05
Dec
15

Success, Part 2

Just over two years ago, I changed jobs. Almost exactly two years ago, I started collecting requirements to design a piece of software to do something that had long been discussed, but never gotten off the ground, at my company. For the past two years, I’ve informally led the design, development, and implementation of this application. On more than one occasion it was nearly scrapped. Yesterday at about 530PM, I got to go home after ensuring that it was finally, successfully up and running in production. I’ve never had a project be so much on me before. Last night as I watched a movie and tried to unwind, I kept having moments of re-realizing that it was actually over, that it was Friday night, that the deadline had been met, that I didn’t have to go back tomorrow and plug away at it more. All night, I would wake up briefly with the same realization. As much as I might try to downplay it, it’s a BIG DEAL. It’s a huge shift in how we do this part of our operations. And it wouldn’t have happened without me, the particular combination of knowledge, experience, established relationships, and stubbornness that I had to make it finally happen.  This is me trying to accept that fact.

Yesterday, my boss forwarded an email he received from someone offering honest praise, high praise, for the work I’m doing on another project. Do you know what my reaction was? “Well, shit. Now I have to be that good all the time.” I’m still not sure how to just accept that this is me, that I am capable of these things, but they do not make me who I am and they are not just ways to measure my future failure.

09
Sep
15

Success

I’m not a perfectionist. At least, I never thought I was. I never cared if there was a drip in the paint on my motorcycle, or the seam wasn’t straight on my costume, or my desk was messy, or my bed wasn’t made. I’m more concerned with doing a safe pole invert and being able to say I did it, than making it look pretty. I have an affinity for symmetry, but that’s mathematical, right?

I’m beginning to realize that it’s an altogether different story when it comes to behavior.  Observations have piled up over the years from people who care about me, and I’ve begun to takes those to heart and make my own observations. The conclusion? I have impossibly high expectations for myself, and to some extent for the people I encounter.

This reality surfaced on its own for me today when I realized how hopeless I felt about one of the projects I’m working on. It feels impossibly complex, so many moving parts, so many unknowns, so many actors, no one person in charge, not even a solid deadline. We’re working hard at it, pinning down as many details and assignments as we can. But something will get missed. And knowing that defeats me. I have another project I’m working on that is nearing completion. Everyone else will consider it a success and a significant accomplishment. But there will be things that aren’t quite right, tweaks that have to be made, user experiences that aren’t quite ideal. To me, that means I failed. It makes job satisfaction feel far out of reach. Break something, and let me fix it. That is an easy, clear expectation.  I know what the standard is. That I can accomplishment. There I can succeed.

I had the same problem when I started college. If there was an A to be had, I was failing if I didn’t get it. I’ve managed to somehow overturn that thinking. I’m still getting As so far, but I feel like I’ve succeeded if I’ve learned something, rather than if I’ve gotten an A. Perhaps there is something to be learned here. I haven’t had much chance to analyze it yet. I do know that if I can sort out my expectations for myself, it can only bode well for the people who have to deal with me having expectations for them.

(Breathe in) I am (breathe out) enough. Repeat. Thanks Joanne. I’ll believe it some day.

26
Aug
15

The light

Scrolling through social media today, I saw a quote from Rumi: “A wound is a place where the light enters you.” It stuck with me all day, because I couldn’t shake the notion that it meant something different to me than it probably does to the person who posted it and to most who encounter it. In the realm of spirituality and, I suspect, in the minds of those I most often see quoting Rumi, light has some particular qualities. It has a connotation of warmth, life, healing. But when I saw “light” in the context of this quote, I made an immediate connection in my mind with the phrase, “the cold light of day.” For me the light entering the wound is the bright spot in the winter sky that ought to have warmth but doesn’t, the harsh glare that bounces off the snow. It is revealing the bleak truth about the things that were easy to ignore before the wound came along and the light came in.IMG_0552

07
Oct
13

Oh, Say, Can You See?

The wisest patriot I know brought this article from the Atlantic to my attention, entitled “Why Many Americans Are Averse to Unironic Expressions of Patriotism.” Never mind the over-qualification by use of adjectives, I suspect in an attempt to not offend anyone by appearing to make too blanket of a statement. I am one of these Americans. American patriotism makes me squirm. Why?

I wasn’t born in this country. I was born an American, by way of my mother’s citizenship, but I was born in Canada. The Canada of my upbringing was a humble, mellow place that seemed to be OK with living quietly in the shadow of the big brother to the south. The backlash of Canadian patriotism that grew out of a beer commercial into a way to provide Canadians with a sense of identity separate from America happened after I left. I didn’t grow up believing that I lived in the greatest nation on earth, but rather that I lived in a great nation, and that other great nations existed. I understood that America was powerful, but I didn’t understand how powerful until I moved here as an adult. The best way I can describe my idea of patriotism to this point might be that I thought of nations like people. I thought that if a nation was going to get along in the world, it ought to be humble, aware of its faults as well as its strengths, and be willing to admit when it was wrong.

The thing that pushed me past slight embarrassment at overt displays of patriotism to downright discomfort and even fear was the huge swell of patriotic expression after September 11th. I saw those expressions so closely related to suspicion of anything or anyone foreign, and I grew mistrustful of those who made them. When I heard “God Bless America,” I heard a whispered “burn in hell anyone from anywhere else” tacked on the end. I still hear it, though I chastise myself for my own closed-minded-ness when I do.

I’m beginning to understand some things that are making me more comfortable with expressions of American patriotism. One, this is a great country, with a unique, nuanced and difficult role to play in the world, a role which I still understand very little about. Two, it might not be practical for a nation to behave like a person in quite the way that I expected in order to survive in this world, though this one I’m still not sure about either. Three, the flag-waving and jingoistic speech-making that might be used to entice the less informed to support a particular side in a debate is not patriotism, and does not make honest expressions of patriotism wrong.

So I roll my eyes less, and I look for the honest and the wise lovers of this country, past and present, to teach me what it really means to be a patriot.

05
May
13

Thoughts on thinking

Why don’t I feel the need to have all of my political, moral, social stances worked out and analyzed to the nth degree? I have a spouse, and one or two friends, who study and analyze these things to what I consider to be an obsessive level of detail. Am I just lazy and not wanting to think that hard? For them, it’s not only important, they actually enjoy it. For me it’s hard work, frustrating and seems somewhat pointless. I can never know every nuance of every argument. I feel like the farther I go down a particular path, the less open I will be to other points of view and avenues of thought. I also feel like learning schools of thought from books and/or lectures gives me a sterile, out-of-context set of facts about a particular philosophy.  If, instead, I learn about different beliefs from my encounters with people who hold those views, I have a context in which to comprehend it and observe empirical results of those beliefs in action.

I learn by context, by pushing buttons and breaking stuff. My brain doesn’t absorb theory. It observes patterns and uses them to make inferences. Perhaps if I learned about John Locke or Immanuel Kant as a person and what personal experiences led them to their beliefs, it would have meaning for me. But they are long dead, and I am much more interested in learning about those close to me and what makes them tick.

10
Mar
13

Stompin’ Who?

My standard pop-culture news sources, Facebook and Instagram, informed me last week that Stompin’ Tom Connors has died. Stompin’ Tom was a Canadian folk icon. I suppose most would refer to him as a country artist, but I think it would be a an insult to the man and his Canadian patriotism to lump him in with most of the formulaic drivel that shows up on stage at the Academy of Country Music Awards these days. I realized when I heard the news that I haven’t even heard a Stompin’ Tom song for probably a couple of decades. So I turned to Pandora. It actually delivered, playing Big Joe Mufferaw, the first Stompin’ Tom song I ever heard. With my headphones on, realizing I still knew most of the lyrics, I started thinking about the great folk music tradition Canada has. The closest equivalent I know of in the US is the bluegrass and mountain music of the southeast, but there is a variety and uniqueness to the Canadian tradition that is very, well, Canadian, for lack of a better word.

Folk music and CBC radio were the only acceptable non-religious, non-farm-related form of grown-up media allowed in our house. I’m calling it folk music, because I’m not sure what else to call it. It’s music by and about Canadians. In many cases it has elements of sound, whether vocal or instrumental, that are historically Canadian or pre-Canadian. The first records I remember listening to that weren’t Sunday School or kindergarten songs were by Russ Gurr and Wilf Carter. Wilf Carter became popular in the 50s and 60s and was famous for yodeling in his otherwise traditional country tunes. I think the first recorded version of “You are My Sunshine” I ever heard was his version, complete with yodeling. Russ Gurr was known as The Singing Farmer, and on the record I remember, Federal Grain Train, sang especially about Manitoba, farming, and famous Canadian tales like the story of Louis Riel.

The next record cover that sticks in my head is Stan Rogers’ Northwest Passage album. I still know every word of The Field Behind the Plow, The Idiot, Night Guard, and Lies by heart. Unlike the traditional steel guitar country leanings of the previous two, Rogers’ band had a mostly maritime sound, a huge acoustic guitar-based sound driven by fiddle and complex harmony. He sang mostly epic ballads, about every traditionally Canadian tale or problem you could think of, from the early explorers to the failure of the fishing industry, the struggles of small farmers to the oil boom.

As my siblings and I got older and learned to use our own voices, we became enamoured with the Rankin Family, probably thanks to CBC. I think we felt some kindred with these five siblings (though they actually came from a family of 12). The Rankins have a very traditional ceilihd base, even occasionally singing in Gaelic, but managed to translate their sound in some cases to a pop-friendly format powerful enough to hit the Top 40 while I was in junior high. The high, clear maritime-Irish-accented vocals, combined with a fiddle that mourns and dances by turns, are the very definition of the term emotional roller coaster. I can barely listen to Fare Thee Well Love without crying, and singing some of those harmonies, especially on the line “in pauper’s glory my time I’ll bide” with my sisters, or even just with the recording, guarantees that my voice will break.

Before now, if you had asked me about the music I listened to growing up, I would have emphasized the hymns, Sunday School songs and contemporary Christian music, and how we weren’t allowed to listen to the music our friends listened to. I suppose it’s a little sad that it took the death of a legend for me to sit down and thoroughly appreciate the rich musical heritage I was fortunate to experience. If you’re interested, here’s a YouTube tour down my memory lane.

Wilf Carter – You Are My Sunshine

Russ Gurr – The Hurleyville Taxi

Stompin’ Tom Connors – Big Joe Mufferaw

Stan Rogers – The Idiot

The Rankins – Fare Thee Well Love

Others I didn’t mention, but that fit into the story:

Loreena McKennit – The Bonny Swans

Great Big Sea – Excursion ‘Round the Bay

16
Jan
13

Dream on

Last Monday night I was worried I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep. I was supposed to give a big presentation at work the next day, and it is not unusual for me to play through in my head all the morbid fantasies of what could go wrong in such a situation. But I went right to sleep – and I slept well. I rarely have dreams that I remember, and when I do, they are the disturbing stressful kind, where I spent the first few awake minutes afterwards still trying to hide the body or mend the relationship before I realize it was just a dream. But I woke up Tuesday morning remembering a dream that had none of those negative emotions or after-effects. All I remember from the dream is a sense of a person, a personality, and an image. The person is my mother. My mother has been dead for nearly thirteen years. The personality is something like me now, someone who has suddenly discovered herself and is learning to love herself, and take charge of her life. The image is a tattoo, an intricate, mostly geometric design, symmetrical on multiple axes, the kind of art my mother would have doodled while talking on the phone. I remember my mother as a woman characterized by worry and regret, resigned to her fate and fantasizing about what she wished her life had been. The woman in my dream, with that doodle on her bicep and a sense of satisfaction and determination about her is someone I like to think my mother could have become, given the opportunity, and maybe to some extent did start toward before she died. I keep remembering this dream. I can’t think of quite the right word to describe how it makes me feel. It has bits of satisfaction, joy, happiness, camaraderie, relief, and I seem to have lost the sense of resentment I felt toward her. She was just a person, with a lot of the same genes and brains and emotions and personality flaws as me. It is highly unlikely that, had she lived, she would have become the person in my dream, but the idea that the potential was there has had a significant impact on me.




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