The Strategy of Not Being Busy

BusyIn life, I am surrounded by busy people. I life, I am not surrounded by productive people. It’s strange to watch, sometimes amusing, sometimes annoying. Even the rusty patched bumblebee knows to stay on a flower long enough to get the nectar, though it’s odd to note that the bee is now endangered.

Distraction can be good. It can create intersections and new ideas, but the distraction isn’t of worth when the distraction itself is a habit. We live in a world where everything demands speed, attention to detail. Everyone is juggling to some extent. And somewhere along the way, society decided ‘busy’ was something to aspire to when really it isn’t.

It’s about being productive. And being productive might require being busy, but being busy works against productivity at a certain point.

I call it cavitation – at some point, a propeller in water turns fast enough to create ‘bubbles’ because of the changes in pressure around it. These bubbles actually stop the propeller from being efficient. In fact, they can cause a vibration that destroys the propeller and the shaft. Dear reader, you are the propeller and the shaft. Spin too fast, you get bubbles and you feel like you’re not getting enough done despite how fast you think you should be going.

Spin faster as an answer and the vibration will eventually kill you.

The other side of this is that we’re all a bit like submarines – move too fast, and the motion around us makes us blind to anything but our own noise. So in even moving too fast, in being busy, you aren’t aware of what you’re running into – which could be worse.

When you’re cavitating, it doesn’t mean that you should speed up. It means you need to slow, and if you must slow and you must get things done, you need help. And if you cannot get help, or the help you get is cavitating, the chain continues.

Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast.

– Miyamoto Musashi, Book of Wind, Go Rin No Sho (1645)

If you find yourself being busy and not being productive, slow down.


A Beginning.Today, an excavator and water truck occupied half of the road, the other half brush – so I drove through the brush. I’ve been knocking down brush with the pickup for days – the flimsy plastic flares that Ford insulted it with have complaints scraped into their paint.

I stop next to them to chat, and one of them says, “You’ll scratch your paint.”
I return, “The paint will get scratched.”
“But your paint!”
“This is what this pickup does. It doesn’t sit in a driveway and look pretty. It doesn’t go to car shows. It’s here to do a job. Like that excavator.”

And so it is. Commitment. Sure, I thought about the paint. Sure, I thought about it – but it was that moment where you either dive in or wade in. I dove in. The pickup will get scratched. I didn’t buy it to be pristine. I bought it to be a little beast, taking me to places where others only go with heavier equipment. I ask it less than I ask of me – where I was committed to objectives, where I went on despite injury.

The pickup can get scrapes. It will wear them as I wear my scars: proudly. And I will keep it when it’s work is done and drive it til it dies, because that’s loyalty.

And I am loyal to those who help me on the way.

People will invariably tell me that I should buy something else, and in time I may. But this pickup is becoming a part of the greater machine, the greater commitment.

The Return.

Stream closeups at Tyrico BayDipping your toes into the familiar water, you flex them. Feel the water flowing between them. You arch them upward, feeling the water rush through your toes, below the ball of your foot and down your heel.

It is familiar, this stream.

You repeat the process with your other foot, then slowly walk into the deeper parts, feeling it eddie behind your calves. It licks at the back of your knee, washes over your thighs, between them. You have a choice now, a choice as to whether you’re going to wade in and shrink against every drop of water, or you’re going to dive in.

I always dive in. There are no half measures. There can be no half measures. You’re either committed to going in, or you stay where it’s nice and dry. You’re either committed to what you are doing or not, there is no in between.

From the stream, you get to the river, from the river, the ocean – that is the flow. The conditions for that flow other people have written about, so there’s no sense writing about it here. But suddenly, you’re there and you can go as deep as you want to.

This is what it is. Returning to land, I am back in one of my flows – massive amounts of information, judgement calls, pushing things forward with a commitment that doesn’t make sense to some.

It makes sense to me, and it all makes sense to me. It’s part of the flow. This is me.

This is where I belong. This is what I need to do.




The Mango Tree

Mangos almost readyNear where I am planting roots, there is a bar with a mango tree across from it. Under the mango tree sits a bench, next to the bench sits a wooden wire spool.

This is the information superhighway of the village. This is where men who drink talk – no women come here, possibly because of the reputations of those that take the shade of the tree.

This is an intersection. Strange conversations happen here. Wisdom and foolishness are imparted with the fervor of alcohol. It is not a safe place, tempers can flare just as in any other place. It is not a place where the ‘successful’ lounge. But it is a place where the mangoes do not have far to fall – barely bruised sometimes, with the same value as the words that flow under the tree. Sometimes sweet, sometimes too ripe, sometimes not yet ready to be absorbed.

I stood under the tree recently, drinking water after having baked in the sun, and a younger head in the village and I discussed the problems with people who were developing land. It was not an accidental conversation, it was a conversation began because of who I am, so I listened. Behind the mango tree, maybe 300 meters away, the faint sound of a bulldozer was in play, but I was attuned to what the young rastafarian was saying.

He was saying things I agreed with. About how easy it is for people with machines at their command to set the time bombs under houses by grading below them. About how people liked to cast concrete around their homes, bag their leaves and cuttings, paying to have the bags taken – and all the while buying manure. It’s stupid, really, what people do. I’ve seen it a lot in developing nations, where concrete is poured like the alcohol in an alcoholics drink. Unsparingly.

It’s ugly. You can fool yourself into thinking otherwise, but it’s ugly.

I have seen pieces of my own land so developed by tenants, but I turn a blind eye to it, favoring instead where I am doing my planning. As I pass through, though, I see the large concrete houses and the span of concrete yards. Who am I to judge how others wish to live? No one. But I can certainly mock their choices, maybe bring some fertilizer down their way and sell it to them so that the plants they pay lip service to do not starve in their containers.

The younger man is surprised at how much I agree with, and when I chime in with thoughts of my own. We are not friends, we may never be friends, but we have learned something about each other and how we see the world. It is more alike than he had thought.

We talked about planting seeds in our land to grow trees – and how people would buy the very mangoes we were sitting under, spending $20TT on 4 or maybe 5 of them while we sat under it’s shade and ate on a whim.

I didn’t tell him about a conversation I’d had with another software engineer in the late 90s, where he had found out that I had land in Trinidad.

He had told me, “You’re crazy.”
“Everyone here dreams of buying a piece of land in the Caribbean and you already have yours. What are you doing here?”

A fair question back then, a pivotal question that ate at me over the years. And here I was.

I picked up a freshly fallen mango, bit it’s meat off of it and sucked the seed clean, some of the strings sticking between my teeth. It was sweet.

I put the seed in the pickup, and my new acquaintance laughed.
“You’re going to plant that!”

A smile.

Too often we don’t plant the seeds of trees when we don’t expect to stand under their shade.

You Got Fat.

fat-bastardIt seems the standard greeting of those who haven’t seen me in some time is, “You got fat.”

Men do it – fat men do it. Women do it – fat women do it. And, really, I’ve been feeling the fat come off slowly as I get back to doing the things I used to do after too much time in Corporate America at a keyboard – intellectually and otherwise, even as I starved for exercise and intellectual stimulation. The only breaks I really got were to eat.

I even got counseled for walking around in the parking lot during my breaks – my witty riposte is that I don’t think best with blood pooling in my ass and I didn’t know that anyone else did, but the clock-watchers don’t care too much about your health unless you die. Death is an inconvenience to them in some ways. It’s troublesome finding someone to chain to a keyboard, and when you have a free thinker wandering the halls and getting answers from other departments to move things along, the answer is… to counsel the person for walking around.

I got counseled a lot. I also got shit done, so the counseling became a tradition eventually, as it did at every brick and mortar I worked at.

So, yeah, I got fat, and I traded these pounds of 3500 calorie energy for… well, really, nothing worth it. I could have effectively wandered the beach in Florida looking for scrap metal and made about as much, because I’d have been good at that too.

But let me let you in on a secret. I’ve lost weight – plateaued a bit right now, which is muscle rebuilding – it happens slower as you get older, and you have less time to do it in, but no one really cares. They greet you, “You got fat.”

At least I’m working on my problems with tangible results. 😉


fearI saw fear today – naked fear. And it was a fear of me – not of surprise, not of any threat, not of any of my doing.

Bullies drink that fear; some even distill it for their own consumption. Some go the extra mile and cultivate it through manipulation. It was very uncomfortable having it directed at me. I take great pains to avoid it because I am no bully. I’m not large. I don’t do anything particularly scary. In fact, if you were to run into me these days, you would think anything but.

The typical greeting I get these days is, “You got fat.” But that’s another post. 

I have seen the fear that I saw today before. It’s the fear that someone has when they believe that you wield some power or authority over them, that you have the capacity to harm them in some way, and I would like to think a healthy person would recoil.

Fear is a problem. I’ve known fear in ways that have left me unafraid of most things; but once you know fear – real fear – you know it. And a person who is afraid is not rational, and is a person you can’t deal with in a meaningful way.

So I left. And I sit here thinking tonight how to address that person’s fear.

And the answer is trust.


The Sky stares back

There are times when I look over my land and see civilization – what we call civilization – at a distance.

Standing there, I can see the cars pass on the nearby highway where a government took my land years ago with a promise of payment yet to be seen. I can see the road a cousin pushed for to access his own property, having moved most of the rubbish from my section – garbage that people dropped where they thought not that it would be found, but where they would not be seen. I can see a massive house built on land that someone has not yet bought from me because they don’t have the money together yet. Like a photographer’s work, anchored in one perspective, it is easy to wonder what all this ‘civilization’ has done for me. ‘Civilization’ takes, it gives nothing to me.

I am in truth the Steppenwolf that I often call myself; that beast astray who finds neither home nor joy nor nourishment in a world that is strange and incomprehensible to him.

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf (1927)

Truth be told, this world of civilization is mostly silly and often hideous, sometimes a direct combination of both. It used to be harder for me to float from perspective to perspective, to truly see things from as many sides as I do, and then it becomes a matter of finding the sweet spot where the perspectives connect.

So much of our human resourcefulness comes from having multiple ways to describe the same situations—so that each one of those different perspectives may help us to get around the deficiencies of the other ones.

–  Marvin Minsky (2006) The Emotion Machine

And yet floating between perspectives becomes something that fewer seem interested in – more interested instead in the snapshots of a world where they can ‘win’, where the ugly parts of the world are removed either by omission or by cosmetics. Slaves to considering one perspective and almost never agreeing on it, masses of people metaphorically march behind slogans and images in a machination of the bureaucracy that they abhor in part, but not en totale.

From this distance, it’s hard to tell the difference between them and the machinations of bureaucracy being protested against.

The likeness of man, once a high ideal, is in process of becoming a machinemade article. It is for madmen like us, perhaps, to ennoble it again.

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf (1927)

It is too bad that this ‘civilization’ is necessary to do as I wish, a misfortune I did not ask for, but I like my vantage.

I will stay here.

A beginning

The Mundane Heroes.

Warrior SpiritHe was, first and last, the born fighter, to whom the consciousness of being matched against a great adversary suffices and who can dispense with success. Life for him was an adventure, perilous indeed, but men are not made for safe havens. The fullness of life is in the hazards of life. And, at the worst, there is that in us which can turn defeat into victory.

– Edith Hamilton, The Great Age of Greek Literature (1942), p. 243.

In an age where there has been a resurgence of comic book superheroes, in an age where more people spend time around others staring at flat screens, it seems the heroes that get up every day and face the crushing wheel of life aren’t worth noticing. I see them every day. Social media buzz and clickbait headlines don’t talk about them. You won’t see them on television because they didn’t leak some bodily fluid that day. Maybe you’re one. Maybe I’m one. I’m pretty sure you see at least one every day.

A camera can’t do them justice. A snapshot hardly preserves the continuum that defines them. It can only show the scars and the wrinkles and sometimes even a particular look at a particular moment, a moment alone – more powerful than a billion selfies.

We live in a world of amazing heroes that we ignore every day, who throw themselves against the sandpaper of life, sculpting themselves into sometimes the most tortured apparitions for Reasons. Maybe they’re doing something that they hate so that the world they live in – not necessarily yours, visitor – will be a better place.

Maybe they grind at the job that kills them every day. Maybe they fight a system in the hope that the next generation will have it better. Or maybe they simply exist in a world that they feel displaced from.

But they are dressed – most, anyway – and they do not even look at you as you glance at them. They are busy being heroes in their own little worlds, without titles and media coverage.

Product Placement In a Trinidad Pharmacy.

Product Placement. Hmm.

I was leaking a bit of blood this morning, and I was in the bush. So, I tore one of my rags, made a quick compression bandage on my pinky, and continued checking the lay of my land.

So I checked one of my neighbors when I got out – and one of the other neighbors had seen me with my fluorescent green wrap and sent their 6 year old grandson with a bandaid. A nice one. And I remembered that I needed to put things like that in the pickup.

After a nice lahay, I went to the pharmacy – Bhagans at SouthPark, if you must know, and I surveyed their bandaids. It used to be much simpler – just grab one and go. Now they have sheer, fabric, waterproof, blah blah blah… so I looked to my left, and a decidedly young woman at the counter was watching me. Then I looked back at the shelves. Above the bandaids were the condoms.

A sigh. A shake of the head. I got the fabric, water repellant, hypoallergenic, strong and durable… oh, you get the point. No bacitracin or neosporin (that was behind the counter, it ends up), but enough KY and other lubricants (warming and otherwise) to drown a small horse.

And then I looked at the condoms. And then I looked at what was next to the condoms.

Exif_JPEG_420And I considered the science of product placement and wondered what the HELL these kids are up to these days where Orajel is next to the condoms, above the KY Jelly, and the bandaids are under them.

Now that’s a story right there.

The Trinidad Hardware Non-Browsing Experience

DIY Mini-Softbox (First Subject)At the neighborhood hardware, where you can’t just browse…

Waiting. Someone shuffles to the front.

“I could help you?”

“Yeah, I need a roll of painter’s tape.”

“What kind of tape?”

“Painter’s tape….” Seeing the look of confusion, I continue: “the blue tape, for masking off while painting.”

“What’s it used for?”

Straight face. I say, patiently, “…for masking off while painting.”

“You mean masking tape?”

“No, painter’s tape. It’s blue. Specifically for painting.”

She goes in the back, rummages around and triumphantly raises a roll of tape which is… unfortunately grey. And duct tape.

“No, that’s duct tape. Painter’s tape. Look for a blue tape.”

Some more rummaging around, and she cautiously shows me a roll of… blue painter’s tape. “Yes! That’s it! Do you have any that is wider?”

She looks at the tape, looks at me. “You mean thicker?”

“Yes, ok, thicker.” No, I don’t want thick tape, I want wider tape, but this has gotten way too complicated.

Rummages around. “No…”

“OK, I’ll take that then.”

She smiles, tells me it’s only $15 instead of $25, not knowing that I probably would have paid $25 just to get the tape without all the drama and been happy. And I show her the label says… wait for it… “Painter’s Tape”.

New Rule: If I can’t browse the wares, I won’t peruse your lairs.

Observation: This is why the government of Trinidad and Tobago charges an online purchase tax of 7%. Because of these valuable interactions.