Saturday, October 31, 2020
Friday, October 30, 2020
Thursday, October 29, 2020
Last week, a notification popped into my e-mail box at work: "Annual Review".
If you remember from earlier this year, my review process was...well, a little stressful to say the least. And here it is - something like seven months later - with the next review already cued up and ready to go.
Thanks to our continuing adaptation of technology, there are no more handwritten reports or Word documents. Everything is conveniently recorded in the online payroll program. Just open the link, fill out the four boxes explaining accomplishments, weaknesses, challenges, and areas of growth for the next year - and click the submit button. Your review will be whisked away into the bowels of the program to be assessed, review, and filed.
Having spent something like 20+ years completing reviews, it seems both easier and yet somehow more impersonal at the same time.
I checked in with my local assigned Human Resources representative to ask "What should I review?"
If you think about it, at best the review covers 10 months, 2 of which I was performing my old job (until I was moved into another position), 3 of which was essentially "managing the store" until my replacement showed up, 1 of which was transitioning time and information, and then really only 4 that were "doing my new job". Which of these do I review?
And more importantly, which of these is really meaningful?
Everything that happened prior to the end of June is, at this point, ancient history in a meaningful way, irrelevant except that things did not fall apart - there is no way, I suppose, to "rate" something as bland as "Did you make sure that the department could be turned over to someone else?" And really, the last four months has been a learning exercise to makes sure that I am getting the basics of my job right.
The most difficult mental part, though, is the actual rating process: How do you think you did?
I badly misjudged it last year, or at least I badly misjudged it vis-a-vis how others saw that I did. This makes one almost instinctively want to rate one's self down if for no other reason that I do not want to go through the same experience twice. It is easier - although is it more honest? - to say I "partially" met expectations, both for my own piece of mind as well as the humility (real or felt) that I apparently cannot really judge my ability to assess my work.
Rating one's self that way runs the risk, of course, that it is really true or really perceived as true. And too many years of "partially meets" puts one in the bucket where few, if any, good things ever happen.
Perhaps it could be defined as a crisis of confidence. That is probably fair, I suppose - given everything that has happened, I would not blame anyone else if they came to this year's review with trepidation and a general reluctance to take any action at all.
To some extent, it plays into the wider range of career growth and advancement for whatever time I have remaining in the workforce - at this point in my career development and path, the thought that anything magical is going to come from a review has evaporated. Which, to be honest, is fine - my days of managing others are gone and to be frank, I have no desire for them to return.
It does make me wonder though: will this sense of mild dread continue to present itself every year at this time for the inevitable review, or does it settle back into the dull ache of duty that reappears every year, waiting to be completed and then slip into the electronic files, never to have meaning again?
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
(Yes, I know the rules here better than anyone. Stick with me.)
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Autumn may have finally arrived.
The garden has started dying back, the tomato plant curling in and the sweet potato vines starting to shrivel and turn brown. The okra continues to make one last push for the sun, awaiting the first true cold front to blow through and finish matters.
Temperatures are finally starting move - every so slowly, into that range where the two weeks we call "Autumn" here are actually worth living here: cool nights, pleasant mornings, and the humidity has gone off to wherever it flies to at this time of year (Does it go south with the Geese? If it does, it has never confessed so to me).
Flocks of birds are returning - the little fellows, chickadees and swallows, that strip out the bird feeder before continuing their travel beyond our chilling Winters. The squirrels have gone into overtime here burying acorns everywhere they can, leaving divots in the beds in front of the house.
Our leaves here will not drop until February if they are native trees (one thing I can never get used to, although being too cold and bundling up to rake leaves beats being too warm ); the few non-natives are going yellow and preparing to release their leaves anytime soon now to be gathered up and placed into the bags to go off to wherever lawn waste goes to die.
The Earth is settling in for Long Cold.
Monday, October 26, 2020
From 7 years in college, I have only continued with a very few things in terms of things that I learned there: Japanese of course, and World Literature, and horticulture, and the harp.
And, Old English.
Old English, otherwise known as Anglo Saxon, represents the language spoken by the invaders of the Province of Britain in or about 446 A.D.to sometime around the 1200's, where it transformed itself in the Middle English of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It is unique among early medieval languages of Europe in that so much of it has survived - not just in Bibles and homilies and religious writings but in laws and stories and books and riddles. Most people know the most famous - Beowulf, for example, or The Battle of Maldon - but in point of fact there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of bits and pieces that we have. Perhaps more than any other early Medieval culture, we know a great deal about the Anglo-Saxons, what they believed, and how they lived.
I have puttered about with a study of Old English for well nigh on 30 years, sometimes waxing in interest, sometimes waning. I have spent some profitable mornings or evenings on the weekends translating small selections of texts (I have about a 40% success rate sight reading).
But just as with Beowulf or The Battle of Maldon, not all of these texts are only there for the scholars and those of unusual interests:
Anglo-Saxon Prose is an edited version of a number of different Anglo Saxon texts, some well known (Some of Alfred the Great's introductions, Legal Codes, The Life of St. Guthlac) and some that are less well known (Bald's Leechbook, sermons by bishops Ælfric and Wulfstan, letters and estate transfers) in modern English. It gives an interesting - and humorous at times - glance into life well over 1,000 years ago.
From The Laws of Whitræd, King of Mercia, 695 A.D.:
"Men living in an illicit union are to turn to a righteous life with repentance of sins, or to be excluded from the fellowship of the church. Foreigners, if they will not regularize their marriages, are to depart from the land with their possessions and with their sins; our own men in the nation are to forfeit the fellowship of the Church without suffering the confiscation of property.
If a traveler from afar or a foreigner leave the road, and he then neither shouts nor blows a horn, he is to be regarded as a thief and to be either killed or ransomed."
From the Land Grant at Crediton, 739 A.D.:
"Now these are the lands. First from Creedy bridge to the highway, along the highway to the plough ford on the Exe, then along the Exe until the grassy islets, from the grassy islets onto the boundary ridge, from the boundary ridge to Luha's tree, from Luha's tree to the enclosure gate, from the enclosure gate to Dodda's ridge, from Dodda's ridge to Grendel's pit, from Grendel's pit to the ivy grove..."
From Bald's Leechcraft (A book on herbal lore):
"For the dorsal muscle, seethe green rue in oil and in wax; anoint the dorsal muscle with it. Again: take goat hair; let it smoke under the breeches against the dorsal muscle. If a heel sinew be broken, take Fornet's palm, seethe it in water, foment the limb with it, and wash the limb with it; and make a salve of butter; anoint after the fomentation.
Against a woman's chatter: eat a radish at night, while fasting; that day the chatter cannot harm you."
From Ælfric's Colloquy On The Professions:
"Master: "What do you say, shepherd? Do you have any work?
Shepherd: I have indeed, sir. In the early morning I drive my sheep to their pasture, and in the heat in the cold, stand over them with dogs, lest wolves devour them; and I lead them back to their fields and milk them twice a day, and move their folds; and in addition I make cheese and butter, and I am loyal to my lord.
Master: What do you say, baker? What is the use of your trade; or can we survive without you?
Baker: You might live without my trade, but neither for long nor very well. Truly, without my craft every table would seem empty; and without bread all food would turn distasteful. I make people's heart strong ; I am the stamina of men, and even the little ones are unwilling to pass me by."
As you can see, the Anglo-Saxons were descriptive and aware of their world. Truly, for what is an academic text, the book is a lot of fun.
The picture above is the latest version but, like many academic texts, you can pick up an older version for much cheaper and with little significant content change. Well worth the money to see how, for some of us in the U.S. and Canada, our ancestors viewed themselves and their world.
Sunday, October 25, 2020
For today's thought, I would like to consider a quote from The Amish Newcomer from my post earlier this week:
"Then you were lying when you said you were interested in green and sustainable living. A zero-waste lifestyle. You say you support those things, yet you disdain the skills that make that kind of lifestyle possible. If those things are important to you, then you should be willing and able to preach it to others."
This has always been a point of contention with me for those that espouse the theory of green and sustainable. To many (not all), it often seems like green and sustainable is required to conform to a particular point of view in order for it to truly be green and sustainable: electric cars are the only acceptable solution to transport (let us not speak of how the batteries are manufactured or disposed of), certain forms of energy are the only acceptable ones (renewable wind and sun: Good; renewable wood, human, and animal labor: Bad), organic foods are the only acceptable food (or at least, only organically sourced foods sold at your local supermarket).
This version of green and sustainable is the view of the privileged city dweller: all green and sustainable efforts must fit within the dominant paradigm that cities and technology are the most important centers, that white collar work is the only desirable work, and that anything which does not involve technology is "archaic" and "outdated" (and probably inefficient).
This is not true sustainability. As any economist would tell you, something that requires more inputs than outputs is a losing proposition in the long term. And of course as the technology increases, so does the price and fragility: a level or measuring tape is much less expensive than the smart phone I buy with those applications on it so I do not have to buy a level or measuring tape. The level and measuring tape will also not have a cracked screen when I drop them on the ground.
So why is it? Why is it in our quest for green and sustainable we overlook actual tested techniques and practices hundreds or thousands of years old and try to replace them with the ones that are seemingly the most convenient to us rather than potentially better for the planet and environment?
Lewis hits the nail on the head. The first arrives from a disdain of this methods, an underlying sense (fed by our culture and educational system) that anything manual or low tech is essentially drudgery or for the "less better" people. It involves inconvenience. It involves effort, sometimes a great amount of effort in many cases for what would appear to be a minimal result (the result is not minimal if it meets the requirements of sustainable and meeting the need, it only seems so: the yield from a gallon of milk is perhaps a pound of cheese. To many, that does not seem right in the age of the 5 lb. cheese blocks they can buy in the store).
The second - which Lewis addresses in her book but not specifically in the quote - is the question of values.
To the trendy green and sustainable people, all that meets their interpretation of this lifestyle must fit within the context of the modern world. Values which make green and sustainable living work - hard work, frugality, long hours, simple pleasures, community values built on traditional or religious tenants - are "backwards". They should not have to adopt the one to keep the other: we want to be "modern" and still feel as if we have upheld the sustainable values of generations past.
Of course there is adaptation: a chainsaw works more quickly than a two handed saw, a tractor can take the place of a team of horses. But at best you are buying time and physical wear: the food only grows as quickly as a plant grows or stacking cut wood, whether by maul and wedge or by a splitter, only stacks one piece at a time. Sustainability has a rhythm and pace that cannot ever be moved along faster by our wishes or desires.
This is the rub, of course: you cannot have the one without the other. Like anything, there is a trade off. A trade off that the trendy are not willing to make.
They can try, of course. And perhaps - for a short time - they can succeed. But ultimately, the inputs in this system will always be more than the outputs. They are building to a pyramid, a point with brilliant white marble paneling which can seen (and admired by others) for miles around.
Of course, once you reach the top of the pyramid, the only place to go is back down.
Saturday, October 24, 2020
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Back at The Ranch for another week. Took a walkabout this weekend. This time we are going up on the hill above the Lower Meadow and then back down toward the creek:
View of The Lower Meadow
Monday, October 19, 2020
As a 50-odd year old male, I have never once in my life read, purchased, perused, or otherwise been involved in a romance novel. At best, the pictures I have of them is commercials from my youth with titles (and illustrations) that seemed to suggest situations and storylines that I never really had an interest in. I carried on happily in my life with a steady of diet of history, theology, novels, and Fantasy and Science Fiction.
That is, until Patrice Lewis at Rural Revolution announced she was publishing a book through Harlequin Romance's Inspirational Romance series.
I have followed Patrice, her husband Don, and their two children (Older Daughter and Younger Daughter) for several years (her children were being home schooled when I started and Younger Daughter is two years into a naval career) as they have lived and worked at a home business and off the grid. She writes for her blog and well as for other online venues (World Net Daily, for example, and Lehman's) and has been quite free in giving us an insight into what an effort the "simple life" actual is.
You support people doing good things. So, after 50 years, I bought a Harlequin Romance:
Leah Porte, a television reporter that witnessed a murder, has been placed into a Witness Protection Program amongst the Amish. The book follows Leah as she begins to integrate into the life and flow of "The Plain People" and the family she is with, Ivan and Edith Byler and their six children, and the larger Amish Community. Also in the picture is Isaac Sommer, bachelor and helper of Ivan in his woodshop as well as burgeoning magazine publisher about the rural life. The books covers Leah as she fights three battles: an outer battle as she learns to fit into a lifestyle that is very different from the one she has known, an inner battle as she begins to confront the idea of a personal God and how He might be involved in her life, and an emotional battle as she realizes she may be falling in love with a man who lives in a different world than she does.
The book in and of itself is a lovely introduction to the world of the Amish. The conversations are peppered just enough with Pennsylvania Dutch German to give the idea of a culture that is almost familiar but not quite. It is also a wonderful introduction (with enough detail) of the aspects of living a life as it is (I imagine) lived among the Amish: large gardens and preserving their output, doing laundry, handling daily milk, even aspects of a social interactions between individuals and groups. It is convincing enough (to me) that at some level, this must be what that life is like.
It is also peppered with thought provoking statements which, while I am pretty sure underlie the Amish beliefs and practice of life, also underlie what Patrice has done and wrestled with in her own life, not just by writing but by doing:
"Then you were lying when you said you were interested in green and sustainable living. A zero-waste lifestyle. You say you support those things, yet you disdain the skills that make that kind of lifestyle possible. If those things are important to you, then you should be willing and able to preach it to others."
"But you're busy on your own schedules, doing whatever needs doing rather than working by anyone else's schedule, such as working for a boss. I kind of like that idea."
"I found it easier to maintain my beliefs by living them, not fighting to keep them while living among people who don't share those beliefs."
"But work is an honor. Labor is a gift. It's not something to avoid, but something to embrace. That way, rest is sweeter."
""For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" quoted Isaac. "I can't save the whole world. That's Gott's job, not mine. My job is to save my own soul, and perhaps influence the souls around me. I'm a simple man, so the only way I could figure out how to save my own soul was to return to my roots.""
"Who can say? But I think faith seldom comes in a blinding road-to-Damascus flash. It takes time, and it takes practice. And like anything worth mastering - carpentry or sewing or milking a cow or working on a computer - it is something that takes a lot of time and the chance to mess up without the fear of someone mocking your efforts. Sometimes it takes patient teachers, and sometimes it's something you wrestle with in private. Everyone's journey is different."
I am not going tell you the ending (you will have to read it yourself and find out), but it is satisfying and left me saying "And then what?", which is the sign of a good book.
At less than $5 - the cost of two/thirds of a movie or most books these days - you will get some hours of being lost in a world which is almost, but not like the one we live now. I look forward to Patrice's further novels.
I sure hope we pick up where we left off with this one...
(A simple request, and against my usual grain: If you are going to buy the book, do it through the regular commercial outlets. That makes sure that Patrice gets the money.)
Saturday, October 17, 2020
My friend Glen has lurched back into reading Sci Fi. This makes me immeasurably happy.
Of the genres, Sci Fi and Fantasy (or Speculative Fiction, as I believe it called nowadays) are the ones that most resonated with me growing up. I was a reader, and outside of history what I read was Science Fiction and Fantasy.
I drifted away from it largely in the late 1980's due to a combination of factors: a sense that there was less time to read and the fact that (in my opinion) the stories were not as well written.
Fiction is always to some extent a reflection of the age in which it is written because the writers exist in that age. Thus, for example, Andre Norton's starships of the future always looked like rockets from the 1950's (a delightful anachronism read through today's eyes). But well written fiction does not substitute the culture and beliefs of the age for a well written story; a story which is perhaps "socially aware" but poorly written is a poorly written story. Additionally (from the prudish side of me), the substitution of sex scenes for well written prose and hinting at instead of blatantly stating it is, well, in poor taste in my world.
I have written here about books that I re-read on an annual basis (some of which are sci fi and fantasy). To be a little more helpful, I thought I would list some of my favorite authors to give Glen a boost:
H. Beam Piper (Henry Beam Piper): Works largely published in the 1950's and 1960's. Space Viking is one of my all around favorite books on the application of history to the future. Other notable works of his I have read and recommend are Four Day Planet and A Planet for Texans and Fuzzy Sapiens. I have not read his Paratime series but assume it is up to the same standard.
Andre Norton: I have been reading Andre Norton for over 40 years. She was a very prolific writer with numerous books under her belt (I easily have 30+ and I have not scratched the surface). Dark Piper is one I re-read every year. Recommended: The First five books of the Witch World Series (they get a bit silly after that), The Stars Are Ours and Star Born (connected series), Daybreak: 2250 AD (a very good introductory "End of the World" novel), Night With No Stars, Star Rangers, Operation Time Search, Knave of Dreams - these are my favorites, but almost anything of hers will be enjoyable.
Robert Heinlein: I have a conflicted relationship with Heinlein. Some of his I really liked, some have not stuck with me. Favorites: Starship Troopers, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.
Robert E. Howard: The genesis from which most Sword and Sorcery sprang. His Conan stories are the best known (they were organized in the 1970's into an 11 volume series), but some of his lesser known heroes - Kull of Atlantis, Solomon Kane, Cormac Mac Art - are also worth a read.
Edgar Rice Burroughs: As Howard set the bar for Sword and Sorcery, Burroughs set the bar for "Earthman transported to a strange new society and has to make his way in it". John Carter is his arguably most famous character (outside of Tarzan, of course, who I never got into), but Carson of Venus and David Innes of Pellucidar (Hollow Earth) are also enjoyable. For all of these series, the latter books are exceeded by the earlier parts of the series.
Elizabeth Boyer: Elizabeth Boyer was a 1980's and 1990's author that wrote books based in a Nordic World; while the Nordic Gods never appear, there are other characters of Nordic mythology: Alfar (Elves), Dverger (Dwarves), Nisses, Barrow Wights, Trolls. Her first four or five books were all stand alone - The Wizard and the Warlord, The Sword and the Satchel, The Thrall and the Dragon's Heart, The Elves and the Otterskin. Her last set of books in this genre (before she apparently fell out of favor and disappeared) was a four part series. The first two, The Troll's Grindstone and The Curse of Slagfid, are the better of the two.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Tolkien is hit or miss for people; you either like saga sorts of tales or you do not. The Triology The Lord of The Rings is his most famous (the books are so much richer than the movies), but The Hobbit and The Silmarillion (which is even more of a saga based story that LOTR) are also worth a read.
Jerry Pournelle: I accidentally found Pournelle in the early 1980's with Birth of Fire, a book about colonization and creating a free society on Mars. I loved the books but never followed up with him until years later (sadly, he died within the last two years; I could have followed an actual living author). His short stories captured in the titles High Justice and Exiles to Glory capture the transition of Earth into an solar system empire. His cycle of books Falkenberg's Legion, Go Tell The Spartans, and Prince of Sparta are a lovely historical review cleverly hidden as a science fiction novel of how civilizations fall and are rebuilt. He also cowrote with Larry Niven; Footfall and Lucifier's Hammer both (in their own way) discuss the end of civilization.
David Drake: Drake, like Heinlein, is someone I have a conflicted relationship with. His The Forlorn Hope is a masterful retelling of Xenophon's Anabasis, or the retreat of the 10,000 Greeks through Persia (and one of those books I wish there was a sequel to because the characters were so compelling). His Hammer's Slammers were gritty, but less appealing as the frequency of swear words is a bit high for me.
I have others, but those are the big ones on my list. What Sci Fi or Fantasy books could others recommend?
Friday, October 16, 2020
One of the changes that has been the most hard to adapt to as I have embraced my new position at work is being on the outer layer of "The Know".
There is a "The Know" in every company. It is that group of individuals that is aware of everything that is going on at a site, a plant, a division, the company. They are aware of all of the great challenges and issues, the last minute changes and unexpected events. If something happens, if something changes, they know.
For the last 20 years, I have been in "The Know" - partially because in my role in Quality, almost everything that happens impacts you and partially because at smaller companies, it is easier to be around such information.
But that has changed. Rather dramatically.
My focus is essentially now on one single major project and two minor projects that support it. Anything involving these, I am actively aware and engaged on. Anything not in this narrow band, I have virtually no idea what is going on.
It might sound like not a terribly big adjustment to have to make - "Hey TB, you are free of responsibility" - but it has been a greater mental adjustment than I had anticipated. You are now one of many fighting for the attention of decision makers where this was no longer an issue (and, in fact, you were one of the decision makers). Your meeting schedule has dwindled to very specific meetings. In larger meetings, you are constantly learning new information instead of already knowing the information.
To someone who is used to having such information and to someone who always worries when I have no line of site on larger issues, this is a bit unnerving.
One does what one can: Focus on the project at hand. Try to follow up more, make better tools, drive things to conclusion.
But always in the back of my mind, I now have the following fear: I am tied to a single thing. If that thing fails, my relevance and value completely collapses.
It is not an outcome I had expected.
Thursday, October 15, 2020
22 December 20XX
My Dear Lucilius:
This evening, as the snow and wind was slightly less than normal, I took a walk.
The argument could be made that this was an extension of my road monitoring duties – which, to be fair, have been almost nothing since Winter opened up here. No-one is moving very far at all – nor can I blame them. Without the comfort of an automobile to shield you from the weather, it is beyond just an inconvenience to travel – it is potentially lethal, especially with the fact that one does not know what the situation is up the road.
I drifted by the road where I typically turn to go home and continued on into the village, a scant 300 yard or so beyond that. We still have clouds which hold some of the warmth in – no bitter cold night with stars for us at the moment.
The buildings themselves are all decked in snow; one can tell by the amount which houses are still inhabited and which are unoccupied, either through being a summer home or simply by individuals who left. Smoke is drifting up from those that are, creating lazy spirals that spread up.
Perhaps one sees flickering lights – battery powered or even flame – in an occasional window but not often after dark: security and common sense dictate available light (although the smoke will give it way), while prudence means the windows are draped to keep in whatever heat is available.
I know in the past I have tried to convey it to you, but the silence remains pervasive to the point of deafening. No automobiles, no animals, no children out playing or adults conversing. Just the wind rattling trees limbs and the periodic drop of snow and the quiet gurgle of the creek that runs across the road from my house.
I am grateful, of course, for the silence. Silence in this new world can mean peace and relative normality; I suspect there are other places which have nothing but noise at the moment and are the more risky for it.
It makes me wonder, of course: for all those who could not live with the silence, for whom the bustle of civilization was proof of life and joy, how are they faring now? Have they adjusted? Or do they seek to fill even this silence with reminders of a civilization that at least, for now, has been put on hold?
Standing in the snow and philosophizing, of course, makes for a terrible combination with cold feet. So I turned and made my way back to my home.
While I have always loved silence myself, I had no idea until I pondered it how much it represented and what the lack of silence in this new world really meant. Sounds of Silence, indeed.
Your Obedient Servant, Seneca
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
One day, as the InterWeb meme goes, you and your friends went outside to play for the last time without realizing it.
I cannot specifically remember the date, but I can remember the time: the summer between my 8th grade and Freshman year. My best friend, who lived literally 300 feet away, had a five lot in back of his house, a hilly sort of thing with brush and trees, overgrown, with a drainage ditch running through part of it. It was perfect for two boys with imaginations and time. For several years we would tear through the brush, make war on each other, "practice" tracking, make trails and forts and plans.
Two things happened at that point: high school, which for me ended up meaning band and drama and schoolwork and for him meant soccer and schoolwork, and games, video and roleplaying. Suddenly time spent outside was replaced (when we could cobble it together) playing Atari or Dungeons and Dragons. We occasionally still went outside, but it was never the same.
It makes me realize that in life, the number of things we unconsciously never do again greatly outweighs the ones we consciously end.
The conscious endings are often understandable: the coworkers we will likely never see as we move across the country, the sport we "retire" from because we become too old or too broken. In some cases it is the passing of the torch: the matron who surrenders her holiday meal preparation to the younger generation or the patron who gives his prized possession - a gun, a knife, a vehicle, a lease on a cabin or fishing right - to the next generation.
The unconscious endings are the sadder part by far.
The unconscious endings are the ones we never see coming. They are things that perhaps we intended to do someday again - things that we perhaps loved - but somehow the circumstances never present themselves to do them again. It is the musician who never plays, the athlete who no longer participates, the friend or family we have not seen for years. We never really intended to stop doing these things, yet somehow we continue to keep not doing them.
Sometimes, of course, it simply is time: I cannot go back and somehow pretend I have the interest or stamina to do some of these things. Sometimes it is interest, which is harder because I think if asked most people would not say "Well, I have completely given up on that". There is something about us that does not like the words of concept of "giving up". Things leave us; we do not leave things.
What it should do - what it very occasionally does for me if I am paying attention - is make me more conscious of those activities that I am in and doing. It is hard to think about doing something for the last time except when you think that it might be the last time that you do it. Constantly bearing this in mind can give a piquancy to the activity, a certain flavor and bite, that just doing it the way you have always done will not.
If you think it might be the last time, you will spend more time trying to enjoy it.
A few years ago, on a whim, I drove by the old property to see it. There is at least one additional house there but most of the brush and trees are present and from the road I could still see the trench where we looked out over the invading hordes.
If there ghosts from times past running in the forest, they ran in the woods far away from the road beyond my ability to see.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
My current automobile surpassed its ten year anniversary this year.
It has a been a reliable Mazda which we originally purchased as the alternative to a dying mini-van: seats six, has a fold down back, and (most importantly) is a standard transmission. The car has performed well, seeing us back three times to Old Home and back again and numerous in-state travels. Its status as "my automobile" occurred when the determination was made that the back seats really were not all that comfortable and a mini-van was really needed for the hauling of people, animals, and things at which point it reverted to me (the old saw about my next new car being my wife's old one is rather true).
We have yet to crack 200,000 miles (The Plague Of 2020 saw to that) and may not do so until next year. That said, it it has had it 200,000 mile service and overall is in fine running condition inside and out. A few things have gone wrong, of course: the fancy cable port to hook up your phone for music no longer works and the CD player no longer plays CDs but that is a minor issue and - since I drive far less and listen to things far less in the car - not really an issue. The interior remains in relatively pristine condition: scratches on the plastic of course, a small dent in the ceiling where a 4" x 4" post went in a bit - but still eminently serviceable for the all too few times I haul anyone besides animals around any more.
The outside is also in "reasonable" shape considering 10 years of molten sunshine and freezing cold - again, the minor scratches and dings that any car acquires after so many years but the paint has held up relatively well.
My hope is that I can keep the car for another 10 years (I was spoiled by an early 1990's Ford Escort my wife had when we got married; we got 310,000 K mileage on the car and only got rid of it because it failed emissions testing; it still ran fine). Given my current or even future mileage over the next 10 years, this seems very possible given it is a standard transmission, I change the oil regularly and the transmissions fluids semi-regularly, and I continue to foresee low mileage. But the outside has to hold up as well,
So this weekend I waxed my car.
Car waxing is a thing that I seem to remember being done far more often than I see it being done now. My father would do it from time to time with the cars we had growing up: I remember him washing them in the driveway, smearing the wax all over it, waiting for it to dry, and then polishing it off. Polishing it off was a fun task when one is young - for a while, until you get bored or it becomes clear it is a great deal more difficult than it looks. Later - in my teenage years - my father got a buffer, which helped matters immeasurably.
My car - being small and short - makes waxing at least possible. I washed the car, put on the wax, and waited.
And thought while I waited, of course. There is always that.
What I realized is that in fact one does not see people doing this anymore at all.
Oh, occasionally I will see someone in the neighborhood doing it. But it is a rare - to be fair, it is rare to see anyone really doing anything to their car in the driveway anymore. For long years we had droughts and washing a car was forbidden at home; this seems to have stuck and now it almost never happens (I cannot tell you how odd it felt doing it in my own driveway).
This represents, I suppose, just another task most have outsourced. I believe they call it "detailing" now, where the car goes through the wash and then someone else does the work while one drinks coffee and watches the phone or someone comes to your place of business and does it while you do your regular job.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this of course - the value of time and money, etc. - and represents the same general trend that sees lawns mowed and bushes trimmed by a third party and oil changes done while you wait. I certainly understand it: yard work is the least favorite of my domestic chores, my confidence in working on my car and not creating a larger issue is low, and there are certainly more profitable ways to spend my time.
But I wonder if we lose something by all of this outsourcing.
As I discussed earlier, the Economy of Service can be a dangerous path to go down - not only for those that become dependent on it but for those that use it. Skills atrophy or are even lost. The ability to do a relatively simple task like waxing a car or mowing a lawn becomes a task which is overwhelming in our mind, something left to someone who can do the work well instead of our pathetic efforts to do so. Given enough time and outsourcing of our skills, we can become incapable or doing anything or even being willing to try. Everything must be left to the "experts".
I finished the polishing of my car within an hour after starting. There were certainly spots that I missed and I had to go back and re-polish (there always are; the sign of an amateur), but it overall looked better and at two hours, was not an immeasurable task.
Who knows? Maybe next time I will get better enough to have to re-polish less.
Monday, October 12, 2020
I have been toying with the idea of a Manifesto for The New Normal.
As we slog through the implications of The Plague of 2020 and the outcome of the continuing economic ruin caused by actions taken to halt its spread, what I think should be obvious to anyone is that 2020 is going to represent a seismic shift in the way we live, the way we do business, the way we interact with each other, the way we live (To be clear: Yes it exists, Yes many people recover from it, No we do not know the long term health implications from it or what and how it will mutate during the "High Sick Season" of Winter. Color me "talk to me in three years when the data is in".) The more I read and ponder, the more I believe this will ultimately be as seismic a shift in either of the Two World Wars of the last century.
Having said that, I have to also note that this is not always a bad thing; things are usually all not one sided in that respect. But it can take a lot longer for those things to make themselves evident: deaths and job losses are easily seen and quickly felt. Shoots of new ways of living or new economic changes are much slower to manifest themselves.
But I want to capture these changes now, as I see them coming, and embed them in my life rather than quickly gloss over them into the areas of The New Normal.
Before it is determined how we should act and react.
Sunday, October 11, 2020
There are, as the saying goes, two kinds of people for every situation: those that like something and those that like something else. In this case, there are two kinds of people: those that like sunrises and those that like sunsets.
A sunrise itself can be spectacular as the world turns from the deep blue of night to the faint pinks and reds of dawn, the stars slowly dwindling into the morning sky, the clouds (if you are lucky) tinged with gold as they rise.
A sunset can be spectacular as the sun pushes up on the clouds in pinks and reds, making the whole sky seem an amphitheater, hitting that color of green/blue/aquamarine that I can never quite describe and lasts only for minutes before it is submerged into the rising darkness.
Of the many things that are lesser here in New Home, the sunsets have never been one of them. Sunsets here can be grand, glorious things with colors I have never seen anywhere else - and if I am traveling in certain places it stretches for miles and miles over a landscape that does not obscure it.
That said (and because I have the rather annoying habit of trying to find deeper meaning in everything), I am wondering if my love of and continuing enchantment with sunsets is indicative of my view of the world.
A sunset is a sign that a new day is coming, that a day of possibilities and tragedies awaits. A sunset is a sign that the day has ended, that darkness is coming, that (for the most part) activities are ceasing and the quiet of night (or the terror of night, if you are prey) is coming.
Perhaps my love of sunsets is simply the acknowledgement of the fact that personally, professionally, or even nationally, I see my part winding down (not right now of course, but sooner rather than later). It is not so much a loss of hope as it is understanding that things always, inevitably draw to a close no matter how much we may work or labor or act.
On the bright side, the clouds are always lovely.
Saturday, October 10, 2020
If The Plague of 2020 has demonstrated anything to us, it is the inherent weakness of the Service based economy.
For those of you that have been in some sort of economics class in the last 35 years, you will remember the progression: herding, agriculture, handcrafting, guilds, industrial, service. The service economy represented the upper echelon of development for any economy. It was the apotheosis of the worker: freed from the drudgery of blue collar and farm labor and relieved of having to do everything by hand, the worker would enjoy the fruits of modern technology, avoiding risk of injury and burnout so prevalent with those other "old fashioned" models.
And then The Plague of 2020 arrived with all the subtlety of a hurricane.
Friday, October 09, 2020
I cannot precisely remember the first movie that I saw in a theater.
Giving it some thought and going through what my memories were, my guess it is was sometime in the early seventies as the films that most likely qualified - Herbie Rides Again, Escape From Witch Mountain, Robin Hood - were all about that time period and are all ones I remember seeing in the theater (and, of course, all were Disney - who else was there back in the day?).
Theaters back in the day, as you might remember if you were of an age, feel into two categories: the local home town theater with its one screen or an assembly of theaters which only happened in large cities and were several screens together (you may lived in a city where they had one of the fine old theaters from the 30's and 40's, but it was not so amongst us hill folk). It was an experience.
The year I remember everything changing was 1977, when I convinced my mother to take to that big multi-screen theater complex to see Star Wars (oh, how I had to beg). Movies became both more plentiful and less remarkable after that.
I write this, because in the past period of time this week I have seen three different news items of note: the first two relating to two major theater chains (of which even I have heard) in financial trouble, one "temporarily" shutting down and the other saying they have limited funding left, and another in which an industry group states they believe up to 70% of smaller theaters will fail.
Much like the home rental business, we may be watching the end of an era.
The movie theaters are not completely to blame, of course. Their model, built on being the only method of distribution of content, has been undercut for years now by the encroachment of television, the afore mentioned home videos, and digital distribution. The Plague of 2020 and resulting fears of contamination have meant they were closed for longer than expected and now, once open, are not frequented by patrons. And finally, the distribution well has gone dry: The blockbusters are not being released - good heavens, thanks to The Plague they are not being made at all. And those that exist and are ready to be launched keep being pushed farther and farther back in launch dates in hopes that all will be back "to normal" and they can approach something like a launch weekend's income.
Of course, theaters do hold some blame too. Ticket prices - in case you have not been lately - are exorbitant. Snack costs are ludicrous, as perhaps they always were. And theater experience is essentially as it has ever been - the chairs may be wider, the sound better, the color sharper, but people still talk loudly and walk between you at inconvenient moments.
The trifecta of lack of content, lack of customer base, and lack of technology are all coming together to create a self-repeating set of circumstances: without a clear health path, many people will not come at all; without content, people will not come to see nothing; with technology and movies that can be accessed for $14.95 a month at home, less people will come at all.
I highly suspect at some point (Disney tried this with Mulan but was not as successful as they hoped), studios will just stop releasing to theaters at all and go directly to the home. The movie theater - except as a much smaller niche market - will be gone.
It is unfortunate for the workers there, of course. Any job loss is. The usual platitude will be said - The Plague, technology, changing tastes, etc. But they will be gone and in a generation - like the home video store workers of my generation - will remember the days when they worked in the great house of Movies.
Some of the theaters - the old ones, the classic ones - may maintain their status or be converted into some other kind of theater. Those that are embedded in other structures - strip malls or malls themselves - will be converted (so long as those continue to exist) into some other forum.
But I suspect that we will see - in our cities and suburbs - large structures surrounded by parking lots with glass holders where posters once stood and ticket booths where people once congregated, standing alone and untouched with "for sale" signs in front, titans of an age when we saw getting together to watch flickering lights a way to pass the time.
Post Script: After writing this meditation (but before it posted), I found reference to an article: "Wonder Woman 1984 director warns movies theaters face extinction". So it is not just me.
Interestingly, the director's suggestion is not that the movie industry find ways internally to support theaters in their time of need. Instead, the suggestion is that the government (really, the taxpayers, because that is where the money is coming from) offer support until such time as they can get back on their feet.
To be clear: An industry which has made literally billions in revenue and tax incentives suggests that the taxpayers support its major distribution network with their money until such time as said taxpayers can start paying the industry with their money instead of the industry that benefits from this distribution network supporting them in their time of need.
It is not often that I am offended by a response, but in this case I find myself so.
Thursday, October 08, 2020
Wednesday, October 07, 2020
Tuesday, October 06, 2020
Monday, October 05, 2020
One of the things I have become more conscious of over the last two months is planning out the activities to see me through the rest of my life.
I have two useful precedents guiding me. The first is being able to visit The Ranch more often now and spend time with my parents, who are now in their eighties. Frankly, things change in the eighties in terms of physical ability and energy (and my parents are in reasonably good health, to be clear).
Sunday, October 04, 2020
I am finally comfortable with the fact that Autumn has finally come - and with it, the approaching end of the summer garden.
Tomato plant is about done, but the sweet potatoes are still putting on vines. I think next year I may skip tomatoes entirely and go with store bought for preserving.
My jalapenos staged a comeback:
Both kinds of okra grew. I mostly save seeds - I may some this year roasted and ground as coffee (it is supposed to be a substitute
On the bright side, the Egyptian Walking onions have thrive beyond believe! Very hopeful for a good harvest.
Seed order done today - more onions, spinach, lettuce, leeks (two varieties), and beets I will also plant garlic as well as see what is in the magical drawer of saved seeds for winter.