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
the old clock on the wall
counts, descending
the hours
the minutes
the tick-tock seconds
on the old brown couch
in a spare room
lit by the squares
of the Italian lamp
the clock counts the beat
imperfect metronome
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.