Friday, April 30, 2010

Workaholic III

There is a truism that tells us that nobody on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time at the office. These words are meant to get us to appreciate what is really most valuable and important in our lives, before it is too late. It is not our jobs, but our relationships that truly matter. This is my story as a recovering workaholic.

Today I am doing better. I am striving to remain in control of my work life. I am consciously trying to ensure that my work does not define me. I can assure you that this is never going to be an easy thing for me. I can still feel that powerful drug coursing through me after I have had a productive day. I have found it much easier now, given what I have been through, to not take my work home with me. In the past, even after a long day at work, I would still be emotionally involved with the day's happenings when I got home. I was physically present, but my mind was a thousand miles away. I was just not there.

I read a self-help book recently that strongly advocated that we make sure that we take our full measure of vacation time each year at work. My knee-jerk reaction has always been something like, "But I have too much going on to be gone that much." In reality, I just did not want to miss anything. Whatever project I was involved with could certainly have gone on quite swimmingly in my absence. I just did not want to admit this to myself, or to others. I used to joke whenever someone suggested that I take a vacation, "I have nothing to vacate from." Today I have clearer vision. While I cannot change the past and the negative impact that my decisions had on those I cared about, I can strive to do much better in the future.

(Part 3 of 3)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Workaholic II

There is a truism that tells us that nobody on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time at the office. These words are meant to get us to appreciate what is really most valuable and important in our lives, before it is too late. It is not our jobs, but our relationships that truly matter. This is my story as a recovering workaholic.

Now, having considered my previous thoughts (see Workaholic I), which I believe are valid, I do find a kernel of important truth in the words of my colleague those many years ago. The kernel is that while work must be important to us, and we must take our work seriously and give of ourselves, we must not let work rule our lives. Our families and personal relationships cannot be pushed into the backseat or the closet. They cannot be neglected or ignored in our drive to further our career or our intellectual girth. Unfortunately for me, this is a lesson that I learned rather late in life. Some very important blossoms in my life withered and died away and I never noticed. Hopefully though, it is not too late for me to put the lessons that I have learned into practice.

Personally, I have known that I would be a scientist since I was a young boy. My field held a special fascination for me. I wanted to know everything and I remember how impatient I was with the slow pace of my education. Increasing my knowledge was a thrist that just could not be quenched. For years I threw myself unapologetically into 100-hour weeks. My lab eventually though became a place that not only fascinated me, but also a place where I could hide from the problems of the outside world. Furthermore, with my success at work, it became a place that fed my ego and established my self-worth. It became an addiction, and what a powerful drug it was. While my real world crumbled down around me, I was buoyed and supported by my work. The more success that I had and the more good feelings I received from my efforts, the more I continued to strive and to work and to push. All the while, I never perceived that I had lost nearly everything that mattered to me in the outside world. When I understood what I had done and where I was, it was already far too late to do anything about it.

(Part 2 of 3)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Workaholic I

There is a truism that tells us that nobody on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time at the office. These words are meant to get us to appreciate what is really most valuable and important in our lives, before it is too late. It is not our jobs, but our relationships that truly matter. This is my story as a recovering workaholic.

I had a scientific colleague many years ago who told me "A bad day of vacation is better than a good day at work." I remember thinking to myself at the time that this guy would never survive in science if this is what he really believed. It struck me as the attitude of someone who, channeling famed test pilot Chuck Yeager, did not have the right stuff. To be successful in science takes a special kind of dedication. I have not met too many through the years who have been successful working simply 9 to 5. This is not the kind of vocation where you can compete and be successful without special effort. My negative opinion of this person was only strengthened when he eventually washed out as a scientist and could not get a job in his field. When he ended up working on restoring antique furniture, I remember chortling smugly to myself, feeling oh so superior.

As the years have gone by, I have seen person after person wash out of this field when they were not willing to dedicate themselves completely to their work. Without a deep and burning passion, there just never seems to be success or advancement. This is a career path where one really has to be self-motivated and fully committed to survive. Work has to be more than simply a means to a paycheck, it has to be a driving force in one's life.

(Part 1 of 3)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I don't have all that many friends in my life. I would even say that I don't have any close friends. These are the folks that you hang around with in your leisure time and talk to regularly. My lack of close friends is closely connected with the fact that I have always had difficulty opening up, with letting folks get too close to me (see Life as Nature II). Whenever I talk to others in a social setting, I immediately feel very self-conscious, out of place, exposed, and uncomfortable. Where do I put my hands? Where do I focus my eyes? When is it my turn to talk? What do I do if there is an awkward pause? It seems so foolish, at my age, to not have any social skills. It is an ongoing source of frustration for me. Far too many times it has caused me to have panic attacks that have led me to avoid connecting with others. Better to stay hidden in my fortress of solitude than to risk the anxiety that being around others causes me.

The other night I got a call from the leader of my church small group. She asked me a personal question regarding my preferences about a social gathering that she was organizing. As her question hung in the air, still echoing in my ears, the world around me abruptly shuddered into slow motion. While she was waiting for an answer, I thought to myself "What would a normal person do?". This kind of scene plays out on a regular basis in my daily life.

Part of my issue is putting myself in the shoes of other people and really understanding their point of view. Call it lack of empathy, lack of a developed imagination, lack of deep cerebral cortex functionality. Call it part of me that has proven very difficult to understand or change. "What would a normal person do?. When I was younger, I viewed my distance from others as a strength. I felt that I was superior. The fact that I did not think or act like those around me was proof. Now that I am older, I have come to realize that my continued distance from others is a sign that something is wrong with me. This defect can be crippling at times. How I long to be more like the others, to share their laughter and their deep connections. How I long to be more normal ...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Things To Talk About

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood ran on PBS from 1967 to 2001. I would guess that most people know who Fred Rogers was and can even tell you a thing or two about the show he produced. Perhaps a character they remember or one of the puppets or the little red trolley. I remember watching Mister Rogers on PBS when I was a kid in the 1970s and I remember watching him a few times with my little one when she was just a toddler. To me this show was always a bit dour, a bit old fashioned and corny, and perhaps a bit too black and white in a color world. However, given my long history with the show, it holds a special place in my heart. It causes me to look back and reflect.

You may remember the song that Mister Rogers sang at the end of every show as he changed from his sneakers to his loafers and took off his sweater and put on his sports jacket. Part of the lyrics went:

And I'll be back when the day is new
And I'll have more ideas for you
And you'll have things you'll want to talk about
I will too

These words ran through my mind the other day after I picked up my young daughter from school. We had not seen each other for a few days. We were both excited to see each other and as we usually do when we come back together, we try to make up for lost time by catching up on the news and highlights and funny happenings in our lives since we were last together. She has things she'll want to talk about, I will too. Thanks Mister Rogers.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Out of the Blue

The other night I was channel surfing and saw a comedian on Comedy Central named Katt Williams. His routine was so laced with expletives, you ended up hearing more bleeps from the censor than actual words. Every joke seemed to be about drugs or sex or how bad white people are. What first stood out to me was how unfunny, unclever, unoriginal, and stereotypical this man was. Now, I don't know too much about this person, and I have certainly seen plenty of other comics on television to which I have developed similar opinions. There was nothing special about Mr. Williams in this regard. However, the second thing that I noticed was how out of place this whole scene was. Mr. Williams was dressed in a very expensive suit, walking around on a very big stage in a very fancy auditorium, in front of a huge crowd. As they panned across the crowd from time to time, I could not help but notice how everyone seemed so well dressed, so erudite, like they put on their best for an evening at the opera. The crowd seemed to eat up everything Mr. Williams spewed. They were laughing so hard that more than one person had tears running down their faces. I guess what I was so surprised by was how mainstream foul language, bad taste, and derogatory racist diatribes have become. This wasn't Lenny Bruce in some small, smokey venue in Vegas. This was a very strongly promoted hour-long television special that came on in prime time.

I was really kind of blown away by all of this. Now I can assure you that I am no tee-totalling, uptight prude. However, I could never imagine going into public or standing in front of an audience and talking in that manner. I wonder what it says about us that this kind of television special is allowed on the air. Does this kind of "extreme" pull viewers in with its shock-inducing nature? Is this stuff funny? Is this necessary? Is this acceptable? The answers are yes, no, No, and NO!, respectively.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What You Value

Every year that my daughter Maddie and I have celebrated Easter together, just the two of us, she has had a visit from the Easter bunny. He usually hides a few candy-filled goodies around the living room for my little one to seek out. Some are placed in obvious locations, some hidden a bit more subtly. There is also always a nice big Easter basket filled with more candy, some money, a book, and, from time to time, a stuffed animal. The Easter bunny always makes sure to use my daughter's basket each year upon his visit. He then puts the basket in an oversized cellophane bag that is adorned with pretty flowers and egg shapes, and ties it up with a blue ribbon on which hangs a cardboard picture of himself looking his Easter best. After finding her eggs, Maddie always excitedly (but carefully) opens her basket and goes through everything. She then carefully folds up the cellophane bag and places the ribbon and bunny picture on top. That way they are ready for Mr. Bunny's next visit.

The other day, Maddie and I were walking out of Target after doing a bit of shopping. On the ground by the exit, she spied a cardboard picture of the Easter bunny that looked very similar to hers. She ran over to where it lay and claimed it as if she had found a valuable treasure. She beamed as she told me what she had found and how similar it was to hers. Later in the evening, I watched as she pulled the bunny out of her pocket and traced her finger around its edge. I saw her smile again. Sometimes the little things that don't cost a thin dime or have no value to any other soul are what can touch our hearts so deeply. Sometimes it's the little things that are important and valuable. What do you value?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Art of Listening

Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak. (James 1:19)

One relational skill that I lack is the ability to listen to others. I think that this has to do with my analytic approach to most situations in life. When someone relates to me a problem that they are grappling with, my first instinct is to get them to "cut to the chase", just give me the facts so that I can figure out the solution for them. I feel like my mind is just hard-wired this way. However, I think, perhaps, the biggest reason why I don't listen well to others is that I like to hear myself talk. Selfishly I need to be the center of attention. I want others to appreciate how quick and smart I am. Because of this, I am a poor listener.

I can assure you that, even though I have a clear cognitive understanding that when folks talk to me about issues that are important to them, it is usually not because they want me to dispense advice. Although I know this, I cannot seem to keep my mouth shut and really listen. This trait of mine has negatively impacted several important relationships in my life. It's a lesson that I understand, but am at a loss to put into practice when I really need to.

God can accomplish incredible things through people who are able to listen respectfully and lovingly. Oftentimes, nary a word needs to be said to help and to heal, to honor others and to let them express themselves. I must come to focus on feelings, not facts. I need to begin with sympathy and empathy, love and respect, not solutions. I need to just shut up and let people talk out their feelings without interruption. Just listen and let them unload emotionally. Don't argue or become a blockade. With release comes healing. Feelings are not always logical or factual or sensible.

I need to value listening before speaking. When I am speaking, I am not listening to the other person or to the promptings of the Lord. I am not validating the other person. It is not about problem solving. Sometimes when I quickly toss out "obvious" solutions, I make the other person feel self-conscious, foolish, and stupid. Before I speak I need to let the other person finish. Then I need to fully process my thoughts before I open my mouth with words of encouragement, understanding, and validation. Sometimes a hug and a shoulder offered in love can be more important than anything I might utter.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Animal Among Us

A dad taking his kid to a baseball game is a scene straight out of a Normal Rockwell painting. This is the kind of adventure that builds relationships and memories. It is kind of a rite of passage in some ways ...

I read on espn that a man was arrested for vomiting intentionally on a girl and her father at a Philadelphia Phillies game. The incident started when a drunk man was screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs. He was acting like a rude, belligerant ass. When the young girl asked him to control his language, he swore at her and turned his inhuman behavior up a couple of notches. More swearing, taunting, and spitting all over the people seated around him. The man was then reported to security, who came to escort him from the stadium. Upon figuring out what was happening, he then went over to where the girl and her father were sitting and intentionally caused himself to vomit all over the two. What an animal.

Apart from the incident itself, my question is where did this person learn to act like this? Who were the "role models" that taught him this type of behavior? How could anyone act this way in public or treat others with such disregard for any standard of decency or respect? What causes people to believe that it is acceptable to be drunk or high in public? What should have been a wonderful adventure between an 11-year-old girl and her father has been completely destroyed. I sure it will have a long-lasting affect on her development and her attitude. I pray that she can find a way to wipe this memory from her life, to keep a positive attitude, and to come away unscathed. It turns out that the girl's father was a police officer. I hope this delinquent is made to pay a high price and made to get some help before he is let back into society again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Accent Advantage

I have noticed a trend in the place where I work. Brashly setting aside the scientific method, I have decided that a trend can be defined by two instances. Two of the highest-level positions here are filled by individuals who have British accents. I have the distinct sense that they got these jobs solely because of these aforementioned accents. Their mannerisms are unmistakably foppish, unnecessarily formal, and irresistably charming. When these chaps open their mouths, the women all swoon and the men stare cow-eyed, just wishing they could channel Mr. Bean, if only for a moment.

The affect that these two men have on all who they come into contact with here has made me jealous to be sure. However, and more importantly, it has caused me to have some suspicion and skepticism. How do we know that these people are even who they say they are? Given that I have never seen them wearing a bowler-type hat, that neither of them walks in an unusual manner (see Ministry of Silly Walks), and that they both have good teeth, I am starting to think that neither of them is really British. The accents are just a clever ruse to get us to be sucked in by their affected charm.

Maybe this whole British "angle" could work for me too. I'm sure that I could pick up a thing or two watching Kevin Costner in Robin Hood or tuning in the British parliament channel. I bet I could put this whole thing over the top with the simple addition of a powdered wig and by eating bangers and mash for lunch every day for a week. I will rise to the top of the heap here at work in no time. Blimey!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sports Nut

I used to be a raging sports nut. Baseball - Boston Red Sox, Football - Dallas Cowboys, Basketball - Boston Celtics, Hockey - Boston Bruins, Curling - Saskatchewan Fudgeslingers. I followed the teams religiously, I watched the televised games, I poured over the box scores and statistics until I knew them better than my own dog's name. I employed language like "We killed 'em last night or "I can't believe we played so poorly." I had myself convinced that I was somehow a crucial element of the team.

I vividly remember the day it all ended. All the fanaticism, all the frenzied overinvolvement, all the crazed zealotry. Set aside in a moment of lucid understanding of the costs involved. It was April 1989. I was following a basketball playoff game between the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons. It was toward the end of Larry Bird's playing career and the once mighty Celtics were no longer an elite team. I was living in a dorm room at Indiana University. As I did not have access to a television, I listened to the game on my radio. I hung with my team in an elimination game that lasted for 3 hours. The game was back and forth the entire time. In the end, the Celtics lost and the physical toll that game took on me was significant. My blog pressure spiked and would not come down. I worked myself into a migraine headache. I screamed so long and so loud that I lost my voice. Beyond this, the feelings of defeat and malaise stayed with me for days.

It was then that it finally dawned on me that I had no real stake in the game. I was not playing. I was not in the crowd cheering and screaming and uplifting. I was giving myself a heart attack screaming myself hoarse in a dorm room in Bloomington, Indiana 840 miles away from the action. It was then that I set all of that aside. I walked away and never returned. Sure, I still watch sports on television from time to time, but I no longer have my heart and soul invested in these contents. After all, I am in no way a part of the team.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Filthy Lucre

When the dust settled, they each took to a far away corner to count their prizes. In one pile teetered a nice T.V., a treasured photograph album, some pretty flower pots, a handful of silver pieces. In another precarious pile there was a bread machine, some books, some artwork. They both turned away rabid and ugly and striken. Nothing labeled as ours, but only now his or hers. Wild eyes and wilder looks replace the echos of silenced laughter. No more hand in hand. No more eye to eye. No fully draped, entwined twos, now only exposed, naked ones remain.

There used to be promise and hope with each new item brought into that space. Excited expectations of sharing that new goody, or witnessing those copper planters tarnish with the passing years as they sat back and took in the view. No more sitting together in tenderness looking over page after page of their years together, reminiscing and reconnecting for the past and the future. All that remains now are piles of stuff. A household collection part you and part me has become nothing but bargaining chips and salvos. All reduced to filthy, tainted lucre.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shallow Pool

Each year during the NCAA basketball tournament, we have a friendly betting pool here at work. Two dollars down plus a filled-in bracket, with a little bit of luck, can get you a 50-fold return on your investment. More importantly, and I cannot stress this enough, it can give you bragging rights for the rest of time. This pool has been going on for more than 10 years now. Some folks are regulars at or near the top of the leaderboard each year. They consistently finish in the top ten. You can pick them out of a crowd because they hold their heads up just a little bit higher than everyone else. However, there are some folks who finish at or near the bottom each year. Who knows what system they use to make their picks. Seeds? Hah! They don't need no stinkin' seeds. Maybe they base their picks on some sort of astrological influence. Maybe they flip a coin. Who knows?

My buddy Mac (see All About Mac) has consistently finished at or near last place every year. One of the features of our pool is that the last place "winner" gets their $2 back. A sort of booby prize if you will. It is really meant as a form of public humiliation. Two things that you can bet on with assurance in this life are the losers at Pimlico being sent to the glue factory and Mac finishing in last place in the NCAA basketball tournament pool.

But somehow, some way, Mac won it all this year! He actually came in first place. Knowledge of this fact punched me right in the gut and sent me wimpering under my desk. I saw Mac the other day in the hallway. He was positively beaming, flaunting his jackpot wad o' cash. Everything that I thought I knew in this world seemed to have vanished away into the aether, ... until ..., Mac bared his soul to me. It turns out that Mac was on vacation the week the completed brackets were due. In his absense, the pool organizer filled in a sheet for Mac using some fancy "computer" algorithm. (Don't worry, this option is available to all who wish to employ it.) So you see, Mac had nothing to do with his own picks. Once I found out this truth, the color returned to my face and everything was right and good in the world once again.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Customer" Service

I remember sitting in a movie a few years ago. The scene was a 1950's-era gas station, full-service of course. When the attendant came out and was courteous, attentive, and seemed to care genuinely about the driver and his vehicle, the audience erupted in laughter, which I'm certain was not the intended aim of the movie's director. He was simply trying to set the scene. The laughter instead was derived from the fact that the attitude displayed was so totally foreign to us today that it was comical. Whatever happened to customer service?

Today, you don't have to go too far to see overwhelming evidence that it has evaporated into the past. Simply stock of old Leave it to Beaver or Andy Griffith reruns. Just open your eyes and you will see:
  • Store workers who arrive for shift and park in the spots closest to the door.
  • Cashiers who wear ear phones, listening to music, while they are attempting to interact with the paying customers.
  • Cashiers who make customers wait while they have a leisurely chat on the phone with their friends.
  • Delivery men who come to your house and are surly, rude, and unkempt.
  • Store workers who use foul language when they interact with you.
I was always told growing up that you can tell a great deal about a company or business by how the secretary in the lobby acts and performs her duties. If she is attentive to the customers, energetic, honest, and competent, you can likely bet that she is a good representative of how the company operates. I believe that the same can be said for businesses in general. Their workers are an accurate representation of their corporate identities. Those who tolerate lazy, rude, and inconsiderate workers don't give a whip about their customers, only their money.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Electric Company

When I was a youngling back in first grade, I remember that sometimes we actually got to watch television in school. From time to time, the teacher would wheel in that towering A.V. cart and she would tune in a PBS show called "The Electric Company". We got a break from "real" learning for a bit. Sure we were smart enough to know that she was trying to subtly get us to learn from a "fun-ducational" format, but it beat having to spend time with those inane workbooks.

I remember that the show was set in some fictional New York City neighborhood and followed the adventures of a nice gang of kids. Each show, when one of the lead characters got into trouble (and it usually seemed to be Rita Moreno), they yelled out "Hey you guys!", and this brought the gang together to work out a solution to the problem.

I read on the "internet" that The Electric Company stopped making new shows in 1977. In the theme of everything old is new again, they started making new versions of the show in 2009 on PBS. My daughter and I watch it when nothing "good" is on. The format is basically the same. Skits, songs about vowels, and the adventures of a "reading" gang. However, I have noticed that the level of problems that this gang faces is on a much lower level than the 1970's gang faced. Today, if the T.V. remote is just out of reach, you will hear "Hey you guys!", or if they are out of vanilla ice cream at the store "Hey you guys!". I seem to recall different scenarios when I was a kid. There is a bug in the rocket booster protocol and re-entry is moments away, "Hey you guys!". A submersible in the Mariana Trench has gotten pulled down due to a hull breach, "Hey you guys!".

Maybe, my memory has just become myopic, but it sure seems that kids are not so much given the tools to be special and to make a difference, but more to feel good about themselves. Hey you guys!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Responsibility Redux

I have written in the past about personal responsibility (see for example a post I wrote about 8 months ago entitled Not Responsible!). Everyone has things that set them off, that cause them to drool with rage. One of those areas for me is personal responsibility. Far too many people tend to immediately cast blame in the direction of others when they screw up. This happens from the individual to the corporate level. It seems fairly clear that these people are not simply looking to distract the unwanted attention of onlookers, they really do believe down deep inside that they are wholly without fault. I provide two examples that heat me up inside, one from my past and one that I read on the news recently.

Take Responsibility #1
When I was just a lad back in grade school, our class was visited by an outside worker's advocacy and rights group. I remember one of the folks in this group telling us about how he was unfairly fired from his job as a stock boy in a grocery store. His story was that he was walking out of the store after his shift when he "absentmindedly" took a bag of potato chips from a display on his way out of the store and ate them. His supervisor saw the whole scene and fired him for theft. Instead of taking responsibility for his actions he stood on his soap box and railed against the monsters at the store for firing him. This man was a petty thief trying to get away with something. He got what he deserved but he clearly did not believe that.

Take Responsibility #2
Sailors are reminded every day of their enlistment that the Navy has a zero-tolerance policy on drugs. Zero. If you are caught breaking this rule you will be kicked out of the service. No exceptions, no extra chances. However, a group of sailors decided to party it up one night by getting high on a drug called "spice". When they were busted and being kicked out of the service, they complained that it wasn't fair as "spice" is not yet banned in the community. They just wanted to have a little fun. There was no remorse or acceptance of personal responsibility that they had done anything wrong. They knew that smoking this substance would produce a high just like marijuana. They played roulette, but the bullet was in the chamber. They got what they deserved although they clearly did not believe that.

Acceptance of what has happened is the first step in overcoming any misfortune.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Laughing as He Died

I have stumbled across a couple of television programs featuring comedian Mitch Hedberg over the past several years. He had an odd and quirky style that was both edgy, nervous, and endearing. His stand-up act was part Steven Wright and part Jerry Seinfeld if you can imagine that. I learned the other day by chance that he had died, in fact, he died back in 2005 from a drug overdose. The medical examiner reported multiple drug toxicity. Cocaine and heroin. Heroin and cocaine.

Mitch had a joke that went something like "I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too." I remember how the audience ate this one up. They burst into hysterical laughter that even made Mitch smile and collect himself. Funny how this joke was actually his undoing. We were laughing as he was dying.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


That title, what a mouthful, huh? Try saying it three times fast. Heck, try saying it one time slowly. A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in the form of a two-part sentence or phrase in which the second part appears in a light unexpected compared to the first part. It causes the listener to reinterpret the meaning or intent of the first part. This device can be used for humorous, satiric, or dramatic effect. Today I share some examples of classic paraprosdokians so that you might amuse and bewilder your friends and colleagues with your newfound supercilious and insipid repartee. Oh, how witty and urbane you will appear.
  • "I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.", Will Rogers
  • "She got her good looks from her father, he's a plastic surgeon.", Groucho Marx
  • "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I don't know.", Groucho Marx
  • "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.", Groucho Marx
  • "I want to die like my father, quietly, in his sleep - not screaming and terrified like his passengers.", Bob Monkhouse
  • "If I am reading this graph correctly, I would be very surprised.", Stephen Colbert
  • "If all the girls at Vassar were laid end to end, I wouldn't be very surprised.", Dorothy Parker
  • "It's too bad that whole families have to be torn apart by something a simple as wild dogs.", Jack Handey
  • "The car stopped on a dime, which unfortunately was in a pedestrian's pocket.", unknown
  • "Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.", Groucho Marx

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hope Again

A few weeks ago I completed the book Laugh Again by Charles Swindoll. Today I completed Swindoll's companion book Hope Again. Hope really is a necessary thing for us to possess, for without its sweet presence in our lives, we are lost, alone, and empty. There is nothing left for us now or in the future. Hope is a wonderful blessing that keeps us energized and alive. I gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It allows us to make our way through life's many trials with strength and keeps our dreams alive.

Swindoll uses the letter of 1 Peter as the underpinning of this book. 1 Peter was written by the apostle Peter as a letter of hope to the Jewish Christians driven out of Jerusalem and scattered about the middle east. This New Testament book, though only five chapters long, contains a significant amount of sage wisdom regarding hope from a man who had lived through his share of fiery trials, who had emerged with hope and purpose. Here was a man who had more than enough strength to encourage his brothers and sisters in the faith.

Swindoll gives reasons for hope beyond the failures, suffering, temptations, guilt, bitterness, and misery that we all carry with us in this life. Instead of carrying the weight of these trials around with us, allowing them to hold us down and define us, we must allow them to bring us closer to our heavenly father, to sharpen and strengthen our spirits, and to give us strength to resist the evil one.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Freedom Wrings II

As a general rule, I am not the least bit political. I have never really taken a position on any issue that I can remember. I tend to sit up on my mountain and shake my head at the arguments that I hear on both sides of the fence. I shake my head in disbelief at people who have no idea what they believe even though they will scream and yell at the others until they are hoarse. They go to war puffed with pride and are willing to die for issues that they clearly don't understand. How can I sit back and remain silent when people try to back up what they believe in with what amounts to gibberish? That is where this series began to germinate in my mind.

Larry is a man who never made it through high school. He is now nearly 60 years of age, though to me he looks much older than that. He bears several noticeable scars from his tour in Vietnam as an 18-year-old bent on showing the "commies" what the U.S. of A. was all about, namely, a gimpy right leg and a deformed eye lid. He lost a battle with some shrapnel from a U.S. Navy munitions barrage. Larry does not look upon his war wounds as a burden. He wears them like a crown. If you just listen to him, he will bring you back to that time for a personal journey. He swells with pride.

Larry is a nice enough man, though still more than a bit of an idealogue. His life since his return from overseas has been more than a bit rough and tumble, but Larry will tell you it was all worth it. He did what he had to do. However, if you listen to him bark out the pledge of allegiance at the V.F.W. with his fellow veterans each Tuesday night, you can clearly hear him say "... and to the republic of Richard Stands". In his mind, Mr. Stands represents some historic figure who fought with George Washington during the War of Independence.

Do you know what you are pledging allegiance to?

(Part 2 of 2)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Freedom Wrings I

As a general rule, I am not the least bit political. I have never really taken a position on any issue that I can remember. I tend to sit up on my mountain and shake my head at the arguments that I hear on both sides of the fence. I shake my head in disbelief at people who have no idea what they believe even though they will scream and yell at the others until they are hoarse. They go to war puffed with pride and are willing to die for issues that they clearly don't understand. How can I sit back and remain silent when people try to back up what they believe in with what amounts to gibberish? That is where this series began to germinate in my mind.

Joe is the picture-book definition of a redneck, right down to the pouch of Redman chaw in his shirt pocket and his beat-up Ford pickup. He has quite a salty past and makes many people uncomfortable not only with his manner of speaking, but also with what he says. Joe's favorite movie is Born on the Fourth of July and he could watch the Blue Collar gang for weeks on end. He owns 4 or 5 shirts that he has purposely ripped the sleeves off of.

The sleeveless look works with some people, but with Joe, not so much. His arms are battle scarred. He sports a tattoo on his left biceps that says "Milie", even though his ex-wife was named Millie. He had a bit too much to drink the night that he got this addition. He attempted to embellish it with a red hot iron the year she left him. Now his upper arm looks infected and sore.

Most folks would probably cover up their past wounds so as not to show their stupidity, or their broken past. Not Joe. He wears his sleeveless shirts like some sort of badge of honor. He will tell you without the slightest bit of irony that sleeveless shirts are to be worn proudly as the U.S. Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to bare arms.

Do you understand your freedoms?

(Part 1 of 2)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spreading Poison

Life Lesson: Make your own judgements of people and their character based on first-hand facts, observation, and understanding before you take to heart and pass on any negative, biased, and mean-spirited opinions of others. It's not fair to those being judged or to yourself for that matter. To be clear, I am not simply talking about the evil weed that is gossip. I am referring to something more sinister. I am talking about the ill-informed judgements of some individuals based on their experiences with others. These "first-hand" accounts can be given a significant amount of credence and can then serve as an infectious and deadly poison if not handled properly.

Countless times during my undergraduate and graduate school days, I heard people say intensely negative things about various professors. "He's a jerk", "He doesn't know anything", "He's a tyrant". I can tell you that several of the "worst" of these professors turned out to be the best instructors that I ever had. They had passion and energy for their mission and their work. They reached out to students far beyond any normative criteria. They truely gave of themselves. However, their reputations suffered because they demanded accountability, consistent effort, and standards. If I had listened to the opinions of others and avoided these professors, in affect letting the poison do its baleful task, I would have been denied some wonderful and unique opportunities that I cherish to this day.

Several years ago, a respected senior colleague of mine at work used to rail against another more junior colleague at every opportunity. Apparently these two had some disagreement a decade earlier. However, instead of letting this go and rising above the past situation, animosity remained and the junior colleague was portrayed as an incompetent fool. I have found
out quite the contrary to be true. However, if I had let the negative portrait impact how I interacted with this colleague, I would certainly have missed out on a dedicated and bright worker who has helped me considerably in my own work.

Usually you don't have to go too far to hear folks talking badly about others. Heck, if truth be told, just hang around me for an afternoon. But we must be careful about letting loose, hurtful, and disparaging words regarding others escape from our lips. We must be mindful both of what we think and what we say.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Flowering Trees

One of my favorite aspects of spring time is the blossoming of the flowering trees. One week they are lifeless and sharp, then after a few days of warmth and sunshine, the task that they have been charged with since the start of winter bursts forth. Delicious and delicate whites and pinks. They are a treat for the senses. They are a sign of the coming warm season, that winter is over, that Jack Frost has moved away, for a time. Some years the beautiful flowers linger for a few weeks until the emergent leaves sprout forth and take command. Other years a sharp springtime rain or wind storm takes this gift away prematurely. When this happens, I am left feeling cheated somehow.

This year, I am lucky enough to have several flowering trees in my yard, and I am enjoying their presence and their sweet aroma. They are a wonderful gift of the season. Welcome back.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Old Shoes

We've come a long way together. The journeys are what I remember, what I keep within me. Each journey made up of a series of steps. No single step is all that noteworthy, but in total, a significant amount of distance has been covered. I slip you on each morning as I get ready for work. I remember the trip to the Big Island. I knew your comfort running out to get an ice cream treat or romping through the fields throwing the frisbee or launching model airplanes. There was that slow walk to the doctor's office to learn about the test results or the playful scamper to get into the amusement park before we lost another minute.

Each new pair of shoes marks a chapter in my life. Year by year by year. Each accompanies me for part of my journey. They comfort and protect each step. Slowly they begin to wear. Scuff marks, creases, loose threads, and soles worn by abrasion. Finally, when they have served their purpose, they are set aside for something new. Eventually they make their way to the back of the closet or the corner of the garage. Finally, after a time, they are taken out to the trash to complete their cycle.

Am I nostaglic for shoes? Melancholy over their demise? Hardly. The shoes are not the point. The living of life and of making the most of the journey are what inspires me. Hopefully my next pair of shoes will accompany me to places and heights that I could not have imagined before. I look forward to the road ahead.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Switching Roles

Certain jobs have historically and culturally been filled by only one of the sexes. When the gender division lines are crossed, sometimes it does not seem natural, not organic. What thoughts cross your mind when you see a male nurse, or a female construction worker, or a stay-at-home dad, or a female miner? Unlike me, perhaps, you don't give these folks a second thought. A job is a job. A good worker is a good worker. I try not judge these people when I encounter them, however, I do observe and make mental notes. Maybe I'm just thinking as an amateur sociologist. Hopefully I am not overcome by sexist or hurtful thoughts, but I do find it interesting to consider those who do not follow our culture's traditional male/female roles and "rules".

In my observations, some of the stereotypes seem to be applicable. I have seen that there is a tendency for females in traditionally male positions to be less feminine and more like "one of the guys" and for males in traditionally female roles to be a bit less masculine. This is certainly not a universal trait, just something that I have tended to notice. Two of my case studies at my work are a male secretary and a female construction technician. He is very neat and tidy in his appearence, somewhat fastidious, with a very feminine manner. He is married with children, but he does not come across as a man's man. She dresses like all of her male co-workers. No jewelry, no make up. She carries herself like a man and talks shop like all of her male co-workers. She is married with children.

I think about how Hollywood approaches folks crossing the gender lines, characters like Mrs. Doubtfire and Victor Victoria. Of course these are folks who are pretending to be someone of the opposite sex to fit in and get what they want, and obviously these are humorous caricatures. However, I wonder how much of my "real world" observations of people's demeanor and appearance are based on how they believe they need to act in their roles in order to fit in and be successful. Perhaps some of the choices are conscious, perhaps some are subconscious. Maybe there is some crazy hormonal osmosis at work here. Folks take on the coat that others in their position are wearing. They begin to take on the mantel of the stereotype. What have you observed?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Ant Bully

They are only about a sixteenth of an inch off the ground. At 6 ft 3 in tall, I am about 1200 times bigger in size. Yet they haunt me. I see them in my night visions. I can hear them marching about, down there. You see, I am battling an army of small black ants in my house. They come up from the baseboards, then emerge into the light. However, the reward for their long journey from the darkness beneath the house to my dwelling space is the taste of the bug guy's poison. It is quick and effective. I have vacuumed away hundreds of them. However, their presence in my space eats at me. It makes me feel, somehow violated, somehow unclean. I have tried reasoning with them. I have tried to warn them. I have given them ultimatums. But, so far, nothing. Bug guy tells me to be patient. He tells me that it takes up to 6 months to set up and establish the "killing zone". This is their vernacular for the defensive shield that is slowly established. Bug guy tells me that some of the stouter and more generous ants actually take the poison back to their underground nest and share it with their bretheren. I don't want to be the bad guy here. I don't want to be the one taking the offense, but they have left me no choice. I must ensure that no unwelcome visitors can enter into my home. Sic semper tyrannis!