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All We Have Here Is Sky 1 comment

“is it lasting?”
and in asking
the sphere becomes a line
a dotted line
and to follow it
you must make a jump each time

I’ve been quite effusive on Facebook of late about feeling “blessed”, almost to the point of absurdity. Sometimes I stumble through my day-to-day life, taking everything from my own footfalls to the air in my lungs to the structure of my life for granted. Then, I will be overcome by the enormity of the privilege I’ve been granted, through whatever miracles of DNA or circumstance or training or sheer shit luck, to live this life.

Here are some things that have struck me recently:

A Normal Day: I wake up.  All my limbs, organs and muscles work. My brain gets active. My emotional life stirs. I am hungry. I am thirsty. There is food and there is water. See? I open a tap, and clean – if somewhat bleachy – water appears in endless amounts.

Doesn’t that just knock you out when that happens? If it doesn’t, it should because there are more places than I’d care to mention – including right here in Canada – where access to clean, potable water is not taken for granted, at all. No, I’m not on LSD and no I’m not going to wax poetic about the beauty of water. But, seriously, consider that the majority of the population of the world cannot do this simple thing we take for granted, many times a day. It is a humbling and precious thing, our access to water.

My normal day includes coffee and most of the time it tastes exactly as I want it to.

There is always music in my normal day, sometimes background. Sometimes foreground. Always present.

There are people to talk with, laugh with and work with. I have things to do, things to be accountable for. I’m connected in that karmic web of offering of myself and receiving, integrating and synthesizing what others offer.

There are students to learn from.

I have my own home to return to at the end of the day, providing that I left it at all. Sometimes I don’t. Both circumstances, either leaving or staying, are precious. They suggest I have purpose out in the world, and purpose within my own world.

Health, food, water, shelter, people, connection, purpose. How lucky am I?

a dotted page
a dotted hillside
a blast of dots
a blind reader
a flock of sheep
a blast of trumpet shots

here – all we have here is sky
all the sky is is blue
all that blue is is one
more colour now

My Jobs: I have many jobs, it seems. A main one and a bunch of smaller projects on the go at any one time. All stretch me creatively, organizationally. Sometimes they stretch me emotionally.

It is true, I admit it, that I have not always been grateful for my main job. I take it back. 😉 It can be stimulating, allows huge amounts of latitude and freedom, and stretches me in often unexpected ways. It offers an unusual amount of security, which is a rare thing these days.

I’m grateful for my ever-growing network that seems to answer most needs, even quite unusual ones, with the flick of a few e-mails. Some days, I feel like I only need ask and whatever it is I’m trying to generate appears. Amazing.

Each day represents new opportunity in so many ways. How lucky am I?

a basket of apples
by the back door
beneath the sweater pegs
the autumn leaves
lift along the street
a pair of dancing legs

same as the vendor
who likes to sing
as loudly as he can
and all he says is
it suits me fine
that’s the way I am

Full Weekends: I flash back to a time when I was newly single in the Big City. Tough times. The break-up caused a schism in my normally dynamic social fabric. Many of the friends I had remaining were coupled themselves – weekends were their “couple” time. I could place activity in the weekday evenings, but the weekends often yawned before me, cavernous and terrifying in the depths of loneliness they could foster.

Now, my weekends need to be managed. So much to do that is self-care (groceries, errands, meal prep for the week, domestic chores), social (hockey, market, special occasions, casual get-togethers, home-cooked meals with friends, parties) and the occasional out-of-town guest. Sometimes, I need a weekend to recover from my weekend! How lucky am I?

here – all we have here is sky
all the sky is is blue
all that blue is is one
more colour now

I’ve seen this THING
you won’t believe
why it’s big – bigger
than the biggest trees
high as the mountains
wide as the widest skies
(and that’s both sides)
well – at least as big as me

Creativity & Communication: When I was in Grade 12, I was literally forced – by my best friend and my drama teacher simultaneously – to audition for the school play. I had taken a couple years of drama classes yet really didn’t feel very confident that I had anything to offer as a performer. Being hornswoggled into this role in a production of Shaw’s Arms and the Man was a turning point.

As it turns out, I’m less than adequate as a stage actor. But something about this experience started me on an increasingly conscious journey. Becoming more and more conscious of creativity and communication as powerful forces in my life, within me and around me. Both textual and subtextual. Dermis, not epidermis.

Here is what I’m really getting at: I could dig ditches for a living, or work as a short-order cook, or drive a bus. I could do those things and they are all useful and honourable ways to earn one’s keep. But, by some miracle, at some point, my creative output-generating brain kicked into gear and I can use it instead. How lucky am I?

speak a little softer
work a little louder
shoot less with more care
sing a little sweeter
and love a little longer
and soon you will be there

here – all we have here is sky
all the sky is is blue
all that blue is is one
more colour now

Today: It is January 20, 2009 and, along with millions and millions of others, I am so grateful a new steward is in place in the United States. Someone of integrity, vision, and with the ability to inspire and mobilize a willing public. His very existence breaks countless barriers. I am alive and conscious on this day, able to have at least a glimmer of understanding of how momenteous this shift is in America. How lucky am I?

these are some reasons
and same as the seasons
they hold and then they fly
the goatless ledge
‘neath the honkless geese
in the speckless sky
the speckless sky
I hear you
I hear you
I hear you

Root Cause Analysis Click Here To Comment!

One of the more enjoyable aspects of my teaching practice involves guiding students through the process of problem-solving. In particular, I'm the hard-ass (a quote from a former student) who demands that teams dig all the way down, sort out symptoms from actual causes, to define, in a single sentence, the actual problem that they are attempting to solve. The word "solution" is tossed around technology circles in a manner distinctly out of proportion with the word "problem". Without understanding the exact nature of the problem, most attempts at "solutions" are less than likely to succeed – a waste of resources, in my opinion. Problem-definition is a tedious and frustrating exercise, especially in a cross-cultural, cross-functional team environment. The reason I love teaching it is that when the light bulbs go on, and the analytical rigour pays off, each successful student has a tool they can apply to their own lives in any circumstance, to their workplace, to their relationships to an extent … even to themselves if they choose to go there.

As you can imagine, my students, the ones who actually show up, like me a whole lot better at the after-party than they do prior to the final exams.

I think it is telling that the student who called me a hard-ass did so over ice cream a few weeks after she graduated. She was looking for some guidance in finding employment and she seemed to know I'd be ok with this descriptor. She was right. Not so much of a hard-ass that I couldn't be approached to join her for ice cream, I guess. Apparently, I was also called "The Time-Keeper" which strikes me as being kind of benign, really, as name-calling goes.  I gather this is in reference to my penchant for giving teams specific lengths of time in which to complete tasks. "OK – here is this three paragraph case – each team has 15 minutes to read through, discuss, and respond to the two questions below … GO!"  Yeah, my classes sometimes have a sort of boot-camp-esque quality to them. At least I don't ask any student to "give me 20" if they don't complete the tasks on time. Honest.

Nonetheless, imagine my joy when I find that one of my key clients wants me to add a service level clause to an agreement that I am working on demanding that an external organization follow a recognized root cause analysis process when approaching problems. Rapture!

Recently, I've been hoist by my own petard on this issue of root cause analysis. Here is generic version of a conversation I have about three times a week:

Kind, Interested Person: So … what is the single biggest factor that has resulted in your successful weight loss?

Me: Well, I think the single most important thing I had to do was decide I was ready, that I really wanted it. After I really made that commitment, it was just a matter of finding the right "program" that would work for me.

So far, so good, right?

As I've thought about this, I realize I've been lying all this time. (Sorry.) For me, there is a deeper root cause than the decision and the commitment. Good critical analysis methodology will lead the questioner to ask "why" until there is an endpoint.

Why was I ready … what drives the commitment, the decision?

The flip response to this is that I'm doing it simply because I can. Not to prove that I can … but because I'm coming to a place in my life in which I am starting to banish my ghosts and fully appreciate what I'm capable of. This is roughly the same driver/motivator that got me into, through, and successfully out of, the MBA. I knew I could do it, so therefore I had to.

I'm so very incredibly lucky. I have a healthy body, cancer-free (so far), and otherwise disease-free. My mind is clear and strong. Physically, and in so many other ways, all the parts work. I fire on all cylinders, so to speak. I have a roof over my head, access excellent quality food, and an ability to prepare it properly. I get to drink clean water, right out of my tap if I like. I'm blessed in so many other ways … I have a lifetime of complex experiences that I've tried to learn from. I have had an excellent formal education. I have the pure, unadulterated luxury of time to enjoy excellent music that moves my mind and my heart, to indulge in culture, friends, extended family, lovers … I think of people who would give their right arm to have been granted the life I live right now. If I don't stretch myself, pour myself into my life fully, I feel as though I'm squandering this amazing opportunity, this outrageously blessed life I've been given to live.  If I am going to pour myself into my life, fully, I need to stay healthy, in all respects. To do otherwise feels vaguely irresponsible and wasteful.

There is another piece to the "because I can" motivator.  

We are, some of us, trained to disrespect ourselves, to de-value so many aspects of our lives, not believing our actions to be significant, important or impactful in any way. Like so many people, I received really mixed messages as a child. I was told by my mother that I could do anything, anything at all that I put my mind to. I would then be informed, forcefully, by my much older brothers, whom I worshiped and whose love and approval I sought constantly, that everything I did was worthless and unimportant. I fight this internal battle between these two competing forces all the time.  I will take some important step or reach some achievement, personally, professionally or spiritually, enjoy a moment of satisfaction – or, more often than not, eye-brow raising surprise – and then immediately dismiss it as being irrelevant. It is how I'm programmed. This makes it extremely difficult to really find satisfaction in the things that others, looking in from the outside, view as "successes".

I sense that I'm not alone in this kind of programming.

Henry Ford reportedly said, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you are right." Depending on where one places one's locus of control, this can either read as inspiring or threatening.  I've seen it both ways at different times in my life but, at the moment, I see a third element that I've missed until now. The actor/thinker grants themselves (or is granted) a great deal of power to decide, either way. So, I'm developing my own version of this philosophy. It goes something like this: If I think something is important and worthwhile, or if I think it isn't, I am right. No one else can decide this for me.

There are a series of things I'm trying to put in place in my life that will help me keep moving forward in a positive way. These things feel "important". Weight loss is only one of them, but it does seem to be the most visible. The point is, I get to choose the belief system that will support this part of my journey, and I'm choosing to believe that I can do this, and that it is important.

Some days, my self-talk veers dangerously close to some kind of mutant lesbian feminist Tony Robbins which can be a bit startling, especially as a visual. Thank goodness that, with the exception of this particular posting, I'm the only one who hears it.

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It is possible … 1 comment

for me to eat at my all-time favourite Indian restaurant, Trimurti, and not veer terribly radically off my diet. Which, for me, means entering the restaurant and not ordering anything deep-fried or resembling butter chicken in any way. My friend Angela is visiting from Ottawa for a few days and we ventured out late-ish. We had Tandoori Cauliflower which was dramatic, a whole head of cauliflower done in the tandoor, then served sizzling on a platter. Note to Self: ALWAYS take camera to restaurant. Also had Murgh Saag (Chicken / Spinach) and Lamb Dansak, rice, naan, riata. Awesome. First time I've been back since I started my new food plan. Basically, the carbs and sauces were no-nos for me, but I indulged. After all, I had just done my second circuit training workout.

I love the Gravitron machine. Very cool. I like how the fly machine makes my muscles feel, and the squats/lunges are vigorously challenging at the moment. The back extension is the thing I felt least able to do, but apparently am much more able to do than I thought. The worst for me, at the moment, are the leg raises. I can do 15 reps of everything but that. My abs are killing me. I play hockey this afternoon while Angela has lunch with her brother. That sound you hear on the ice will be my abs screaming.

Got an e-mail from M in Chicago that she is coming to stay on my couch in early May. Yay! My couch is getting quite booked this spring.

Work possibilities picking up … I'm in hurry up and wait mode on several things, which gives me time to work through more stuff on the BSP (Big Secret Project). Stay tuned …

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QotD: Makes Me Wonder… 1 comment

Which person from your past, whom you've lost touch with, do you wonder about the most? 
Submitted by ancora impara.

Inspired by karen

And I would say …

J (1): You and I were too young to understand. Me to understand my emotions, you to understand the sweet and good place they came from. I get that, it's ok. I apologize for the clumsiness of youth. If you thought about it, I think you'd see something you need to apologize for as well. As always, I wish you well.

J (2): I admired you so much. You were a natural leader and visionary at such a young age. I wish I had your energy around me now.

K from the (Ottawa) Valley: I'd like to know if you still have that cruel streak and how well it has, or has not, served you. You did make me laugh, though.

D (1): It was my choice to disconnect. I'm sorry. Your e-mails got too weird and maniacal. One of them prompted me to call in a panic to see if you were still alive and you acted like nothing at all was wrong. You seemed to have no idea why I was calling. You told me you were alone in the room, and I didn't hear anyone else, so it wasn't like you were trying to put on a cool exterior for others. Your e-mails indicated that you were going to have to leave with nothing but the shirt on your back and your boots on your feet and I was trying to give you a place to go, or to at least make an escape plan. So I had to stop reading those e-mails as I no longer trusted your sense of reality, or your motivation for using my e-mail address as a dumping ground for your paranoid fantasies. Were the in-laws really forcing you to put on rubber boots and wade through the dump to find scrap metal to sell? I thought you had a government job? I called a few more times, checking in, and always the same calm, slightly puzzled, response from you. "I'm fine – why are you worried?"When I wonder about you, I wonder about whether you were (or are) on meds that misfire, or if something in your wiring has just gone wrong, or if you really think my e-mail address was intended exclusively for your creative writing exercises. When I dream about you, I dream about singing. Just me and you and Simon and Garfunkel. Those were some of the sweetest moments and I treasure them. I'm sorry if I've let you down.

D (2): You are at my fingertips, even now. Up to you, buddy … forgiveness  and humility wouldn't be such a bad choice. There is warmth and friendship out there under the ruffled feathers, but you have to make a move.

J (3): I know that you understood, on some level, why I had to close the door on our time together. I had to close it very very firmly, knowing that any shaft of light would leave you lingering outside, waiting. And that wouldn't have been fair or right. So I didn't get to say that I really, deeply, enjoyed you.  I think of you often and hope you are well.

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