Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Papers, Papers Everywhere

I cannot seem to get out from under it. I look to my left - an inbox brimming with all sorts of presentations, leaflets, magazines, and binders lining up against the wall . I look to my right - a desktop screen cluttered with a Microsoft Office explosion of Powerpoint, Word, Excel, and a straggling Access file in there. I look down - the file drawers are organized, thank goodness, but should hold more of what I see to my left. And sitting on the table, those stacks of Red Herring magazines and various industry pamphlets that update everything from Japanese innovation to US Barnum & Bailey convention promotions.

I sit in the middle of this, figuring out where to start in getting organized again. This is a monthly ritual, it seems - run like heck to stay just one step ahead as the crash of all this activity hangs imminently in the balance of what can practically fit in the inbox. Then, right before IT turns off the email and the inbox falls over, I catch it all and file it away. Until the next month at least.

I'll thank Coleridge for the send-off: "Papers, paper everywhere, cause all inboxes to overpile; papers, papers everywhere, nor any a minute to file"

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Spring Cleaning (better late than never)

Memorial Day weekend came and went like the thunderstorms that rumbled on Sunday evening here in the DC area. I thought that a three-day weekend would be just the cure for a crazy-busy schedule the past month (work projects blowing up all over the mainstream news, wedding planning, homeownership nicks & nacks, getting my personal affairs in order, travels, and stealing a moment for reflection), but it turned out that the only salvation was that the next weekend was now only 4 days away. Oh yeah, and a great friend was going to be in town in the upcoming week but that is the topic of another post.

Still, I tried to make the best of the extra out-of-work time - which got funneled right back into homeowner activities (and what else does a homeowner do except spend free time keeping up with whatever is going on around and inside the home?). To be more specific, I took to cleaning up the "jungle", Wendy's vividly wonderful description of our backyard's overgrowth. Imagine that, homeowners - leave some space to its own devices for a few years (I got word that the previous owner took very little pains to tidy up the smallish patch out back) and see what happens to the plant life. On hands and knees for the better part of a jam-packed morning, I worked through a wide swath of land (or so it seemed), pulling up all sorts of vegetation that seemed to grow out of any piece of land that it could muster. By the time I was done, I was two trips to Home Depot away from even getting close to something that passed as a job well done; I spent the better part of the next two days running all sorts of errands to get those supplies which strangely never match the needs of the jobs at hand. Looking back over the efforts, though, I can claim pride on the fact that our pride & joy backyard rose bush got some much-needed water and sprouted a bunch of new buds all over its mass along one of the fences.

I digress too much into the specifics of Memorial Weekend activities - I'm happy that just a small part of my "honey-do" list got cleared. A few months late, to be sure, but I'm slowly getting caught up on spring cleaning (better late than never).

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wounded, Duck

I am a curious bystander of the US political process. Driving to work around the Beltway in DC, I get the same news from NPR to which all the politicos listen; it is hard to avoid their chatter, even if I turn off the radio. From week to week, the issues are different, but the overall process is the same: executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government hammering out new laws & proposals while trying to make sense of current affairs and subsequent issues that will inevitably become the laws & proposals of the future. Keeping score of these accounts is tiring and no doubt a more-than-full-time job; I think those guys (& gals) down in the Capitol Building are doing a fine job of mucking around in the issues.

Mucking is the operative word. I have tried to make sense of current issues that consume the media outlets and political bluster - Iraq, oil, and immigration. Of course, there is an off-mention of foreign affairs and other seemingly important issues like the Doha Round (the next WTO agreement on multi-lateral trade), China & India's emergence, trade in general, and other various rabble-rousers (Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Somalia, Israel/Palestine). The problem is that secretive agendas seemingly disjointed from global realities set the agenda for the efforts. And, as most large organizations - political or business-oriented - the agenda gets driven from the top. That top is headed by a president who seemingly has little perspective beyond the walls of his Oval Office, and he has a staff of yes-men who do not appear able to move beyond the guidelines set down by him and his close advisors.

Ah, yes - the close advisors and the friends. Dick Cheney. Karl Rove. Alberto Gonzales. There are others lurking in the background, but these three steal the spotlight. They are painted as evil, conniving, and clueless respectively - and do not seem willing to challenge these notions through their public statements. Even with a change of government from the last big US election in 2006 - which has agreed the open combativeness of bi-partisan politics - these characters have further established their personas and etched their names permanently in the infamies of history.

I say infamies because I am not sure if history will be too kind to these characters. Damage has been done in many directions - US international reputation, Iraqi sovereignty, public debt spending, environmental damage, and worst of all for a business manager - global competitiveness in terms of cost structure and attractiveness to talented labor. All of these things were "missed" in political assessments, or rather, not fully appreciated when viewing situations from a broader perspective. Now, the damage has been done and has left future generations to clean up and/or address in likely uncomfortable situations with US global neighbors.

My thoughts were on this subject briefly when listening to some testimony from Monica Goodling, a former Chief of Staff for Alberto Gonzales who was forced to comment to the Senate about dealings by the Attorney General to establish a new judicial climate post-2004 elections. It seemed that the line was crossed regarding abuse of power (certainly not an isolated instance - consider wiretapping, unsanctioned invasions, torture, unlawful imprisonment, to name a few other grievances), and the House politicians were looking for accountability. Alberto Gonzales, in his own testimony, suggested that his recollection was not so great; it seemed in Monica's testimony that his recollection was carefully cultivated in the questions that he posed to his staff.

In any case, laying bare more issues surrounding this whole political process leave me thinking: disregard for the wider impact of decisions in leadership - not just in the US political process but in any sort of social institution - leaves those in weak positions. Wounded, Bush appears to duck more than stand up for the transgressions; I wish him well as he will likely need to take some cues from Alberto Gonzales and further cultivate his recollection of these crazy times for posterity.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Summer is Here to Stay (for a few months at least)

Finally, the weather is starting to turn. After several funky months of start-again, stop-again weather spells, it appears that Mother Nature is done with her spring cleaning and is ready to turn up the heat. Temperatures are just starting to nudge over 80 degrees farenheit with a run akin to the up-and-up record-setting pace on Wall Street. By the time the weekend rolls around, the garden hose will become an essential daily accessory upon returning home from work.

I have some melodies floating in my mind from old-time musicals, and they seem to accurately paint the mood - people are generally happy and excitement is carrying folks to their after-work plans. The days of hot, lazy afternoons are immimently here, and summer is here to stay (for a few months at least).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Thank You Cards

It only takes a minute
To pen a heartfelt line
But what becomes the limit
Is what becomes of time.
Overcome with activity,
Dreary task lists full,
Soon becomes proclivity
Towards immediate pull
Of urgent demands
That consume the sands
Of time.
Prophesy often becomes
A self-fulfilling bit,
That what is overcome
Is not what plans had knit.
Ah yes, those best-laid plans
Are lost in workaday,
To be forgotten what only can
Make boldened efforts pay.
Just spend a moment to capture
Some thankful words complete
In card that might bring rapture
For those who are so sweet.
Remember simply the time they take
To offer what warm feelings make.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

All Stacked Up

I just got back in the office from a quick trip to my company's headquarters, and the voicemail messages were already piling up. Not to mention the action items in my notebook, the task list on my computer, which is only halfway processed from the even fuller email inbox. It seems that as much as one day gets me up to speed, the next day knocks me back down to size. And that size is very, very small.

Such is life, I suppose. I am trying to do a better job of handling all this activity, so I am midstream in hoisting up a process to funnel this work activity through my calendar. I have to do that, lest my family and friends think I would have disappeared from the planet (and some already do - I'm still here folks!) - not to mention my smallish backyard with vacant pond (koi missing, taking new applicants) that is overgrowing its boundaries. Good thing I have great family, friends, and neighbors - as well as employers - who are fairly understanding, lest they all evict me from this hectic life and throw me to the proverbial curb.

I'm hanging in there, I guess. It's just that I'm all stacked up across the board, and change does not appear imminent.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Game of Chinese Checkers

Wendy and I discovered some features in the newer version of Skype, plug-ins that allow Skype users to play classic games with each other. One of those games is the classic Chinese Checkers, and we have enjoyed a game together from time to time when we needed a quick pause from work.

I find these simple events a marvel of the modern age, and it takes such technology to refresh old memories that are recast in a new light. When I was growing up, I spent time at my grandmother's house, brought by my mother in tow. I was a curious dawdler and easily amused. That is where the board games came in, those seemingly simple treasures that could capture a young lad's attention for hours on end. You know these games by heart as well as I do: Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders, Sorry, Uno, and Go Fish to name just a few. But of all these games, I remember one most vividly: Chinese Checkers.

On a warm, sunny afternoon, I can remember the faint scent of lightly breaded chicken pieces and potato salad of an earlier lunchtime meal. On the table afterwards was a simple game board with stone pieces strewn about. Dot by dot, they filled up the board as I played across from my grandmother, with whoever joined in. A simple game of hopping stones, separately or one over the other, to pass from one side of the board to the other. Someone inevitably discovered the least path of resistance, at which time all stones were unturned to refill the holes on a newly cleared board. Game after game, this ritual could go on for an hour or so, until my little hands became tired or my mother whisked me away to the next event.

So it is with my brief interludes with Wendy. I am reminded of fond memories in these short games, same feelings evoked as when a child playing across from my grandmother - only now the pieces are digital, the board is virtual, and Wendy is far away from here (she in Denver and I in DC). A game of Chinese Checkers can do that, though - no matter what age we find ourselves in.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Upon Turning 30

Yesterday it happened. Sometime after watching "The Queen" (a very good movie which requires some stamina to appreciate late at night), the clock struck twelve. After that point, I was no longer in my 20's.

To be clear, I have never been one to get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of certain artificial milestones. One thing that I have learned through the last few years is that one reaches certain internal milestones without rhyme or reason; one person's moment to become an adult is another person's moment to grab strongly for long-lost youth. Still, these dates that mark the passage of time are as good as any in a post-modern world to re-assess one's stock and make some sense of the moments.

For me, a life worth living has led ultimately to a townhouse life outside of DC with a fiancee'; it all works except for the picket fence and the struggling koi in the small backyard pond. Somehow, I ended up here after stints in Ohio, California, and Switzerland; somehow, the path carries its own logic. And after wild swings that could inevitably have led to Italy or London or even back to the old hometown, I have ended up here outside of DC and outside of the plans I might have concocted when I was 25.

I guess we are always undergoing a healthy dose of change, and that change seems to happen at a greater rate than our parents and ancestors had previously experienced. We are at the mercy of an age that sometimes exists in a realm unseen (online) and moments unlived (automation). We do many things because they are possible but maybe not advisable, and we try to fit in so much before we pass from this world that a day's passing is little occasion for reflection and personal connection. Our children's interaction will become fully digital, I fear, and the act of writing will become as archaic as the manual typewriter has already become to peers not far behind me in age. Even more, the increasing living expectancy is extending development ages for people, such that the 20's are becoming the teens of yesteryear and the child-rearing days push further and further into the 30's - not to mention that mid-life crisis is becoming more a thing of the 60's than the 40's and the teens are becoming a good time prepare extensively for a life of automated tests and assessments for a variety of skills.

So there you go - our lives seem to start today just about the time that our ancestors' lives ended. Turning 30 today signifies that you must, inevitably now, take up the mantle of adulthood and start to become more mature. No doubt that the mantle in future generations will likely be picked up at 40, but that is for another day. For now, my mantle has already been picked up and will be carried forward with some vigor. Upon turning 30, I am ready to try my hand at housekeeping and married life and career life to find out all that my parents long ago learned. And who knows - kids soon to follow, another promotion, a new car? A fight with the neighbors over the hedge? A church membership? Another charitable donation? Community service? Working out at the YMCA? On my 30th birthday, I strangely feel contented with this progression, onward and upward to the building of a fuller life.