Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday

Welcome to Black Friday - at least Black Friday the way I do them.

I am sitting ensconced in my bedroom in the chair beneath the reading light.  The cup of coffee that is not quite warm enough is next to me, but I am a little bit too lazy to get up and warm it.  Looking to my right I can see a straight shot out the window into the trees that grace our neighbor's backyards.  The trees - at least the ones that are likely to turn - have started to do so as all of them sway back and forth in a wind that just looks miserably cold from the inside.

The sky is dark with clouds, brought along with the wind that moves the trees.  Occasionally a smidgeon of blue sky peeks through but is covered over by clouds of variegated shades of gray and white.  The Sun is doing the dance it loves to do in such weather: fading in and out like a dimming light bulb, sometimes very faint and then suddenly bursting into full shining.

The house is quiet now:  Na Clann are all still abed due to being out late last night catching deals with The Ravishing Mrs. TB, who herself is looking out for round two.  Syrah the Mighty is lying beside me now, perhaps hoping that either a walk or the off chance of food is in her immediate future.

There are things to be done over this holiday of course:  a garage to be organized, walls to be patched, even  some planning for next year to be done.  Yet strangely I cannot shake myself from here and now of the silence inside and the dancing trees outside with leaves fluttering in the wind like flags.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

George Washington's 1789

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Cleaning A Hard Drive

This morning, upon having the luxury of a vacation and not going to work, I took the opportunity to organize my hard drive.

This is a task that I have sadly been lacking in.  My computer is giving me those handy shout-outs that say "Hey, you need more memory!" - and yet I have never found the time to sit down and actually go through the lengthy process of actually cleaning up the hard drive.

Why?  Because I am a pack-rat of my own materials, and going "electronic" solved absolutely nothing in that regard.  Whatever I create on the computer, I tend to keep - in fact, I think we still have old 3.5 inch disks from our Apple with things I created 20 years ago because I have this crazy idea that somehow, somewhere, they might be useful to me.

But the time came.  And the time was available.  So data transferring we went.

I still continue to get rid of very little, of course - instead, it all gets transferred on to other memory sticks, where it will at least take up less space until (once again) the technology changes and I am left with sticks of documents that I can no longer access.  And going through the actual process is a great deal like reading a diary of sorts:  as I organized and moved and transferred, I can see the various trains of thought I was following, the projects I was trying to set into place, the ideas that were set up on electronic paper yet never seemed to move beyond a certain stage.

They are all transferred now, the "current materials" on my hard drive, the other materials safely archived for a day which may never come - in a way, a reflection of so much the activity that fills our own lives, where that which was at one moment important loses criticality and eventually is transferred to the back of our memory or to our garage or closet on the off chance that someday it may become critical, although too often in our head we already know that it will never be.

It is just that we cannot bear to let go of it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Being Heihachi

One of the great aspects of Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa is the way that he brought not just seven samurai together but seven different types.  Western culture often lumps all into a single type called "samurai" but Kurosawa brings together seven men who are samurai as a group but are different as individuals:  the student, the wise leader, the deadly swordsman, the brash outsider, the competent lieutenant, the battle friend, and the cheerful warrior.

When watching the movie, one wants to be the great ones:  Shimada Kambei, the wise leader, or even Kyuzo, the deadly swordsman who lives only for his art. These are the two that perhaps most completely demonstrate what the Western idea of a samurai is:  Tactical.  Learned.  Deadly.  Admired.

And then one realizes that one is not- and will never be.  One realizes, in fact, that one is Heihachi.

Heihachi is not as skillful a warrior as Kyuzo and not experienced as Shimada - in fact, of the 6 samurai that are not students, he is probably the least impressive for weapons skills.  When we first meet him, he is chopping wood to pay for his food.  A friendly fellow, he takes the time to build relationships with the villagers and among the samurai.  And he is the first killed after a raid, trying to rescue his friend.

But for all of this Heihachi is not any less than any other of the samurai.  He is not considered less - in fact, at his funeral Kambei notes how they will miss his cheerful spirit.  He fills a critical role in the interactions of the group, even as he seems to be one of the least impressive of the warriors.

Just because we cannot always be what we think we want does not mean that we do not bring value.  Sometimes that value is being Heihachi.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Our Weather

In the interests of something completely different, I thought I would talk about the weather we have had here this past week.  Because it has been remarkable to my way of thinking.

About a week and a half ago we were enjoying what I suppose we have come to see as fall weather:  mid-60's during the day, high 40's at night.  On Sunday night a week ago the "Polar Vortex" roared through  - where we are, there is nothing between us and Canada except flat.  Temperatures plunged to the high 20's at night and low 40's during the day.  We held that weather pattern until Wednesday, when the temperature started to climb but not a great deal - we only had a 15 degree variation one day between morning and daily high.

By Friday the weather had turned nicer, but with clouds.  We had sprinkles all day.  By Saturday it was a full on rainstorm which extended through the night - by Sunday morning we had received 3.84 inches of rain.  And then yesterday the sun burst out in glorious view with a high of 75.

A 50 degree swing in weather conditions within a week.  We have never had such interesting weather since we moved here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

November Moon

The sliver moon-set
dances low across the sky
as cloud tendrils sail.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Challenge, Work, Reward III

The second part of the concept is work.

Work is in theory the easy part - after all, I should have already defined what the challenges are.  It is just a matter of doing, right?

Well sort of.  It is not just a matter of doing - it is a matter of doing the right things that lead to actual progress.

This is often a challenge for me.  I can spend a great deal of time doing - in fact, my days are almost completely filled with doing, yet most of this doing leads to nowhere.  Yes, part of it is due to the fact that it is not based on challenges and goals but rather on tasks which are never ending and not completed, but some of it is also based on the fact that the work is not directed towards the achievement of the challenge.

Once the challenge has been defined - let us say, for example, cheese-making as part of my concept of Ichiryo Gusoku - what is the work required for making cheese?  Pretty easy actually - make cheese.  But there are at least some steps involved there:  What kind of cheese?  Do I have what I need - not just the milk but any other supplies.  And how much time will the cheese take (cheese is not time consuming but it is time intensive in that certain things must be done at certain times) and have I the time to do this?  Once that is defined and agreed to then the work because directed and purposeful.

Directed work will always be productive.  Undirected work will ultimately never produce what is desired.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Challenge, Work, Reward II

Challenge (noun):  A difficult task or problem; something that is difficult to do.

So this, as I was discussing yesterday, is the element that seems to missing from so much of my life at this moment.  In reviewing the definition, a couple of things immediately leap out at me:

1)  A difficult task or problem - that is not just enough.  Every day is filled with difficult tasks and problems.  The difference is that it has to be a difficult task or problem that is something that I care about and is motivational to me.  Continually performing the difficult without it being something that matters to you merely wears you down.  It may build up any number of capacities - strength, resistance, even skills - but it will wear away at the spirit.

2)  A task or problem - it has to be something concrete to solve, do, or achieve.  Ethereal concepts or things which are not something which can be acted on become frustrating in the extreme because there is nothing which can be acted upon to produce a result.

 Part of this, I suppose, is handled by how one defines things.  Am I defining things in the context of a challenge?  Or am I merely defining things as something that has to be done?  More fundamentally, have I gone through the list of things before me and defined them in terms of a challenge?  And if they are not definable as such, have I redefined them?

Have I even considered how I define the challenges that I care about for my own life?

The challenges are there.  Perhaps the problem lies not so much in them as it does in me to recognize and then define them as such.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Challenges, Work, Reward

I had an epiphany last week at work.

It was Friday and I was enmeshed in preparation for the upcoming quarterly meeting which I have been responsible for for the last 5 years.  As I was laying all the slides in order and preparing for the updated portion, I suddenly thought "This is no longer challenging".   And my mind went racing from there.

Work, I realized, was no longer a challenge.  Yes, there is still lots to do - but there is always lots to do.  It is just that in doing it, there is no longer any challenge to it.  There are no more meaningful mountains to climb, only a series of hills to navigate.

I sat and thought about this further.  What I realized is that this felt true of much of my life as well.  The challenge from most of the things that I do has left.  It is more of going through the motions of doing the things that I have done because I have done them, not because there is something more challenging about them.

As I have realized in times past, I excel at something like going to school.  It is a pretty simple process:  understand the challenge, do the work, get the reward (a good grade).  Transferred into my own real life it is the same thing:  understand the challenge (shoden certification, publish a book, play the harp, raise quail), do it, and get the reward (certificate achieved, book published, music played, quail in house).

And then what?

Work is notorious for this, I suppose:  without an adequate challenge and reward system no company will achieve great success (because who can keep generating high level enthusiasm for the challenge without the corresponding reward).  But I had never before grasped that this is one of the elements of my own personal life as well:  after having done a thing gotten the immediate reward and not seeing the next challenge from it, interest wanes.

Another item related to this:  the challenge and reward has to be almost completely within one's control and ability to achieve.  Grades are great for this, of course:  do the work and get the A.  And something like physical activity can be like this too - in Highland Athletics, my performance is a direct output of my effort put in.  But for some many other things - even such as work - the reward is determined by things outside of my control, thus lessening the ability to re-engage when I find out that the challenge has (once again) not resulted in the outcome that seemed to be promised.

What to do?  That's the real issue, is it not?  If I know that if I am not challenged I do not do my best and if I know that I need the challenge/work/reward system to do my best and if I know that I need to angle myself towards those rewards that are as much in my control as possible (so they can be achieved), how do I restructure my life to find them?

The first step - the specially big one - is to simply realize and admit that this is the case.  I need challenges.  I need them defined as such.  And if I cannot find them where I currently am, I need to look elsewhere.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Clouds and Enthusiasm

I think it is safe to say that I am trying to find my way of a cloud of depression again.

My enthusiasm for doing almost anything at this point has evaporated. Things that I previously enjoyed seem gray to me now, something that I have to work up to doing. The thought of doing almost anything I used to enjoy seems to be a burden now, something I really have to work up to do.

I wonder if it is simply an extension of the way my life seems to working through other things currently:  a long sense of endurance, of doing without the belief that anything will get any better, rather than a sense that I am improving or making progress in anything.  When one is doing something because one has to and there is no realization that anything is getting better or one is getting better at it, there seems to be a significant loss of enthusiasm.

It is not a question of recognizing the issue.  It is a question of what to do with the issue.

How does one generate enthusiasm for anything?  This seems to be the core question.  How does one take where one is, look to the land of where one wants to be, and then find the fuel to take one there?

It has to be something internal.  I get that.  Trying to rely on outside circumstances or outside people to get the drive you need to succeed in anything will never work.  It has to come from you to weather the times when circumstances are against you or people are non-supportive or non-responsive.

The question is, where does one find it?

Thursday, November 13, 2014


I woke up this morning to my body finally having its way with me.

Oh, I know it has been coming. I have received hints of this for three days running.  The tiredness of course, but I always seem to be tired.  The lack of interest and energy in doing anything but again, that has become something of a course du jour of late.  But last night I just had enough go to eat dinner and do the dishes before I went to bed.  That should have been the sign.

And so it was.  I woke up this morning, made a go of praying, and then realized that my body was simply done for the day.  I officially called in sick.

On the one hand it is a little surprising to me - after all, I think this is the first sick day I may have taken in two or three years.  My health is generally pretty good, a blessing I probably do not appreciate as much as I should.

The part that concerned me a little bit as I considered it further (from the warm Fortress of Solitude that was my bed) is that this is way I seem to feel all the time now:  Run down.  Tired.  Exhausted.  If I try to combat this alone with more sleep and better eating it never really seems to do the trick.  Why?  Because these do not seem to cut into the major areas that this is arising from.

I am grasping at straws at this moment, my thoughts half formed.  The sickness is the logic outcome of exhaustion and some level of poor nutrition, that I understand.  But (putting my investigation hat on)  what is the root cause of this?  Why am I feeling this way all the time?

Questions to ponder, I suppose.  For now, it will be a retreat to a chair with a large cup of tea and a book to sit and recover.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Winter Comes

Winter is here.

It arrived yesterday, blowing down through the Plains as the advance runner of a mass of cold air.  At 0500 it was 60 F and not windy; 1 hour later the temperature was steady dropping and the wind was up.   It continued to drop all day until, this morning, it is almost 50 degrees colder than it was on Saturday during the day. 36 F now, and 32 F tomorrow night.  30 F low on Sunday with highs in the 50s at best.

And so the wind down happened this weekend.  Rabbits and quail were safely relocated over the weekend to their winter quarters in the garage.  Outside furniture and BBQ were moved inside as well so the back porch is empty except for the lone dog igloo that Syrah the Mighty disdains to use but I keep in case it gets so bad she decides she needs shelter.

The desultory winter garden was planted as well, onions and garlic this year.  I have to seriously rethink my garden and wanted to make a fresh start of it in the spring.  The okra plants are there with the last little remaining okra as is the jalapeno pepper plant with its bounty; I suspect they will all be gone and withering by Friday.

The heater is ready to be fired up.  Larger quantities of coffee are being generated in the morning.  Running in the morning is prepared with heavy clothing to go out in.  And the wardrobe has completely changed to prepare for the inevitable fact that the heater cannot keep up at work.

Winter is here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Someone Else

"If you've signed up to be approved by, selected by, promoted by or otherwise chosen by someone who's not going to respond to your efforts, it's not a smart choice." - Seth Godin

When i read this comment yesterday I was almost speechless from the profound nature of it.  It was in the middle of what rapidly seems to be becoming a typical day for me:  a steady flow of people all with questions or needs, the hint that the day's activities are not going nearly as cleanly to plan as has been expected, and the hovering over my head of the fact that I am coming to realize that the instability I am feeling at work is not going to result in any sort of advancement not matter how much effort I put into it.  

And then, this.

Ironically this is the thing that much of the American business model (maybe the global business model - who knows?) is built on: the idea that we put our efforts out in hopes that someone is going to recognize them and reward them.  Turns out we - or at least I - have a tendency to do this in my personal relationships as well:  make myself dependent on what others will think or do in order to make myself feel better or move the relationship forward.  I even have a tendency to do this in my activities, taking the action and hoping that someone will recognize it and reward it then.

But to Godin's point, it is not a smart choice.  Said more succinctly, it is a stupid choice?

Why?  Not because it makes you dependent on another person (I should think that is obvious) but even more so that it keeps you laboring under a delusion: the delusion that some else is going to make you successful.  Your success - in anything - becomes not an output of your own effort and ability and time but rather the output of someone noticing, approving, selecting, promoting and choosing you.  If they do not - well, that is unfortunate, but please continue to work as hard as you have been and perhaps beg a little more - and someone may notice you then.

The solution?  Approve, select, promote and choose yourself.  Easy to write, hard to do.  But if I am truly honest, is it any more difficult than feeling the way I some often do - run down, ignored, trapped in my inability to get anyone in a position to make an impact to notice me.

Perhaps better if I go make my impact - and my promotion or choosing - myself.

Monday, November 10, 2014

End of Season

So the Highland Games season officially ended for me on Saturday.  Overall I was happy with my results -afte.r an abysmal no height in Weight Above Bar (Came in at 9' and missed, should have come in 8') I went on to get three Personal Records:  Braemar Stone (20'7"), Heavy Weight for Distance (18'4"), and Light Hammer (51' 5.5").  Out of seven total events, that is not too bad.

I ended the year by exceeding all nine event Personal Records that I started with in 2014 - in some cases, more than once.  Just for fun I looked back at 2011:  For example, in 2011 at my first games my Heavy Weight for Distance was 9'5", my Light Hammer was 41' 10", and my Weight Above Bar was 8' (I hit 10' this year).  That reaches one of my goals for the year and makes me feel like - overall - I am making progress in this sport.

It also makes me feel surprisingly good about myself in the sense that I can legitimately claim the title of "Athlete".  This is not something that I had anticipated happening at my age - at all, actually.  But here I am, actually doing a sport and even making progress in it.  I am realistic in the assessment that I will probably never be truly competitive in the sport, but since this has never been a barrier for me to do anything else, there is not reason that I should start no.

I have had a lot of side benefits as well:  meeting a lot of really great people whom I now count as my friends, getting to go all over the State to compete (goal for next year is to try one game outside of this State), and overall improving my health:  what's not to like about that?

What next?  Off season, of course.

Which means training for next season starts today.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Baxter's Folly

Foolish Baxter thought:
"Kill the man, kill the spirit":
but, Incandescence.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Career Mire

I'm fighting the middle age career blues again.

It reached its height yesterday when, in seeing a document, I realized that I am done.  My ability to go forward seems pretty much to have come to a halt.  Bottom line:  it appears that my current position - the title I have held for 12 years - is the only one I will ever have.

Disappointing?  Sure.  To suddenly realize that your ability to move forward in the thing that eats 45+ hours of your week is limited to cost of living increases for the rest of career is depressing.  The fact that you will spend the rest of your career bringing other people into systems, training them up, and then having them both command you and take the credit for the work you execute creates no incentive to really try harder.

I calculated again last night.  I have 16.5 years into this industry.  Almost too late - in fact maybe too late - to make a career change, which I have sort of already acknowledged internally.  That said, the fact that my ability to do anything else other than what I am makes me crumble in despair.

Is this it?  Surrender to the commute to a place (could be any place, at this point) that will keep me where I am for the next 20 to 25 years with essentially no hope?

How disappointing that the weather outside - cold, wet windy - matches the issues within my own soul.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Again II

Okay, so I am feeling slightly better today.  Sleep, as I have noted in the past, helps a lot.  So does Iaijutsu for the evening.

Not that anything wildly changed yesterday.  Getting to work was exactly the way the way that the morning felt:  almost from the time I walked in the door I found myself the center of need:  documents to sign, opinions to be given, meetings to go to, things to review.  All urgent, all needing to be done now, all with the sense of "I am here for no other reason than to serve you" splattered across the day.

It just leads one to walk with downcast shoulders and eyes.  Yes, I allowed myself to get pulled in to a belief that things were going to be different. But reality came screaming back at me with a vengeance.

This is the point at which I do not know what else to do.

The wise point, I assume, is to "change my attitude".  That is what I should do, I suppose. Change my latitude.  Make my life about "my decision", not about circumstances.

I should, I suppose. So why do I feel like this whole thing is an exercise in pointlessness?

Tuesday, November 04, 2014


That crushing moment when you realize you have been disappointed.  Again.

You let yourself wander into this.  You allowed yourself to believe - again - that this time things would be different.  There would be changes.  Implied promises would be kept.

And you acted on those beliefs.  You turned your efforts as if the thing was already done.

And patiently waited.  For nothing to happen.

And then comes the moment, the moment when you realize that you have allowed yourself to believe one more time.  Allowed yourself to pretend that this time things would work out.  No-one else seems surprised by this or to question this.

And so you shrug, lift your shoulders and promise yourself that you will not fail prey to your wishful beliefs again.

Until the next time it happens...

Monday, November 03, 2014

On Rocky and Dying

On this day my friend Rocky lies dying in a hospital.

The incongruity of this struck me last night as I reviewed the various websites last night and found that a young woman in Oregon, whose picture I had happened to see two weeks ago on a People magazine, had decided to end her life under Oregon's Suicide Law.

I want to be careful as I write this:  I have never had to face a death sentence as cancer.  I have never had to evaluate whether living longer is worth the pain.  I can discuss the decision on moral grounds only but that is not my aim today.  The point of this consideration is not a condemnation; rather it is an observation.

My friend Rocky found out that he had a relapse of cancer in 2012.  He chose to fight - and he chose to share his struggle.  For almost 2 years he has written about his ongoing struggle.  He has been remarkable honest in his struggles and reflections - sometimes painfully so.  Rocky is the real deal:  a man facing death in the face and telling all what he sees there.

What has come out of it is a series of writings which has helped a lot of people, including myself.  Reflections on living and dying.  Reflections on how it is important to spend your time wisely now on things that matter with people that you care about because (really) we do not know how much time we have.  The gift of seeing marriage as it was actually meant to function, when that "until death do we part" becomes a reality.  And for me, even a little advice on how be better at Highland Games.

Ultimately, what Rocky has done is to take his situation and make it a teaching experience.  The impact of his life will be far beyond what his uncooperative body had become.  It is ingrained on the hearts and in the characters of all that have read him and know him.   Rocky will continue to live - not as a internet picture with a catchy phrase to be lost on Instagram in a month but as a real example of how to live even in the process of dying.

There will be no internet extravaganza for Rocky this week.  But there will be the quiet morning of those whose lives he has touched - and the determination to take to what he has given us with his dying and carry it forward.