Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Gone Writin'

I finally remembered to turn the furnace on after our streak of warm weather, and I have cats sprawled across every vent to prove it. This is why I wear socks.

With Farmville out of my life, politics making it impossible to stomach nearly any form of electronic media, and the busiest time of year at work compounded with my recent promotion, I am stressed. The kind of stress I would usually rely on my mouthpiece to counter, but the mouthpiece didn't fit after the crown, and it didn't seem to be working that last year anyway, so I'm searching for a new stress-combating strategy.

Fortunately, it's Spring. Swamp Time. Time to be out in the muck battling the Curse and cursing the battle to make one space somewhat vital for an all-too-brief span. That takes care of the exercise portion of stress release, but it doesn't help with the emotional portion.

I'm writing. In the morning during my normal blogging time, and in the evening after Swamp Time. I have no idea how long it will last, or whether anything useful will grow out of it, but I'm doing it.

Therefore, for an undetermined time, I will be writing elsewhere in what I hope to be a productive and stress-reducing manner.

Enjoy your Spring.

Applaud the jellyfish.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Marketable Skills: Responsibility

I considered calling this one Accepting Blame, except my general rule is fix the problem, not the blame. Unless you're the problem. Then the blame is yours, too.

When interviewing for a job, generally you are given a list of job duties that you are expected to perform on a routine basis. This is rarely a comprehensive list, but it will cover the minimum expectations of both you and your employer. Meaning, if you can't do these things on a routine basis with a minimum of mistakes and no supervision, you should be fired.

If you are a server at Sonic and can't make change, you should be fired. If you work at a phone bank answering calls all day and regularly forget to turn on your phone or yell at back at frustrated customers, you should be fired. If you data-enter numbers, and you regularly transpose them, you should be fired.

The above paragraph makes the mistake most employees make: it assumes it is your employer's responsibility to remove you. Wrong. It is your responsibility to remove yourself. A person of integrity who agrees to perform certain tasks in exchange for money, who discovers he cannot perform those tasks, should refuse payment and find another job better suited to his skill set. Unfortunately, the workplace is full of lemmings who would rather be told what to do than lionesses who solve problems, especially when that problem is herself.

I do not mean people cannot make mistakes. People are people, competent or not, and everyone has bad days. When those happen, own them, do your best anyway, and expect to have some messes to clean up later. That's normal. But the consistent failure to do the minimum your job requires is unacceptable to everyone: the customer who can take his business elsewhere, your co-workers who have to bail you out while still doing their own jobs, and your boss who's literally paying you to cause problems she doesn't need.

If you make simple mistakes on a regular basis that cause extra work for everyone, you can expect to work in a hostile environment. I recommend accepting responsibility and doing what you need to do to get your act together. If you don't, your boss will do her job and fire you, and you will have only yourself to blame. If you're a lemming, that won't stop you from blaming everyone else anyway.

Push button. Receive bacon.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Wind in the Willows

I've heard of this story, but never read it. I believe Disneyland has a Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, but my motion sickness made that impossible.

I bought a very used book at a charity drive, and, after reading one too many Lovecraft horrors (the nightmares started), picked it up for a stroll on the brighter side. I'm halfway through, because life got busy as it usually does, but far enough to say a few things.

One, charming prose. Some truly lovely sentences in there that beautifully capture the image or moment.

Two, welcome innocence coupled with strong moral character. Friendship, hospitality, generosity, hard work, and hard winter rest - a concept I heartily endorse - are illustrated in each story. Even flighty Toad has a good heart.

Three, while I generally don't care for short stories, these are just the right size for reading before bed. Since I haven't slept through the night in about two weeks, I don't have a lot of eye stamina for long bouts of reading.

The hardest part of reading these stories comes from me being too adult. Rat has a boat, a brace of pistols and a cudgel. Mole has Italian sculptures in his burrow. Badger eats ham and bacon, and wears slippers. However, they are animals, and the stories don't dispute their size. Would a rat-sized pistol even fire? Where does Badger get his ham? How do they earn their money? Children don't worry about this sort of thing (except me. This is exactly the kind of thing I worried about as a child). I keep derailing as I try to categorize the logic of the world. Alice in Wonderland is the closest I can come.

The illustrations don't help. Toad's carriage is people-sized, pulled by a horse, and contains a bird in a cage they later carry away. What bird is small enough to be carried in a cage by a toad? Toad is tried in a human court of law, and held in a human prison, if the pictures are to be counted as accurate, which they probably aren't. The author does make some attempts at reconciling the inconsistencies, since they have to coax the horse to pull the carriage when the horse would rather be part of the party, and Badger does explain that humans built what eventually became his burrows. Still, I've stumbled more than once as my brain balks at pure fancy.

I wonder if Mom never read me this book because these are the questions I would have asked as a child, and didn't want to deal with it at bedtime. Can't blame her, if that's the case.

Applaud the jellyfish.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Marketable Skills: Flexibility

This isn't easy for Turtles, and it isn't easy for some humans. Most of the time, things go as expected. That's why we're surprised when they don't. No matter how carefully you plan your work day, something is going to come up to derail it. That's when flexibility is useful.

Sometimes, the network goes down, taking the computers with it. Sometimes, the freezer goes out, leaving you with a potential loss of income and product. Sometimes, you get a bitter, jagged-edged disappointment instead of the news you want. You have to deal with these issues with calm courtesy (and hopefully some humor, which I haven't covered) instead of allowing the potential avalanche of disaster to crush you.

I think of Randall from Monsters, Inc. twining his monster-snaky way around obstacles with spineless ease. Computers are down? OK. Computers haven't always existed, so grab a pen, paper and calculator and do what you can, even if it's get a phone number to call them when the network is back up. A broken freezer might lead to half-priced ice cream, a call to a repair service and a trip to get ice from the gas station. Bitter disappointment is harder, but for a Christian, all things work together for good for those who love the Lord (Rom 8:28), so God will use even disappointment in His grand plan. You don't know the future. Don't bemoan the present.

Flexibility is about remembering your goal, and finding another way to reach it, preferably without panicking. Don't Panic isn't just advice for Hitchhikers. Or maybe it is. Aren't we all hitchhikers in this crazy galaxy?

If by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, 
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
But make allowance for their doubting too; 
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies, 
Or being hated, don't give way to hating, 
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise. 

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master; 
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim; 
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same; 
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools; 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss; 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone, 
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch, 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 
If all men count with you, but none too much; 
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, 
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, 
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son! 

It's true of women, too, and it's probably something you should post at your workstation and memorize. I knew it once.

Push button. Receive bacon.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Marketable Skills: Mind Your Business

Yes, it seems odd after harping on how important it is to be aware of your surroundings and courteous of your co-workers that I would tell you to mind your business. However, I don't mean mind your beeswax. I mean put your mind on your own business and keep it there.

It is very easy for humans to compare themselves with other humans. What is she doing? What is he getting? Why do they get X and I don't? That's not fair!

TT: Along with The Goblin King, I have to ask I wonder what your basis for comparison is? For all the life I've lived so far, I've never known any of it to be fair. I'm living proof life isn't fair, because I'm blessed above and beyond the norm, and way more than I deserve.

Even Peter asked Jesus what about John? (John 21:22) Jesus told Pete flat out, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?" Meaning, mind your own business, Peter. I'm dealing with you, not John. I'll deal with John later, and it has nothing to do with you.

Talk about slap-down from the Savior.

As recently as yesterday, I would have said I have a pretty good handle on this skill. Between a very harsh lesson in my 12's, 6 years of therapy school about boundaries, and a natural tendency to not give a hoot and a half about other people's problems since I have plenty of my own, I'm good at minding my own business. In fact, when I start looking around for how co-workers may not be doing their jobs the way I would, I know I'm compensating for feeling out of control in my own life by trying to bring order to someone else's. Not helpful. Certainly not cool.

Today I had an extremely sharp reminder that I don't get my way all the time. I'm not in control of anything, really, except my attitude, and that's going to need at least one night of sleep to adjust. Things I thought were my business aren't, and things I didn't think were my business now are, and the whole world looks different than this morning, more of a yellow grey, with a bit of an acrid taste at the back of my nose. Time to reread Joseph's story.

Ah well. For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?

Mind your business, and do your best at whatever job God puts in front of you. Your reward is in heaven, not here. Some days, that's all the hope we have.

Applaud the jellyfish.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Marketable Skills: Empathy

This one has been a little hard for me lately, which is no excuse. The skill exists regardless of my feelings. It is a thought exercise, not an emotional one.

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another's place, even if you've never directly experienced what they're experiencing. Most people are completely incapable of doing this. This explains some of the incredibly stupid and hurtful things people say with good intentions at funerals. If you've experienced loss, you know it's better to keep your jaw clenched shut until you get home.

I've heard that people who read fiction have more empathy because they've experienced other lives through the written characters. Whatever. Good excuse to read fiction, as if you need one.

Your universe revolves around you. This is completely normal. However, at some point, you should realize that this is how every person experiences life. We are all little Suns thinking the entire universe rotates around us, when, in fact, we're lucky if we're one of those bits of shattered planet that circles Saturn or Jupiter.

When you understand you are not the Center of the Universe, you can start imagining what it would be like to be your customer. You work at Walmart (or don't. I mean, have you ever been asked where to find something in a store? It's because I have a "pleasant resting face," I know it is). Anyway, your customer needs X. You had a million things to do before the customer ever walked up. Congratulations! You now have a million and one. And you're going to treat Million and One like Number One because that's what you would want if your positions were reversed. If you needed X, would you want an employee who brushes you off and waves a vague direction with a mumbled reply, or one that leads you to the spot and hunts down the item? I will settle for clear directions and a specific pointed direction, but I'm more independent than most.

An old lady with a quavering voice calls in, and your heart sinks because she's going to take forever to help. Do you think she doesn't know that? Do you think she's not embarrassed by the quaver in her voice, or her slowness? She remembers when she was a fast, young whippersnapper like you, and she could leave you in her dust back then. She's someone's grandmother, for goodness' sake, not your personal hobgoblin! Show respect, treat her with the kindness and patience you would want extended to you (or your grandmother) in the same circumstances, and let God sort out the rest.

Empathy allows you to put your issues on hold, and help someone else in a calm, courteous way because that's how you would want to be helped. Empathy is essential in good communication, and it's quite useful in customer service.

Push button. Receive bacon.