Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rubber Baby Buffer Dumpers

English: Flag of the city of Columbus, Ohio, U...Image via Wikipedia
Can you say "rubber baby buffer dumpers" ten times real fast?

It is not without reason that this blog has not been updated regularly for the last year. I apologize to all zero readers who have missed it.

Once a well-known author mused that the truly great authors, a group from which he excludes himself, seem unashamed about baring their souls. He said they write for God. So it is that I've had much on my mind of late, but have been reluctant to share it in a public place. I have been writing as much as ever—for God—but have been unwilling to publish.

Meanwhile, my mental buffers are as full as a hair-choked drain. How's that for a disturbing mixed metaphor? Now you know why I haven't been sharing stuff. It's time to dump just a few things so I can move on.

There have been changes to my once mundane but stable life. Persons who know me are aware that I moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Columbus, Ohio in mid-November, 2007. The overriding impetus that caused me to trade a happy life in my beloved Phoenix for Columbus was economic need; so I risked my future for one reason: to accept a promising job for which I had been recruited. The move was not the result of being driven by some irrational urge to live in Ohio, which thought had never crossed my mind.

Current economic conditions being what they are, that job lasted only sixteen months. As jobs go, while rewarding in some ways, and certainly challenging, in others it was a disappointment and not what I had hoped for. In my adult life I've held five primary jobs. In terms of satisfaction, benefits, and pleasure in doing, I cannot rate my most recent one as being among my top four favorites.

Nonetheless, here I am, still in Ohio. This in itself is not at all a bad thing. Ohio, and Columbus in particular, has rewarded me with experiences I would not have wanted to miss.

Inevitably, I'm impelled to make comparisons between life in Columbus and Phoenix, but have discerned that allowing the analysis to move me to conclude whether it has all been worth it is an exercise of little value to me or anyone else. Phoenix was then, Ohio is now and where my future will be, and there are good and bad points to both. Above all, it is my goal to remain where I am for the rest of my days in this life. Whether that is possible remains to be seen.

So hello to Columbus, with its river trails, Whetstone Park, Wexner Center, The Ohio State University, Franklin Park Conservatory, Bexley Library, Columbus Zoo, Germantown, Short North, and as yet untapped advantages. For better or worse, you now belong to me.
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Real Men Love Work

Author's Note: I wrote this piece in February 2002, but never got around to publishing it. It seems particularly appropriate in these times of economic crisis to do so now.

Some persons work for pleasure, others for money. It's a fact of today's life that most adults—men and women alike—must work outside their homes to earn money, whether they want to or not.

Some of what they take in pays for necessities such as food, clothing, housing, and transportation. If there is some left, a portion is put away for needs that are considered important, but not essential to immediate survival, such as education, or retirement. Inevitably, no matter how little a person makes, some portion goes for non-essential "frivolity": trips to the movies, dinner out, or a new video game for the kids.

Work itself is important, not merely the material benefits we recoup from doing it. Mankind is designed to carry on life in the context of an economy; in a Utopian sense we all work for each other's mutual benefit. To isolate oneself from human society, to live the life of the idle rich or the terminally lazy seems unnatural. Each of us is given a gift of life by our Creator, something none of us asked for. As soon as we are able, we are taught to be productive, to do things that ultimately benefit others, and that bring rewards in turn to the doer. In this way we all learn to validate the reason for our existence, proving ourselves worthy of the free gift.

Men, more so than women, tend to become preoccupied by their work outside the home. To many a man little is more important than the work he does for a living, regardless of whether he gets paid well for it, and in some cases, even if he is not getting paid at all. For such a man, his lifework becomes the mark of Who He Is, his legacy to be passed on to his family and posterity. It even becomes a label by which he is introduced to strangers: "This is Mr. Wiggenbottom, the CEO of Questionable Opportunities, Inc." "I'd like you to meet Dr. Wheezenhack, who is a history professor at Noaccount U." To be successful in work is considered by many to be successful in life, to be a successful man. To have the work taken away from a man is to have everything taken away: his identity, his purpose, and his life.

Many pursuits do not pay well. Aside from the need to make adequate provision for sustenance, making money is not the primary objective of many men. The idea is to make enough to allow one to continue doing the work he values.

Teachers who love to teach rarely do it for the money, because teachers usually make little—far less than good ones deserve. But they, like everyone else, have to make enough to live or find other jobs. Those who teach well speak of the satisfaction of influencing students for good. Others accept the lower pay because of the free time they have when school is out.

Most musicians I've known have found the satisfaction of making music sufficient all by itself. All they want is to continue doing it. If they can support themselves or even become rich without compromising their art, then all the better. But to become proficient in music requires time and effort, and these needs usually preclude the possibility of holding another job. If a musician skimps on this groundwork, he doesn't develop sufficiently to become an artist. Furthermore, playing musical instruments requires the development of extremely intricate motor skills, cultivated through constant, long practice from youth onward. If ignored for even a little while, these skills degenerate quickly, to the point they fall below a level that is useful for professional or artistic work.

Scientists, mathematicians, and creative artists become uncommonly absorbed by their work. Endless hours spent in deep intellectual isolation lead them to their keenest revelations, notions that may in turn be transformed into output: a theory, a proof, a drama, or a song. Such flashes rarely occur in a distracted state, or in a work span fraught with interruptions. Paul McCartney, one of the most publicly sought-after persons on the planet, said in an interview:
To be a songwriter, and to do my kind of work, you've got to be doing nothing. You've got to have a lot of time to yourself, which in most people's lingo is doing nothing. You're not working, you're not working out, you're just sort of sitting around. What a great job definition! Mine only requires a guitar and doing nothing. And I find that when I am doing nothing my favourite way of doing nothing is to make some music out of it. But you have to have some space for stuff to come into your brain. If you're sitting in the office all day thinking about business things it is not as conducive as having some time to yourself.
Today, few people have the luxury of circumstances that Paul McCartney has to be able to do such work.

A form of work above all others is the self-sacrificing sort that is required to serve our Creator with a whole heart. Many of my closest associates openly declare that the work of teaching Scriptural truths to others is of such surpassing value, with the highest possible yield in personal satisfaction, that even family heads with a need to provide for others in addition to themselves willingly put it ahead of all other forms of work, in some cases accepting even menial jobs by which to make their livings, in order to make sufficient time to pursue spiritual goals.

Regardless of the sort of work that we engage in, whether by choice or out of necessity, it remains true that work itself is noble, and that there is no shame in any job that needs doing, no matter how lowly.
All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going.—Ecclesiastes 9:10

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Life in Skool

Flixton Junior School. A good school is the st...Image via Wikipedia
Now that school is back in session I'm hearing stories from parents of school age children about meeting their kids' teachers.

News from the Land of Educationville is not good. Children of parents who neglect to take a personal hand in the education of their progeny have little hope for any sort of meaningful future, and may as well resign themselves to being ignorant and stupid the rest of their lives. The tragic irony with ignorant people is that they don't know they are ignorant, so rarely do anything to improve.

In 1994 we had an experience with a different twist from what we've been hearing. My wife and daughter and I attended a preview orientation for sixth graders going into junior high school. On that night we all happened to be wearing dress clothes. I wore a business suit, and Suzy and Cyra-Lea wore dresses. To their credit, most others in attendance at least remembered to wear underwear, over fifty percent of them on the inside. Judging from appearances, we were the only persons present who knew all the letters of the alphabet and could count above ten—except for the principal, who was exceptionally cool. The day our son graduated from grade school we dropped by his office to leave him a gift to show our gratitude for putting up so patiently with our recalcitrant genius: a fifth of whiskey.

At the orientation the very first potentate, a very large man who was probably a football lineman in school, got up and immediately began speaking exuberantly about discipline, running down the list of sanctions against rule infractions: detentions for this, suspensions for that, expulsions for certain forms of miscreant behavior, executions by hanging for still others. People were taking notes and asking, "Excuse me, but was that two days of detention for throwing a sandwich at a teacher and three for dumping a soft drink on his head, or the other way around?" They didn't realize there would be no quiz at the end.

This was not what we had come to hear.

When the time for questions finally arrived, our daughter, who was eleven years old, broke the ice with the first query, saying: "This was all fascinating, but could you tell us a little about the educational programs and opportunities that exist for students at the school?" The principal, who knew her, was laughing his butt off in the background, while the friendly Gestapo just stared at her with his mouth open. He couldn't give her a straight answer, and we left without one, other than his assurance that if she was as good a girl as she seemed to be and worked hard she'd make out just fine. She was and she did and she did.
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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Self Improvement

Alfred Korzybski, Polish philosopher and scien...Image via Wikipedia
One day in 1972, while browsing in a book store in Manhattan, I stumbled across a 246-page, cartoon filled self-help pocket book with the eyebrow-raising title How to Develop Your Thinking Ability—A guide to sound decisions by Kenneth S. Keyes, Jr., which I purchased on impulse for a whopping $2.45.

Given that the publisher is McGraw-Hill, and that the original copyright is 1950, I should have anticipated that the quality of the contents might be somewhat better than one of today's functional counterparts, which might bear a title such as Thinking Clearly—For Dummies, and present anything but; but I was quite unprepared for what I encountered.

Far from being a compilation of naïve aphorisms bolsterd by lame observations, the book is actually an introductory text to the topic of general semantics (not to be confused with the related but different field of plain old semantics), and comes with an Appendix showing how to teach children the Tools for Thinking, another labeled "For Further Study," listing bibliographic references to fifteen fundamental source texts on the topic of general semantics, and an Index. For a good overview of the topic see The Institute of General Semantics Web site.

After reading through the book quickly, I immediately returned to the beginning and read it again, making marginal notes. The experience was life changing, as it opened my eyes to a whole field of study with which I was previously unfamiliar, and at the same time immediately served to make me more open-minded and objective in how I relate to other people.

The simple tools for thinking as outlined by Mr. Keyes may be summarized as follows, as paraphrased loosely from the first Appendix:

  1. So Far As I Know: Our knowledge of every matter, no matter how deep, is incomplete, and is subject to amplification that could change our viewpoint.
  2. Up to a Point: There are very few absolutes in this universe.
  3. To Me: However convinced we may be of the rightness of our viewpoint, it is ours alone; all others have their own as well.
  4. The What Index: No two objects are ever absolutely identical, though similarities exist.
  5. The When Index: The same object will be different at different times. Temporal context is important.
  6. The Where Index: Environmental factors change reality.

As happens with newfound interests, I wanted to know more, whereupon I set out to explore more advanced literature on the topic of general semantics as listed in the Appendix.

This led me first to People in Quandaries: The Semantics of Personal Adjustment by Wendell Johnson, a speech pathologist who was himself a lifetime severe stutterer. I still remember a paragraph in which Dr. Johnson substituted the nonsense word "blab" for every word in a paragraph of Nazi propaganda extolling the virtues of the Fatherland whose meaning was undefinable—sort of like text typically produced by business marketing departments today. All that was left was articles, prepositions, conjunctions and auxiliary verbs, so it came out looking like:
The blab blab of blab blab in the blab blab blab blab will blab blab blab blab blab blab and blab blab through blab and blab blab.

Following that I read Language in Thought and Action by Samuel Hayakawa, an English professor who taught general semantics, and who was for one term a U.S. Senator from California, a work that I found quite readable.

Thereafter I was led to check out from the library Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics by Alfred Korzybski, an exceedingly arcane presentation that is generally considered to be the original foundation text on the topic. It didn't take me long to give up on this one, as it required considerably more background in mathematics than I have to understand. By this time my attention was being drawn toward other topics. It was sufficient for me to learn that the field of general semantics had an origin, that the field is one of true science, and that all roads lead from Korzybski.

The effect of this research was to cause me from that time onward to listen more carefully and analytically to what others write or say.
For who has despised the day of small things?
—Zechariah 4:10

Life is just one damned thing after another.
—Elbert Hubbard
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