Friday, March 31, 2017

Progress Comes Dropping Slow

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

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

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

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

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

Because real progress is slow.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

What Do We Grow This Year, 2017 Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Doing Life Completely Wrong: A Second Look

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

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

(Copyright Tansy Undercrypt 2017)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Doing Life Completely Wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lemons and Limes Revisited

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

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

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

Guess what happened?

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

I swiftly moved to get the others in:

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

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How We Make God To Be

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

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

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

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

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

The result?  Tozer captures it well:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Brought To You By Rabbit

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes peace is just a few bunny hops away.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Reliving Regrets

I have a tendency to relive my regrets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

On The Knowledge of Scripture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

On Rage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Struggling To Write

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

March Moon

The bright moon belies
the gloominess of days past
with a hope for Spring.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Winter Again

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

Frankly, it makes me grumpy.

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

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

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Statement Re-mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoa.  Let us not get ahead of ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Nostalgia Stalking

Nostalgia vexes me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Struggling With Serving

As we are interviewing for a position at my company, I find that I am confronting more and more the nature of my job - and my life.

When we interview these candidates, I try to drive home the fact that this is a  position in which the sum total of our job is to make everyone else's job possible, whether it be by providing a working facility or ordering and delivering materials in a timely manner or making sure the IT systems work or ensuring we meet the regulations and requirements or the thousand and one things it takes people to do their job.  I do this not in an attempt to discourage folks but rather to give them a realistic assessment what the job entails.  Ultimately the glamor and glory lies somewhere else; we make sure that others can make that happen.

I worry as we have gone through the process that I might be overselling this point, but am reminded throughout the day as I try to manage through the requests and seemingly small things that will not get done if I do not do them that I probably am not. To succeed at this, the ideal candidate will have to be okay with the concept that they are effectively a servant.

And then it hit me: that is pretty much what my life is turning out to be.

The odd part to me is that I can encompass - I think - the concept that this what the rest of my career may very well turn out to look like.  What I am having trouble encompassing is that my personal life may well turn out to be the same.

To serve and serve well is to be invisible.  The best sorts of servants are the ones that anticipate the needs that are coming such that one finds the situation resolved before one even realizes it.  It is the glass of water in your hand before you are thirsty, the reference that you have before you need it.

The great challenge for the servant is to accept that they will most likely remain invisible.

This is hard for me.  It would probably be a challenge at any time in history but in this age of "The World Revolves Around Me" it is even more difficult.  When practiced best, it is the conscious admission that the world is not really about one - and that one is simply content to dwell in the shadows, making sure the work goes on.

I wish I was better at this. I still struggle - monstrously so, it seems - with the concept of quietly working and fading into the scenery so that others can succeed, at home and at work.   In a way it really feels like dying, this surrendering of the need to be recognized and noticed and have everything be about serving  yourself instead of serving and enabling others.

The only consolation I seem to have at times is a calm quiet that fills my soul periodically, the internal stillness of life which has (in small doses) given up on making everything about me and making it more about something or someone else.  The sense does not come to frequently but when it does, one almost wants to revel in it, to shut out the world and the noise and simply, quietly be.

The role of the servant is quiet and unrecognized.  But perhaps in that quiet and unrecognition comes the very thing which we were seeking in the beginning.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Meet Poppy

So the TB household has a new inhabitant.  Meet Poppy:

She is a Labrador and Australian Shepherd Mix (so far as we know), a rescue puppy from our local shelter.  They estimate she will grow to 40 lbs (18 kilos):

She is a puppy so she likes to sleep - and chew - a lot:

We are very happy she is here.

Monday, March 06, 2017


One of the trees that came with the house is dead.  Has been dead since we arrived.  My guess is that it was a fruit tree that never really made it.  You can see it there in the back corner:

It has just been there, slowly shedding branches over the years.  Which never really bothered me until the fence dropped:

Suddenly anything putting weight on that fence becomes an issue.

I had not really intended to make a project out of it.  I just went out there to pull down some of the branches.  I removed all that I could - literally broke off with a little pressure - and then I was committed to pulling the stump out of the ground.

(Of course, these things always seem to just roll in without the benefit of a camera).

Removing the upper part of the trunk was the first part.  Fortunately, the diameter - maybe 8" at the most - could be cut with a hand saw.  Not at all at once, of course - I had to to saw my way around in two or three different areas until the trunk cracked off.

Now for the stump.  Fortunately, I am armed with a pick and know how to use it:

Dig in a circle around the trunk.  When you hit a root, either chop through with the end of the pick or try to get under it with the edge of the pick and lever it out.  Rescue earthworms that are distressed and move them to the garden.  Whack the truck with the pick to see if moves at all.  If it does not, keep digging around the trunk, looking for the roots that are a little deeper.  Chop or pry with the pick.  Save more earthworms.  Bang it again with the pick - aha!  It is moving.  Keep digging and prying.

It took about twenty minutes:

I will put something else back there close to that spot, both because it gets total sun as well as the fact that we eventually have neighbors that will be back there and I am not keen on just looking into the yard.

I will state for the record I have never pulled a stump before.  But with a little effort, some tools, and some careful thought, it is amazing the things that one can accomplish.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Rainy Weekend

It was raining this morning when I got up.  It was raining all yesterday as well.

I enjoy the rain - by far I find it one of the most peaceful sorts of weather conditions.  And usually I like rain on the weekends, as there is nothing better than almost "forced" to stay inside and something I would not normally make time for, like reading.

But I find myself frustrated now - mostly because I actually had things planned to do outside and now find that I cannot do them due to the rain.  To be a honest, this is kind of an unusual feeling for me as I have not always found myself that motivated to do such things - but now, finding that I have the motivation to do so, the circumstances are not co-operating.

Lest I think this is an unusual situation, it is somewhat wise to reflect upon the fact that for most of human history, rain was far more than just a small impediment.  In fact, rain and the winter season it represented was a significant reason that so many things were crammed into the spring through early fall (barring the planting and harvesting seasons).  In some ways we are incredibly spoiled by the fact that we have the ability to accomplish so much even when it is raining outside.

There is plenty to do inside of course, and perhaps this experience is a reminder that I should be making a list for the inside as much as for the outside (It is not as if there is not such a list).  But I have to admit for the first time in a long time, I find the rain not so much peaceful as it is a singular frustration.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Teachable Exhaustion

Occasionally in Iaijutsu we will work particular technique or set of techniques until we are completely exhausted, dripping in sweat and shaking.  My sensei has said that he learned this technique from the the head of our school, who does it when he trains as well.  The point is not to exhaust the students simply to exhaust them, but to exhaust them to the point that they become teachable.  A tired student is one whose barriers are broken down, who is able to be corrected and taught as they have no defenses for their bad habits and practices which need correcting.

It has struck me  that this is exactly how God sometimes acts with us as well.

The last 48 hours feel like they have been a whirlwind - packed not with anything particular but simply with a long string of busy-ness, from the time the alarm goes off at 0600 to the time I roll into bed at 2300. There never seems to be enough time to complete everything that needs doing, either at work - where the tasks seem to just keep coming in varied forms - or at home, where it feels as if I am always arriving simply to always having to leave again. Things are starting to go undone so that other things can get done (sleep, for example, still makes the top five on the list).  It surely does not feel like a sustainable enterprise.

In my heart of hearts, I know this level of activity cannot be maintained forever - life does not work like that but rather comes and goes in waves.  But this feels like a long and intense period of activity, which seems to have no end in sight until two weeks from today.  

I wonder if the principle is the same:  I am being pushed to the point of breaking and collapse not to actually make myself do it but rather to be in a position where God can speak to my heart and have me listen. When my life is slowed down and controllable, I often seem to forget my reliance upon Him.  It is only when the stack of life's tasks begin to overwhelm me that I feel the need to reach outside of myself for assistance to deal with it.

Perhaps it is only in the silence of sheer overwhelming exhaustion that, ridding ourselves of those methodologies that do not work, we are will to reach the point where we, too, will listen and can be teachable.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

On Old Science Fiction and Fantasy

I have a penchant for old Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I am a fan of the old material: JRR Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Andre Norton, with sprinklings of H. Beam Piper and Jerry Pournelle, early C.J. Cherryh and Robert Heinlein.  Essentially, it seems, if it came out before 1990 I might enjoy it.

This may strike you as a little bit odd.  After all, that was really only sort of the beginning of the commercialization of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Since then, the genre has flourished - and really, it has in terms of authors and volume of works (Really.  Go look at any book store shelf).  How is it then that I have found not all that much to be enthused about and that, more often that not, I turn to an old book or old author rather than a new one?

The reason is subtle - so subtle it did not make itself apparent to me until I actually pondered it a while.

The books that I write about treated the future - or the magical might have been - as something that was a complete unknown - and, as a complete unknown, something that did not have any tinge of the present imposed on it.  They were both products of their time and yet timeless.  Having only the models of societies of the past and the author's imaginations, they were truly flights of fancy, often ending somewhere I could have never predicted.

Much of the writing now is a product of our time.  The violence is more gratuitous, the sex far more blatant, and often the worlds and social systems created really extensions of the ones we live in, at least in spirit - indeed, a product of our times as well.  But if something is really a product of my time and I do not care for my times, why should I spend my time on it?

The novels are, I suppose, grittier and more realistic -but to my mind, the magic of why I read them has disappeared.  I read such things to escape my world for a little while, not to engage in a different version of it.

Am I completely adverse to more modern writers?  Not quite.  Glen Cook's series The Black Company is some of the best writing I have read in many years (although see comments about violence above) and the HALO adaptation books are a secret guilty pleasure.  But I am just as happy to wander my way through used book stores to find a treasure that I have never read before from an author I treasure as I am to take a risk on an author I know nothing about.  At least in my reading for pleasure, the known quantity will always outweigh the unknown.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

On The Major Movie Awards Ceremony

So this weekend I think there was a large movie awards ceremony.

I really have no idea.  I can remember at one time when this used to be something that I would watch on a regular basis - say from when Star Wars came out to the mid-nineties.  I vaguely remember seeing some of the greats on stage.

But no more.

My devolving interest has come from two major streams.  The first - the most easily explainable - is that over time I have found my interests and that of Hollywood's diverging.  On any number of issues really, and not just the "social" ones - frankly, they make less and less movies that I am interested in at all (the ability to make a movie without excessive sex, gratuitous violence, extreme foul language seems limited to the realm of children's films any more).  I pay attention less and less as they make less and less of what I wish to buy.

The second major stream - perhaps the more important - is the enclosed sphere of it all.  These awards are voted on, attended by, and celebrated in a very narrow sector of our population (truly, the original 1%).  It has become an echo chamber where "we"  celebrate "we".   Without the vast audience that ultimately pays for attending the movies and thus gives them relevance and riches, the personnel that make and act in movies would be little more than another group that, like so many in this country and indeed the world, have an awards ceremony which is truly meaningful only to those who participate in it.  Instead, the echoes roll about the room while the virtual audience is convinced that they need to watch it and become involved in it - and not only the program itself, but the "pre-game"(truly, is their nothing more telling about our narcissistic culture than a program dedicated to t people walking down a carpet to be seen)?  It is the quintessential Western Culture:  beautiful people in a controlled environment congratulating themselves on things that ultimately have no value.

So, I have just learned to say no.  I occasionally see a film.  Frankly, I more often wait for it to be on a streaming service or even in home movie format.  But not much more than that.  I perhaps cannot hold back the flood, but I can at least attempt to divert the water around my island.