Monday, August 30, 2010

Pursue Your Passion and The Application Will Follow

Pursue a passion no matter how seemingly unrelated to work skills it is.  You never know where you'll pick up a critical differentiator.

Case in point.  Ten years ago, I was fascinated with bodybuilding, lifted seriously for a year and competed in contests twice.  Hours of practice of choreographed routines, prepared me for actual posing both solo and in competitive groups,  in a swimsuit made of minuscule triangles in front of a crowd and 3 judges.

Years later, this has prepared me to give broadcast streaming presentations under bright lights to invisible audiences containing executives as judges.  If I can pose in minuscule triangles in public, I can do anything.

Another case in point, my love of photography, especially composition, is also useful.  This skill comes into play when framing of ideas at work.  What to leave out, what to leave in, where the edges are.

Therefore I say, whatever you love to do, do it on the side if needed, but do it.  The application will follow. Your brain needs time to make the connections and your life circumstances need time to change to bring the application of those skills to light.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Spectacular Zinnias
Originally uploaded by thyme2003
Exuberant zinnias
meadowlark yellow
oriole orange
flamingo pink
petals poised on the down or up stroke,
a flock - flushed into flight

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Had Glass of Wine With an Elvis Impersonator Last Night

We met friends at Savvy Cellars only to find that they had extended their hospitality to their postman, an Elvis impersonator.He was off-duty but still startlingly clad in summer weight hot pink trousers, a lime green shirt, navy blazer, plaid sneakers, signature sideburns and wavy black (glued on) hair.  After I raised a toast to impersonators everywhere because we are all impersonators sometime, we settled in for a bottle.

We didn't ask him much about the impersonator business because he has also been the local postman for the last 24 years and we found news of how our home town works to be more comforting. He gave us all kinds of scoop:
  1. The weight limit on a mail bag is "theoretically" 35 lbs.
  2. Ideally a delivery man will spend 2 hours sorting mail and 6 hours delivering.
  3. There are 7 bar codes around town that postpeople scan revealing their progress along the route to corporate.
  4. Centralized mailboxes for planned unit developments don't allow the postman to check on people to see if there are any B & E signs or papers piled up on a 94 year old lady's doorstep to signal injury, illness or death.
  5. There's a special page in the postman's rag honoring those who have saved lives in the line of duty.
What I find fascinating in retrospect is why we so studiously avoided the elephant in the room, the moose on the table?
  1. Was impersonation a lifestyle or a business?
  2. Why chose Elvis?
  3. How did he get into it?
  4. How does he get gigs? What are they like?
  5. Does he advertise?
Perhaps the toast, "We are all impersonators sometimes" was more appropriate for the evening than anticipated.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Life Skills for Beginning and Ending and In Between

Two weeks later, I've finished 2 more of the books recommended to me by the owner of Watermark Books. They seem perfect bookends, one about the beginnings of life and one about endings and near endings and how they affect how we live now.

Lift, by Kelly Corrigan, is written as a letter to her children, about things they would forget and about what a "bold and dangerous thing parenthood is." The 83 page book is built around a concept from hang gliding called "lift". You fly from thermal (a column of hot air surrounded by turbulence) to thermal looking for lift from the turbulence to keep you flying.  The turbulence can be dangerous but it is the only way to get altitude and without it, you sink.

Taking on the risks of being a parent, by definition, means turbulence.  Sometimes it is dangerous.  She writes of someone who's child, Aaron, died. But most of the time living with that risk (of tremendous damage to your heart through your children) is part of what it means to be a parent and is constant: "Risk was not an event we'd survived the but place we now lived."

This is a great book to give to new mothers who are finding their way through the first few years of being a parent....maybe the later years too.

Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs is Heather Lende's second book. (If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name was her first.) Heather writes the obituary column for the Haines, Alaska newspaper. That and her near fatal bicycle accident give her a greater attentiveness to spiritual matters.

Each chapter starts with a quote from the Book of Common Prayer, a gospel hymn or a Bible verse. In chapter 5, the Book of Common Prayer quote is "Father of mercies and giver of all comfort: Deal graciously,we pray thee, with all who mourn."   The chapter is about her mother's death.

The title of the chapter and the book, "Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs", comes from her mother's last words of instruction before passing away. Heather wanted some form of advice, wisdom, blessing or last meaningful communication from her mother as she lay intubated and dying.  What Heather got was a grocery list and this phrase, which at first didn't seem meaningful.

"The more I think about it, the more I start to realize that my mom's final grocery list contains plenty of wisdom about how to live the second half of my life without her. Maybe it is wishful thinking, or maybe I didn't have enough for lunch and am light-headed, but what I hear her notes, and thus her, imparting, is this: eat dessert, be sure there's coffee for the morning, write things down so you won't forget them, and don't waste paper. And I remember what she told my dad, when he asked if there was anything at all she wanted us to know. 'Take good care of the garden and the dogs!' I put some more mulch on my strawberry patch and then I throw a stick for my own dogs, relieved that I haven't missed something big, after all, knowing that a person could do worse than to live by those words, and so very thankful that my mother didn't ask for more than that." (101-102)

Unexpected Solutions #3

I've been wrestling for about 6 months to find a way to take photos while running.

I thought I had the perfect solution in a very small and capable Canon S90. And it did work while I was not concerned about form or training for pace.  But now that I've gotten all serious about Chi Running and the Jack Daniel's Red Plan which includes running at specific paces, my solution, camera held in one hand or the other, doesn't work anymore. The camera is very light but it's surprising how heavy it becomes when I run.  My shoulders tense up with the effort of balancing my arm swing and I get tired faster. This camera is too big to put in my running shorts pocket and if you put it in a jacket pocket it bounces around like a 2 year old on a sugar high.

This morning, I had an epiphany. I could try putting my camera in the back pockets of a cycling jersey. The pockets are big enough and have elastic around the top to keep things from bouncing out. The jerseys also have an elastic hem which may or may not keep bouncing to a minimum.

I've missed sharing a lot of wonderful pics because I didn't take my camera with me. I really hope this works.
[Update: I tried this today on my run.  It didn't work.  The camera hopped around in my back pocket like a maniac so I gave it up:(]
If you're interested in some other [more successful] unexpected solutions here are a couple of links:

Unexpected Solutions #2
Unexpected Solutions #1

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Balance and Stumbling Feet

That feeling of having lost the recipe, being knocked off the path, off balance and trying to return, though disoriented and dizzy, is a persistent one for me.  One day in seven, usually a Monday when I'm rested and have a clear plan for the week, I feel balanced and the day unfolds in a way that makes me feel whole.  I wish it was more often.

Eugene Peterson wrote the book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction; Discipleship in an Instant Society.  He speaks into my off-balance life and reassures me that repeated efforts to again find the center line in the road are part of the process.

Running the race in such a way as to win the prize takes endurance and persistence. Clinging to an outright acknowledgement of weakness is required because we can't make it on our own, we need God's power and His power shows best in my weakness.

Psalm 116:8 says, "For you O Lord have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears and my feet from stumbling that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living." That would be now. The psalmist advises my soul to be at rest because the Lord has delivered me in this way.

My interim conclusion is that I may feel very unbalanced, but I must get up, dress up and show up again and again, at rest in my soul because the Lord is keeping me on track.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Work of Becoming Yourself

"The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~ Anna Quindlen

I found this quote on Flickr thanks to Rivendell Photography next to her photo of a fence with a warped board careening from post to post.  It reminded me of the battle between trying to believe that you're perfect and being at home with the fact that you're not.  Being at home where you are, that's the challenge according to Anna.

And how do we work on becoming ourselves? Perhaps first acknowledging our dark divots of imperfection. Perhaps finding out what God created us to be good at and doing that. Perhaps blooming where we're planted.  Perhaps asking God to show us the next step. So many different ways to do it.  The thing is to start and keep starting so that we don't stop. It takes awhile to become the best you that no one else can be.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Existence Proofs

I distinctly remember arguing that Hunkeford, TX existed.  My friends didn't believe it and decided to decide by checking the internet. "Let's look on the web!" If it wasn't there, it didn't exist.  Hunkeford doesn't but it turns out a close cousin, Hungerford, does.

I know of the existence of writers by reading their work. But unlike writing, authorship gets lost in many other fields.  You can enjoy a chocolate pie at a restaurant and not know who's recipe it is nor who cooked it. Work can have impact but not be traceable by the consumers of that work back to the one(s) who made it so.

Every day I check e-mail, Google Analytics stats, Facebook, Dailymile and Flickr to find out if I existed today and if so, for whom. Oddly enough, the fact that I show up for work doesn't seem to count in my differential calculus.  However, if I made a measurable difference at work for someone or some project, it may. Only the area under that curve counts.

My best existence proof comes in the morning when I have slowly awakened without the alarm but before I remember my name or look at the clock. There I am most aware that I am.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Life Skills

I presented my problem to the lady behind the checkout counter.  I want a book that is like Acedia and Me. I don't want a book that's like Bridges of Madison County or The Mistress of Spices.  Something that deals with everyday life.

The lady behind the checkout counter said, "I'll pull some things for you."  I came back a day later and she had 4 books for me. I sat in a comfy tall-backed rocker and read pages of each. Whereas I'm usually impatient before the end of the first paragraph, I read 2 and 3 pages before noticing, and the words plucked tears from my eyes.  I felt recognized and released.

I spent another hour in Watermark Books, and walked out with 6 books and all 4 of the ones the lady, who turned out to be the owner of the bookstore, recommended.  I've already finished 2 of those 1 week later.

Photo by Jennifer Henderson
On the plane ride from Wichita to Dallas, I started God Never Blinks and cried for most of the 52 minute flight.  Not an advertisement, I know, but trust me, this is a great book.  Author Regina Brett gives us 50 lessons for life's little detours:) Each lesson has been published and republished as an opinion column in a newspaper.

One of my favorite detours was Lesson 48 If You Don't Ask You Don't Get.  That very lesson helped me get into Microsoft to use the bathroom this morning at 7am way before the building was open.  Great restroom by the way.

Another one that had a profound impact on me was Lesson 18 A writer is someone who writes.  If you want to be a writer, write. So I do, I am and that lesson is helping me show up at the page more often.

Since I'll probably have a few more detours, this is one I'm keeping as a reference book. This is Regina's first book and I hope she writes another one.

photo by Jennifer Henderson
The 2nd book I've finished is First Light by Sue Monk Kidd. She has been a prolific and very successful writer and First Light is a collection of her early stories and essays. She's a little self-conscious in the introduction about the reflection of her early work on her later work but she shouldn't worry. Her writing inside made me want to read more of her. She has a unique ability to look at events, circumstances, nature and see the spiritual in it.

One quote I particularly like; "In the end, the only monument that matters may be the work of love we carve into the lives around us."

Both authors make great contributions to the skills required to get through and thrive in everyday life.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dark Divots of Imperfection

Dads Steps at Lorraine
Originally uploaded by thyme2003
The 100 year old yellow pine stairs at the place affectionately known as Lorraine were originally covered in 4 plus layers of paint and 1 of carpet. Now they are are stripped and stained with a Velveteen Rabbit underglow. The finish is designed to take a beating as a primary passageway, themselves a rite of passage loved.

My father salvaged this stairway, disfigured by use and abuse, redeeming it through his attentive presence and the sweaty suffering of his hard work. My father has been salvaging things like these stairs for a long time each time respecting the beauty added by the scars by allowing the evidence to remain.

Ages ago, he argued successfully for leaving the dings in a pine table that he refinished. The divots, darker than the golden honey smooth surface, irregularly dimple and gash the surface, adding depth. The irregularities of both the stairs and the table give testament to imperfection, refusing to hide it but rather, allowing it to be.

It reminds me of the verse, “My power is made perfect in your weakness.” While I am a new creation in Christ, I have plenty of dark divots of weakness. These I am to give to God and his power will shine through. If you are weary and heavy laden, he advises, give me your burdens and I will give you rest.

God works with weakness. He opposes the proud, those who do not acknowledge their need, but he gives grace to the humble. I want that grace.

Dads Simple Fix

Dads Simple Fix
Originally uploaded by thyme2003
Both jig, made to help get the paint job done by keeping the plates in place, and evidence, the reverse shadows of doorknobs held in place by a nail hole, the silhouette shows the imprint of what was there just as our absence leaves a mark that our presence covers.

Leaving my parents today I feel a keen sense of their absence and, perhaps more accurately, my absence from their lives and what it means to them. When I left, the tone in their voice was warm and appreciative as you would be of an old and much enjoyed friend.

My sense of their lives is of duration dwindling, impending scarcity. At the rate of 1 week per year, I may only see them another 10 weeks in my whole life. I will miss them terribly when their absence from my life takes the place of mine from theirs. The shoe will be on the other foot.

How to change? When I return to regularly scheduled duties, the apparent urgencies of my life have, in the past, taken over my sense of the importance of spending time with them. The only thing I know to do is program it in…every 8 to 12 weeks instead of once a year. I might regret not spending enough time with them but I won’t regret spending more time with them.

And if I take steps to do my part to make it happen, may peace like a river flow through the results.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wrestling the Crackberry

I just got my first Blackberry last Friday.  A Tour, it is the latest model with all the gadgets, world compatible as well for my business travels.  Only I wasn’t headed into a business trip but a once a year week long visit to family in my hometown 2,000 miles and a day of flights away. 

Before I boarded in San Jose, I marveled at how easy the Blackberry made it to check on how things were going at work.  A gentle buzz of the phone in the clip on my waist alerted me to each incoming e-mail.  I fired off quick responses and smiled like Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire, pleased with my newfangled brilliance and competency.

At Dallas Fort Worth, I turned on the Tour at touchdown, and over the course of an hour layover learned to wait a good 15 minutes for all my messages to materialize before responding.  When I reached Wichita, I checked again and swiftly answered before hopping into my rental car and driving to the family house. 

Hugs and dinner and good conversation hours later, I checked my crackberry for the 4th and last time of the day to find that my VP had sent me a request.  My sense of responsibility rose to the occasion and I set about coordinating the needed info.  My sense of pride too swelled to be so apparently central.

Tuesday came and I had to plug in my work computer to get all the resources I needed to address the VP’s request.  It took about 2 hours out of my family time unfortunately and I heard those awful words come from my mouth that I despise from other's, “I’m sorry,  I’ve got to work for awhile.” 

By Tuesday night I thought I had everything in the bag.  The VP’s questions answered, I was back with my family enjoying dinner.  But, as I headed to bed that night I checked my crackberry again and the VP had another question (quite reasonable I might add).  I realized that if I kept checking e-mail, the questions and requests would keep coming…and at an ever increasing rate.  I could not get ahead of the rising tide or even keep up with it.  Each answer generated more demand, every cycle reinforcing the need, creating addiction.

Over the course of the night and Wednesday morning, I decided that there were other capable people than myself who were actually on deck and that they would be happy for the opportunity for visibility. So I asked if they would answer the mail.  They were more than glad to do it.  I let my VP know which member of the team would be addressing  the issues raised.  And I said no to my pride and sense of indispensability… I shut my crackberry off for the rest of the week.

The time with family was well worth it.