Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Barrier

A friend of mine who has definite physical limitations told me something this weekend. She used to say she had no regrets but she revealed to me that she had recently started feeling that she regretted not trying out for the pom pom squad in high school.

In the moment, she had watched the routines and the physical requirements and had decided that she just wouldn't be able to do it. She imposed an automatic limit upon herself without ever trying. She might not have made the team but just trying would have pushed her beyond the boundaries that she thought she had. And maybe, just maybe, the team would have worked to include her despite her limitations.

This brought home a thought process I've been going through. I was actually talking, out loud, to someone about this and said something about understanding my limits and staying within them. As I said it I knew it was an excuse. I knew it was bullshit. I knew the limits were of my own making. I knew it was a barrier built by fear.

As I think about what I said I know I'm holding myself back. I see the fence in the distance and feel I can't climb it and turn away. The truth I know is that the fence is not that high and there are gates. There may be a gatekeeper of some sort but the gates are all along the fence.

The funny thing is I also know that beyond the fence... is another fence.

My last post may have sounded discouraged but I'm not. I think about finding my greatness every day. I examine the barriers, I examine the paths, and I examine the possibilities.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Fear And Anger

I am looking for my greatness.
Will my star shine bright or will I let it continue to be dim?
I am afraid.
If I hold back I will waste potential.
If I try too hard I may burn out and end up as a black hole.
I hold myself back.
I lie to myself that the resources are finite and I must not use them up. There is only so much I can use.
But when I lie I only increase my own resistance. I excuse myself from trying.
I know that the resources are replenished with each attempt - successful or not. Failure is always an option.
But I am afraid.
I want to throw everything into the fire and let it explode in spectacular fashion but it doesn't work like that.
Like gunpowder outside of a bullet it fizzles in a brief, anticlimactic poof.
I do not like the slow burn.
I want to see the elephant devoured not eaten one small bite at a time.
I am frustrated by my desire for quick results.
I fear I will lose interest and walk away from my greatness without ever knowing it.
I have done many things that I thought would grow if I only gave them attention only to find I'm not very good at them.
I try something else and it, too, withers.
Why do I stop when things get difficult?
Why do I never practice?
I took piano lessons for six years and never got past the simplified versions of the sheet music.
I want things to come naturally, to just happen. I know it doesn't really happen like that. All examples of greatness are stories of hard work and dedication.
I am afraid.
I have taken the next step in my perceived evolution and have failed miserably. More than once.
I like the low-hanging fruit but I'm truly not afraid to climb the tree... if I can see how to reach what I want. The fat, juicy, ripe fruit at the top of the canopy is so far out of site that I don't want to reach for it for fear of getting to the top only to find sour fruit or none at all. All the time ignoring the spectacular view.
I'm going to climb. I don't know where I will end up.

I started trying to write something prophetic here. An organized, insightful revelation of my thought processes so far. I took the first step, why not just take the second? The truth is it's not organized - as you can see. So this was just a stream of consciousness thing. I stopped where I did because I was starting to get angry with myself for telling myself it is better to have false, inaccurate limits than unreachable goals (that really aren't unreachable).

Maybe next time I should make a list of my accomplishments. A list of the things I know how to do, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Maybe that will help me see that I'm shining brighter than I think I am.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Find You Own Greatness

All the elements in your body were forged many many millions of years ago in the heart of a faraway star that exploded and died. That explosion scattered those elements across the desolations of deep space. After so, so many millions of years, these elements came together to form new stars and new planets. And on and on it went. The elements came together and burst apart, forming shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings. Until, eventually, they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe. - Doctor Who, The Rings of Akhaten
There are times in life when you see people surpass you who started at the same point you did or maybe a little behind. There are also times when you see someone being successful at the life you thought you would have. It is difficult not to compare yourself to them. It is difficult not to say, "That could be me." We all know that we are unique with our own blend of talents and shortcomings. We all know that we shouldn't compare ourselves to others. But how do we embrace that uniqueness?

I was listening to my iPhone shuffle through all of the music uploaded to it when Ready to Hang by Wayman Tisdale came on. I probably met Wayman at some point since we went to the same high school but I couldn't tell you if he would have recognized me or not. He and my older sister were in the same class and knew each other well enough that Wayman once recognized my brother, who is one year younger than my sister, when Wayman walked past my him on an airplane. He stopped and asked my brother something like, "Aren't you Mary's brother?"

I was thinking about that story, that my brother likes to tell, and it got me to thinking about Wayman's life. He was a basketball star in high school, college and in the NBA. He even went to the Olympics. Wayman went on to have a music career and released eight albums. At one point I learned that he had taught himself how to play the bass... and he was pretty good at it. In 2007 he was diagnosed with cancer and had part of his leg amputated in 2008. He died in May of 2009.

I was reflecting on all of this: All of the amazing things he had done in his life despite it being cut short. Of course I'm no Wayman Tisdale. My star does not shine nearly as bright and it likely never will. What I want, however, is to be remembered as having done something with my life.

That's when it hit me: We can't all be the bright star in the sky but we can all shine in our own way. The trick is to find your own greatness. It doesn't matter that someone does something faster or better than you.

I was trying to finish that thought by saying, "What does matter..." but I'm not sure exactly what that is yet. I think that's part of what I'm looking for. This is just the first, tiny step and I hope I don't get distracted from this path. I need to find my greatness. I might already have it or it may be completely unrealized and yet to come. I have a friend that calls it Grabbing the Starfish. She explains it as "Knowing and working towards that one thing that you are supposed to be doing with your life." It sounded like a thousand other existential platitudes but I think I get it now.

Stay tuned. I'll probably bring you along for the ride.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

I Used To Have A Blog

I have a bachelor's degree in radio and television production. One of the jobs I actually held in this field was doing video production for the advertising department of the local cable company. We were a small market so there was one sales person and two production... eh... specialists. Not only were we responsible for shooting and editing the commercials, we were often called upon to conceptualize, write and even narrate the spots. After two years I became quite adept at cramming a lot of information into thirty seconds.

It took me a long time to break that habit. It's one of the reasons I started a blog. I didn't really want to continue writing in a style that embraced direct information without detail and sometimes without context. If I were to continue, my prose would be very succinct. I give you an example:

Two families hated each other. A boy from one family and a girl from the other took a shine to each other. Because of the feud between the families they had to keep their love secret. The boy decided to fake his death so they could escape together. He tried to let her know it was fake but the message didn't get to her. When she saw him, thinking he was dead, she decided to take her own life to be with the boy she loved. He woke up from his fake death only to find her dead. In a moment of agony over what she'd done, he took his own life, for real this time, to be with her.

That's not a story. That's a plot summary. The point is, I worked hard to move away from that and got pretty good at documenting the mundane aspects of my life and commenting on things nobody really cared about. In other words, I became a blogger.

Then I joined facebook. I was a little weary of writing out long, explanatory posts and had been doing some drive-by blogging anyway. Facebook was a perfect venue in which to do that. I could post something brief and to the point and get, hopefully, some simple and quick feed back about it.

Then there's Twitter. 140 characters to say whatever you have to say and that's it! It and texting have formed an entirely new language of shorthand. But, even more than facebook, it forces you to concentrate and compress your thoughts. You never really say anything, you just provide sound bytes without the sound.

Then came Vine. Six seconds. That's all you get. If you can speak fast or convey your thoughts through motion, you can cram in a little more than a tweet... but only a little.

Let's not even discuss snapchat.

Have you noticed that my paragraphs have been getting shorter?

It's been nine months since I posted anything here. I've been hanging out at facebook quipping about life, keeping up with friends, and "liking" pictures of cats. Nothing too deep. No stories, for sure. It's a drive-by blog fest. It seems that each new technology we're obsessed with maintaining the attention of the severely-afflicted ADD sufferer. We want to get our words in before they have a chance to notice that squirrel. (go ahead, I wait while you watch him scamper up the tree).

... ... ... ... ... ... ...

Is he gone? Okay, let's continue. ... ... what was I saying? Oh, yes, writing with substance.

I don't think, even after nearly eleven years of blogging, that I've ever completely eschewed the postcard prose I so easily adapted to. I mean, break down this post. I have short paragraphs, I have visual and thematic breaks, my sentences become terse, and even now my brain is trying to figure out how to say what I'm actually thinking and get this one in the can.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that social media, in its call for, and even restriction to, brevity is destroying our - or mine, at the very least - ability to tell stories. Sure, we can get our point across in six seconds, 140 characters, or a post designed to be read in its entirety as the screen is scrolling by, but we don't tell the stories. We don't give the details. We don't provide depth.

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
Oh, that she knew she were!

That boy's in love! No doubt.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Matrix: Revelations

My entire life I have been curious about how things work. I used to take things apart (if I could figure out how without breaking them) just to see what was inside - even if I didn't know what all those whozamajiggers did. At the time, I was just curious to see what the whozamajiggers looked like. Once, when I was 5 or so, my curiosity even figured out how to erase part of a pre-recorded cassette tape with the tabs broken out. I am the guy who will pay attention to - or at least look for - the man behind the curtain.

Today, I still have that same curiosity. I want to know how it works. I need to know how some small piece fits into a larger picture. When I send an email and it doesn't get to its destination, I want to know where it's been and why it came back or where it got stuck. That's why I learned to read message headers (hint: you read them from bottom to top). In networking your computer sends a signal down a wire, it goes to a box, some magic happens, then it ends up where it's supposed to be. I want to know what magic goes on inside the box.

But my curiosity goes beyond signal flow and systemic thinking. For instance, I have had cameras at my disposal since I was a child. I have taken many thousands of pictures in my life. Yet, many of my pictures are simply snapshots, not photographs. I understand a lot of the technical aspects of photography - aperture, shutter speed, ISO, depth-of-field, etc. - but somehow I haven't quite gotten the hang of composition. My eye sees a beautiful scene but somehow, when I click the shutter, I don't ever quite capture the emotion and excitement that comes with good composition.

It's like I'm seeing the Matrix code and it's just a bunch of random characters streaming down my screen. I recognize bits and pieces of code but I know it all means something. I want to see the matrix. I want to have a deep understanding.

Now, I know I can't know everything so there will always be parts of it streaming by that I don't understand - like quantum mechanics - but I want to be able to see the blonde, the brunette, the redhead, etc. (it's a movie reference for those who don't know) I feel like if I concentrate on one or two lines I'll begin to see it but there are so many many lines falling down the screen I keep losing track of the one I'm watching and getting distracted by others. Going back the my photography I want to see, in my mind, what the photograph will look like before I snap the shutter so that, when I see the captured scene, even if it's a little off it's not a surprise that it didn't come out or holds no interest.

Until then, I keep staring at the screen watching the pretty shapes falling down.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The First Day Of The Rest Of Our Life

Twenty-three years ago I woke up feeling a little anxious. I met with my best friends Bill, Steve, and Kyle and my brother, John. We gathered at The Kettle restaurant for a hearty breakfast. I ate well, if I remember correctly, despite my stomach starting to do flip-flops. The levity of my friends and family, along with some juvenile behavior like spoon hanging (I wish I knew where that picture was), helped with the nerves.

After breakfast we went back to the hotel and got all fancied up. We gathered in the parking lot and as we waited Steve showed us a trick to keep our shirts straight - reach into your pockets and tug down on the bottom of your shirt from the inside. We then tested how it looked with a group photograph.

As you can see, my good friends were keeping my anxiety in check.

Once my parents joined us we headed to the event. The drive was short but the butterflies were getting more restless. At the venue we had our pictures taken - me alone, me with brother, me with Bill, Steve and John, me with parents, me with parents and brother, etc. The sheer tedium of this settled the butterflies.

Once we were done with pictures we waited. Well, all except for Kyle who was helping to seat friends and family. The waiting was the worst part. That's when the nerves took hold. It didn't help that my "friends" were having a jolly time watching the nerves build and were encouraging them by telling me that the person I was there to meet was wearing an inappropriately-colored dress. Despite the dress having been described to me previously by other parties, they said it so much I started to worry that something had changed.

Eventually, it was time to take our places. Bill, Steve, John and I stood at the front of the room. As the music played a beautiful woman entered from the back. Everyone stood to greet and honor her. Thankfully, she was wearing a flowing white dress with a slightly pink hue to it (and not the blazing red dress my friends had teased about). Her father walked her to the front of the church where he passed responsibility and entrusted me with her care.

For twenty-three years I have loved and cared for my beautiful wife, Shelly. We've overcome obstacles and tested our vows but together we are strong. I love her more and more every day. Happy anniversary, sweetie. I love you.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Computers I Can Fix. Cars, Not So Much

My car has somewhere around 160,000 miles. I knew I was due for a major malfunction, I just didn't know where the other shoe would drop. I was out running some errands when the car started to lurch forward then coast then lurch forward. It actually wouldn't move at all at one point.

I talked to a mechanic and got the bad news that I likely needed a transmission rebuild and that would run me about $2,300.00... Ouch. I checked some other sources and learned that my problem could be as simple as, perhaps, low fluid.

I checked the level, added more fluid, and took her out. She ran pretty well until I'd been out for a while and was traversing some hills when she again ceased engagement of forward momentum. A few more checks with a few more people in the know and it was decided that the fluid was dirty as hell, the crud was being stirred up, clogging the filter and impeding the flow. Once she sat for a bit, the sediment would settle out and she'd move again so that seemed reasonable.

I called the local repair shop and asked about a flush and fill. After describing the symptoms they told me they wouldn't touch it because they'd had too many cases of the cars no longer moving after the procedure. Basically, the particles causing the problem were the only thing keeping the transmission together.

So now, I turned to the Internet. I found a YouTube video entitled, "10 Min Automatic Transmission Fluid Flush + Replacement." It looked so easy. I said it LOOKED easy. He was even working on the same kind of car I drive. I consulted my Hanes manual, which provided even less detail, and decided to take the chance. I figured I couldn't make it much worse and might even get some more mileage out of it.

I went out to my car and looked under the hood. I couldn't make heads or tails of it much less figure out where the feeder line was so I thought I would just drain and fill.

And so I proceeded. I drove my car around the neighborhood a few laps to warm everything up then brought her home to start the procedure. I jacked up the car and put it on stands (NEVER work under a car supported only by a jack). I looked at the picture in the book then at the front of the transmission casing. Why are there two bolts? Let's see, liquid flows to the lowest point so I'll take out the bottom one.

Funny, it looked like a regular bolt. The one in the video was larger and had a magnet on the end of it. And the fluid doesn't seem to be flowing, exactly. Maybe if I remove the other bolt, too, it will allow for some sort of air displacement... no, now I just have fluid dribbling out of two holes and slowly dripping off the bottom of the transmission.

I wonder what would happen if I started the car? Would that cause the flow to increase? I'll start it then turn it off immediately and see what the result is... The result is I gotta go find the kitty litter.

Okay, what if I stuck a tube in that hole then started the car? Let's see... the tube I have doesn't fit. I got it, I'll cut it at an extreme angle then jam it in there. Oh, hey, that kinda worked! ... but the drain pan wasn't quite under the spout... more kitty litter.

I did that a couple more times with my wife starting the car so I could observe and catch the flow and decided that was good enough for now. It had been WAY longer than 10 minutes and I was tired. I put the plugs back in and topped off the fluid. Good news, she was still moving. Bad news, I hadn't drawn out nearly enough fluid to have drained it completely.

The next night, round two. This one started pretty much the same but I let the car run much longer to be sure the fluid was nice and warm with a very low viscosity. Still, I got a miserable drip. This simply can't be right. Hmm, my tube doesn't seem to want to fit anymore. Ah, a box knife. Let me trim it a bit. There, that seems to be shoved in there pretty well. Let me go start the car... the tube didn't hold. More kitty litter, please.

As it continues to dribble, I go back inside to again consult the internet on flushing the transmission fluid but this time I tell it exactly what kind of car I have.

I came across, "2003-2007 Honda Accord Transmission drain and refill." I start watching... "take out the dipstick so you get better air displacement." Hadn't done that. Pause... out to garage, remove dipstick and set aside, no change in flow, return to video. "Now we're at the drain plug. It's right here next to the oil pan. It faces sideways so..." Excuse me? It faces which way? Did you say sideways? SIDEWAYS? Pause... out to garage, look under car... I had been approaching the job pretty much from the passenger side. Guess which side the drain plug is on... yep - the driver's side. I put the bolt I had removed back and broke free the correct drain plug and the fluid came gushing out as expected.

I went inside to finish watching the video. I wrapped up in another 15 minutes. I cleaned up ... well, I poured the old oil out of the drain pan into an old milk jug and shoved everything else aside ... and the wife and I went for a drive. Everything seems to have gone well. No hard shifting, no lurching, no... not... moving. I'll drive it around a few days, letting the remaining crud recirculate through the fluid, then do it all over again... minus the kitty litter, I hope.