Category Archives: Uncategorized

Race issues

This is something that happens to me nearly every time I drive my car, and I don't get it: I just want to win.

What the hell?

Oh, that Audi passed me, but he's going to run into some slow traffic there and I'm going to catch up and what a goof we're going to end up at the same red light together anyway etc etc etc.

It's so weird to have any competitive feelings about driving to the grocery store—especially when it's coupled with a desire to stay within 5 or 10 mph of the speed limit. But I feel it—from my core to my clenched fists. What causes that pressure to feel like there's a race? Why do I need to pass any cars? Why do I want to keep my eyes on the Audi to see how our positions relate to each other, as if there's a green flag and a checkered flag somewhere on Manchester Avenue?

Every time I feel it. And every time I feel the reaction—the self-awareness that the first feeling is idiotic. How does it affect me? What difference does it make where the Audi is? What does it mean to win when there is no race? Where is that Audi? What's the use of getting to the grocery store 15 seconds earlier—if that even happens, because traffic is a discrete problem and I might get to the red light 15 seconds earlier and then get to the grocery store at the same time anyway? Where the hell is that Audi?

The purpose of driving down the street is to get somewhere. Everyone out there is just trying to get somewhere. What would happen if the collective mindset changed from "I'm going to win" to "I'm going to help everyone get where they're going"? I still feel that first urge in my head—the default urge, the primal urge—but the second one, that's better.

Smile through the aid stations

In a long enough running race, there are aid stations—places to pick up water and food and, in the long long races, a place to pick up drop bags with your own supplies. Endurance running aid stations are operated by volunteers—people who are just sitting at tables out in the woods for free handing out gummy bears all day and all night.

It's an insane arrangement by insane people for insane people. You might see one every five or six miles, and you're really looking forward to seeing those crazy people. The water and the pretzels and the candy are nice, sure, but you can pack those things in your bag and run with them if you want. Those are replaceable.

The people are a gift, and I would try to entertain them during my minute or two through the station—make it worth their time. There's not much I could give them because I left my wallet in the car, so why not give them a chuckle by asking for a ride to the next aid station, or some other lame joke that could be concocted out of the four brain cells that were still firing at mile 80.

There was always something extra received in return, and it wasn't from the volunteers who were already giving you what you wanted. There was a big mood lift in my own head from expressing a good mood outwardly—a mood that wasn't there 15 minutes ago while slogging towards the station. It didn't matter if the jokes didn't land and every time I answered "how are you doing?" with "great" was a crazy lie—every outward bound bit of positivity had its own positive effect where it started. I would get a few minutes of psychological glow that followed me down the trail, which is a killer advantage in races that test the endurance of your mind as much as, or even more than, the endurance of your body.

I don't think about it often, but it came to mind over the weekend while slogging 80-pound bags of mortar from the garage around to the basement door. After a few bags, I'd get near that door and the ugly face contortions would kick in, as if that's what was needed to go the last few feet.

And it hit me: smile through the aid stations. Avoid the exertion face, and just laugh at it all. Why not? Some of it will come back to where it started.

I think it's good advice, even if it's not advice I would take all the time. I'm not looking for positivity. Some humor, sure. But positivity and happiness, no. A little, however—that's fine by me.

Order and chaos

Order out of chaos? Order from chaos? I don't know about that—sounds alchemical.

Order in chaos? Maybe.

Order and chaos? There we go.

I think there is a tendency—I feel in myself a tendency—to equate forms that I don't understand with chaos. Strange music. Weeds at the edge of the garden. Sensor data that defy immediate explanation. Unusual flavors. (Strange or unusual for me, at least.)

Gardens are fantastic examples of order and chaos. Why do we plant things in nice, straight rows? It looks good to us. Orderly, planned, organized—all positive-seeming words that give us humans the central role in creation, or stewards of a greater plan.

Disorder—as seen from our perspective as creators of order—never really goes away. It shows up in weeds, in rain, in no-rain, in fungi... and on and on and on. Push that rock uphill all day in the garden, go to sleep, then wake up to find the rock back at the bottom of the hill again.

And on and on and on.

I like order—but not too much. Too much order, and you start to see the world as a place full of things that need to be ordered. Some of it does, I think, but it's a matter of taste. I like a little disorder left in the system because the disorder will be there anyway whether you like it or not and it can be greeted and welcomed as a part of the ordered design.

What we sense as chaos is not necessarily chaos. There is a logic in the weeds below. They are native residents, and they house native residents, and they keep the dirt from eroding away, and internally they are biologically mechanisms that have their own mechanisms for staying alive. They look ugly when you don't want them there, but after you welcome them they look fine. I don't get the final say in anything, really, they look fine to me, but they look better with a few domesticated flower sprinkled in.

And all it takes, really, is a slight shifting of the head to bring in the straight lines hiding in the midst of the wild curving stalks.

I'm not an advocate for total disorder. I'm not an advocate for total order, either. The person who believes that chaos can be tamed into order is the same person who doesn't see the chaos hiding in order—a blind spot with consequences.

May I never be content. May I never be perfect. Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete.

The helicopters are back

A few months ago the helicopter noise was more frequent. Then it went away. But now it's back.

That's my informal metric for the coronavirus.

The helicopters come from the west and southwest—from rural Missouri—to the larger, better equipped hospitals in St. Louis.

The noise doesn't bother me—a few seconds and it's gone—but the frustration of a largely avoidable problem lingers.

The Pianist

I'm watching The Pianist (2002) now. Going to have to break it into two parts—which may be bridged by the dreams in between.

I complain a lot during the day—a lot a lot. Some is for comedy, but most is just petty whining—amateur stuff, really. Wladyslaw Szpilman survived the German invasion of Warsaw. It turns down the volume of certain transmitters in your head, watching the screen enacted scenes of casual and not so casual violence—humans as animals, and so on. It's not the only feeling, the feeling of "well I guess I don't have it that bad", but it's the one that makes it to the fingers, and out. The rest are a sort of clot.

Superpower, 2

Previous: Superpower

Something we used to say about Jorge—the same Jorge from this post, for what it's worth—was that he was good at everything but his job. That sort of statement... is it a compliment? An insult?

Both, sort of.

It's not the sort of thing you could aspire to—how do you aim at a goal like that anyway?—but if you get there, you know you've made it. It's a respectable level of achievement. Even when you're not good at some of the things list in your job req, people still come to you to Get Things Done. You're like the hero of that old saying: a Jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.

Cool, 2

Previous: Cool

Today I experimented with something: doing one thing at a time. No list. No looking forward to the next thing. Just the thing in front of me, the thing I could see that needed to be done, the thing I was asking that needed to be finished.

It sounds really obvious—and it is obvious, I agree—but my mind is usually a pile of plans and ideas, washing over each other like salmon swimming upstream to spawn, and the concept of one thing at a time is just a concept and nothing more.

One thing at a time is, relatively, relaxing. There's less stress when only the current team needs to be finished, however simple or difficult it is. If the thread of concentration gets broken for some reason, it is the only thread that needs to be repaired.

Maybe it isn't relaxing in a larger sense, but in a local sense—at the level of getting things done—it's feels more relaxing, even as you're ostensibly doing work.

Superpower

Today I think I figured out what my superpower is. It seems to make sense. At least I feel some kind of calm about it—like finding a missing puzzle piece that ties the rest of the picture together.

My superpower is finding—and filling—gaps in teams.

Maybe that's not a superpower. Maybe that's just a tendency. It's certainly (viewed as) a weakness in large organizations—from the top down, at least, from the kind of viewpoint that values each team member as a finely crafted cog that has One (And Only One) True Function. Any thinking person, however, knows that a plan is only as good as the deviations from the plan that make the plan work. And any team is only as good as the deviants who abandon the plan long enough to put out the fires that will burn everything down.