never hesitate

I’m 4 years old and I’ve just been put in front of a thousand pound horse and I can’t wait to get on.  Five minutes later the horse slips in a gopher hole and rolls over me, nearly crushing me to death.  Let me try again.

I’m 22 and alone in the Colorado mountains.  I’m standing in front of a raging mountain stream that I have to cross to do an environmental report.  30 seconds later I’m being washed downstream banging against rocks.  I crawl out of the water and crawl to the road where some rangers find me and take me to the local hospital for cuts and a sprained ankle.  Two days later I’m packed and ready to head back into the woods.

I’m 27 and I’m wandering round a “bad place”.  Montrose was a no-go zone for suburban kids back in the 80s.  Where pimps and junkies would just as soon cut your throat as look at you.  Why go inside the loop when you have everything you need in the ‘burbs?  But by the mid 90s I’m hearing things out in the Richmond strip.  Stories about some clubs and restaurants inside the loop.  Around Montrose and Washington avenue.  So I lock my doors, roll up the windows and drive into the city in my Gold colored Saturn and drive round.  Still plenty of tattoo parlors but no drug dealers or junkies, no roving gangs.  Some of the boarded up brick houses are being renovated.  Just then a rock comes flying from out of the dark and dents the passenger side door.  I floor it and end up lost for the next hour till I stumble onto loop 610 and find my way home. For the next few years I would slowly begin exploring the inner loop one street at a time.

I’m 44 and standing in an overgrown wind tunnel about to try indoor skydiving.  The instructor warns me to be careful and not smash my face against the side of the tunnel.  Nothing happened.  I had a good time. Not all my adventures wind up as disasters.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t just automatically walk into dangerous situations just for the hell of it.  I’m not blind to the possible dangers.  I have hesitated at times before embarking on something new or potentially dangerous.

But overall I never find that hesitation is all that worthwhile.  For the most part I find hesitation in any part of my life has done me more harm than good and being bold has for the most part paid off.

I’ve hesitated about opportunities in life, about business decisions, about personal decisions and rarely has it paid off. You totally should hesitate when you find yourself in a totally unknown situation but if you find that you hesitate because of an imagined danger or what you think might or might not happens then I would strongly urge you to put aside that fear and try.

At the very least you’ll come out with a treasure trove of interesting stories.

The grain

We will believe what we want to believe and doubt what we want to doubt and most of the time there is nothing that can be done about it.

Once a person develops an opinion or idea about a subject then it becomes nearly impossible to dislodge.  I’ve found this to be true more often than not in the sales arena.  A client will have some preconceived notion about a product or service and my job has just become that much more difficult.  A good argument for always making the best first impression.

But is there an argument to be made for being more skeptical and allowing ourselves the freedom to doubt even though it might be easier and certainly less time-consuming to blindly go with our first impression?

Why do we even go with our first impression anyways?  Usually it’s to do with experience.  Our mind goes through examples from our memories and compares it to the present situation and comes up with the closest or most relevant scenario and how that turned out.  An opinion is born.

Early on in life this will usually turn out to be wrong as we don’t have that much experience to draw on.  We add in new experiences over time and as we age that “gut instinct” gets better and better all the time but sometimes it’s still wrong.

Not just a little but totally wrong and that’s when we have to step back and realize that we needed to do some analysis on the situation before rendering judgment.

But how do we develop and engender that skeptical voice in our head without becoming paralyzed with indecision?  I think it’s mainly a matter of putting more thought into everything that we do.  We tend to run on “auto pilot” throughout a lot of our day.  We save the analysis and introspection for the “important” things in life.

Granted there are mundane and thoughtless part of our existence.  For me it’s little decisions like what to eat for lunch or what to wear and I save the analytics for what I consider the worthwhile things like thinking about projects or writing proposals or even writing this blog.

In between is the gray area where that “grain of salt” should be.  Being introduced to a new person or reviewing a phone conversation or digesting a news article.

Think about what was presented to you.  Was it fact or merely opinion dressed up as fact?  Is it a matter of cold and unblinking data or is it a matter of belief and preference?

Not everything is at it seems.  The wise man learns to question.

One last note about skepticism.  It is not cynicism.  Cynicism has a very variable definition depending on who you ask and how it is used but lately I find cynicism in society to be a negative force.  An expression and distrust and frustration of other people and their idealized motives.  I admit that I get very cynical at times about some people’s faith in government as others get cynical about things like religion.

But do we ever really sit down and think that maybe the other person is genuinely motivated and enthusiastic about their ideals and is merely trying to live up to what they believe is right?  Should we be more skeptical about our own cynicism?

passion for life

It is a bit of a mystery to me as to why a little country like Chile can produce such damn good poets.  Perhaps the soil? The climate? The location?  Certainly the educational system in the early part of the last century helped quite a bit.  At one time the Chilean educational system was the envy of Latin America.  Sadly it has decayed over the last few decades.

Names Like Mistral, Neruda, and Parra are known outside of the Spanish-speaking world for delivering deep sentiments wrapped in lyrical formats that speak not just to the inner recesses of the human soul but to the more superficial and conscious mind.

Below I have translated three poems.  I could have chosen to look these up on the internet and just copied them directly but I felt that I had to express what these poems meant to me personally.  Maybe I misinterpreted these poems or maybe my translation skills aren’t what I think them to be.  So I will add a caveat here.  The words belong to the poets, the mistakes belong to me.

The first two poems are by the poet/singer Tito Fernandez.  Fernandez came out of the “New Chilean Song” tradition in the 70s. After the military coup of 1973 he began writing songs and poems trying to explain to the world the realities of the Chilean condition.  His work is an interwoven mix of spoken word songs and poems.  They are best appreciated in person where you can feel the passion in his voice.

The last poem is by Pablo Neruda.  From a very young age he was intensely devoted to writing poetry and in describing the human conditions through his poems.  Later in life he became very involved in socialist politics and had several appointments as ambassador around the world.  He died from cancer shortly after the coup.



Chile” – Tito Fernandez

Chile begins somewhere.  Anywhere.
Perhaps in that place where you once stopped one day
and thought to yourself how wonderful it would be
to stay there forever.

That’s where Chile begins.  Where the land sings.
Perhaps in Melipeuco? or Pitrufquen?
in Rio Claro?  Sure, why not.  In Rio Claro
where the land sings and the bread wakes up each day
hot and fresh.

Rio Claro is a large fiesta
on both sides of the river
it is a brother of Pencahue
and neighbor of Talca, its half cousin.

Everybody is family in Rio Claro
and those that aren’t family are friends.
Everybody shares the bounty of the land
and sings about the sons that work the fields.

The great festival of the year in Rio Claro
begins on this side of the river
or the other. It’s all the same and
everywhere there is happiness and singing
and my heart knows it’s true and sings:

love of my loves
I’m leaving this life singing…

And we begin this road
over this generous land,
and we are filled with a happiness
that slept within us until now.

Every dawn with its bird singing.
Every poet with his idea of love.
Every heart with its drop of blood.
Every man with his woman sleeping next to him.
Every child with a skinned knee.
Every Christ with a light at his side.

This generous land, it belongs to me
and you, and to whoever walks it.

Where to begin?
in Puerto Octay?
in Salamanca?
Why not?

A golden afternoon in Salamanca
is an unforgettable memory of Summer.
Where a ripe lemon or an orange
tastes better than any other place.

Where a wall gives you shade for your siesta
and you bite into a juicy apple.
Where you pick a bunch of grapes
and dreaming of paradise you slowly devour them.

Where the great house of the old widow
who once owned all this land
in a second will dispel any doubts
about the past and origin of this town.

Nevertheless, while passing that house,
where today a factory stands,
the old Salamanca widow will appear
like a phantom summoned from nothingness.

The road and the song.
The song and the road.

One day I decided to sing to the earth
and found that almost all the song begins there.

First as a seed, then a flower
later the fruit, juicy and miraculous
and under it all, the seed, and the land,
are the humble hands of my people singing.

The plow that breaks hope.
The hand that scatters the seeds.
The hawk that pecks at the worm and makes it dance
and my untiring dog chasing hares in the fields.

That’s how the song is born in the earth
any afternoon at work
any morning almost night, lying next to you
and any early evening
listening to the grandfather’s story and resting.

One day I discovered that the song rehashed and cooked in its own ashes
tastes better than any other song
and that the cleanest of smiles
is from a shucked ear of corn

So I decided to begin my
trembling road that morning
when a small sparrow chick was born in my hands just out of the shell.
In my hands it chirped and it warmed me.

And so we were both born with one destiny.
Without a sword or lance or shield.
A small sparrow chick just born
and a poet singer almost naked.

what an immense and tiny treasure
from this adolescent and generous land.
A sparrow chick, almost defenseless
and a guitar that sings lonely and sad songs.

Nevertheless somehow we must begin.
The important part of anything is the beginning.
The sum of the parts is greater than the whole
and this is just the first of a thousand verses.

There is a dark blue in the sky
and I would like to paint it in my notebook.
But I can’t paint and it doesn’t matter.
Somewhere out there is a poet-painter
and he will put that dark blue where I want it.

And it’s all the same.
The singer and the painter.
The heart and the road
from word to word.

It’s dawn in the north and the light peeks out.
It shines over the hills.
You can hear the cooing of the doves
inverted in the rocks by the wind.

Solitude is the mistress of silence
of the little bit of blue, of the wind,
of the shadow of the old prospector
who walks with his burro into nothingness.

There is a little grain of sadness in everything
that can be pondered and almost touched.
It results in painful truths
such as this morning in this dusty desert plain.

A town.  There ahead of us
always towards the Sun, Huara,
and a song born in the shadows of its walls.

near Huara, I don’t know if its north or south.
So hard to orient oneself in this flat plain.
You can see dusty towns
that rise up to the sun like phantoms

Ghost towns without even a child.
They have been there since time immemorial.
They are miraculous to the sleepy eye
of a traveler from some big city.

Did someone live behind that dried up wall?
Did someone sleep here under the stars?
Was a race born here? Or died in child-birth?
Drowned by the salt that they call earth here.

The questions linger but there are no answers.
Somewhere the story is written down.
Meanwhile they pose and pose in the market square,
taking the stupid photos of the tourists.

Near Huara. I don’t know whether north or south.
So hard to orient oneself in this desert,
there are lonely crosses showing
that indeed someone did live here once

The salt plains:
Coya sur,
Tocopilla port,
Maria Elena, named after a woman
Humberstone, museum of iron, rust and time
Pedro de Valdivia

Offices is what they call
the towns in the northern desert plains.
Offices through which I have passed
curious to know so many secrets.

Silicosis, the disease that attacks
the mining men of the salt flats.
Silicosis, from which there is no escape
not even in the dreams that we left one day.

Mule, is what they call the engine
that pull the ore carts to the grinding mill.
Where the giants rip and tear apart
the past and present of the children.

In Pedro de Valdivia proper
there is a poem that says:
in Pedro de Valdivia, miracles,
are what we call the miners of the plains

Chile begins somewhere
and it is flat next to the sea.
But from there rises to the blue
from ridge to ridge.

Climbing from Arica to the east
you can know the high plains.
Where live the different Chileans
that dress and talk like Bolivians.

It’s a long and difficult road.
There is a train that takes most of the day
to take us to our destination
on the border very far away.

From sea level like a fly,
the train sticks to the tracks.
I will try to describe some things
so as to not waste the trip.

We begin the climb in Lluta,
the green valley of which so many speak of.
Every turn taking us higher
and the valley farther behind us.

Quebrada honda, and we stop a moment
a Llama comes near my window and examines me.
Doesn’t appear to like what it sees, spits and retires.

Pampa ossa, and some houses.
The puna is bothering my head.
These 3700 meters I have climbed
as if tied up and forced.

Villa industrial and then Chislluma.
How many more kilometers more of
abyss, rocks, mountains, and puna.

General Lagos, 4300 meters and we arrive in Visviri.
I feel the coldest wind in my life.
One more step and here ends Chile.
One more step and we’re in Bolivia.

This mountain range called the Andes.
The backbone of our America.
Somewhere these mountains begin
and they end in Patagonia
with their tips worn away by the wind.

Between sea and plains without frontiers
we find Punta Delgada.
The extreme end of the Andes.
Farther away is nothing.

We arrive at night and its a shame.
We can’t see the town.
We can’t analyze what they are thinking.
The wind carries it all away.

All I know is that there is oil and more oil
carried by an endless pipeline
that we just joined in San Gregorio
and accompanied us all afternoon.

Between sea and plains without frontiers
we find Punta delgada.
The extreme end of the Andes.
Farther away is nothing.

The road sings about the love that never ends.
In the straits of Magellan I thought to myself:
‘The world ends on the other side’
And that thought frightened me
and I soon felt very weary.

There on the other side
a bonfire told me of things past,
and I did not understand this bonfire
nor what I would find there.

In the straits of Magellan I thought
‘I have ten minutes left of life’
and I confess I was terrorized
by the idea of crossing to the other side.

Posesion, Manantiales, Puerto Percy,
and Cerro Sombrero.  All snow-covered.
There is a century of life against the sky
on the Patagonian plains.  Men and silence.

A worker approaches me.  He has been looking for me
and he shakes my hand in respect.
“Welcome!” he says excitedly
and I feel small in front of this gesture.

Goodbye silence!
Welcome time of singing
Goodbye silence!
Welcome time of singing

Love of my loves
this land is mine
this land is mine

From Puerto Montt it’s one more step to Chiloe.
The big island of men, fish, and boats.
One cant paint Chiloe
nor sing of it here on the continent.

You have to be there on some canal
where you lost your love that will never return.

The song and the road,
the road and the song.

Chile has a sadness
and a hope of songs without end
tomorrow perhaps…
tomorrow perhaps…
tomorrow perhaps..


Couplets from some Woman – tito fernandez


This couplet I sing today
was given to me by a woman
from Antofagasta north,
I think it was.

And since the couplet has
life and vibrancy, gentlemen.
I thought you should hear it.
At least the singers out there

Last night I heard you sing
about what was in my blood.
I watched you quietly
and applauded like the devil.

I am one of those many women
that pass through life
fighting every moment
like a wounded lioness.

I have never been ashamed
of standing in front of an artist
and telling them “Thank you
for knowing who to sing to”

There is a need here
for more voices that make you jump and dance
and break up that road
going nowhere.

Last night I saw you my friend
and almost silently
two tear drops
rolled down my cheek.

Who am I? A teacher
full of love and passion.
Love, for the little child
trying to learn his words.

I survive my friend because
I leave every morning
and say “Today I will see that little boy
with the pale face
or that little girl with the scared hands
or that young mother who seems more
like a ghost than alive.”

I survive my friend
because I am a teacher at heart
with my feet firmly on the ground and
my head raised high.

When some kids come
and chat with me
I tell them “Sing to the land.
Leave all your foolishness behind,
come and sing with the guitar and leave
the posturing to roosters without spurs.”

I am not a teacher that puts
up with lies to my face.
I am surrounded by kids

In between cursing and playing,
I am the mistress of my class.
Both mother and father.
No one yells at me!
And so I am respected

A pair of girls I have
know every escapade
and get me through life with
anger and smiles.

Fuck it’s hard to be alone
and put up a fight every day!

But from my old man
I got what I needed.
If you face life head on
you need never fear it.

From my mother I learned
how women left alone
fight for their homes
and keep them from falling apart.

From having many things
I went to having almost nothing.
Barely an old bed,
barely a couple of blankets.

But I have a pair of daughters
that refresh my soul
and sweeten my life
every once in a while.

Lovers? Sure. Once in a while.
But I have to keep going and
open new windows for myself.

By night I write poems.
By day I invent dances.
And I work at this school
earning almost nothing.

I am a teacher
“the surly cop” they call me.
Who dances with 30 devils
on Saturday night to songs
that come from the land.

Little kids, six, ten, twelve
fifteen and even eighteen
year-olds keep me company
breaking the night like a clear star.

Everything is hard for us.
I am the old lady that commands,
that yells out a curse,
or soothes with words

The one that cares for her kids
as if their thirty little faces
were thirty apparitions
that cost me my soul.

Here in the north life
starts each morning with
verses I write, dances, lessons
life, and love.

Last night I heard you sing, my friend.
Sower of hope.
How many seeds did you sow last night
along with tears?

I know you my friend.
Poet of the dawn.
To hell with heartache
if someone sings like you!

Until you return my friend.
I am sure it will be tomorrow
Even though it will be another voice
or another face.

I will tell the seagulls your words
and you will see how beautiful
they sound on their wings.

This couplet I have sung
lacks a few verses
that I have kept for myself
for reasons that only I understand.



“20” – Pablo Neruda

This night I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example,”The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.”

The night wind sweeps through the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

On nights like this I held her in my arms
and kissed her again and again under an infinite sky.

She loved me and sometimes I loved her too.
How could you not have loved her great blue eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night made even more immense without her.
And the verse falls over my soul like morning dew falls over the grass.

What matters is that my love could not hold her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone sings. In the distance.
My soul is not happy that I have lost her.

My eyes search for her as though that will bring her back.
My heart searches for her, and she is not with me.

The same night that whitens the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but oh how I once loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her ears.

Another’s. She will be another’s. Like she was before my kisses.
Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I do love her.
Love is so short and forgetting takes so long.

Because on nights like this one I once held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that I have lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.


Bad news can get you down.

Sometimes it seems that nothing that you do is right or that you can’t get anything to go your way.  Happens to the best of us.

The average person wouldn’t believe that successful people have bad days.  I mean you look at people who you consider to be winners and everything always seems to come easy to them.  They never seem to have a reverse or a tough time doing anything and no matter how their day is going they can always muster up an award-winning smile.

And it’s all BS.

Everybody has bad days.  The most successful of people out there have horrendous days.  When you do great things you risk great failures.  That’s just how things go.  Bigger the reward, the bigger the possible pratfall.

So what makes them all that different?  Well firstly, they hide it better.  They see no advantage in letting others see their pain or weakness and they mask it all in smiles and confidence.  For the most part they’re correct of course.  Sometimes they need to share but for the most part if they’re leading people or trying to do something great then there’s no point in showing the pain.

But their really big secret is that they stick to it.  One day, two days, a couple of weeks of bad luck won’t get them down.  They keep going.  They have faith in their abilities to come out on top when all is said and done.

Sometimes they have nothing to base this on and yet they keep on going.

In this life you will see times when even your biggest supporters, your most fundamental building blocks, and what you think are your most essential strengths will either fail you or desert you in your time of need.  You will have nothing tangible backing you.

Faith however will see you through.  You could base your faith in religion, on facts, or on self-confidence.

You could hope without proof that a deity or destiny or some sort universal consciousness is guiding your progress.  You could choose to believe in your experience, your intelligence, or your strength to see you through.  You could have a plan and choose to believe that no matter what happens that if you stick to the plan that things will work out in the end.

If it is true that faith can keep you going when nothing else will then so too can despair bring about your misfortune and dissolution.  Too many times you see those that succeed in life lose themselves because they stopped believing.

No matter what you base that faith on you need it to see you through the toughest of times.

Fine with it for now

“There’s someone for everyone”

No there really isn’t.

I mean it’s a nice thought and all but just going by the raw numbers it’s a fallacy.  Numerically, there are more men in the world than women. A gender distribution of 50.4% male to 49.6% female or a deficit of nearly 60 million women.

That’s just simple numbers.  Then you figure in a host of other factors such as age, geographic distribution, preference factors, and others inputs and the facts can really get you down.  Finding a “someone” is a bit of a challenge for the average person.

Bars, Clubs, Groups, book clubs, or whatever?  I have a wide array of acquaintances but few friends and those few friends I cultivate over a long time.  You can imagine how long it takes for me to decide that someone is special.  Usually by then it’s too late.

You may ask “Can’t technology and the modern information era help?”

I’ve tried online dating and for the most part it’s been less than satisfactory.  For all the technology, the search philosophies, and the paid services that they advertise, they are essentially all the same.  Additionally, some deliberately skew results based on arbitrary factors.

Years ago I ran across this little gem of a video.

Basically the idea behind the video is that you could carefully use data, statistical analysis, and market research to find that person that you would want to spend your time with.

I liked part of the idea.  Using data and statistics to see how many women there are in the greater Houston area that I might want to date.  I put together a list of criteria fitting my own requirements, I then looked up some demographic information for the Houston area and ran the numbers.  The results weren’t all that encouraging.

In a population of 1,045,000 women in the Houston area (2012 numbers) there were about 88 women that fit the criteria.  I looked back through the criteria to see if I was being unreasonably picky.  Some of the criteria:  single, age between 36 and 45, college educated, relatively healthy, and attractive to me which I set at about 10%. I fiddled with the population size to include the surrounding communities and loosened up the tolerances but I never got over 513.  No, not a scientific survey but it did give me some scope to the problem.

Searching for 513 (not to mention 88) women in a population of over a million and spread out over a 600 square mile area didn’t really seem like a doable task.  A lot of knocking on doors and a lot of slapped faces.

But I mean even setting this aside.  Supposing I find “the one”, the other part of the equation remains as an open question.  Does “the one” like me?

That’s the part that always trips you up.  Basically you have to run one set of equations on one side and the other person has to run the same equation and both have to hope that the numbers match up.  Makes you wonder how people manage to hook up at all and also makes you think that maybe there’s a good reason why so many marriages end up in divorce.

But does this mean that I should just despair; just throw my hands up and quit looking?

No and yes.

Firstly, no.  I am not throwing up my hands in despair and quitting.  That’s just not me.  I may quit for other reasons but never for despair.  Long ago I once found love.  It didn’t last but I’ve kept on trying ever since.

Secondly, yes.  I am getting older and the biological imperative to find “someone” to procreate just isn’t as pressing anymore.  I have several nieces and nephews already and for the most part the trend among people in my generation is towards smaller or no families at all.

Also, looking through some of the demographic data from the US census, the trend for older Americans to be single or to live alone, has been increasing since the ’90s.  So I am not alone in this.

So will I keep looking?  Sure.  I will continue to look for that one woman who I can share adventures with, or live quietly with on a day-to-day basis, or just hold close. Someone that feels like my partner or co-conspirator in our escapades.

I think though that I might step back from the process for a while.  Watch and wait for a bit.  Work on myself and make my side of the equation a little more attractive.

I once wrote that one of my biggest fears was growing old alone.  I hope that will not be the case. But I need to be prepared in case that turns out to be my future.

For now I’m fine with where I am at.

The appeal of the stage

I have to say that on the whole I admire actors.  Being able to pull off a performance as they do.  Not just reciting lines but moving to specific places on stage, affecting moods to transmit mood.  Being able to do it over and over on command for several performances and then forgetting it all and moving on to the next production.  It’s quite a skill.

But I think I admire the plays more.  It takes talent to adapt something written on paper and to imagine how you would portray a particular sentiment so that an audience would understand your meaning is a feat.

Miller outdoor theater in Hermann Park

Miller outdoor theater in Hermann Park

It takes a particular type of writer to pull it off.  The act of adapting a story can be somewhat arduous .  In some cases it can prove to be impossible.  Some writer’s styles (Lovecraft for example), some media (some comic books) don’t easily lend themselves to be turned into plays or movies.

So what is the appeal of going to see a live play?  I think when it’s done properly and you have a good script and talented actors that it’s not so much a recitation of the author’s words as much as it is a peek into someone else’s life.  You forget that you’re in a theater surrounded by strangers and the story begins to be transmitted straight into your mind.  You can get involved in this other world for an hour or two and see a conflict evolve to its final climax and resolution.

One thing I never understood about public school is when they would take classic plays and force the kids to recite the plays in class.  It was a ridiculous chore and I could tell most of the kids hated it.  The teachers did it because it was mandated but even they had no real appetite for the material.  The old English text didn’t make much sense to the kids.  The words were dead. I remember at one point a kid had recited a joke in “As you like it” and the professor had to explain that it was a joke.

Instead they should have taken the class on a field trip to see real professionals put life and passion into the words.  Let kids see the anger and confusion in Hamlet, hear Macbeth and his inner turmoil over killing his king, laugh along at some of the jokes in midsummer’s night dream.  That’s how these pieces were meant to be received.

I don’t get to go as often as I like but when I do I find that we have so many options in Houston that you can really find a wide variety of pieces ranging from light comedies to heavy and thought-provoking pieces.  I always feel that it’s time well spent.

Planning for failure

We don’t go through life planning to fail.

Those old 1980s anti-drug ads are partly correct.  No one grows up hoping to be a junkie.

No one likes losing. Nobody in sales goes to bed thinking “Tomorrow I’m going to give a presentation and it’s going to fail.”  No business owners is happy at the prospect that their business might go down the drain.  No person wants to hear that they might have a life threatening disease. No one goes into a fight intending to lose.

Most people go through life thinking that things will generally work out.  Even pessimists are on the whole somewhat optimistic about the future.  If they weren’t they’d be called suicidal not pessimistic.

Generally the optimistic thinking goes “When A happens then I can do B and then C can occur” and I’m not even talking about grandiose plans just day-to-day stuff like “I’ll catch the bus so I can get to work so then I will get a paycheck to pay the bills”

But sometimes our best laid plans go to hell.  Sometimes we get a piece of bad news.  We keep working away at our problems and keep hoping against hope but despite it all the signs are there that things are going to go badly for us no matter what we do.

This is where a bad situation can be managed to become just a bad result or without proper planning it can turn into a disaster.

So where to start?  You get news that something is going bad for you.  Could happen months from now or maybe 5 minutes from now.  Either way you’ve got no time to waste.

Assess the situation.

How bad is it?  Is it something life threatening?  Will it alter your lifestyle significantly or is it just a short-term shock to the system?

You need to be coldly clinical in your approach as if it’s happening to someone else.  Stick to the known facts and not emotion filled guesses.  The facts won’t change but assessing them carefully might help you make better sense of what you’re facing and thinking more about the situation may make it less daunting.

Life threatening situations usually require immediate action.  If you’re in an accident or a fight or something bad is about to happen you need to do something.  Doing something is always preferable to doing nothing at a time like this.  Doing nothing just insures that the worst possible outcome will happen.  Whether you prefer to fight your way through this or run away is up to you but doing nothing is not an option.

Something more long-term.  Here’s the meat of the subject.

You have time to think about it.  Firstly know that your first impression of the situation is always going to be wrong.  It’s not going to be nearly as bad as you thought and the consequences aren’t going to be as dire.  You will make it out alive on the other end of this, the sun will rise again, and life will go on.  On the other hand maybe things aren’t as rosy as you think.  Maybe those things you are pinning your hopes on are illusions and you need to dig a little deeper in to find out that there is something fundamentally wrong somewhere and it needs to be addressed now or things will totally collapse.

My point?  You don’t really know till you start thinking about things. Look at the root causes of what’s really going on.

So you’ve assessed the situation and know that the bad thing will happen.  Now plan on how to lessen the impact on your situation.  If it’s a disease (for you or someone you love) begin thinking how you will adapt your life to this.  Make the necessary arrangements beforehand.  Find the help you need.  If you’re going to lose your job, start talking to people you know for job leads, for advice, for moral support.  Look through the want ads.  Not for an immediate job necessarily but to see what employers are looking for.  If you’re in school and you know that you’re going to flunk a course find out what you can do to get back on track?  Not for this particular course but for your academic career as a whole.

List out all the negative impacts that this event will have on you and have either total or partial solutions for each of these impacts.  Don’t just hope that it won’t be too bad or stand paralyzed by fear and do nothing.

Lastly the short-term shock to the system.  Usually this is something personal and highly emotional.  A broken heart, the death of someone close, some sort of tragedy.  In some ways this is the hardest thing to get over.  Even though you can share your burden with others, they will still not be able to fully understand.  Even though you want to think about it logically, logic won’t apply here.  Just remember that life does go on.  This is just a part of your life not the whole narrative, unless you let it become that. Let yourself feel bad for a time and lean on others for support.

“How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?” – Captain Kirk

So to paraphrase that, planning for failure is just as important as planning for success.

Old school ties

Every once in a while someone will send in a resume through our sales inquiry form or they’ll call the main line and ask if we’re hiring.  I suppose when you’re looking for work you need to try every approach and take any opportunity to ask.

Once in a really long time I will get a professor from my old school contact me about a protegé that needs work experience or some recent grad will look through the former student rolls and randomly call people and push the “old school ties” to see if they can land a job.

“A” for effort but that’s not going to work with me.  I suppose it may have been possible at one time that going to a particular university may have insured you landing a good job no matter what your qualifications may have been.  I’ve personally never met anyone who claimed this dubious honor.  I know I wouldn’t brag about it if I had landed a job like that.

Nowadays I really can’t see this happening anymore.  Employees are investments as well as resources.

An employer will spend a significant amount of money recruiting, paying a salary to, setting up benefits for, and providing training for a new hire.  In small companies every employee is crucial to the success of the business. Many times employees in small companies have to take on a wide variety of different jobs and there really isn’t room for such favoritism based on something so arbitrary as having the same university in common.

You need people who can do not just the work assigned to them but be flexible enough to take on other responsibilities as well.

If I see a resume from a fellow former student (There is no such thing as an Aggie alumni) I will wish them luck.  I will reminisce with them about the school.  I will acknowledge that they went to a good university.  I know that they are willing to work hard.  But that’s all I know.  I can’t draw any other inferences from the university that they attended.  I don’t know anything about their ability to think or how they work with other people or what their particular strengths or weaknesses are.

Old school ties belong at reunions, they belong at tailgate parties for football games in the fall, they belong on maroon t-shirts but they definitely don’t belong in the job interview process.

Changing interests

My remodeling caper precipitated a rare burst of cleaning and consolidation on my part.  Amazing how much “stuff” you accumulate in a couple of decades without even trying.

I’m going through a bunch of boxes and realizing that I’ve picked up more than my fair share of statements, and addenda, and advertising, and plane ticket receipts, and pay stubs, and who knows what else.

throw away your bank statements and keep love letters” goes a line from a popular advice column.  Ain’t that the truth?  My paper shredder is getting a workout.

I get past the miscellaneous papers layer and get into some books and manuals.  College textbooks that I thought would help me in my post collegiate career, magazines I saved from 20 years ago because they had one interesting article.  Then I find my engineering notebooks.

Among other things I had been in engineering school for a year.  Aerospace Engineering to be exact.  I was going to be a rocket scientist.  This was part of my “flying” phase that I passed through during my teens.  I was all about airplanes.  I wanted to fly them, I wanted to build them, I wanted to do nothing but talk planes all day and night.

I would go to the library and pore over the latest copy of “Jane’s All the world’s aircraft” and read and re-read every section till I memorized the vital statistics of every plane I saw.  I would hang around the engineering building and talk rockets with professors all the time.  My life was aerospace engineering.

But after a year I found that I was really not cut out to be a pilot or an engineer.  My eyes weren’t up to snuff to be a fighter pilot or a test pilot.  My mathematical ability wasn’t up to the advanced calculus required for the theoretical maths necessary for the latest air designs.

So after my freshman year I quit engineering school and moved over to the geosciences and finally found my way into geography.  A big change, I know.  But it felt right and I can’t say that I regretted the decision.

I’ve never looked back or longed to go back to that career.  I’ve kept these books and airplane plans mainly due to inertia.  They’ve followed me round from place to place and survived past cullings.  Every time I do one of these ‘cleanings’, one or more items from my old life go into the trash.  Most if not all of it will end up in the garbage this time.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoyed my time as an engineer.  If I would have had the skill to make a go of it I would have been an engineer or a pilot right now and maybe I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

I’ve broken away from several other interests over the year and I don’t regret letting go of them.  At some point you have to let go of the last vestiges of that old life to make room for the new.

Besides which, these are “things”, physical things.  They’re not that important.  That advice is correct.  Throw away those old bank statements (things) and keep the love letters (friends and family).  With luck and some care I have maybe another forty of fifty years of life left.

I have enough time to get more things, I can develop more interests, I can accumulate the detritus of life all over again.  The people though.  Those I intend to keep.


The right to be forgotten and the crumbling protection of free speech around the world

Just when you think the crazy train ran out of tracks they go and build an extension out to the crazytown suburbs…

I mean it would have been ludicrous back in the 80s to think let alone propose that blatant censorship and the alteration of databases would be something that we would want to do for good reasons, right?  There’s no such thing as a memory hole after all.

The “right to be forgotten”.  Back in the early part of the century some plaintiffs in Europe found to their dismay that their criminal and otherwise infamous past continued to live on digitally in the form of news stories and articles preserved on the internet and that search engines could magically whisk users off to find these less than savory tidbits just by typing a few keywords.

So a few European plaintiffs banded together and sued Google, the biggest search engine in the planet, and won a case against them and forced them to take down the links to the pages where the plaintiffs misdeeds continued to live on.  The suit of course only worked for search engine results in Europe.  In any other part of the planet you could still find this information.

Not satisfied with this a french government agency called the CNIL has now asked Google to make the results disappear globally.  Google of course gave the CNIL the finger and said no, so the whole thing is going back into court.

This of course is only part of the worldwide epidemic of censorship that seems to be in vogue lately.  Try typing in certain key phrases in a certain country about a certain recent historical event and watch nothing appear.

China, Tiananmen square, 1989.

Happy?  I just lost 1.7 billion potential readers.

Think we’re immune in America?  Look up CISA or SOPA or PIPA or COICA.  All laws supposedly intended to protect one thing or another and all of them curtailing freedom of speech in some form.

The internet, what was once the digital equivalent of the open range and the last wild frontier, is rapidly becoming as closely regulated and monitored as any piece of government-owned property.

All the mad and ridiculous musings of the George Orwells of yesteryear are coming to pass.  They’re not coming in openly harsh and repressive packaging but in soft are ill-defined laws meant as “protection” or “privacy” laws.  No matter what you decide to call them however they are coming.