Friday, 13 May 2016

Satiety

About a year ago I wrote about giving up, and proceeded to live a relatively monastic life for a the rest of 2015. My kith and kin were concerned that I was depressed. I don’t think I was, but I do think I might have been a bit bleak in my framing. As I sat on my porch tonight, I listened to Ali Farka Touré’s wandering guitar, drank some scotch, and pet my dog.

The only thing I missed was my son. Having him every day would be a dream come true, but 50% is the best I can hope for. I get a lot of satisfaction from striving to do well as a father and at my job. The rest of the things that I’d like but don’t have are no big deal – and that’s what gave me a thought that happiness isn’t having everything you want – it’s appreciating what you have in comparison to what you don’t. It’s a roundabout way of reaching a cliché, but it’s something I needed to relearn.

I don’t think it’s possible to be happy unless you’re missing at least one big thing from your life. There’s no shape to what you have if you have everything – and trying to have everything usually means that you cut corners.

Happiness is paying attention to the shape of what you have, not the emptiness around it.

Satiety is having enough, not having it all.

Food tastes better when you know you’ll be hungry tomorrow.

I still miss my son.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Yelling at Clouds

I’ve been “Old Man Yells at Cloud” a bit more than usual lately.

That was my reaction to seeing a photo of a $30 plate of ribs, coleslaw, pickles & bread at Michael Symon’s new restaurant, Mabel’s BBQ. It was the thin slice of white bread in particular that drove me to such heroic lengths. My beef is, I think, legitimate. Foods that have been traditionally valued for their simplicity, tradition, & nostalgia have been hijacked by haute cuisine and paraded around in garish costume.

I feel like the experience of a cultural, regional, or ethnic cuisine is enhanced by enjoyment of it in context. I’m an anthropologist; I want the cultural experience of getting amazing, nothing-fancy ribs from a guy cooking them in a converted steel drum at an abandoned gas station on East 131st Street. I want to buy poutine in sub-zero temps from a food truck in Kingston, ON that has been parking in the same spot and serving the same lunch to the same group of people for years. I want black-peppered grits, either plain or cooked in potlikker. I want to go into a restaurant in Little Arabia or Ukrainian Village or Asia Town where English is a second or third language and take my chances.

I’ve identified two things about this that drive me crazy, and a pretty solid reason why I’m being unfair, which I’ll get to in a minute.

  1. Branding/Marketing. The successful haute cuisine is so aggressively marketed and granularly branded that the experience becomes less about the food and more about the exclusivity of it. Everything is sold as if it is archetypal – postmodernist edibles.
  2. Safety. The successful restauranteur these days seems to be a white guy who appropriates a non-white cultural cuisine and adjudicates its presentation in such a way that the surroundings feel safe and comfortable to other white folks. That’s not an adventure to me.

When I say haute cuisine, I’m talking about a kitchen that mansplains food. “You plebeians, here’s how you should be making your poor-folk food.”

I took a course called Crucial Conversations a few weeks ago, and one of the things we learned is when to identify situations where you’re telling yourself a story because you lack enough information to really know what’s going on. So I tried to come up with an alternative story to why someone might do things to foods that I love that I find completely unconscionable. The easiest empathic path I was able to come up with is thinking of a restauranteur as an artist. The stuff they are doing to food is their art. I can at least understand that motive, even if I think there’s a metric butt-ton of privilege in the implementation. An artist would, can, and sometimes should ignore cultural context if they are remixing another art. This allows a food artist to ignore the fact that Wonder Bread is napkins and gravy-sop for poor Southern folks and create an artisanal hand-ground, preservative and HFCS-free white bread to go with the $30 lamb BBQ. The thing being valued is the exclusivity and remix, not the authenticity. Damien Hirst as chef.

I can at least understand that, even if I think it’s dumb.

Most folks I know don’t think of me as particularly conservative, but on the whole I tend to value the vernacular – craft over art, things that remain rather than things reinvented. Maybe I’m a misanthropologist.


Tangentially, I read an article today about co-sleeping and whether it’s good or bad. This is such a silly argument to me – like arguing whether circumcision is good or bad. (If it wasn’t meant to be there, it wouldn’t be). It wasn’t that long ago that women were completely knocked out when they went into labor and “medical professionals” took delivery on from there because that was considered better than natural childbirth. It wasn’t that long ago that formula was considered a better option than natural nursing. Currently, people in Western countries think it is better to leave a newborn infant alone, in a quiet room, for most of the day or night and to keep track of them via an electronic monitor than keep them close for comfort. Forget the fact that primates have been:

  1. having natural birth for millions of years
  2. nursing their offspring for millions of years
  3. not letting newborn offspring out of their sight for millions of years

By all means, keep the infant in a dark, quiet, separate room, completely cut off from warmth, comfort, and stabilizing influence of their parents. I’d cry too.

Yeah, definitely a misanthropologist.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Leadership & Humility Training

This week my work hours are filled with training. I spent the first two days learning how to conduct facility assessments for ADA standards – in isolation, this not typically something that an IT guy would be expected to learn – but there are good organizational reasons for me to be involved at this level of detail. Two days down, two more to go for next week. Today and tomorrow I’m taking Crucial Conversations – learning techniques to apply reason and tact in important situations where our lizard hindbrains make it difficult to be reasonable or tactful.

I have been to quite a few leadership academies, soft skills, and sundry other trainings since I was in high school – there’s always something new to learn – and that’s the main point I have here. There’s always something new to learn.

We’re social primates, so enforcing status through silence or violence is the evolutionary rule. Culture, different cultures, and cultural behaviors in this context are tools just as much as a knapping stone is a tool – things we use to solve problems. Keeping that in mind enforces a kind of humility. Status is pride-bound. A chain of bosses pulled from a barrel of monkeys. Leadership is humble, it aims at the goal, not the status. The type of organization (a group of social primates with different roles and different statuses united around common goals) that leads is one that makes a commitment to be a certain way, recognizes its weaknesses with humility, and determines the work to meet those common goals.

Following ADA standards (and section 508 standards to tie it in to my own work) requires the ability to step out of one’s own status in order to understand how we can be mindful of the needs of others. It’s an ongoing humbling, because leadership is about admitting your ignorance and accepting that there is always something new to learn.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

About Giving Up

Giving up is something I’ve been trying to learn the last couple of years. It doesn’t come naturally to me (or any American, probably), but it does take away some chronic stressors. From a business standpoint, the things I’ve given up on are all things that have had no return on the investment I’ve made trying to achieve them. I’m not saying that the good things in life must be defined in terms of capital, but I have limited means to invest, and so I’ve opted out of markets where I’ve been wasting my time.

Relationships

I’ve given up on dating. My last relationship ended in February, and in that time I’ve gone on 3 dates, and have been canceled on or stood up probably 9 times. I haven’t even tried since June. I’m a 34 year-old single dad, which severely limits both the available time, and the number of women who might be interested in me that I am also interested in. For awhile I was going out by myself, but I became envious of all the couples I saw. For all the time, money, and effort I was expending, I was in the same spot. I keep reviewing past relationships in hindsight and second-guessing my decision-making. In my experience, there’s never a clear answer when it comes to love.

Friends

I threw a party a few weeks ago and invited about a dozen people that I consider friends or see on a regular basis. Most said they’d come, but only three showed up. A year ago I would have invited dozens of people, but in that time I’ve reduced my “friend list” from a couple hundred to about four dozen. I removed everyone who I hadn’t seen or heard from in nine months or more. I’ve also pretty much stopped using Facebook. I unfollowed everyone left on my friends list, and only use it for messenger or events. Drastic, yeah, but if people want my company, they know how to get in touch. The people I’m still in touch with, I was in touch with on the regular before. I have three folks I’d consider good friends. We talk weekly, and did so even before I started radio silence.

Life Goals

By now I was hoping to be married, with a fleet of kids, and living in a nice home that I own. To be settled down. Maybe have air conditioning. I’ve given up on those goals. I made a couple of poor decisions in 2007 that irrevocably changed my life. I’ve resigned myself to being a single dad; to not having any more kids; to renting for the rest of my life. The kids piece is the hardest one for me to reconcile myself with. As an only child, I always swore that I would have more than one child myself. Being a dad is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me, but it’s only going to happen once.

So, what?

Having given up on the above, I am better able to focus and invest my energies on being a dad to Abraham, and working hard at my job. After those items are squared away, I’m fairly monastic. Bike rides, walking my dog, maintaining the house I rent. Trying to simplify. If not happy, at least content; mindful. It is very hard.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Some Job Interview Basics

I’ve been on the other side of the table for job interviews the last few months. One thing that I’ve noticed is lack of candidate preparation in the interview process. I want to hire people who work hard to get the job they’ve applied for. Here’s what I like to see from a candidate:

  • Clarity, honesty, precision, concision. Your cover letter, resumé, and interactions with the staff interviewing you should demonstrate forthrightness. If you don’t know something, admit it. That will get you more points than trying to weasel your way around the answer. Don’t ramble.
  • Demonstrated knowledge of the business and position. If you know jack about the organization or the position’s requirements, you appear ill-prepared.
  • Asking questions about the business and how the position fits within it. If you do not show a desire to understand how a job fits within an organization, you probably do not care about the organization’s mission or values.
  • Show respect for the process by dressing up. You don’t have to be rich to look nice, and people notice. I wore a tie to my interview at Burger King when I was 15½. I wore a tie to my interview as a seasonal teamster/warehouseman when I was 18.
  • Be ready to answer tough questions. Even a menial job will require the ability to deal with the unexpected. We’ll want to know that you know how to handle those unexpected situations.

It boils down to one rule: Work as hard to get the job as you’ll work if you get it.

We’ll notice.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Complications

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been slowly learning how acceptance is a method of control. In this case, my definition of acceptance is the ability to recognize your own limitations and be honest about what that means in life. I want to say that this skill is an old person’s virtue, but that is only because I have begun to understand it as an old person.

Forget what you know about satan; the word etymologically signifies any adversary. There are many paths to God, but the Christian method is through submission to Jesus Christ. To not submit is to become satan.

I have been thinking about what methods of growth work for people. I’ve been using a continuum of cooperation and competition as my measure. Some learn and grow and thrive by working with others, while some learn and grow and thrive by working against others. We each have bits and pieces of both.

I am a great team player. Super-cooperative. But I am also very anti-authoritarian. I will work with a team tirelessly, but I do not recognize authority. I value competent leadership, but on an individual basis.

The best way to get me to not do something is to tell me that I’m expected to do it. I am astounded at the number of people who have known me intimately over the years and have been unable to realize that telling me “you’ll do x” basically certifies that I won’t do whatever ‘x’ is.

My engagement with religion has been adversarial ever since I left the nest. I am not a sheep, I am a goat. And while Abrahamic religions demand submission, I do not think a God that is Love would limit the paths by which one can know him. So I fight belief tooth and nail, but I do not not believe.

There’s still a wild gulf of uncertainty. Am I inventing all of this just to rationalize my irrationality? It doesn’t matter, I’ve accepted my nature.

I fell in love a little last night and walked right out without doing anything about it. I have accepted the ease that it happens now, too. Just as I’ve always been mouthy, there have always been certain people who can hook me without even putting a line in the water.

I’ve been my own adversary, refusing to accept the authority of my nature. Cooperating with it has been going much more smoothly.