Saturday, November 18, 2017

A little lazy is a good thing

When you grow up rural, or in any environment where your work is defined by the amount of daylight available, there are a few lessons you learn. One is to work efficiently; there is X amount of work to be done in a finite amount of time. Another is to be nimble; when you put that fence up, you can only prepare so much, so we learn how to react to changing variable without panic, because that fence still has to be put up. 

Another thing you learn is how to be just a little bit lazy.

This concept has gotten mixed reactions in my friend group. When you read that sentence, your knee-jerk reaction was, I'm certain, negative to some degree. And I want you to hold onto that feeling, to think on it, as I explain.

Let's look at that trigger word: lazy. Dictionary.com gives the definition of lazy as to be "averse or disinclined to work." When we think on that, we all have a picture or two in our mind, and being from Appalachia, there is a particular stereotype that I can clearly envision: the hillbilly leaning up against a tree, stem of grass in his teeth, hat pulled over his eyes, sleeping. Inherent in this concept of lazy is a desire to not work. That's the thing I want you to focus on.

Now I want to point out that I'm not saying a person should be lazy. Laziness is not a great attribute. Sloth is not what you want in an employee.

But what you do want is somebody who wants to do something besides work.

That's what I mean by "just a little bit lazy." The best employee wants to go home and do anything but work. Maybe it's watch television. Or visit the gym. Play video games. Hang out with friends. And they want to do those things so badly that they will do their work more efficiently as a result.

If you look at your own life, maybe you can recognize this in yourself. You make plans to go out that night; perhaps your child has an event at school, or your partner wants to get dinner, or your favorite show is on, etc. That desire to do something else, something other than work, drives you to get your work done, or even turn down work because you just can't do all that work AND go see a movie.

This is what work-life balance is about. The life part of that equation is when we are allowed to be sloths. Or not. And it's nobody's business what we do.

So seek out those opportunities in your life. Find that bookend to your work day and give yourself permission to not work. To be just a little lazy. To focus on you rather than your job. If you're addicted to work, you'll find this isn't easy to do. You'll find that you're working just to work. And that's fine, as long as you truly find happiness in that. 

But ask yourself that question: does work make you happy, or does work provide you the ability to do those things that make you happy? Or is it (ideally, perhaps) a little of both? A good example of this is Japanese are notorious for their work ethic. There is an addiction to work in Japanese society that literally kills people every year. And it's an addiction to work, not an addiction to life. Not an addiction to productivity. Or happiness. But work. That's changing, slowly, because despite that culture of working until you drop, the recession has maintained it's festering stagnation.

Find your lazy and you'll find yourself more efficient, harder working, and a better employee to your company and partner to your life.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Flurry of activity

I feel like writing.

Once I dreamed about having a job as a writer. And I reached that dream, sort of. I worked at a magazine in Japan: Kansai Time Out. Technically I was an editor; but in that role I got to write some articles, and rewriting was a critical skill. We would get these articles submitted on notepad paper, small 4X6 sheets that you see in hotel rooms. They're meant to type notes, not entire articles. But when you're a struggling freelance writer, you do what you must to survive, and we supported the freelancers. That wasn't common, mind you; but it happened.

Later, after grad school, I had a job as  marketing writer. That job really excited me, and I sucked at it because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing; but I learned and grew and survived.

Time passed and writing has become a skill I rarely use at work. At least, it's not core; I do write all the time, and I try to write well. Once, many years ago, when I had a call center job, a coworker gave me a hard time because my tickets were written in flowing prose that was a bit too fancy for his taste. Once in particular he didn't like that I had said the problem seemed to be "system agnostic."

Writing is a critical skill for anyone who works in the white collar world. But like most skills, it is not something everyone can master. It is a discipline. Writing a technical brief is more than just stringing jargon together. It still requires the writer to follow basic writing principles of constructing the flow and following a process. Writing well is hard work.

This blog post is probably not the best example of that work. It's a rambling essay on ... something. Writing has become that, for much of us. Here, on this blog, I can create sentences and paragraphs that will quite possibly live, in some form or other, until the very end of time as we know it. You can too. We are the first generation that can truly say that. Our words will live forever, relatively speaking.

As such, I want to put pen to paper and create thoughts that matter. Ideas that have impact. Feelings that move.

In the end, though, I just create gibberish. Is that what is meant by writing - maybe all of work? Are we just creating nonsense that, in the end, means little and impacts less? Life is less a forest of trees and more a field overgrown with weeds where the tree cannot grow.

So distill things down. Take away all of the why am I here stuff. Strip out the competing elements that draw our attention away from what matters, even if you don't know what it is that actually matters. You definitely know what doesn't. When you've done that with your life, truly simplified it, made it something that is uniquely yours, then you'll have some real substance to write about.

And then, if you're lucky, you, too, can write a rambling essay on writing.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

First cold day

This past week we had the first really cold day of the year. The temperature has gotten low a time or two before; I had a thick frost on my truck one morning a month back. But cold can be about more than just the temperature. It's much more relative than we realize.

So it was that Friday morning I walked out and, for the first time, was truly cold. The air bore no memory of the previous day's warmer afternoon temps, no hint of an impending warm up. The season had changed in truth if not in calendar, bringing with it the inevitable temperature and the complaints. We always complain about the cold, while at the same time commenting that this year is not as cold as years past. The cold brings that out in us, and it is now, officially, cold. No manner of warm day will, for a couple of months, fully conquer that cold.

Today, Saturday November 11, started around 30, and we might get up to 55 or 60. And today, of all days, I will defy the cold. It is in my nature to defy things, in a general sense. I was born into it in the same way that someone else might be born with an artistic inclination, or was raised to be politically astute, or was given by their nature to dedication. My upbringing was to be rebellious, even if I never fully realized that potential; I was raised to think too much, to dwell on the problem, to not just take the toaster apart and fix what was never broken, but understand why it wasn't broken. That won't make sense but to a few, and those people are my tribe.

My defiance today is more than just stubbornness. It is also in honor of those who we recognize on Veteran's Day. Men and women have for thousands of years fought and died for causes that they didn't always understand. Some did so knowing that they would fight and die. Some, like my father, just happened to have been in the military when asked to go fight and (luckily for me) not die, not in the true sense, but to die just the same, little by little.

For him I will stubbornly go about my day. Because that's what he did, his life's tragedy buried within, working a job he didn't like just so we, his family, could go about our days. Defiance of society's norms while still adhering to them is the norm. For him I will continue that proud tradition. And on this day that honors him, I will perhaps be a little more stubborn than normal, as a tip of the hat to him.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Utah - or: how I learned to love (ish) walking in cold water

The second week of October, 2017, found us in southern Utah. Like many places in the country, my son's school was in fall break the week of Columbus Day. I don't understand why more people don't travel during that week; maybe social programming has led us to believe summer is the only time to go on vacation.

Up front I'll get this out of the way: I didn't want to go to southern Utah. I've been. It's a beautiful place, perfect in many ways, and I was probably being a little childish about it. But I wanted to go to either Scotland or Paris.

So now that I've made my official complaint, I'll follow up with this: I love the high desert. (Editor's note: I also love the high dessert.)

American culture, especially for those of us of a certain age, is a few things: gangsters and cowboys. That latter, in particular, has played a huge role in my life. I grew up with horses and had a lariat (lasso), spurs, cowboy boots. We rode western saddles and wore cowboy hats. Men in those movies spoke like me, and I wanted to grow up to be like them: strong, confident, and able to deal with their human weaknesses. They didn't cry, didn't coddle their own or others' emotions. They worked through their pain with courage. That's what it meant to be an American; and, to be honest, I still believe that to be true.

Nothing quite symbolizes that than the desert southwest, particularly the high desert, where survival meant dealing with oppressive heat as well as bitter cold and feet of snow. The lowland areas of the high desert are as far above sea level as some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi. Towering cliffs, mesas, rugged mountains, chiseled valleys ... all combine into that image that is America, for both those born in the country or others made familiar through our movies.

It is a region that makes us inclined to be romantic.

The vacation week started at home with a long bike ride. I was made. Work has not gone well and I have grown bitter at the bounty life has given me. Funny how that works. There is happiness to be found, but like a blind man I am unable to distinguish between the good and bad things right in front of me, and I've grown pessimistic: all is bad. The Zen flame that has guided me is extinguished, or else is burning so low as to not matter.

I rode hard and fast and far. After fifty miles my left knee ached, my back was sore, and I had exhausted myself. Whatever fed the anger within me was not gone, but it was beaten into submission. I was ready for vacation.

The easiest way to get to that part of Utah is to fly into Las Vegas. We looked at Salt Lake City as well; but there are many flight options to Las Vegas, and the cost was lower as well for both the flight and the rental car. Plus we had been to Salt Lake City just the previous summer; we hadn't been to Las Vegas in a long time.

Our plane landed early. We made a clean exit from the airport rental car center and were on our way. I made one miscalculation. I rarely sleep the night before leaving on vacation. We always fly early in the morning, and that in itself makes it hard for me to sleep because I am nervous about not waking up; but I also get excited about the vacation, particularly the part where I don't have to be at work. As a result, I slept three hours. Combine that with the exhaustion of pushing myself on the bike and I almost fell asleep at the wheel on the drive up. I pulled over and let my wife drive. She doesn't drive automatics very often; only on vacation. So it is a bit of a frightening thing for a few minutes. Not that I knew; I was asleep within a couple of miles.

I woke up as we pulled off the interstate for Kanarraville Falls.

The town of Kanarraville is somewhat less than "tiny." There is a gas station at the exit and not much else. To be fair: we didn't go looking for anything, but the town doesn't exactly invite you to explore. From an article online, the town has a love/hate relationship with the popularity of the falls. Thousands visit in the summer. The hike is under five miles, and the walk up the canyon is much less intense than The Narrows in Zion, for a similar (if less amazing) experience. Parking is $10.

Most of the first half of the hike was very blah. Hot, dry, and dusty, the walk is on a dirt road for much of the way, up and down, with little scenery other than the occasional tree with the leaves changing colors.

And then we entered the canyon.

There is a picture that we all have in our head when we think of the canyons of southern Utah. We envision winding walls of rock with a ribbon of water that has patiently worked for thousands of years to erode a narrow path. Kanarraville Falls isn't as grand as other canyons of the type; but it also isn't as crowded. That's why we go to those wild places; at least, that's why I go. The scenery is part of it; but more important is to get away from those things that make the world unbearable at times, and those things usually involve people.

Inside the canyon I stood listening to the sound made by that shallow stream. For the entirety of human existence we have found spiritual solace in the sounds of nature. Our ancestors speak to us through our world. Wind in trees, gurgle of water over rock, a rumbling waterfall, a howling gale. All of those sounds are reminders of the things we've lost, things we've yet to find.

We passed four people returning from the falls as we hiked in and seven people while we were in the canyon itself. On the way back we passed four. That's not as alone as I would have liked, honestly; but it was good enough.

Our hotel was in the town of La Verkin; that's what happens when you decide on your destination a little later than the thousands of other people who have decided to go to the same place. It wasn't too inconvenient, though, with a good grocery store that had some of the best bread I've had in ages.

That night I slept fitfully, as always. Long, hard hikes would cure me of that, if only for a short while.