Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Smart Roll

26 October 2011

Dear J-

Yesterday was the first day I didn’t ride my bike when I could have. Monday I’d heard a weird sound and the kind of soggy slapping that meant I blew out the rear tube in the morning. I pumped it up that afternoon and rode home, then properly inflated it later that night. Tuesday I get up and the tire’s half-deflated again — I guess these self-sealing Slime tubes aren’t always effective, or maybe the blowout was bigger than I thought. So I turn around and head back, thinking I can always get a tube that night and repair the wheel before picking figgy up for the night. No big deal, right? I get back to the car in the afternoon and there’s a ticket for expired tags on the windshield, one that requires me to prove to the police that I’ve fixed it (turns out I had the tags in my bag all along and forgot to put them on … four months ago … it has been a long time since I had to drive, in my defense). Later, at the bike shop, a yoga studio has moved in next door and taken up all the parking (I suppose it wouldn’t have been an issue if I could have ridden my bike there: this is why I need two bikes, someone tell theVet). Meanwhile I’m cruising around parking lots looking for cops to sign off on my ticket — that knocks the fine down from $37 to $10 and that’s totally worth it.

Instead of blaming my bad day on the flat tire, I’m blaming the whole day on having to drive. Mature, I know. I’m reminded that none of us can control our circumstances, but we can definitely control our reactions. Grow up. Be mature. Where have you heard that all your life … again, over and over. So you get to juggle the requirements of setting an example and not taking it out on everyone else around you but it’s surprisingly easy: remind yourself that it’s your fault. In this case, it’s mine. Between deferred maintenance and general cheapness, the bike’s nearly ready to fall apart (ominous grinding noises from the bottom bracket mean that if I want to keep it I’m going to have to invest some money into that part next), and if I hadn’t sat on the new tags that long driving in wouldn’t have been a big deal yesterday.

It does feel a bit Shenmue-y to me, but instead of sailors I’m looking for cops. Excuse me, officer, would you mind looking at my car to fix this ticket? Yeah, that doesn’t sound sketchy at all, does it? Yesterday I was filled with righteous indignation for roughtly five seconds and then a sick realization that I’m just wasting money: yeah, buy the most expensive tube you can find but don’t bother to check the tread for the last thing that popped the tube. Smart, yes. That’s how I roll.



Fun House

29 August 2010

Dear J-

figgy keeps telling us different things that make varying degrees of sense, though lately she’s started to make a lot more of it.  She has insisted that she feels sick and almost as if to prove it, she has taken long naps today — in the stroller, in the car, at home — and woken up crabby from each one.  This, from the same girl who kept telling us that she lost things “in the spiderwebs” a few months ago, is another long step towards the person she’ll be.

She’s almost independent on many tasks; she’s watched us fiddle with the DVD enough that she can usually put discs in and take them out without too many fingerprints.  With the exception of the shirt, she can dress herself in the mornings (the trick there is to figure out which hole is for the head).  I’d never have anticipate that she’s getting this independent this quickly, even though I’ve been muttering it under my breath for what seems like years.

Babies are fun:  everything in the world is new to them, and they delight, consequently, in everything.  Lots of first-time opportunities abound, and the thrill of discovery is matched by the amazement on their faces when something unexpected happens.  Here’s something else that’s unexpected:  little jaded three-year-olds are more fun.  The world-weary sighs are echoes of your own breath and word; be wary of what you say.


Ghost Writing

13 August 2010

Dear J-

The plane is headed west, which is great news for me, although they’re already talking about the next trip out (three weeks from now). This particular audit went well, I think; it was clear that they’d taken pains to read through the requirements of the ASME Boiler & Pressure Vessel Code and had structured their program accordingly: it’s neither cheap nor easy to get certified by the Board, so my Mickey Mouse audit activities had roughly the same effect as whistling into the wind. Who am I to point out discrepancies and deficiencies; knowing how we are at work I sometimes feel like a giant hypocrite whenever I open my mouth on an audit.

I had trouble sleeping last night, whether it was the difficulty of being an auditor, the excitement of the last day, me actually choking on phlegm (or my mind thinking I was), or the plans for this last day. I kept waking up every couple of hours, checking the clock disgustedly and throwing myself back into bed (oh, and here’s a tip: Hilton is proud, in their Garden Inns, of their soft beds and pillows; by last night I felt like I was drowning in quicksand every time I laid myself out) until the too-early alarm intruded and showed me to today.

Afterward the audit exit meeting we went our separate ways — some of us heading back to California this afternoon, others traveling onwards to the next one, and still others not yet ready to travel — I don’t necessarily get it. The Southeast has been quite hospitable but the choice between one more night here and going home doesn’t even make me think twice.I had just enough time to make a side trip up to Kennesaw Mountain, which is a Civil War battlefield dating back to Sherman’s March-to-the-Sea. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I’ve never been to a Civil War site before (I know, very lame for someone who’s interested in history, gravesites, and the military) but I found it oddly refreshing despite the triple-digit heat and mugginess. I’d go back, given more time and another chance; it’s places like that which shaped our nation. The battles around Kennesaw took place on days like today, where the humidity and heat take your breath away; I can only imagine what those young men felt in their hot woolen uniforms marching through the dappled woods.

It was a fitting capstone on this trip; if I was traveling with family I’m not sure we would have taken the time to head over there. At work we like to talk about lessons learned and operating experience, which can be summarized thus: smart people learn from their mistakes, but really smart people learn from other people’s mistakes. If I’m coming back in three weeks I’ll have a lot more stuff to bring (hard to believe — it boggles the mind — but that PE isn’t going anywhere at the moment and I still need to study) and a better base with which to attack the touristing issue. At one point — standing atop the mountain and looking at the haze wreathing modern downtown Atlanta — I realized that the trip was worth it (the whole week) for that one moment. The ghosts were whispering stories in my ear today, maybe all night last night and I’m glad we had a chance to meet; there are so many lessons, and I love to learn.


Fast Times

1 May 2010

Dear J-

At times I veer wildly into excess; after watching The King & I, for instance, I went and got a giant box set of the Rodgers and Hammerstein oevure, none of which I’ve watched since (Oklahoma! is waiting for me, as is Flower Drum Song). And as figgy sings little snatches of songs from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (“Toot Sweets” always gets an echo), I’m eyeing the Sherman Brothers next. As it turns out, they’re also responsible for Mary Poppins and, more significantly for me, Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

B&B is one of those movies I used to watch all the time as a kid, but somehow none of it sank in; because we used to tune into the Disney presentation Sunday nights on ABC, which they saved for their B-list (Earth Star Voyager, anyone?), We tended to watch the same films over and over. I remember the climax with empty suits of armor marching through the fields, but how or why they got there, I’m not sure. And yet that’s the way that most movies were for me those days: scenes like hurried phrases, like chorus lines without context.

It’s hard to know what’s going to sink in over the next few years; I am amazed by what she parrots back at times (we picked up a book in the store — Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? — because she recited the whole story to us; I suspect that she had been exposed to it at school). We’re privileged enough to watch it happen, though, and it’s been a blast so far.


Day 25: The End

23 April 2010

Dear J-

Well at this point it’s all over but for the shouting — we’ve just wrapped up the last bit of class work and I’m now trying to kill the moments between that and our graduation dinner. I do owe the first course a huge bouquet of thanks for having us end on Project Management instead of some presentation from a division on what they do; I understand that these things are important, but I’m not convinced that I ever engaged my brain last week. This week, on the other hand, I’m staggering out of classes convinced that I have the answer to everything (again). Those parentheses are important.

I was already mentally checking out (let’s call it summarizing or senioritis) during lunch; for a leadership course there was very little emphasis on the mechanics of leading people. There were three days of that, which I found dry but vital; we paid far more attention to learning about yourself. Why? In the end, who can you really control? Your actions, or theirs? Your reaction, or theirs? We spent some time learning first the what, but the important lessons were in exploring the why. I’ve gotten two things out of that: first, why I am as crazy as I am, and second, confidence to be who I am.

Our mentor today gave me a singularly useful piece of advice that I intend to take forward: define first for yourself what a good leader is, and then figure out what you need in order to meet your face in the mirror every night. After all, I can’t make people follow, but I can make myself worthy to lead.


Day 19: Human Resource

15 April 2010

Dear J-

Today was devoted to important things — learning about all the different human resources programs and people around the site, so of course I spent most of the afternoon snoozing (we are encouraged to wake each other up and stand up if needed — as one of my classmates noted, we eat what he called a lumberjack lunch, full of meat and starches) instead. Brilliant. All that I really picked up from today was that there’s only a handful of numbers and names that I need to know, but given the churn we’ve experienced lately, that list is likely to be already out of date.

We have a cryptic message in hand talking vague generalities and corporate buzzwords: realignment, industry practice, budgeting; all of it boils down to layoffs showing up in our future. We’re all convinced that our jobs are secure, that no one can do the things that we do, and yet other power plants our size make do with half the staff. Although we’re never short on work, that’s a question of getting enough uninterrupted time and a keyboard — will we always have enough work to justify me occupying a desk and computer? Should I keep making plans for the rest of the year? Not knowing is unsettling.

This afternoon I felt my throat getting scratchy — figgy has been fighting a cold the last couple of days and I suspct it’s caught up to me at last. You can tell when she’s sick because she doesn’t fight the earlier bedtimes (this translates into early-morning screaming fits) and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why I can’t follow the same simple recovery plan: more rest and less worry. Our family human resources department doesn’t have any sick leave available, you know.


Day 17: Order Restored

13 April 2010

Dear J-

Outside in the eaves of the porch we’ve got a little industrious bird who built a nest and hatched a brood of three — we were pleased to see all this transpiring outside the kitchen window. Yesterday, though, after seeing the three mouths piping up outside, we turned back a few minutes later to see the nest had fallen down, face down. We were sick. Today theVet told me that the mother bird came back looking for the nest a couple of times with no particular luck, finally finding the nest on the ground, hopping around, and chirping away at it (we are big anthropomorphizers in this house, and we read a note of sadness into it).

We went out to turn the nest over this afternoon and got a huge surprise: one hadn’t made it, but the other two were huddled under the nest, blinking and flapping a bit peevishly, so we righted the nest, scooped them back in, and restored it to the eave. After heading back in we saw the mother bird swoop back a few minutes later; our human projection made sense of the cheeps: “Hey mom, we’re under here!” “All right, let me get these stupid humans out here to give us a hand.” It’s not certain that they’ll make it, and we probably waited twenty-three hours too long to right that nest, but a bit of order has been restored in our world.

The presenters in class are taking the opportunity to reiterate our core values; although I’ve always been convinced that our senior leadership has been spouting off the same happy homilies all along, it’s now starting to resonate in my head. If that’s the least thing that happens from five weeks — well, I’d be disappointed, honestly. I’ve learned more about myself than I initially thought I needed to know (and now wouldn’t be without), and I’ve got more confidence in myself as a result; strange that it’s like a second blooming this many years into the journey. Second chance; they gave me the tools to turn the nest over my head right-side up.


Day 13: Gamesters of Triskelion

7 April 2010

Dear J-

At some point today I read the instructions for a verbal counseling session and felt all kinds of deja vu — they were an exact match, down to the philosophy and key points, of a meeting we had after I left to catch my vanpool without completing a work assignment (I’d talked with my partner on it and we’d agreed that there was no huge rush, but we were mistaken). Thus today was spent mulling over that particular meeting as we went over the world of labor relations, management and unions, grievances and disputes.

We’ve already got three days slated for this, and I’ve switched from water to iced tea in the afternoons in an attempt to stay alert (of course it doesn’t help that I never seem to be able to go to bed early lately); it’s not that the presentation isn’t interesting, but I’m not convinced that I’m going to be in a position to supervise represented exempt employees soon, though stranger things have happened. The more diverse topics we cover the more respect I have for my classmates; we’ve got experts on everything we’ve touched on so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see us through the rest of the five weeks without leaving somebody’s comfort zone.

We’re now officially just over halfway through the course. I actually got a call from work yesterday and I surprised myself with the appropriate answer so even though I was wondering the clue to my password earlier today, I haven’t completely forgotten everything yet (ASTM A182 is, generically, an acceptable substitute for A403, but that’s the sort of thing a good procurement-type should know). Eventually we’re going back to real life and productive work, but for now we continue to learn amazing things about each other.


All Day Long

8 January 2010

Dear J-

One year I got an Advent calendar; every day for a month brought some kind of questionable chocolate dispensed from its own little compartment. Well yes, it was chocolate, but I’m pretty sure that the calendar was one of those gifts my parents got years earlier and kept in the basement, hoping to regift at some point and never quite finding the right person for it. The basement used to be filled with mystery and delight alike; pictures we rarely saw, overflow inventory from the store, and gifts that we’d beg open at strange times of the year.

The fun thing about that particular Advent calendar was the way each day opened, the cardboard doors and louvers were unique, what worked one day wouldn’t be repeated for the next. Of course it was only paperboard and would not stand up to concerted efforts, but the overall theme (it was a house, if I remember right, and you started by opening each of the attic windows and worked your way down towards the front door) was nice enough if you opened each door correctly. I did my best but I don’t think I lasted through the end of the first week: it wasn’t the rewards inside, it was the challenge of those little flaps that drove me to pull them open out of order.

I am not always the most patient person; between real life and work there’s a lot of obstacles between me and the person I could be; yet sometimes you have to remember that it’s not the goal but the problems along the way that pique your interest and keep you coming back for more. Are you still learning every day, J-? I know I try but being in the moment keeps us from seeing the learning opportunities around us. We are lost in details, we block our ears with the cacophony of well-meaning advice and we fail to believe what we’re immersed in all day.


Slow Lesson

1 August 2009

Dear J-

I suppose that if I see karma as being some kind of cosmic justice system I’ve missed the point; it’s not about smiting enemies, whether those I’ve held for long years or the yahoo who just cut me off on the freeway, it’s about knowing that good deeds are their own reward. Let the other guy be the jerk; I’m not the one who has to live with them or those actions, for the most part. I just tend to forget those calm words in the heat of the moment, but it’s not my job to enforce traffic laws, just to ensure that I drive safely and don’t put anyone into jeopardy, whether they’re riding in my car or not.

Some days I feel the fatalism more than others; perhaps, I think, perhaps it’s because I didn’t do this or that, maybe if I’d done things differently. It’s an excuse, like everything else. It’s more a question of taking responsibility again — the sooner I realize the truth behind serenity (accept the things I can not change, and the courage to change those I can) the sooner I can reject the rage that runs in a steady undercurrent and threatens to flood over me as a tsunami inundates the rational land.

Music or Gym 5068 -sm

Slowly, figgy’s teaching me what it takes; opportunities for patience, chances to turn from anger to answers and rewards, always rewards for the right way to handle it. I keep trying to remind myself that despite John Lennon’s reassurances, karma is not instant, neither effect nor reward. We may tote her around until our bones creak and our muscles fail; she may refuse to walk, or take a nap, or sit patiently for meals. It’s part of the compact we’ve made, and it’s the agreement we’ll keep; we may have miles and years to go, but we’ll remember everything, we’ll have to remember every lesson.