Saturday, January 29, 2011

First Right of Refusal

"You've - You've earned it"

Welcome to the blog's 50th post. It seems appropriate that I'm confronted with a minor dilemma that is the subject du jour. But first, a moment to reflect on the past year, and how this got started. The squeamish or otherwise disinterested may skip this section and jump straight to the good part, assuming there is one, below. Or - consider it like 2 postings in one!

After reading my son's now extinct "On Being a Goddamn Prince" I wanted to show my support as a "follower" which required the creation of an account, profile, etc. I decided to surf around on the dashboard page to Bloggers of Note and found Kristine had just been listed for Wait In The Van. She seemed genuinely excited from the excerpt provided and I was intrigued. I went to see more and it was apparent to me why she was of note. Great writer. Fabulously intricate site. Lots of followers. I decided to follow there too.  But I do not consider myself a follower and have never been much of a "joiner" for that matter.

I liked my son's blog. Contemporaneous events large and small, and at some point he decided each post would be 50 words, no more or less. I'm sure at this point you wish I had adopted the same rule, but no.

I was in the middle of reinventing myself. I decided to stop drinking after 37 years of practice which wasn't making perfect.  For the third and probably final time, I left the company I had over 20 cumulative years with. It was time to focus on my own sanity, to rebuild and strengthen the strained 30-year relationship with Mrs. Fantastic as we prepare to move into another chapter in our story. I wanted to share what I was learning with my kids, but how?
And so the blog emerged.

When my father would try to pass on his sage wisdom, they were known as "lectures". Our eyes would slowly glaze over (well ok, it only took 5 seconds, enough time to identify that the lecture was going to occur or was in process). We would slow our heart rates to near death, conserving energy for the apres-lecture. So from firsthand experience I know that method didn't work. And kids really don't listen to any story you tell them, no matter how relevant you're sure it is. Why? Because it happened to you, not them.

I have to say we never got too many lectures in the homile mold, but generally they were equally ineffective. And so to make amends for all those lectures I missed, the title of the blog is an homage to yet another of my father's many sayings, that "an intelligent (person) could be satisfied for a lifetime with 1 cubic foot of dirt."

Along the way I've made new cyber-acquaintances. Becca and Firespark came with Kristine after my first Product of Silence attempt. My first "outside" readers! I dutifully reciprocated but now follow their work by choice. I went to Simon's to see what he put up for the POS - as we were the only 2 entrants that day. I find his blog is interesting and well done, so I follow there too.

The last Product of Silence challenge had a lot more participation. I had another follower! The 3 postings I entered are my most widely viewed and I'm following a few more blogs as a result - most recently the antics of the TexaGermaNadian.  So the blogosphere turns out to be an interesting place but like most internet things (Facebook), needs to be tempered with a balanced life away from your computer.


And now, we return to our regularly scheduled programming - the dilemma.

I know, I've really got to wrap this thing up. Apparently my good friend Simon has provided me with an award. This bothered me a little because it seemed kind of like a chain letter, and maybe I just happened to be the 7th blog he needed to complete his mission. Just as I was struggling with my response The Didactic Pirate confirmed my neophyte fears; however, I don't want to be rude or ungrateful. There are a lot of unwritten rules of etiquette here that I am certainly unaware of. But here's the thing (finally!)

It's kind of a strange ego-trip to have earned some interested readers. And the Stats page! I count all the different countries that read my posts as they fill in a darker shade of green on the world map (boy Africa seems hard to crack, not to mention Elbonia!). But I'm not kidding myself. All I have to do is look at the work of others.

In Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft, he mentions an experiment done with children and coloring that seems to apply here. 2 groups were formed. One group was given awards for their work, regardless of quality, and the others - zilch. Weeks later, it was found that the 'award' group had lost interest in coloring altogether, while the 'zilch' group continued to color.

The Zilches retained their original desire and they continued to experiment and improve. So I will respectfully decline the passing of the torch to 7 others, or provide 7 heretofore unmentioned factoids about myself. I choose to continue coloring. I award those blogs I find excellent by following. But feel free to put it on your shelf if you wish - you've earned it.

Wait - did I include those 7 things in Part 1, and list 7 blogs? Oops. Thanks Simon. And new readers! I promise to make Post #51 shorter.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's Your Point?

There is only one point to this post. Really.

People tend to process and retain information according to their learning style. There's visual, auditory and tactile styles to name a few, although none seem as universal and effective as negative reinforcement. Some use these methods in combination, boosting retention rates to as much as 90%.

There is no auditory track to this post.
Feel free to read aloud while slapping yourself it helps.

Pay Attention. Not just to the task at hand, but to things going on around you. You will avoid walking into posts.

Keep an open mind. Listen more and talk less. When talking, it's generally about something you already know. On occasion however, you'll get a response you didn't expect so don't give it up altogether.

If you're willing to help yourself, people will generally be willing to help you. So help others when it makes sense to do so and it is within your means.

Think about what you're doing. Some outcomes are more predictable than others. Play the tape all the way to the end. Rewind.

And finally, life can get messy. Rub some dirt on it. Pace yourself.
You will get out of it what you put in it.

In my line of work the budgets, schedules and level of complexity are always challenging to say the least. We monitor hundreds of inter-related tasks to help ensure we are on track toward the intended outcome. Almost unfailingly, we think we've reached 90% complete only to discover there is really 30% of the effort remaining. That's usually when the real slapping starts, because we have apparently failed to learn. Again. 

And now, the point. Let's say you've used any combination of learning styles to retain 90% of the lesson. That leaves the 10% you didn't retain. Now if that 10% is anything like the 10% to-go I described above, that's where the real work is. It's effort. It's applying these principles in your daily affairs.

Wait - was that really the point?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tread Lightly

The other day I took a moment to read Mr. Frost's The Road Not Taken

It reminded me of the impacts of the choices we make. How we choose our paths so cavalierly, not knowing what lies at trail's end, yet are forever changed by the paths we take. How we can be divided within, or become but half a traveler should we attempt to take both paths at once. How difficult it can be to make your way back. And as way leads to way, are you still even choosing? Were you ever?

Within sight of trail's end - one can still turn back. And choose another way.
There will be more choices, but you will need to make the right ones.

There are great risks in traveling the lesser paths - not the least of which is becoming lost. Ask Mr. Kurtz sometime. If you are fortunate you may find your way back, and hopefully be welcomed. But beware - for the lesser paths became a part of you.  The undergrowth fills in slowly. It is quickly cleared and you already know where the path leads.

"Looks like the woods are burning. Maybe we should turn around."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Unsent Letter

Presented today is my third entry in the Product of Silence exercises offered periodically by Kristine at Wait in the Van. Click on the button below for more on this. For previous botched attempts, click here and/or here.

This was a thought-provoking "assignment". Writing a letter you would never send. I was at first struck by the paradox that the letter would then be posted on the web - isn't that kind of like sending it? Give it a try and participate, you'll see what I mean.

Dear Pointy-Headed Man,

I’m writing today as a follow-up to our recent interview. The opportunity to work in your soul-sucking cubicle farm firm really excited me. It would certainly be a challenge to work walk with the living dead  among the disenfranchised, purposeless and downtrodden zombies employees who attend the daily funeral procession each contribute in their own way to the overall poor quality of the work products that offer no tangible value to society as a whole you generate.

There’s nothing I like better than having each member of the team mindlessly, without pride of ownership or even shame complete their work and hand it off to the next person for them to watch float in the bowl until it’s too late to do anything about it to put on the finishing touches. This is a team I’d truly like to be a part of, because as we all know, there is no “I” in team but there is “eat me".

I was equally impressed by the firm’s history of accomplishments and management approach as a short-sighted profit-taking machine of oppression. Here, I said, was clearly a workplace where one could stand on the shoulders of giants even if that was done by stabbing them in the back as you climbed ungratefully up the ladder on their achievements.

I believe I can be a valuable addition to your firm and will curb my inevitable desire of web-surfing on your time, walking off with reams of copy paper, staplers and pens as my sense of values and self esteem are slowly eroded and look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Sincerely yours,

Friday, January 14, 2011

Victory Garden

The chill of winter is now firmly entrenched in Northern Virginia. The air is crisp and clean; the days short but each one perceptibly longer. The trees show their structure and the forests sleep, awaiting the spring. And with the spring comes new life. It starts in the garden.

And with the stunning new growth, come the weeds. Insidious and ingenious in their method. At first, attractive - with blooms and foliage that one believes actually complement the garden. What's the harm? There aren't many. They are colorful. They aren't causing any problem. But ho.

Soon you discover what you thought might have been a flower IS in fact a weed. An undesireable. You decide to do some clean up, but discover the structure of the weed. It breaks off at the surface but its roots remain. You look around and discover many others have come to the party. Dandelions. Lantana. Ragwort. They've spread all over. You perform some diligent maintenance as you see they will overcome your garden unchecked. And that's the key. Diligence. Determination. Getting help when necessary. You have to dig deep. You don't give up.

Consciously or otherwise, you're cultivating. And in the end, with your garden free of the undesireables to the best of your ability, you will have achieved Victory.