail in my goals?  Why did I fail in them?  Is there any catch up possible in these last few weeks that will allow me to get over the top?   There is not nearly the sense of excitement in doing things this way of course - but cleaning up old goals is like cleaning out cheesecloth after you make cheese: if you don't complete the process, it will smelly and sort of nasty for the following time.

Old and new, increase and decrease:  perhaps that is why New Year was set when it was:  to allow the slowness of the world outside to let us focus on the riotous world of thought on the inside.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tuesday Morning, 11 December

One of the great privileges of being an early morning riser is the opportunity to be an early morning writer.

That's not always the case, of course.  There are plenty of mornings where the "privilege" feels quite similar to a form of punishment as one staggers out of bed and tries to avoid the slalom of furniture in the bedroom as one careens to the stairs hoping (in the still semi-comatose under brain) that one does not careen down the stairs.

But this is not one of those mornings.

The temperature has fallen here in New Home to some of the coldest we've had this year:  slightly above freezing.  That makes the fact that I finally turned the heat on all the more inviting as I sit here.  A cup of fresh coffee sits beside me, the heated cup warming my heart almost as much as the coffee does (ah, coffee - what won't it solve?).  Yesterday's pumpkin muffins, cold from the room temperature but with the advantage of having a day to slightly compress, promise a delicious breakfast.

These are the mornings that it is a privilege to write - not just from the fact of being able to write, but the fact that appreciates all the things that go with being up early in the morning to write.  That seemingly rare convergence where the mind and the will coincide with the words and the physical sensations (ah, coffee) to make the inner space and outer space as one.

These are the times when the words just seem to bubble up from inside, not dragged from the mind kicking and screaming but willingly yielding themselves to the process.  The sense of stress is gone, replaced by a sense of being at peace with one's self and the practice of what one is doing.  This is one of those moments where one can really use the words "The Craft of Writing" and not feel as if one is mouthing a phrase for others, not one's self.

What is being written about is less important - indeed, one could probably just write about writing and the physical environment around one.  Those words of direction, of import - they will come in their time as well.  Once the streambed is prepared, the stream will come.

But every now and again it is simply good to stop, take a look around, and realize that such moments are out there and available to us - with the sincere hope that, like other exquisite moments, they will come to more a part of our daily lives.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Another one of those not so gentle reminders about the brevity of life.

The mother of one of Nighean dhonn's classmates  passed away Saturday night.  A cancer that had gotten to her brain, after being a two-time cancer survivor.  They had hoped she would be here for Christmas.  She leaves behind a husband and two sons.

It is another case of drive-by sorrow.  I only knew of her through her illness, ran a race to support her, occasionally got updates on her status from The Ravishing Mrs. TB.  No relationship beyond that of passing, no knowledge beyond that of others.

She was younger than I.

What it brings to mind - beyond the inconsolable thought of a husband and sons bereft of someone they expected to (and should have) spent long years with - is the brevity of life and its unknown nature to us.

We spend our time too often on that which does not matter.  We become tangled in our minds and thinking on that which has little value beyond the immediate.  Certainly there is a need to be involved where we are - but at the same time, many of us - most - take up the burden of things far more than we should.  We fritter away our energy and our lives on minors - "the thick of thin things" as Stephen Covey would say.

The result?  Beyond just a very real fact of wasting time on that which does not matter, we fail to spend our time on that which does matter - and then, when the end of our life comes (as it inevitably will) we are suddenly "struck" by the fact that we had no time to do what we really intended, what really mattered.

Oh, we meant to.  We meant to spend more time with our spouse or our family, to get serious about God, to spend our lives doing things that mattered rather than things that didn't.  It's just that we never had the time, you understand - we were too busy being busy.  And so, like the trolls of old, we are caught by the rising sun of death and turn to stone, our deeds undone.

Why can we so easily push off the important for the urgent?  Why do we ruin our lives for that which is of no account instead of that which matters?

I understand this better than most.  That which my industry produces has a life span, and companies change hands frequently.  Of all I have worked on and with, most of the products are now not sold, and most of the companies out of business or merged with another.  15 years of work with little beyond a living to show for it.

How much time did this represent?  How much suffering?  How many hours away, commuting back and forth, missing other things?  How much emotional baggage invested in people, against people?  How much effort in projects which are now filed away in boxes awaiting destruction?

We are given enough time to do that which God calls us to do.  Let us be careful we do not waste the gift spending it on that which is of no importance.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Burn Out

Every now and again I seem to reach that burned out state.  You've been there before - we all have, I suppose.  That sense of rising up in the morning and simply having...nothing.  No energy.  No hopes.  No nothing.

I'm interested (in an abstract sense, I suppose)  about what causes this sort of thing.  It's not as if the contributing factors - lots going on, maybe a lack of sleep, the rush of an event (Christmas in this case) - don't occur during many points of the year.  What does seem to occur right now is this very real sense that there are no reserves left, that everything has been played and there's still an entire period to play.

So what's the difference? What is that factor that drains us of the sense that we don't have any more - perhaps when we really do? 

I suspect it's inner related than outer related.  All things like this seem to be.  Perhaps a temporary abandonment of hope?  That would make sense as well - hope is directed towards the future, when there is a possibility that something can change, where as a continuing sense of burnout probably stems from a sense that we have given our all and there is nothing left to give.

I wish I understood this state better - somewhere in the midst of the lack of drive and energy, at the feeling at the end of your rope is the germ of learning to persevere better.  There are lessons to be learned here - the biggest, I suppose, is simply how to get out of this state more quickly.

Another road of learning I suppose - if I can just find the motivation and energy to do it...

Thursday, December 06, 2012



A word loaded with connotations.  A word that means the difference between being paid attention to and ignored.  Something many people desperately seek to get.  But how to get and give respect?  Therein lies the rub.

There are two ways that respect is granted. The first method - one that is the most common - is the idea of "earning" respect.  "You get the respect you earn" or some such  similar line has littered the ground of countless movies and books.  It is the idea that respect is something that is not automatically granted due to the fact of existence but that it is given as part of the process of becoming "respectable" - that is, worthy of respect.

The second method - one that seems less common - is the idea of granting respect until it is lost.  In this scenario, respect is extended to all as a result of their simply being in existence and is only lost when the individual chooses to loose it.  In this concept there is no possibility to earn, only to lose.  It is best represented in (of all places) the book Passage to Dawn by R.A. Salvatore in which the main character, Drizz't dro'Urden discusses the concept in a monologue.  (Really.  If you have a chance read it.  It's quite profound.)

The interesting thing I've come to discover about this two theories of respect is that they are practiced in conflict.  For most people in or of a group or at the higher levels of the organization, the expectation is that the second will always be applied to them (respect granted until lost) but that the first is what they will grant (respect not granted until earned).  I suppose there is some degree of logic in their eyes, a sort of "having earned their spurs" and expecting others to do the same.  But at the same time, there seems to be this expectation that respect being granted is done on essentially faith without any basis in competency or achievement but only by virtue of already being present.

Conceptually what would it be like if we all either practiced the theory that everyone had to learn respect - or that respect would be granted to all until lost?  To my mind, the ramifications are enormous.   Everyone would understand the rules of the game.  Everyone would understand that respect is not something granted by virtue of title or name or office but of actual achievement - or contrariwise, that everyone starts out with the respect and it is only through their inability to achieve that such a thing can be lost.

I don't know that I am arguing for one or the other.  Both have issues in my opinion - earning respect can become a scheme to always make respect just out reach, granting universally ultimately leads to a devaluation as both the competent and incompetent are granted a level which perhaps they do not deserve.  But should we not at least recognize how others expect us to earn respect - and more importantly, what we expect of them?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Empty Feeling of Achievement

There is nothing worse than achievement that has no impact.

This is a side of achievement I don't know I have given a great deal of thought to.  But not all achievement is created equal.  Some achievement results in, well, results.  Something happens as a result of something that has been completed. 

But there's the other side of achievement, the long low exhausted breath of having done something only to realize that the breath is being taken in singleness and silence.  The achievement was completed, but it resulted in nothing.

Nothing?  Surely you just, you may be thinking.  All achievement has some outcome, even it is merely the outcome of the individual having completed that which they had started.  Even that can be considered an outcome of something.

I suppose that is true enough - "In all toil there is profit, but mere talk comes only to want" as the writer of Proverbs says (14:23).  Even in the least impactful of achievements there is some element of results, even if it is merely the impact that the thing was possible to get done and did get done as an example to others.

I have hard experience with the achievement that leads to nowhere and nothing.  There is nothing less motivating than coming to the final completion of a project when the last slide is presented, the last page turned, and the last comment made - only to find that nothing happens.  The overwhelming sense of failure cannot be denied, if not accompanied by a keen sense of disappointment.  Achievement is meant to impact, not to be ignored.

What do I do with this sense of, if not failure, then lack of success?  I'm not sure.  There are only two viable options, it seems.  The first is simply to select better achievements - by better, I mean begin selecting those achievements which have the potential to actually make a difference or achievements which deal with something of importance.  Spend time doing impactful things and you will make an impact.

The other option is to begin to evaluate what I expect or intend to get out of every achievement.  I will never be able to completely shed achievement without impact - our lives are often full of things we need to do simply to do them.  But even in doing these things we can find at least one thing that will improve ourselves if not achieve the point of the exercise.  The trick is to find it.

But it matters.  And we have to do it.  Because I can only imagine that one of the great failures in life one can feel is looking back at a life of achievement and realizing that in the end, nothing of impact was actually accomplished.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Ode to A Cursor

Blinking cursor
Patient, waiting,
Keeping all my thoughts
from waiting

How is that a single bar
Allows my thoughts to travel far?

To depths of soul
or heights of mind
Through you the whole
of truth I find.

But on this morning: early, dark
Why can't I find a single spark?

Blink on, blink off
You gently tease:
"Your problem is?
Go: write with ease."

This morning, naught, except your mocking:
Why can't I find the words for talking?

Have pity then,
please do not hate me,
if on this day
the words escape me.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Self Belief?

One of the transitions I am struggling with - let us be honest, have struggled with for some time - is the transition from being in a position of needing someone to believe in you to believing in yourself.  I am certain that this transition is complicated by the fact that I am person who is too often dependent on the approval of others (but, in fairness, I wonder if it is really any different or easier for others).

Self belief - self confidence - that inner spark that tells one that one is competent to do all that one has determined one will do - is a strange thing.  It seems that there are only two ways to acquire it: genetic or built.

Genetic?  Mindset perhaps.  There are those among us - surely you know one or even may be one - that simply seem to have always have had the inner belief that they were capable of doing whatever they could put their mind too.  Sometimes the surroundings of the these individuals is not such that one would think that such a belief could ever exist - but it does.

The good news for the rest of us, I suppose, is that unlike height or speed self belief is something that can be acquired even if we don't start out with it.  The problem is figuring out how to do that.

How is that done?  Oh, I wish that I had a better sense of it.  I do firmly believe that it is rooted in doing things and succeeding in them - from confidence, springs confidence.  But doing things alone is not enough:  one can do things a great many times but bereft of a belief that one can do them, one is always one failure away from feeling completely useless.

Is it something others can give?  Partially.  The believe of someone in you and your ability to do things can be a powerful motivator in coming to believe in yourself - but at the same time, too much reliance on others can lead to a fragile self belief, one that is ready to collapse under the first sign that such a person considers your performance a failure or simply moves on.

There is a fundamental transition and transaction that occurs somewhere within the soul, some moment when one moves from "I cannot" to "I am capable of".  It is not just based solely on accomplishing things.  It is much more than that.  It is best represented in the case that one moves from a temporary failure being a permanent setback to a temporary failure not denting one's confidence in the ultimate outcome - and believing it.

I deeply desire to believe that this is like a muscle  - it can be built over time.  Yet I constantly find myself falling back into a state of not having any confidence at all, of being undercut by events and individuals (and their comments) to a state where it feels as if no matter what I do I am doomed to fail, to be exactly what I am and have always been.

To feel that self belief is merely a figment of my own imagination or something that other people can find - but not me.

I do not believe (in my lucid moments) that this is the case.  I believe that there is such a thing as self belief.  I have seen the outcome of its workings.  I know that it exists - for others.  The difficulty is finding how to make it exist for me.

Friday, November 30, 2012

GPS Music

As you know, I'm occasionally able to bring you the websites of dear friends who have stretched their own wings in one way or another.  Today I'm pleased to bring you another:  my dear (and very long serving) friend Gordon, who has (with the help of his very talented wife Melissa) finally taken the plunge of the artist in business by making his music and field shows available for sale.  Their new website is

Here's to hoping more of the music community gets to know the genius and talent that is readily apparent to us who have known Gordon for years.

Mazel Tov!

Thursday, November 29, 2012


I am not thinking as deeply as I need to be.

This thought came to me last night as I was in the process of journaling, something which I have been far too remiss in following up on in recent days - even as much as the last year. Why when journaling?  Because writing in a journal was the origin of all that I end up doing here and other places.  Journaling was the place that I began to learn to record my thoughts, to get into the habit of writing things down, and of learning to write out was occurring on the inside.

Why haven't I been journaling as much I used?  I came up with three answers, none of which were particular good.  One, of course, is that I perform a sort of journaling already through the medium of this blog.  Me, the person who always grumbles about relying too much on technology relying on technology.  A journal is a physical item to be referred to; a blog is an electronic exercise subject to deletion.  An excuse, not a reason.

The second was the fact that it involves writing, which for me is difficult for two reasons.  When writing, my thoughts seem to surge ahead of my ability to write them down.  As a result, my penmanship (never the best) becomes more and more irregular as I go, making things less and less legible.  Typing is quicker than writing, so of course this is the "better" medium.  Again, excuses not a reason.

The third was time and place.  My journaling ordinarily takes place at the end of my day, just prior to going to sleep.  As it is the end of the day and I'm often tired the excuse becomes  "Well, I just don't have time for it."  Really?  Not 10 minutes for a journal entry?  Not 10 minutes or more to coalesce the thoughts and inputs of a 16 hour day?  To quote Galaxar in Monsters vs. Aliens, "Lame".

Writing - or at least writing the way I would like to write - requires that one is able to get to the core of one's beliefs and thoughts and learn to be able to express them.  Too often when I write, I feel like I am merely moving at the surface level of my thinking, that what I should be saying is deeper yet.  I yearn to be more in touch with that deeper level of thought and consideration.

But to be in touch with that level is to realize that it comes from somewhere beyond the daily interactions with people and life, whether it be in person or through the medium of this blog.  It comes from being able to write freely, deeply, pondering with questions and thoughts which we may never have the ability or courage to ask of or speak others.  For myself, that can only come through the seemingly archaic form of placing pen on paper.

And so I need to recommit to the process of journaling on a daily basis.  I need to increase the fundamental process of learning to thinking (as Stephen Covey would say "in deep, sustained ways".  Like an explorer seeking the purest water, I need to go to the origin of the river to get that which I truly desire.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Invulnerable Aura of Invincibility

Two points yesterday and today to get my attention:

1) Fear Mor sends me a text a 0200 in the morning that he is being admitted to the hospital.  Later cause is determined to be pancreatitis.

2)  Facebook post:  A good friend is diagnosed with testicular cancer and goals into surgery today for removal.  No evidence it has spread and a high belief it can be removed.

It's a solemn reminder, the sort of cold water splash to the face that makes one stop and take notice of where one is and what one is doing (and let's be honest, complaining about) in life.  These two friends of mine bracket my age category.

One always hears about the "aura of invincibility" that the young seem to have, this sense that they can do anything and not suffer the consequences.  I suppose it makes sense - the less clever among us would simply call it a lack of experience - this belief that nothing really bad can happen to you.  But what I find myself confronting now is when - or even if - we lose that feeling ourselves.

The reality for all is that time is not our friend.  Part of the reason I suppose many people feel invulnerable is that their bodies simply have the ability to absorb more when they are young.  But time and age come to all and the sense that we had that we can do anything is replaced by the very really data our bodies do not always respond as we would like or want them too.

Why does this matter?  Because this aura convinces us that we have all the time in the world:  There is always tomorrow to get to the things that matter.  We can fill our life with that which is less than truly important.  We actually have time to waste, because more time will always be there - and we will have the health to enjoy and use it. 

Ultimately, the Invulnerable Aura of Invincibility convinces us that we are other than what we really are.

Spare a prayer or at least a thought for my friends, of course.  They need them. 

But also take a moment to reflect what assumptions we make about our health and our time and our ability to do that which we are to be about doing.    Let us not fool ourselves that things will always be as they have been.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Light Switch

Trying to reassess things.

I actually had to make a decision this week, a decision about a place to be.  I had an opportunity but for the first time in a long time I sat and thought about where I was and where I would probably need to be.  The outcome of the decision was that I decided to maintain the status quo.

The difficulty with actually making a decision, of course, is that there are ramifications.  If you choose something, something else won't happen.  In my case, the something was an additional series of tasks that need to be completed with little to no resources to make their completion happen.

The immediate result of this is to find myself fighting this vague sense of hopelessness that seems to come as a result of the decision:  the sense that nothing is really going to change as a result of not making a change.  I consciously know I need to fight this of course - a lack of change in one thing does not indicate that all things cannot change - but there is the very real sense that one can slip into it easily.

I intuitively grasp that the focus needs to be on what can be changed instead of what can't be, but the difficulty (as I often seem to find) is twofold: one is simply determining which category an activity falls into, the other is determining what impact such actions will have.  The reality too often is that it seems that even with those things we can impact the result is quite small and washed away in the flood of decisions of those things that we can't change but have greater impact.

So I end up finding myself on the knife's edge of emotions:  trying to feel empowered about doing something even as I try to prevent tumbling off the other side from the inability to influence the things that are occurring in my life.

Is this always true of all decisions, this careful balance between empowerment of action and despair of consequences?  I have to believe that some level it always is - which leads me, in retrospect, to consider all the other decisions I have made that may not have gone so well for me:  did I allow the euphoria of being empowered to overrule the realization that consequences were coming that I could not control (in some cases they most definitely were; I was just too full of myself to see them).

Which leaves me, as it so often seems to, with the sense of feeling my way around in the dark after having consciously turned a light with only a candle left in my hand to navigate obstacles.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Nanowrimo 2012

Guess who met their goal last night?

Final count: 50,031 words, 28 chapters, 21 days (of a possible 30) spent writing to create it.

I would be lying to relate that I felt no rush of adrenaline when I put the text into the word calculator and it spit the number back out at me.  I was extremely elated.  This was a goal met - in less time than it was supposed to take.  Even better, this was something which I attempted and failed to achieve the previous year.

Sweet, sweet victory.

It gave me pause to look back upon the year and consider things - and realize that I had met many goals that I have set for myself:
- Participated in Highland Games (did two, actually).
- Ran in a race (two actually, with times that were respectable).
- Complete and publish a book (Completed and published two).
- Completed Nanowrimo
- Made more cheese (and found some that were quite popular, actually).
- Dehydrated fruit (and found some favorites for my family).

There were many others that I haven't completed yet - and this is what gives me pause and reason to think:  what is different about the things listed above that I achieved versus many of the other things (some of them very important) that I failed to achieve?  The only things I can think of off hand are:
- Opportunity (either something I created or something that is known and available).
- Control (All of the activities listed above are completely within my purview as to their ability to be completed as they are all dependent on me)
- Time based (in some kind or fashion, from the rigid time of cheese making to the self-imposed goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days)

So how do I take this victory - these victories - and use the lessons that I've learned and apply them to my life? 

Certainly the greatest difference for many of these goals that I have yet to resolve is that they are partially or completely outside of my ability to control.  But I'm equally as certain the individuals have dealt with things just like this - events outside of their control - and managed to move forward regardless.  By focusing on that which lay in their control?  Perhaps.  By putting a time limit on it or understanding what the opportunities are?  Possibly.  But there is a core to all of this.  Something that I can take and apply to the rest of my life.

But that is to be evaluated and considered moving ahead.  Today is a day to revel in the fact that I can do things which previously I believed to be impossible.

Hurray to me.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Happy Thanksgiving 2012!  In accordance with years past, here is my list of things that I am thankful for:

- My Family, both here in New Home and Away
- The Ravishing Mrs. TB, who continues to demonstrate that I really did marry up.
- That I am employed
- For our health (A large one this year, as many I know have not been so fortunate).
- For the completion of two books (not only a thankful, but a lifelong goal realized).
- For our church.
- For the fact we are able to send our children to the school we are able to.
- For mo naigheananNighean Bhan, Nighean Gheal, and Nighean Dhonn.  I am incredibly proud of my children.
- For iaido, which continues to teach me.
- That I was able to compete in two Highland Games this year without complete embarrassment.
- For our trip this year to the Happiest Place on Earth.
-  And for my Lord, who continues to demonstrate patience to a man who surely never deserved it.

There is always a sense in my writing, I suppose, that things are always a little worse than they are.  And surely they could always be a little better.  But it is always good, from time to time, to take a step back and be grateful for all that really is going well in one's life.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Too Much The Same

One issue that vacations seem to bring up is the simple fact that you have time - time to think, time to ponder, time to consider.  Sometimes such times can be as dangerous as having no such time.

In this time to think and ponder, what I am coming up with is the sense of the sameness of my life and the fact that there seems to be no greater plan. 

My weeks start to run together, the same work filling them.  Looking ahead to next year I only see this year repeated, except perhaps with even less ability to do what needs to be done.  My personal life doesn't seem to hold any more chance of moving forward on any front:  next year's activities will be the same as this year's activities, with perhaps one or two changes only in form but not in substance.

And that thing I was looking for when I was younger, that great sense of purpose, the great plan?  That seems long gone, buried beneath layers of necessities and responsibilities and things I must do. 

So here is the question:  how do I change all this?

I really wish I knew.  I realize that such things as a geographic relocation or even exchanging one career for another are merely another change in font to the novel of my life.  I need something more deeply changing than these, a change of plot and chapter.

But beyond that deep change, I need something even deeper:  I need a change to a sense of hope, a sense that my actions are actually moving my life forward instead of merely keeping it in stasis.  For the present changes and future rushes towards me; unfortunately I seem to remain only the same.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Trapped by Vacation?

Being on vacation is an odd thing.

This is my second official "vacation" of the year.  The first, as you may recall, was a visit to the Happiest Place on Earth.  This one is quite different in that we are staying close to home, doing some day trips, spending time with family.

10 days away from work.  You would think that I would be far more excited than I find myself to be.

Why is this?  Why can't I simply rejoice in the fact that I am blessed with paid time off and that I am using it spend time not doing my work and with my family?

Because I find myself nagged.  In the back of my mind I find myself nagged.

Work has started following me around like a bad emotion or a grudge.  I find it creeping into my thoughts when I least want, arguing with it when I least expect it, turning around and find it stalking me in my wanderings during the day.

I can't imagine this is especially healthy.

Has it been so long of not being on vacation that I have lost the ability to do so?  Have I allowed myself to become so consumed with what work is that I have lost the ability to unplug?  And if so, how do I break the cord (more like a steel trap, it seems) that binds me even when I have no reason to be bound?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Spammers Redux

Ah, my friends the spammers.  They're still hard at work even though I've made comments subject to review.  Every day I get up and scan my list of posts that have been read.  Inevitably, one old seems to have received a high degree of attention, some post that has been pegged as an address one can get to and proliferated throughout the Internet.  Somewhere, in the Russian Federations, I have a spam following.

The thing that struck me about it this morning as I review my list was the one that it was:  Easter Communion Meditation from March 21, 2008.  It has a total of 1812 hits, almost 11% of my total viewing.

What an odd post, I thought.  Of all the the posts that could be spread around the Internet as a link to try and post at, a post about the Easter Resurrection and communion.  

Does anyone read them, I wonder?  Are they total dominated by faceless e-mail lists that go out in the dark of my night, seeking to sell me stocks or Cialis or cheap computer parts without at all looking at what they are doing?  Or is the case that someone occasionally checks out that which they are mailing to?

I'd like to believe that at least once, someone actually looked at the random sites they were posting to.  Someone that at least took the message and considered it, rather than just rolling to the next page to try and post a comment.

Sometimes God moves in mysterious ways.  Maybe even in spam.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Halfway There

So today I passed the halfway point in the 30 day novel writing challenge.  I'm currently standing at 25,139 words.

This is fascinating to me.  My first manuscript was in the range of 15,000 words and took me almost a year to write.  My second manuscript was in the range of 6500 words and took me 3 months to write.  I have now not only exceeded each individual word count but the combined word count in..I'm not that good at math, but a whole lot less time than it took the first two times.

The important question is why.

Was the story more fully developed?  I'm not sure.  Yes, I had wrestled with the current concept and had even started writing something - in fact, I ended up scrapping everything I wrote and started over. The characters were theoretically in place (although not, as it turns out, in the final form) and the concept was there.  But I'd be hesitant to say that I fully knew where I was going this time.

Is it the exercise?  Well, it's probably helping with the word count.  Getting the habit of having a target and having to produce a certain amount of words a day certainly makes progress add up quickly.  But it's not enough to just type words into a computer:  without some sense of structure, I can see where one would get very depressed as the word count would be there but the story would not.

The key, upon thinking about it, seems to be the commitment to do it.  Commitment is not just to doing the exercise, it's to doing the exercise in such a way as to complete it.  I am committed to a certain word count.  I am also committed to having that word count become a book of some sort or fashion, something that hangs together and makes a modicum of sense.

The output is interesting, the progress inspiring.  The question for myself is this:  how do I translate this into other parts of my life?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


"Appear at places to which he (the enemy) must hasten; move swiftly where he does not expect you. That you may march a thousand li without wearying yourself is because you travel where there is no enemy (Go into emptiness, strike voids, bypass what he defends, hit him where he does not expect you.)" - Sun Tzu, The Art of War

How does one deal with the obstacles in one's life?  I'm thinking particularly here of ones which seem completely unmovable, the ones that we can't seem to change by dint of effort or pleading.  The sorts of things that make you feel ineffective and pointless in your life.

I've tried, trust me.  I've tried to directly go through them.  I've tried to maneuver my way around them.  I've tried to under or over them.  And yet I constantly seem to be rebuffed, thrown back, unable to make any forward progress at all.  Is it because I'm going about it the wrong way?

Observe Sun Tzu above.  He doesn't speak of going directly to where the enemy is waiting; instead, he says go to where the enemy is not; work around him, make him hurry to come to you instead of the other way around. One who strikes at voids is always sure to be able to punch straight through.

Great for a man dead 2500 years.  How does this apply to my life?

The reality is that anyone - or anything - can only defend a certain number of approaches.  No-one can be everywhere defending everything.  And everyone and everything had gaps, holes, things that can be moved through. 

So find the gaps.  Find the holes.  If someone is defensive on one place - very defensive - it is sometimes better to stop there and look around rather than continue.  There is always another path, another way past the obstacle.  Go to a second place, somewhere that there is less passion or concern, and begin there.  The flank will either be turned - or by defending two positions, the overall resistance becomes weaker.

True of things as well.  Can't get through the wall of conceptually writing a novel?  Do a certain number of words a day until you reach the same place you would reach if you just tried to write all at once.  Can't attack the idea of debt or savings?  Instead of hitting the center, nibble at the edges or find another place to start.

There are times that things are simply difficult and we must go through them, that challenges cannot be met except by facing them head on.  But just as armies cannot constantly fight major battles repeatedly, so we will exhaust ourselves continually attacking the center.  Look for the holes, the empty spaces; be where they do not expect you. 

Progress is always possible.  It just may not be quite where we originally thought it would be.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Winter's chill arrived
last night; it matches the chill
I find in my soul.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Outputs and Outcomes

I have been oscillating between two extremes this week:  on one hand a complete feeling of powerlessness and on the other hand a feeling of control.

The feeling of powerlessness engulfed me on Wednesday when, faced with an ever rising sea of tasks and expectations, my will broke.  There is nothing so demoralizing as the sense that no matter how much one does and where one focuses, the end result will essentially be nil.  Whatever improvements made are transient, what tasks accomplished are buried under a wave of new items to be addressed tomorrow.

The feeling of control has periodically engulfed me throughout the week.  It seems to have appeared as a result of participating in Nanowrimo.  The thing that seemed so difficult last year - writing 1667 words a day - has not only become an activity that I have found I can do but that I can enjoy - and make progress in (17,213 words on day 9).

The fact that these two stand in contrast is somewhat remarkable to me.  The sorts of activities I stake my life and livelihood on are beyond my control.  The thing which is at this point no more than a personal hobby is well within my control.  Here's the question that I need to consider:  how do I expand this control to the other parts of my life?

We work (and live) best when we have a sense that what we are doing has an impact, both for ourselves and others.  Impact, of course, is a matter of cause and effect, of input and output.  The effects and outputs that are the best are the ones of which we can control the causes and inputs.  There's a spectrum, I imagine, running from things that are 100% under our control to things that are 0% under out control - and certainly those things out of our control will always be a part of our lives.  The question is, can these things be minimized?

I'll make a second argument as well:  those that have greater control over those things are generally those who are able to achieve better results and are quite possible happier.  Why?  Because they are able to take actions which directly result in a better and greater set of outcomes.  They are greater able to direct the course of the actions towards those outcomes that they are attempting to achieve, rather than simply trying to manage inputs not of their choosing in a direction that they cannot control.

It's a convoluted thing.  My actions are the results of inputs on me and I am limited by the inputs to what I can then do for outputs.  Thinking simply, give a chef garbage and no matter how well he tries, he's probably not going to be able to do much with it.

Which is maybe why the sense of control from writing rings so true.  I 100% control the input (my time, my energy) - and thus, I 100% control the outputs.

How do I then gain greater control over the inputs?  Perhaps that's the question that needs to be addressed. I leave today's meditation with this thought:   To the extent that I remained mired in the outcomes of others or being dependent on them, that is the extent to which I can improve the outcomes. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Agricultural weight

Arcing through the air,
the weight flies as if proplled
by the bagpipe's skal.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Failure to Launch

What do you do with a product that seems to be unsaleable?

What do you do with a product that seems to be unsaleable when that product is you?

I've had the experience now of having investors reject this product four times in the last 7 months or so.  Like any good sales person, the point of offering something is to be able to sell it.  The fact that I have been encountering difficulties in doing this would give any product development person pause - as it should me.

One important aspect of this is customer feedback.  What do the customers say?  Customers are rational in that they purchase that which meets their real or perceived needs.  Is the product not meeting their needs, and if so why?

Obviously it's not meeting their needs.  No-one is buying it.  Why not?

Feedback seems to vary.  In one case the product did not have sufficient field testing among a larger group.  In another, the product simply did not meet the required customer inputs.  A third was that the product had elements of what the customer wanted, but not the whole.  The fourth customer simply found a product that was better suited for their purposes.

Unfortunately these reasons seem to tell me nothing I can seem to redesign.  The wide field testing and depth of features is something that cannot be forced by the designer, only offered and hoped to be adopted.  The customer inputs are nothing of my design but only those of the customer - if the product doesn't meet them, there's little chance a redesign will improve things.  And a product better suited for the purpose?  One can specialize the product but that again sends it back to redesign and takes it off the market longer.

How about the design of the product?  Is there something inherent to what it is that make it unsaleable?

Possibly, but if that's the case how does one do a redesign?  One can go back to the design documents - in this case, a not well documented process - and attempt to change the inputs.  But as with above, changing inputs takes time and energy  - without any real greater sense that the product will be accepted by the consumer.

So what do I do with this product then?  Newer models are launching as we speak, and I suspect the nostalgia market for this kind of thing only decreases with time.

If the purposes for which the product was designed have moved on and the product cannot be effectively redesigned and it cannot be sold, most would say this product has become obsolete and should be retired or scrapped.

That is easy enough to say with a product.  It's more difficult to say with a life.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Highland Games Again

This past weekend I participated in my third Highland Games.

I suppose a reasonable question to ask is why I like the Highland Games.  After all, I'm generally the smallest and lightest guy out in the field.  It's almost guaranteed that I'll have a lock on last place.  I'm "competing" (if you want to dignify my participation that way) with men who in some cases outweigh me by 120 pounds and tower over me by at least 6 inches and women who are in much better shape than I can ever hope to be.  In height, weight, girth and strength, I'm over matched.

So why do I go?

Because I love it.  Because every time I get out there (as someone said at a practice) I am participating in something which millions have heard of but of which < 1% of the population will do.  And it's fun.

Because it's history.  When I hurl a stone or pick a caber, I am participating with thousands who, over 1500 years, have done the same thing.  I am a living part of the history I love so much.

Because it's challenging.  To hurl something that is heavy is more than just brute strength.  It's technique.  It's learning to do something better and better.  It ultimately engages not just the body but the mind.  It trains me to learn to set goals - and keep going when I've achieved them.

Because it's enjoyable.  And it's not just enjoyable because I'm participating.  It's enjoyable because every game I have participated in is not an exercise in competition, it's an exercise in being with other people who are there for the same reason you are and are encouraging you to do as well as you can.  Yes, it's the ultimate in an individual achievement sport - but it's balanced by a group of like minded individuals who are there to support as well as compete.  While subtle, the difference between being on the outside of the participation line and inside the ring is present.  The cheers of your fellow competitors - who know - is more meaningful than those who are just passing by to watch.

But probably the reason I do it the most is to prove something to myself.  To prove that even at my middle age, it's not too late to learn to do something new that's physically hard and mentally challenging.

The season is almost to its end here.  But that's okay.  2013 is around the corner.

And I'll be there, a bush among the taller trees, trying to hurl 25% of body weight down the field.

And loving it.

 (More reasons to love the Highland Games:  What they teach about life here and here.

Monday, November 05, 2012

More All I Needed To Know I Learned from the Highland Games

1)  Competing is as much about showing up as it is about being good.

2)  Get a heavy enough implement that requires some technique and the old and young are on a level playing field.

3)  Be prepared for change on short notice.  Just because you've always thrown with a lighter stone doesn't mean that a heavier stone won't suddenly be used.

4)  If people say a caber may be coming your way and may hit you, best to listen and be prepared.

5)  Be ready.   The Ready and Willing need only the slightest of instruction to throw far.

6)  Momentum is key.  The right momentum allows a weight to sail with ease.  The wrong momentum just makes for an embarassing throw.

7)  Many people are willing to throw.  Few people are willing to go behind and make sure everything is out of the way.

8)  Don't try and catch a rolling stone with your ankle.

9)  World records can be set anywhere.  You just need to be ready and looking for it.

10)  There's always someone who will be the smallest competitor on the field throwing the most of the his body weight.  Be that person if you have to.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Focus and Mire

It's amazing how the mire of activity can kill focus.

One can come into a situation with the intent to become a machine of efficiency, a raging force of nature moving through tasks.  Within 15 minutes, one can find one's stuck looking at the blinking cursor of a screen waiting to complete the first of many things which are exactly the same - and not at all related to anything one had intended.

It's a schedule slayer, these unintended things.  They're the kobolds of the task world, small creatures which in and of themselves are not harmful at all but, when gathering together in large groups, can bring down the heartiest adventurer in a sea of short sharp swords and flailing bodies.

How does one fight against this sort of thing?  How can one ensure the small tasks remain small and handled and the big tasks - the ones which require significant attention - are dealt with in a timely fashion?  I would love to say that the answer is readily apparent, but it's not.   It almost seems to be a combination of a couple of factors:

1)  Managing the smaller tasks:  Smaller tasks have to be managed - maybe even more than larger tasks.  They must be managed because if not, they become infinitely complex and frustrating.  A 10 minute task can take 4 hours if five of the same thing suddenly appear, all requiring the same things to be done.  They need to be put in a line, corralled and brought to order.

2)  Remember the big tasks:  Back to the review I have discussed so often before.  One always needs to know what one planned to be doing.  Even if the sidetracking comes - and it will - there should still be a sense of what one originally intended to work on.  Not only for a sense of proportion - like comparing a seedling to a redwood - but from the sense of keeping one's eyes on the larger picture.

3) Prioritize - And when I write prioritize I mean not only doing first things first but doing anything at all.  As I mentioned yesterday, we will never have enough time to accomplish anything.  If too many of the small tasks are piling up, have they become a large task?  Are the resources not available currently to manage it?  If so, what would it take?  Can it be done - or is it something that simply needs to fade into the background?

The small things can destroy one's ability to do the big things - but only if left unchecked and roaming about.  Bring the small things into line or they will bring you to your knees.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Find the Focus

Focus can be a wonderful thing.

Focus is the gate through which we can force all things to enter through.  It's the floodgates where we fling our energy instead of dissipating it into the stream.  It's the single act of drawing and cutting instead of carelessly pulling out our sword and slashing about.

Perhaps for myself the story of my life is this constant struggle I am undergoing between trying to find focus and living my life.  The two are at best not synonymous and worst are contradictory.  But I get the sense that those who succeed - and when I say succeed, I mean specifically those who are most integrated, most enjoying their lives, not necessarily the most monetarily rewarded - have figured out a way to combine the two.

When focus exists - when your life is lived through the lens of moving in a particular way to accomplish a particular thing - life moves.  Things are not just performed as a series of random disconnected actions but as a more and more seamless whole, all things running together towards a larger things.  One does some things; one lets other things go because they are contributing to the greater focus.  Eventually, I believe, the various parts of one's mind and soul are more wholly integrated as actions and being and philosophy merge into one.  "What you seem to be, be really" said Benjamin Franklin.  Focus will do that for us.

How do we get and keep focus?  That's the sticking point, the thing that constantly seems to rip me back to reality.  For me - I assume for many - what we wish to focus on and what we actually focus on are two entirely separate things.  So often our lives seem disconnected from that which we wish to do and mired in that which we must.  Focus becomes all that more important.  But how to get it and keep it on those goals?

I have a suggestion.  It's not original with me, but it works.  It's from Miyamoto Musashi:  "Do nothing which is of no use."

This is a key - not the key perhaps, but a key.  We all have limited time.  We all have things we have to do.  The point is that we need to make everything we do work towards the focus.

Admit it: I am (and you are) frivolous with time. We're extravagant.  We spend time on things the way children will spend money on candy if given the chance:  freely, lavishly, without a care in the world about the future.

As with savings, working towards those things of value in our lives is a series of building a bank account of accomplishments.  Accomplishments take time.  Accomplishments take doing things of use.

We need to learn (I most of all) to make all my tasks serve the goal, the focus.  Even work - mind numbing work - can serve the focus if we let it.  If by working we pay bills and enable ourselves to have time to work on other things, it is time not wasted.  And even at work, our focus can shift towards not just tasks but skills.  Learning to work diligently and for long periods of time on a task is not something which only applies to our working lives.

The other half?  Shed that which is useless.  Make every action and task serve your focus.  Is it not useful, not serving to help you work towards that which you are focusing on?  Consider abandoning it or making it serve the higher goal. Our lives are always more full of things that we can do than things we will have time to do. Determine to make every one of things something which is useful.

Because ultimately, focus is an output of which time and effort are inputs.  Time and effort are both finite and have an end date - a date which will never know until it arrives.

Determine to focus.  Determine to abandon that which is useless.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


There is nothing more infuriating or more debilitating than to be ignored.

One can respond to mockery with mockery.  One can respond to challenges with facts.  One can even respond to direct attacks with defenses.

But to be ignored - to have one's opinion simply set aside - or even worse, to have it set aside for the purposes of justifying someone else - is something I have come to find as destructive as some of more abusive yelling I've heard.

To ignore is to devalue.  It's to treat something or someone as less than value, as less than worth noticing.  At best it is simply to pretend that something is there but not important, at worst it is to pretend that there is simply not something there at all.

To ignore is to destroy.  More often than not, it is acknowledgement that a situation exists but simply moving on from it for reasons other than solving the problem at hand.  The reasons for move on can vary:  person pride, lack of resources, lack of knowledge.  But the end result is that problems ignored do not go away.  Given enough time, they will destroy all that is before them.

To ignore is to debilitate.  It is to take the actions and enthusiasms of another and to grind them into powder, leaving that individual with nothing but the dregs of their opinions and actions in their hands as the one who ignores fills their hands with the bulky objects of their own agendas and thoughts.    It is to seize and destroy the primal urge of individuals to act leaving only its wake the muddled sense that one must wait - in patience and solitude - until told what one can do.  It cheats all of the nobility of acting, replacing it with the sense of being an object to be used.

To ignore is to infuriate.  This is the hidden fruit of ignoring by those that practice it.  The sense that authority can convey - and often it's false - is that acceptance equals agreements.  But to ignore, especially repeatedly, scarcely accomplishes that.  Practiced often enough, it creates a core of fire deep within individuals.  A core that energizes - but not in the way that many anticipate.

Because ultimately, to ignore repeatedly is to invite disaster.  It ensure that problems are not brought to light, that loyalty is not fostered and in the end the thing that the ignorers hope to accomplish will not come to pass.  It's simply moving the issues of the day further down the road to a more inconvenient and critical time.  It's using power and authority to override the opinions and concerns of others not from any sense of knowledge or supporting evidence but because it's inconvenient or challenging or simply not to be dealt with at this point.  More often that not, those that ignore reveal more about themselves and their weaknesses than they do about about the strength of that which they propose instead.

Ignorance may be bliss.  Ignoring is foolish.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Nanowrimo 2012

It's that time of year again:

Nanowrimo, for those that don't remember or aren't in the loop, is the annual Writing Exercise organized by the Office of Letter and Lights, a fine non-profit organization designed to get people writing.  It's a challenge in which thousands of people all across the country (and probably beyond as well) spend a month writing a 50,000 word novel.  It sounds like a lot - but it's an average of 1,667 words per day.

Okay, that still sounds like a lot.

This is my second year of participation.

Those who are sensible might ask the question why I'm doing this.  I did it last year of course, but didn't make it to the end.  That's okay - I tried, of course and even if I failed to complete the task I learned a great deal about writing and output  (biggest thing:  have a clear idea what you're writing about).

Part of the reason I'm doing this is that I'm at that point.  Having just put my second book to bed (literally yesterday) it's time to move on to the next thing.  Moss not growing, rolling stone, that sort of thing.

Another part of the reason I am doing this is that I want to try and reduce my cycle time. I went from one year to 4 months in creation.  Can I drop it more?  (Yes, I fully understand that editing is just as big a job as writing.  But it's a different kind of big job.  You're revising, not creating).

The last part of the reason I'm doing it is the same reason I'm doing other things this year:  because I want to push myself.

I've written about it before but it bears repeating:  many of the limitations in my own life are there because I put them there.  To simply surrender, to say "Nope, can't do that" is to let that part of my brain win that seems to revel in the fact of what it can't do.  To do this - to finish - is another step along the path of teaching myself exactly who is in charge and what I am capable of.  We will never find the limits of our lives and capabilities unless we keep pushing right up to the edge of them and discovering what they are - for me, I'm continually finding they are always much greater than what I thought them to be.

So come, Nanowrimo.  Let us test ourselves and see if my will to write is greater than my will to tell myself I can't.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Completed II

Book #2:  Published.

It happened over the weekend with not nearly the amount of sweat - or tears -  at the end as last time.  It took me some few hours to figure out the conversion to Kindle instead of the five days of last time.  I learned another valuable lesson as well:  wait until everything (Amazon, CreateSpace, and Kindle) is available before announcing they're available.

I'm happy about the book. It's not as long as my first one, but then again it's not meant to the same as the first one.  It's meant to answer a simple question - well, a question anyway, not so sure about the simple -  rather than propose a way of doing things. 

The interesting thing to me is how much less time this took than the first go around.  I believe the first manuscript was well over a year in writing and publishing.  This time is was 4 months or less.  The idea was again generated by a blog post - once again pointing out that this entire process of blogging has impacted my life in more ways than just letting me write. This blog has not only provided me with a sort of ongoing journal and way to communicate with my family and friends (especially since the move), it has become a mechanism for learning to regularly write and generating ideas that become other things.

A pleasant surprise was simply the fact that this was a bit easier to write this time. Things flowed faster.  The writing was a little better.  The editing process was especially a better, as I learned from last time where my typical errors occur (quotation mark, thy name is evil).  All in all, a good experience all around.

Like the first book, do I expect to make money on it?  Again, probably not.  I'm covering costs at this point, which is more than I can say for many other hobbies and projects I've undertaken in the past.  I'll make a little bit I'm sure - enough to buy myself one of those signposts of accomplishment I keep reminding others about.

The next book has to come, of course - now I'm hooked.  Fortunately, November is National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), the national exercise in writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  I've got my characters, my title and my plot.  I need only set digital ink to paper.

It's good to celebrate achievements.  But it's just as good to be on to the next one.