Archives for July 2011

A Tool Is Only As Valuable As Its User

I looked in the mirror today and didn’t like the face that I saw looking back at me. He looks haggard, worn and weathered. The light in his eyes looked a little bit dimmer than normal and the hairline was a mess. “This is why you have broad shoulders. It is time to man up and get it done,” I said.

And then I watched as my reflection recited those very same words right back at me. For a moment I could hear the echoes ricocheting off of the walls inside the large empty space between my ears. I am over extended and my stress level is at DefCon 3. There are too many things going on right now and I can’t afford to do a half-assed job on any of them. But life doesn’t ask you if you have the resources you need to complete your tasks. I suppose that I could make some analogy about conveyor belts or put a link to that factory scene in I Love Lucy but you get my point.

When I walked out of the bathroom I headed straight to the microwave to grab a bowl of oatmeal that I had heated up and then bowl in hand waltzed over to my laptop. In between bites of food I made two business calls, checked my email and reviewed my calendar. These items are part of my mobile productivity tool kit. They are part of my system to manage my time and make myself more efficient.

At least they are supposed to make me more efficient. They are supposed to help me increase my productivity by providing more flexibility so that I can work wherever and whenever. Lately they feel less like useful tools and more like shackles and fetters that bind and restrict my movement.

The Right Tool For The Job

When I was about seven my parents decided to remodel our house. They hired a general contractor to do the work but it wasn’t uncommon for my father to come home from work, eat dinner and then go work on the addition. One of the many reasons I remember it so vividly was because of the hammer he used or should I say that it was the one that I wanted to use. I would have done so without question but it was too heavy for me to use it properly. I couldn’t hold it in one hand and swing it.

It used to make me crazy to see dad use it so easily. He didn’t need two hands. He didn’t worry about smashing his fingers. He just picked it up and made it sing for him. For that matter he did that with most tools.  Most of the time he included me on these repairs/maintenance jobs around the house and if we weren’t short on time he would let me help him with the work. Except for that hammer. I didn’t get to use the hammer because he said that I couldn’t use it properly. He was right. At that time I simply wasn’t strong enough to use it the way it was designed to be used.

As a father I have been trying hard to pass those same lessons onto my children. There are some important life lessons in those moments, not to mention moments of Deja Vu. Every now and then I have to tell the kids that they can watch but not help. I don’t like doing that, but time constraints make it hard. And every time that happens I have flashbacks to working with my dad.

Reality Check

I don’t wear a watch anymore. I can’t tell you the exact date that I stopped but it must be close to ten years or more since I did it. I stopped because I was tired of the tyranny of time. I didn’t like the pressure it brought along with it so I got rid of it. It might sound silly to say that, especially in light of the clock on my ever present cellphone, but it was a relief not to wear it.

But some of that relief has been chewed up by that mobile productivity kit. Some of that relief vanished when I gained the ability to become more productive and instead found myself working seven days a week. The rules of the blog dictate brutal honesty so I have share that I do that because I can’t afford not to. This fabulous economy is kicking my ass and I am doing what I can to give it as good as it gives me. But I don’t have to like it.

I don’t have to like what I see in the mirror or the feeling that this electronic yoke around my neck is always tugging on me. I don’t have to like any of it but I don’t have the right to complain unless I am willing to fix it. So that is what I am trying to do- fix it. That is why I remind myself that it is worth learning how to use tools more effectively. That is why I try to set aside some time to figure out if they have more functionality than I am using and whether it will be useful for me.

That hammer I am swinging might not the right tool for this job. I can beat the machine the same way that John Henry did but without the same consequence he suffered. All I need to do is find the right tool for the job.

 

It Made Me Cry

Confession time. Last night I watched part of an Animal Planet show about dogs and started crying. It was unexpected and I was shocked at the feelings it brought out. It happened during the segment on Golden Retrievers. I saw a couple of puppies playing and suddenly I remembered running with the Big Lug and I just felt this giant, gaping hole. He was a mutant Golden, much bigger than the average. Had a massive head and weighed far more but was more loving than a thousand of them.

Maybe it is because we are moving and I remember watching him patrol the house. Maybe it is because he liked to pretend that at more than 100 pounds he could be a lapdog or because my kids rode him like a horse. It shocked me because I don’t cry easily or much at all. I don’t really know.

But I can tell you that last night he visited me in my dreams. We were both young. I was a twenty something year old kid at the park and he was about two. And in that dream we did what we can’t do together any more. We ran. He was always just ahead of me, but never so far that he was out of sight. He was headed towards traffic and I was yelling for him to stop, fearful that he would do something stupid and get hit by a car.

And then a few dogs started barking at me and he was at my side, tail pointed, deep bark warning them to stay away. At the same time I yelled at them too- told him not to worry that I would find a way out of it for us. But mostly I was secure in the knowledge that the big lug had my back because he always did. Who listened better to my stories than he did. He never got tired or them or acted judgmental- he just loved me.
I have been thinking about something Danny wrote and the words I wrote there.

Brevity and I are often at odds so I will try to sum things up as best I can. My last blog post would be similar to this.

“I have lived, loved and laughed more than I have cried and complained. I have friends that I would die for and who die for me.
I am grateful for those who have walked with me on my journey and hope that they have learned from me as I have learned from them.
There will never be enough time for me to see all that I want to see, do all that I want to do and say all that I want to say.

So these few words shall have to suffice. It has been fun.”

I am proud of those words. They have meaning and significance to me. I am proud of them because I do wrestle with brevity and I feel like I captured the essence of the sort of life I want to lead.  But I am unsettled. Been thinking about those words and wondering if I am living up to the things I shared there.

The answer is that I don’t feel like I am holding up my end of the bargain. I feel like most of it is true but I spend too much time complaining. Too much time bitching and moaning about the things that make me unhappy.  Those who know me best will tell you that I am very hard on myself and that I am being unfair about some of this. Some of the challenges are things outside of my control. They tell me that force of will isn’t enough to change things and that beating myself up isn’t going to make it better. They tell me that I need to let some of that go and just wait for things to pass.

Well that is fine and good but it is not my nature. I am filled with fire that is never extinguished. I don’t just let go of the important things….not easily. It happens but I need to work through it all and eventually a stubborn fool like me comes around. But I need time.

Maybe that is why the Big Lug is on my mind. Maybe he came to visit because he knows things. Maybe he came to remind me that though I may not be that twenty something year old kid anymore I still have all of the potential and opportunity to fulfill that he did. Maybe he came to visit because some promises reach beyond.

There is far more that could be said and will be said but it won’t happen here. Some things aren’t meant for all eyes and ears. Suffice it to say that I am thinking of Orpheus in the underworld and the mistakes that he made. When you find yourself wandering through Moriah you don’t go knocking on strange doors. You keep your eyes open and your head down.

Time for that North Star to show up again. But until that happens I’ll keep walking and remember that the Big Lug still walks with me.

She Dances

It is not an exaggeration to say that she was born while I danced in the fire. This little girl of mine, the one I call the dark eyed beauty showed up during one of the more tumultuous periods of my life. She was born two days after my father’s triple bypass, a full week after her due date. I suppose that it is fair to say that her late arrival was one of the earliest indications that she takes after her father. She and I have our own sense of time which most of the time is ok, except for when it is not.

I am no different from any other parent when I say that I can’t believe how fast the time has passed. I am sure that this won’t be the only post that write about her this week and that is ok. Her older brother starred in quite a few- call it privilege of being the older sibling.

This little girl of mine has long dark hair that extends well past her shoulders and ends in curls. She has a handful of freckles on her face and a cute button nose that she sometimes scrunches up. When she wants something from me she likes to climb up on my lap, throw her arms around my neck and shower me with kisses. I try to sit stone faced and unresponsive, but I never last long. That smile breaks across my face like waves pounding the shore and she smiles back at me.

I still manage to say no and she looks confused. “Daddy, I didn’t ask yet.” I tell her that I know that but that the answer is no. It is too late for a story, candy, dessert, gifts, whatever it is the answer is no. She glares at me and I glare back. I ask her if she has forgotten that I have ten thousand sisters and have watched her aunts play the same game with her grandfather. She smiles and says “dang it” and skips out of the room.

I love watching her skip like that- it is joy personified.

Seven years ago I had no idea whether she was a boy or a girl. Seven years ago I remember wondering what the week would bring. My father’s surgery was already scheduled for the 21st but I was still concerned. Just a few short months before I had gotten a call telling me that he was on a ventilator and that he probably wouldn’t make it. I sat on a six hour plane ride and prayed/willed him to be there when I got off. Hit the ground running and grabbed the first available car at Hertz. I like to talk about how fast I drove and how I would have won the Indy 500 that day. That is how I remember it.

But maybe it didn’t happen that way. Maybe the sands of time have blurred those moments- I don’t know.

The flight home was another six hours of angst and uncertainty. Back home I talked her older brother and spoke to her through her mother’s belly. “Little one, listen to your father and wait to show until after grandpa’s surgery.”

Time moved in jerks and starts. Five minutes stretched into hours and then hours were compressed into minutes. It was life in bizarro world. My grandparents asked pointed questions about my father, suggested that maybe I hadn’t told them how serious the situation was. I didn’t deny or acknowledge it. I did what I had to do because that is what a father does.

A few minutes prior to midnight she made her way into the world. A soft scream let us know that she was around and then for a few moments she lay in her incubator, an entire hand wrapped around my index finger. I stared at her and made the kinds of promises that daddies make to their daughters. I whispered words of encouragement and blessed her and marveled over her perfection.

Now almost seven years later the baby is a girl who dances. She dances to music that I play and to music that only she hears. She takes my hand and I twirl her around and we dance together.

Daughters are different. Not better or worse than boys, just different. I love my children equally and without question. But for the next few days she is ready to pretend to be queen of the castle and I am good with that. She has a long list of things that she would like. An American Girl doll, a webkin, a bear and a request to go to Disneyland are all part of her plan.

She comes to me and says that she would give them all up if I could give her one gift. I tell her that I wouldn’t give her all those things at once any way and she laughs. She says she knows that but she still wants me to know what her request is. I nod and she tells me that she would give all of those things up if I could just let her keep her house.

Before I can respond she nods her head and climbs into my lap. She knows that she has asked for the very thing that I can’t give her. We sit in silence and I wrap my arms a little bit tighter around her. The future is coming faster than any of us want and we have no choice but to answer it.

This but a moment in time that I try to burn into my memory. Today she is almost seven and able to sit on my lap. Seven years from now she may still feel entitled to sit on my lap whenever she wants, but she won’t be so little. She won’t fit the way that she does now and I am ok with that. But I wouldn’t mind if she didn’t grow up quite so quickly.

The Perfect Blog Post

Notebook

It is just after midnight and I am making my rounds of the blogosphere. Been by Griddy’s blog to leave more comments and battle for top commenter supremacy. Hit John’s interview with his brother and Jayme’s place as well. I am wide awake and working on developing a rhythm for my words.

Headphones on my ears my head bobs back and forth to the sweet sounds of the Doobie Brothers singing Nobody. I feel the music and search for a way to transfer that energy onto the page. My fingers dance across the keyboard and a broad smile works its way across my face.

It is part of my quest to find the perfect post. A noble journey that every blogger pure of heart and purpose takes part in. What I want is simple- a post that makes every reader respond the way that an audience responds to Bruce. I can’t say that the Boss is my favorite artist, but he is right up there. He is up there because every time I watch him perform I see him put his heart into it. That passion and single-minded purpose resonates with me. It lights a fire.

That is my goal…to light a fire inside you that makes you do more than nod your head in agreement. I want you to feel what I feel. I want you to see what I see. I am not lying when I say that I write first for me and then for you. I am not contradicting myself when I talk about the passion and purpose I attack the keyboard with. If I write with purpose and power you get caught up in the world that the words create and you add the color to it.

I want that perfect post to have so much power in it that people remember it, if not the whole thing than just one line that sticks with them forever. So every time I take my turn at bat I swing for the fences and hope that practice really does make perfect.

Why do you write?

Do Things Happen For A Reason?

Broken sprinkler, broken dreams.

Broken sprinkler, broken dreams.

Two days ago my daughter put on one hell of a performance. She marched out of her room and screamed at me in a way that she hasn’t done before. There was lightning flashing in her eyes and fire coming from her nose and not much that I could do about it. She screamed, “I hate you” and then jumped on my lap and burst into tears.

She doesn’t want to move. Ask her and she’ll tell you that the house is perfect and that I am capable of fixing anything that is broken. In her eyes I am superman and capable of doing anything I want. I appreciate it and want so very badly to live up to her expectations but there are some things that I can’t do. I can’t fly. I can’t lift the car with one hand and I can’t see the future.

All I can do is try and make good choices based upon the things I know and what I can guess will happen. All I can do is my best to make good decisions for my children. So that means that sometimes hard and very painful decisions must be made with the hope that things will work out.

These kids of mine don’t need all of the details or reasons why things are as they are. I could tell them that there are criminals in the banking system whose greed is causing untold damage throughout the country. But then I would want to have a bigger discussion about capitalism and business. I’d want to launch into a longer talk about what is right and what is fair and how there are significant distinctions. I’d want to say that sometimes you don’t do something just because you can, but she is 7 and these aren’t discussions that she needs to have now.

I don’t walk around railing about how I have been unfairly victimized and mistreated. But sometimes in the dead of the night in between the cracks and creaks of the house I wonder if things happen for a reason. I wander outside and sit under a moonlit sky and let my thoughts run where they may and I listen.

And sometimes I find myself feeling like maybe there is something more speaking to me. It is a soft whisper that I can barely make out that suggests that maybe I pay more attention to this or that. The problem is that trying to focus upon is a little bit like squeezing water in the palm of your hand. Squeeze too tightly and it slips out between your fingers leaving you with a damp trail that provides faint evidence that it was ever there. So I shrug my shoulders and try to apply logic to what I feel.

On the whiteboard that lives inside my head I prepare a list of things and ask if they could have come from coincidence or something more. Sometimes the answer is clearly yes and I think that nothing amazing or unusual has happened because XYZ could happen to anyone at any time.

Yet, every now and then I find that I am unable to just blow things off and I scratch my head because there aren’t explanations for what I experienced. So I have to ask if my mind sees what I want it to see or if maybe there is something more.

It is your turn now. Do you think that things happen for a reason or is life a series of coincidences that look like they could be something more?