Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I Contemplate New Year's Resolutions

I’ve been contemplating my 2011 New Year’s Resolutions. Last night T.R. and I were talking about them, in a general sense, and that conversation has been slowly spinning around inside of my mind, as such conversations tend to do.

At work we have some basic motivational tools – we use Mission Statements and Value Statements and Imperatives (and half a dozen other named things) to keep resolutions foremost in our thoughts. Like the New Year’s Resolution process it meets with greater or lesser degrees of success, depending on the perceived value and the ability to translate such general statements into specific actions.

I think the same challenge is present with any sort of New Year’s Resolution – it must be broad enough to allow for flexibility (given our general inability to predict the future) and yet at the same time specific enough to be useable. I had a pretty good resolution last year – Walk Simply (Write, Act, Learn, and Keep Healthy) and do it all simply. I was more successful than not, through I would have liked to have done all of them more, it was a good motivational set of resolutions that stayed with me through the year.

I would like to have something similar for 2011. My thoughts are running along a bit more complex of a resolution. First, at the high level, I would like to have a general reminder/directive to help me make decisions, especially when I am trying to decide which course of action to take. I am learning toward making 2011 the year of “Go, Do” as a general motivational directive.

I am also thinking about nestling underneath it a set of smaller, more focused objectives. One of the things I’ve been wrestling around with in a “general direction of life” sort of way has been the nature the life we live. I’ve spent a good portion of the year in an observation mode, watching the world around me, watching myself – my actions and reactions, my joys and sorrows, my interests and disinterests. I’ve been powerfully influenced by the overall trend toward simplicity, a journey which I plan to continue.

In general terms, we can divide our lives into “time spent doing things we have to do” and “the things we want to do”. Nestled between the two is “time between”. It seems to me that th e greater joy I have in this life arises, as I would expect it to, from the balance of “things I have to do” and “things I want to do”. As long as the balance is healthy and leans toward “the things I want to do” my happiness increases, my content rises.

There are a couple of factors that influence that balance.

First, there is the “time between”. We spend a significant amount of time between things. Finishing one, waiting to begin the next. That is a significant pool of time that we can tip toward “the things I want to do” – for example, we can fill it with socializing, writing, reading, music, game playing, walking, conscious observation, meditation – whatever it is we value, we can slip a lot of that into the time between. Having o bserved myself for the last year carefully, I really have a lot of space spent “between” – sometimes somewhere up above two hours a day – that is a lot of time. That is hundreds of hours a year. That is an enormous amount of unused potential.

Second, there is “half time”. Half-time is that region of our lives where we are doing one thing (or experiencing one thing) but thinking of something else, or perhaps even doing something else that detracts from the value of the time spent – it is time when you are only half-way there.

So, in terms of a New Year’s Resolution, I would like to capture a couple of things – first, using the “Go, Do” mantra, I would simply like to recapture a portion of the time between, and second, I would like to convert a portion of “half-time” to full time by working on focusing on the thing I am doing in that moment and not thinking about things I am not doing in that moment. That is what the “Go, Do” mantra is aimed squarely at.

So, the other areas where I was thinking about New Year’s Resolutions is a simply question – what is it I enjoy doing? When I “Go, Do” what am I going to “Go, Do”. I jotted down a handful of ideas of the other day, just the general areas I would like to focus more time in.

Relationships – quality time nurturing my relationships.

Poetry – both reading and writing.

Music – both listening and playing.

Exploration – both internal and external.

Exercise – both incidental and focused (as in a class or classes).

Movies – especially quality films.

Reading – good, quality reading, either fiction or non-fiction.

All in all, that is a pretty broad sweep for a New Year’s Resolution, so I may elect to narrow it down, or lay a theme into it or under it or around it. But it is a good start. The process of writing thing ent ry has allowed me to contemplate it even more and I can see the gems of the Resolutions of 2011 starting to shine.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Lesson of the New Chair

A little over a year ago the corporation came through and gave us all new chairs. Mine is right over there, sitting in the corner, holding my briefcase up. I never adapted to the new chair. I tried, once or twice, rolling it into place and sitting on it and fidgeting with the adjustments trying to get to fit as well as the old chair, but it just wasn’t happening.

Now, there may be something objective to that – it may be that the old chair is simply better than the new chair, but I doubt it. I suspect it is entirely subjective. The old chair fits because I decided it fits. I became used to it. I adapted to it, just as the little adjustment levers allow it to be adapted to me.

So, this year, I am going to try and switch over to the new chair. The old chair is nearing the end of its life cycle. It is a typical center post office chair and the seals on the center post are starting to wear out. There is a bit of a wobble in the chair. Not a lot, but enough that it’s noticeable.

So, today, as soon as I finish this I am going to move into the new chair. I am going to take the time and figure out how the little controls work. They are essentially the same controls as the old chair, they are just in different places and have different sensitivities. I am sure it will take me a while to adjust the new chair and to adjust to the new chair. Then, after a few days or weeks or months, I am going to slip into the new chair and wonder why the heck I didn’t do this sooner. I hope.

Because though subjectivity plays a large part in our lives, we should not forget that objectivity plays a significant role as well. Sometimes, one chair is simply better than the other chair, the form, the design, the fit, the function – all of these things have a strong objective component as well.

Years ago I had a very good office chair. It was an extremely high quality ergonomic chair that originally was issued to one of my co-workers by the health department here, given that my co-worker had chronic ergonomic issues. That chair was a throne. When my co-worker left the company the chair was still warm when I swooped it and grabbed it, wheeling it into my office and then proceeding to hold onto it for as long as I could. Simply put, that chair was objectively an excellent chair.

So, as I prepare to move into the new chair I want to conclude this little essay with an observation. It isn’t the observation that I thought I was going to make when I started writing. When I started writing I thought I was going to write a small essay on the power of perception and the influence of subjectivity on simple things, but I realized that wasn’t what I had to say this morning.

What I have to say is this – sometimes things are subjective and we can, by changing our minds about them, change the experience of them. But, sometimes things are objective and all of our mental games do not change them and do not change the experience of them. They simply are what they are.

So, when you are confronted with something that requires or desires change, remember to carefully contemplate it and decide is it an objective thing or a subjective thing? If it is an objective thing you would be far better off to simply change the thing. If it is a design and form issue, rather than try to convince yourself you are comfortable when you or not, or try and convince yourself you don’t care when you, why, in that case, just change the thing.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Three Days of Christmas

Well, all in all, it was a good Christmas. It was a quiet Christmas, largely by choice. As I mentioned earlier, I kept my decorations and preparations for the holiday to a minimum. I wanted to have a simple Christmas and I was successful. I slept well Christmas Eve, waking early on Christmas Day. I made the pilgrimage to Christmas Mass and then met a couple of friends for an assortment of quiches and a sort of buffet Christmas day breakfast. Okay, the only thing in the buffet was quiche, so it was a simple enough thing.

From there, I went home, stopping at the bank on the way (ATM’s do not require Christmas Day off), and then settling in at home. The plan was to watch “Avatar” on Blu-Ray, but as I settled in I happened to stumble upon another excellent movie that was playing on Starz. It was “Whip It”, with Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore. That is a great little movie.

When “Whip It” wrapped up, I headed over to Bob’s for an informal “Bachelor” Christmas dinner (well, I guess it was a Bachelor and Bachelorette dinner, since Brandy was there.) Christmas dinner was a broiled rib-eye steak, mashed potatoes loaded with bacon and cheddar cheese, stuffing, and a green bean casserole. The food was quiet tasty, though Bob later reported that the marinade used on the steak gave him heartburn. There was a pumpkin pie planned for dessert, but that never materialized. Following the pleasant little dinner, I made my way home to wrap of the day with T.R. and Bill Murray (Bill was in “Scrooged”). All told, it was a great little, simple little, Christmas Day.

On the day after Christmas Tyrone and I went to the Hickory Pit for breakfast and Tyrone out did himself eating pork-products. He had the ham steak and eggs, with a side of country sausage AND a side of bacon. I could hear his arteries clogging as he worked his way through breakfast. From there, I stopped at Fry’s and picked up some incidental things. I wanted to get some twist ties to secure computer cables since I was planning on re-arranging the furniture in both my office at work and my office at home.

Additionally, I picked up a pair of movies that were on sale and that are both worthy additions to my Blu-Ray collection – I picked up “Leon The Professional” (Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, and Gary Oldman) and “Escape From New York”, the classic John Carpenter/Kurt Russell team up. I circled homeward with a stop at CVS and a stop for a haircut.

After a quick pit-stop at home I headed back out to La-Z-Boy, when I bought a new chair (the La-Z-Boy “Charlotte” http://www.la-z-boy.com/product/5524-7268/Charlotte-High-Leg-Reclining-Chair/ ), which will be delivered at the end of January. I’ve been meaning to replace my chair, since it has seen better days, so this was the opportunity to do it and it is my Christmas present to myself.

From there, I met Don at Santa Clara Billiards for a few hours of pool, and then it was off to meet Bob and Tony at “True Grit” over at Century 22, followed by a simple dinner at The Flames there on Winchester. I wrapped the day with T.R., and then followed the old adage of early to bed and early to rise.

It’s been quiet here at the office today, with one ongoing technical incident that the team is working on and a blessed change to actually think which at the office. I don’t have anything exciting planned tonight, in fact, I am looking forward to another quiet evening at home and perhaps a bit of DVR watching or maybe a movie. (Oh, and I did rearrange my office – I’m not entirely sure I like it, but it is different and I suspect it will grow on me.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Quiet Christmas Eve

It was a very quiet day at work today. No one called. I got one email and it was an automated system generated email. My team got one call on the Help Desk (and I let my analyst who was working the day go home at 9:00 AM). I spent most of the day simply reading, with a pleasant break for sushi (Hon Sushi in Mountain View) and a couple of games of pool with my friend Don (Don won most of them 5 to 2).

After work I stopped at Safeway on the way home and picked up the ingredients for tomorrows simple Christmas dinner over at my friend Bob's. I am very much looking forward to a quiet Christmas Eve and an equally quiet Christmas Day, through Christmas Day will involve some visits (the aforementioned dinner and probably breakfast). I might try and fit a movie in there somewhere, since there are a lot of films in the theaters at this time of year.

I was sitting here trying to remember the last time I had a simple Christmas evening - I did last year, as I was recovering from the toe surgery, but I actually don't recall much of it. Most likely I was sleeping twelve hours a day and dreaming of a hot shower. I still recall quite vividly the sheer pleasure of that first shower. I am sure my neighbors thought I was having wild sex I was moaning so much.

After I got home this evening I took a walk around the neighborhood, looking at the various Christmas lights and breathing in the cool night air. We had another day of sun between rain storms here, so the day was very pleasant and the evening was equally as pleasant. The walk was short and nice and it took me over 10,000 steps for the days, which is the target.

Tonight, I am settling in for a quiet evening, my simple tree lit and my mood expansive and relaxed. Merry Christmas Eve, whoever you are and wherever you are.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Sun Breaks Free

The sun found it's way to freedom following our first winter storm of the year, which happened to be right on schedule with the first day of winter. After seven straight days of gray and rain it was nice to see the sun, nice to feel it on my skin, nice to walk underneath it. I made it a point on the drive home to stop and take a walk through San Tomas Aquino River park and watch the rainfall runoff splashing down the river, then came home to a simple dinner of a ham and cheese sandwich and a salad.

We've reached the still point at work, that point during the Christmas season when virtually everyone is on vacation and so our workload slows to a mere crawl. I think I got three email today, all about the same subject. I had one meeting and missed another because I got a doctor's appointment time wrong - I had written it down right, I just got it tangled in my mind - fortunately the tangle was that I showed up an hour early, so I took advantage of the mistake to head over and have a nice sushi lunch.

I am looking forward to a very quiet and very soft Christmas this year. With input from my beloved T.R. I've decorated my tree very simply this year, indeed, I've keep all my decorations to a minimum. I've got a string of lights on the patio. I've got the tree up with a single ornament (a Hallmark Eastern Bluebird). I've got a simple wreath on the front door. That is it, and it is also all I need or want this year. This is a very minimalist Christmas, with an remembrance of what the season is about, the birth of Christ, our savior.

I am starting to turn my mind toward my New Year's resolutions for 2011. I haven't carved anything in stone yet, but I have some ideas circulating inside my imagination. I managed to keep 2010 a simply year, focused on healing. Besides recovering from the amputation of my toe last November, a long and slow process, I also had the second toe surgery, to correct the hammer toe that developed on the same foot, so I spent my share of time limping and healing this year.

I also focused on other forms of healing, starting (and maintaining) counseling sessions for work stress, which were probably long overdue. The sessions have been very fruitful and I feel like I have most of my work stress under control. It's no longer a 500 pound gorilla knocking the crap out of me, but rather a handful of imaginary monkeys picking at things. Oh, every now and then something will happen that sets me off, but the recovery time from the stressful incident is far quicker. I don't dwell on it - I recognize it for what it is and am able to deal with it far more effectively than I could just a few months ago. I've still got a ways to go, but I am headed in the right direction and most importantly I feel as if I have the tools to continue on the path of healing and on a "return to the center", so to speak.

I am looking forward to the New Year and I think whatever my resolutions may be, one of the key components if a more focused internal journey and a more expansive external journey. One of the things I've been contemplating on the internal side of that journey is to focus and dedicate the year to poetry. I was discussing with T.R. and one of the things I thought about was spending the entire year with Frank O'Hara (one of the great American poets - if you are unfamiliar with his work run, don't walk, to the nearest book store and buy or order one of his works, or the complete and unabridged volume, which I have).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Learning To Let Go

I’ve had the blessing of a couple of quiet days here at the office. That quietude will continue through the holiday season as part of the natural rhythm of the business cycle. I like to use that time to think about things. One of the things I was thinking about yesterday and today is that in 2011 I need to focus on learning how to let go of the disappointments of life, whether they’re small or big. I need to learn to just let go of the things I cannot change. I need to learn to let go of past wounds that seem to ride with me. I need to let go of the inner critic and the inner censor. I need, simply, to learn to let go.

Brilliant Moon, Broken Sky

The full moon was shining brightly through broken clouds on the drive into the office morning. It was an amazing sight.

Brilliant Moon

Broken Sky

Balmy Wind

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Discover I Am Not Invincible Any More

It was an ordinary thing. I was walking from my office to the deli across the street when life suddenly intervened.  To get there from here you go out the back door of the building, through the turnstile, across the street and then across the parking lot.  In between the street and the parking lot is a small strip of hedge.  There are numerous paths through the hedge that people (including me) routinely take, rather than walking down to the corner where the sidewalk actually turns.  I cut through the hedge, like I’ve done thousands of times.

My foot right foot snagged on an exposed root.  I knew I was going down. I tucked in and protected my head.  I fell out of the small landscaped strip and onto the pavement of the parking lot.  The impact knocked the wind out of me.  I landed more or less on my left side.  My left elbow slammed into the small leather bound journal in my left inner breast pocket.  That journal in turn slammed into my ribs, just below the pectoral muscle. I lay there for a moment, stunned, and then slowly felt myself all over to make sure I hadn’t broken anything.  I hadn’t, but I gave myself a good blow to the middle left rib-cage, which subsequently stiffened up.

It has been getting increasingly better with each passing day, but it is an ache and a pain that reminds me of my age and the fact that I am not invincible anymore!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Spill (A Poem)

I am walking to lunch, jacket buttoned tight, sunglasses on

Contemplating who knows what because in a moment it’s

All swept away. I cross the street, I cross the sidewalk and I

Cut through the small hedge that lines the parking lot

Where my foot catches an exposed root and I have

A moment to realize I am falling and instinct takes over

Slapping the pavement as I hit. It’s still a hard fall, knocks

The wind out of me. I landed on my left side and in the

Pocket of my jacket is my small leather journal and it punches

Me just below the breast.  I lay there for a long moment, then

Roll over and stand up. I’m unhurt, except for my pride and I

Bit of bruising on the chest and a scrap where my left palm

Slapped the onrushing pavement.  I climb to my feet and sweep

The brown dirt from my arm, my knee, my thigh, my hair.

Lunch is a tiny little game hen, roasted squash

And scalloped potatoes with gouda.

 

Take A Deep Breath

There are some days where I just need to take a deep breath. I either get running to fast, get pulled into multi-tasking, or end up stressed out about something that may or may not be related to anything else. When that happens, I feel this pressure – this pressure to move and do.  At times it can become almost frantic.  When that happens, I just need to step back, take a big, deep breath, and then slowly re-engage, focusing on one thing at a time.  Today has been one of those days.

 

Friday, December 10, 2010

We've Come Seeking Clarity

Well, it has certainly been a while since I’ve written anything for the Floating World.  November was a busy month with about half of it spent on travel and the other half trying to get a full months worth of things done.  It flew by on falcon’s wings. Fortunately, here at work, we are slipping into the late December holiday season and one of the hallmarks of that is a tendency toward quiet days. 

As the year winds down there is a tipping point where people stop thinking about 2010 and start thinking about 2011 and so some things lose their urgency.  “It’ll wait” becomes a common refrain, or “let’s schedule that in January”.  Both are very good for those of us who spent a lot of time in customer service.  It’s a chance to relax and reflect, to take a deep breath, lift your head up and look around. 

I always appreciate this time of year precisely because it is a time of introspection and reflection.  I am not really sure what 2011 is going to bring me, but I am starting to contemplate it.  I’ll dedicate some time during the next couple of weeks to some serious introspection and review and then try and lay the foundations of 2011.  I’ve already been contemplating a New Year’s resolution and so far, the main thing that has appealed to me is a simple two prong statement:  “Be Active, Be Productive”.  I keep steering myself into a place of simplicity and those two simple statements reflect that movement. 

I am also feeling a need to focus inwardly instead of outwardly – and I mean seriously inwardly.  Lots of time for introspection, writing, reflection, and thoughtful review and analysis. T.R.’s constant encouragement to move toward a more simple lifestyle is very influential.  Each day it seems as if there is something that I can let slip away.  Yesterday’s necessity seems to become today’s clutter, and today’s clutter needs to go. 

I am not sure if I can find clarity, but I am looking for it.

 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Waiting at Edgies

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Huevos Mexicana at Goodies II

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

At Edgie's

I sank the eight ball on the break!
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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Waiting - Part II

We're still sitting on the tarmac here in SLC. They are stacked up waiting for the de-icing. They estimate a thirty minute delay, but I suspect it may turn into the infamous infinite thirty minutes. I have my fingers crossed that it doesn't, but it very well might. Fortunately, I took tomorrow off from work, with the intention of recovering from the travel day. That may have been a wise decision.

The trip back to SD for Thanksgiving was a good one. The weather was single digit cold, but there wasn't any snow and the wind only kicked in a time or two. So, absent a blizzard, it was simply cold. Butt ass freezing cold, but a simple cold.

Thanksgiving dinner was tasty - a mostly traditional feast centered around turkey and all the assorted trimmings, capped off with a small selection of pies.

In addition to my parents, I saw my sister and several of my nephews and nieces, and one grand nephew. Other than that we watched a lot of the National Geographic channel (my mom's favorite), spent some time reading, some time watching the stray movie, and a lot of time simply visiting.

I left Saturday afternoon and drove up to Rapid City since my flight left at 0610 a.m.. I spent the night at the Fairfield Marriot on I-90. It feels good to be heading home. The pilot announced we're fifth in line to be de-iced, so we should be there in about fifteen more minutes. I have my fingers crossed.
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Waiting on the Tarmac

Sitting on the tarmac at SLC waiting for our turn through the de-icing pad. We've got a good wind and blowing snow. Brrr.
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Salt Lake City

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Rainy Sunday

It's a rainy Sunday morning and I'm sitting outside the laundry waiting on the dryers, typing with my thumbs. I am not sure where my thoughts are today, but I am in a reflective mood. I am sure part of that mood is due to the season and another part is due to the rain. Both can bring with them a subtly powerful influence.

I don't really have anything major to do, but iit has turned to a mostly busy day, with a morning filled with incidental errands. I suspect that I'll be out and moving most of the day, just because. Enjoy the journey of your day, whoever and wherever you are.
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Pruneyard Tower in the Rain

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Fruits of Imagination

In life we often carry things. These may be real things, real objects - the odds and ends of things we pick up in our travels. The might be insubstantial things - thoughts, memories, stories, or the other fruits of imagination.

Among them are the joyous things we carry for other people. The things we carry for them, we hold for them, we nurture for them, we remember for them. The fruits of imagination carry with them the fragrance of our love for those who bore those fruits and then gave them to us. It is an incredible gift and we count their treasures among our treasures.
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Thoughts in a Parking Lot

Okay, technically I am not in the parking lot, I am overlooking it as I sit outside Johnny Rockets waiting for the arrival of Tom and Tony for dinner. Tonight is Tom's last night in California. I put him on the plane back to South Dakota, drawing to a close this chapter of Tom's Excellent Adventure. Wish him the best for the next stage in his journey, where ever it takes him.

I had a Monday today for no other reason than it was Monday. Work was about four hours of meetings, a quick lunch, a bit of trouble-shooting and email, then I flexed out early to run a couple of errands (bank, post office, market, and drug store). I never quite seemed to get out of second gear today. I just could not get rolling.

It's a beautiful evening sitting here, watching people wander by, listening to the indecipherable hum of nearby voices. The sun is bright, the sky very blue, and there is a cool breeze blowing over my right shoulder, almost as if the world were blowing softly in my ear.

Crows and gulls compete for the same scraps, foraging the same parts of the parking lot, warily eyeing each other. I watch the people walking by, noting which are absorbed in their own thoughts and which are aware of this beautiful world around them. It's a parade of children, mothers, grandmothers and trophy wives. You have to love it.

I am not sure the mood I am in today, it is as if its a mood of some sort that is constantly sliding out of my vision, constantly slipping out of my grasp, a mercurial mood of an uncertain origin.

And in the mercurial mood I slide into the end of the day, a post-modern Mercutio.
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tranquility

The fruit of silence is tranquility. -Author Unknown
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Song of Stress or Wolves Surging Through The Door

I woke up this morning and in the few minutes while I lingered in bed, snug inside the warmth of my little comforter cocoon, my monkey-mind started dancing.  My first two thoughts were stress inducing thoughts.  The first was related to my nephew, who is destined to return to South Dakota in about a week.  His stay in California has been enjoyable, but problematic for him. 

I believe that we shape our lives with our choices over time – both the choices to do things and the choices to not do things.  He made his choices and they left him in a place where, at the end of the day, he was dependent on other people for housing, being chronically under-employed. He made enough of an income to keep the wolf from the door, but not enough to actually build a door. 

So, under that circumstances, sooner or later you snooze the wolf comes charging in. My stress arises from the fact that I have an internal debate on what I should do – my nature and instinct is to lend a helping hand, but, when you help people hold the wolf off – they never learn to do it themselves.  Even then, it is not so much that they don’t learn how to do it themselves, but rather than they don’t see the need to do it themselves. 

The wolf never gets them because someone else is always there to hold the wolf off. I think that sometimes in life you need to get bitten by the wolf so that you understand that the wolf is very real and that you have an obligation to make the right choices, the choices that keep the wolves of this life at bay. 

I am, by instinct and inclination, a protector.  I will often hurl myself into battles that other people should be fighting, simply because it is on my nature.  So, making a tactical decision to not engage, in anticipation of a strategic good, is very stressful for me. In the case of my nephew I made the decision not to engage tactically in the hopes that strategically he will learn how to engage.  But, it’s always tough to stand by that decision when the wolves are rushing in.

My second stressor this morning was thinking about work.  One portion of my portfolio is to provide application support to a suite of applications used by a  wide variety of customers.  The challenge arises because, though I can support and influence the application, I cannot support and influence the environment the application works within (the desktop/laptop configurations). Consequently, customers sometimes land on me where I literally cannot do anything to help them and the group that should be helping them isn’t (can’t or won’t, either information of implication). 

This leaves the customer in a tough spot – often caught in a vicious loop where they can’t get any help.  Because of that nature I mentioned above, I am inclined to help these people – in this case, they are trying to fend off the wolf (in this case a faulty desktop) but the bureaucracy and anonymity of a large organization are preventing them.

They are doing the right thing – asking for help, reporting bugs and problems – but the group that is supposed to help them – isn’t.  It’s a struggle for me because I have minimal influence with the other group – I can, through force of will, sometimes manage to hammer them hard enough to take the extra steps of actually helping the customer, but it is emotionally and resource intense – the cost paid is fairly high.

So in both of these stressful cases I am holding a bag full of stressors that I really shouldn’t be holding.  In both cases it is literally someone else’s bag full of stress, and I just can’t figure out how to let go of it.  (I have a scheduled meeting later this day with my manager, as I feel the need to seek their authorization to tell some of these customers – “I’m sorry, I simply can’t help you, you need to go hammer desktop support”.  I hate doing that, but emotionally, in terms of managing the stress – I need some way out from under that particular bag of stress.

As far as the nephew is concerned, I just keep reminding myself that he is an adult, capable of making his own decisions and responsible for the consequences of those decisions.  Easy to say but tough to do when the wolves are surging through the door.

 

 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Seven Things I Know About Success

To me, winning and loses presupposes there is a finish line to this great journey called life.  I don’t really think there is, so I tend not to cast things as winning and losing.  (Combine that with a lifetime of experience of losing-while-winning and winning-while-losing and I’ve pretty much abandoned that whole paradigm.)

There are however people who definitely succeed more often than others, and in the course of my life, I’ve become one of them.  I thought I would write about some of the things that have made me successful in this life, in the hopes that they might influence someone else.

First, don’t be afraid to fall down.  A successful person can run all out because they’re not afraid of falling down. It’s a simple thing, but having a decisive edge is a simple thing.  Outside of the athletic paradigm the same thing applies.  If you want to be more successful than not in relationships, don’t be afraid to take chances.  If you want to be more successful than not in the working world, push the edges of the envelope.

Second, successful people run all out. I’ve always loved the Kipling line – “If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run, then yours is the world and everything in it.”  Whatever environment you’re talking about, personal, professional, or that combination of both, if you want to be successful – run all out, don’t hold anything in reserve. 

Third, successful people run the race they are in.  Not yesterday’s race.  Not tomorrow’s race. Today’s race.  Successful people understand that you never rest on your laurels, nor to do you take the approach of “I’ll win tomorrow’s race”.

Fourth, successful people get good coaches.  A successful person understands the value of tapping other peoples experiences and abilities, of seeking their advice and then following it, at least until you’re certain it works or doesn’t work. 

Fifth, successful people readily accept and respond positively to criticism, whatever the source, whatever the criticism.  Their first response to criticism is “wow, that is interesting, what else can you tell me”? They understand that even poorly delivered criticism can have a valuable gem buried within it.

Sixth, successful people are always ready and willing to learn and approach everything as a learning experience. Every single race you run is an opportunity to learn – to learn about yourself, to learn about the other racers, to learn about the courses, to learn about the impact of weather, to learn about the impact of equipment.

Seventh, successful people understand that it is all about relationships, and so they invest the time and energy in the relationships that matter most to them.  They understand that relationships have the power to make bad times good and good times great.

 

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Ides of October

Well, technically, it isn’t the Ides of October, but close enough for government contractor work.  I’ve long been in love with fall weather and this fall has been no exception.  I love the warm days and cool nights.  To me, that is perfect weather – warm enough in the day to take the jacket off, cold enough at night to put the jacket on.  Oh, and can I mention that wonderful feeling of being in a warm bed on a cool morning.  Just an outstanding time of year, all in all.

I’ve been focused at work this week. My manager is out on vacation, so I’ve been attending meetings and fending off callers on her behalf, which is always interesting and amusing.  It is interesting because it is a window into what is going on at the level above me and it’s amusing because, well, some of the stuff is just amusing. I guess you can firmly put me in the list of people who thinks the flatter an organization is the better.  If you get too many layers you start to run into isolation, where upper management not only doesn’t know what is happening in the field, but they are also far enough away that they don’t even actually know what the processes and procedures are.

I think if I were to give a piece of advice to aspiring managers it would be this – no matter how far you rise in the organization always take the time to know what your basic field person, the person who builds your product or actually provides your service, is doing. That key bit of information can make the difference between a good decision and a bad decision.

Switching to another topic, I stopped at a sporting goods store yesterday and bought myself a pool cue.  I’ve been feeling the need to take up a hobby and lately I’ve been heading to the pool hall on the weekends to spend a couple of hours playing pool.  I used to play years ago, I used to be fairly good.  I can say without hesitation that – I’m not.  I haven’t played in so long that I am having to relearn the very basics of form, position and style.  I did read an interesting article the other day that broke the basics of pool down into seven things, so I memorized those seven things and I am going to give them a try and see how it improves my game.

I also stopped at Nob Hill last night and picked up an assortment of Greek Gods yogurt (I bought two containers of each flavor) based on T.R.’s recommendation.  T.R. was the one who turned me on to the incredible Sheer Bliss ice cream and she was right about the Greek God’s yogurt too. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth looking for – just outstanding.  I’ve already fallen in love with their pomegranate flavor.  The simple pleasures of life are amazing things.  Ice cream and yogurt and T.R. all fall into that category for me.  (And yes, I was able to write “turned me on to…” without…diverting.)

So, we are at the Ides of October.  Whoever you are, wherever you are, I hope your fall finds a few magical moments hidden in the nooks and crannies.

 

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Contemplative Month

October is a beautiful month.  A month of warm days and cool nights.  A month of long sunsets and subtle sunrises.  It is my favorite time of year.  It is also an introspective time of year for me, for a variety of reasons I won’t detail here and now. This October is no different. October is the month of contemplation.  October is the month of remembrance.

October is also already one-third gone. How fast the time seems to be flying this year.  Each day flows by and spins into the next and the next and yet again, the next.  In between those days there fall many things are not done.  They just seem to slip away. 

I’ve been free-writing this October, but I’ve only been able to do it about fifty percent of the time.  In the other fifty percent I’ve either banged in writers block (about thirty percent of the time) or simply forgotten (about twenty percent of the time).  Compared to my writing output over most of the summer though, that has been pretty good. I haven’t really written anything that dazzles me – but I have managed to write.

Over the weekend, as I was wandering, I stopped at Barnes & Noble and picked up something called “The Writers Tool Box”, which is a book and some tools to help a writer – I am looking forward to giving them a try, perhaps tonight when I get home.  I opened the tool box on Sunday and glanced through the material and it looked like it might be of some help.

So, let us continue on this particular journey through this contemplative month and see if this is the month that I manage to work my way through my writers block.

 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Three Top Movies of 2010

I was in conversation with some friends over the weekend and we talked about the rather low quality of movies in 2010.  I listed my three favorite movies in 2010, the best three in my opinion, and of course they were movies most of my friends hadn’t seen.  In order:

 

#3:  Let Me In – a totally awesome little vampire movie, a remake of the Swedish film “Let The Right One In”.  A small and striking exposition on what it means to be a monster with the astounding Chloe Grace Moretz. http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1810048892/info

 

#2:  The Runaways – with Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning.  A great little movie about the seminal girl rock and roll band “The Runaways”.  I highly recommend this movie as it is a slice of history. http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1810129048/info

 

#1:  Winters Bone – this is an astounding movie with the best performance as an actor I’ve seen in 2010, and that is J.D. Qualls as “Teardrop”.   I think his performance as the lead characters badly damaged Uncle is astounding and unexpected. In my opinion he should be locked in for Best Supporting Actor, certainly a nomination, if not the win.  http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1810128334/info

 

 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Significance of Other Voices

As we move through the processes of creativity one of the things we will sometimes encounter is unintentional plagiarism. As I wandered through the day yesterday I had a phrase stuck in my head.  I wrote the phrase down in my notebook and then, in quiet moments through the day, I played with it – tried in direction formats, tried building around it, tried using it as the kernel of a greater writing.  Slowly, it seemed to take form as a lyric.  That form is what must have tickled my brain, because I dropped the phrase into Google and there it was.  It was a song lyric from a Van Morrison song.  As soon as I identified it the rest the song came flowing out.

Inspiration, transformation, and imitation are all kissing cousins.  They all move about closely together.  One of the risks when you read powerful writers (or listen to them, as in the above case) is that their voice can begin to overwhelm your voice.  I had a rather radical thought this morning that I am rolling around in my head.  I thought about using my October writing exercise (which starts tomorrow) and combining it with a “seeking my own voice” exercise.

I thought about spending the month of October and not reading anything containing the significance of other voices. No external poetry.  No external fiction.  No external literary non-fiction.  I considered, very briefly, the extreme of trying to not read anything, of excluding the daily paper and the news on the web, but I quickly realized that level of reading abstinence certainly wouldn’t work for me. 

I have to read things for work and my profession requires that I maintain an awareness of the developments in my industry and my field.  I could conceivably go to that level of isolation from external written influences, but I think that would be too far and I doubt I could sustain it.  I am not even sure I can sustain not reading anything of any literary value – but I can make a run at that.

Maybe.  I say maybe because even as I contemplate the idea, I can myself entering withdrawal!  It may very well be one of those interesting ideas that doesn’t manifest itself.  But, it is something I am contemplating if only for the joy of contemplation and a simple fact of math.  If I removed from my daily schedule the time I spent in leisure reading, I would generally free up at least an hour, perhaps more, per day for writing.  I would briefly still the other voices in my head to allow my own voice to come through.  I like that idea. I surely do.

 

Paused to Admire while Walking

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Thirty One Days of October

We’ve slipped into the last three days of September.  The month flew by, but I feel as if I am in a good position to slide into October.  I’ve writing about struggling with writers block and I thought that I would make a concerted effort to “write my way into a creative spot” during the month of October.  I was discussing it with T.R. the other day and she suggested that I take a deliberate time each day, as small as fifteen minutes, and simply write. I think that is a good idea and so that is my plan.

For the thirty-one days of October I am going to set aside a deliberate amount of time each day to write for a minimum amount of time – perhaps only free writing, but with the intention of taking the space in time and then filling that time with writing.  I am going to try to find a way to do it at the same date and time each day.  I think I will delineate what is written “in the window” and what is written “out of the window”. 

I’m going to call this little exercise “The Songs of October” – I thought it might inspire me if I had a cool title.  I attempted a similar thing back during Lent, but only made it about a third of the way into the Lenten season before I lost the momentum.  At the time, I had restricted myself to flash fiction and poetry, but this time through I am not going to put any artificial restrictions on it, in order to, hopefully, prime the creative pump.

 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thoughts on the Power of What We Think

I went to the podiatrist today on a follow up visit after the hammer toe surgery of early August. It has been seven weeks since the original surgery. I had a pin through the toe for four weeks and I’ve been wearing what I refer to as my “toe bondage device” – basically a sort of sling-for-toes that held the toe in place – for the last three weeks. The toe bondage device was inconvenient but not uncomfortable, with the exception of one day when I managed to get it twisted around and strangled my toe.

Today, I got a clean bill of health. The toe looks good, it is laying back down flat, alongside the other toes. It isn’t perfect and the podiatrist stated that if it is not flat enough, we can have a second, follow on, minor surgery to lay it down flatter. It may not be perfect but it is probably 95% better than it was before, when it was scrunched up and hammered. When I stand flat footed it is slightly higher then the other toes on that foot. Inside a shoe I don’t even notice it. I have one more follow up in about a month, but essentially this excursion into the world of corrective surgery is complete.

Though the elapsed time between me walking into the office, the doctor examining the toe, and me walking out of the office was about thirty minutes. Yet, walking out, I felt significantly better. Sitting here at home the toe feels significantly better. There is probably no real change, physically, between yesterday and tonight – but, in my mind, in that wonderful realm of psychology, I am suddenly no longer carrying the weight of the toe. Now, it is just a toe. A toe with a clean bill of health.

Words are incredibly powerful things. Today, T.R. got a bit of good news of her own, one card that, when turned, fell one way and not the other, in this vast game that is life. When she relayed it to me mid-morning I felt the weight of that lift as well, though I am sure what I carried was a fraction of the weight she was carrying. Words are astounding things. The weight they carry. The weight they can release.

It leads us, I think, to consider carefully the words we utter – good, bad, and indifferent. Whether it is the weight of a life or the weight of a toe, all wrapped up in words. What we think is a powerful thing and the role the words we think and hear and say play in that powerful thing is pretty amazing. I guess today I am moving through life pretty amazed, with a lighter heart and a lighter toe and perhaps a lighter soul. All due to the power of words.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Things My Counselor Reminded Me Of

One of the advantages of seeing a counselor, as opposed to confiding in your friends or relying entirely on your support network, is that a counselor sees everything with a fresh set of eyes, hears everything with a fresh set of ears, and doesn’t assume you’ve covered the basics.  On Wednesday I made my first visit to the counselor I was referred to by the company’s employee assistance program.  It was a typical first visit to a counselor – we did paperwork and then she did the intake screening, where she worked through a series of standard questions and then we talked.

The principle challenge area for me is work stress. To paraphrase an observation from the counselor “my resilience is worn down”.  Think of your resilience as a cushion between you and the bumps in the road.  The thicker and stronger your resilience cushion the better able you are to ride out the bumps on that road. Over time and under high stress that cushion starts to wear thin.  As it wears thin you start to feel the bumps more and more.  They types of things that you previously just ridden over start to jolt and jar you. They can become painful.  For me, my frustration threshold is reset very low.  When I bang into the normal bumps and jolts of the working world I don’t bounce like I did three years ago. I personally found it a very workable analogy.

One of the things a counselor can do is focus you back on the basics.  I am no stranger to stress.  I’ve worked in a high stress field for years. Perhaps all of my working life has been in a variety of high stress fields. I’ve been through a wide variety of stress management classes and training seminars over the years.  A lot of those techniques and tips helped through the stress of the last couple of years. But, in conversation with the counselor I realized there were two very simple techniques that, in my tunnel vision, I had forgotten to use.

The first was so obvious that, when she asked about it, I figuratively kicked myself in the rear end because I had forgotten it. It is the most simple and basic stress reduction technique in the book.  Breathe.  Simply breathe.  When you encounter a stressful event, simply take a moment and breathe.  Take three minutes and breathe.  Use your stress management, or yoga, or meditation breathing. Just remember to do it.  It was quite a realization to me that I wasn’t breathing like I should be and specifically that I wasn’t using the meditative breathing techniques that I know very well in direct and immediate response to stress inducing events. I simply forgot.  Stress induces tunnel vision and I think I was deeply in the midst of it.

The second was almost as equally obvious and that is use guided visualization techniques to protect yourself in the midst of stress.  Visualize yourself surrounded by a protective field.  Visualize yourself as waterproof and the stress as rain drops.  Visualize yourself in armor.  There are a wide variety of visualizations that you can use, whichever strike your personal fancy or appeal to you.  Use whatever works as you try and manage the stressful events.  It is another very basic thing that, in my tunnel vision, I was forgetting.

I think one of the main differences between your personal support network and a professional counselor is the absence of basic assumptions.  When I’ve talked with those people in my personal support group we’ve never talked about the very basics. Perhaps I would have had the moment of realization if I had. But, most likely, I assumed I was doing the basics and they assumed I was doing the basics. 

Additionally, since my stress is primarily focused around work, it is not as prominent or pervasive while I am off work.  I very rarely have stressful incidents outside of the work environment.  I usually wake up in the morning, run through my morning routines, and enjoy that time.  When I finish the working day I am generally very good at leaving that stress behind me, since I know it is going to be there on the next day for me to pick up.  Consequently, in conversations outside of work – I often simply don’t bring work up, except for the occasional commentary.  For the folks in my support network I sincerely enjoy their company, so work stress tends to be farthest from my mind and I find myself focusing on the good things in life, the things I love, the things I enjoy, the constant state of amusement and amazement that is the very fabric of life.

The introduction of a professional counselor into the mix allows that fresh set of eyes, both as they look in, and as you look at yourself in an attempt to share as much of yourself as you will or can with the counselor. That vision from two different perspectives is a valuable thing.  Perhaps it is simple the value of vision from a different perspective. Perhaps it is simply telling our story anew that empowers the insights.  Whatever may underlie it, I think that if you are contemplating whether or not you need to see a counselor, give it a try.  Worst case scenario you waste a little time and money.  Best case scenario you gain a little insight.

 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Two Anxiety Dreams

Dream One:  I dreamt that I was riding in a car that was going down a freeway.  Ahead was a complex intersection where we were going to turn around and go back the direction we had come from. In order to make this turn, it was a case of getting into the right lane and than making a pair of left turns – right to get off the freeway, then left and left again to get back on the freeway going in the opposite direction.  The driver of the car, whom I never actually saw in the dream, reversed the directions, attempting to go left and then right-right. This made the already complex turn even more complex.  Eventually we made it through the intersection, but it was time consuming and frustrating.  The dream ends once we are safely turned around and heading back in the direction we came from.

Dream Two:  I am in the parking garage on 3rd street in downtown San Jose, near the Camera 3 theatre. I am coming down one of the stairwells on my way to my car.  I am apprehensive because, in the dream, there have been a series of robberies at knife-point in the stairwells of the parking garage. I am not so much afraid as I am apprehensive.  As I go from each floor to each floor I am mentally playing out response scenarios if I encounter a robber.  “If they are here, then I am going to do this and go here…”.  I play out each scenario in my mind as I go down each floor.  Eventually, I reach the floor where my car is parked.  I walk to my car without incident and the dream ends just as I arrive at my car.

Following this pair of dreams I awake at about 3:30 AM.  It feels like it is later in the morning, so I actually check the clock to see if it is time to get up.  I briefly consider getting up, but decide it is way too early, so I lay there in bed, trying to go back to sleep, thinking about the pair of dreams.  They were both classic anxiety dreams and they ramped up my anxiety a little bit, but not significantly.  They were not high anxiety dreams or nightmares.  Both dreams had a successful resolution after a period of apprehension.  In the first dream, we were able to successfully and safely turn around following the wrong turn.  In the second dream no robber appeared and I was able to make it safely to my car.  In neither dream was I denied the opportunity to reach the goal, in fact I passed through both dreams and arrived at my destination safely after the period of stress and anxiety.  After a while I was able to fall back asleep.

 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Working through The Wall

In two separate incidents in the last couple of weeks I’ve hit what I have started to call “The Wall”. I’ve been through a lot of stress in the last couple of years, from “The Project That Almost Broke Me” to the health issues that led to the amputation of my toe. Anyway you cut it, that is a lot of stress, layered on top of all the other incidental stressors of life in the modern age.  Now that I am through the worst of both of the above the stress that I had so tightly clamped down is starting to find its way out.

I never totally repress my stress.  That is very counterproductive.  But, sometimes I simply set it aside, focus on the things at hand, and then deal with the stress at a later point.  Well, I’ve reached that later point.  Last week I called my companies EAP (employee assistance program) and spent some time on  the phone with one of their phone screeners and then subsequently set up a follow up session(s) with a therapist, starting this Thursday.

The two pronged trigger event was what I’ve taken to calling “the wall”, since the experience of it is very similar to hitting a wall.  Other similar events have occurred since I’ve been under such stress levels, but these two occurred in rather close proximity, and all things considered, I figured this was a good time to visit a counselor.  Basically, what happens is this.

A couple of weeks ago I was socializing with some friends and as the conversation turned passionate I suddenly realized – I simply didn’t care. At a deeply profound level I simply didn’t care. I wasn’t interested.  I wasn’t engaged.  I was simply done. I excused myself, got up, and went home.  It was a rather abrupt departure. 

Then, about a week ago I was at work and I got a call from the company health plan, which has a “condition care” program for people with long term medical conditions, to help you manage them. I’d consented to participate in the program, which basically comprises of a nurse calling you every six or seven weeks and checking on how things are going.  It’s fairly unobtrusive and helps keep you focused on managing your long term health condition.

Well, we played a bit of phone tag last week and then I finally managed to get through.  I spoke to a person on the help desk, we routed my call to a care nurse (or so I expected).  Instead, the call was routed to someone who tried to get me to participate in some other program provided by the health insurance that was a little more comprehensive.  And suddenly…I didn’t care. I told them to take my name off any list because I was done.  I thought the call was deceptive marketing and I was no longer interested in participating.

Inside of me though, I had slammed right into “The Wall”.  When I hit the wall I am incapable of rationally moving forward. I am just finished.  I am through.  I am no longer interested. I profoundly don’t care. I am not mad.  I am not losing my temper. I just…don’t…care.  Once I hit the wall – I don’t care about anything. I am just done. It usually fades after a couple of hours and I can resume my normal activities.

Though it is a “larger than work” challenge, it primarily manifests itself at work. During those times when I am up against the wall, at work, I am simply and completely disengaged.  When I hit the wall at work I basically stop doing anything productive and simply – get through the day so I can go home.  I literally have to struggle to answer work related email.  I will literally sit there and stare at the phone while it rings and have an internal debate on whether or not I should answer the phone.  I’ll sit at my desk and look at some project and just…stare at it.

I can do other things.  I can do other non-work related things.  I can even do a few peripherally work related things, like read material, or attend a meeting, that sort of thing.  But if it requires any significant level of engagement, I just can’t do it.   The feeling (or more accurately the lack of feeling) always eventually fades, but while in the grips of it I am essentially paralyzed and completely disengaged. I am going through the motions of work, not actually working.

 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Thoughts on Writers Block

I thought I would take a couple of minutes this afternoon and write about writers block. I don’t have a total case of it.  I can and do write.  But, when I write I have the sense that I am writing around things, not about things. Like I have a subject, I have content, and instead of addressing it directly, I just kind of skirt the edges.  It is not a very satisfying experience and I am not really sure why I am doing it.

Every now and then a bit of inspiration manages to make it all the way through and become a finished piece of work. Every now and then something that is inside, waiting to get out, slips out and makes its way to the page as a finished piece.  It seems kind of rare to me.

I find myself self-censoring because I just don’t quite like what I am writing. It is not related to the subject or the content of what I’m writing but rather the form and structure o fit. Almost everything seems to be a near miss.  It feels like I am just slightly off center, just slightly off kilter.

I can’t seem to get back to the center though.  I wonder sometimes if it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I don’t write and because I don’t write I don’t like the quality of what I write. In order to move my way through the writers block, I need to simply write more, but I can’t write more because I have writers block.  It is the experience of being slightly off center and hesitant to move back to the center.

All in all it is unlike any prior experience of writers block. Previously when I’ve been blocked there has been a reason why I was blocked, usually some subject or content that had worked its way to the head of the writing queue and was stuck there, backing everything else up until it resolved itself.  I really don’t feel like that this time. I think what I might need to do is simply practice writing – practice, practice and then practice some more until it starts to flow again.

I am not sure that is the solution. But, I did write about it, so that was a step in the right direction.

 

Thoughts on Frustration

Frustration arises when two conditions are met.  First, we have the expectation of a different outcome and second, we perceive that we have done everything necessary to realize that expectation.  Frustration arises at either the known or unknown quantity that we perceive as preventing our expectation from being realized. I am sure there are many individual manifestations that fall under the umbrella of frustration. Though they may vary in details at the specific levels they all result from that generic sense that our expectation was not met.

My frustration bubbled up over the last weekend. I was socializing with my friends and I was expecting a certain level of courtesy during a rather heated conversation. I perceived that I was being treated without that level of courtesy, despite the fact that I felt I was clearly extending the same or greater courtesy. I  started to develop the feeling that I was being manipulated into a position where my only recourse was to be even more discourteous then the other people were being and I didn’t like it.

There were a variety of ways to deal with it. I could have waded into the conflict.  I could have simply ignored it. I could have taken any one of the many options that lay between those two ends of the spectrum. But I could feel my temper starting to boil and I decided, rather suddenly, that the best thing for me to do was express my frustration and excuse myself before I lost my temper and said things that I might later regret.  How many times have you seen in life where an argument breaks out and the original point of the argument is lost in the harsh words tossed about?  Where the prick of a thorn becomes a wound? I wanted to avoid all of that, so I excused myself, expressed my frustration and headed out the door.  It was the wise choice.

 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Slow Walking Insights

On August 9th I had outpatient surgery to correct a hammertoe on my right foot.  In November of last year I had the right great toe (the big toe) amputated and the development of the hammertoe in the second toe is not unheard of, as the remaining toes are working pretty hard to compensate for the loss of the great toe.  The hammer toe developed over the course of two months or so. The surgery seems to have gone well.  It isn’t perfect, but it is a lot better than it used to be.  I’m also not a person who really expects any sort of perfection, so I am fine with that.

For the first two weeks after the surgery I wore a post-op shoe, as the swelling subsided and each subsequent visit to the doctor’s office resulted in a smaller, more comfortable bandage. After the last visit to the doctor I switched from the post-op shoe to a comfortable pair of Columbia sport sandals.  If I’d have been thinking I probably would have made the switch earlier, since the sport sandal and post-op shoe are essentially the same design – a sole with straps. The sport sandal even extends beyond the edge of the foot to about the same distance as the post-op shoe did.  Most importantly, it is a lot more comfortable.  I was telling people that wearing one running shoe and the post-op shoe was a lot like wearing a running shoe and a flip-flop. With the sport sandal the level of foot support and the height of the sole is about the same.

Anyway, as a result of the surgery I’ve been walking slowly.  I think, in general, I move around at about a third of the pace of everyone else.  It has given me a strange perspective on the world and an interesting set of insights into my friends and acquaintances. Here are some of the things that I have observed and thought about.

First, when you walk slowly, you really see a different world.  It is like I am walking in an alternate universe.  I work in a fairly big building and the restroom is about fifty yards from my desk.  Besides having to give myself plenty of lead time (there is no jumping up and dashing to the bathroom), I’ve become very aware of how bland the hallway is.  It is possible to become bored just walking down the hallway because it takes a long time and there is, generally, nothing to look at on the journey.

Second, the most dangerous part of having a foot injury is the people who try to help you without announcing their intention.  They reach out to steady you when they think you’re unsteady (and almost knock you over by pulling or pushing you off balance).  They suddenly jump in front of you to open a door (catching you off guard and throwing you off stride as you approach the door).  They “hover” by walking very close to you, with the best of intentions, but effectively throwing you off stride because they are crowing you.

Third, you can pretty much divide the world into people who are paying attention and people who aren’t paying attention.  Quite often I’ve been in a store or restaurant and the help (the host or hostess, a floor clerk) with turn and take off, not noticing that you’re not following them at anywhere near the same rate of speed. I’ve had hosts/hostesses in restaurants dash all the way through the restaurant, arrive at the table and look around with a bewildered gaze when they realize not only am I not behind them, I am not anywhere close to behind them.  I’ve had clerks in stores do the same thing.  The people who are paying attention do the little things like walk slowly, or seat you at a nearby table, or offer to pick an item up for you if it is clear across the store.  It has just been an interesting experience.

Fourth, you can also divide the world into people who ask and people who don’t ask. Then, you can divide the people who ask into those who express sympathy and words of encouragement and those who will insist on telling you some vaguely related horror story along the lines of - Oh yes, my Uncle had that surgery and then as he was limping around he was mauled by a pit bull who bit off the toe on his other foot.

Walking slow though, I have spent a lot of time studying the mechanics of walking, which are pretty fascinating.  I’ve also spent a lot of time watching other people walking (usually as they are zooming past me in either direction).  I’ve also just spent a lot of time…watching.  I am an addicted people watcher anyway, so limping slowly through crowds or finding someplace to sit and watch has always been fascinating to me anyways.

The slow walking can be frustrating, especially here, later in the healing process, when I want to do things. I’ve pretty much had the ongoing process of simplifying my surrounds on hold, tackling only a few very minor things, because it does require the ability to walk – if for no other reason than to take out the trash. However, I do feel that I am approaching the point where I can start doing some minor movements, much as I was when healing from the earlier amputation. Over the weekend I organized my movie collection and moved in from a pair of metal racks into a single bookcase and arranged it in alphabetical order.

But, I counter-act the frustrations of slow walking by focusing on Zen walking – that is, being as entirely in the moment and act of walking as I can be.  That is kind of an interesting experience as well.  I have a follow-up Doctors appointment on Wednesday, for a check and possible removal of the stitches along the top of the toe, and they may remove the temporary pin sometime next week, which I am definitely hoping for.  The approaching Labor Day weekend holds one of my favorite festivals – the Pleasanton Highland Games, and I am going to hate to have to cancel out of it if I am still in the sandal.  But, it is important to focus down on it and remember that healing is always more important.

 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Return To The Floating World

I was thinking about writing today. I’ve been suffering from some form of writers block for the last several months. I am able to write, but it is small bits and pieces of things. It has been pretty rare that I have managed to write anything of any substance or size. I have stories that I am inclined to tell. I have thoughts, ideas, observations and little journeys of imagination that are the basic building blocks of story-telling. But they are not reaching the page. They are not becoming full blown stories.

I seem to be mostly content just watching. Perhaps I’ve got too many things on my mind. Lord knows it has been a busy, and not always a good busy, year. Lord knows that the year has flown by. I’ve expressed a near continuous desire to slow time down. But, then things will happen that do slow time down…and I still don’t write. Maybe it is a time in my life when I should just be observing. Maybe it is a time for watching, listening, feeling, smelling, and tasting. I don’t know the answer to that question – but I do know I want to be writing. So I call it writers block without any real hesitation.

I know assorted tricks to overcome writers block. I have been writing long enough that I’ve encountered writers block before – in some cases far more profound writers block then this. But there is usually a reason for it that I can put my finger on. There is usually some visible obstacle that I can surmount or circumvent. Right now, there really isn’t. Not any external block anyway. There is just a space between the imagination and the paper.

Part of me knows that what I really need to do is just sit down and start filling that space with words. Part of me knows that the best way to get through writers block is to just simply start writing. Write anything. Write everything. Eventually the good stories manage to find their way through. Eventually the words return and the stories start to spill out onto the paper. I am hoping to find that balance point soon.

I’ve got two thoughts about how to move past this writers block. First, I’ve been contemplating staring a new online journal. Rod’s Floating World has a certain history, a certain weight to it. I started it at one point in my life and it was sort of a catch-all through a certain time. However, I am not in that time-space any more. I’ve moved out of it. Life has altered in the small and subtle ways that it does and those alterations seemed to pull me away from that place.

But then it dawns on me that any online journal is just a place. It is an empty piece of paper. What is in the journal has nothing to do with the dimensions of the journal itself. An online journal is like an empty bowl. The usefulness comes from its emptiness. It’s not about the bowl, but rather about what you put into the bowl. Lately, it seems I have been filling it with breakfast cereal. Not that there is anything wrong with breakfast cereal, but it’s not a meal. As a writer I’ve been hungry for a meal for a while now.

Today I reached the decision that I was not going to let “Rod’s Floating World” slip away from me. It’s a beautiful little place and it has a certain history to it. I sometimes like looking back at previous years, especially on sort of a month to month to month comparison. It’s cool to see the rhythms of life played out there. Even though the rhythm of this life has changed, I want to keep playing out that rhythm here, in this wonderful little bowl that is “Rod’s Floating World”.

Additionally, I am spinning up two other online journals. After some careful self-examination over the last couple of months and a bit of a trial run, I’ve decided that one of the things that will help me write my way forward is to focus my writing around themes. “Rod’s Floating World” is going to be my place to write about, well, the Floating World (1). “A Blue Bowl” is my place to write about my ongoing journey toward minimalism and a life of simplicity. “Chain of Words” is a place for my original poetry and short fiction, some of which is of an explicit and adult nature.

Somewhere along this journey I lost the core of the “Floating World” and it became a catch-all, a sort of back water where all kinds of flotsam and jetsam was washing ashore. I’d kind of like to write my way back over to the heart of it. Part of this journey that I am on right now is the journey toward simplicity and minimalism that I mentioned above. One of the internal drivers of that journey is the desire to once again move in the core of this life, to once again find the core of this floating world.

A few months ago, in a conversation T.R. and I were discussing the journey toward simplicity and she made the comment that one of the things she would like to see me try is to also try and make that journey in my writing. I’ve also thought about that intermittently ever since she commented on it. I think that part of the reason I lost the ability to write is that what I was writing became cluttered and once cluttered it lost its core. Inside that core is what I love about writing.

Creative writing, whether you write poetry or fiction or creative non-fiction, is one of the most intimate things that one human being can do. It is a level of intimacy that some people just cannot attain. It requires a certain fearlessness and courage. I look back on some of the things I’ve written over the years and the level of intimacy captured inside the writing astounds me. It is that intimacy in writing that reaches our emotional core. It is that intimacy that makes the great poets like Pablo Neruda, Frank O’Hara, and Ted Hughes so emotionally powerful. They write with an intimacy that reaches off the page and pulls you into a tight embrace, pulls you right through space and time into that perfect moment they captured. When I can touch the palest shadow of that intimacy with my own writing I feel transformed. Not only am I transformed, my world is transformed. My soul is on fire and I am fully within the floating world.

(1)Ukiyo or “The Floating World

“Usually the word “Ukiyo” is literally translated as “floating world” in English, referring to a conception of a evanescent world, impermanence, fleeting beauty and a realm of entertainments (kabuki, courtesans, geishas) divorced from the responsibilities of the mundane, everyday world.

The contemporary novelist Asai Ryoi, in his Ukiyo Monogatari (Tales of the Floating World, 1661) provides some insight into the concept of the floating world:

…Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves just floating, floating….refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current; this is what we call the floating world…””

“Ukiyo-e”, Wikipedia.com, Last Updated March 31, 2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukiyo-e

Tall Dreams

Last night I dreamed that I was very tall, over six foot four, so tall that I had to significantly duck every time I enter a room. I followed that dream up with some very ordinary processing dreams.
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Monday, August 16, 2010

Work Dreams

Last night I dreamed I was trying to confirm the content and location of a work meeting. It wasn't so much an anxiety dream as it was a processing dream. I woke this morning with a simple prayer for the patience to make it through a work day. With my healing foot the pace of the day must, of necessity, be slow-slow-slow.
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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Lecture Hall

I dreamed that I was teaching a class on behalf of another professor. In order to get to the assigned lecture hall I had to lead the students through a warren of classrooms, offices, stairwells and ladders. It was a complete maze but I knew exactly where I was going because of experience. The dream was not about the lecture, but rather about the journey to the lecture hall.
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

I Dream of Baseball

I dreamed I was playing baseball, in left field. There were two runners on (second and third) and the batter hit a hot fast ground ball. It squirted past the third baseman and I moved to intercept it when it hit a rock of some sort and shot straight up into the air (definitely a bad bounce). I had to charge up on it, catch it as it fell and then try and throw the runner out, which I could not do (due to those few precious seconds lost to the bad bounce). The runner on second advanced to third and the runner on third scored, ending the game.
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Friday, August 13, 2010

Road Trips and Crime

Two dreams last night. In the first I dreamed that I was on a long road trip driving across some arid and empty terrain. In the second I dreamed that I was reading the paper only to come across a story that someone I knew was a victim of a brutal beating.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Dream I Work In An Electronics Store

Last night I had a very involved and detailed dream about working in an electronics store (similar to Best Buy).  I am not entirely sure what I did in the store, but I seemed to be in some sort of supervisory position. I was wandering around and talking to people. (Wandering around and talking to people is one of the key components of good management in “The Book of Rod”.)  I was having an enjoyable day at work in the dream.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I Dream of a Nail

A very active dream life last night. The main dream I remember on waking is that I was making my way off the back patio of a cajun bar and I stepped on a nail that penetrated my right foot. Friday I had surgery on my right foot to correct a hammer toe, so I am sure the two are related, though I am not exactly sure how cajuns got involved. I then dreamed I was returning to a strangely familiar motel.
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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Two Dream Fragments

I woke with the memory of two dream fragments. First, I dreamed of the actor "William Powell" (as Nick Charles in "The Thin Man" - http://www.filmsite.org/thin.html). Then, I dreamed of a young girl with a basket of fallen flowers, which she was giving to people and in one case put three autumn flowers into a hatband. There was no unifying narrative, just dream fragments.
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