Archive for the ‘General Thoughts’ Category

2016 Election Celebration

Tomorrow is the day everyone in the United States waits for with unparalleled anticipation; the day where everything changes. The second Tuesday of November is one of the most important days of the year, no matter if you follow politics or not. It is the day when all the politicians finally shut up a little bit and leave us to get on with our lives while they either gloat in their 15 minutes of limelight behind synthetic humility, or seethe in private anguish at their unprecedented injustice. Is that flippant? Yes. It is a learned response. Perhaps it is a bit of a cynical view, but cultivated ire for politicians can hardly be among the greatest of sins, especially with the stellar crop of buffoons we’re served up year after year. 

Our local representative race is a classic example of sleazy politics at its best. We’ve had endless campaigning with focus on personal attacks over substance on television ads, endless YouTube ads, nightly phone solicitation, door to door campaigning, radio spots, and particularly annoying attack mailers sent in bulk. I started collecting the mailers early since this race was very nasty in the last cycle and I anticipated nothing less this time around. I missed a few at the beginning, but my collection of insulting, vapid drivel in snail mail was soon the envy of…well…no one. As of November 7, I had collected 85 separate pieces of attack mailers that were sent to my house in an unceasing flow. Barely a day went by in the past 45 days where we didn’t receive at least one, but sometimes up to four pieces per day. The race is so nasty, it has gotten party headquarters heavily involved and gotten national attention. A recent editorial piece by USA Today picked one of the TV/YouTube spots as one of the five worst political ads in the country. Way to show that Illinois pride ladies. As if we need more reasons to show how awful Illinois and its politics are.

Dirty Politics

Most of the time, we aren’t home during the prime door-to-door hours, so I know we missed a few choreographed visits, but I was home for one. My doorbell rang one night at about 6:45, just moments after I sat down on the couch to have my dinner and watch anything that was on TV. With an exasperated sigh, I shook off my I-just-got-home-from-work-now-leave-me-alone face, and I opened the door to what I thought would be a girl scout cookie sales pitch. To my surprise, the solicitor at the door was our state representative, Kate Cloonen, telling me how important it was to get out and talk with people in her district and find out what issues mattered to them. I’ll admit that as I held the storm door open and leaned on the door frame listening to her talk, I was at a momentary loss. Here I was expecting to be reluctantly charmed by a fumbling young entrepreneur, aided by the bewitching spell of Thin Mints, and instead I was greeted by rehearsed, superficial pandering. I tried to recover while she finished her greeting and introductory prelude. She handed me a familiar political flyer and my sourness returned in a flash. 

When dealing with rehearsed or scripted salesmen at work, I have learned an invaluable lesson in combating their manipulation; do something they don’t expect. It can be quite funny to hear the equivalent of “does not compute” in their silence or stammering. I saw my opening with the politician when she asked me “So what issues are important to you?” Her assistant held his pen and clipboard at the ready to scribble something that would likely never be read, and I held up the flyer in front of me and said, “I just want these to stop!” They both looked at me blankly for a second and then tried to get clarification on my puzzling statement. “You mean the pamphlets?” In my head I heard, “Well, allow me to retort!” I then launched into a deft soliloquy on the evils of negative smear campaigning and the long-dead virtue of honor among statesmen in an environment that crushes the common man. It would have been pretty cool if that was what actually happened, but I honestly don’t remember exactly what I said. There were words like “disgusting attacks” and “insulting oversimplifications” and “offensive volume”, but I’m not sure what order they came out of my mouth so it could have been completely incoherent. Something must have been intelligible because she hesitantly reasoned that I should check to see who sent the mailing since they don’t have control over all the mail that comes out. They could, however, make sure that nothing more came directly from her campaign. The assistant gave me an earnest nod, as if he were my buddy about to do me a solid, and they agreed with each other that they would certainly do what they can to make sure I didn’t receive any more political ads. In reality, I’m sure they were recoiling at the thought of further discussion and looking for any way out, so as they both visibly retreated, I accepted their tepid offer and they quickly left.  

Looking back, my encounter with my representation was a bit of a lost opportunity. It may have been the leftover angst of dinner interrupted, but I thought later that I could have actually discussed the problem with her, brought up tangible concerns and proposed solutions. Later that evening, I began to write an email to Kate Cloonen to express some of these thoughts, but my cynicism won out and I abandoned the email in frustration. The critic in me decided it would have made no difference if we had shared a genuine conversation or not. I have learned that politicians say anything to get elected, and I was sure my opinion would have been written off as soon as my vote was in a column…either column. Not that I think the interaction would have been much different had her opponent, Lindsay Parkhurst visited my house, but she has yet to be elected and prove my cynical theories. Judging from the volume of negative garbage I have received from her side, I expect nothing less than a politician. I’m not totally cynical I suppose, it very well could be that Cloonen and Parkhurst are both nice, decent, well-meaning ladies and it is the system or their party is to blame for the nasty demeanor. But that doesn’t represent me, and that they would allow it to happen in their name is disgusting.

My disgust in general at politicians is that they constantly underestimate us. They think we are stupid enough to believe their statements and fall for their carefully framed tricks. And you know what? It works. Americans feed this beast by consuming and believing the one-sided arguments. But I don’t think it is stupidity. Instead, confirmation bias is to blame. We only hear what we want to hear, and believe what we already think is true. If you hate Politician A and Politician B says something awful about Politician A, you tend believe Politician B, even if it is an outright lie, or if B is a disgusting person themselves. B sends out floods of negative ads confirming bias in all directions and everyone gets all fired up to vote. B wins and deduces that negative campaigning works. This is your fault! If you hate the negativity, don’t feed the cycle! Think for yourself and don’t parrot others opinions. And as much as you hate it, really listen to other opinions, you don’t have the monopoly on “right”.

A simple concept that most people seem to forget, is that when someone is elected, they are supposed represent ALL of their district, city, state or country, not just the portion of the electorate that voted for them. I think that is especially important for this year’s Presidential race. It is an idea that I am sure both major candidates will forget the moment the winner takes office, but it is equally applicable to you the voter. Accept the results, don’t threaten moving to Canada, it is all a bit silly. The great thing about our country is that if something is broken, we can try again the next cycle and someone else gets to try their ideas. Talking heads excel at whipping people up to think that their world is going to end if the opposition gets in power. That kind of thought creates fanatics. Use reason instead. Believe it or not, you can say, “That’s a fantastic idea! There is not even the slightest chance in the world I am voting for you, but…great idea!” You can actually say that sentence and not devolve into a brawl over who “won” your debate. Just once I would like to hear a reasonable discussion about Hillary and Trump without hearing about fascism or socialism or the end of America, or moving to Canada. They are nice people up North, why send our bitter, angry people there?

One terrible aspect to our elections is that the common voter feels as though they have no real choice in a two-party system. To give back some choice, wouldn’t it stir some stew to have “None of These Jokers” as an option on the ballot? Imagine how many votes that option would receive for President this year! Plus, it would be very satisfying to hear a news anchor announce a forecast: “And we can now officially call the state of New Hampshire for None of These Jokers.” Have the NoTJ vote mean a vote of no confidence, if NoTJ actually wins, the person that gets the next most votes gets to be President or Governor or Mayor, but only for a year, or in a temporary fashion until we get someone we actually want. We’d certainly avoid some of the messes we find ourselves in now. The idea worked in the movie Brewster’s Millions as “None of the Above.” And while I’m at it, why are we voting on Tuesday?! Shouldn’t this be a weekend, where it is easier for people to “rock the vote?” At the very least, make it a holiday so no one has an excuse to not vote. The old idea for voting on Tuesday was designed to accommodate a day of travel after Sunday to be able to reach polling places, how many people do you think would vote now if they had to drive for a day beforehand? I also have opinions on the electoral college, third-party candidates, term-limits and districting, but I’m tired of thinking about politics…tomorrow is a celebration day, go out and vote so they all shut up faster! 

Good Grief

At one time, a little boy in a yellow and black squiggly striped shirt was famous for frequently lamenting “Good Grief!” to express his dismay at his situation. No matter how amusing the scenario was for Charlie Brown to resort to his most memorable catchphrase, I always thought that the words themselves never really made much sense. Can there really be such a thing as good grief? Is there actually some variety of that horrible feeling that could be considered positive? It is rather a dark thought to be having while reading a comic strip about a little boy with a cute dog and blonde bird, but I’ve always had a bit of a morose streak in me. There are times when these kinds of random thoughts feel more pertinent to share than at others, and I have felt recently more compelled to gather a few together into some sort of a bundle that might make sense to someone.

There is no shortage of unhappy detours and rockslides for us to endure on the roughly hewn mountain trail of life, but the intense despair and emptiness of grief never seems like a path that anyone truly chooses to take and never feels anywhere close to good. When someone is assailed by the emotions and emptiness of a devastating loss, it is difficult to articulate comfort or support in any meaningful way. We stammer condolence, but words alone cannot express the depths of sympathy required to ease the pain. We reach out to hug or hold, but arms cannot replace the presence or protection that was taken away. We see the loss, we share in the loss, but no one can repair it. We feel truly helpless, but we still must assist somehow, so we try. A card, a flower, a plate of meat and cheese, none of these things actually help, but we are desperate to show we care somehow. We shuffle awkwardly through a line to ineffectually whisper some comfort-like words that are received in equal awkwardness and punctuated with a trembling handshake or embrace. We solemnly move through the line with eyes averted, internally chastising ourselves for the words not coming out quite right, for sounding trite and hollow like a glitter greeting card.

On the other side, the bereaved are struggling for composure, sometimes in shock but still trying to stand strong. They accept the words, the cards, the plates of meat and cheese with a conflicting smile that approaches gratitude, but guiltily skulks away from any emotion that feels inordinately too early or disrespectful to entertain. Nothing feels appropriate, so everything feels inappropriate and uncomfortable. All spoken and written words ring hollow out of no one’s fault but the complete inadequacy of our language to convey the breadth of emotion that builds and seeps from the corners of our eyes. No one knows what to say, no one knows how to reply.

Everyone handles sorrow in their own way and it is usually difficult for us to see our own limit and see it in the same hue of light that is seen by our friends, family and neighbors. However, one common element that remains the same under any shade of light is the feeling that grief is awful, and we would rather stay happy, or at least comfortable, rather than deal with that painful emptiness.  We block memories from our minds, bottle up our emotions and build walls around our hearts to protect ourselves at all costs from experiencing that harm. Those defenses are different for each person and they significantly alter the fragile facade of recovery. We can sometimes succeed in keeping the pain behind as we bravely attempt to stagger forward, but its creeping shadow lurks low and close, waiting for the vulnerability of solitude, biding its time to viciously clutch at our heels.

A sudden strike upsets the delicately constructed balance and we crumble to the floor amidst the dusty rubble of our carefully fashioned defenses. A storm of tearful memories rises up from the cloudy blue into a swirling rage, releasing its fury at gale force and battering our soul with relentless blows. When the storm finally subsides, we’re left alone and defeated in a gloomy puddle of brokenness and despair. At that darkest moment, in that full devastation, is it possible to feel anything but completely helpless and shattered? It is a strange thing to feel not mourning but to feel comfort in the midst of unspeakable pain, but that pain should confirm what you already know…this matters to me. Feel the good that is now amplified from the mourning of its absence. Feel the calm privilege of having had the opportunity of holding anyone or anything so dearly that it matters to you so. Feel not the loss, but feel the beautiful fullness of all that you were given for a time.

One day you will reluctantly find yourself on a hill of cold stones in the crisp winter air as the wind flutters coats and crunchy leaves and distant notes of Taps. Time will be a dark and murky bog, and your heart will hang heavy in your chest. Though it doesn’t seem possible, don’t feel alone. Stand close in those moments as the final words of the final memorials are shared. Feel peace in stillness of the final prayer. This pain, this loss, shows what you’ve already gained.

Hold close…to what you have and were given.

Hold close…how much this matters to you.

Tech Support Blues

Most everyone has had to call a tech support phone line at some point. No matter who I have conversed with on this topic, they usually feel roughly the same way about it.  They’d rather have their eyes poked with rusty forks then have to go through a call to a technical support line. I understand their pain. Perhaps more than they might realize since I have actually been stabbed by a rusty fork…not in the eye, but it still really hurt! And sometimes even I would rather be stabbed again by that fork then call a support line. Too bad it’s part of my job.

Tech Support Blues

Generally, I don’t really like to talk about my job, much less write about it. I’ve always been warned…don’t ever cross the streams, that would be bad. But it’s a little bit unavoidable in this topic, so there’s that. I understand the pain more than a fork in the eye, I’ve spent a great deal of time on both sides of those types of calls. There is the side where I’ve been the tech support person on the phone trying to impart some sort of arcane wisdom from the dark reaches of cyberspace to help solve why a mouse pointer keeps changing into an hourglass. Those conversations can be left for another time. This little anecdote is about the other side, my own calls into tech support.

Over the years I’ve been through it all on IT support calls. Quick and painless ones or long drawn-out multiple hour-long affairs. Some conversations that proved very helpful, others that you wonder if they have ever even seen a computer. And I have heard hold music, far, far more than my fair share of hold music. Minutes, hours, days and weeks of hold music. Hold while they talk to their boss, hold while they look up your question, hold before anyone will actually even start talking to you. I’ve even been put on hold for an hour and a half to wait for the next available technician with 23 other calls ahead of me, only to be disconnected when finally reaching the very end of the queue.

When most people complain about their experience on a tech support call, they inevitably mention they were connected to someone in India that didn’t know what they were talking about. My experience with off-shore tech support is a bit different. First of all, on some topics, I’ve found some of the Indian tech support agents to be the most knowledgeable that I’ve come across. I’ve spoken to engineering agents and teams of agents from India that write and explain code that would make the heads of their US counterparts just spin in bewilderment. I’ve also spoken with agents from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, France, and Italy, as well as others from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US. These are just the ones I remember off the top of my head and were just the ones I had bothered to ask about location. I am sure that if I dug deeper, there would be many other countries represented in my pool of experience as well. No matter where the agent is from, there is one thing I have found in common with all of the techs of all nationalities. The good ones make sure that you both understand each other.

There is a Kilimanjaro of vital information that can be lost in translation and it doesn’t matter if the language is nationality-based, or jargon-based. Whether someone is speaking in Urdu or in tech acronyms, they first must make sure that the person listening actually comprehends the words being said. This concept can get tricky when one is speaking a language that is actually their second language. This is also where your internal translator can get a workout when trying to filter what you hear into what you understand.

Most of the time, I am fine with comprehending accented English. It can be kinda fun to guess where a person is from based on the inflections and words they pronounce. Even though I find the conversation still works, I do find myself having to work a little harder at comprehending the words I am hearing.  My brain chugs a little as it spends time re-verifying that I heard correctly, and I can see where that would be mental tripping hazard for a lot of people. I can also see how that trip up could cause instant frustrations and bias when encountering the same sounds again. This whole idea became very clear to me one day after I had a particularly challenging hour long troubleshooting conference call with four pretty smart people all working to solve a problem together. All four people just happened to be from different continents speaking with their own accented English. I honestly had a little bit of a headache when I hung up, it was exhausting, and all I was really doing was internally translating variations of English!

A stunning illustration of how much extra work your brain is forced through when processing accented English comes when you see how an automatic message transcription service translates a technical call from a person speaking English as a second language.  I just so happen to have some great exhibits where the results speak for themselves.  There shouldn’t be much background needed on the problem being solved, and I won’t say which country the tech was from.

After working for several hours on some ongoing issues one day in the relatively recent past, we took a break from our phone call for my helper to do some research.  He called back some time later and left a message for me.  My messaging service translated the following:

Call #1

Eric Riley from the social and support team calling in regards to an incident so that it really sure what this means. So hoping … that there will be a you that the hotel H A … you can come home and is for candy supposed to supposed to be so please it’s urgent … I wanted to confirm this notification press onto any means of a little bit. Thank you have a nice day

It seemed to start off pretty well there at first, but you can see that it quickly went downhill. I knew in great detail what he was supposed to be calling about but I couldn’t even come close to figuring out what that text implied he was saying. It really didn’t get much better than that either. The issues continued and I received several more calls from the same company. The next message I got on this problem was from a different agent…

Call #2

Yeah hi Denise this is louis from Microsoft in supposed been calling in regards to in case the last week we will be sleeping so hopefully … I e of the do this via the Internet and phone is giving us the just wondered who is about on this case you do because I am suspended pending snow storm … please let us know how you wanted to close to do this is thank you.

At least we got a company name out of that one! Over the next couple of days I received a few more messages on the same support issue from 2 different support agents, with varying degrees of translation success.

Call #3

Hey hi this is louise from Microsoft into for the call is in regards to a new this severely sure we will … you just been tied off all food inc. if you know the proposal template in this case. Thank you any line is that nobody.

Call #4

Yeah hi could … I was hoping this is for this … So hopefully just wanted to discuss this issue … selfish and wondered were doing on this is … for the defer those belts that is listed you as part of the dentist office there but if you do the whole beach and wonderful to this message. So Beach … she’s on the Fulton. Please take me to work with me please two donation’s love..

Call #5

Hey how you please visit with from Microsoft me supposed to be this is in regards to Juanita supposed to be open the same we have received a non issue will continue to investigate and I will be do that you had it in time and open each of Alan and … I was hoping for me to just … that she said he’s only do it and send the other two phone calls from your side as want to the city to make it sounds good? But I have been off so please let me know how you wanted to thank you this is Willy.

Call #6

Yeah hi liz this is Lee from Microsoft beautiful in this call is in regards to an interest in either insurable. If anything’s couple of days … you had … ovations from the back and say they can support those for sex and the city. So just wanted to check over the issues is what I did know talk. I was not any minute not want anything just wanted to call and thank you in advanced.

By the way, at no point were these conversations ever actually interacting with anyone named Louise, Liz, Lee, Juanita, Denise, Fulton or Willy.  I’ve known more than a few techs that shortened their given name so that it would seem more pronounceable for Americans, but the name Willy was never one of them.

I was able to call these agents back and we eventually worked through our technical difficulties, but I did find myself amazed that we were able to collaborate at all through our linguistic difficulties. It helped me be more appreciative of what the human brain can comprehend and interpret. Think of your brain doing those same translations the next time you call in and get Raj from India. I would bet you are translating his instructions a lot better than the hopeless text above! Think of what Raj’s brain is having to sift through as well, I bet his is doing more work than yours, never mind the cultural differences.  Sure, both your brains will make some mistakes, it will be frustrating, and you might get a bit of a headache.  But think about how cool it is that you can even communicate with each other at all…and remember, Raj probably has a headache from listening to you too!

The Ebb of Autumn

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the end of summer and the sudden onset of the heart of fall… at least in Illinois weather.  It is a bit of melancholy amongst the beauty of the colorful, falling leaves.  This is a bit of an ode to summertime in the heart of everyone.

I kicked the leaves along the path today
The morning cool and crispy air
Filled my chest and chased my breath away
Faded gleams of warm and fair

The sun hung low inside the darkened sky
Shadows sighed of trees soon bare
The fog of frost soon filled my eyes
Longing for the loss of care

On Quality Work

Growing up in a big family can be tough. I feel that I can say this with a bit of authority because I am one of seven children, and I feel that this numerical resume entry grants license to call myself a somewhat qualified commentator for the Large Family Channel. And, while growing up in a large family can be difficult, providing for a large family can be a near impossibility. Even in the good times, just getting by can be tough. Survival skills are tested to the max especially in the summertime by the additional challenge of keeping all those idle, wiggly youngsters occupied and out of trouble. The solution? Find some sort of work for those young ones to do.

Since my family met the above criteria, and since we were an especially wiggly lot, work for us started at an early age. My laboring career began at the age of 11 and throughout my wonder years consisted of a wide array of different jobs and tasks, and almost all of them were outdoor manual labor. I worked for multiple employers, on an as-needed basis, and most often, on or around farms. Some jobs were not fun, some of them were…for at least the first 20 minutes. Jobs such as baling hay or straw, repairing fences, cutting, splitting and stacking firewood, mowing lots of yards, raking leaves, cleaning barns, filling the clean barn with stacked hay, emptying the barn of hay to feed to cattle, and “walking beans”.

For those of you that have not had the privilege of walking beans, I can briefly explain. “Walking beans” is basically weeding a really big garden. Of course, nobody actually likes weeds, but a farmer despises weeds. The pesky plants grow in their crops and steal nutrients, compete for sunlight and water and they just plain look ugly in a nice pretty field of row after row of neatly planted crops. After the growing season they don’t stop being a nuisance; they get tangled in the desirable plants and jam harvesting equipment, adding debris to the harvested grain and lowering the sale price. All of these features of weeds make them particularly loathsome in soybean fields. They are a pain in multiple ways and the farmer wants them out, so somehow he has to weed this huge garden.

These days there are all kinds of chemicals and treatments that can be put on the field that will kill almost all the weeds for an entire season. They are dispatched with a quick spray or two from one of those monster machines you may have found yourself stuck behind on the country back roads. But, back in my day (am I old enough to say that yet?!), most of the chemicals were just becoming popularized and they were still expensive enough to consider other, cheaper alternatives. For a time, I was that cheaper alternative.

The process of walking beans is quite simple. Start at one side of the field; count out 2, 3, or 4 rows; and start walking down that row armed with your weed killing implement of choice. My personal favorite weed slaying companion was a corn knife, an 18 inch, super-sharp machete. While walking through the field with your dangerous weapon, the idea is to cut, kill or pull all of the weeds in your set number of rows on either side (without killing any bean plants) as you walk all the way to the opposite end of the field. Count out 2, 3, or 4 rows past the ones just cleared, and walk back down the field again killing more of the dastardly weeds.


Soybeans Ready for Harvest

Soybeans Ready for Harvest

Over the years, my brothers and I walked beans in fields all over the county, racking up literally thousands of acres of soybeans cleared of weeds and miles and miles of uneven ground trodden beneath our dusty boots. All of this travel had to start with a first step, and that first step was taken in a bean field alongside a couple of my brothers and sisters when I was 11 years old.

It was an already hot morning in late June and we were trying to get to the field before it turned into an unbearable summer day. We rode in the farmer’s van up to the edge of the field and tumbled out, ready to attack the weeds. But this was the first day, so we needed some guidance from the owner of the field and provider of the work.

We gathered around while he gave us some brief words of instruction. Hank was a rather quiet but upbeat man in his late-fifties, with a slower and more deliberate demeanor, but with plenty of life left in the tank. He had thinning silvery hair and walked with a bit of a hitch in his gait. I never knew what caused his limp, but to hear him tell it, I am certain it was quite the story! And quite a storyteller he was! I always liked watching him spin a yarn, embellishing and polishing until it was perfect. He lost himself in the telling, and it never mattered if you heard the story before. Hank seemed like he was spinning a yarn now, he had a big smile on his face as he told us what fun we’d be having today. However, his words were laden with sarcasm, as we were about to find out.

Hank prepared to ration out the weed dispatching weapons to each member of my familial squad while he gave the last bits of instructions. He opened the back door of the van and there were the tools. Stacked in the back of the van were freshly sharpened corn knives, brand new weed hooks, and an awesome looking weed sickle (which was actually nothing more than a tooth from a sickle bar mower bolted to a rough cut shaft of cottonwood…you may not be able to picture that, but trust me, it looked wicked). I watched as all of the coolest, or to be more accurate, the more dangerous tools were handed out to everyone but me. No corn knife for me, no weed hook, and no weed sickle, I was handed a garden hoe. Looking back, I know this was a very smart move by Hank, but at the time I was bummed and a bit jealous.

Hank counted out rows of young bean plants for the placement of each walker and after I was ushered to my assigned spot, we started down our first wave of attack. I confidently strode out into the field seeing my first weedy victim, a pigweed, a hundred feet down the row I was walking. I hacked at the plant in front of me and it tumbled down as the hoe kicked up small clods of dirt.
This was kinda fun!
On to the next one!
It did not take long to find the next target a row over, I ran up to it and hacked at it wildly. The weed fell over and a few bean plants fell with it. I couldn’t exactly paste them back together, so I ignored the mangled bean plants and just moved on to the next intended victim.

It wasn’t long before the fun of hacking in the dirt with a garden hoe started to turn dull and quite tiresome. The glee of finding the new weeds was replaced by annoyance that there were just so many of them. If it was possible, I was getting a little more careless. I had been knocking over more than a few bean plants and was sharply critiqued by my sister at the end of one round.
“You can’t go killing all the beans like that, slow down! Weren’t you paying attention to what Hank said?”
Apparently I was not. And, it wasn’t the only thing I had missed.
I replied that I would be more careful, and I did try. But as the day wore on, I started getting preoccupied by something else entirely – finishing my row first!

There must not have been enough thrill anymore in walking back and forth on a hot, humid day whacking at some plants but not others. I had to create a game that apparently only I was playing. The rules were simple. Whoever got to the end of the field first on that round did the best job, and therefore was the winner. I wanted to do the best and I kept getting to the end of my row first, but no one seemed to celebrate my bean walking domination. I was also missing something slightly important. That’s right, weeds. My sister stopped me and scolded me…again.
“What are you doing? Hank is having clean up behind you and get all the weeds you are missing!”

At first I didn’t believe her. I was doing great, I was finishing first! But on the next round when I was ahead again, just to check, I took a look back behind me. There was Hank, leaning over and cutting down a weed fairly close to my row…was that mine? I walked on some more…another look back. This time, there was no doubt, about 100 yards back, Hank was leaning down into the very row I was walking in and cutting down a weed that I should have practically tripped over. It hit me quickly; here I was playing a game with a job I was assigned while I made this man five times my age do double the work. I was embarrassed.

To be fair, I was only 11, and I don’t believe that Hank really expected that much out of me. But that was kind of the point to my embarrassment; he did not expect much and I was living up to that low expectation. Wasn’t I taught to do the best job I could? Is it fair to play a game out of something I’m getting paid for? Am I going to hell for making an “old man” do my work for me? Ok, I didn’t really think that last one at the time, but I was feeling bad, especially when he was finishing last because of my missed weeds. I resolved to do better.

Rather than run, I slowed down. I tried not to indiscriminately demolish all plants around each weed. My goal changed from getting to the end of the row first, to getting all of my own weeds. My goal was to keep Hank from cleaning up after me. By the end of the job, I had improved markedly, and even got a compliment on how well I had done. It was a lot of work, but I really felt like I had accomplished something. Rather than be off in my own world, achieving accomplishments that existed only in my own head, I had lived up to and surpassed expectations of my ability. It felt great, and really made an impression on me.

Many years have passed since then, but I do like to think that the experience helped me grow a little, and helped shape my attitude in approaching my work. Although I don’t keep this specific memory in the front of my mind at all times, every now and then I feel myself metaphorically looking back over my shoulder…just to make sure that no one is having to get my weeds.

On Lyrics and Meanings

Raise your hand if you love music!

You can’t see it, but I am raising my hand.  I love music.  Music is pervasive in our culture so it is easy to say that everyone loves music to some degree.  However, I think some groups of people react very differently to music.  I’m definitely in the analytical-emotional-romanticizing group of music lovers.  Music can sometimes affect me in very interesting ways.  I can hear a clip of instrumental music or a popular song and I can have an instant emotional reaction. It can suddenly revive a long forgotten memory, it can make me happy and content or it can unflinchingly break my heart.  As important as it is to me to have that connection to the music itself, I find it is even much more profound when combined with lyrics that have real substance.

Thanks Dan.

What got me started on this train of thought was posts by Dan Hasletine from Jars of Clay.  I have been following him on Twitter for some time and he just started posting on his blog about lyrics he has written and is re-visiting their meaning or, what they have come to mean.  He asked his fans to come up with lyrics they are interested in knowing about and I was very excited to post a reply.  I started to mind-scroll through the Jars of Clay songs that I admired and I kept getting stuck.  I couldn’t pick one!  But what I found more interesting is that I did not really consider any whole song, instead I focused on bits of lyrics that paint a picture.

Click here for more images

One of the shots from my Lyrical Imagery Project on Flickr

Grasping the meaning in an entire song is sometimes easier for me than in a specific subset of its words, which is probably why I find small parts of songs so intriguing.   (A whole photography project of mine is based on of small portions of lyrics — blatant plug-in the photo to the right).  I kept focusing on some of those brilliant bits of writing from Jars of Clay songs and visualizing the scene.  Imagining the event that inspired the eloquence, I get very distinct pictures, sometimes without knowing  exactly what they mean.  Sometimes I just don’t care about their exact meaning because I know I feel a very specific way when I read or hear words like these:

  • They don’t see behind the lights, or the painted backgrounds, they just like to see you fall.
  • If I was not so weak. If I was not so cold. If I was not so scared of being broken…growing old.
  • A flower for your vanity, a penny for your thoughts.
  • This picture I’ve painted…it looks like my heart or what still remains.
  • You feel a lot like the good guy, but do you know why, everything’s so blue?
  • Fearful tears are running down, the pain you’ve laid don’t speak a sound.
  • I have no fear of drowning, it’s the breathing that’s taking all this work.
  • Trying to jump away from rock that keeps on spreading, for solace in the shift of the sinking sand
  • It takes more than your saline eyes…to make things right.
  • Flowers through the asphalt, diamonds in the pockets of your eyes…turn your face and hide.
  • If the wind should shake this house apart, the cradle hits the ground with a broken heart.
  • Weddings, boats and alibis, all drift away….and a mother cries.
  • Said and done I stand alone amongst remains of a life I should not own.

These are just some lyrics that I love from Jars of Clay.  Lyrics where I would love to know, not so much the meaning, but the source of inspiration, the story behind the moment of vision.   I haven’t used a Jars  song as a photo inspiration yet…but I certainly plan on it!  Even without knowing the story or inspiration behind these and other lyrics, there is no denying the power the words have and the images and emotions that they can stir.   Music is amazing.

Thanks for the stories and inspirations, the words that paint the pictures in our heads, and for the great music that stirs emotion.

P.S. – Memorable Jars Event

I had several opportunities to see Jars of Clay in concert but somehow missed them, or was not able to go.  It disappointed me, but good things do come!  My first Jars concert was at Twin City Bible Church in Urbana IL in December of 2000.  My brother was a student at the University of Illinois and he got one ticket to a special unplugged concert but didn’t know the band, so he offered it to me.  There couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred seats available and was it an amazing acoustic concert with audience requests, and great stories.  One of those events I’ll always remember.  I even got to talk with Dan at the end of the show.  I didn’t have anything for him to sign but stood in line anyway just to say something (and somehow that ended up including mentioning U2 in concert).  All around, it was very inspiring and hearing their music in that type of venue was all the more memorable.  Thanks again 🙂

We Aren’t as Stupid as You Think.

Sometimes I think you must really believe we are idiots.  The way you behave, your actions and your words all make the assumption that we are stupid.  In a small way, I do understand that you have to be that way.  When it comes down to work in life, I really don’t expect that many people really want to have your jobs.  It is very tough to please everyone…in reality, it is actually impossible, even though that seems to be what gets placed in your job descriptions.  But, having a tough job is not a good enough excuse to treat everyone else as if they are only tools to enable your power.

Let me elaborate a little, just in case you don’t know who you are yet:

You are elected politicians.  We are the people you serve.  I think I may need to re-emphasize that.   You serve us.   Your job is designed to be one that deals with the unpleasantness of leading a group of people that do not always agree on the best course of action.   Your job is not a vehicle to expand your power, establish manipulative influence or  build a platform for personal gain.  Yet time after time, this is what we see.  We hear your promises, and we want to believe them.  We want things better, and we want you to help us.  We believe you, we vote for you, and time after time we feel lied to.   This should not be interpreted as me saying that I think all politicians are liars.   Actually, quite to the contrary.  I believe quite a number of politicians really do want to help and do not intentionally lie in ads or in their message.  The key word in that last sentence is “intentionally”.  The unfortunate reality is that despite intent, after the flurry of  campaigning is over, people inevitably feel let down.

The cycle right now is beginning again.  Election day has come and gone, and suddenly my phone is quiet.  Over the past several weeks, my phone would ring eight times a night with “urgent” (recorded) messages about how important it was to vote for fill-in-the-blank candidate.  “Your vote is important!”.  This does not make me feel like you care about me, the voter.  Honestly, it feels like winning is the only objective, and that is why my vote is important to you.  With winning as the only objective, ceaseless intensely personal negative attack ads flood the airwaves to convince voters how evil the opponent is.   This is where I really get upset with you.  You obviously think we are all dumb enough to believe these petty attacks and that we will change our allegiance  because you call someone a name, or scare us about loosing something we know.  It’s deemed OK to say almost anything you want, even if it is speculation, because you think we believe it.

You obviously think of us all in the same way.  We are the dumb masses and you have to trick us in order to win.  Then, you wonder why people are upset!  Obviously, some people are affected by the mean attacks, or the “reminders” to vote, but certainly not all of us.  The problem with people in your jobs is that you treat us as “them” and not as “us”.  STOP putting us into categories of friend or foe.  We are all Americans, and we want honest people we can trust.   Currently, we do not trust you.  And we will not trust you until you stop thinking of us as stupid masses…as demographics, and start thinking of us…ALL of us, as “the people”.  Not only as “the people” that are looking to you for guidance, but as “the people” who give you your jobs, and pay for all that you spend.

We really aren’t as stupid as you think, and no matter what, you do still work for us.

Who cares what YOU think?

Who cares what YOU think?

Think about that for a moment.  I’m not referring to the sarcastic, kiss-off version of that statement.  I’m referring to people in your life that really value your opinion.  People that look to you for advice or input on something that is important to them.  Or, how many people just care to hear what is on your mind or read your Twitter feed, your Facebook status, your random emails from late at night.  Think of all of the people that you know, are acquainted with or e-know…who of these people care what YOU think?

I don’t care what other people think!

Or…do you?  Do you really mean that when you say it?  It seems that most people that go out of their way to say they don’t care what others think are usually reacting to something that indicates their own thoughts or feelings were not taken into consideration.  Someone most likely implied to them “I don’t care what you think!”  Naturally, the reaction is to return the favor.  The simple fact is that everyone wants to feel important to someone else.  People want their thoughts to matter…to someone.  And when they don’t matter, it hurts.

Everyone is a critic.

Have you ever noticed that everyone reviews movies these days?  Everyone has an opinion and everyone wants to share it.  Just look at comments on movies at IMDB.  I’ve never seen so many essays that assume they have the only “correct” interpretation.  I’ve never seen so many people being judged for their opinion…hold on…yes I have seen that before!  Try looking through the comments on YouTube I find it actually quite frustrating to see so much negativity and grand-standing! Perhaps it’s an American thing, perhaps it’s a human thing, but it sure seems to me that everyone thinks their opinion is the right one and there is no tolerance for other opinions. (Let’s not even get started on politics!)
Maybe all the naysayers are looking for is a little attention for themselves. And you know what? That isn’t so bad.  We all can relate…right?  Yes, I think so…just think about your response for a minute or two, maybe hold some of the profanity…and perhaps consider using lowercase letters as well as uppercase!

So, where is this going?

I’m not sure it’s going anywhere really.  And that may be part of my point I guess.  Who REALLY cares what you write in your blog?  I am not making the assumption that anyone really cares about reading these words right now!
But I can assume that everyone can think of someone who values their opinion and thoughts…and maybe you should just take a moment and think about those people…thanks guys, you rock!

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