Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye Bella the Beautiful

Bella the Beautiful is gone

She slipped away last night when all of us had gone to sleep.  The Ravishing Miss TB came out early this morning, as she has been all this week, but did not hear her biting at the cage for attention as she does every morning.  She was about 9 years old (rabbits typically life 7-10).

She was a 4-H experiment, something Nighean Gheal decided she wanted to try.  We got her as a purebred with papers, only to find out she was a very quirky and opinionated rabbit indeed.  She did not like to be held or pet when we first got her - in fact, she would lunge.  It was only with years of working with her that she came to accept affection, but never being picked up.  Even near the end, she still freaked out whenever someone would try to get her.

She accepted you on her terms:  when she was ready she would come over to be loved on.  When released from her cage, she would tear around the house exploring.  She might come up and hop on your lap in the chair when she was ready and perhaps even accept some attention from  you, but she would be away in the blink of an eye if she thought you were trying to corral her.

She was atypical in that she did not like carrots (not all rabbits do, of course) but rather enjoyed things such as apples and Cheerios and (recently discovered) craisins.  It became part of my morning routine:  first thing, of all the animals to be fed, was Bella, who would be gnawing on the the cage bars for breakfast to show up.  She anxiously await the filling of the bowl - the food and the hay was of less concern than when the Cheerios or other snacks were going to show up.

One memory I have of her is when we loaded her up in her cage in the back of the van for the move to New Home.  The drive was about 28 hours and I was freaking out that it had taken so long and she would be stressed or tired or hungry.   I pulled into the driveway, almost in tears that it had taken so long and worried sick that she would be stressed or sick.  I opened the hatch door and there she sat, looking like for all the world as if nothing bad happened at all and as if to say "Are we there yet?"

Another memory is the day that Kiki the parakeet got out of her cage and somehow managed to slip through the bars into Bella's.  The Ravishing Miss TB came out to where the cages were because of a racket only to find a fluff of feathers and Bella resolutely defending her territory against the invader.  Kiki was removed almost none the worst for wear (except missing feathers), and Bella's personal space was maintained.

I hope that whatever pain she had was removed (she beat the veterenarian's prediction of death by almost 3 years) and that she is running free, hopefully with Snowball and the other pets of my acquaintance, over the fields of Heaven where the boundaries are gone and the Cheerios are free for the taking.

Goodbye Bella.  Thanks for sharing our life.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

On The Benefits of A Quiet Vacation

Oddly enough, this has been one of the more relaxing "vacations" I have had of late.

It has made me consider a little more deeply the whole point of "taking time off from work".

In  lot of ways this was the perfect time away.  No stress.  A short list of things I wanted to accomplish (most of which are done) as well as plenty of time for reading, thinking, and even a little bit of enjoyment related to "silly" things like watching movies.

It was a time of recharge, of rest, of quiet contemplation about what I will need to accomplish in the next year (because let us not kid ourselves, shall we?  Next year is going to be incredibly busy indeed).   It was (and still is, for a few more days) the perfect idea of what a vacation should be.

The magical part.  I did not have to go anywhere.  Really spent no money on the execution of it.  No long hours in cars or on planes, no packing and unpacking and repacking.  No rushing from one place to another to accomplish this and then that and then those things over there.

This has become a bit of a practice for me, this end of the year time away without going anywhere - so much so, I think I will plan on expanding it into the future (one advantage of my current employment is that I have enough time available to allow for such things).

Why?  Because every great advance will not move forward and be sustained without the thought time and energy building required to make it possible.

And I have a lot of advances I intend to make.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On Things I Need To Change Before Moving On

As part of my planning for next year, I am starting to put a hard cap on how long I want to stay where I currently am - not so much from a "I need to get out" thought (although I do) as much as from a "I have a list of things to accomplish here before I go here" thought.  They are not projects that need to be finished so much as they are things in me that need to be corrected such that when I move to the next job I am not dragging along old bad habits:

1)  Leadership:  I need to practice acting more like an actual leader - and not the sort of image that my work (and much of industry) seems to value.  I know the picture I have in mind.  I just need to implement it.

2)  Proactivity:  I need to  practice and implement proactivity in my work - not waiting for things to happen but making them happen whether or not there is a direct benefit or reward tied to them.

3) Execution:  I need to gain skill at executing on plans once made and seeing them through to their conclusion.

4)  Courage:  I need to find my courage, especially in standing up to people (Bullies?  Can we use the word bullies?)  who do not particularly care to hear bad news or seek to have attention paid to their "needs"  right away.

5)  Improvement:  I need to become better at improving things - systems, processes - in such a way that they save time or money (or both).

Arguably none of these are earth shattering discoveries for those who know me.  Certain they are all (in one way or form) reflected in my own personal life, which would benefit from fixing these problems as well.  But the fact remains that these are themes in my work life, themes that I have dragging around with me for years, never dealing with theme but bringing them along with me as I traveled from job to job (and career to career, in some cases).

I want the next position I take to be a good one.  I want it to be a step up in terms of responsibility, title, and salary.  But in order to get there I will need to ensure that the person who gets that job is not the same person that is currently in this one.

Monday, December 28, 2015

On Promotions

So two weeks ago I was sitting around, grumbling about the upcoming review cycle and how long it had been since I had a promotion and how "deserving" I was of one and then I began thinking a bit about the promotions I have had since in the industry.  It will be something like 18 years in January.

I counted.  Discounting department changes, there were only 2.5.  In 18 years, there were only 2.5.

Wait a darn minute, I thought to myself.  That cannot possibly be right.  Surely there have been more.

So I started doing the count.  Associate I to Associate II, when I first entered.  Different Department Associate to Manager in 2001.  After The Firm and reentering the industry, I came in as an Associate Manager but got "promoted" back to Manager as part of a larger departmental move.

That is it.  2.5 times.  Funny how your memory plays tricks on you.

Oh, that does not mean I did not feel that I was not entitled to them.  No, not at all.  It does not mean that I have not been constantly looking for and applying to jobs which are higher (in my industry, this is the standing joke for how one moves up in a company).  But what it does mean is that, in practice, is that for whatever reason I am not seen in that role or position.

This made me think even more deeply about things then.  Why am I not moving forward?  What is preventing me?  I can raise my fist at bad corporate policies and uncooperative bosses but the reality - as demonstrated by actual outcomes - is that I am not nearly the employee I think I am.

In my experience, people - especially people above you in the corporate food chain  - are not terribly willing to stick their necks out for things like promotions unless others have already indicated they will support it  or you are simply doing such a great job that they feel they have to do something or else they will lose you (which kind of ties back into the other item).    Perhaps the more relevant question is this:  why am I not seen that way?  Figure that out, I trow, and the other will fall into place.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

On An Unexpected Purchase

I made an accidental purchase which got me thinking.

Oh, it was not accidental in that sense of the word.  I knew what I was purchasing.  It was just that I was purchasing something else other than what I thought.  Nothing less exciting than opening the package and realizing it is something of which you already had two more of which you cannot really use.

But it did get me thinking a great deal about money and investment and time and focus.

I have a problem with goal setting and goal execution.  Yes, I am a (little) bit better at it than I was in the past, but essentially I am still in two phases: one in which I still think I have all the time in the world, and the other in which I think that I can still bounce back relatively quickly from an error in judgment.

Sadly, neither of these is true anymore.  Time and resources are no longer on my side.

Which is what makes this purchase incident burn so badly.  Yes, it is a fairly minor incident - and I am going to learn from this incident if nothing.  Yes, it involved a small amount of money, relatively minor in the course of a given week.

But the money is gone.  And I have something I cannot use, something which could have been something else that I could use.

It has made me go back and look at the list I have of "Everything I Would Like" and "Goals for the Year".  The list of things I "have" to have, versus the list I should be thinking of, the list of things I need.  The lists are a little more different than I would care to admit.

As I was thinking on this, a couple of quotes from Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder) came to mind from his work De Agricultura (On Agriculture):

"If any thing is needed for the coming year, it should be bought; every thing which is not needed should be sold."

"The master should have the selling habit, not the buying habit."

Plans and goals have implications.  It was time I started implementing these as if I actually believed in them.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

The same wish as last year - probably every year - but no less heartfelt for that:

"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 Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign to you:  You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager.

      And suddenly there 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 towards men!"  - Luke 2:  10-14

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:  and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Price of Peace." - Isaiah 9:6

Nollick ghennal erriu! (Merry Christmas!)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On Changing Churches

So we have made the decision to change churches.

On the whole this not something we do a great deal.  I take the concept of being a member of church very seriously and try not to change for the sake of boredom or not liking the particular flavor of the sermon for the month.

Over our married lives, we have been members of the Lutheran church (two, both left due to relocation), nondenominational churches (two, one left to a split and one left due to relocation) and our current church, another Lutheran one.  As you may note, I prefer church doctrine.

But we have reached the point that I cannot - in all good conscience - continue on with or current path.

What finally pushed us over the top?  Like most things, a combination:  on the one hand, coming from a church where sermons were well reasoned and scripturally based to one where they had much more of a surface feel - a "homily" if you will, something I have never been very fond of.  I like well thought out, challenging sermons, not five points with a couple of catch phrases.

The other thing?  The bane of all churches, the building program.

Suffice it to simply say this: for a period of time - months - the point of all of the sermons became the expansion program, how this needed to happen and how this was planning for the future of the church.  Sermon after sermon.  Nothing about the gospel.  Nothing about challenging us about our walk in Christ.  Only about the program.

And suddenly, I was done.

If you want to say that this was God leading us to this, I do not know that I can disagree with you:  this is the church that The Ravishing Mrs. TB works at which was originally an occasional child care job which turned into a part-time bookkeeper job which turned into us attending church there on a semi-frequent basis to this, where a great deal of the Pastoral Staff knows my name because of my wife and the two older Clann have steady childcare jobs and babysit outside of the church as well.

It is not something that I choose to do lightly.  But it is something which matters a great deal.  And if it matters a great deal - and the ultimate intent is that God be glorified by it - then it is something that needs to happen.

I value excellence in all parts of my life.  My church membership should be no less.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The End of A Dream

The problem with being a dreamer, of course, is that all dreams end.

We know this.  Deep in the heart of the place where fantasies dwell in our minds, we know that most of the things we dream about are really not going to come to pass.  That all dreams have an end, usually the one we are not hoping for.

We turn our heads from this reality.  We simple refuse to think that such a thing can or will come to pass.  The pastels grow more intense as we paint them over the encroaching dawn of reality, the fibers of the dreams pulling tighter and tighter until they are straining with stress of keeping the whole thing knit together.

And then, in a single moment, the air is suddenly let out and it collapses.

We fight it.  We try to find ways to keep the envelope expanded and alive, the colors as bright as they ever were.  But as it collapses it thins out as well, until we are pushing nothing but our hands into the air trying to keep nothing suspended above our heads.

I cannot tell you how many times this exact scenario has played out in my life - 100?  More?  The circumstances are always different; the result is always the same.  I stand in the emerging dawn of another day of reality with nothing but the faintest wisps of my dreams fading away like a mist.

I sigh.  Sometimes I weep.  Always there comes the process of mourning the dream, of letting yet another one that never had the chance of coming true fade into memory.

And then, like a fool, I start looking for the next dream.  Because someday, my mind tells me, one will finally come true.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Failure to Address The Human Heart

After any tragedy the somehow involves someone else, be it personal - the death of a loved one due to a drunk driver or horrible sexual abuse - or corporate - the massacre in San Bernadino not too far distant - the cry always comes up for more laws.  "We need laws to outlaw the things that made this possible"  is the chant that is always brought up.  "We need to prevent this horror from happening again and making more things illegal is the only way to do it."

The point is correct.  We do need to prevent these horrors from happening again.  Unfortunately, making things illegal will never really do it.  It misses the mark completely.

Oh, it might accomplish something.  Perhaps something will be prevented - although laws against alcohol for minors has been entirely successful and laws to keep weapons out of hands of criminals have equally cut down on the crime rate.  But the change will be slight at least.

What is needed is a change of the human heart.

The human heart - or more familiarly for the religious, the soul - drives all our decisions.  It makes evaluations about what is good and bad, what is acceptable and non-acceptable.  It restrains us when we are violating the bounds of what we consider ethical and hounds us when we are not doing as we should.  It is the core from which all of our actions spring.

Yet strangely enough, we seem to spend less and less time as a society or even a civilization working on the human heart.

We (and by we, I mean the general society) seek to create a non-judgmental, all-encompassing supportive society - but are constantly surprised when "all inclusive" turns out to mean that anyone can view their behavior as acceptable.  We struggle back to redefine - no, not every behavior, just those that do not hurt people - but then find that without creating clear definitions inside the human heart - "redeeming it", as at least Christianity would have it - results in "my way" being the most important thing in anyone's life.  We have raised the ego to its greatest height - my lusts must be slaked, my pains must be dulled, my hungers must be filled.

Without acknowledging the importance of the human heart and working to change that, we ultimately change nothing.  And so the horrors happen.

I am not one for predictions but I predict this one thing at least: until society decides they want to stop this foolishness of believing they can they can legislate the human heart (as opposed to legislating morality)  and turn their attention to the true root of the horrors that happen, the horrors will continue to happen. No matter how many laws are passed.

"The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked:  who can know it?"  - Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Way Versus An Excuse

I have a lot of friends I have met through Throwing and Iai and Lifting and just plain living their lives in a contrary way (Pioneer Preppy, Kymber and Jam) to not post this:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hoping Things Do Not Fall Apart

I am haunted by the end of the world.

You can ask The Ravishing Mrs. TB.  I have been this way for years.  Constantly seeing the end of things, constantly worried that next year is the end of things.

And then I started believing that it really might be.

You can mock me of course, say that I am worried about things that are either non-extant or are simply overreactions to things that have always been present.  But I am looking at my own future - and quite frankly, it is rather bleak.

If I am fortunate - very, very fortunate - I will be able to retire in the career field that I am currently in, maybe with even a retirement of sorts.  I say fortunate - I am in the throes of the danger time for employees, that late forties/early fifties where the experience is expensive and not as valued as it could be.

I am worried about an economy, an economy which I simply no longer understand, an economy seemingly built on debt which would crush any family or business but somehow just continues to get pushed down the road with no resolution.  An economy in which less and less is made yet somehow we are all better off for it, an economy where less and less is grown yet we are assured that food will always be plentiful.

This uncertainty has made us take a harder look at lives for the first time in a long time.  We are maybe not where we need to be financially but we have a plan; we are not where we need to be to supplement our income and sustainability but I have a plan (of sorts).    Give me five years at the current level of engagement and awareness and we will be in a much different place personally.

My fear is that we simply no longer have five years.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Speed of Travel and Civilization

Over the past few months I have been reading histories of travels:  Alexander's March across the Persian Empire, the back and forth wars of his Successors, the Siege of Vienna in 1683 by the Turks, the events leading up to the First Afghan War in 1841.

What comes across in all of this history is the amount of time it took to get from one place to another.

Alexander's troops marched everywhere they went -in some cases they were gone from their homes 11 years, almost always marching east until they turned back.  The Turks had to move their armies from Constantinople and the heartland to Eastern Europe and thence to Austria-Hungary; the amount of time it took to move them played into the available time they had to invade - and from the European Allies point of view, the amount of time it took King Jan Sobieski to march his army from Poland to Vienna.  And in the years leading up to the First Afghan War the travel the information gatherers of the East India Company made to gather information and then to return the information to the headquarters in Calcutta, where it was then transmitted by ship back to England and thence to the Board and the Government.

Distance and time.  Always distance and time.

We take this for granted of course.  It is a small thing for me to climb on a plane and in four hours fly the 1900 miles back to Old Home - or even to drive it in 27 hours if needed.  In 8 hours I can be in Europe, in 16 hours I can be in Asia.  Distances that took months and possibly even years to travel are now done in the relative blink of a day.

We take this for granted - and so we assume that it will always be this way, that it will take little to no time to go distances.  Governments and economies assume this as well, that goods and services and even weapons and enforcement can be transferred easily and quickly.

But what if this were to go away?  What if the nature of the movement of people and things were to reduced to what it was a little over a hundred years ago (not all that long in the scope of civilization).

4 miles an hours was considered a good pace for a healthy man; the Roman Army considered a day of 40 miles a hard one (based on the weight of not only the men but of the equipment they carried).

It is good to ponder the fact that much of what all believe they can do today is based on the speed of transport. It is also good to consider that, like most pieces of civilization that we have today, it is a fragile thing that if interrupted would quickly turn things awry.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

2016 Goals

My 2016 Goals have almost all not put themselves in place.

Many of them are simply an extension of ongoing things which I have put into place from previous years and a couple are some which are seemingly recurring holdovers from previous years.

Financial related goals hold a big part this year (given the current and potentially future economic climate, no real surprise there).  My language and Iai figure prominently as well.  Next year's book is included.  A number of physical goals, extending my endurance runs and highland athletics.

Career goals are fairly straightforward:  another certification and either a new position or a new job.  The certification is doable for sure, the position or job can only be worked towards.

A couple of God related goals, really in the area of finally nailing down membership in a church (we are sort of splitting our time between two) and involvement therein.  A dedicated push towards meditative quiet time as well.    For family, a family vacation - something we have not formally done in a long time.

Ichiryo Gusoku goals?  There are four:
- Second Career:  Practice Harp and make an income
- Garden:  Plant Mandarin Trees, Develop container and Strip Gardening, Grain Gardening for Spring
- Cheese:  Identify and master four cheeses for production.
- Quail:  Hatch and raise quail

The gardening is in some ways the most difficult of the four.  I have never been a very successful garden.  Part of it is due to the fact that (except for many, many years ago before we moved) I had ideal sun and soil which have never been replicated since we moved.  I usually get a few things that grow well as I have figured them out over the years - garlic of course, and peppers, and black eyed peas - but never the variety or amount that I want to achieve.  My hope is by getting a smaller area I can lavish more time and attention on them.

If I can accomplish all of them - and they can all be accomplished - we will end the year in a far stronger and more reliant position which we started it it.  Which is very much what I am shooting for.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

On Publishing Another Book.

So I published another book this week.
I have come to the point that I never really know what to make of this moment.  On the one hand it is big accomplishment and a goal that I set for myself which is now completed; on the other hand I wonder how much difference it is really going to make.

I have sort of given up the idea that somehow I am going to be a professional writer.  This was sort of disappointing but the sales of my books (I have seven now) have convinced me that this is not really the sort of thing that is going to happen for me.  Yes, there is always that outside chance that I will become a new undiscovered writer, but my writing is such that I am not mainstream enough to ever really be discovered.

So pretty much I write for my own pleasure and in the hopes that I will do some good for someone.   Yes, occasionally someone will buy a book and I will get that sense of having accomplished something but it is few and far between at this point.  Trust me, I am hardly getting rich at this.

How many more will I write?  I have one more definitive book that I am working on, in a sense my magnum opus for this genre that I am writing in.  After that, a compilation of my shorter writings is doable (I have written enough to make a book of them).  And after that?  I am not sure. I will have done what I originally set out to do, which was to publish a book (and more than one).  I will have (probably) found out that I am not a writer, or at least not a self supporting one.  Lesson learned, goal achieved, and move on.

Will I continue to write?  Certainly. It is a good exercise in many many ways, not the least of which is pushing one's self to a daily discipline of writing and (hopefully) some self discovery along they way.

But that is what is is and will be - a voyage of self discovery and documentation.  The other dream, it seems, is gone.

But I can always now say that I am a published author.

Office Politics

I am just not cut out for office politics.
I am neck deep in them again, People jockeying for position, professional pride hurt, loss of face invoked.  People are stressed and when they become stressed they become sensitive and when they become sensitive,  comments and situations which could otherwise be resolved in a simple conversation or even a five word sentence become issues requiring the highest levels of corporate to resolve; simple projects become the equivalent of building the Hoover Dam.  All for perceived appearance or having to do a bit of extra work.

These things tire me.  They always have, but it seems even more now.  Having to nuance e-mails and messages, to carefully guard words and actions, to watch with whom one speaks and always be concerned that one is not the focal point of "finger pointing"  - and to have worry that one's employees are under the same pressure - is exhausting.

It says a lot about one's employer, of course, that this sort of situation is allowed to exist and grow.  How can anyone not see that this takes away from actual productive work?  People who feel constrained in their words and thoughts and are driven by the need to "play games" to get by will never be as effective or hard working as those who are not burdened by such activities?

I wish I knew.  I surely do not.  All I do know is that such activities are a lesson of sort - a lesson of what person and what company not to be.

Let us seek to be known for our work, not the level of politics and carefulness of our words and actions we must engage in.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Dream Dying Moment

That moment when a dream dies.

I do not always know the moment when a dream dies.  Sometimes they simply seem to disappear into the night, silently leaving the stage without taking a bow, dissolving into reality with scarcely a sigh.  But other times I know it completely.

It comes in a flash.  A comment.  A message.  A turn of phrase.  At each of this moments one can sense the turn in the road immediately after it has happened.  The door which you were hoping to go through suddenly shuts in your face, you see the off ramp which you thought you were going to take disappearing behind you in the rear view mirror.  Everything has changed in an instant.  The thing is simply not going forward as you had thought it would - in fact, more often than not the thing has completely stopped moving forward altogether.

I fight it, of course.  The keen sensation of completely having the dream die is so powerful in the moment that I simply try and turn my attention aside to something else.  I pretend the moment did not happen and that if I simply believe everything will go back to the way it was.  Or I instinctively know it and try to come up with even more heroic efforts to save the situation, even more extremes to go to to somehow make things right.  As if somehow any effort on my part is going to change something which is completely outside of my control.

But I am holding on to a wisp of moonlight, a thing of ash that flakes away in my hand even as I cling to it tighter and tighter.  No matter how much I try to freeze the moment or go back in time and undo the change it never works.  I am only left with that harsh realization of the moment when the dream died - and everyone knew it but me.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

A Slow Curtain Descent

I sit here as I write this, surrounded by all the comforts of 2000 years of technological advancements.

I have lights that burn more brightly than any torch with no danger of fire.  At the touch of a hand, I have hot water for showers and cold water for coffee - in both cases, the water is drinkable and I have no fear of disease.

In the background I hear the hum of a refrigerator that keeps foods which 100 years ago would have been considered exotic unspoiled and available.  A click and heat floods the house without any effort on my part.   I am surrounded by books, the knowledge of 3000 years at my personal disposal. And all of this sits in a hose made not of earth or logs or skin but bricks and wood, sturdy to shield me from wind and weather.

Even as I write this I have the reach of the entire globe at my fingertips, thanks to the Internet.  I can see far away lands in real time, speak with people on the other side of the planet.  The vistas of far off places and the knowledge of all known cultures is available for the taking.

I sit here, surround by all of this - and yet I am troubled by the fact that I slowly feel the curtain coming down.

You may laugh at me of course.  Call me a fool or a "doomer" or what have you.  But I find myself surrounded by a world where more knowledge and material wealth is available than ever and yet the hearts of people are more and more empty, more and more consumed with their own version of fulfillment with no interest or care about how things make their way to them.  A water tap is always there to be turned on and yet no-one thinks of the system behind where that water comes from.  A tomato is eaten in December and no-one thinks of the hothouse half a world away that it was grown in.

Our wants have become our needs and our empty hearts seek to fill them with these things.  What happens, I wonder, when in the pursuit of our hearts those that seek end up destroying all around them?  If people can not or will not work, where do things come from?  Who is John Galt indeed.

And ever so slowly, the curtain seems to descend on the 1,000 year night.

I will very much miss coffee.

Monday, December 07, 2015

JPLT and Goal Met

Yesterday I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N5 (Lowest level).

It was hard.

It was a goal I set for myself almost two years ago.  Originally I hoped that I would take it last year, but frankly the commitment was not there.  The date came and went and all I did was sit there and say "Darn it, I should have registered".

So this year, when the registration opened, I immediately registered.

I had the material. Frankly, it bore little resemblance to the sort of material that I covered in class years ago. The focus was totally different - in some ways, far more practical.  More encompassing, especially in vocabulary, but at the same time far more focused.

How did I do?  Only time - i.e. until February - will tell.  I will say that the test matched the format of the practice test very well.  On the whole I think I did well in Kanji recognition, okay in vocabulary and grammar, and either did great or bombed in listening.

My initial reaction is to demand that I pass everything and be unsatisfied if I do not.  But then I had to reflect for a minute.  I set a goal of taking the test.  And I met it.  If I do not pass, there is always next year.

The important thing is that I kept my word to myself.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Lack of Focus

This week it has been hard to write.
I have found myself overwhelmed by events occurring all over the world:  here at home and abroad.  To someone like myself, who is a perennial worrier, these sorts of things send me into an almost frenzy.

Honest to goodness, it really feels like order - internal, national, international - is completely falling apart.  Or accelerating beyond what seems to be manageable.

I know there are those that would tell me that I am simply being too focused on certain thing and that overall things are much better than I believe them to be.  But I am student of history and I know all too well how fragile any complex system like civilization can be, how easily it fractures and how those fractures have to start somewhere - sometimes in less obvious places but eventually spreading throughout the entire structure.

One could perhaps avert one's eyes to the cracks growing larger and perhaps part of me wants to continue to do this.  But the other side of me - the paranoid side?  - keeps whispering in my head that avoiding things too long will eventually result in being overrun by events instead of being prepared for them.

Two futures keep arguing for attention in my head:  the one is the future that conforms to the present, the one that resembles life as it is today except with better technology, the sort of relative stability that I experience now.  The other future is the one unknown, the one that could be any combination of events and experiences - except there is no relative stability involved.

Everywhere things seem on fire.  It makes my day to day activities seem relatively unimportant and even pointless.  It splits my focus and makes it difficult to plan for any future, as how does one prepare for two entirely separate time streams?

And even as I dither, the world spins on, slowly seeming to become even more engulfed by flame.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

December Crunch

Sigh.  And December hits.

And everyone at work suddenly figures out that is the last 3 weeks (effectively) of the year.

I should have predicted that this was coming.  It seems to have become a pattern every year at work.  But I think something has changed - before I thought it was a random sort of event, the sort of thing that happens and people did not plan for or realize it.  But I realized today that this is now as predictable as the fact that the last month of the year is coming.

And I am weary of it.  Because it steals my holiday joy.

Christmas for me has become something that is wedged into the last week before it actually occurs, mostly because the three weeks leading up to it are overcome with the panic of individuals and their things that need to get done.  I have no sense of the Christmas being upon us - instead, I have the sense of a long tunnel which is entered into on December 1st and from which I come up from air on December 19th or so with maybe six days to celebrate the holiday.

I am tired of this.  This is no way to spend Christmas.  But how do I combat it?

The only thing I can think of - and this will have to be a conscious decision - is to monitor my own mood.  No-one is going to bring me less work or expect their things not to get done.  It is upon me to determine my own frame of mind - and my own frame of mind has to be celebrating Christmas, not just on the last week but on all the weeks before.

The longer term plan of course is to find a place where such is not the case, where the end of December is no more  rush than any other time of the year because everyone  has been working steadily along.  And, of course, everyone values Christmas.

Until then, it is up to me.  Because the season will not come into my life unless I make a place for it to do so.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Faded Dream

Silver water flows
As the moon remains dappled,
Ever beyond reach.

Clouds across the sky
hide everything but the moon:
the night's last beacon

Monday, November 30, 2015

Chance Encounter

To not have met you
would mean a vista of  life
could never be seen.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Being an Accessory

There is nothing worse than realizing you are an accessory.

It may not be a conscious thought on the part of others or something that they are even aware that they are doing (hopefully not, because otherwise there are worse issues involved).  They may see it as a simple taking charge of the situation to make sure that things get done or even that if someone else will not lead (whatever their definition of that is), they will do so.  But what ends up happening is that one ends up being an accessory.

What do I mean?  The fact that your participation and acceptance are assumed.  That you have no other opinion beyond that of what has been decided by others, that your will is simply that of the majority (or whoever is making the decisions), and that your lack of silence about the whole thing is really an indication of your acceptance of this fact, rather than any indication that you may silently not agree or simply would rather not create a situation in the first place.  And then, once the action is completed or the task done, you are simply put back on the shelf  or returned to your place, a piece of jewelry that has served its purpose, the tool that has helped to complete the task.

It leaves the person in question, the one who has been the accessory, feeling a little less enthused over time. One no longer has a role or purpose beyond that which is filled in the lives of those who need the accessory.  Enthusiasm is only shown when one does the thing which the other person wants or feels is necessary and like a Pavlovian response, excitement and attention are paid - but try something which is not directly in plan or is even counter to it and one will find that the excitement and attention fade away faster than cherry blossoms in the wind.  Appreciation often feels to be extended  because of what one does, not because of who one is.

How does one handle this?  Unfortunately, there seem to be no good options.  If a superior is treating you this way, they generally view any reaction or complaint as simply being insubordinate or having authority issues - after all, the point of reports is to serve and take their suggestions seriously.   If it is someone else, an equal or even a loved one, they either will not see the issue or consider any note of it as a sign that you are selfish or self absorbed, not a team player or concerned with the bigger picture.  The options become either to put one's foot down and thereby create arguments and disagreements and hurt feelings or simple go along with the flow, side-stepping any unfortunate incidents and gently sighing inside.

There is one thing, one thing that the outside will never see though:  every time the accessory is used as an accessory, a little piece of free will and responsiveness goes away, heading off to either an inner reservoir of resistance or to a place where things are different.  Continued long enough, all that will remain is the vehicle which can be used, the accessory which decorates or fixes.

The will, the inner core, the engagement, will have gone elsewhere.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

One of my regular posts every year for which I do not write but only copy, as it is fitting for the day.

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 25, 2015

Not Fooling God

I keep forgetting that I cannot fool God.

Oh, I think I can.  I cloak things in the very best sort of language in my mind:  Love, Christian Service, Good Samaritan - you name it, I have probably come up with it in my mind at one time.  The problem is that none of this, if I get to the bottom of it, is really true.  It is just me, trying to find cover to cover actions I have already decided to take.

He continues to be gracious to me, more than I probably deserve.  The reprimands remain in private, exposed only to me but clearly and directly tied to the things I have done.  I know, and I know that He knows.

The probably not so funny part is that I usually know too, right around the time I am doing them.  You know the score:  in the midst of getting ready to complete an action (for me, usually something which is being done in a rush rather than with foresight) there is that stinging moment of guilt, that sense that what you are doing is not really what you should be doing.  Yes, maybe it is not out front sin that would definitively call one into to question but the questionable action that gently eases one across the line without the direct feeling of doing wrong - but it is there.  You look at it, think about it for a moment, come up with some sort of rationalization - "It is the right thing to do"  or "This is just a/an X. No-one would ever consider this to be over the top" - and away goes the act.

It never works out of course.  The act inevitably goes awry.  The thing is lost.  The words are misconstrued.  The action turns out to be pointless - or even worse, it turns out not to be the great moment that you imagine in your mind, the Turning Point or Great Sacrifice, but rather just a blip that happens and then is instantly swept into the torrent of time, seemingly gone without impact.

You stand there of course, holding the physical item or moment in your hand and head, wondering how such a thing could have happened.  How could an event have gone so wrong as to be completely ignored or the action become so irrelevant that it is if it never happened?  It is not the fault of the proposed recipient of course:  God has taken care of them as well, protected them from your well-meant but perhaps not so well intentioned act.  Their lives and their minds were headed other places seeking other things while all the time you were firmly planted in the dark, thinking you were a shining star.

Then the question becomes:  have I learned?  Have I finally learned that I cannot take events into my own hands, hearts and minds into my own possession, and try to mold them to my purposes in the absence of true noble actions and deeds?  Or will I continue to cling to the idea that I can arbitrate the true inner and outer meaning of my actions, without seeing them for what they are?

Because one day - perhaps sooner than we care to believe -  there will be an end to the benevolence, the quiet rebuke, the inner whisper of wrong.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Schedule On, Schedule Off

It is the off-work schedule that tells us more about our time than the work schedule.
I am off of work this week - time to burn and two "free" days have made this a recurring holiday over the years. With the advent of vacation, of course, my whole morning and evening timeline tends to fall apart - I am not getting up at a very early hour, not blogging as early (obviously), not having to drive to work and back and fit things in.

The question is, how am I using that time instead?

Not well, I am afraid.

I dither.  I find myself easily diverted by lesser things that I would perceive to be of lesser importance usually, I find myself without drive, without a task list.  Whenever I think about making a task list my immediate internal response is "I am on vacation".

My initial response is to say "This is not right.  I should have a list of everything I need to be working on when I am not at work.  I have things that need to be accomplished - why am I not doing them?" And I suppose to some extent that is true: there are projects that need doing, things that if they are not scheduled will never get done.

But is that response right?  Not completely,

If things are as tightly scheduled on my off days as my on days, then something is wrong.  If I leave no time for relaxation or simply "doing" things, can it be said that my life is any better than if I were just doing everything I had to do all the time.

Yes, I need to write some things in.  But also yes, I need to just take some time to just simply allow myself to do and be.  Because creativity and doing or being is not always found in the regimented moments of a life.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Shrinking the Relational Circle

My relational circle is probably getting ready to contract again.

Last week I wrote about our inability to communicate with each other on the Internet.  That was last week.  In the intervening period of 4-5 days, things have not gotten much better.  In fact, I have just had mounting evidence that the thing is much worse.

The thing that depresses me all the more about the whole thing is that I do not believe that people view the inconsistencies in their life as such.  Social media has accelerated the issue I suspect, but I am sure that the latent tendencies were always there.

We have come to view our lives as compartmentalized  I am this over here for these things but over there for something else.  In this part of my life I can find this hilariously amusing, but in this part of my life I need to be deadly serious about something.  We perhaps seldom consider how these two things which are seemingly so different look to those outside of use.

Our lives no longer reflect any sense of attempting to bring them into some kind of unified whole, that what we say and do and practice is consistent across all situations.

Consistency.  We do not value it.  There is a thought I had not considered before.

How does this relate to my relational circle?  There are two ways to relate to people.  The first, the one that possibly matters the most, is how we relate to others.  As a Christian, I get no slack here.  I must be able to engage with and speak to all people.  I am Christ in their lives, perhaps the only example of Him they will see.  My ability to live consistently and relationally matters.  That does not stop.

The second is how others relate to us.  Here, I think, we can engage in a little more selective practices.  The best example I can think of is something where everyone else around you is doing it but you do not have to do it - in fact, there may be prudent reasons for you not to be around it or to carry the thoughts of it around with you.  And so you start to taper off those times when such things occur or avoid situations that would put you in contact with them.

And so, I think, with me.

Life is short. My energy and time are limited.  Discordant thinking and negative thoughts increasingly have no place in what I am trying to accomplish.

Friday, November 20, 2015


You dance in my dreams;
I am buoyed by your courage.
You make my heart sing.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Failure to Communicate

We have lost the ability to speak to each other in words that others can hear.

Our debates have become Internet memes, background pictures with clever words meant to shame or embarrass our opponents without any thought beyond that of gaining the intellectual upper hand.

Our discussions have become short sentences - tweets or snapchats or short phrases on Facebook delivered without contact or context, then responded to in anger or righteous superiority of our position.

We have lost the ability to speak.  We have lost the ability to be kind.

Oh, we say that we are interested in communication.  We spend our days on our phones and computers, chatting and texting one another.  Our lives have become full of words - and yet empty of of communication.

We are rapidly losing that most basic of interactions that are supposed to differentiate us from all other species, the ability to communicate.

I spend my days wrapped in sadness, slowly withdrawing more and more from the communication and technological mediums available to me as all I see and read and hear is anger and fear and hatred - so little kindness, so little consideration of others and how our words impact them.

I weep for the future - not so much that I fear something particular happening, but rather that no matter what will happen, we will have lost our ability to communicate about it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Redbird Singing in the Dead of Night

So Redbird turned in her notice today.

It was not unexpected - she has been unhappy for more time that I can almost remember now, stressed to the point of creating physical issues and mental pain.  She has been to this precipice perhaps 50 times since I have known her.  And today was finally the day.

I talked with her in the afternoon after the thing was done.  There was a peace about her, a peace that I had not seen in months - but a peace I was all too familiar with from others that have gone before her on the same journey.  It was all the cares of the job simply melting away, leaving nothing but the future behind.  Maybe not knowing what was coming next, but knowing that whatever it was it was not what the past had been

As she was reminiscing over the things that had brought her to this point, she said something that hit me deeply:  "I realized that there were people here that I had worked with for 9 months, people who had not known me before things started to go bad - and all they know of me is that person:  angry, emotional, sad, bitter.  They do not know the real me, the fun happy me, the me that exists away from this before everything went so badly."

That thought struck me to the core.

Yes, I understand that happiness can be choice.  At the same time, like it or not, we are influenced by the environment around us.  And sometimes that environment can weigh on us heavily indeed.

What would it be like if we worked, lived, and loved in an environment where we enjoyed what we did, who we spent our time with, and cared about the things that deeply mattered to us.  What would we be like?  How would others perceive us?  Would they see us as we are now, or would they see us as we wish others to perceive us?

I wish I knew.  Others can see farther down that road than I can at this point.

Fly High Redbird.  Fly Free.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Achieve Greatness

I will simply say that I went out this weekend and achieved greatness, at least greatness larger than anything I thought possible.  It is completely possible - but I simply had to go do it.  And ask permission of no-one, not even myself.

The possibility exists.  We need only to lead ourselves to embrace it, not constantly check over our shoulder to see if others permit it.

Monday, November 16, 2015


Weekend of lifting:
Muscles are tight as drum:
Price of Victory.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Of Cups and Charity III

My finishing thought yesterday was "What if the Church gave in such a way that it made a significant difference?  What would the world look like?"

Or more fundamentally, could we change the way government functions as we know it?

The Church has one mission;  to proclaim Christ crucified and resurrected.  To do this it has three methods:  witness of the Word, witness of our lives, and witness of our actions.

Of these three, the Word or lives would be considered easier by most - it is easy for most (not necessarily me) to preach the Word or to work on being more holy.  It is the witness of our actions, however, that can often be the most difficult - but the thing that the world pays attention to most.

There are arguably many reasons for the growth of government many sectors including the social (which, of course per my policy, we will not handle here).  But is is possible to contemplate that part of the reason that the government entered charity in the first place was that the Church was failing in its mission to accomplish it?

Governments since time immemorial have engaged in periodic care of the needy - witness Rome and the "panem et circensus (bread and circuses)" or its price control of grain.  This has probably stemmed as much from a desire to avoid instability as a desire to assist - or in some unfortunate circumstances, a desire to control.

Christians should be different.  Our motivation should not be for stability or control or perhaps even to assist (noble as it is) but rather the share the love of Christ in a tangible fashion, to do the good that God tells us He wants us to do.

Am I saying that the people in government who handle such things are evil or controlling?  No.  They are doing a job.  But more fundamentally I am asking if the job they are doing is something that Christians should be doing - not to put them our of work but for us to live our calling.

Could this be done in short order?  Of course not.  And calls to simply halt things always end at the same place:  that no-one will step in to fill the gap. And too often that is a legitimate complaint against Christianity.  So it will take time: time for us to practice giving in larger and larger ways, time for us to build credibility as people who will always do what we say will do.  This is a long term goal, probably longer than any of our lifetimes.

But who knows - if the Church were sincerely to engage in this activity, to really make an effort, would God not intervene in our behalf?

Funny thing - He says in such situations He will.

So let us get with it.  Start somewhere.  But never be satisfied with less when we can do more.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Of Cups and Charity II

So how should Christians practice Charity?

Yesterday I had small suggestion, potentially the easiest one:   Give what we spend on our pleasures to a worthy (in my case Christian) organization.  But that is just a starter.  I would like to go a bit deeper.

Some folks would make the argument (I suppose) that if one merely spends money at the places that are "doing good" this may be sufficient.  It is probably a step in the right direction, of course - but to quote an old adage which applies "Do your giving while you're living so you're knowing where it's going" - the concept being, of course, that once the money leaves your hands it may or may not go where it is supposed to go, and that any organization that is not a well run charity inevitably eats up money in overhead.

So how should Christians practice charity?

One suggestion, based on C.S. Lewis' quote yesterday, is give generously.  To the point that it "pinches" us a bit (I use that word in quotes as if by "pinching" we define things as we cannot afford small luxuries, it is hardly a pinch).  A second and required one is, of course, to continue to give to our local church.  If we have made the commitment to it we are commanded to support it.

The third is to give strategically.

What do I mean?  Example:  the church my wife is employed at, once a year, does a single day mass offering for a local Christian based charity.  This is not a charity they are associated with deeply.  This is not to replace the regularly weekly giving.  This is a one time over the top act of generosity for which the intention is to drastically change the course of that charity.

Imagine if Christians gave like this - not just as we are to do per Scripture - but on top of that in a way that strategically blessed both specific ministries and the people served by them.  Imagine if a city was able to say "Hunger? Homelessness?  If people are hungry and homeless in this place, it is because they choose to be.  The Christians here have made it such that the resources are freely available to all who need it."

One thought as we ponder this for tomorrow's posting:  if Christians, if the Church, gave like this, what would it look like to the world?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Of Cups and Charity

I have been weighing - in a sad sort of bemused, "I really do not want to think about it" way - about the ongoing kerfuffle that is the Starbucks cup controversy.  On the one hand you have group of Christians proclaiming that Starbucks has proclaimed "War on Christmas" while on the other hand you have a group stating that this is simply not the question and those who are offended are simply being overly hurt about a simple cup. There is a third group as well, those (Christian and otherwise) who state that it should not not matter what Starbucks does.  Go act like a Christian (and depending on if you are a believer or not the answer varies what that actually means) and simply ignore the whole thing.

(You know I do not do politics or religious controversy on this site; trust me, this is not going where you think this is going).

For the record, I think everyone involved - every one of the three sides listed above - is acting like a damn fool.  But that is not the point.

My point is really directed towards those who profess Christ.  And I think it is a bit bigger than whether or not we should be concerned about a cup of anything, let alone coffee.

More directly, the question is whether we should be concerned about coffee at all.

The simple reality is that we are commanded to do good, to live out God's love and God's commandments, to demonstrate both His love and His purity.  His purity, His commandments, are something which we as individuals have to live out before others.  His love, we live out in the community around us.

And there are needs.  This should surprise no-one.  Serious needs, the sort of needs that the church of Christ should be uniquely qualified to address (we do, after all, have a relationship with the God of the Universe.  He has been known to address a problem or two).

So the question is, how are we spending our lives, our time, and our money?

Are they dedicated to us?  Are we so concerned about this here, this now, that we must meet our every desire?  Has something as simple as fancy coffee become such a need for us that are willing to do battle over the cup it comes in?

I have to rank myself in this mess as well. I am far too concerned with my own agenda.  I have my lists as I am sure you have yours: lists of things I want, places I want to go, things I want to do.  All about me.  All about mine.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity  “I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare…If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us,… they are too small.  There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them.”     This, I submit, needs to be the starting point for all of our spending and charitable giving - remember it was the widow that gave all that Christ commended, not the rich that gave little.

What does this mean on a practical level?  In a very embarrassing (or should be embarrassing) sense, simply start with the question "Do I spend more on _______ (fancy coffee, food, books, insert anything here) than I give?"

Hurts, does it not?

Is there something inherently wrong with Starbucks coffee?  Not at all - but if I spend more on Starbucks than I give to the work of God (in whatever form), then I have a problem that all the complaining or inane words about "sharing the love of Christ over a Peppermint Mocha" will not wash away.

For me, what does that mean?  It might mean something as simple as taking the money I would spend on Starbucks (not that I go there that often) or on a lunch and give it.  Give it to the Church.  Give it to the Christian charity of your choice.  Consciously. Willingly.  Silently.  And hopefully.

Will this save the world?  Quite probably not - if correctly done, the world will not know it was done at all  ("Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" - Matthew  6:3).  But good will be done.  And through the organization or Church, God will be glorified.

Does this mean I can never enjoy any of the things I would like?  I do not think so - but it does mean I should act responsibly.  Do I like coffee?  Make it at home - if you are dying for good coffee (or so I understand) and want to help out some Brothers, try Mystic Monk coffee (do good, enjoy good).  Or find a group (arguably for Christians, we should try to start with a Christian group and then work from there if we cannot find one) that offers the thing we want. It may be a little more expensive - but the expensive includes enabling them to the do the good we are called to do.

I do not know that my thinking is fully developed on this - and I will probably take a few more blog posts to get through this.  But there is a root here, a root that needs exposing and pulling.  I would argue this is a moment of great opportunity for followers of Christ.  We can make a difference in a way that no-one else can.  But we will hardly get there by either arguing over cups - or asserting that our needs trump the requirements of the charity commanded us.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Six Days A Week

So yesterday we bought a new to us van.

This was not the way I intended to start the day.  But the van had another go around this weekend and the cost for the repairs reached the point that it was more than the van would be worth - and that would be if there were no other issues with it.  Even I am forced to work on some level of financial sense in that respect.

But that is not really the point of today's post.

While I was there, I asked our salesman - a younger sort of fellow - how he ended up selling cars.

This is a question I have learned to ask others, especially in situations where I do not otherwise know what to say.  I am always interested in how people ended up where they are, especially in something like car sales, where it is not a career that a lot of people think of going into.

He said he had been doing it about three years and had sort of stumbled into it - had been doing manual labor sorts of jobs up to that point and a friend asked him if he wanted to try it.  "I was nervous about walking up to people and asking them if they wanted to spend money" he said "but then someone told me 'that is what they are there for -to spend money.'"  He said the rewarding part of the job was helping people get cars when they thought their credit was too poor and that overall he did not mind the work too much.

The only thing that he did mind a bit was theyhours - six days a week with one day off.  He is a hunter and said that it made it more difficult with only one day off (Sunday), but what were you going to do.

The one day off thought buried itself in my brain as we moved to the finance manager - mid-forties, a four year old daughter.  Chatting away with him as we filled out the innumerable forms and signed I glanced above his desk at his schedule: six days a week with Tuesdays off in his case.

By the time were done we had probably exceeded both of these gentlemen's scheduled hours by 40 minutes.

It has been a long time since I have had to work anything more than five days a week - and it is now almost 7 years beyond the days of having no job at all and over 10 years since the days of the Firm, where income did not really match expenses.  In my forgetful sort of way, I do not recall as often as I should what those days were like - or even worse, the days before I came into the industry at all where I was working retail and teaching to make ends meet.

There is nothing more noble about working six days any more than there is something more valuable about working five days- the thing that stuck with me as I drove home - that feeling of effort and doing what it takes to make ends meet.

I complain - probably more than I should - about what I do right now.  There are seemingly numberless reasons why things are not what they should be (and if you have read here long enough, you may be familiar with some of them).  But for all of that I have a lot of benefits that lots of others do not have, like only working five days a week or vacation or even reasonable benefits.

Am I thankful for them?  Or am I always consumed by how inconvenient things feel and how unhappy I think I am, wanting something more fulfilling?  Perhaps the fulfillment is not so much in what I do but in what it allows me to do.  Perhaps if I looked more to the benefits of what it accomplishes in my life and less about how I feel I might change perspective.

Because I am sure to a great many number of people out there, 5 days a week that covered the bills would seem like the promised land.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Friday, November 06, 2015

Always Playing Defense

Today I had my every other week meeting with my boss.  We talked, as we always do, about the goings on in the department and any emergencies.  And then he asks the question he has always come to ask:  "Is there anything bothering you?"

Why yes, yes there was.

I expressed my concern about a new marketing initiative that has been rolled out by our sales group, a fairly encompassing one that seems to involve a heck of a lot of change for (from my vantage point) not a lot of benefit. My concern, I told him, was that in the entire presentation they did not mention anything about the function of my department - a function, I pointed out, that ultimately allows to do business in most global markets.

He thought about it for a moment and then agreed.  He pointed out that what we do is something that is never really appreciated the way it should be - "It is like playing defense"  he said.

I must have looked a bit quizzical, because he continued.  "My child plays soccer.  He is a defender.  As a defender, you get blamed for all the goals scored against  you. If your team scores a goal, everyone celebrates the offense.  But no-one celebrates the defense and they only seem to get remembered if something gets through.  Does it make sense?"

I concurred that it did, both from Nighean Dhonn's years in soccer and my following of hockey.  I was well aware of the fact that the defense seldom gets accolades, only blame.

"It is like that for what we do as well"  he said.  "Everything can happen upstream and everyone celebrates but all the bad decisions, bad designs, complaints from customers - it all becomes our department's fault.  We are the ones that get blamed."

We talked for a few more moments about other things and then we sailed off to our separate destinations.  But his thought stuck with me all day.

Playing defense.  As I continued to ponder the thought, let the words roll around in my head, I realized that this was precisely what I have been doing for most of my life.  Playing defense.  Trying to avoid things getting through to something else, avoid things going wrong, avoid getting blamed.

We all have to play some level of defense, I suppose.  We all have to make sure that things go well and bad things do not get through.  But playing a defender for years upon end is wearing.  It trains you to think a certain way:  to avoid letting things through rather than trying to push things through to score.  It becomes a way of living that is reactive rather than proactive, of trying to shore up walls rather than thinking of ways to attack the enemy and their walls.

If I think about the totality of my life I am forced to admit there are only a handful of times that I have not played defense.  Professionally, this has only happened four times: when I got a manager's job from my cousin out of college so I could move back to my hometown, when I took a job teaching, when I left a job teaching to get into my current industry, and when I took the leap to work at the Firm.  4 times over 25 years.   Not an impressive count.  My personal life probably rates higher, as I would count every time I have tried a new thing and succeeded (even partially) as a victory.

But why the difference?  Why is professional so different from personal?

Because in personal, all the risk and results are under my control.

It is like my recent gains - and my continued improvement over four years - in Highland Games.  All of this is 100% under my control.  There is nothing for me to defend in the case - only goals for me to attack.

Professional is different.  Professional - at least for what I have done for almost 20 years now - is a constant battle of defense.  I cannot control of most the factors that control my job.  Bad decisions upstream make my life difficult, but I have little ability to influence them.  I can see the disaster coming but I can do little to blunt the results.  All I can do is brace for impact.

I am deeply tired of playing defense.  I am not sure how to rectify this issue immediately but I have a pretty good idea of how to start:  throw open the gates, come down off the wall, and start advancing.

It may be a really good way to get cut down - or to cut your way through.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Important and Urgent

Yesterday I tried to pay attention to what I was doing. Using the Urgent/Important grid, I tried to filter my activities through it such that I was making the best use of my time, doing both urgent things as well as important things.

But not everybody sees things the same way.

What I found was that people - via voice or person or e-mail - kept showing up with their issues.  And all of their issues are important, things that must (in their world) be dealt with right now.

I had never seen it that way before - oh certainly, I have encouraged people to come ask questions and want to be a resource.  But maybe for the first time, what I found is that people's view of important and my view of my time are at odds.

The reality is this: people come because they want their problem solved.  But sometimes (I am not sure how often at this point) it is more of a reaction by others to not have to do the hard work, to bring the issue to your attention in hopes that you will solve it.  Or, perhaps more disappointingly, they will bring the problem to you with the solution in mind but not reveal what their solution is, hoping that you will either confirm it or suggest a better one.

The reality is that most people have far better ideas than they think and often know what they should do.  Where it breaks down is that they seem to lack the self confidence to express these ideas - instead, they hope that someone will confirm the idea independently.

I know that these are slightly different problems.  I also know that both of them are destroying my life.

It explains why I feel drained when I leave the work every day - I spend a great deal of time applying to others to help them, always draining the bank account and seldom refilling it.  I also leave with few of the things I need to get accomplished being done; I am often trying to help others do their jobs.

What I am going to do about this?  Not sure, really.  I almost lost it yesterday on someone, which is also not a long term plan for success.  But neither can I continue to relapse into always doing things for others (any others - not just reports and peers but managers as well).

The way is there before me.  I just have to make sense of it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Of Stones and Success

So something happened for two Games in a row that has never happened before: I did not come in last in every event.

The events of choice?  Braemar Stone and Open Stone.  In both cases my throws exceed someone - perhaps not by much, but by some.

This is something I would never have predicted.

I am not an athlete by nature (or at least, I never thought I was) and the point of this exercise is not to glory specifically in my own abilities - after all, ultimately we compete against ourselves.  The point, however, is to understand what has brought to the point that I am at least minimally competitive in something that is not something I would have said is in my mental DNA.  In other words, why can I not take this kind of focus and effort and pour it into every other area of my life.

Imagine: If I can do this in approximately 4 years with something I have never done before, what could I accomplish if I was doing it in something I was already skilled at?  What is the thing that enables me to push forward in this area when in so many others I feel like I am simply on hold?

My initial thoughts were not all that grand.  It is something I enjoy - but that is something that is not necessarily that transferable to other things.  It is something that I can quantify progress in - but again, not necessarily that transferable to other things.  And it is something that I do not worry about failing in.

Hello, what is that?

I do not worry about failing in Highland Athletics - if I have a bad game or bad event, I merely move on to the next thing.  And it is not like I ever really fail - just by competing and continuing to compete, I succeed.

But this does not feel true in the rest of my life.

Things have consequences - or perhaps I merely put consequences on them.  Call it old habits of the perfectionist - if I cannot do it well, I will simply stop doing it.  Or, if I cannot move forward in doing it but cannot quit it, I will simply slowly lose interest until doing it feel like doing something something in rote.

So how do I change this?  The answer is seems surprisingly simple:

1)  Do not worry about succeeding or failing.  Simply do. If you fail, just let it go and move on.
2)  Where possible, do things that you enjoy.  You will always do things that enjoy better.
3)  Figure out some way - any way - to quantify progress and keep track.  You work better with goals or targets to hit.

The question is, is this as simple as it seems?  And if so, can I implement it?

Tuesday, November 03, 2015


Patiently waiting,
The sunrise may yet arrive
though I see it not.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Why I Throw

Yesterday I had the purest form of Highland Games I have every participated in.

It was in a pasture owned by someone who, for his birthday, decided he wanted to have Highland Games.  The competitors were all known to each other, all Masters (over 40).  There were only a few friends of the birthday man there to watch - no crowds, no announcer, just 7 throwers (5 men, 2 women) under warm November skies in a pasture.  One trig to throw from, one set of standards to throw over.  That and the implements were all.

It was the greatest of all throwing days.

Why?  Because this was the very origin of the Highland Games themselves:   friends and associates coming together to throw to challenge themselves and each other to feats of strength.  No glory but in achievements, no cheers but that of their friends.  No prizes but of the simplest sort - except the badge of participation, which is ultimately all any Highland athlete can lay claim to.

People sometimes ask me why I throw.  I am certainly neither the youngest nor the strongest on the field. And it is seldom that I walk away from the field with more than a t-shirt to show I participated.  There is little glory to be gained and certainly no prize money to be had.

I throw because I can.

I throw because 99.9% of the world will never do what I do - for many, they would never dream of trying what I am doing.  I throw because every time I hurl a stone or weight or line up to a caber, I am trying to better myself, become a little more excellent.  I am trying to achieve a little bit more.

And I am surrounded by people doing exactly the same thing.  Seeking to better themselves, to become more excellent at what they do as well.

And we all do it in one big happy group, full of jokes (sometimes coarse) and jeers.  And underlying it all, a sense of brotherhood.  And (if you asked them to look deep down in their souls) love.

We came to celebrate our friend.  And we came to do what we love - not for money, not for glory, but for greatness.  For greatness in ourselves.  For the greatness we see in our friends when they throw.

I went home with a roll of athletic tape and a container of deer chili.  And a mind full of memories of doing something I love so very much with the people I love.

It was a very good day.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Commute with Depression

So Depression slipped into the car with me this afternoon as I was getting ready to drive home.

He is one of my least favorites.  He always has that know-it-all opinion about him that always infuriates me and  that smirk that tells me he knows precisely what I have been thinking.

"So I guess things did not go so well today"  he said with a grin as I started the car.  I merely muttered back in return as I turned my head around to back out and then get the car in alignment to head out of the parking lot.

"In fact, it has been a pretty lousy week, right?" he questioned again with his grin plastered on his face as I looked both ways to get into traffic.  "And the best part?  The best part?  It is only Thursday.  You still have Friday to look forward to."

I grimaced.  "We are not having this conversation today"  I replied.  "I am simply not in the mood to have it."

"Oh, but we have to" he replied with an almost serpent-like hiss to his voice.  "We have to.  We have to discuss how your life seems to be going nowhere fast and what we are going to do about it.  Because we have to do something about it.  We cannot merely just endure this sort of thing.  After all, we have endured so much already."

I shook my head as I took the overpass turnoff to get on the main highway home.  "No, we do not.  We do not have to discuss this now.  I am tired.  I am angry.  I am frustrated.  And that is not the time to discuss things like this.  It leads to nowhere that is good."

He sat quietly for some moments as I rolled through the two stoplights and onto the route uphill.  He pursed his lips a bit and then said seriously "I know the real problem of course.  You are without hope.  That is a terrible thing."

Stopped in traffic, I looked straight at him.  "I am not without hope"  I replied angrily.  "I am merely in a bit of a tight spot right now."

He nodded slowly.  "Tight spot, yes.  Tight as in you are stuck. Stuck in your job.  Stuck in life.  Stuck without the hope of going somewhere else."

"I am not stuck!"  I yelled him out loud now, pounding the steering wheel in my frustration, the edges of tears peeking out of the corner of my eyes. "I chose this!  I continue to choose this!  I have responsibilities to meet. And responsibilities trump hope at times."

We rolled to a stop at the next light as I tried to slow down my breathing and calm down.  "It is really okay"  I finally croaked out to him. "I just need to wait a little longer.  Things will get better."

He nodded back slowly.  "Sure, sure" he replied.  "Just a little more patience, right?  A little more hanging on? "  He ignored my focus on the road as we continued on to the next stop light.  "Tell you what" he said as he reached down and disengaged the safety belt.  'I will just slip out here.  This has been a good little discussion. Let us save the rest for next time - say, perhaps, tomorrow." And with that he was gone, slipped out and gone into a sea of cars before I could say another word.

I sat through the light, looking at the seat where he had been sitting, hearing his voice echoing in my head.  Tomorrow.  And Tomorrow.  And Tomorrow.

But at least if I thought I would be here to have the debate tomorrow, that itself became a form of hope.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sunrise, Sunset

One of the great things about this time of year is the sunrises and sunsets:

I am fortunate that I am driving Nighean Dhonn to school every morning and hit the overpass precisely at the best moment to capture the sunrise.  The colors have been exquisite - helped on, no doubt, by our recent run of storms.

For an extra treat tonight, I got a fantastic sunset to boot as I was headed home in the evening:

It makes me sad to think that with Daylight Savings Time I will miss these masterpieces.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Actual Life/Preferred Life

My life has really broken itself into two phases.
On the one hand is the part that takes of most of the time, the mundane.  Let us call it My Actual Life.  It is the life of work and home, family and responsibilities, things that need doing and things that I am responsible for.

On the other hand is the part of my life that seems to possess the least of my time, the exciting.  Let us call it My Preferred Life.  Herein the list is much smaller:  Iai, Highland Athletics, Reading, Language, Writing.  These are the things that I love to do, that empower me rather than making me feel disempowered.

Here is the terrible thing:  the split is pretty significant, as in 90% Actual Life and 10% Preferred Life.

The problem - I suspect the problem that most people face - is that they come to live for their Preferred Life.  They muscle through the Actual Life to try and get to the few brief moments of a week or a month that are supposed to make the whole thing worthwhile.  And for those brief moments, they do.

But then the 90% comes crashing back in.

I try and sustain the sensation for a while, convince myself (somehow) that this the way things are supposed to be, that I am being responsible and that this is the way that most everyone lives their life.  But I am finding those excuses becoming thinner and thinner over the years.  The 90% becomes less and less worth the 10%.\

I wish I had a clearer path, something that would start to transform that 90% into more Preferred Life, like an alchemist turning lead into gold.  There is a secret out there, some magic stone that I am missing that will do this.

Or at least I hope there is one.  Because ultimately the 90/10 split is not sustainable.  At least, not for my sanity.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Iai By Moonlight

Sword dancing through dreams, 
glimmering with the Autumn's
reflected moonlight.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Weekend Rain

Tropical Storm rain
over the weekend; the garlic
has rejoiced and grown.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What Are You Thinking About?

People ask me that sometimes - "What are you thinking about?"  will come the question.  "Nothing" comes the response.  And I mean that - a lot of the time I simply have no thoughts in my head  It is not that I do not have anything to think about but rather that I have apparently trained myself, especially due to years of long commutes, to simply tune out thought and simply be.

That can be difficult to explain to people.

The question - and it is a legitimate one - is if I also use that as an excuse to avoid thinking about and dealing about situations I do not want to discuss.

It is convenient, of course:  "Nothing"  becomes the excuse for not talking about something not because you have nothing to say but because you do not want to say it either from concern about what will happen or simply because it sounds rough and perhaps even hurtful.  And perhaps I begin to play a mind game on myself with this: by giving myself the excuse to say I do not think anything at all about it I do not actively consider it when perhaps I should.

Sometimes I feel - especially lately - like there is a large stopper between my heart and my mouth, a sort of physical block that prevents me from saying things, perhaps things that need to be said or should be said.

It needs to be resolved, of course - because the large block that continues to hold back pressure will eventually rupture, with results far worse than any sort of controlled release would ever be.