Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Rode Hard, Put Away Wet

Two days of class-teaching down, and I'm tired. It's been a satisfying pair of days, with feedback from the students almost one hundred percent positive. It's nice to receive a little appreciation for the fruits of one's good old-fashioned hard work.

There was even one sweet young thing in this afternoon's session who seemed quite taken with me. She lives in New York, if memory serves, so most likely nothing will come of it, but she has my e-mail address, so if she's inclined to whisper sweet nothings in my Inbox, she's got my coordinates. ;-)

It feels good to get in front of people and brag on my program. There's a portion of the lesson where I invite them to use it themselves, and that's easily the most powerful part. Then it moves from 'demo' to 'product' in their minds, and that's been fun to watch. People have been flying in from all over the country to see the app, so it's doubly good to know they're feeling as though their time and money have been well spent.

Well, I'm off to sleep the sleep of the just.


PS. Stop over by Acidman's and wish him well. He sent beaucoup hits over here today, and looks as though he's done taking boots in the face from his ex-wife. This may mean a hiatus for him, so if you've got wellwishing to do, go do it.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Procrastinating :-)

Tonight I'm working on a training document for a series of classes I'm giving, starting tomorrow, on how to use a portion of the web application I've been developing for the past four months. The good news is that the base instructions (put together by former boss) are pretty good as they are, and require only cosmetic updating to be useful. I've got Disturbed's The Sickness playing on iTunes, freshly ripped, and am feeling saucy.

Naturally, I'm thinking of the ocean. ;-) This is the summer I'm going to make a point to get my posterior south to the Gulf coast. It's been a trying bit of time, and I think I can make a good case for a trip sometime in May or June. Of course there are some weddings I need to attend in the fall, so I need to be conservative regarding my vacation time, but since the coast's only four hours away I think I can do a couple of three-day or four-day weekends without doing too much violence to future commitments.

There's that about the ocean that always brings about a deep peace in me. I'm sure it's very nearly ancestral: humanity has depended on water for the basics since before it was humanity. Still, I like the sorts of thoughts that bubble to the surface when I remember the crash of surf, the smell of salt air, the balance-cadence of walking in sand.

Strange that we, beings whose place on the planet is attributable to our brainpower, are still sufficiently animal that rhythms like that of surf, of tide, of heartbeats can stir our deepest preverbal, preconscious selves.

It's time for me to leave CPU fans, satellite dishes, web pages and databases behind for a while and (heh) recharge. Rediscovering the things in life that nourish is important; I've been remiss in not allowing myself this sort of time. Funny how it's taken a measure of dietary success to teach me that man cannot live by bread alone.


The Wettening

This afternoon has been one of sporadic heavy rainstorms, and we do need the water. Alabama has been dealing with a higher-than-usual number of fires around the state lately, and a number of friends and coworkers have complained of high pollen count. So a good gully-washer is welcome.

As it happens, the timing of this storm is good for me in a few ways. My lawn has been slow to awaken; I'm told the grass is most likely a variety called Bermuda, which goes dormant and brown during winter, and 'regreens' in spring. Well, spring is in full flower, and the lawns in my subdivision have yet to take on much color, except for weeds, and there's certainly no shortage of them.

This weekend I finally grabbed a push-mower (a black Briggs and Stratton with oversize rear wheels for those who simply have to know) for the part of my front yard that Mulch the Robomower can't reach due to slope, and hove to with it on Sunday morning. So instead of a shaggy looking brown-with-green-spots lawn, I had a close-cropped brown-with-green-spots lawn. With any luck this rainfall will push the grass into its proper chlorophyllic frenzy.


Saturday, March 27, 2004

The Ruthlessness of Real Compassion

[This is the first of a few essayish pieces regarding some stuff I've been mentally chewing upon. Feedback welcome.]

I've mentioned on several occasions that one of the bigger favors Jennifer did me in our divorce was to make our parting as final and unambiguous as possible.

I have come to realize that this is uncommon virtue indeed in today's world. Much of the modern American ethos asserts that discomfort is a priori evil; indeed, preventable suffering for no good purpose can be an evil, but there's much to be said for a healthy appreciation for pain.

Discomfort is a powerful and easily heeded instructor. The proverbial hand on the hot stove symbolizes much in a world simply rife with lessons for learning. We've gotten so good at stifling those lessons that the very act of teaching has become a difficult one. There are few middle-aged or younger Americans, for example, that have known (or will ever know) true hunger. It is difficult to inculcate an appreciation for waste in such a person.

Pain is not by itself gain, but true gain is seldom had without it.

Anyone who has participated in full-contact American football (or any suitably physical sport like lacrosse, rugby, or--when played correctly--soccer) has an appreciation for the sort of coach who has little patience for discomfort-based whining. I have finished wind sprints on badly sprained ankles, and practiced for weeks on end with knuckles relacerated regularly, weekday evenings between three-thirty and five p.m. These things made me a better football player, as pain and the mastery of it are parts of the game, but they also taught me the value of pain mastery as an end in itself. They also taught faith in the healing process: my knuckles and ankles healed, eventually. Perhaps not to all the soundness they might have enjoyed undamaged, but in retrospect I find I don't begrudge the price.

The past four years have been a similar series of lessons in pain, dealing with pain, healing and price-paying. I am a stronger, more whole, more multiply dimensioned person for having weathered them.

But this essay isn't titled Pain and Healing; it's about ruthlessness and its compassionate application.

A certain clarity of purpose is needed when hurting with the intent to heal. The defensive varsity coach at Archmere Academy was called "Satan" behind his back, though he was a conspicuously bighearted man. He had no difficulty banging adolescent teens off one another, play after play until the blood flowed: he knew his business, and part of it was fashioning that certain sort of play-soldier called a football player out of every one of us. (We finished the season of my high school senior year with a record of eleven and one, so he didn't do too bad of a job. It's worth mentioning that mental quickness was far more his goal than any ability to weather pain, but in football those components of a player can't be developed in isolation.)

I imagine that the dentist and the surgeon both need a similar ruthlessness, both toward themselves and toward their charges, to accomplish their jobs. The physical therapist, the veterinarian, the sensei, the drill sergeant all must function, to a certain degree, from a place of unyieldingness and certainty. I find myself envious of such purpose and clarity.

Jennifer's part in my story is years past, now: she may have thrown the machinery into operation, but she had only small involvement in its crafting.

So, the realization dawns: someone has been teaching me. Whether or not I've wanted to learn, I've been shaped by the process. I find myself, at last, eager to see the outcome.

Not to mention meet the teacher.


Relaxing at the Desk; Triumph of the Little Things; Writing to Think

Taking some time out from doing work today to write a little. Listening to ripped Mozart via iTunes in a very nearly empty office.

I like Blogger's new ability to save posts as undated drafts. I have a few serious pieces I'm working on, composing and revising, but in the process I can post daily thoughts without having to worry about what I've got stored where and whether I'm going to have to cut-and-paste 'unready post A' somewhere temporarily because 'post B' is ready. A simple thing, but hey, whatever enables me. :-)

The importance of a good fit
Went shopping last night to grab some new pants. I'm down to a 46-inch waist, after going as high as 52 a few years ago. I've been hovering around more-or-less (but usually more) 48 for a good while, so it's nice to get some new duds into the mix. I also grabbed some Levi's - the first pair of jeans I've worn since moving here, both for reasons of unpacking vagaries and because I just haven't had the opportunity much.

I thought it would happen, and it has: wearing clothes that actually fit (rather than ones that have been cinched tight enough to stay on the bod) looks pretty darned good. Feels good, too.

Writing as an exercise in thought
Tripp may well take this as his cue to despair (as he's maintained that I've thought too much for a very long while), but one of the things with which I've come to terms recently is that the purpose writing serves at this point in my life is that of allowing me to think. More precisely, to think using the systems in my head that work together to produce written material, which I feel sure are better structured and developed than those I use in, say, spoken conversation.

Written thought can benefit from the editorial process, for one: it's receptive to simple iterative refinement.

This next bit is less obvious: written thought benefits from interaction with the spacial perception of the writer. Human beings read in all sorts of directions, and not just left-to-right (or right to left, or up and down, if that's your cultural deal). We backtrack; we perceive patterns (and the synaesthetics among us may even perceive smells or colors) in the jumble of words and letters; we can even read backwards if we work at it (try it a page or paragraph at a time--it's a real mindbender, but odd in how little adjustment it takes: the brain just sorts it out). Having a thought in your head, and a paragraph that mostly gets it across, looks more like the dilemma of sculptor and block than of mere scribe and narrative.

In this vein, I'm finding increasingly that being able to get a gestalt feel for a piece I'm writing (whether it be an English prose piece or a Java class) can help immensely when gauging flow and "song," and precisely where it needs tuning. Thus my welcome for Blogger's draft-keeping feature.

What? He's reading too?
Right now I'm working through a few books by C.S. Lewis and Ayn Rand (A Grief Observed, and Atlas Shrugged, respectively), and very much enjoying the coherence of their ways of thinking. Most of the authors whom I admire produce work that's well thought in addition to being well expressed. There's also a severity of voice and a ruthlessness of pursuit to each of them that I find fascinating.

Oh, well. Hope this conveys a little of my state of mind at present.


Friday, March 26, 2004

Gorgeous Birmingham Day

Just got back from a nice lazy lunch at the local Hooters with some guys from work. Ten hot drumsticks and a side salad fit beautifully into my lunchtime calorie count.

It's 79° out according to Weatherbug, breezy and sunny: just on the edge of too warm, but the breeze blunts that edge nicely. Of late I have begun to enjoy a round of golf, and today would have been ideal to walk around and peer under trees. (Never said I was any good.)

This weekend I plan to shop for some new pairs of pants: evidently twenty pounds is about a size, and that's bearing out. Were I more pigmentally advantaged, I might be mistaken for M.C. Hammer these days.

It will, sadly, be a working weekend; the big project is close to a delivery date, and I'm the only guy who can work on it productively at the moment. Still, I'm thinking tomorrow may have a very protracted lunch at its center.


Thursday, March 25, 2004


(Blows dust off things, picks cobwebs out of corners) hmm. Looks like Blogger is still running, Blogspot is still free, things are still working, and for some reason hits continue to accumulate. Not bad. :-)

Heaven only knows what people have been poking around in my absence. is by far the big referrer according to Site Meter, followed distantly by and, with one or two others contributing the occasional trickle.

Been an eventful eight months. Started and abandoned the writing of two very different novels, worked at the job 60-hours-plus for four of those months, watched a friend and both of my siblings get engaged, lost twenty pounds, and, in the end, managed to think a bit.

The thinking bit's pretty good, actually; the more one tries to write something coherent and compelling, the more one has to take inventory of how one's mind works. As a result, I'm thinking (and reading) about thinking. I'm a pretty decent expressor, you see, but in order to write the sorts of things I want to write (and say what think I want to say) I'll need to get better at point-making. Argument constructing. Logic. Theme. The progression from one idea to another.

You know. Clarity. :-)

In any event, I've also come back to the point where I feel like opining, openly. Expect some tidying up around here, and more thoughts as they come.

It's good to be back.