The Rush

Blowing In The Wind.We are sensate creatures, we humans.

Whether on a motorcycle, at the beach or even in the water, we feel the motion of our hair. It can be reassuring, calming, when we are in control. Maybe we kick off from the side or bottom of the pool and feel the rush of it, maybe we accelerate maniacally on a motorcycle or with the windows down on a car… long gone are the days when children got to feel it along their scalps as they pedaled their bicycles, but some of us remember.

And then there are times when we are standing still, when the wind moves around us, our hair moves and we get a similar sensation. It might be a calm breeze, it might be the storm whipping through our hair. It might be a fan…

And then there are times when we feel in motion, we are in motion, and we’re uncertain whether what we feel is because of what we’re doing or because of the world around us. Are we falling? Are we pushing forward? Is the motion we feel our acceleration, or the world accelerating against us?

impeller corrosionWe are sensate beings, the relativity of that sometimes confusing us. The world moves even when we don’t, the world acts even when we don’t. Sometimes we scream that it’s our inaction blowing our hair, sometimes we scream it’s our action blowing our hair, but there are times when it’s truly indeterminate. In a rush, like a submarine cavitating it’s propeller, with bubbles forming against it’s hull, we are blind to what’s around us.

The faster we move, the less we know about what is around us, insensate to the world around us because of our own noise.

When we push forward fast, we don’t know. And that can be a scary thing. It can be seen as a fear of success, or it can be a valid fear of failure. It can be anything.

So we slow. We stop. We listen. We feel.

Those of us that are sane, anyway.

Silent Running

UntitledI wake up earlier than most. In fact, I wake up when some are only considering going to bed.

And every morning, where I live, there’s a woman older than I doing a shuffling run past me as I sip my coffee. Every morning. She’s overweight, her clothing baggy – perhaps revealing how well her exercise and perhaps diet is working for her. She sprints up the hill nearby.

The most we have talked is exchanging pleasantries.

I watched her this morning, her shadow running ahead of her figure under the street light, and finally saw her form. Her breathing was right – 1 step, 2 step, 3 step, breath out. Her pace was that of a fast walk, she avoiding bouncing as much as she could – she has a pendulous problem on her chest which must play hell on her back. I almost wanted to tell her that she’s killing her knees on the pavement, but I bit my tongue. She would know after this much time that was the case, she knew what hurt – how could she not? And yet, she was out there doing what she needed to do, avoiding the heat of a tropical sun and also avoiding those that might mock her for what she is seen as and not what she sees for herself.

I’ve been there. I might even argue I’m still there, though running is no longer my thing. And I think back to the first time I saw this in someone else.

It was in Field Medical Service School. Sure, in Navy Boot Camp I saw kids flailing about when running – I was the pacer, and if I caught the straggler as we went round, they went off to remedial where I didn’t see them. That I had become a pacer had been a joke but a good one – at 5’3″, my stride is shorter and therefore I have to work harder to meet the same times. Youth and growing up pedestrian gave me a natural advantage at that age, so it was all good.

Field Medical Service School was different because I had gotten soft since boot camp, but I had started training well before it – enough to pass the physical requirements of an elusive rating that I could not get into because of my myopia.

At Field Medical Service School (FMSS), we had a kid – he was a kid, about 18, the scars of acne still forming on his cratered pink face. He was large. He was, sadly, what every Marine accused sailors of being – and here we were training to be the sailors that were attached to the Marines as their medical support.

This was his 2nd time. He’d failed to graduate the last time. He told us his Master Chief had sent him to FMSS as a punishing joke. And every day, he ran – or better, scuffled with the ground through his feet and boots or running shoes. His toes pointed inward naturally, his frame was large and hidden in fat accrued over a lifetime.

He was, of course, scorned by us – at first. That scorn in a unit meant strengthening the weakest chain, and in a group of young Corpsmen, that can go from being snide now and then to being an outright jerk. But he kept on. We all watched what he ate; he did push-aways at the food table. He was almost always hungry, but he was determined enough to go a little hungry. He ran every day outside of our normal physical training. He kept to himself, but in the common barracks we kept an eye on him. In a way he scared us – he was driving himself into a meltdown, and we’d all seen Full Metal Jacket.

There was a Marine Corporal instructor who was a complete jerk to everyone, but amplified times ten with this poor kid. The kid could do nothing right for this Corporal, even when he did right. As someone of equal rank of the Corporal at the time, I wanted to throttle him a few times. He sensed this; it’s hard not to see when I dislike something – and he was acting the bully, and acting the bully is something I can never stand. I did end up getting the upper hand after I graduated. There’s a good story. Maybe another time. 

One day, someone called out to me in the barracks – I was the Master-at-Arms for the class, and what happened in the barracks was my problem. The kid’s rack-mate called me over and I found myself staring at the kid’s feet. It was pure, deep infected blisters. With the experience I’d already built up as a Corpsman, I broke the news to him that he shouldn’t be running, that he needed to be on light duty for a while to heal up. He wouldn’t have it. He wanted to run. He wanted to get out of FMSS. He wanted to get out of FMSS that we all worried how much he wanted to get out.

I called in the Corpsman instructor after at least 10 Corpsmen in training looked at the kid’s feet. Light duty it was, for a while, but I no longer shunned the kid. I took an interest in him – the weak link in the chain of ‘3rd herd’. When he got off light duty, we ran together – his pace was hard on me, that slow pace, but it was good for me. Others took over, and slowly more and more of 3rd herd was working with the kid. We wanted him to graduate. He was one of us. Sure, he might have a past at his last command, but while he was with us he worked harder than any of us.

In the end, he failed the required run for graduation by one second. We were crestfallen – we pleaded, collectively, for him to have another chance – and that same Corporal refused.  One second. But a second is a second, and there were no second chances. He would be held back to go through FMSS a third time. There was nothing to be done. He was moved into a separate barracks even as all of us celebrated passing – salt in his wounds.

I wonder sometimes how that kid fared. I do know that the Corporal, that pudgy fellow, got his come-uppance through myself and a few others as well as the Command, but years later I realized that he was such a jerk not because he didn’t like the kid, but because he was just a jerk who had probably had to go through Parris Island as that kid.

Yet I remember that kid’s spirit – the eyes that shone through tears with a burning desire. He had decided somewhere along the line that he would not break, that he would do everything to achieve what he had to. But even then, he was put into a position where he was forced to.

And this woman shuffling every morning? She wasn’t being forced. Purely voluntary, much like me going and working on my land every morning while others are comfortably in bed. While people younger than us with similar complaints, more overweight than us, read books, try diets, watch instructional videos and buy gym memberships that they never use (a boon for gyms everywhere) but but don’t actually do anything.

We all have this idea of who we are but very few of us meet who we really are, where we push our grit to the limits – where we fail every day at something just so we fail less every day. Where we command our lives while others do not, who plot our courses one foot over another while others stare at the ground worried about their footprints.

That woman is deserving of more respect than most people I know. She has decided to do something, she is doing something and over the months she has continued doing something. Silent running, her grit driving her forward to whatever lays beyond.

Plodding To Success

Astronomical Clock (Astronomical Dial), Prague, Czech RepublicHe sat in the gallery of the house, about 15 years ago – tired, beaten, only one boot off, his head bowed. He looked up at me, an odd openness leaking through his eyes as he shook his head, eyes unwavering.

“I never learned how to plod.”
“To plod?”
“I see you do it all the time.”

This put me immediately on the defensive; I had never been able to please my father with what I did or how fast I did it – but he never complained of my results and rarely even acknowledged them.

Seeing this, I think, he clarified, “Doing small things over time to get results.”

I was boggled. I’d been doing that as far back as I could remember. A long silence hung in that gallery, me pulling his other boot off. I left him sitting there as I went about my own work.

He did manage to plod himself to death, as at least some of us do – nothing dramatic about his death, not an accident, not a crime – he’d just died. In bed.

——————————————————————————–

There was a time when the thought of instant success was as seductive as a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. Advertising in the back of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines were rife with it, back in the days when these magazine missives were something I eagerly awaited here in Trinidad, an island even when it came to magazine subscriptions and bookstores.

Instant wealth, seductive to a young man who had only seen strife – but to even get the money that they asked for to get their ‘secrets’ was problematic. I watched my father follow that path more than once, little by little learning by watching what came; reading the instructions and shaking my own head quietly. Was I cynical? Yes. But I saw what these were, and to get my point across I told my father that maybe we should take an ad out to sell our secrets – which would be an ad in the back of a magazine to sell secrets.

He didn’t think that was funny. I thought it was hilarious. This fed this belief of people around that I laughed at the wrong things at the wrong times. They were right sometimes; the world doesn’t like a young man that laughs at it, it doesn’t care about a young man that laughs with it. The world has no mercy, it’s instruments ranging from sadistic to ironic.

So I chose to do what I could with what I had. If it meant moving a stone a day, brushcutting a piece of land a day, reading a book, learning to use a computer (look how well that worked out after 2+ decades of software engineering) – it’s about using what you have as best you can to achieve a result. Sometimes – most of the time – it’s about small moves. It’s about not wasting your time and resources. Being busy doesn’t mean being productive.

And to the casual observer, it looks like plodding – they run about, busy, driving themselves into the ground because time or worse, other things, are their masters.

Plod toward your destinations. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.  In time, you may plod faster than others sprint, but what others do is of little matter if your success isn’t going to be determined by what others achieve.

Maintain

Warrior In The GardenIt is silent in the morning, aside from the gossip of the birds and the rustle of the wind through the trees and brush uncleared. The odd passing vehicle on the highway alternates between a diesel and a small gas powered vehicle.

Light peers over the horizon in the early morning, revealing the detritus people left at the boundaries – the two legged pests that generate rubbish faster than they can get it taken away – a constant battle on the perimeter not to be won in the near future, only to be dealt with. In the distance, the nearby houses and gardens, nearer, the vultures that roost in trees nearby whose roosts must be continuously disturbed so that they move elsewhere.

It’s a shame to disrupt this with the sound of a two stroke engine, but necessary – the whine of the blade as it spins through brush, clearing a path to clear a path, sometimes working the perimeter, sometimes working through brush that hides contours that can easily break an ankle or leg, sometimes clearing around the trees whose future depends on it.

Constant watchfulness, passively interrogating the wildlife nearby, always knowing where everything is, where it should be, recognizing things out of place – a stray footprint, tire mark, grass pushed the wrong way, clearings within spaces otherwise overgrown. Flycatchers pick out the insects left from the wrath of the spinning blade.

And it all falls behind – all becomes a part of the greater whole, and the mind is free to wander as all of this is watched. The matters of the day, the larger strategies, the small minds and the large problems pour out like the sweat of hard work. It is dangerous in this; it can be too attractive and draw from the present, so another part of the mind has to now keep an eye on the wandering mind so that while free it is safe and can be snatched to the present quickly. It watches the shadows, listens to the sounds, keeps track of tools… A passing driver waves, a wave back, a rustle in the trees or a snap, check 6.

Time passes, work is done, a break. The machine cools, and the morning returns to the natural sounds – more vehicles now. Maybe some bananas, definitely some water, and with better light a survey of what was done and what needs to be done.

And again. And again. And, maybe, again. Meditations, clear thought, hard work.

All one has is not what one can claim, but what one can maintain. Taking a hill means nothing when it is lost tomorrow, making a large profit means nothing when the money is spent immediately. True success in any endeavor is supposed to be a ratchet, locked so it cannot spin back – building on a foundation rather than constantly fighting one.

And that is coming.

On Success

Money PropAn article yesterday had a headline along the lines of, “If you’re intelligent, why aren’t you rich?”. The teaser asked, “Why don’t people with high intelligence become successful?” I won’t bother linking the article because I didn’t read it – all because of the headline and teaser. There are so many things wrong with these things that I decided not to waste my time.

First of all, measures of intelligence are flawed. Secondly, success isn’t necessarily being rich – society may believe that, but individuals may not. Third, because of the prior 2 points, who is to say whether those with an incisive (unmeasured, immeasurable) intellect in certain areas or on a broad spectrum are actually unsuccessful?

There was a time I aspired to be both intelligent and successful in these contexts. I recall staring at a MENSA letter in the late 1980s and wondering, at that point, what being a member would mean to me. The idea that intelligent people should only hang around intelligent people didn’t really rub me the right way – because of my personality and the way I grew up (we could argue chicken and egg here), I counted loyalty and honesty to be the most important thing for social connections. My experience with those accused of intelligence did not demonstrate either of these things. I tossed that invitation in the bin. It was a big moment – a decision that to be intelligent I didn’t have to be recognized as intelligent by some group of people who sat around doing puzzles.

I hated writing that paragraph because in it’s way it’s self-defeating, but I believe it adds value in context. 

I’d already figured out life was a puzzle, a puzzle provided with no answer to work toward. There was no image on the box to guide me- society had one, but it assumed certain conditions that simply did not exist for me. When I applied for financial aid at college, as an example, I had the misfortune of not being of African or Hispanic descent and an inability to be dishonest about it. And yet I was a minority. Society didn’t care about minorities, it cared about appearing to care about minorities.

Churchill success quotationThere was little that I tried that I couldn’t do. This, in retrospect, came down to grit. Grit is what got me through my life so far; intelligence was only a tool. I can’t tell you the number of times friends and family told me that I would fail. Every time, without exception, I succeeded. Did I make lots of money? Sometimes. Did I spend it on the same people who thought I would fail? Sometimes. Why? Why would I help those who wouldn’t even give emotional support? That question haunts me.

I’m no dullard, yet I have met people who are – at least in some regards, if not many  – are more intelligent than I am. Being intelligent doesn’t actually mean anything, particularly in a standardized education system where intelligence is anything but standard. The world needs all kinds of minds (read that link).

And what, really, is success? Is it fighting to accumulate things that mean nothing to you when dead? Is it really all about accumulating wealth? Society largely says so.

SuccessI measure success differently. My success is about being able to look myself in the mirror and like what I see – not physically (as we get older, we appreciate that disappointment more) but emotionally and mentally. I am successful.

But financially? Well, that’s another story entirely. But because of how I gauge success, I owe no one anything. People owe me.

And their success determines my financial success, but does not determine my success.

I do that. And that’s my real success – not being tied to society’s version of success.

Moving Stones.

bricks and slabsSometime last week, while driving up and down the hill, I ended up sliding sideways in the pickup – and only slowly recovered. And so, I knew it was time to start collecting again.

Before the highway had been run and a house built where my entrance to the same area was, I had a path I drove on the crest of a hill that allowed me to go in during wet season with the old Mazda B2500 4×4. Others without 4×4, and even without the right tires, could not follow. And, as anyone who has driven in mud with mud tires will tell you, they are designed to dig.

Dig they do. And when that happens, you clean the tires by spinning them faster, so they dig more and mud goes flying in all directions. It’s messy enough fun where people do it just to do it – and I understand why – but when you have a freshly graded road, you don’t want to dig into it.

I had a freshly graded road I didn’t want to destroy. So I slid down, and as I was doing that I decided it was time to start doing what I had done before – picking up odd pieces of concrete here and there, stones, whatever, and throwing them on the road for better traction.

Someone with more money would have someone come by and drop off some material. I had tried to get some, but my personal time was simply too scarce for that to happen. With no one you can truly depend on to do things for you, you learn to do things piece by piece and develop habits.

One habit was looking for pieces of concrete and rock and tossing them in the tray of the pickup to later toss them onto the road. It plods along, but what’s interesting is how many stones and pieces of concrete one can find laying around. All this detritus from other places slowly begins forming the foundation for a road, one stone at a time.

This sort of thing would drive my father crazy. He wanted tangible results immediately, and there I was, just doing little things every day that eventually gave the desired result without denting my pocket and time too much.

Later in his life, a few years before he passed away, he would tell me that he wished he had learned how to ‘plod’. I asked him what he meant, and he mentioned how I had filled the eroded bit of the yard in the back with no vehicle, no money spent, and how it was no longer eroded. His answer had been for years, “When the money comes in I’ll drop some material there.”

My answer had been to do something every day that would give the result. It also allowed me to tailor how I did things to give that result. And then, too, there was the tree.

His money never came in, or ended up being used for other things, so he never got to do it. He almost seemed to respect what I had done. A small effort daily can give you the same results as a massive effort at one time.

We move stones every day. We make piles of these stones every day. Some of us hope for an immediate pile, and some of us, every day, bring a few stones and drop them on the road.

There is no one coming to make everything alright. There is no one you can truly depend on to accomplish what you need. There is never enough time.

And.

Never wait for progress, never wait for something to happen. Make progress. Make it happen. One stone at a time, move them to where they are needed – some will be large and heavy, some will be light, but everyday, move one to where it needs to be.

Patience and habit finds the result.

Writing Advice From The Mirror

Tel Aviv HotelSo you write.

So does… everyone else out here on the Internet. I’m not kidding. It’s true. It’s real. And for the most part, it’s a little disturbing to see what comes exploding out in pixels from the minds of some people.

So, you’re original.

Yes, yes, the world is full of originality. The dodo was original for it’s time. In fact, every dead species was unique in it’s own way – which is, oddly enough, why they’re dead. The point is being original is not enough.

So, you’re authentic.

The world is full of authentic people, with authentic perspectives, and they are expressing them at a rate almost as disturbing as some of the perspectives. But really, being authentic is also not enough or more people would have read this little blog post.

So, you’re not popular?

Cry me a river. We can’t all be Stephen King or Dan Brown or… we simply can’t all be that. We all have, at least to some extent, an equal opportunity, but success is not an equal opportunity thing. It’s simple math. Think of how many people in the world are doing something, then think of how many people you think are successful at it.

And then success – well, there’s monetary, and then there’s the stuff that people are reading hundreds and even thousands of years later. There’s the stuff that gets likes on Facebook or retweeted on Twitter, and then there’s the stuff people refer to when they want serious answers.

So, you’re popular?

Good for you. If pleasing the masses is what gets your goat fed, feed that goat. If you’re happy doing it, I’m amazed that you read this far. You should go write some more stuff instead of reading this.

Just write, will ya?