Friday, December 30, 2011

All Things Change

I'd previously mentioned that we were going through a reorganization at work and that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I've vented a bit about the poor quality of my current upper management (fortunately, my immediate manager remains one of the best I've ever worked for). Well, the "other shoe" has dropped and, absent some meetings to hammer out transitional details, I know no which way things are going to fall.

Overall, I am in neutral about the proposed changes.

I have some complaints - I think the whole thing was just poorly handled, I think it is an example of the tendency in large companies for the bureaucracy to win, and I have my reservations about the new structure in terms of business sense.

I have some positives - I have vented periodically over the years about the difficulty in my job of wearing two very different hats simultaneously (project management v. customer service) and the change will finally split those two tasks out, which is something I have longed for for quite a while. Second, I won't kid you that I didn't see it coming, haven't seen it coming, for the last couple of years.

I initial joined The Evil Corporation as a contractor, and then was lured to take a full time position with them because I found it interesting (something that drives me in almost all my job choices over the years - if you have to work, you might as well do something you find interesting). I spent the first half of my career as an independent contributor in a variety of roles, then was asked to take over daily operations of a transactional and customer service center when the organization had grown two unwieldy to be managed effectively by a single manager. When I transitioned into that role I never quite managed to shed my independent responsibilities and I balanced, sometimes well, sometimes poorly, between the two worlds.

When I initially took over I had sixteen employees - over the intervening years as technology changed, positions went away slowly and steadily, at about two year intervals. Sixteen, Twelve, Ten, Eight, Five, Four, Three. The changes were wrought by changes in technology (rendering some of the work unnecessary) and changes in business strategy (outsourcing transactional tasks to a vendor). I didn't always agree with them, but I understood them. Like the changes taking place now, I don't necessarily agree with them, and in this case I don't necessarily understand them from a business point of view, but I have long said that the greatest risk to my organization was the whims of upper management who simply wanted to do things differently.

Basically, as a result of the changes I will return to where I began, which is primarily project planning and analysis, as an independent contributor. I will no longer be a "people manager". (There will be no change in my compensation.) The handful of folks who still report into me will report into another manager (whom I happen to have a lot of personal and professional respect for), and I will become responsible for my own work again.

I am frankly, terribly ambivalent about it, and because of that ambivalence I wind up in neutral, waiting to see the operational details. Though I am entering the year in a very good mood personally, actively looking forward to the year, I am ambivalent about my work for the first time in twelve years. I'll watch and see how things unfold, hoping that the changes are for the better, doing my best to craft them in that direction, and I will see if the ambivalence fades.

So, we look at the New Year as a chance to embrace changes - that is the approach I am going to take. I am not sure what the New Year is going to bring, but I am looking forward to it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012 New Years Resolutions

Okay, this are my 2012 New Year's Resolutions. In general, I like to keep my resolutions down to a handful of things, so I can keep them in front of me more easily. I find that if you have too many resolutions, you can rapidly lose track of them and they essentially become meaningless. These are not in any order or priority and I may adjust them in the next couple of days.

1. Simplify.

2. Be Present.

3. Be Deliberate.

4. Write A Novel.

5. Read. Read. Read.

6. Ride the Bicycle.

Now, let me expand on them a little bit.

1. Simplify

For the last two years I've been on a journey of simplification. I have been shedding possessions because I find that, the fewer things I have, the clearer I become. I definitely intend to continue on my journey down this path. I am not sure where it ends, but I am sure it is a journey that I want to continue. Specifically, I intend on simplifying in terms of continuing to shed physical things and attempt to simplify the internal things as well.

2. Be Present

I spent a good portion of 2011 in battle with the Monkey-Mind. All too often, the Monkey-Mind won and pulled me out of the moment - I lost the present to the future or the past. I am hoping that I will be able to win that battle more often than not in the coming year.

3. Be Deliberate

I very much want to make 2012 a deliberate year. I felt in 2011 that I was buffeted a lot by things going on around me, and that I made my own decisions that contributed to that sense of being buffeted. One of the ways that I see of getting past that challenge in the coming year is to simply be more deliberate - to do things with contemplation and intention.

4. Write A Novel

Pretty simple. Pretty straight-forward. I am going to write a novel.

5. Read. Read. Read.

I definitely intend on spending more time reading in the coming year. I love to read and I have the sense that I did not get enough reading time in 2011. So, 2012 is going to be the year of reading, reading and then some more reading.

6. Ride the Bicycle.

I have a perfectly good exercise bike that I ride regularly, but I do not ride it often or far enough. I am going to focus on riding the bicycle - more often and farther, over the coming year. It's an excellent source of both exercise and stress relief and I need to do it again and again and again.

Genius is Eternal Patience - Michelangelo

Today is the last working day of 2012 for me. When I wrap up in an hour or two, I will have managed to make it through another year, with all the attendant challenges, incidents, accidents and opportunities. Looking back, though the work year had it’s fair share of challenges, it was all in all pretty good. It certainly could have been a lot worse.

I have a couple of points of irritation that I seem unable to resolve – the level of uncertainty is very high, my upper management can’t communicate well, the pace of change is hard and fast, and it is a continual struggle to get items into the hands of the groups who can actually resolve them, due to all of the preceding issues. Still, these are pretty much exactly the same problems I entered the year with, so nothing there comes as a great surprise.

Work-wise, I am glad the year is done and I am looking forward to the New Year, mainly to the things that I am going to do in response to this tremendous sense of ambivalence I feel toward the current work environment. Here at the tail end of the year there was a development that I personally considered heartening. After a year or so of being under the command and control of “The Children’s Crusade”, there was the movement of a VP into a key support role – and this happens to be a VP who has a tremendous amount of respect from me, both personally and professionally. I am not sure what impact it is going to have immediately, but I am looking forward to the impact of someone in the upper management chain who is both competent and compassionate.

So, with this tiny set of notes, I am going to close out the 2011 working year, attend a few more meetings, and then slip into the long four day weekend. I hope your working year was good and I hope your working year is also over!

"Genius is eternal patience." Michelangelo

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dreams, Trains and the Blues

I had an interesting dream last night, with roots decidedly in the waking world. I dreamed that I was going to a blues club with two older black gentlemen, blues musicians by their cut and carriage. We were walking through an old train yard, since the club in the dreams was in some hidden corner of the rail yard. There was no narrative structure to the dream, we were just walking through a rail yard on our way to a blues club.

I've been obsessively listening to Adele's 21 in the car, a truly talented young lady and a great album. If you've somehow lived in a cave and haven't heard her, run, do not walk and get her album. Layer on top of that rich musical experience the movie "Hugo", which I saw last night at Cupertino Square and both of the fundamental elements of the dream are in place - great music and a train yard.

I did notice a similarity between this dream and the previous dream I recorded, and that was this - in both dreams I was walking in an isolated place, so there seemed to be elements of a journey through relative solitude. I am going to have to think about that for a while and see if any insight arises from it. Meanwhile, it is a blissfully quiet day here at work, and so far the "bridge week" between Christmas and New Years, when most of the company is no working, has been a very pleasant experience.
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Monday, December 26, 2011

I Dream I Am Walking In My Underwear

Okay, I thought this was an interesting dream.

Last night I dream I was walking into my office via a secret tunnel that stretched underground the length of Sunnyvale-Saratoga road. This was a deep subterranean tunnel, far underground, sizable and made of vaulted concrete. I was alone in the deep stillness of the tunnel, lit in the amber glow of mercury vapor lights, cool but not cold.

I was walking through this long subterranean silence, wearing only a pair of boxer shorts and my employee badge. I had already completed my errand at the office and was on my way home through the tunnel, moving at a brisk pace, when I encountered a security guard, walking in the opposite direction, stopping to clock his rounds in the card readers alongside the many mysterious doors on the side of the tunnel. I nodded as I walked by and he simply stared, dumbfounded.

I continued briskly on my way and woke from the dream, amused and a little chilly, since it was cold outside and I'd gone to sleep with the thermostat turned down. I woke up long enough to kick it up a few degrees and then climb back into bed to resume my sleep. I woke and mulled the meaning of the dream.
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Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo



I was a big fan of the books, having rabidly consumed all three in short order. Layer on top of that I saw (and own on Blu-Ray) the three Swedish movies starring the incomparable Noomi Rapace. With all of that in place, I was still looking forward to the American version, with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.

So, let's cut to the chase.

It was an enjoyable movie. It was slickly shot. It was well acted. Ms. Mara created her own Lisbeth Salander, which was definite necessity. But, if you haven't seen it already, I would definitely still recommend the Swedish version. Rooney Mara did a good job with her portrayal of the character. But, I think for the duration of three movies Noomi Rapace inhabited the character completely. She was both more vulnerable, more believable, and more intensely sociopathic - in short, she broad a wider range to the character.

One of the key things I came out of the American version of the movie with was a difference in scope. The new version is slicker, it is more tightly shot, it is a much more beautiful piece of film and Mara and Craig are great. But, it is also a movie on a far more limited scope - fewer sets, fewer exteriors, fewer actors. Fincher glosses over a lot of the story, while remaining true to the core of it, and for me at least, that chopping off of the edges detracts from the scope of the story itself.

However, with all that said, I would still recommend the movie - it is a slick piece of entertainment and Lisbeth Salander is one of the great characters of the last decade, so though Rapace and Mara differ significantly in their portrayals of the character - both turn in excellent performances. I was curious, as I left the film, whether I would have felt the same way if I had seen the movies in the reverse order. Of course, the answer to that question is something I can never know.

So, with that quick review, I am turning toward Christmas. I have a good conversation with T.R. this morning, where she is nestled tightly in the bosom of her family across the country. I followed that up with a desultory conversation with my brother D., and then I've idled my way into the morning with black coffee and the morning paper. Today's plan is breakfast with friends, then a get together at my friend Bob's house, which will probably run into the early evening.

So, with that said, I wish you all a merry day before Christmas, whoever you are and where ever you are.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Semi-Random Thoughts on 2012

- I want to make it a deliberate year, a year where I carefully consider and do the things I want to do.

-i want to make it a focused year, where rather than scatter my energies across a variety of things I pull in a tight focus on a few things that I can have a significant impact against.

-i want to make it a year of actively embracing change and new, different, and interesting things.

-I want to make it a year of slow and steady transformation.

-At the core of it I want to read more, write more, and ride my bike more.

-i want to continue on my journey of simplification, giving away half my remaining stuff and not accumulating any new stuff.
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Thursday, December 22, 2011

End of the Year Thoughts

I am sliding toward the end of the year here and I am starting to have end of the year thoughts. At this time I like to do sort of an internal review and summary of the incidents and accidents of the year before. I look back at the things that influenced me, at how they influenced me, and at any lasting impacts they might have had.

Its not a season of answers. It's more of a season of questions, a season of observations. Those questions and observations will be mixed together, sorted through, picked over and will eventually combine and take form as my resolutions for the New Year. I think they've already got their rough forms shaped out, but their finished forms remain to be polished.

I am looking forward to the New Year with a certain level of optimism, a greater level of optimism. Inside, I feel as if I am in a good place. I am looking forward to the New Year and what it is going to bring. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I think I am going to try and make it a more deliberate year and a more focused year. With those two attributes as the twin pillars of a temporal and secular faith, I am going to focus on Cathedral building. I am going to direct thoughts and activities toward creating some grand.

Of course it is all deliciously vague at this point, but that part of the fun of it, part of the joy of it. There is where that sense of optimism is rising from. A sort of gleeful desire to create in the coming year. A sort of tantalizing sense of an impending and anticipated journey. That feeling of excitement when you're about to embark on a trip that you've been anticipating for quite a while.

It's a great feeling. It's a good way to end the year. It's a good way to start a New Year.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Tricks for the Common Cold

We'll count that as the first cold of the season. I caught it from one of the contractors we share an office space with who came in Friday sneezing and coughing. (The contractors do not have sick time, they have one block of PTO (personal time off) they can use for vacation or sick time - consequently, in order to preserve their vacation, they will routinely come in sick. PTO is a classic example of a short-sighted policy.) By the time I went home on Friday I knew I was coming down with the cold. I went into denial for a while, hoping it was allergies, then slipped into the grips of the cold on Saturday and Sunday.

Now, here are the tricks I use to fight a cold. (Though, in all truth, they say a cold will run from three to seven days, and I don't know if any of the things I do make any difference - but, they do make me feel better, so I do them.)

First, stock up on Kleenex and blow your nose, gently, one nostril at a time. Repeat as necessary, which will be often. The nasal membranes create mucus to encapsulate the cold virus and expel it from the body, so let the mucus do it's work. This part is gross, and everyone will deny it (just as everyone actually does it) - do NOT sniff and swallow the mucus. All that does is spread the virus.

Second, gargle with full strength Listerine (or any other alcohol based mouthwash). Gargle frequently. This will help kill the virus. I have no idea if it actually does or not, but it seems to work for me.

Third, drink a lot of water to keep fully hydrated. Skip the juice, skip the soda, skip the tea, just water, lots of water.

Fourth, take a good nasal decongestant.

Finally, at night, I am personal a big fan of Nyquil.

Finally, sleep, sleep, and sleep some more.

Those are the tricks I use to battle a cold - they will not magically cure you of the cold, but they will ensure that it stays at a manageable level. At least it seems to work for me, and maybe it will work for you - one or all of the tricks.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Deliberate Things

Time flies. A familiar theme of mine. The last week or so has basically flown by on the swift wings of many incidental things and few deliberate things. However, entering today, I feel as if I have accomplished the many incidental things and can comfortably move toward the few deliberate things.

Actually, sitting here, belly full of a mediocre seafood alfredo, I think that would be a good new years resolutions. To try and make 2012 the year of a few deliberate things. The only remaining question would then be - what should those deliberate things be?

I want to continue forward in the journey of simplicity. I want to spend more time reading. I want to focus more on work. I want to focus more on writing. Will that be enough deliberate things? Or too many? I suppose it is something I should deliberate on.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hard Choices


One of the hard choices you may be call to make in the course of your career is "what do you do when you think your company is making a bad call". The exact circumstances can vary in a hundred ways, but the overall structure of it is almost always the same. The "Powers That Be" have reached a conclusion and announced a course of action and you have serious misgivings about it. They may be legal, they may be ethical, they may be strategic or they may be purely functional. You have a choice - and the choices is - what do you do.

I am not a plastic saint, you'll never see a statue of me mounted on anyone's dash board, but I do try to be as true to my own values as I possibly can. For me, that means I am compelled to speak up. Now, how you handle this type of event can have a big difference in the impact. Always start from the assumption of innocence - that the decision, whatever it was, was reached by a logical process and is driven by solid reasoning that you simply don't understand. Then, ask someone to help you understand the reasoning that went into the decision. If you approach it delicately, with a sincere desire to understand and that assumption of innocence several things may be the outcome.

First, they might actually be able to persuade you that it was the right decision. It is always possible, and indeed, often the case, that we don't understand things because we don't have the full picture. So, often enough, you'll discover it was the right decision. But, not always. Then, you have another decision point. Fortunately for me, right now, I am only at the first decision point. I became aware of a decision that was made at work and some actions that were implemented and they raised a pair of red flags for me. So, I documented when I perceived and what I understood, then contacted my immediate manager and asked for a teleconference to raise my concerns. My immediate manager agreed with my concerns and if facilitating a discussion somewhat later in the week between myself and the director who is in charge of the questionable activity. I have my fingers crossed that they can convince me that I am not quite understanding what I heard, and I freely admit that may be the case.

But, it could be that I understood correctly - and then we will land in a place where we have a serious disagreement. If that arises, then I will do what I have always done - I will push a bit harder. Fortunately, we are a large company and we have the mechanisms in place for just such a push. As I am going through initiating this whole process today, I couldn't help by thinking of Cersei Lannisters line "When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die". Whether I win or die in corporate terms I am always happy to be able to look myself in the eye.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rod Recommends Books

I was at lunch today with my friend Don and he expressed the desire to find some author he hadn’t read, who had a sizeable catalogue, so he could delve deeply into their works. When I got back to my office after lunch I quickly composed this list and sent it over. All of these authors have three things in common – I like their work, they have multiple books in print, and they are all genre writers, though they are in a variety of genres. In no particular order of importance:

Martin Millar (Start with “The Good Fairies of New York”, then do “Lonely Werewolf Girl” – and then, delve into her Thraxas series, under the name Martin Scott)

Neil Gaiman – one of my personal favorites. Any and all. A brilliant story teller. Start with “American Gods”.

Steven Pressfield – start with “The Gates of Fire”, if that one does hook you, nothing will.

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (both write alone, but together, they are awesome – the “Pendergast” novels, all 10 of them, are great adventure/thrillers with a science fiction/supernatural bent. Start with Relic, which is awesome).

Jack McDevitt (Science Fiction, start with “The Engines of God”, a very prolific author)

CJ Cherryh (fantasy and science fiction author, start with “The Gates of Ivrel” – she has a huge catalogue).

William Gibson (this is the guy who literally invented the term “cyberpunk” – start at the beginning with Count Zero.)

F. Paul Wilson (writes mostly supernatural thrillers, I am a big fan of his “Repairman Jack” series)

John D. MacDonald (this might be a little off kilter for you, but his series about the private detective Travis McGee is great – I devoured each one.)

Edgar Rice Burroughs (another hugely influential series in my late teens, that I have revisited several times over the years – read his “John Carter of Mars” series, start with “The Warlord of Mars”, there are about ten books, and a movie coming out from Disney this spring.)

And, I do not know if you are a short story science fiction fan, but if you are delve into the rich catalogue of Harlan Ellison, start with “The Beast That Shouted Love At The Heart Of World” or “Deathbird Stories”, both collections of short stories.

Oh, and check the library (or Barnes and Noble) for Bill Willingham’s “Fables” – great story telling.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

An Industrious Day Dancing With Dragons


I was industrious today. It was mostly just the mood I was in. I slept in an hour or two, then showered and started the day. I ironed and folded laundry. I cleaned the bathroom. I cleaned the kitchen. I had breakfast with friends. I strung Christmas lights. I wandered Fry's. I stopped at the market for groceries. I watched two episodes of "Once Upon A Time", I shot two hours worth of pool. I had dinner at an Italian place (Mama Mia's on Hamilton). I visited with TR. Now, as the day winds down, I am going to continue finishing up George R.R. Martin's "A Dance with Dragons", A good day and an industrious day under the belt.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Semi-Obsession With Time


I spent another day semi-obsessed by questions of time. I have a prevailing sense that I do not have enough time, or that time is slipping through my fingers, or that I am not spending my time wisely. I am not sure what drives this semi-obsession - yeah, work is a little hectic and I am behind the eight-ball there, but really, almost no more that usual. In particular I have one report that I have to assemble and analyze and I just wasn't able to get to it during the week, and I have another small project where, basically, I am two weeks behind schedule - but that project is low enough on the radar that the only one noticing the slip so far has been me. It is that huge challenge I have at work being caught between the two masters - the short and immediate cycle of customer support and the longer and deeper cycle of project work. We're waiting for the re-organization shoe to drop and I'm hope that I will ultimately end up doing one or the other, so I can properly focus on it.

But this sense of time I have, it is more of a sense that i am not using the time I have wisely, that it slips away from me, that there are things that I want to do that I am simply short on time to do. I am well aware of the element of it that involves choices, but it seems to me that, all in all, I make fairly good choices. It is a puzzlement, that is for sure.

Other than my semi-obsession with time, it was a good day. I slept in, until about 6:45 AM, which is late for me, lazed through the early morning, then met my friends for breakfast. From there, I took a walk through the electronics store, the visited for a while, then ran three loads of laundry through, then socialized for four or five hours in the afternoon, then a dinner of potato pancakes and scrambled eggs, followed by the short drive home on a dark and cool night. All of that journey of the day brings me right here, right into this moment. I can here the clock ticking away the seconds as I sit here in silence, the clock ticking competing with the ticking of the keys on the computer.

I am not sure what I am going to do into the evening here, I think I will see what is on TV, then spend some time reading, then spend some wonderful time talking with T.R., and then just ease into a deep and rich nights worth of sleep. When I look back on the day I see a day well spend, balanced, productive, social and now reflective, so I am not really sure where the semi-obsession with time is coming from, other than - somewhere, somewhere inside of me, time is on my mind.

(The eye image is from http://www.arcus.org.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Pit and the Pendulum of Work

To tell you the value of work, here is a simple truth. It is almost always better to end the work day than to start it. Today was no exception that rule. In order to attest to the truth of the observation I left work early to swing by the post office (both sending and receiving), and then grab a bite to eat at Holder's Country Inn on Saratoga. I'm planning on hash and Swedish pancakes.

Though I managed to do a couple of things at work today, I can't really lay claim to having accomplished anything. I worked. I gained a little ground and I lost a little ground. I did close out my I'm and ignore my phone in order to accomplish a bit and it definitely helped in making it a zero sum day. Tomorrow is the A Friday, which is usually productive for me, so I am hoping to make it that way.

All in all though, or work madness remains. Just in general companies need to learn to better identify bad leaders and get them the hell out of the way. My current director is, simply put, the worst I've had in my tenure with the Evil Company. Its like she has a need to do a little damage each day. Unfortunately, she is usually succesful. Its particularly frustrating because, up until this go round, I've generally had mediocre to good leadshership at the directorial level.

Ah well, so turns the world. The pendulum from good to bad and back again always swings. I am just waiting for this one to swing back, hopefully without being driven totally insane between here and there.
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Day Paused

There are moments when the working world, with all its hustle and bustle, pauses long enough to be enjoyable. I took my department out for a holiday luncheon today, to TaoTao on Murphy Street in Sunnyvale. TaoTao is always an excellent choice for lunch and the Tao Tao beef is a must have dish. The good part of the day is we were able to set aside the hectic pace, set aside the rapid change, set aside the frustrations and just have a pleasant lunch.

Other than that, it was a mediocre day, marginally productive, fragmented and interrupted. I managed to get a few items off the plate, but I am hoping to circle back around tomorrow and re-focus. I’ve got a big report that I am working on and I really need a few uninterrupted hours to work my way through it, but an uninterrupted hour is a pretty rare thing. A big part of the fragmentation of today was the semi-regular interruptions to deal with pressing issues as they arose.

My plan tonight is pretty simple. I’ve got a rib-eye steak waiting at home, I am going to pair it up with a salad, and then I am going to slide easily into the evening with some writing, some online shopping, and some time with TR, not necessarily in that order. I may even write another entry tonight, and I have some pictures from my last trip to South Dakota that I wanted to get loaded into Flickr.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Synchronicity of Stones

I had a flash of insight over the weekend. I was thinking about the challenges that I seem to be running up against in the last couple of months and I realized that I am struggling to keep things in perspective. I am letting small stones in the river detract from the beauty and experience of the river.

I feel as if I am living in a half-state. As if I am waiting for "the other shoe to drop", rather than just charging ahead and not worrying about that other shoe. It related back to my ongoing struggles with, with the sense that I simply don't have enough time.

However, wrapped in the realization of that, I also realize that I have all the time I am ever going to have - I'm just not spending it well. I keep letting myself get pulled into this half-state of waiting. And I am not really waiting for anything specific. I need to find within me that old source of reckless courage.

Along that theme today, as I was pulling together a quote related to work, I came across this in an act of synchronicity:

"Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein." -Life's Little Instruction Book.

Quoted on http://exploreforayear.com/clarity/45-inspiring-quotes-change

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Descendants, Unknown, Dreams and January Jones


Last night I dreamed of iPads, iPods, and dogs. I don't remember the particulars of the dreams, but they were basically extensions of a conversation I'd had with T.R. before falling asleep. I must have been in a susceptible mood - next time that happens I need to turn the conversation to something more sensual! If I am going to get a dream implanted, it might as well be a good one.

It was a pleasant day yesterday - breakfast with Bob and Tony at the Hickory Pit, followed by a trip over to Camera 7 to see "The Descendants", which is an outstanding movie and will be a strong contender at Oscar time. It is funny, tragic, emotional, amusing and throughout very delicately done. If anything impressed me with the movie it was the delicacy of the performances by the cast, doubtlessly under the directors hand. The movie managed to be a slice of life that actually felt very much like a real slice of life. One of my complaints about slice of life movies is that they might be a slice of life, but they are rarely a slice of life of anyone I have every known. They are not slices of ordinary life, but slices of extraordinary lives that are pretending to be ordinary lives.

After the movie I stopped at the market to do a little some shopping, then came home and settled in to watch another movie, this time, one I had captured on the DVR - "Unknown" with Liam Neeson, Diane Krueger, Aidan Quinn and January Jones. It was what it was, which was an adventure/action movie, but it was also enjoyable. Liam Neeson is an incredibly charismatic actor and of course, if you put January Jones in a evening gown in any movie, I'm there. She is a stunningly beautiful woman.

Then, I wiled my way into the evening, looking at art over on Red Bubble, talking with T.R. and just sliding safely into the end of the day. I slept deeply last night, waking once at about 3:30 AM for no apparent reason, but quickly falling back to sleep. I'm now moving into an ordinary Sunday morning, conversation, shower, cup of coffee, packing my bag for laundry, making a blog entry. The plan today is breakfast, laundry, a few hours of shooting pool, and then coming home in the afternoon to put up the Christmas decorations. I might even put up the tree here before I go out to breakfast.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

New Linens - A Poem

The morning light
soft and pale
seeped in around the edges
in the living room
the clock counted the seconds
each an unfolding
I lay still
the sheets caressing
naked skin
I fell into the sensation
closed my eyes
let it swallow me
simple and sensual
each rise and fall
of my chest
the subtle, slippery, cool

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Turning Day

A day can turn on a dime. Better to worse. Worse to better. Today was mostly a good day. Work was mostly productive. I've mostly enjoyed the day. So, in the end, I would call it a mostly day.

My folks are back home at the ranch, as of last night, a little sorer and a little wiser. Okay, I actually have no idea if they're any wiser. I'd always like to think so. I like to think we keep learning as we go through life.

Here at work I got a lot of task work done, weaving in and out of the mix of a working day. I am sliding into the weekend with a need to sit down and spend probably two to four hours writing email. I'd like to tell you I am going to get it done over the weekend, but that would be stretching it! I might get it done. My intentions are good. But, the best laid plans of mice and men...

I am going to slide into a three day weekend, so I am definitely looking forward there. I don't really have any major plans for the weekend, but I'm sure I'm going to figure something out. I want to spend a little time thinking about my new years resolutions for 2012. I've got a rough framework of ideas, but I still want to refine it a bit. I'd like to spend a lot of time in the new year reading and writing - both things I feel as if I haven't gotten a lot of opportunity to do in 2011.

We'll see what comes of that meditation. Meanwhile, I am going to wrap some things up here at the end of day and then head for home.
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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Knot Made of Whirlwind

I have a whirlwind spinning in my stomach right now. A churning tightness that dulls the appetites and draws me out of the moment. It is a combination of high stress and a lack of sleep.

I've mentioned the work stress, spinning around due to the ongoing reorganization. There has been no relief there. It was hurry up and provide with input with no warning and then...silence. It's like the Indians waiting to attack. It's quiet. Too quiet...

Then, layer onto that the recent accident my parents had. In a nutshell - step dad fell asleep driving and crashed into a sign pole. Car damage, minor people damage.

My mom is hobbling around with a walking boot on a bruised foot.

My step-dad is still in the hospital with high blood pressure that they are trying to bring down, which may or may not have been related to the crash. It's possible that his blood pressure was already running high and it was the post crash visit to the ER that caught it. So, that family phones have been burning up and some crucial conversations are being held, unfortunately, without warning and sometimes in the middle of the night.

Then, finally, layer onto that personal problems arising because I simply don't have enough time to do the things that I need or want to do and because of my personal failures and weaknesses - and my stomach is tied into a knot made of whirlwind.

I am getting dangerously close to having a bonfire day. A bonfire day is one of those days where you take everything you own, pile it in the middle of the street, set it on fire and just walk away. I've done it (figuratively) twice in the course of my life. I'm sure I've got another one or two down inside me. But not quite yet...
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cracking The Stress Nut

Today's trigger was a computer application not responding when attempting to update tickets. Now, this is just a stress trigger - basically, it stops me from doing a task that I was attempting to do. It frustrates me because I feel under pressure regarding time and tasks.

Today, this layered on top of work flow interruptions where I was asked to assist other people in completing their tasks while I was attempting to complete my tasks. This highlights the dichotomy of my position, which is that I serve two masters - I have my project and task work, which requires the ability to work without interruption, and I have my support tasks, which require me to be highly agile and switch directions at a moment, often without warning. I often feel that I cannot complete both tasks and am constantly forced to choose between one or the other, which puts me into a "planned failure" mode that increases my stress levels.

So, in response to the firing of the stress trigger I took a walk outside and thought about the underlying root causes. There are two – first, there is a sense that I simply do not have enough time in the day to do all the tasks that are arrayed before me – both work and personal. Second, at the core of the stress, is the sense that I do not have the support of my upper management in attempting to manage my tasks and workload. I feel that they are so busy doing their tasks and workload that they are not interested in helping manage my tasks and work load.

That, in a nutshell, is my stress. This results in a highly frustrated Rod, wrestling with time and speaking of himself in the third person.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Last Monday - With A Crash

Okay, the first day back at work looked pretty much like this. E-mail, Meeting, Meeting, Meeting, Meeting, Lunch, Meeting, Email, Meeting and drive home. It was actually pretty productive for the first day back after a week long vacation - I didn't so much as get anything accomplished, but I did end the day with my arms farther around things then I thought I would and I will go in tomorrow with hopes for a better day.

I've decided to spend some time in the coming month to see if I can figure out what it is about my current work circumstance that has managed to get under my skin and vex me so much. I think there is probably a lesson to be learned there, something to be revealed in self-examination, so I am going to try and block out the time to focus on it in the near term. Work is work is work - and the stress is usually optional.

So, having made it through the first day, I am driving home and I get a call from my sister back in SD. It seems my parents were driving and crashed into something - my sister thinks they hit a sign. It did some damage to the car - to the hood and to the windshield, and though they initially refused the ambulance (and drove the car another fifty miles home), my sister did persuade them to go into the emergency room a little later in the evening. My sister can be pretty persuasive, even to recalcitrant and independent old-timers, like my folks.

My mother will be going home with my sister, and my step-dad will be staying in the hospital overnight for observation. My worry beads are out, but it looks like they made it through the car accident relatively unscathed. I've talked to my sister, but not directly to them yet, so once they are settled in, I will hopefully be able to talk to them tonight. If I don't get the window to talk to them tonight, then I am going to count that as a good sign.

So, all in all, it was a pretty eventful day, for the last Monday in November.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Traveling Thanksgiving

I am in South Dakota for the Thanksgiving Holiday. At this moment, I am sitting on the couch in the living room on the ranch, listening to Hank Williams, sniffing the scent of fresh barley soup prepared by a professional chef and the scent of biscuits in the oven. That simple dinner is about twenty minutes out, so I thought I would pop online and make a quick entry.

I came back to the ranch on Friday the 18th and will, soon enough, be heading back to California. I like visiting here, it is always good to see my parents, my siblings, and any of my other relatives and old friends that I might stumble across - but, honestly, there is only so much to do in South Dakota, and all of it involves lots of driving.

On Monday, I was the parents driver, taking them into Winner (about twenty miles east) for a doctors appointment and errand running, then driving back to Rosebud (about forty miles to the west), and then back home. It was a fairly long day, but everything went pretty smoothly. Then, on Tuesday, I ran back into Winner to pick up the odds and ends for Thanksgiving Dinner.

We're going to have a small one, half a dozen people or so, and we are going to keep it simple and traditional - turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables, corn bread dressing, and pies, lots and lost of pies. On Tuesday I picked up eight pies from the Winner bakery - two each of apple, cherry, pumpkin, and pecan. That is going to come out to about 1.8 pies per adult! It certainly could have been the all pie thanksgiving. I am sure they will try to foist one on me for the trip back to SD, but pies, in general, simply do not travel well! No matter how careful you are, at the far end, you end up with "the stuff that makes up a pie all mooshed into a container". Trust me, I've tried it.

So, I am spending the days as simply and quietly as I can, napping, reading, visiting, cooking, watching assorted things on television and listening to my folks listen to Hank Williams. And I am thankful, very, very, thankful, for every moment of it, in all it's simplicity and grace. So wherever you are, whoever you are, I hope you're able to find something simple and graceful to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Shoe Falls

What is the sound of one shoe falling?

In this case, it is the sound of officially getting the word at work that we are on the verge of a reorganization at the directorate level. The good part of the news is that we'll be reorganizing and adding staff, which is rare enough in this economy and contrary to my general experiences with reorganizations. The bad news is that I have no idea if they no what they're doing - and it has not been the most transparent or collaborative reorganization that I've ever seen.

I think I have a fundamental distrust of things that are done in secret, which probably stems from the influence of my youth that tells me "anything done in the dark is the devils work". So, the other shoe will fall when all the parts of the reorg fall, but rest assured that right now the potential, good and bad, is churning around inside my imagination.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ending With The Brothers Grimm



Well, I would call today an unexpected day. It contained curves and waves and ripples that I had not foreseen. Of course, the simple truth is, we lack the ability to foresee much at all. So, in reality, we pretty much only get to see what we see as it unfolds. Is that existential enough for us?

I slept pretty well last night, except for a strange dream that involved my microwave oven exploding, and I woke in the still and cool hours of the morning. I lingered in bed as long as I could, tucked in safe and warm, then ventured out for a cup of coffee and a simple bowl of oatmeal to start the day.

I ran into some strange problems with my computer in the morning and ended up having to back out some software installs and reinstall them before I managed to return it to full service. That was a frustrating way to start the day. From there, I met the guys over at the Hickory Pit for breakfast (a Western Sausage Omelet). We wandered the electronics store for a while, then wandered over to Bob's place, where we spent most of the afternoon, socializing amid imaginary errands.

A quick dinner and I was home for the evening. Once hear, I found a few more problems with my computer and did another reinstall on another piece of software, which corrected that. So, as off right now, it appears to be working correctly, though I am a little tired of playing with it.

After all of that, as I settled in for a quiet evening, I decided to watch an enjoyable movie on DVD tonight - "The Brothers Grimm", with Heath Ledger, Matt Damon, and Lena Headey. I've always enjoyed the film and tonight was no exception - a great little way to slide into the quiet evening. With the onrush of fall, with the early darkness of the evenings, I seem to be drawing a great pleasure out of the simplicity of quiet evenings at home.

I've tossed a couple of the posters from "The Brothers Grimm" up - if you haven't seen it before, it is worth catching off of Netflix or On-Demand. Personally, I own the DVD, but that is because I do enjoy the movie enough to watch it more that once or twice a year.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tarsem Singh's The Immortals


After a quiet and productive day at work I slipped out a little early and drove over to Mercado 20 to meet Tony and see Tarsem Singh's "The Immortals". We'd originally seen the previews and excerpts at a panel at Wondercon with the director, so our anticipation has been fairly high. We also saw a second panel at Comic Con, which kept the interest high. I count myself a fan of Tarsem Singh and in that aspect The Immortals did not disappoint.

It was a work of visual poetry, with a few clunks, as is wont to happen when you're out there trying to push the edges of visionary film-making. If you're looking for a classic retelling of the Greek myth of Theseus, you'll be disappointed. But, if you are willing to go to the movie, sit back in chair, relax, and let the director take you where he will, then you will enjoy the movie. Think of it as a visual feast and don't worry too much about the stories. Or that fact that, apparently, in the Greek world leaping high was a critical combat skill. Let the little details like that slip away.

After the movie we stopped and got dinner at Mexicali Grill there in Santa Clara. As usual, it was pretty good. We took a quick walk through Microcenter to look at games (Tony was looking for Elder Scrolls Skyrim, which was supposed to be released today, but they didn't have there).

It was raining pretty steadily by the time I started homeward so I was a little bit worried about the rainy commute - and that turned out to be a well placed concern. Just down Lawrence Expressway there was an accident - fire trucks, ambulance, police - which forced four lanes of traffic into two lanes. It was bumper to bumper and slow going until I was past the accident point, then it was a pretty smooth drive. I love the way the city looks in the rain, black and slick and shiny and clean.

It's a nice quiet evening here now and I am watching "Sanctuary" on SyFy, contemplating the evening. I'm planning on getting together with friends tomorrow for some socializing and some game playing, so I reckon I am looking forward to that. It is the last weekend before I jet back to South Dakota for Thanksgiving and a week long vacation. I am looking forward to the visit, though not necessarily looking forward to the traveling part of it. My sister is planning on meeting me at the airport on the 18th, and then my folks want to take me back up to the airport for the return leg of the trip, largely so they can go Christmas shopping and visit a nephew and a pair of nieces who live in Rapid City, SD.

TR is out with friends tonight, so my plan for the evening is a quiet and simple evening with the DVR and at least a couple of chapters in "A Storm of Crows" by George R.R. Martin

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Short, It Flowed


Today was a much nicer day than the preceding two. It started with a morning conversation with T.R., moved smoothly into a brisk morning, a decent lunch, a short afternoon, a good visit to the eye doctor, and then a simple dinner. In short, it flowed. One more day to go this week and then the weekend is upon us. Tomorrow I am going to duck out of work early to see Tarseem Singh's "The Immortals". I am looking forward to it! The above still is Freida Pinto from "The Immortals".

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

One More Hour

Well, it has been an interesting pair of days. I spent eight hours on Tuesday and another three hours today in a training class. Actually, the first eight was a pilot of the training class and the three were a follow-on to the training class, assembling and providing feedback. So, about two thirds of my working days has been consumed by this class/meeting.

I was deep in the hole today as far as email was concerned, but I was able to dedicate a couple of hours to it and get through about half of it, so I am hoping to be able to catch up tomorrow or Friday. I have some requirements I need to write and a request for a quote and both them are already behind the eight-ball. And then, tomorrow, I also have an eye doctor appointment in the afternoon - so my effectiveness tomorrow is going to be pretty limited as well.

Was it any wonder that I commented the other day that I often wish the day had an extra hour - just one, but that would certainly be enough to take a lot of time pressure off. For the immediate future I suspect that is going to be the reality of my working world - too much to do and not enough time, but I feel I am better equipped for it now. I give a lot of credit for that to the stress counseling I went through earlier in the year - I am more resilient and I am better equipped with the tools to handle the stress and to not let the stress get to me. But, whatever unfolds, I suspect it is going to be an interesting couple of months.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Siren Song of Sleep

The final hour of the day
winds
down
the old clock on the wall
counts, descending
the hours
the minutes
the tick-tock seconds
sprawled
on the old brown couch
in a spare room
lit by the squares
of the Italian lamp
the clock counts the beat
imperfect metronome
timing
the siren song
of sleep
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Random Thoughts on Training

I am spending eight hours today in a pilot training class, the purpose of which is to review a technical training class that is going to be quickly rolled out. I'm personally not a fan of long training classes. From what I've seen in the years I've been working is that the shorter and tighter the focus of the class the more likely you are to actually attain the goal. Keep it simple, keep it simple, always keep it simple.

I'm already in the yawning stage, so it is going to be a struggle to see if I can make it through the back four hours of the class. I'm hoping to get a lunch break before too long, though I have a sandwich nearby. The class is currently bogging down in needless details. We've lost the bubble a couple of times because the momentum of the class gets swept aside.

Here are some of my random thoughts on training:
-Keep it simple. Try and focus on teaching people one to three things that they can retain.
-Keep it short. In the modern complex business world time is a premium. If your class runs long you're going to start losing people because they start dreaming about the other (more important) things they could be doing.
-Finally, keep the engaged by making the class as active/interactive as you possibly can. As specific questions of specific people.
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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Waking Anxious

I woke up this morning in a place I don't like to wake up. Not physically, I woke up in my bed physically, so there wasn't anything unusual there.

No, I woke up in a state of semi-anxiety about work. Specifically, I woke up worrying about changes at work, uncertain of the direction work was headed in.

First off, I dislike waking up into the stress of the monkey-mind. That tells me that something is weighing too heavily in my imagination. It is not a pleasant way to wake up. I much prefer waking up well rested, peaceful, and contemplative. Today wasn't that day.

My challenge is this - I have environmental changes going on at work that I really can't do anything about. That feeling of powerlessness is what sends the mind on these long anxiety inducing guests, seeking some way to influence a process or a change that you really have very little influence over. I would not describe the feeling as a feeling of helplessness, but rather a feeling of powerlessness, a basic inability to influence a process.

Let me see if I can sum up the challenge in a nutshell. Of course, like most companies, we being impacted by the recession. Since I work for a government contractor, 85% or so of all our business comes from the federal government, so this tightening of the budget at the national level is rippling through our programs and projects. Consequently, for the last two years or so we've been in a constant state of re-organization, with a relentless emphasis on cost control and efficiency. This isn't a bad thing of course, it was what companies do, so there are no real new surprises there.

The problem, for me, arises in my own division. At the executive level all four of our VP positions have been changed out in the last two years - three of them came from outside of the company, one of them was promoted from inside of the company. I assume this is because at the very high levels of leadership it was decided that we need the influx of new ideas to deal with the new reality. That is understandable. That change has rippled down through the ranks, including the directors. Most of the director level positions are also filled with new people - some from outside, some from inside. So, we have had a pretty thorough change in upper management.

No, the problem arises, specifically with this - by misfortune, I've landed under a bad director. They micromanage, they flail about, they do not communicate well, and they do not engender any trust. And that is tough for me. I've worked for multiple directors over the years - some good, some indifferent, but this is the first director that I would truly call bad, that I would truly call incompetent. However, the director seems to be very good at the political game that is upper management. They get away with things that kind of amaze me.

Now, of course, I am not playing the game of corporate politics at that level. I really have no interest in it, I don't really see what the rewards are. I am content to be a program level manager, running my organization, working on specific projects and programs. My anxiety level is rising because I have no idea which direction this director is going to jump - on anything. I see a lot of activity, but if there is a strategy or a goal, I haven't seen it articulated in anything except the vaguest sense.

I am fearful that my organization is going to end up on the chopping block as a cost-saving measure, or get broken up and scattered about, perhaps with me ending up on the chopping block. Now, the weird that about this for me, the part that I need to explore internally, is I do not know what I am particularly afraid of this change.

I like to think that normally, I am not a change resistant type of person. I understand and accept that change and transformation are part of every day life. I've actually been laid off three times in the course of a 25 year career here in Silicon Valley, due to buy-outs and re-organizations. It happens. It is rarely personal. I'm financially well off, I have some fairly deep resources, and combined with unemployment benefits, it would actually be a long time before I had to worry about things financially, so I am good there. I am actually not even welded to my job - I like my job, don't mistake that, but I've contemplating quitting before, and within the last year.

So, in a worse case scenario, I get laid off. Now, I do have a bit of a worry bug about the people who work for me - I would hate to late them off into this economy, but I am not really sure I can do anything about that. And, I have laid people off before, a lot of people - they're good folks, I suspect they would all land on their feet, albeit a little slower than usual because of the economy, but the economy is in the slow grind of a recovery.

So, what I am questioning in myself is, where is this work related anxiety coming from? Other than perhaps just a basic, simple, self-indulgent, fear of change. I think that is what I am going to contemplate over the next couple of days, see if I can tease anything out of it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Rain Outside

We're slipping through our first winter rainstorm here in this part of California and it has been nice. I slept deeply and late this morning, in part cushioned by the rain and the gray shadows of the storm. I am looking forward to another deep night of sleeping.

I had an incidental day today, full of incidental things, including seeing Johnny Depp and Amanda Beard in "The Rum Diary". As we came out of the movie I told my friend Tony that a good movie has the ability to make you laugh spontaneously and out loud, and "The Rum Diary" certainly met that criteria. There were several places in the movie that were laugh out loud funny, even though the movie itself is essentially a drama. It is a very funny drama.

We had a late lunch at Puerto Azul in Willow Glen, a good place for simple and tasty Mexican food, with an emphasis on seafood. Though, my choice was the Enchilda Mexicana, which was outstanding. From there, I ran another errand, stopping at the AT&T store to look into microcells (cool technology) and then over to Barnes & Noble to look at calendars and Christmas cards.

I came home, took a nap, a hot bath, spent some time reading "A Feast for Crows" by George R.R. Martin., then called my folks in South Dakota and discussed some of the details of my trip to South Dakota for Thanksgiving. I am looking forward to seeing family, but I wanted to make sure that my ride from the airport to the ranch was coordinated, since I have been left at the airport a time or two.

It is kind of a Catch-22 - my folks or my siblings like to pick me up at the airport because it gives them an excuse to go to Rapid City, but the same time I do not like to be particularly dependent on someone else for a ride (see previous comment about being left at the airport before). But, at this point, it looks like we have the schedule coordinated. Of course, that is subject to change without notice.

I seem to have come out of October with a bang, and I seem to be sliding into a transformational time as I move toward the end of the year - transformation and change always happen and sometimes they can be painful. We try and remind ourselves that we grow through the transformation, that change is generally a positive thing, but that doesn't make it any less painful.

We are human beings. We attach to things. We attach to people. Buddha tells us that all suffering is a result of that attachment. Obviously, I've got a long way to go before I can get detached, in large part because, quite frankly, I like being attached. I am not a Buddhist (though I am strongly influenced by zen simplicity), I actually think that attachment is necessary and good. Even when it involved the pain of change. It certainly makes me contrary.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Shadows on the Wall

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ordinary Tears

I am become a creature of sorrows
Seeking stillness in the park
I hear starlings singing a song of loss
I am bereft and weep
I count the scars on my hands
From where I burned and was burned
My Catholic soul is crying "mea culpa,
mea culpa, mea maxima culpa"
The Buddhist voice whispers of
The impermanence of all
But there is no forgiveness no detachment
Only sorrow and dreams of sorrow
My ordinary eyes are wet
With ordinary tears
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

To Fall With Grace

I seem to be moving through a time of transformation and change. As I am moving through this I am suffering. I am suffering with rope burns from trying to control the wild animal that change can be and holding so tightly to a rope I cannot hold.

Transformation in myself.

Transformation in my relationship.

Transformation in my work.

I need to let go of the rope. The universe is shifting, seems to be dropping out from under me.

I need to fall with grace.

And as an amusing aside to this otherwise somber and reflective note - following a series of word related clashes with my ID*, I ruefully told an HR person that, as a company, we have an Ethics Hotline, a Safety Hotline, and a Waste/Fraud Hotline. We really need an Idiot Hotline. My HR responded "we would, but the phone would never stop ringing."

*ID - Idiot Director. May been an individual in charge of idiots, or an idiot themselves, or both.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sunt Lacrimae Rerum - There Are Tears Of Things

The full quote is from the Aeneid - "Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt." or "There are tears of things and mortal things touch the soul."

The last part of October was emotionally laden. At one point in it, I joked, with my gallows humor, that October is a cursed month for me, a time of pain and loss, a time of change and transformation. This October was no different. In time I will tell you full story of the last days of October, but for now, I plan on reflecting deeply upon them for a period of time, to see what wisdom I can tease for them.

I have a tragic advantage when times get tough. I am, at my core, that tough little half-breed kid who grew up on the Rosebud. I have seen sorrow and the end of sorrow. I have a sense of perspective that puts my sufferings in the right order - I may have lost something important to me, but my loss was small compared to thousands of other people who lost far more on the same day, so, even though my days were tough, they could have been tougher. None of that lessons the pain of something, none of that dries the tears, none of that salves the wounds - but it is what it is. Karma. Action. Consequence.

I turn the page, I start writing the next story, the story of October. Life goes on, things transform and grow again. As Aeneas said in a time far, far rougher than mine - there are tears of things and mortal things touch the soul.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Nice Slow Day

I've done my best today to take the day as slow as I can here at work to try and attain some balance to the frustrating early part of the week. I got everything critical off my desk this morning and then deliberately spent the rest of the day doing non-critical things.

One of the things that heightens my work stress is the conflict between the ordinary things and the extraordinary things. The extraordinary things tend to bump the ordinary things out of the way, where they simple start to stack up because, even though they are ordinary, they still have to be done. We keep putting them off, putting them off and putting them off, with each cycle adding to their weight and urgency, until eventually they become extraordinary things in their own right. It is a vicious and all too familiar cycle.

So, today, as I often try to do on the Friday when everyone else is off, I tried, successfully, to reset that balance. I'd love to find some way to keep the balance from going awry to start with, but so far that magical solution has proved to be very elusive.

One of the things I did today was spend part of the day reading a wide variety of work related articles, on a fairly wide variety of subjects. I found some fodder to feed the thinking machine that is my brain.

Don and I drove up to Black Angus for lunch, where I had the filet mignon with shrimp and a piece of New York style cheesecake. It was excellent and we chased it around with some wide ranging and free floating conversation that started with memory and mid-life issues. I doubt we had any penetrating insights, but it was a good conversation all around.

From there I popped back to the office where I am winding out the day with about an hour to go. Then, I think I will head home and maybe start the weekend with about an hours worth of napping.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Movie Review - The Private Lives of Pippa Lee


A few weeks back T.R. recommended a movie - "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee", starring Robin Wright and Blake Lively. I set my DVR to capture it on Showtime and it landed there last week. Tonight was the first chance I got to sit down and watch the movie and I have to say - an excellent piece of film. Very enjoyable, very thoughtful and very insightful, with solid performances all the way around the horn, from the leads to the entirety of the excellent supporting cast.

Now, it is a slice-of-life drama, but the life that it is a slice of is an interesting life. I would definitely recommend it if you're looking for a good little drama. Both Robin and Blake are excellent actors, but there is something very subtle that Robin does that astounds me. Blake has a distinct smile - and someone, Robin, I don't know, co-opted that smile. There are scenes throughout the movie where her facial expressions - are Blake Lively's. It is a pretty astounding and subtle piece of acting.

My entire day at work was spent in a software training class that was good (I learned things), bad (technically challenged) and indifferent (a good deal of wasted time). I was glad to get home and have a baked potato and broccoli, kick back, put my feet up, and watch a good movie. Now, as the evening winds down, as the October sun sets, I am still sitting here with my feet propped up, drinking a mug of fresh green tea from Gort, my Keurig, and watching one of my guilty pleasures - "Ghost Hunters" on Syfy.

Fall Approaches

there, inside the lush green
the turn of the season, cloaked
in rich burgundy, lush death
inside of lush death, the promise
of life again, three times
lush and lush and lush
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Ghosts of Why

Tuesday is generally better than Monday and that held true today, though I was struggling to stay motivated at work, it was a quiet enough day that there was room to work around it. I work for a very big company and I am constantly amazed by the difficulties we have sharing information. It is a wonder to me that any large company manages to stay moving in the right direction, must less be successful at it. I think so much comes back to the importance of communication - with it you are often successful, without it you are often not. Many times it is as simple as that.

It was nice to get home tonight - I stopped for a pizza from Pizza Chicago in Sunnyvale, then watched a slew of television shows that had landed on my DVR - Castle, Two and a Half Men, Two Broke Girls, and How I Met Your Mother. They managed to keep me company as I wandered through the pizza. My plan tonight is to do some incidental errands around the apartment and then read myself into the night with a little George R.R. Martin (I am nearly finished with "A Storm of Swords", the third book in the Fire and Ice Series, and all I have to say is "In the Game of Kings, you win or you die". That is quite a tale Martin has going there.)

I think I am deep in the grips of the Ghosts of October right now (not just in this moment, but in this week in general). There is a lesson of some sort there that I haven't been able to tease to the surface. I feel like I am fishing for insights. There is a big old insight laying there, still, deep in the depths, and I am using my best flies to try and lure it, slowly, to the surface. Like many fisherman I may spend all day and then ultimately go home empty handed, but the joy is often in the act of fishing, actually catching a big fish is the bonus.

I think the principal ghost that is accompanying me right now is the Ghost of Why? Wondering about the "why" of life. Why we do certain things. Why certain things happen the way they happen. Is there a meaning and if there is a meaning, what is that meaning. That pretty much sums up my mood tonight, as the evening slips over me, contemplating the Ghosts of Why.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Monday Wall

Lately I seem to be finding Monday's at work challenging. I think that, psychologically, I am seeing it as a wall that I crash into. Once I've gotten past the initial crash, I generally do okay - but that initial crash can be tough. I'd like to figure out a way to avoid the Monday morning crash. Sitting here in the near dark listening to the ticking of the clock the one insight I seem to have is that I am crashing into my own expectations.

I want to get a good start on the week on Monday morning. Recharged from the weekend, I want to dive into my tasks and make some headway with them, but it seems that I inevitably run into something that I do not want to do that I feel compelled to do, some incident or accident that I feel I have to respond to, that I feel I have to set aside my plan and react to some other event. That frustrates me.

There were two separate incidents today that made up the Monday morning wall. First, one of my analysts escalated a case of tangled records and after multiple attempts of explaining it to me, we had to sit down in a meeting and look at the actual records to determine how they were tangled and how best to untangle them. Second, just as I was joining one of my meetings one of my analysts interrupted with a complex question that I did not have an answer for. When I asked them to document the issue and send me an email, they decided to try and resolve the issue themselves, but only managed to make it more tangled. (And that one is still waiting for me to attempt to untangle tomorrow.)

I know that a lot of the source of my stress is the feeling of not having control over my day, and unfortunately there is quite a bit of truth in that. I do wish I had more control over my day as I am often dogged by the feeling that I am wasting a lot of productive time. I realize that is a driver that is rising out of me, from deep inside, but it is a real driver none-the-less. I hate wasting time at work - there is plenty of work as it is and every hour of wasted time is an hour we cannot get back and an hour that could have been spent far more productively.

The time spent trying to get over the Monday morning wall could definitely be better spent elsewhere. I don't have an answer tonight, but at least I have an awareness and with an awareness perhaps I can find an answer later.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pool as a Metaphor for Life

I was out this afternoon shooting some pool in Milpitas, when I got to thinking about pool as a metaphor for life. I'm not really sure what turned my brain that way, other than the Ghosts of October and an earlier conversation with T.R.. I think those two things put me into that mode. So, as an exercise, let's consider pool as an extended metaphor.

Equipment Matters: Anyone who has ever played more that a casual game of pool can tell you that your pool cue matters. It has to be the right weight, the right diameter, and the right length for you and for your body. All of that combines to put your into the right position for the pure mechanics of playing pool. Yes, you can play a good game of pool with less than optimal equipment - but good equipment matters. The same holds true in life - buy quality, quality matters.

Know the Table: Every pool table plays differently. They may be faster or slower, they may be more or less responsive, and the pocket can be tighter or looser. You have to adjust your game to the table, because the table is not going to adjust to you. The differences between tables can be drastic, or they can be very subtle. A table can add shots to your game or subtract shots from your game - they can make you think you are better then you are or worse then you are. So there are really two life lessons to be learned from the table - one, local conditions, the local environment, really matters, so pay attention to it, and second, those very same local conditions can throw your self perceptions off, so once again, be aware, be perceptive, pay attention.

The Break: Yes, there is skill involved in the break, but there is also a deal of luck. When it comes to the break in pool and the breaks in life, the best you can do is relax, breathe, and do the best you can. When the breaks fall your way be ready to take advantage of it. When the breaks don't fall your way be ready to take a deep breath, let it go, and focus on the game at hand.

The Game: Pool is essentially a very simple game. You win by sinking all of your shots. It is all about the basics, it is a game of percentages. So you focus on the simple things and build from the ground up. You have to make all the basic shots, you have to make them consistently, and you have to make them frequently. Life is a lot like that. It is all about the basics. Yes, you can sometimes make the fancier shots, the more complex shots, the more difficult shots - but if you miss the basic and simple shots, it won't matter. So in life, as in pool, focus relentlessly on the basics and make the simple shots.

Winning and Losing: When you play pool it is never about a single game - whether you are playing casually or tournaments, pool is very much about consistency over time. You will win some and you will lose some, but if you win more than your lose, you are ahead in the game. You'll have hot streaks and cold streaks and freaky streaks and every other imaginable streaks in between. They'll elate you and frustrate you. But it will all come back to consistency over time.

Well, that pretty much sums up my metaphor of life as pool or pool as life. Maybe there was a little insight in there, maybe not - either way, I have a good day shooting pool - and at the end fo a few hours of eight ball, it was 6 for me and 4 for my opponent - and consistency over time wins the day.

Two Simple Days

I've spent the last two days moving through the world without purpose, doing my best to just flow. Friday was incidental errand day and Saturday was just Saturday.

I did things of course, but I did them in the simplest way possible - by virtue of just being as much in the moment as I could and moving from one to the next, sweeping the floor, to steal the zen saying. It was pretty nice.

I deliberately didn't write anything, here or elsewhere - I took advantage of the slow weekend to just set things down for a couple of days. I plan on continuing that into today.

Then, perhaps, at the end of the day, as the warm October evening slides over me, I may contemplate the days and see if there were any lessons hidden inside of them, hidden in plain sight.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Doors to Other Worlds


Life amazes me. One of the things that constantly sends me into an awe is the sheer complexity of the world. There are lives within lives, worlds within world. A simple door can open into another world. There are places we pass by on a daily basis that, if we just stopped and went through the door, we would find ourselves in another world. It would be a world that existed in parallel with ours, maybe it will even share some traits - but it would be subtly, wonderfully, magically different.

This is the door to Sushi Totoro on Saratoga, one of my favorite stops after a long day at the office. My usual order is salmon sashimi, golden California rolls, and Philadelphia rolls. I usually chase it with green tea and accompany it with a bowl of miso soup. That simple door into an ordinary sushi restaurant is a door into a world that, for some people, simply doesn't exist. For others, it is a door into the center of their world. All in all, that is a pretty amazing thing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sun Dancer


There is a place in the complex, near the western gate, where the autumn son reflects off a pair of windows and casts this image upon the sidewalk. It is ephemeral but beautiful while it is there.

I am sliding slowly into the evening after a dinner of teriyaki chicken and vegetables that was simple and tasty. I don't have anything planned tonight, I think I am just going to slide slowly into the evening, enjoying the end of the slow October day. I think I will find that comfortable spot on the couch and curl up with Coleman Barks.

This is an excerpt from his collection "Winter Sky" called "The Great Blue Heron":

Up the hill planting trees,
one dogwood, two flowering peach,
kneeling in the cool Easter dirt,
on the last one, devotional and vain,

why turn and look,
I don't know, but here's the biggest bird

I've ever seen, huge, bluish-grey,

stretching between hemlock and laurel,

moving slowly against the creekwind,

legs and body hanging almost straight down.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tell Us About Yourself

As I was driving into the office this morning, I was thinking about the process of job interviewing and a common enough question that is asked. "Tell us a little about yourself." In order to have a clear understanding about "who I am" when it comes to the working world, I can illustrate my approach by telling you, briefly, about three formative experiences in my young work life that I have carried with me across the years and through all my other work experiences.

The first thing to understand is that I was raised on a small ranch in rural South Dakota and it was there that my work ethic was formed. When you are a small rancher everyone is a "utility hand". Yes, you may have your assigned chores - but you are expected to do two things - you're expected to pitch in where ever and whenever you can, to help other people with their chores, and second, your are expected to do things that need to be done when you see them, whether they "belong" to you or not. This develops a strong sense of practically - a very pragmatic approach to work. It also develops a strong sense of self-reliance - you learn not to wait for direction. If there is a task in front of you, you do it. If you don't know how to do it, you figure it out. Those early work lessons have profoundly shaped my approach to work.

The second thing to understand is that, culturally, I am Sicangu Lakota. I was raised on the Rosebud Reservation and I graduated from St. Francis Indian School. My world view is that of a perpetual outsider. Yes I am American, yes, I was raised in America - but it was about as far from mainstream America as you can get. It has had a very powerful effect on my work ethic and my work product - as a perpetual outsider, I am not intellectually tied to the structures, processes, methods and assumptions of the western business mindset, though I understand them well. When I entered the working world I was very much a blank slate and over the years I have observed and absorbed many different things, many approaches, many methods, many philosophies. The combination of being a utilitarian and pragmatic outsider means I adapt "what works". I am not vested in "it has to be done this way" or "this is the way it's always done". This gives me a tremendous amount of flexibility.

The third thing to understand is that what I have always considered to be my first career was with the Bureau of Indian Affairs police on my home agency. Though its a long time ago, it had a profound influence in two ways that are relevant. First, it powerfully reinforced my sense of self-reliance, that sense that was formed early on. I am confident to the point of being cocky. I am most often sure of what I think, sure of what I do. I make quick decisions and I follow them through. The second thing I learned and had repeated reinforced in that formative work experience was the important of detail. The devil is always in the details. Success and failure are twin treasures buried in there. You can powerfully influence the outcome of any encounter, any incident, or any event by paying attention to the details and getting the simple things right. All complex problems are a chain of interconnected simple problems. You solve the complex problems by solving the simple problems. You keep the complex problems at bay by not letting the simple problems spin out of control.

Now, you might be sitting there wondering how this influences my leadership style and my managerial style. I usually separate them because the challenge of leadership is actually two challenges - the challenge of management and the challenge of leadership. It is possible to be a great manager and a poor leader, and it is possible to be a great leader and a poor manager, so it is best to approach them separately.

When it comes to leadership, I follow what I call the rule of bright lines. Leadership is essentially a very simple task. You have to do two things successfully - you have to draw a bright line from where you are to where you want your organization to go. Then, you have to draw a pair of bright lines that mark the edges of your organization, so that everyone within the organization clearly understands - this is where we are going and this is our area of responsibility. Then, you continually repeat that message until every one of your employees knows, by heart, where they are going and what they are responsible for on that journey.

When it comes to management style, I am an advocate of the expectation integration theory of management, which says, boiled down to its essential core, that the closer the expectations of the organization are aligned with the expectations of the individual, the more likely it is that the relationship is going to be successful for both of them, the classic win-win scenario. There is only one way to integrate expectations successfully and is through communication. Effective communication requires clarity, it requires transparency, and it requires a fundamental honesty at all times, even when it's painful. My expectation of my employees is that they are adults and that they are professional at all times, in all their interactions with each other, with vendors, and with customers. No one comes to work because it's fun. We are all here because, for one reason or another, we have to be. Forced association always creates a level of dynamic tension. Professional conduct is what smoothes the rough edges and can take work from bearable to enjoyable. In every organization I've ever worked in, good, bad, and indifferent, there have been productive gains to be found by simply clarifying expectations and smoothing out the rough edges. Work-wise, that is pretty much me in a nutshell.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What the Heck? October 17th Picture


I was driving home tonight, stopped at a cafe to grab something to go, and looked down as I stepped out of the car. I saw the manhole cover said "Sanitary Sewer". I immediately thought "...and a sanitary sewer is different from an unsanitary sewer...how?".

A Fragmentary Day

Monday, Monday, Monday.

I am in the shadow between lunch and my next meeting, having spent the lion's share of the day in meetings already - with two more to go - this is my chance to stop long enough to take a deep breath and contemplate the day. I have fragments of thoughts running through my mind today, without a coherent theme. So, I thought I would just record some of those fragments.

Fragment 1: I dreamed of zombies last night, so all credit and praise to the folks behind AMC's "The Walking Dead". Truly awesome television. The cast is truly outstanding - not a weak link in the chain, and the creative team is pulling together an epic little tale.

Fragment 2: Ahhh, the desktop support organization is the principle source of my frustration here at work. A pox upon their house! What vexes me the most is if they run into a problem with the slightest bit of complexity, they switch from "fix" to "dodge" as their mental state. If they expended the amount of energy on trouble-shooting and fixing the deep problems as they do on dodging them - they could probably fix them and have time to run to Starbucks.

Fragment 3: How can you possibly serve watermelon that isn't ripe and not notice it isn't ripe when you cut it and mix the salad? Hint - watermelon should not be solid!

Fragment 4: Midget porn stars and abnormal genitals. (Hahaha - that was a fragment of conversation with T.R. last night that I have been secretly laughing about all day.)

Fragment 5: I've had so many meetings on so many subjects today that I've given up on any possibility of having a deep thought today. Five meetings this morning and two more to go in the afternoon.

Fragment 6: Shortly after writing Fragment 5, I got completely sidelined by a great article on http://www.the99percent.com entitled "What Happened To Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space." that had been tweeted by the talented actress Meredith Salenger, who has an enjoyable little twitter stream.

And the point is?

The point is - it has been a fragmentary day.
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