3.03.2015

their shy and wordless gaze

Consider the other kingdoms. The
trees, for example, with their mellow-sounding
titles: oak, aspen, willow.
Or the snow, for which the peoples of the north
have dozens of words to describe its
different arrivals. Or the creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze. Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be. Thus the world
grows rich, grows wild, and you too,
grow rich, grow sweetly wild, as you too
were born to be.

[Mary Oliver, 'The Other Kingdoms', from The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays]

3.02.2015

dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives

House-hunting. There are so many people who seem to think that it's the best thing in the world. They're all full of Ooooh when I talk about needing to go to open houses on the weekends, and they're eager to get the addresses so they can check stuff out online (though that is definitely a bonus these days). There's just a whole lot of "don't you just love this?" and I don't feel like I even get it. To me, it's enormously stressful, self-defeating, depressing, and overwhelming in the extreme. I feel even more broke, indecisive, socially inept, and incapable about this than I have in years. I'm trying not to think too much about it in the macro version because I think I'd just settle in for a long cry.

That it ends with yet another opportunity to move all my stuff...that makes it all the more.

The weather. In a change from what has become typical (cold, colder, even colder, less frigidly cold but still damn cold, cold, colder...), there's a storm predicted tomorrow. The snow totals were originally set between one and three inches. As it came closer, it was adjusted up to four to eight. Now, over the last twenty-four hours or so, it's gone back to one to three, with temperatures topping out at 34°. So much for Tuesday being cancelled on account of snow.

Dating. Did I shock you? Yes, I realize that this element hasn't shown up on a bullet list here for a while. Well, it's still not. Not exactly. I did receive a sort of invitation - an offer? a summons? - for a day out last weekend. Circumstances conspired against it, and I'm not certain whether it was "the right thing to do" anyway, but the offer was more than welcome.

The new job. I can't say I quite understand what I'm doing a lot of the time, but at least some of the time I seem to be doing it better than the people who are supposed to know what they're doing. I am not referring to my direct colleagues, who are nothing but unfailingly kind, helpful, bright, and great to be around. Those with whom we deal on a daily and weekly basis, however, run the gamut from outstanding (I talked to someone today who went well beyond the call of duty to help out with something that could have gone undone, left on my plate forever) to dreadful (two examples of literally devastatingly stupid decisions and failure to follow through, in the course of two days). The most that I can say about it is this: when you're signing something official, legal, or financial, be DAMNED certain that you, and those with whom you are working, are clear on what it is, how it's been completed, what it's for, and whether you are actually signing properly.

My health. Is it a sinus infection? Bronchitis? Pneumonia? I described it as "a goopy cough that is not likely contagious. Feeling far better than I sound, which is like a gerbil slowly drowning in a vat of warm molasses." It only hurts when I breathe. After a week of it, I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Everything else. What are the criteria for being friends with a younger person on FB? I am trying to rely on their own common sense (such as it is), and choosing only to accept friend requests, not to extend them, with anyone to whom I'm not related who is under eighteen. Does anyone have a rule about such a thing? Am I weird to think about it? I'm not so concerned about bad behavior as about being a cooling influence on their own activities--about being all "grown up ish" and bringing them down.

Fingernails. I broke one today while rearranging the sleeve of my sweater, where it had ridden up a little on my elbow. Time to eat more Jello.

Speaking of Jello: pudding. Had a debate this weekend about the very clear quality distinction between instant and cook-and-serve pudding. Would anyone care to contribute?

I'm meeting a friend for lunch tomorrow, smack in the middle of snowpocalypse, here. I haven't been there for ages, so it will be good to see what it's like. And I haven't visited with that friend in probably five or six years? Maybe longer. So that will be good. Assuming that we don't get snowed in/out/away.

I should be sleeping, if the gerbils will let me.

[the title quotation is by William C. Dement]

2.25.2015

my heart and my head feel exactly the same

What I’m trying to say is that if an experience is
proposed to me--I don’t have any particular interest
in it--Any more than anything else. I’m interested in
anything. Like I could walk out the door right now and go some
where else. I don’t have any center in that sense. If you’ll look
in my palm you’ll see that my heart and my head line are
the same and if you’ll look in your palm you’ll see that it’s
different. My heart and my head feel exactly the same. Me,
I like to lay around of a Sunday and drink beer. I don’t feel
a necessity for being a mature person in this world. I mean
all the grown-ups in the world, they’re just playing house, all
poets know that. How does your head feel? How I feel is
what I think. I look at you today, & I expect you to look
the same tomorrow. If you’re having a nervous breakdown, I’m
not going to be looking at you like you’re going to die, because
I don’t think you are. If you’re a woman you put yourself
somewhere near the beginning and then there’s this other place
you put yourself in terms of everybody. “The great cosmetic strange-
ness of the normal deep person.” Okay. Those were those people--and
I kept telling myself, I have to be here, because I don’t have
a country. How tight is the string? And what is on this particular
segment of it? And the photographer, being black, and the writer,
me, being white, fell out at this point. And he didn’t want to
look at it--I mean it’s nothing, just some drunk Indians riding
Jersey milk cows--but I wanted to see it, I mean it was right
in front of my eyes and I wanted therefore to look at it.
And death is not any great thing, it’s there or it’s not. I mean
God is the progenitor of religious impetuousity in the human beast.
And Davy Crockett is right on that--I mean he’s gonna shoot a bear,
but he’s not gonna shoot a train, because the train is gonna run
right over him. You can’t shoot the train. And I always thought
there was another way to do that. And it is necessary to do that
and we bear witness that it is necessary to do it. The only distinction
between men and women is five million shits.

[Ted Berrigan, 'Around the Fire' from The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan]

2.24.2015

if you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go

Yesterday was my first day in the new position at work. It had seemed like a very long two weeks to wait to change jobs, but then the weekend went by abnormally quickly and it was Monday all too soon. I didn't feel ready. In fact, I felt a little hazy and slightly shaky on my feet. As the day went on, there was an increasing sense that I wasn't quite myself. In the few moments that I had to myself, I realized that I'd felt that way for a couple of days, really--since Saturday morning, when I'd awoken feeling throat-scratchy and eye-itchy and maybe more tired than when I went to bed. Sunday was even worse, in that I went to bed earlier and got up later and took a nap during the day but still felt weary and odd. I should have realized it before the truth became clear, around 3:30 Monday afternoon: I was under the weather. I told my new boss about it, and explained that if I didn't feel significantly better today, that I would not be in. She looked at me closely and agreed.

I guess I don't hide it well. And so, a sick day, on what should have been my second day. Ah, well.

The first day of training was a blur, and not only because of the incipient illness. The job is made up of three basic parts: reports, document review, and legals. The reports are confined mostly to the first week of the month, though there are some that are done weekly and some that are done daily. The basic job with reports is to take data from a source (sometimes just listed in an email message, sometimes an attachment, sometimes other Excel files, and sometimes separate software) and compile and manipulate it in Excel for other use. There are varying degrees of complexity involved with the various types of reports that are created and maintained. They are used by others within the organization, including top management and the board.

Document review is where the three staff members at my level provide the final means of verification for accuracy and legal correctness for various types of documents created and maintained within the organization, many of which are regulated by the state and federal governments through certain regulatory agencies. It is simultaneously brainlessly dull and incredibly important, as the documents themselves are vital to those involved and audited for accuracy (yes, well past our level) perhaps 25-50% of the time. It is hard to maintain focus but absolutely necessary not to miss anything--and, at the same time, very difficult to train someone else to easily identify the little points of fact or law that must be identified, hour after hour, day after day.

Legals are complex, right off the bat, and daunting. And expensive. And hard to explain, even in brief. It may not be so intimidating later, but for now it has me quite terrified.

There are other aspects to the job that are fit in and around these big three. The three of us at my level are assigned tasks in a weekly, rotating basis, though it's not quite as simple as "reports, then doc review, then legals," particularly while I'm training. There's a lot to learn.

My boss will also be leaving, as she's put in her notice (an extraordinarily long notice, really), so there will be some change connected to that transition, too. Her successor has been chosen. Actually, our group will be folded alongside another existing group in the same area, so it's really just that our future supervisor will be taking on three other people and a vast amount of responsibility when my current boss leaves.

I obviously don't have a handle yet on what the job will be like, day to day. I can tell that it's not my ideal position (way, way too much math, and just a Hell of a lot of pressure, and honestly just too much client contact for me to feel like I'm in my element) but it'll work for now. It may turn out to be great for the time being. I'm not actively searching for something else. That being said...I'm not going to turn away the right thing, if it shows up before my eyes.

That's either cowardly, practical, or wishful.

[the title quotation is from Lao Tzu, from Tao Te Ching]

2.22.2015

humiliation of course, but a burden lifting

Consider Svevo's Zeno, giving up smoking,
or Kafka's hunger artist's more startling feats
of abjuration, or any meditating
Mitzi or Mindy, concentrating on breathing
and trying, minute by exquisitely protracted
minute, not to move a muscle, and you
have arrived at the problem of silence with its discomforts
but its blandishments, too. As the days go by, I discover

how little difference it makes, or ever made,
and I recognize how little anyone cares.
I am not so different or special. Or interesting.
A humiliation of course, but a burden lifting,
or suppose that a fever has broken and, weak as a baby,
or mute, I confront the errors of my life.

[David R. Slavitt, 'Silence' from "Sleep Set: A Sonnet Sequence" in The Seven Deadly Sins and Other Poems]

2.21.2015

a little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal

  • Favorite fictional couple?
    Sophie and Ned, from Snowed In by Christina Bartolomeo. Smart, weary, and far from perfect, they still live in my brain and heart years after the first time that I read the book.
  • Favorite fictional character?
    Everett Chance, from The Brothers K by David James Duncan.
  • Favorite fictional TV show?
    Um, presumably this means 'fiction' and not 'imaginary'?

    Leverage. It was that perfect mix of geek-sweet, tense and funny, with just enough Moonlighting-style will-they-or-won't-they to make it compelling in that way, too. It doesn't hurt that I've got a solid crush on Timothy Hutton, either.
  • Favorite fictional movie?
    To follow that trend--I've always loved Beautiful Girls. Tim Hutton was, of course, the best. Natalie Portman is terrific, as are Matt Dillon and Uma Thurman (not always my cup of tea). The soundtrack, too, completely brings me back. I should really pick that up....
  • Favorite fictional villain?
    The Monster (Robert John Burke), from No Such Thing. Wait, is he a villain, or an anti-hero? If he's the latter, then I'll choose Henry Fool (the gorgeous and brilliant Thomas Jay Ryan), from Henry Fool, Fay Grim, and Ned Rifle. Wait, but, he's the anti-hero, too.

    Oooh! Stansfield! Gary Oldman's character in
    The Professional!
  • Favorite fictional hero?
    Léon, of course--Jean Reno--from The Professional.
  • Favorite fictional pet?
    Rastro
  • Favorite fictional setting/universe?
    Westeros, I should think? It's awfully compelling.
  • Least favorite fictional couple?
    Stephanie Plum and Joe Morelli. I loved the books the first time I read them (a short subset of them, anyway), but the romance was utterly unbelievable beyond maybe the fourth entry in the series. For a smart guy, Joe is an utter idiot when it comes to that girl, who plays him for a fool from day two of their relationship.

    It really doesn't help that the delightfully imaginary picture that I'd had in my head has been replaced in my mind by that dreadful actress who played her in the [panned] film. Ugh.
  • Least favorite fictional character?
    I don't know if it's my absolute least favorite, but the pilot (?) that Owen Wilson played in Behind Enemy Lines was God-awful.
  • Least favorite fictional TV show?
    Tw0 Br0k# G!rl$. It makes me want to break every television that I can possibly find with a hammer, and then crush my own skull so I can never remember that I've seen even one moment of it. Those women should be deeply, deeply ashamed of themselves and the degree to which they've set back human dignity.
  • Least favorite fictional movie?
    Joe vs. the Volcano. Hands down, the most awful movie I've ever seen.
  • Least favorite fictional villain?
    Cruella de Vil, who always made me cry as a child
  • Least favorite fictional hero?
    any reconstituted comic book superhero--the antithesis of creativity
  • Least favorite fictional pet?
    was Donald Duck a pet? In any case, I couldn't understand a damn thing he was saying. Ever.
  • Least favorite fictional setting/universe?
    I'm not a huge fan of the southwest. Not that it's "bad", but I don't have any personal relevance for it, so I can't place myself into a book or movie that is set there.

[from Le Chat, who got it here; the title quotation is by Oscar Wilde]

2.18.2015

now that we are all so smart, we don’t easily find resolutions

What does "smart" mean?

People have been telling me my whole life that I am smart. What does that mean?

I generally blow off the compliment, abruptly and ungraciously. Really, the whole concept tends to make me pretty angry.

It seems to me that what they usually mean by 'smart' is that one has accomplished some thing that is admirable--a passing grade on a test, proper use of a long word, successful completion of a degree, tenure in some sort of academic exercise, attendance at some sort of prestigious function.

Those are just...things. Events. Activities.

Someone recently told me, "I've never met a stupid lawyer." I laughed long and hard at that; some of the stupidest, most short-sighted and awful people I have ever known are attorneys. Intelligence or usefulness is no prerequisite for that career, nor any other one. It is merely a way of thinking, a route to travel, and a language to speak. Foreign to many, but not inherently incomprehensible.

To me, actual, valuable intelligence is about listening, not just hearing. It is about paying attention, not just temporarily storing and then later regurgitating facts. It is the permanent state of being curious: wanting to know more, about what was said (whether in a classroom, one on one in conversation, or even in passing or in media, etc.), or about what they saw (in a book, the newspaper, out the window, on television, while walking around the neighborhood), or about how something works (physically, logistically, spiritually, emotionally, practically), or about why something happened, or about what they can do.

Some of the smartest people I know barely graduated from high school--and have made the most of their lives. Some of the smartest people I know have earned a Ph.D. from prominent universities--and have put their education to good use.

The same goes for some of the least functional, self-sufficient, capable people I have known.

"Smart" does not mean much to me.

[the title quotation is by Dejan Stojanovic, from The Sun Watches the Sun]