Friday, October 28, 2011
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
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.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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?".
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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Sunday, October 16, 2011
It was productive day today - breakfast with friends, repaired the updater and bios on a friends computer, helped another friend move the contents of his apartment from storage to his new studio apartment, had a late lunch at El Burro, circled home, then circled back out to pick up and deliver a mattress, then home for a hot bath and now relaxing into the evening watching the season premiere of "The Walking Dead". The day flew by quickly without a lot of time for introspection and that was pretty nice. My shoulder is mostly healed, though I was very careful not to strain it while helping with the move today. Today's picture is of my Wayfarers sitting on the bench outside of El Burro in Campbell.
Friday, October 14, 2011
Sometime on Wednesday morning I pulled a muscle in my right arm, near the shoulder. If you stand facing forward it is the muscle you use to lift your entire arm by swinging it forward, the short head of biceps brachii. I did it either lifting and moving a heavy box, which twisted, or while opening a heavy door. Based on the location of the injury I suspect the box was the root cause.
Typical of a pulled muscle, it didn't start hurting right away. It was only as I moved through the day that it began to hurt and restrict use of the arm.
Wednesday it was sore. Thursday was the worst of it, where pretty much the entire shoulder hurt. I slept okay both nights, largely by virtue of sleeping on my left side (no pressure on the injured area) or my back (a small amount of pressure).
I've been treating it with ibuprofen and ice, which has imrpoved it. After a round of icing on Thursday night, the overall swelling was down enough that I am not able to put my finger right on the injured part - the short head of the biceps brachii - and able to tightly target the ice, which vastly improves the effectiveness of it. I am on the road to healing, though I suspect it will take a couple of days.
Then, last night, I added another violent dream to my October portfolio.
In the dream I was driving down the street when I got caught in traffic behind a cop car and a crazy person and traffic ground to a stand still. As he got out of the car, the cop gestured for me to remain in my car and walked over to confront the crazy person. Suddenly, that confrontation went awry.
The cop drew his pistol and trained it on the crazy person. The two of them began circling each other, until suddenly I was down range from the cop. I laid down on the seat of the car, trying to get as low as I could. Suddenly, a shot rang out and my heart leaped into my throat. I lay there on the seat of the car, not knowing what had happened, debating whether I should sit up and look.
Suddenly, the crazy person was at the car window, with the cops pistol in his right hand. He banged on the window with his left and gestured for me to open the door, intending to car jack me. I pushed the button to unlock the door and as reached down and grabbed the handle, in that split second I kicked the door as hard as I could with both feet. The door slammed into him, he staggered backward and fell.
I rushed out of the car, intending to run, when I saw that, on falling, he had dropped the pistol. He rolled over on his stomach and started crawling for it. In his rear pocket was a short, bloodstained, section of iron rebar, wrapped in friction tape. I figured that improvised weapon was how he had overcome the cop.
Realizing I had the upper hand I rushed him and knee dropped him in the center of his back, slamming him into the pavement. While he was stunned I pulled the rebar from his pocket. He rolled over on his back and we began to fight. The fight lasted for several minutes and moved up and off the street, onto the sidewalk, then down the sidewalk. He put up a serious defense, which I battered relentlessly with the rebar. After a few minutes, he decided to turn and run, which allowed me that clean shot at his head.
The first blow to his head from the rebar send him to his knees. The second blow laid him and the sidewalk. I dropped down on him and hit him three more times in the head. He lay there, limp and unconscious, blood streaming from his scalp lacerations, bright and red. In the distance I could hear sirens. I stood up, glanced around at the horrified spectators, tossed the rebar to the ground and leaned against a bus stop to catch my breath. The entire encounter had taken a few short minutes of all out desperation fighting on my part.
I would not call this particular dream a nightmare, since I didn't wake drenched in sweat or shaking from adrenaline. I just woke up and thought "wow, what a violent dream". I am rarely sure what triggers such dreams or where their form comes from. The ghosts of October play a part in it I'm sure.
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Thursday, October 13, 2011
Suddenly, he vanished, disappearing into the water in the blink of an eye. A whirlpool surged to life where he had been and a sinkhole rapidly opened up under the pavement. A moment later a police officer on a motorcycle passed me on the right hand side, went around the whirlpool and came to a stop on the far side of it.
Then, in the blink of an eye he vanished as the sinkhole widened and became a roaring cataract of water. I pulled to the far right and drove up onto the shoulder, to get my car out of the floodwaters.
Then, I went to join a crowd of people gathering on a small hillock well back from the sinkhole. We stood and watched in awe and an incredible volume of water poured into the massive hole underneath the pavement, the roar drowning out all other sounds.
Moments later, I awoke into the still hours of the morning.
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011
I've had this piece for quite a while. I found it at a junk store one day and bought it for the pure functionality - it sits on the table near the door and catches my keys at the end of the day. It is such a habit that when I accidentally set my keys somewhere else, even in plain sight, I have through finding them.
Being Catholic, I like the idea of angels, and I specifically like the idea of incidental angels - those angels that are on some other task, but with whom you simply cross paths, perhaps knowing, perhaps unknowing. I like to think they do simple and subtle things in our lives and then continue on their journey.
I watched a good movie last night - Julie Taymor's "The Tempest" with Helen Mirren. First, I don't think you can go wrong with any movie that stars Helen Mirren, and second, I've always like The Tempest as a story. So, when you combine the two, I had two hours of pure enjoyment.
All in all the last couple of days have gone well - work has been brisk and only mildly frustrating. It's been the usual source of frustrations for me - mainly circling around desktop support, or the lack of it. I feel for the individuals involved in desktop support, they have a very difficult job, but I don't have any real sympathy for the process we use, with the emphasis on closing tickets and not solving problems. I've ranted about it before, I am sure I will rant about it again, and most likely I need to just let it go - which I am continually working on. I've done a better job than usual this week, so I am kind of proud of myself there.
Monday, October 10, 2011
As I was moving through the day today I thought of the subject matter for tonight's picture - my shoes. My trusty New Balance 407's. These are probably the fourth or fifth pair of 407's that I've owned - I routinely swap them out once a year, not because the shoes are particularly worn (though, I put on average a million steps a year on them), but rather because - I have this thing about shoes. I like them fresh and crisp. So, if you were wondering what it is like to walk a mile in my shoes, well, you can probably buy a pair and come pretty close to the experience.
Let me pose a question. When you are looking for a job is it in your best interests that you be as honest as you can be in who you are? I would say the answer is a resounding yes. I am often driven by expectation integration theory, which holds forth that the more closely your expectations are integrated with another entities expectations the more likely it is that the relationship will be mutually satisfying.
If your social network presence, whatever it may be, is reflective of who you are, than having that information out there is only a good thing because it will add knowledge of otherwise unknown dimensions of you to the great mix that is the decision making process.
I'm not just talking about the benign things either - that you love to ski, that your favorite novelist is Isabel Allende, that you've watched "The Wizard of Oz" a hundred times and can quote great portions of the script. I am talking about the other parts as well - your hot tub, your love of dancing at crowded clubs, your anti-capitalist protest pictures, the beer and bbq fueled weekends with your friends from your last job.
These are all a part of you, you should not have to hide them, and if you do hide them - are you better off because you hid them or not? I would venture that you are not.
In almost all circumstances as you go through life there is a simple truism involved - by and large the more honest you are, with yourself or others, the better off you will be. Yes, there may very well be a short term cost - you might not get a job you applied for.
But the long term benefit will far outweigh that short-term cost: You will get a job where you are free to be you without worrying about how your life or your lifestyle rubs up against your job. That alone is worth almost any short term cost.
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Sunday, October 9, 2011
We carry things as we move through this life. Usually, we know what we carry, but every now and then things slip into our bag without our being aware of them. One of the lessons I have learned from T.R. has been the importance of periodically taking the time to do a self-assessment on many levels. I think that I am due for such a day.
A self-assessment like that is, at least for me, not an easy thing. I have a tendency to get distracted and part of that distraction is the psyche, twisting and turning, slippery and elusive, wanting to keep its own secrets. There is an art to revealing those secrets to yourself - a delicate art, one that can only be learned through repeated and dedicated practice. To sit, to contemplate, to turn Priam's Lens upon yourself is a powerful process. When I approach that period of self-observation, I have to be careful to clear those ready distraction from the way, as best I can.
I am not sure what I was thinking about over the weekend. I had a vague unsettled sense through the days, like there was something on my mind that wasn't yet ready to bring itself into full view. Even now, on Sunday evening, it is not entirely visible but I can sense it there. Perhaps it will come out tonight in a dream, perhaps it will not wait for a dream, perhaps it will spin around in my mind until it takes the shape it desires.
October is an introspective month for me, for a variety of reasons. I suspect that they are the Ghosts of October that are stirring inside of me, moving about, seeking their positions and preferences. Some years they are barely there, other years they are heavy upon me. This year they seem to be present but not overbearing. There is some truth to be had in contemplating in our ghosts, whatever they may be.
The picture for today is my briefcase, that travels with me to and from work carrying the necessities of the working world. I actually bought this particular style of briefcase after dreaming of it a few months ago. So, I suppose, in some ways it is my dreaming briefcase. I happen to like that idea.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
No collection of "ordinary" pictures from my world would be complete without a picture of my beloved Crackberry. (Actually, it is a Blackberry Curve 8900.) The Crackberry is my constant companion - the only time I set it aside is when I decide there is a time for me to be off the grid for a while, otherwise it is almost always close at hand. I love the connectivity of the modern world and I often wonder (and T.R. and I have often discussed) what the future is going to hold, what the experience of that future would be like. It is basically beyond the edges of our comprehension I think.
Today was an interesting day on several levels. I slept well. I woke up about five a.m. and then managed to linger in bed as long as I could, which was until about six a.m. I watched "Nikita" on the DVR to start the day. I met the guys for the usual breakfast at The Hickory Pit, then circled home for a bit.
From there I went up to Edgie's in Milpitas and spent a couple of hours playing pool. While I was there I had a strange event. When it comes to stress I tend to carry my stress in my shoulder muscles and for some reason, as we got ready to play pool, I realized that I was carrying a tremendous amount of stress. My neck and shoulder muscles were tight to the point be being uncomfortable. I did some Tai Chi and some breathing exercises to let the stress out. They worked and by the time we were finished playing pool I had dropped the stress.
The strange thing about it is I really can't think of why I carrying the stress - perhaps there was something going on in my monkey mind that I was unaware of, something at the subconscious level, but it is hard to say. Don and I did talk briefly about the performance management cycle at work, which is always a stress inducer for me, but I am not sure that had anything to do with it. One of my brothers was texting me through the morning and he was off to a funeral, so perhaps I was carrying some residual stress because of that. Even now, here in the evening, I am not really sure why I was carrying it.
After the pool playing, I wandered home and took a short nap on the couch, which was nice. From there, I went to Mama Mia's on Hamilton and had a bowl of minestrone soup and cheese ravioli in meat sauce. It was very tasty. From there, I wandered home and tumbled into this moment, where I am currently writing this entry and watching some comedy with Rumer Willis (Bruce Willis and Demi Moore's daughter). It is - a typical teen comedy and as soon as I finished writing I will do some channel surfing and see if there is anything worth watching tonight. If not, then I will curl up on the couch and spend part of the evening reading.
Friday, October 7, 2011
It was a beautiful fall day here, nearly perfect. The sun broke free, the sky was a bright blue, the weather was temperate, with the slightest of breezes. I tried to sleep in, but had slept well enough the night before that I couldn't pull it off, so I had a lazy morning, then went out and ran a couple of errands.
I had lunch at the Race Street Fish Market (fish, scallops, fries, and chowder), stopped at Orchard Supply Hardware to pick up a couple of odds and ends, swung by CVS for the same reason, popped in for a massage at the spa, then circled home for a nap. Dinner was pancakes and fruit at Holders Country Inn.
I love these very ordinary days, especially in the fall. All of the beauty of the world wrapped in simplicity, or perhaps all the simplicity of the world wrapped in beauty. Either way they are tightly entangled. The artificial tree in the picture sits in my living room and is a splash of color. I have a mix of artificial and real plants in the apartment, to give that splash of color and add that necessary organic touch.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
against the window
the clock counted
all the stolen hours
under your hand
I twisted and I turned
tangled and burned
somewhere a lost guitar
played the songs of a thief
struck the seventh chord of lust
bound us together
written on the ribbons
woven in our limbs
all the ancient stories
all the sacred tongues
the rain crashed
against the window
the clock counted
all the stolen hours
under your hand
I twisted and turned
tangled and burned
My glasses (normally I wear contacts). They bring to mind one of my favorite passages from St. Paul:
"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am also known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)
I've always loved that particular passage because it speaks to me very clearly of the nature and power of faith. In this life our faith is imperfect, flawed. We live with the promise of the next life and the perfection of our faith.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
"Tempus edax rerum" - Ovid (Time devours all things.)
This is my pocket watch. I alternate between carrying it and wearing my wrist watch. For reasons I don't entirely understand the pocket makes me more aware of the passage of time. It is as if the time that moves on the pocket watch is a more stately time, a more serene time.
The pocket watch also puts me in mind of one of my favorite short stories - "The Paladin of the Lost Hour" by Harlan Ellison, in his collection "Angry Candy". It was also a critically acclaimed Twilight Zone episode (from 1985). I like the closing narration:
"Like a wind crying endlessly through the universe, time carries away the names and deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we were, all that remains is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment. A blessing of the 18th Egyptian Dynasty: God be between you and harm in all the empty places you walk."
I often look at time as the true coin of our lives. We have second, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years - but we have them in a finite number. How we choose to spend time, more than money, more that any other thing, is what shapes our lives. Are you conscious of hour you are spending the coin of your life? Are you aware what you are buying? Is it worth it?
I slept late this morning. I am blaming part of it on the weather, which is cool and rainy. I am blaming another part of it on yesterday’s flu shot. I will blame a third part of it on “because I could”. The rain definitely has me in a lazy fall mood. I am currently in the office and I came back from lunch in a steady rain. It was nice walking across the parking lot with big drops of rain popping on my jacket. I love the sky, a broken blue lined with cumulus clouds, painted in shades of white and gray.
Work has been pretty good today. I started the day with a small avalanche of things, but managed to maneuver my way through them. I had a meeting cancel, so it is a two meeting day, which is pretty rare. On an average day I attend about five hours worth of meetings. The light meeting schedule means I’ve had the opportunity to make some progress today. I still have a handful of things that I need to work my way through, but the afternoon is mostly clear, so I should be able to make a little more headway.
I was joking with one of my co-workers today that, as a corporation, we could probably save millions of dollars a year if we could do just one thing – stay on topic in our meetings. When it comes to meetings, there are a bare handful of things you can which will vastly increase the value of your meetings. Let’s call them Rod’s Rules of Meetings.
Rule One: Restrict meetings to one topic.
Rule Two: Always publish an agenda at least one full working day prior to the meeting.
Rule Three: If you have hand-outs or presentation materials, distribute them with the agenda.
Rule Four: Only invite people who have a clear and compelling business need to attend.
Rule Five: Keep actual meeting minutes.
Now, if you can do even one of those five things, you will significantly improve the quality and content of any meetings you host or are involved in. And the odds are that I will nap in your meeting are much smaller.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
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Monday, October 3, 2011
This little item has been my constant companion for the last decade or more. About the only time it is not in my pocket is when I am on an airplane, and then, if I have a checked bag, it is in my checked bag. Growing up on a ranch in rural South Dakota a pocket knife was an essential tool. Though my knife no longer sees the heavy use it did when I was young it comes in handy often enough that it is never far from my pocket.
Today was a Monday at work. I started the day with a six thirty a.m. meeting about something that I really could do nothing about, but that I was involved in for more of an advisory role. I mostly sat in my La-Z-Boy, drinking coffee and listening. I think a surprising amount of management work is simply listening. Once clear of the meeting I moved pretty smoothly through an ordinary Monday, at times amusing, at times frustrating, but mostly just what it was.
I was thinking as I drove into the office that it is rarely work content, rarely even work load, that manages to get me worked up at work. Mostly, it has to do with work environment, with things that are pretty much well beyond my control and at the margins of my ability to influence. In that I am reflective of most of the working world - the greatest source of stress for a worker arises from the things they have no control over. Give a worker control over their working day and their stress levels drop rapidly.
With the early start of the day there was a corresponding early end to day, but we had a good shower going about the time I left the office and it was enough to snarl traffic pretty badly on the freeway, so I took surface streets home. It was smooth but slow. Once home I made a bowl of soup and a sandwich and had a simple dinner, then followed it up by watching a bit of Ken Burn's new documentary that is currently running on PBS - "Prohibition". It is interesting, but I keep waiting for some narrative thread to pull it all together. From there, I slipped into a nice hot bath and the conclusion of that bath brought me right here, to this moment.
If I had any insight from the day it would be that much of my stress arises from environmental issues, not work content or work load. I seem to get offended by the structural things, though I can manage the frictional things very well. Of course, the structural things are the things that are the hardest to do anything about. Those are the ones that I have to work on simply letting go.
It is my short work week this week, so I am already a quarter of the way through it. I have one major thing I want to do this week, which is work on performance reviews, both for myself and for my employees. As far as tasks are concerned, it is mostly writing. I just need to carve out some time to sit down and write.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
I am here to confess to a terrible sin. Given the slightest opportunity, given the weakest provocation, given a reason of any sort, no matter how fragile or flimsy and I will indulge myself in...reading. Hedonistic, unhesitating, opportunistic, sensuous, luxurious, passionate, all encompassing reading.
A book, whether fiction, non-fiction, poetry or any and all of them has the ability to transport me to another realm of the senses, where the real and the unreal mingle and we dwell in a world of almost limitless possibilities. There is a sweet surrender that takes place between the covers of a book, a total surrender to the will and the power of the author. I love it.
This photograph is part of my October collection, I have twin nightstands on each side of my bed. This is the one on the right side of the bed, if you stand at the foot and face the head. It serves as a resting place for the book that is read, even if only for a moment, as I fall asleep or as I wake.
If you want to make a small transformational change in your day, try this - place one of your favorite books, either new or old, next to your bed and immediately on waking, before you get out of bed, turn on the light and read a passage or two, then close your eyes and contemplate it for a while.
The book in current "high rotation" on my nightstand is "The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Onono Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan." by Jane Hirschfield (Translator). If you are a fan of the beautiful simplicity of Japanese poetry, I would definitely recommend that you add this book to your collection. It was recommended to me by T.R. and I have been slowly devouring it. Some books of poetry are meant to be slowly consumed, so that you can truly savor each taste they contain.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
It's a soft and beautiful morning here. There is fog that will burn off as the day progresses. But, for now, it is a quiet and soft dawn. I woke up about six a.m., which is close to normal time for me, and have spent a lazy morning so far. I watched "Fringe" on the DVR. Last night I spent some time with T.R. and then slipped off to sleep after reading a chapter or two in "The Clash of Kings".
I don't really have anything planned for this weekend. Breakfast with friends in about an hour and a half, then probably a trip to Fry's, and then over to Bob's to wind out the afternoon with the guys. A simple dinner and then a quiet evening at home. In short, I hope it is going to sort out to be a simple and easy Saturday.
I got a text from my brother this morning, and he was commenting on missing the simplicity of the Saturday mornings, the anticipation and the excitement of watching the old cartoon "Space Ghost". I think the Saturday morning cartoon memory is one deeply ingrained in many Americans as a symbol of the simplicity of childhood.
Of course, as an adult, there is nothing to prevent you from having the exact same morning. I responded to my brother that it really is all about the choices we make. I would compare this morning with the simplicity of those mornings, all those years ago. You just need to make the choices to embrace the simplicity of life. That simplicity never went anywhere. You went somewhere. And maybe the cartoons changed. For instance, I am not watching "Space Ghost". I am watching the alluring Maggie Q. in "Nikita".