Wednesday, May 31, 2006

What day is it???

At this time of year there are two types of days: workday, and not workday. Today, workday. But light at the end of the tunnel. A couple of days for r&r and catching up and writing and reading and painting and making and general fun-having imminent. And it's summer (did we have spring? oh yeah one day I think) and the sun is out and birds singing and everything growing like the weeds they are (or as I like to consider them unknown, unclassified wildflowers). On the balance, life is good.

Hope everyone is doing well and that the start of summer is bringing you laughter, fireflies, and slices of cold juicy melons dribbling in the twilight evenings.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Full throttle

Running wide open these last few days as we've opened for summer sessions and have about 150 bright smiling eager to learn and make people on the campus. This my excuse for lack of blog. Opening night was last night, everything high energy, and me juggling like a clown on crack. It's coming together quite nicely though.

Hope everyone is well. I understand that out in the "world" its a holiday weekend...well, ok then! Have fun, go nuts! And stay tuned for further ponderings as I figure out and hit my summer rhythm.

Have a great day!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Slow Moment

Well, if it's not going to be given to me then I'll take one for myself. I just decided to sit down for a bit, and oh my goodness when I stop moving I'm astounded by how tired I feel. I look back over the last few days though, and it makes sense. So I'm going to indulge myself and put my feet up and slow down for a bit.

It must be something in the air. Many people I know seem to be in the same boat, huge flurries of noise and activity and many saying the same thing: too much, too fast, too loud...I think we should all just stop, go sit by a lake and have a picnic and watch clouds for an afternoon or something. Life is too short not to slow down. So says me on the eve of a non-stop workathon during the weekend.

But enough of that. Let's talk some more about "what makes people good at what they do". As I mentioned, I have a list. Please feel free to add to it, or challenge it. These are listed in no particular order

1. The ability to get lost. In the activity or endeavor I mean. To get lost in it, so immersed that you can't be distracted from it. To lose yourself in the activity.
2. Love. The complete and total love of whatever it is you do that you're good it.
3. Familiarity. As in the tools, materials, and process are so familiar and comfortable to you that the use of them comes naturally. They are not seperate from you, but part of who you are.
4. Commitment. Paint or eat? Draw or mow the grass? Sculpt or vacuum? Write, or sleep? Build or rest? Take pictures or write bill checks? The commitment to make choices on how to spend your time, recognizing that balance is good, but to practice your "thing" with regularity is valuable and responsible.
5. Fearlessness. To do your thing without a lot of worry or self judgement or self criticism. To know that you can take a chance, succeed or fail, and continue to do your thing just because it's right for you.
6. Giving up/Giving in. To that what drives you, to your passion for the endeavor you're engaged in. The willingness to dive in over your head and figure out how to swim once you're in the flow.
7. Hunger. As in hungry enough to try again and again to reach whatever it is you're searching for in whatever it is your good at. The hunger to be better at it, to expand, improve, and refine.
8. An appreciation of nuance and subtlety. Finding joy in small incremental movements.
9. Gratitude. To know that doing what you're meant to do, and being good at it is a rare gift that you nuture and share.
10. Generosity. The willingness to share what you're good at with the world around you.

So that's just what was on my list for now. One of the things I'm good at is walking the dog, which I'm going to do in a moment. It's a beautiful warm evening, the birds are singing, everything is lush and green and the loggers are gone for the day. I'll walk, have a snack then probably lay down and be slow for a while. That's what I'll try to be good at this evening.

Hope everyone has a wonderful evening and night. And a bit of sweet slowness for yourself.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Another day lost...

in a flurry of busy-ness. And it's just now getting dark and I'm soon to give in to it. This was one of those days it felt like I was rolling rocks uphill all day.

I actually thought I had posted this morning. Imagine my distress at seeing that now, it was yesterday, and trying to figure out where that 24hrs went! But here we are if only for a moment (which is fine I guess cause now is all we really have anyways)

I want to thank everyone that's left a comment on the subjects of "story telling" and "what makes people good at what they do." I want to keep that line open, cause I've been making lists and hope to write it out soon as an entry. Some of you have left items that really intrigue me...a couple really have my attention at the moment: Lillie's reference to the St. Exupery quote. and Bluesmama's statement about what makes things easy, natural and unforced. Those totally hit me, and they're something I want to explore here further.

For now I'll send my wishes out to everyone for a wonderful evening. My yawning is getting in the way of my writing. Does this mean I'm boring myself???

Goodnight all.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bits and Pieces

When my work days get so demanding, a lot of other stuff seems to fall to the side: blogging (reading and writing), artwork, life maintenance, cooking, reading, being nice to people, balance in general. I often wonder if I use work as an excuse for being lazy in all those areas, or if I'm just possessed of a finite amount of mental and physical energy and it's too easily depleted, or if I'm burn up what would be plenty of energy by being OCD worrisome and running too fast or whatever. And I have no answer. I tend to extremes, so I suspect I'm giving work more attention than it really needs, at the expense of the other parts of my life. So, today begins an effort to stop the maddness. (stay with me, this has a point...)

I'm thinking I need to slow down a bit and be more conscious of what I'm doing. I posed the question yesterday because I think there's some lessons to be learned by observing how people that are good at what they do actually do it. It occurred to me that folks that are really adept at things seem to do so effortlessly, naturally, fluidly. And then I've been reading some stuff about that very topic in a broad sense. Also this past week I read a blog entry about how doing something (in this case teaching a class) with a high degree of successful and engaging improvisation was the result of a LOT of prep the timet the class took place, the teacher was so familiar with the subject, material and possibilities for presentation that she truly was flexible, intuitive and able to adjust and teach on the fly. So I reckon all around me are hints for adjusting and gaining a little more balance in the busy times that tend to wear me down. Maybe I can start be relaxing more, worrying less, not sweating the endless to-do list, and be willing to take things a little more as they come. Everything doesn't have to be a firefight. A little more patience, a little more acceptance, a little more of acting in harmony and sympathy with what's going on around me instead of constantly trying to change and control it.

For now, I need to get to it. We have SUN for the first time in forever, no wind, and it looks like it might actually be a spring day for a change! I'll go out into it and do my thing (whatever that happens to be) and let the questions of storytelling and what it is that makes people good at what they do bubble around in the back of my mind whilst paying attention to the stuff in front of me, however mundane it may seem. And maybe, I'll slow down just a notch, and take a minute to enjoy the blooming wildflowers, or how the light coming through the trees falls across the lane, or recognize there's more than one or two kinds of birds singing this morning.

Hope everyone has a great day!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Framing the question for the day

Well, it's early in the morning but I'm late getting started and have to dash out (day job, you know, and a demanding couple of weeks beginning) but I wanted to at least start this before the thought evaporates in the face of endless details and busywork. Maybe by the time I get back to pondering this question, I'll have some comments to add to the soup.

What is it that makes someone really good at what they do? And I mean good in a broad sense, not just famous or reknown or rich from whatever their endeavor is.

I'll revisit this later. Hope everyone has a great day!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

On Storytelling

It's a grey misty Saturday morning, quiet on the hill as the loggers don't work in the rain. For this I am thankful.

I know I owe everyone a piece on the elastic sense of time, but I have to take a detour for a bit cause something else is on my mind. And I have no doubt the blog community can help (in one way or another) point me towards some clarity.

I love a good story, no matter what form it's presented in. Written, read, sung, video, poems, I just love a good story. And there are millions of them out there. We all have them. They may not seem special to us, but others might be interested in them.

I think I have thoughtful, entertaining, maybe occasionally provocative stories. That's part of why I write here. I also make little videos, and am working on a documentary of someone else's WONDERFUL story. I think stories are one of the best communication methods around. They give us glimpses into alternatives and possibilities, as well as imparting information.

But this is what I have only recently determined: I am not such a good story teller.


This isn't self criticism, but on observation. So I want to do something about it. I think my personal challenge is editing, and getting to the point. I tend to ramble, wildly and long. My stories don't move. They don't even have a sense of bucolic meandering. There is no apparent pace. I first noticed this in a little video I did...I labored over it, put a lot of effort in it, determined it was finished and flowed well. Then put it on the shelf. I played it for my mentor dude, and 10 seconds into it, I was immediately struck by how it dragged. I was shocked. I thought I had worked it pretty well. So we talked about it and he agreed that while the subject was mildly interesting, the pace was glacial. And this on a 4 minute video. So lately, I've been reading and watching stuff, trying to learn by observation. I'd say one out of 10 videos really feels like what I'm looking for, and the blogs I read are consistently there. So, why not go to the sources and seek advice?

I study, and Currenttv because they have pretty good training sections for how to develop stories and present them. And today I'll spend some time researching sites that point to how to tell a story. I have a good many journalism sites marked already, and am quite familiar with the who, what, where, when, how, and why method of building a story. But I'm still missing something. So, if anyone has any advice, fire away. Which I suppose includes someone telling me to give it up. But that's the way it goes.

I have a friend that is a natural and gifted storyteller. Doesn't matter what form they express in, it's always entertaining, funny, thoughtful, poignant...i think the word I'm looking for is engaging. Innate talent. And truly off the cuff. It just works. How they can tell a story in a 1 minute video that is casually shot or a piece of writing in 50 words or less is amazing. And they swear it's not worked on, labored over, or calculated. Maybe that's one of the secrets. Maybe my thinking is getting in the way of pace and flow.

Anyways: the lines are open, any help appreciated. Have a great day!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Making money the old fashioned way, 84 cents at a time...

I am an equal opportunity omnivore. So before I go any further, I must confess that I love a good hot dog. Not one of those trendy designer hotdogs, with all manner of handcrafted bread buns and luxury condiments, I mean an old fashioned lunch counter, vendor cart, walk-up-to-the-window and take it away working class dog. Preferrably dressed with chili, slaw and mustard, and nothing else. 2 please, with fries, or if they're made from scratch, onion rings. And iced tea so sweet it'll make your teeth ache to drink it.

Also, I have to say that I am a fan of the independent, the small, the human scale, and the simple. The challenge in our lives is to find our niche, and support the niches others create that appeal to us. What does this have to do with hotdogs you may wonder? Read on, and all will become clear...

All hot dogs are NOT created equal. I'll even venture to say one in 10 meet my hotdog standard of excellence. I've had hotdogs all over the world, have had them in ballparks and arenas, cookouts and restaurants, and in my opinion there is only one geographical place nails them consistently. I returned to the mother ship this past weekend, hotdog heaven if you will, happily indulged, and feel compelled to report. (editors note: I have been to NYC, and have had hotdogs there, good and bad. A good hotdog town, but not the best in the world. But a better city by far than the home of the best hotdogs in the world...)

Anyways: Rewind to last weekend, and my visit to Bill's Hot Dogs. Bill's has been located in a little town about 20 miles away from Mom and Dad's since the beginning of time. They have 2 places: one in the old downtown area, the original walk-up window. No seating, and no parking. Which eventually led them to put up a second counter out in a little shopping strip, which has parking, but again, walkup only, no sitting, no tables. This is the one we went to.

We arrived about 11:15 in the morning, and the line was already snaked out the door. Dad says at least it wasn't too busy yet. There were 4 people working: one was manning the fryer (Bills hotdogs are fried, not steamed...crispy outside, hotdoggity inside) one was doing the buns and condiments, one was wrapping and one was running the register. All in a tiny space. And they were FAST! Average time to make your dog, all the way: about 7 seconds. These ladies were machine-like in their efficiency. You see, when I wait in a line, I watch things like this, and ponder. So we have 4 people making say $6/hr tops, no benefits. $24/hr in labor, plus space overhead which there I'd guess would be $1500/month including utils, give or take. Then there's material cost buns, dogs, mustard, onions and the homemade chili (which is a white chili made from white beans seasoned with hamhocks, chili powder and hot pepper, mushed down to a thin lumpy spreadable paste). So who know how much that is, but not much. Plus cabbage for slaw, and some onions. I'm thinking wow, how can they keep the doors open on a place, never mind 2, at 84 cents a dog? Amazing.

So we were in line for about 7 or 8 minutes, say 10 for easy math. I counted the dog orders: 107. In ten minutes, made, rung up and out the door. And it wasn't even busy yet. Dad says phone orders from the mills and small factories start around 11:45...100 here, 200 there, till about 1 pm when the lunch biz dies down. This in addition to the walk-ins. So here's where it gets interesting. The place is opened from 10am -6pm. We know they make at least 600 dogs an hour between 11 and 1. Add to that a couple of phone orders, say another 500. Thats 1100. Guess another what...200 over the rest of the, 1300 dogs in a workday, on average, 5 days a week, and then whatever on Saturday, maybe it's slow so say another 500. The nice ladies in this storefront are making 7000 hotdogs a week, at 84 cents. That equals $5880/wk income.

Bills Hotdogs is grossing $20,000 a month. Did I mention that the only thing they sell is the hotdog? No fries, no burgers, no ice cream, nothing except canned sodas. Hotdogs, a max of 4 condiments. They are grossing $240,000 a year AT LEAST on 84 cent hotdogs. At this one location. With an estimated overhead of what...about $70,000 in labor and space...and whatever product cost and stuff like insurance is added...even if that's another $70,000, they are netting 100K.

On an 84 cent product.

It just goes to show what can be done with a small, simple, straightforward idea, done well, with good quality. I love the whole idea of this place. It is what it is, makes no excuses, makes people happy, and laughs all the way to the bank. I am comforted knowing that this possibility exists in this day and time. I feel certain when the revolution comes, you'll still be able to get a good hotdog at Bill's. And that is worth its weight in gold.

Hotdogs, anyone?

Have a great evening!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Contemplating the Nature of Change

So I went on a solo trip to see my folks over the weekend. I don't go often enough (for any of us) but my excuses are work and life and it's a long drive, and the best times to go are exactly the worst times in my work schedule. So I only make it once or at the most twice a year.

Before I go any further I have to let all of you know that my parents are incredible. They are quiet ordinary people that have lived a life of grace and beauty that I fear is rare these days. And beauty in an expanded definition: my family never had more than just enough money, we lived very simply (they still do) and few luxuries. But there was always good food on the table (mostly homegrown) a sound roof over our heads, and we never went shoeless (except in the spring and summer and that was by choice) or wanted for any necessity. My mom stayed at home, dad worked and we did a lot of farming, and just grew up quietly in what was then a very rural part of the country. They are active and committed to their faith, but in a quiet unassuming way. They are good people and I am fortunate beyond words to have them for parents.

Anyways, the trip...they live in eastern NC, in the hot flatlands. Not even a bump in the road to disturb the horizon. It gets incredibly hot and miserable there starting about this time of year and lasting thru Sept; high temps and humidity that suffocates you. I was long gone from home before they even considered air conditioning, now a mandatory requirement of the whole population. As an aside, I have to say the weather was the best it's been in the past 20 years. Cool dry breezy days, very disorienting.

My folks are in their middle 70's, very active, still maintaining the place and having a huge (and I mean farm family huge) garden of every vegetable possible, and strawberries, blueberries, melons and grapes. Their garden will easily feed a family of ten in season, with still plenty for canning and freezing, which they continue to do. And feed the neighborhood they do- my dad likes to give stuff away, best if people are in need, so they pick whatever is ready, take what they want, and then he'll drive around and give the rest away. They like to share whatever they have.

When I was growing up, the area was all farmland. The soil in that part of the country was so rich you didn't even have to try to grow things, they just did. It was the heart of tobacco growing country, so every farm had tobacco (a big cash crop at the time) corn, beans and some cotton. Most folks had animals too, usually pigs but some cows, and of course chickens. Entertainment consisted of riding around and visiting, and usually food and eating were involved. In the summers folks would gather under trees and make ice cream. Simple stuff.

We had 10 acres. Dad and I cleared a spot for the house by hand, and eventually a place for a pasture and barn, which grew to a couple of salvaged outbuildings. We always had a couple of cows, often times some goats and chickens. Rarely pigs, because they can be a pain and so many people had them we could trade something for one. We had our own smokehouse, and butchered all the meat (cows, pigs, chickens) ourselves for years. It's just what people did. Of course, the huge gardens. Dad always had a soft spot for some kind of exotic animal "just to mess with", usually fowl. We went thru phases of ornamental chickens, turkeys, peacocks (for years!) and pheasants. He'd build incubators and hatch off eggs and build a little flock, and let them run loose around the barn and pasture. I always took it forgranted that's what everyone did. Dad likes to have something to do so he always had animals around. And of course there was the cast off machinery and equipment people would bring him, and he'd fix it up and get it running like new and use it or give it away to people who didn't have anything and needed it.

I of course couldn't wait to get out of there, having been worked like a migrant laborer my whole life, and unable to appreciate at the time how lucky I was. So I left about 28 years ago and went out into the world rarely to return. And now on my infrequent trips back, I get really sad at what has been lost there.

You see, the story there is much like so many other places in the country. It is being suburbanized, in a big way. When I was growing up, it was trees and farmland and farm ponds, blackwater creeks and dirt roads. Now, houses. Big, stupid MacMansions, on 3 and 5 acre lots, with not a tree in sight. Mom and Dad now possess the only wild woods for 5 square miles. Everything else has been cleared and "developed" Artificial ponds, sown and manicured lawns. White fences. Where the nearest house used to be a mile away, now there are at least 10 big houses within rock throwing distance of my folks house. Progress is closing in around them. The roads are paved, there is traffic, the predominant sound is air conditioners instead of cicadas, and SUV's blast up and down the long flat roads.

Mom and dad sit in the swings and watch the world come to their doorstep. They don't resist it, just take it all in in a matter-of-fact way. There are no more animals on the place, because we used to make our own feed from gatherings and tradings on the farms (hay, corn, molasses) and that's all gone. Plus the places and equipment to make feed have been shut down: it's more economical to buy it off a railroad car. There's too much traffic around, and unruly dogs to have yard animals. The barns, sheds and smokehouse are looking a little run down from disuse, and the repaired equipment stands silent for lack of reason to use. It reminds me of a David Smith quote that had to do with the great and ponderous silence of stilled machines, or something like that.

They still have the gardens, which is where they spend most of their spring and summer time and keeps them active. But their whole way of life is being rubbed away- at least the way they used to live. Many of their friends are dying off, and while they are in good health they are reminded every day of the finiteness of life. They wear this well, like so much other stuff just accept it as part of the deal. When my sister died a few years ago it was extremely hard on them. Parents shouldn't outlive their kids. My sister had been sick on and off for years (cancer) and they just took every day as it came, doing the best they could, and helping her out however they could. When she passed away, my dad said "it's bad and it's sad, but the sun still will come up tomorrow morning, and you have two choices: either give up, or do the best you can do. And if the sun doesn't come up, well, then that's a bigger problem than what we do..."

Watching them, and watching how their life is changing makes me feel a little old. It really makes me think of change in general. It's the natural occurrence of things, and I wonder why I am so resistant to it at times. Maybe better to take a lesson from them (ever the teachers by example) and just flow along with the river. They are always very careful to not label change as good or bad, but just different. Their focus is more on the people around them, and what they can do to help out and get along. And they keep their feet on the ground, solidly, and don't let change or the world swirling around them get them out of balance much. Slow, steady, solid, graceful and elegant. An extraordinary life in the face of unending changes. What an example to learn from and live up to.

Hope everyone has a great day and finds a way to flow easily with the changes around you.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sunday Evening on Pondering Hill

Just a quick update to let both my readers know I'm alive and kicking and nearly back in the flow.

A quick weekend trip (long road hours, short visit time) to hang out with the parental unit, back home to do some life maintenance, and now it's time to call it a day. I can use the rest. Besides a good visit and some down home cooking, I came back with some material for blog posts which are outside of my normal range, and which oddly enough I've decided (tonight anyways) to put some effort into trying to do a little storytelling. This of course will probably change as I don't have a lot of experience with form and structure and rhythm, so at some point the wheels will come off and they'll sprout wings and fly (or crash) however they will. Going down the to distant flatlands always gives me food for thought, and the long solo hours in the car allowed time for fermentation. If I could've blogged while driving, well, then we might have something.

Episodes on tap: something to do with the nature of change, an observation on how to make a fortune with a small and simple idea, and a ramble on the elasticity of time.

And who knows what else?

Anyways, hope all out there in blogland are well. I've missed writing and reading you guys (the folks live FAR on the wrong side of the digital divide and access is limited if not non-existent). I'll catch up reading this week and hope to return to some regular posts. Until then, take care, be happy, and have fun when you can.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Floating to the top...

Coming up for air and sunlight soon, and back to blogging shortly. Days have been busy busy with mundane and not too interesting stuff. But about to turn the corner I think.

Hope everyone is well. Talk with you soon (mere days!)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Happy Friday All!

It's all work and little or no blog for me of late. And you know about all work and no....makes for a grumpy boy. But I'm not so grumpy, just diverted of attention, and for the next few days, till Thursday next week :^( so I reckon I have to go ahead and admit that entries (and reading) will be sparse.

But that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about you guys, oh no! In stray moments, I sit down and clicky on your links, and that's my treat for the day, or hour, and then I jump back into the work whirl. So, thanks for that.

Off to it. Have a great Friday, and a wonderful weekend. I hope everyone can do at least one thing that is out of the ordinary for you, and quite delightful!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dog Blog

As everyone knows, I have 2 dogs, Izzy the Chihuahua and Lucy the Golden Retriever. We also have some of the worst tv reception known to the civilized world (which is no big deal considering broadcast and most cable tv is one of the worst things in the civlized world but that's another blog) getting about 1 1/2 channels on a good day when the weather is right and the wind from the southwest. As a result we rarely have on the shouting tv box, unless it is for our weekly netflix movie night.

Anyways, dogs, tv...K's mom, thinking us culturally and entertainment deficient in every way occasionally videotapes some program or other and mails them to us. Our tastes (ours and hers I mean) are generally pretty different so it's a rare time when we have a winner. I will say in fairness though that she has taped every episode of the BEST TV SHOW EVER, Junkyard Wars, which we would have never even heard of if it wasn't for her. But other stuff that is good to us is few and far between. Until recently.

Dogs, tv...yes, we have become fans of the Dog Whisperer.

Say what you will, but the man is clearly a genius in many ways, and comes off as a straight shooting entertaining actually nice guy. Interviews here and here. His story is remarkable, starting out as an illegal immigrant with a dream, working his butt off, building his practice, and now a marketing machine, actually doing good for animals along the way. It is so refreshing and entertaining to see someone so clearly engaged and committed to what they are supposed to be doing. I find it inspiring. So much so that we actually bought Ceasar's book, not for training tips but for the story, and as I said to the cashier "Anybody who makes something from nothing out of thin air, enthusiasm and love, well, I'll support that any way I can". Never mind he probably makes more off a Hollywood celebrity pet with a behavior problem than I make in a year, I'm just sayin...

I was gonna blog about Ceasar's philosophy, but the interviews are much better, especially the second one. The guy is full of practical life common sense, and about more than dogs.

So it's time for me to walk our dogs, get some supper going, and settle in for a videotape episode or two to wind down the day. Check it out the next time you want some quality entertainment.

Have a great evening! Tomorrow is auction night at the school, and if it's any good I'll do a post auction report. Fun and games on the mountain, gotta love it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


So I do know what day it is, which is no small feat. Work is crazy, and I can't remember if I mentioned on top of it I was to appear for jury duty on Monday (which I did, and thankfully, was deemed not qualified to serve on a jury of my peers...) Add to that a sleepless night, and a day feeling like leftover death fueled by coffee, and here we are, tired and getting on towards sundown and anticipation of some sleep. But I haven't blogged for almost 2 days and am feeling a bit of withdrawl.

That being said, what to write about? Tired minds don't make for great lit, no that I aspire to it, but come on, a little entertaining at least isn't too much to hope for. So, I have next to nothing. Except for one thing: Lilac.

On the way home, down on the hard top, I pass a Lilac bush every day. Today it was in full bloom. Driving by this afternoon with the windows down, I was flooded with Lilac...oh man it was so sweet! Like the essence of Lilac personified. I never had smelled such a thing. So of course I did what any good driver on a mountain road would do: I stopped in dead in the middle of the road, sat there, and enjoyed the scent. Tres wonderful!

So that's what I have tonight for you guys: an image of Lilac scent. Not a bad way to end the day.

Hope everyone has a good evening. Pretty soon I hope to have more, better and longer material.

Oh yeah, if you haven't done it yet, check out this link from Dr. Omed's Tent Show Revival! Funny cause it's TRUE!