Monday, May 31, 2010

Heart/Hagar Rock Sacramento

I started going to rock concerts in the late 70s. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, virtually every major tour made a stop at one of several large, local venues. Many of those bands have long since disbanded and, unfortunately, many of those musicians have since passed away. However, some have proved resilient and are still performing with the same intensity and passion they did more than 30 years ago.

Two of those bands, Heart and Sammy Hagar, graced the stage at Raley Field in West Sacramento Sunday night for a benefit concert culminating Hope Productions Foundation's Walk 'n Rock event. Although both groups have undergone personnel changes throughout the years, both have maintained a presence in the industry for the long haul. Neither are resurrections from some bygone era; both are still active and judging from the near capacity crowd Sunday night, both enjoy long-term fan loyalty.

Prior to headliner Sammy Hagar, Heart, featuring sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, took the stage. The opening number, "Fire," demonstrated the Wilson sisters' versatility with lead singer Ann Wilson on the flute and younger sister Nancy on guitar. The next four songs ("Heartless," "Never," "Straight On" and "These Dreams") were an anthology of Heart hits highlighting the band's breadth and laser-like precision. From Heart's soon to be released album, "Red Velvet Car," the band debuted two tracks, including the title track, before performing a version of "Alone" featuring only Nancy Wilson on acoustic guitar, keyboardist Debbie Shair and lead vocals from Ann Wilson. The set was rounded out with the powerful 1970s classics "Magic Man," "Crazy on You," and closed with "Barracuda." A two-song encore consisted of a cover of Led Zeppelin's "What Is and What Should Never Be" followed by the band's 1985 hit, "What About Love."

Although I am a journalist and a writer and I have "reviewed" various performances in the past, I am not in even the remotest sense a music critic or reviewer. I am a fan and have been for many years. My impression of both bands' performance is from that entirely personal perspective. The music quality is derived from two distinct but intersecting points of view: That of the music itself and the performance of it live. The Wilson sisters are consummate musicians and songwriters and the performance showcased their talents as both, but it is easy to write about the instruments played, the intricacy of the music and the mixing of the sounds. More difficult to relate is the connection made with the audience. This band knows why they do what they do and their appreciation is evident in the energy they bring to the live performance – even after more than 30 years. It is a not something that can be faked and the Wilson sisters made their audience feel like their performance was a personal effort to reach each and every individual who attended.

If it was possible to duplicate or surpass that audience connection and energy, Sammy Hagar was the man to do it. His 13-song set took him and his band right up to the 11 p.m. Raley Field curfew leaving no time for an encore. A video montage preceded the band's opening song, "There's Only One Way to Rock," which went right into "I Can't Drive 55." Hagar engaged his audience at every turn, encouraging those in attendance to sing along. The band followed with "Why Can't This Be Love" and "Three Lock Box" before breaking into a Led Zeppelin medley that hinged on the hit "Whole Lotta Love." At this point Hagar took a moment to recognize the purpose of the benefit and thank those in attendance for supporting Hope Foundations Productions, then fittingly performed the Van Halen mega-hit, "Right Now," with its message, an overtone of hope. Changing gears, Hagar launched into a string of three hits ("Space Station #5," "Rock Candy" and Bad Motor Scooter") from his first band, Montrose. Rounding out the set, Hagar performed "Best of Both Worlds," "Heavy Metal," "Mas Tequila" and concluded with a soulful version of the 1988 Van Halen hit "Finish What Ya Started."

While Heart entertained with high energy and a complex musical repertoire, Sammy Hagar's ability to intimately and personally connect with thousands of fans in a single moment is unsurpassed. Although musically his set consisted of more basic, perhaps more typically album oriented rock of the 70s and 80s, Hagar's passion for performing live remains undiminished since first seeing him live almost 30 years ago. A Sammy Hagar concert is and always has been more than just about the music. It is an event, an indelible experience that one will not soon forget. I remember that first Hagar concert in 1980 like it was yesterday and his performance Sunday night proves that old rock stars need not fade away - they can shine well into the night, even if the night has an 11 p.m. curfew.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Useless Education

I have heard many grumblings from students regarding, well, many things, but one complaint that is perpetually recurring is regarding the requirement that they take classes that they “will never need.” Although this view appears to be valid from the student’s perspective (I was once that student), it is only so because of youthful myopia and inexperience. The student usually has neither the vision nor the years to know what he or she will need in the future. To exacerbate this problem, the student also doesn’t know that he or she doesn’t know. When school is approached from the right perspective, when one is in it for the journey and the experience and the excitement of learning something new, it is not an issue. It only becomes a chore when one views it as such.

There is, however, some truth in what they say; there are some classes required that would probably hold no practical purpose later in life. The catch is knowing which classes they might be. I was a math whiz in high school, I was good at it and it was exciting for a while. I never stopped to think about what good it would do me in my later life because I didn’t care, it was fun. I cannot say the same for English or some of the social sciences, but here I am so many years later with a life that is heavily entrenched in just those areas. I knew how to read and write – learned it in grade school - what else did I need to know? Of course, I had no idea what the future held, but I thought I did. Today I rarely use any of the advance math I learned so many years ago and it is pretty clear that those other areas turned out to be anything but a waste of my time.

While I was an undergrad at California State University, Sacramento, I took an optional upper-division class while pursuing my government-journalism degree. Magazine writing was a fill-in class for me. I did not need it to fulfill the requirements for my degree, but I had room in my schedule, it sounded interesting, and… it was fun. I learned the particulars of magazine journalism, but I also learned (or re-learned) some valuable insight about myself. A large part of writing for magazines is that, unless one is actually employed by a magazine, it is largely a freelance endeavor. It involves writing query letters announcing story ideas to magazine editors and then waiting for a response. Freelancers have to be more than just good writers; they have to be good salespeople, we are selling ourselves. And it’s a lot like fishing, a sport I never really had the patience for.

As a full-time form of employment, freelancing can be daunting. Once established, a writer’s name can be all one needs to get regular writing gigs, but even then there is no guarantee. However, as an addition source of income, or in my case as a way to just do what I love for money, freelance magazine writing can be worthwhile. That is, the tools I learned in that magazine writing class – tools I have not used since taking it more than three years ago – are invaluable in the right here, right now. And since it’s not about the money, I can afford to have the patience and wait for a bite.

This summer, some friends and I are taking our Harleys on a 2,000-mile, seven state ride through some of the most magnificent terrain anywhere in the world. There is a story here that might be of interest to several different magazines, but of particular interest to those that cater to motorcyclists – and there are many. In addition to knowing a thing or two about putting words together, I also know my way around a camera and my trusty Canon 30D will definitely be along for the ride. I can offer not only the words, but also the pictures that will tell a story – a story that means more than just machines and scenery and more than just a summertime escape. It’s a story of people, of relationships and of camaraderie. It’s the kind of stuff I like to read and if the content of these magazines is any indication, I am not alone.

So what does this have to do with that magazine writing class? It is not so much about the writing, although there are nuances that are particular to magazine writing. And it’s not so much the personal insight I gained in that freelancing, as employment, is not for me. The class taught me how to go about getting the attention of the various editors and the formalities involved in submitting query letters, a term I knew nothing about prior to taking that class. There are procedures unique to the business and all of the many other journalism classes I took did not touch on these. And I did not know what I did not know.

Fortunately I had experienced an attitudinal shift long before enrolling in that class. School at that point in my life had taken on a much more global perspective. I was there to learn and all learning had become exciting. It still is. I learned that magazine writing was not going to be my bread-and-butter and I guess I surmised that what I learned would probably never be used again. And that was okay. As it turns out, however, there is a use for it after all. It’s not a necessary need – I could certainly go on this ride, take pictures and put it all right here in my blog. But I write for a number of reasons and one of them is to be read - getting a major magazine byline would be pretty nice way to get more readers... and a little money, too.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bigfoot

I love the Science Channel. When my television is on, it is usually tuned to the news, the Science Channel or one of its derivatives (Discovery, Bio, TLC, History, etc.). The quality of the programming is usually excellent as is the subject matter and the production quality. Usually. Like any other TV station, there are programming dead zones – time slots that don’t usually have a lot of viewers. When these occur in the wee hours, one can usually find (and avoid) infomercials or, as the cable guide terms them, “paid programming.” But when they occur during the day, I can only assume these slots are filled with what can be kindly referred to as “second tier” programming. And trust me, that is being kind. One such program is currently droning in the background as I putter around my office doing not much of anything today.

Update:
This documentary is apparently part of a series, Monster Quest, and this particular theme of Sasquatch is running throughout the entire day. It doesn't change the gist of this column, but in the spirit of editorial accuracy, there it is.

A word of warning: If you have any particular affinity for the notion that there exists a mythical creature known by such names as Sasquatch, Bigfoot and the like, please stop reading now. This will likely be offensive to those beliefs. If, however, you are among the many who profess a belief in this “creature,” but don’t really believe it or perhaps would like to believe it, but really can’t – it’s all just good fun – then read on, this is in the spirit of fun, but it will take place at the afore mentioned believers expense. Sorry, but y’all are funny. Ah, but it is probably too late, I have already offended. Might as well read on then, this could be educational.

There is no Bigfoot. I seriously doubt there ever was. The documentary currently airing on the History Channel is exploring the possibility of a “Bigfoot-like creature” in Ohio. It looks at eyewitness accounts, crude video and other very inconclusive evidence. Although this documentary does go through the counter arguments such as various hoaxes and the like, the fact that this is ostensibly a “serious” investigation that relies on self-proclaimed experts and the experiments these same experts have proposed gives Bigfoot’s very existence a degree of credibility. These experts even have terminology to give the impression that they know what they are talking about. “We have vocalization” is but one example that I can only assume means that this creature made a noise… and they heard it, evaluated it and concluded that this was a Bigfoot “talking.”

What has yet to be produced is any physical evidence of such a creature’s existence. There has never been a carcass (they do die, don’t they?), or waste material or any evidence of a dwelling that cannot be attributed to any other known animal. What we have are numerous, but easily explained sightings and a number of experts who are either seriously deluded or con artists. There are, however, some things that are known about Bigfoot. We know of several hoaxes - with varying degrees of success - that have been perpetrated over many, many years. We know of how the sightings have had lifelong effects on some of the individuals who have seen it. Real effects generated by false sightings are nothing new; the mind is a powerful thing. Also, a bandwagon effect exists such that as more sightings are reported, more sightings will be reported.

The bottom line is that there is probably little danger in this irrational fantasy that Bigfoot is real. Except for those who are maliciously taking money from those who are desperate to be the one who finally discovers this nonexistent creature, it is a rather harmless pursuit – and of course the words of Thomas Tusser come to mind regarding fools and their money… or P.T. Barnum’s more direct adage about how often suckers are born. The History Channel is apparently not above the fray. Perhaps this documentary is not intended to reach a wide viewership, but there is still money to be made. And that is the only thing real about Bigfoot.

Show Me the Money

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers. The union representing the controllers, PATCO, ordered the strike to get the controllers' workweek reduced to 32 hours, among other demands. Although public employees such as police officers, postal workers, etc., are prohibited from striking under federal law, these strikes in various incarnations still occur with little or no consequence. This time, however, the consequences were dire for both the union employees who refused to return to work and, to a lesser more temporary extent, the general public in the form of interrupted air travel. Important, but not indispensable, the air traffic controllers lost their gamble and were sent packing.

So what? That was 1981 - things were different then. Yes, but much remains the same. This idea of self-importance of various interest groups – trade unions and otherwise, is as much or more an act of self-interest than it is about the public interest. And before any individual member of one of these groups takes offense, let’s be clear that these are institutional, not personal attitudes. That is, individual teachers or prison guards, for example, are very likely to be in it not for the money but rather the service they are providing to society. But as an organization, these groups are almost entirely based in self-interest. It’s all very convenient; the individual can hold onto his or her personal ethos while vicariously pursuing self-interests in a detached manner, thus absolving oneself of individual responsibility for organizational self-interest.

Don’t get me wrong; I am hugely supportive of some professions (teaching being one of them, prison guards not) getting much better compensation. I am also in favor of any professional advancement through excellence. The combination of better pay and merit-based advancement will produce much better employees, but that is not how these organizations operate. They demand higher pay and benefits for every member – they have to do it that way to maintain the strength of numbers. And to do so, these interest groups portray their services, their departments and their status among other departments as indispensable. In California, with another multi-billion dollar deficit looming, nothing and no one is indispensable.

Each of these groups, however, claim they are. “You can’t cut us,” they exclaim, many citing valid and often compelling arguments as to why this is so. And maybe they are, but the money has to come from somewhere. At the institutional level these groups are largely sticking to their guns, making small concessions perhaps, but expecting the bulk of the budgetary relief to come from some other, less essential group. They are pointing the finger in some nondescript “somewhere else,” leaving it to someone else to magically make the money appear out of thin air. They don’t come out and say, “Take it from the prison system,” or “just raise taxes,” but they do say, “you can’t cut us.” They all do.

The lobbyists present the doom and gloom, the end of the world scenarios that range from real possibility to outright fantasy and they do it with impunity. They tacitly acknowledge the budget is in crisis, but point out how small their particular department’s percentage is in the overall picture, or they show how the money spent on their service is paid back tenfold in future savings. Or my personal favorite, "our money doesn't come from the general fund."

But the future is now. The money must come from somewhere and it is going to hurt everyone. I could argue for the necessity of every single one of this state’s social and public services - not the least of which is one that is personally near and dear to my heart, the publicly funded state university system – but we can’t continue to fund them all like the lobbyists that represent them demand. We simply can’t. The money has to come from somewhere.

Here is an L A Times column that pretty much says it all.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Quality

It’s always like this when the semester comes to a close. More pronounced at the end of spring than fall perhaps, but the feeling of relief, of pride in completing another segment of both my educational and career aspirations and of inching ever closer to that next big milestone equates to far more than just mere satisfaction. The day before yesterday, when asked by friends how I was doing, my response was, “Better than ever; I can’t remember when I’ve felt so good,” and I might have even let slip out, “Best day of my life.” And although it’s all true and accurate when placed in proper context, by that same context, yesterday was even better and today promises to be better still. To fully understand why this elation is so pronounced at this particular moment, it is important to take a step back to gain a broader perspective.

First, and probably most immediately, I have what I need. I have a roof over my head, a car, food in the fridge and I have enough to keep the electricity on and pay for the other essentials – not stuff that is necessary for survival in the broadest sense of the word, but arguably essential for survival in today’s industrialized West. Those and other similar goods and services are the tangible needs I have. I am not by any stretch of the imagination financially well-off, but I’m not starving either and though not all of my wants have been met, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I have much that I certainly do not need. I have these things do to fortune, grace and my own hard work - I do not discount the help I have received, but I must not minimize the work I have done either. Indeed, the grace and work seem to go nicely together.

But there are other things that we, as a species, as a society, as a people, also need. These are things that cannot be bought or sold – they are priceless not because they are so astronomically valuable like a Picasso or a Rembrandt, but because they literally cannot have a price. If one has enough money – everything material is for sale, if it’s not, it has value beyond its molecular appearance and therefore is priceless for other reasons. Reasons like love; friendship; loyalty; faith; and a host of other intangible elements that I would argue people need just as much as they need food and shelter. We need a purpose. I need a purpose.

The subtitle of the 25 Year Plan is Perspectives, Purpose and Opinion. When I titled it almost five years ago, I really didn’t know where that middle element in the subtitled came from. It just seemed to fit and although I knew at some level of consciousness that I was discovering a sense of purpose, I had no idea or any real intention of articulating it. The main title itself is laced with sarcasm in some respects and irony in others. There was no plan – it does not represent where I want to be in 25 years, it looks backwards and though a plan certainly was never formulated by me… well, let’s just say it’s funny how things work out.

Apparently there is a purpose, then. Some know much more about the many preceding years than I share here, and others can read between the lines. The point is rather simple, though, even if all one knows is what has appeared here for the past several years. It has to do with the journey. I am nowhere close to realizing my full potential; I don’t even know what it is. If I were asked five years ago where I would be in five years, I would have sold myself way short. The ancient Greeks believed that it takes an entire lifetime to reach eudemonia – a word that doesn’t easily translate, but it loosely means “happiness,” or “the good life” or “a fully formed (or informed) inner self.” It is a balance of reason and passion, the ability to wisely decide what the right thing to do in any given situation is. It is about knowing truth, beauty and goodness.

We are not robots. It takes more than food, shelter and comfort to be truly content with life. Indeed, many have found that elusive good life in decidedly bad times. This whole life thing is way bigger than me or anything I can imagine, but as it applies to the here and now – in this fluid moment between the future and the past, it seems that although I know not what it is in any specificity, I know that there is a reason, a purpose, a telos, and that the quality of life is a direct reflection in the success of fulfilling of that purpose. And today, qualitatively speaking, looks like it’s going to be even better than yesterday.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Freedom

I posted a Facebook status on Monday (primarily consisting of “done,” repeated many times) that was indicative of my relief to be finished with a major project for one of my classes this semester. It was a huge burden relieved and because I could, I took my Harley out for a short ride yesterday through some back roads in parts of Sacramento, El Dorado and Placer counties. I had no plan, no destination – I wasn’t going anywhere and in doing so, I was everywhere. I just rode. Although the heavy lifting this semester is largely over, I am not done yet. There is still some work to do on another class project and a fair amount of grading for my students left to complete, but yesterday I put all that out of my mind. It was my first truly stress-free day in many weeks.

It wasn’t as though I had nothing else to do yesterday. Indeed, there is always more to do, but there was nothing - for an entire day – that had to be done. While sitting in my office, staring at my computer, thinking about the several tasks left and their immanent deadlines, I heard something. It was not exactly audible, not that anyone else would have been able to hear it, but something was drawing me near, and away. What I heard was the smell of an unusually cool spring day, the feeling of wind on my face, the vision of mile upon mile of ribbons of asphalt twisting through the foothills, and I could hear the rumble of my motor. In a moment I heard it all. It was beckoning me. It could not have been more clear. My mind, after weeks of thinking, was finally clear enough to hear that primal call and there is no better place for listening than the open road. At once I knew what I had to do, five minutes later I was on the road letting my bike lead the way.

It wasn’t a particularly long ride, maybe a couple of hours, though I can’t really say. Time was not a worry. I don’t know how many miles I rode, either. I rode fast, but I did it slowly, I wasn’t going anywhere and I wasn’t in any hurry to get there. I have written about moments, small but indelible moments that one might find oneself in and realized all at once, “this is it.” And it was. I was free. I am free. And though we treasure our freedom in this nation, how many of us truly are? We are slaves to this and beholden to that. There are deadlines, stop signs, bed times and phone lines. Freedom, true freedom, is too often elusive - it comes in moments and those moments are absolutely necessary to make my life full.

That ride yesterday returned me to primordial sanity. It put all that I do into perspective. I gave myself back to my heart and allowed my mind to quiet – to rest for a little while and let my bike do the thinking. That ride yesterday saved my life. And it never fails. It’s important to listen with my heart to the sounds my ears cannot hear. Those sounds are sometimes so faint they are easily missed. And the moment is gone. That sense of true freedom comes in many forms. It might not be on a Harley; maybe it’s a long walk next to a cool running stream. It could come from the view of the Pacific Ocean from the bluffs high above the coast, the cold ocean wind stinging, waves crashing. Sometimes the pristine briskness of the snow-capped Sierras presents freedom at its freest.

It speaks in silent whispers.

Listen. Do you hear it?

It’s freedom.

Ride it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Motorcycle Enthusiasts

Those who know me also know that I love the feeling of the open road, the wind in my face and the rumble of 96 cubic inches of V-twin power beneath me. I am not, however, one to ride my motorcycle at every available opportunity - that is, I am decidedly not fond of commuting to work on my bike or running errands and I do not consider it some form of fuel efficient “green” transportation. But I do enjoy the journeys that take place for no other reason than the journey itself; I am always up for a ride to nowhere. The term “motorcycle enthusiast” gets thrown around a lot and to different people it has different connotations that vary from a cloaked reference to membership in an outlaw motorcycle club to simply someone who likes the idea of having a shiny (and barely ridden) motorcycle parked in the garage. Most of us, however, fall into the expansive middle area.

I have been riding off and on (for the past several years, mostly on) since my teens. Even before my first bike (a 1974 Honda CB550 “Four,” purchased used in 1981), the call of the open road captivated me. My current ride is a 2007 Harley Davidson FLHR “Road King” and its moniker is a truly accurate symbol of what it represents. Big, heavy, powerful and loud, this bike is more than a presence on the road; it is an event. Like most Harleys owners, I have modified mine to suit my style, but the engine is mostly stock. Mostly. Again, none of this is news to those who know me either in person of via this blog. And though this blog is many things, it is not, in a dedicated respect, a “motorcycle” blog any more than Robert M. Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a motorcycle book. But the parallels between my blog’s subtitle, Perspectives, Purpose and Opinion, and riding are at least tacitly apparent.

Although I don’t necessarily write to gain large numbers of readers or any sort of a “following,” it would be misleading to imply that do not I get some degree of satisfaction that my words are read by others. I have a couple of “hit counters” on this site and I do check my numbers occasionally, but I don’t release the data to anyone. I don’t have any advertisers and I am not selling anything – these numbers should, therefore, be of no interest to anyone but me. But the Internet being what it is, others are able to track traffic to my page through a variety of means - Technorati is probably the best known, but there are others. I received an email from one such site (Wikio) today that indicated my blog is ranked number 52 in its top 100 motorcycle blogs. I have know for some time that a motorcycle forum has my blog linked on its site, but I had no idea that this ongoing project was considered a “motorcycle blog” to the extent that it could be ranked at all, let alone in anyone’s top 100.

Of course I am honored. They offered a badge indicating my status within their ranking and it is now displayed at on my sidebar. Just to put this in perspective, this blog is ranked at number 22,363 when not categorized. I posted this ranking on my sidebar as well. Still, of all categories, why have I climbed so high in the motorcycle rankings? I rarely write about motorcycles or riding - I would estimate that only a small percentage of almost 500 posts are directly related to motorcycles. Could it be that those who share a love of the open road also relate to my perspectives, my purpose(s) or my opinions? Perhaps. Like Persig, I find more to motorcycles than the machine itself. When riding I find myself closer to something transcendent - more than most anything else I can do. To the extent that we as human beings are always seeking to grasp at something larger than we are, the freedom a motorcycle brings seems to resonate amongst those of us who share a culture, an attitude... a perspective. The vast diversity of my readers indicates that this is not unique to “motorcycle enthusiasts,” but it would appear that it is largely common to us.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Night Owls and Early Risers

I never quite understood the term “night owl.” Seems redundant. Aren’t owls largely nocturnal? Are not virtually all owls “night” owls? The colloquialism falls apart further when one considers that the term is typically applied not to those who work a graveyard or swing shift, i.e., those who actually are nocturnal by vocation, but rather to those who have a tendency to stay up late, but still go to bed at night and wake up in the morning (defined as before noon, when the numeric portion of the time is followed by “a.m.”). The term used for the opposite of a night owl is cursed by the perfectly descriptive and innocuous moniker of “early riser” or its contextually imprecise equivalent, “morning person” (morning defined in this case as the often still dark early morning hours). Regardless of how these idioms came to be, I have always been a “night owl” and although I often find myself rising early, I am not now nor have I ever been a morning person.

But here I am nonetheless, awakened in the predawn hours with no necessity to be up just yet. Although Tuesdays and Thursdays are my “early” days, I certainly do not have to be up before the sun rises – 4:30 in the morning is early even for an early riser. And rest assured (for lack of a better term), I was absolutely “night owling” it last night; because my normal bedtime is usually around the first morning hour, today I will be operating at a sleep deficit. But something was calling me – to write, to be present for something that just cannot wait – and I am awake to head that call. It happens this way from time to time and when I don’t fight it I usually come away with something more than just a few more hours in my day. I should be tired, but I’m not. I should be characteristically groggy, but I’m not. It should take two or three cups of coffee before my brain can function beyond the instinctive level, but I haven’t even ground the beans yet. It is quite obvious I need this time to do something in the predawn quiet that cannot be done once my world wakes up.

I never used to be available for these moments. In fact, I can recall occasionally waking before I needed to for some strange reason, but I never felt it was anything more than just a nightmare or some other profoundly real dream that stirred me from my rest. I never felt that I needed to do anything other than find my way back to sleep – sometimes successfully, others not so much. I never viewed it as an opportunity or a calling (from wherever, I am not here to debate or explain what the possible sources might be), and I am not usually all that happy about the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts at such an inconvenient hour. Couldn’t these urges to write adhere to normal business hours? However, there are times such as this one where my waking is so sudden and complete that there has got to be a reason…

In have been trying to make sense of the world for a very long time – since long before my quest led me back to school. Ever since I was a kid I found myself asking those “big” questions. As I grew older, I searched in vain in all the wrong places; I sometimes consciously tried to find answers to what I was all about, but more often I subconsciously stumbled through the world believing there was no way to ever know. In a sense I gave up and in giving up I gave up any reason to strive forward. And while it is still true that those questions are by definition unanswerable, the quest for satisfaction is, in and of itself, satisfying. Understanding does not come in a discrete moment in time – it occurs over a lifetime.

And so the journey continues. I suppose that some days require an early start. Today is Thursday, my “early” day. I have to be on campus by 9 a.m. because (most of) my students will be there waiting for me. Between now and then I have time to seek answers, to listen for the whispers that can only be heard when the world is dark and quiet. I was called to this moment – today I am present in it and for it. But some coffee sure wouldn’t hurt.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Small Strategic Errors

I started to write yesterday. After a little more than a paragraph and a half, I deleted it. It wasn’t because the writing was poor or because I was insufficiently inspired, rather, it was simply nothing of any substance. All it amounted to was whining, high-end whining, but whining all the same. I’m busy, I’m under extreme pressure, there is so little time, etc., etc., etc. Furthermore, this is nothing new; it happens twice a year and I have recounted it before. It was profound only once. I found that after about 250 words, I was sharing nothing new or even worthwhile. I’ll get through this, I always do – said it before. These are the problems that come with moving forward and succeeding – said it before. I signed up for this – and I said that before as well. While it is true that I have procrastinated less and persevered more this semester, this should come as no surprise to me or anyone who regularly ventures here - one would assume or at least hope that progress has been made in this area.

This morning, while finding the will to grade my students’ work, my mind began to drift a little. I was remembering certain seemingly unrelated events and placing them into some sort of “what if” context. Nothing big, mind you… not what if I had changed a major decision in my life. I was thinking of the minor everyday words spoken, actions taken and things that fall into a category of the often automatic or unconscious decisions that are made hundreds of times every day. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have a “strategy.” The things we do or say conform to a world-view that evolves with the passing of each moment and these decisions are designed, at some level, to produce an expected or desired outcome. There are the big-picture plans and goals the likes of which I am currently embroiled in, but there are also the little things that are often not so little at all.

We are a species that thrives on community. Without each other, we are nothing. Our greatest evolutionary leap – the ability to communicate symbolically – by definition cannot happen in isolation. We need each other. All communication involves a strategy. And if a strategy exists, so do strategic errors. Although it is rather easy to identify the larger blunders, the small strategic errors are far more difficult to assess. They could go either way; the consequences might not manifest immediately or even at all in anything more than a perceived relational shift. There is rarely anything concrete to indicate what went wrong… but something did. Things do not go as planned and though it could be just the way things are, it could also be a small strategic error. The evidence for this phenomenon can best be found in the old axiom, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

I have some very public goals. I also have a number of private aspirations. Each is important and each requires an approach that does not compromise who I am. However, the way I present this person can radically alter the way he is perceived by others. That requires a communication strategy and it is one that can never be perfected. There are simply too many variables. But it takes more than just the knowledge that I am a good person and allowing fate or faith to guide the rest. If I cannot be open to the fact that, in my exuberance, I have erred - that I have failed to make the connections or to form relationships that I desire, then I am destined to repeat those errors. Any successful strategy must be fluid. Major strategic errors are much easier to identify and correct – or at least mitigate. But these small strategic errors are not and, furthermore, they are often only perceptive... rarely conclusive. But to discount their existence would constitute a strategy that is destined to fail.