Let your hair down

Sometimes, you have to let your hair down. This is week three of my marathon training. Tonight I should have lifted weights while I let my legs recover from yesterday’s interval training. But instead, I came home, did a couple of chores, and then took my better half out to our favorite local eatery for Spanish wine and our favorite dishes.

Like the kid in We’re the Millers, I’ve got “no ragrets.” Not even one. We had a lovely evening and now tomorrow I’ll be doubly motivated to knock out my tempo run after another busy day at work.

Are you motivated after letting your hair down? Or are you more of an “inertia person” who once is at rest stays at rest?

Remember the Mosquito

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.                                           – Dalai Lama

This evening I went for a training run at dusk. I was sore from the weekend’s running and had to push myself out the front door. While out there, I “ran” at a paltry pace through my full post-dinner belly and my weekend soreness. About three miles in, I started hitting these swarms of stinging bugs. They’d stick to my sweaty skin and sting me repeatedly. It reminded me of the Dalai Lama quote above, which of course made me smile. After that, I got a little smarter and started ducking and dodging the swarms. To the casual observer, I probably looked like I was off my meds. Again I smiled. These little 1 mm insects were causing me to run like Rocky while he was training for his fight with Ivan Drago. I ran anyway. We don’t have to be massive to make a massive difference.

The Business of Relationships

My wife and I are both on our second marriage. Neither of us intended to be divorcees. Everyone in our families’ prior generations stayed married, so neither of us knew what divorce looked like. Given that second marriages are even more likely to fail than a first marriage, my better half and I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about what went wrong and how we can work together proactively to keep our marriage healthy and happy. While there are countless tomes written on the topic, I’m going to offer up a rather business-minded approach to the successful components of a long-term relationship. With this approach, I’m also going to skip over what I consider to be table stakes for any committed romantic relationship: mutual attraction, love, fidelity, honesty, and communication. Because let’s cut to the chase, if even one of these is missing, there’s no foundation upon which to build a long-term romantic relationship.

My wife and I have found that the for a long-term committed relationship to work for a long time, the relationship needs some things that are pretty important in business. Of course, we are both process engineers who have worked in a variety of industries, so there’s an inevitable business environment bias here. But, we’ve also gone through a good bit of couples therapy in our prior relationships, read several books on the topic and applied them, and – now because of our experience – helped counsel many friends and family members going through similar crises – small and large. Oh, and my wife is more than two-thirds through her Masters in Psychology from Harvard University. So… this isn’t a slap-dash-throw-some-stuff-on-the-wall idea. These ideas are tried and tested in many circles. So let’s get to it.

  1. Couples need a shared vision. This already sounds like business school, doesn’t it? Bear with me. Let’s say one of you wants to be a medical doctor – or already is a medical doctor. That’s going to mean long hours away from home and very likely being on call. How does that fit with the partner’s goal of being a school teacher with summers off to go hike the Appalachian Trail? Well it might work, as long as consistent togetherness isn’t your main objective. Let’s look at another scenario: One of you wants to have a daily driving automobile that reliably gets you from point A to point B and then to also have a flashy sports car in the garage to take out on sunny weekends. Your partner wants to be a social worker who primarily helps children. Again, it can work, but its going to take a lot of discussion and compromise. Generally speaking, social workers don’t make a lot of money for flashy sports cars. Carried forward, social workers who want to help children also probably aren’t prioritizing pricey non-essential vehicles. See the rub? In both of these short scenarios, the couples do not have a shared vision of where they’re going. I can speak from my own experience that in my first marriage, we did not have a shared vision of where we were going. One could argue that we got married too young before we had a chance to figure out what our shared vision was. But I know lots of couples who met at 16 or 17 years old and have had very successful relationships now 25 or 30 years on. In all of those cases, they had a shared vision of where they were going. To discuss this with your significant other, I like the Be, Do, Have model. For the sake of brevity, I’ll say it this way: Each individual needs to decide who he or she is going to BE (the kind of person with what values, etc.), and based on that, what he or she will DO (what profession), which will in turn dictate what each will HAVE (material possessions and the like). So many people do it the other way around: they start with what they want to HAVE, which then dictates the budget and determines what they need to DO, which then begins to inform who they’re going to BE.
  2. Couples should have a shared Culture. If there is a yang to the yin of the vision, it is the culture. It informs where you start and how you go about pursuing your shared vision. Culture – unless it is being actively developed like in the corporate world – usually comes from one’s family of origin. Family of origin sets the stage for how individuals will communicate, work together, problem-solve, raise a family, and so on. It isn’t an insurmountable problem to have very different families of origin, but as my wife and I have both learned from experience, when times get tough, we race back to what we learned growing up. I’ll contrast my first and current marriages again for illustration. In my first marriage, our respective families had very different ideas about budgeting and bill-paying, about child-rearing, about the balance of power, and about negotiation tactics used in the relationship. I thought these matters were surmountable, but they caused a great deal of stress and arguably the downfall of the marriage. When I contrast that with my current marriage, our respective families of origin are magnitudes closer to one another. While each of our Mothers and Fathers have very different personalities, their approaches to the relationship overlap a great deal. This has helped my wife and I work collaboratively to blend and raise a well-adjusted family with four kids, run a household budget that not only pays the bills but offers up self-actualizing activities to each of its members, and to support one another as we pursue our shared vision for our family. Differences in family of origin are able to be overcome, but it takes a lot of work. I personally start with educating myself. Here is a list of books that might help. But after education comes the tough work of problem-solving.
  3. Problem solving can save the day. In both of the cases of Vision and Culture, couples who are equipped with the skills and committed to the cause of solving problems can overcome almost all set-backs. Interestingly, problem-solving is not a universal skill in the professional world much less the ewy gooey world of romantic love. In fact, this was another point of contention in my first marriage. My ex-wife repeatedly rebuffed me for trying to analyze our issues for root cause and corrective action. She would say, “this is a relationship, not a business.” I can’t fault her. I’m sure many people feel the same way. But while my first wife was satisfied with an accuse-argue-apologize cycle of addressing matters, I was not. I like solving problems. I don’t like futile repeats of past conversations and I don’t care for stalemates. So again, even our tools and commitments to overcome our differences in our vision and our culture simply weren’t there. When contrasted with my wife now, again, it is a world of difference. My wife is an industrial engineer and a natural born problem solver. She can meet me at my nerdiest point. While we started out with strong overlaps in both our vision and culture, those things aren’t permanent. As we each grow and take on new challenges, our vision and the associated goals grow and change. In these cases, problem solving saves the day. We’re able to collaboratively work through these new ideas and grow together because we have the skills to do so. While I could start a whole new blog and completely geek out on problem solving in all types of settings, I’ll offer up the following primer.
    • Clearly state the problem, starting with what, when, where, and how often. Avoid “who,” any assumed intent, and “always” & “never” statements if you can. For example, instead of saying, “You don’t respect me because you always load the toilet paper roll backwards,” you might offer up, “I notice that the toilet paper roll gets loaded in different ways, sometimes over the top and sometimes unrolling from the bottom.” The second statement takes the “you” out, it takes the assumed intent of not respecting me out, and it takes out the language of “backwards,” even though we all know the right way to load the toilet paper is over the top. 
    • Confirm the measurement. It is important to confirm that everyone is measuring the matter the same way. Something like, “When the trash has been packed into the bag so tight that it takes a shot of compressed air to get the bag out of the bin without ripping it apart, I think it is over-full. What do you think?” You will be surprised at how often we simply don’t measure things the same way.
    • Agree on a standard. This is very much related to the measurement problem. If there isn’t agreement on what “good” looks like, it is nearly impossible to measure it. This can get tricky in domestic situations because we all have our quirks. Dirty dishes in the sink and untreated spots on the carpet drive me bananas. My family thinks I’m a control freak, and, well, they’re right. But in the balance of power, I can’t bully my way into it. We all have busy lives. So it might be that the only option for my daughter was to grab a quick bite after school and then head to work while leaving her dish in the sink to soak. So, it is a process.

In closing, I hope you’ve already achieved domestic bliss. If you’re in the process of a long term commitment, perhaps the lessons I’ve learned through my own failures can help you build a healthier and happier relationship. Best wishes!

What’s so great about 2:30 AM?

Seriously. It is currently 4:38 AM – not for you of course, but for me. I have been up for a few hours. Much like every night for the past two and a half weeks. So far, I’m coming to the conclusion that if you ever want to test your resolve and your sanity, become an insomniac. No wait, I don’t wish this on anyone. But the fact is I’m up. Again. So this early morning, I’m asking myself, “What’s so great about 2:30 AM?” What is going on at this hour that I feel compelled to wake from my restful slumber and take part in? Because on the surface, it feels like a whole lot of nothing.

What is in fact going on at 2:30 AM? Well, upon deeper inspection, not much. The fan in our bedroom is still running. The lights are still off. The birds outside aren’t making any noises because I assume that in their natural God-given nature, they know how to get a full night’s sleep. I will say that the trains that I can hear in the distance definitely run through the night. But I’m pretty sure that’s not a new development over the past couple of weeks. I’m also certain that there have been a few things added to the internet since I last checked, but unless the collective global digital brain can tell me how to get back to sleep, I don’t think I’m interested. Now there’s an idea. OK, Google, let’s see what you’ve got.

The Search

So as I lay awake while my wife has the audacity to sleep soundly beside me with her metered breathing and her neither tossing nor turning, I whipped out my trusty smart phone to see what the internet has for me.

OK, Google, Why do I wake up between 2 and 3 AM every night?

Here’s what we’ve got:

First, I learn that this is when my liver becomes active and processes the previous day’s nonsense that I threw into my pie hole. The reality is that I generally eat a pretty clean diet. Or at least I did before all of this started. I have to be honest with you my dear readers, After about a week of running on 3 hours of sleep per night, one’s resolve (or at least my resolve) to eat healthy starts to fly out the window. If when the alarm goes off, you are dead tired before you start your day, meal prep and for that matter what food constitutes a meal starts to get pretty loose. So while it may be a compounding factor at this point, I know I didn’t start there. OK, that’s probably not it. What else?

I learn that I might be harboring anger issues. I’m learning that when my liver kicks into action, if I’m harboring anger issues, I could be releasing adrenalin that will in turn keep me up. That sounds plausible. I know I’m certainly up. So let’s scratch the surface there. Am I angry about anything? Why yes, I’m angry that I’m up and that I cannot seem to be able to go back to sleep – every night, regardless of what I eat or drink and what my liver seems to be doing. Not so fast Daniel-son, what about the underlying anger? You know, that deep rooted stuff that only a therapist or Oprah could get out of you? Well, let’s give that a moment; heaven knows I’ve got a couple to spare. After repeated ponderings on this subject, I don’t think this is it. But who knows, I’m not done writing. Maybe something will pop out. For now, let’s see what else the internet can suggest.

Next, I learn that I might not be getting enough exercise. If the body doesn’t move enough, then basically it can blah blah… No, that’s not it. I have officially restarted my marathon training and I’m running a good bit in spite of my lack of rest. And weirdly, it doesn’t seem to matter. I actually went for a morning run the other day after just 2.5 hours of sleep in one night and I put in some quick miles. So no. Let’s keep moving.

Ghosts? OK, so I’m reading here that 2-3 AM is the chief witching hour for souls who can’t or won’t lay to rest. If I feel like someone is watching me, it is probably a ghost. Ponderous. Perhaps I will consider having the house exercised. But first, I really want to get the carpets done. Plus, I don’t feel like I’m being watched. I feel like I’m just awake. Painfully and stupidly awake while the rest of the world – including those in the afterlife – can seem to get some rest.

Dehydrated? Over-hydrated? Pituitary issues? Hypoglycemic? Don’t eat bananas. Oh wait, bananas can be good. Don’t lay in bed awake. Eat a little before bed, but don’t eat anything after 7 PM. Read before bed but not in bed. Limit my screen time. Don’t watch scary movies. Make sure my chi is centered. Try yoga. Sleepy time tea? Melatonin. Benadryl. Head injury.

Sigh.

Sadly, another half night of no sleeping has passed by. It is now approaching my “waking” time. So I’m going to get on with my day, prop myself up with Joffrey’s Latin Espresso from the break room at work and slog through another day as a zombie. I suppose the goal should be to find a silver lining. Well, if this keeps up, I’ll definitely become a more practiced – if not better – blogger. I’ll learn the limits of marathon training with sleep deprivation. I might even get to Inbox zero. And who knows, I might even figure out what’s so great about 2:30 AM.

Sweet dreams…

Haiku You

There are several forms of poetry that I truly enjoy. I don’t know where this comes from, as I essentially have no history with poetry. But, I think if you’re following my blog, we can agree that “eclectic” is a nice, agreeable term for my personality. So it probably comes as no surprise that I love the Haiku. I mean, what’s not to love? There are three lines with specific syllabic requirements; and the first two lines agree while the third line is juxtaposed against the first two. It is a challenge begging to be mastered.

The Assignment

Not long ago, I dreamed up this idea that I thought would be fun. Thankfully, I have a team at work that is willing to entertain my whims. Otherwise, I’d just be this weird dude with weird ideas that didn’t work out. So, I dreamed up this idea. What if we (my team) all took a couple of weeks and wrote our own personal Haiku? My team members got to choose how it represented them – whether it was past, present, or future. At about the midpoint of the assignment, we pondered whether or not our lives would fit into 17 syllables. So we decided to add a wrinkle. Everyone should send their Haiku poems to me. I would compile them and read them aloud while everyone else on the team voted on the author.

The Results

While I won’t type them all, my team did fantastic. Some of them were very specific and others were more metaphorical, but all of them represented their author in some specific way. I’ll lead off with mine. Not because its the best, but because I can most readily explain the story behind it. Here goes:

Roll the rock up, up
Roll it today and always
Everything changes

Those of you familiar with Greek mythology will already recognize the reference to Sisyphus. For those unfamiliar, Sisyphus was a world class smart aleck. In life, he outsmarted both man and god alike. So in his afterlife, his eternal task was to roll a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down. Personally, I struggle with futility and anything that is circular. If there is a definition of hell for me, it would be to suffer the fate of Sisyphus. But alas, I identify with him as well. I readily recognize the folly in the mundane, everyday tasks that constitute my day-in, day-out routine; and yet at work I dutifully go about my tasks as if I had the short term memory of a gold fish.

As for the third line, it essentially means that over time, things do change although they often border on the imperceptible. It wasn’t until I accepted my mundane tasks and the duty with which I execute them that I recognized that change does happen. One day, I’m plugging away rolling the rock up the hill with a sense of duty and all of a sudden, it becomes trendy to roll the rock up the hill. The next thing I know, I’ve got a following. People want to know how they can roll their rocks up their hills as fast and as far as I do.

As a forty-something, I also identify with the book / movie Fight Club. I think this was the most pointed reference I had to identifying a Power or Spirit Animal. Since Fight Club, I have often joked that my spirit animal is a dung beetle (Seriously, check my Twitter feed). It doesn’t take a genius to associate Sisyphus and dung beetles, so I’ll leave it to you dear reader to pull it all together. Plus, I was in an office setting, so its much safer to talk about rocks and boulders than it is to talk about dung. I digress.

Here are a couple of other notable Haiku poems from my team – without all the Greek mythology / Discovery Channel references.

Rough notes on a page
Melodies sad and hopeful
Heart sings with laughter

Music in my head
The wind and trees surround me
Living wild and free

And perhaps my personal favorite:

What comes after this?
Another year has gone by
Oh great, more traffic

In the end, my team loved this activity. They enjoyed the chance to be creative in an otherwise standard corporate office setting. We also enjoyed the guesswork of deciding who wrote what. What I find most interesting is that if we did it again in a few weeks time, the Haikus would be different. There is something very “here and now” about this activity. Which leads me to my closing questions:

What is your Haiku?

If you were to restrict “who you are” to the very short requirements of the Haiku, what would they be right here, right now?

I’d love to read yours.

Ulysses: Hades

In Homer’s The Odyssey, Book XI is the story of Odysseus and his men leaving Circe’s island. But as a condition of their departure, Circe directs him and his men to Hades to talk to the dead. While in Hades, Odysseus speaks to many different dead characters who add several layers of depth to the epic. Among many others, he speaks to his deceased mother who updates him on the recent happenings in Ithaca. He also speaks to the prophet Tiresias, who offers foreshadowing of adventures to come.

In Ulysses, the Hades episode also breaks the story open. We are treated to a host of new characters who offer a broadening purview of the world outside the perspectives of our main characters, Bloom, Molly, and Stephen Dedalus. Instead of journeying to a mythical underworld for discussions with the dead, Hades in Ulysses sees our characters participate in the procession and funeral service for the recently deceased Patrick Dignam. Bloom rides in the procession inside a carriage with Jack Power, Martin Cunningham, and Simon Dedalus – Stephen’s father. Once at the church, most of the conversation stops and then we switch to the thoughts in Bloom’s head as he watches the Catholic process with detachment. After the service, the men walk with John O’Connell, the cemetery caretaker, to the burial service. Bloom briefly walks around the cemetery and ponders death. Finally, the men disperse.

Themes:

There is a wealth of dialogue in this episode and, as with The Odyssey, the dialogue with the other characters reveals a great deal about the story. We learn that Bloom doesn’t quite fit into this society, as much as he has tried to assimilate. At every jab, Bloom takes the high road. He intimates that he feels responsible for his son Rudy’s poor start to life and untimely death. We also get confirmation that Bloom’s father committed suicide. We get a sighting of Blazes Boylan and come to realize that he is popular with the men in Bloom’s circles. We also get lots and lots of thoughts about death. Bloom considers people being buried standing up, but then thinks better of it because at some point, their heads might pop out of the ground. He reconsiders coffins and how they merely put off the inevitable digestion by insects. He considers the horror of being buried alive and possible solutions, including a phone line and an air hole in the coffin. Aside from the death theme that overrides much of the episode, here are the prominent themes:

  • Anti-Semitism: As the procession passes Reuben J. Dodd – a moneylender – the men scoff and curse at him inside the comfort of the carriage. The men all feel put out by Reuben because they have all owed him money, although it is implied that Bloom has not. In an effort to change the topic, Bloom brings up the story of Dodd’s son falling into the Liffey, which Cunningham rudely takes over. When it is revealed that Reuben paid the rescuer a florin for his son, the elder Dedalus scoffs that it was “one and eightpence too much.” While there is no direct attack on Bloom, who is a Jew, in this episode, the attack on Dodd’s character is left hanging as a slight against the race.
  • Bloom the outcast / inferior: There are several shots across the bow of our man Bloom, both from the crowd and from Bloom himself. He is the last to enter the carriage and the last man to kneel at the ceremony. He sits uncomfortably on the soap in the carriage that he bought at Sweny’s because he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself. He offers up the paper to Simon Dedalus to read Dan Dawson’s speech as Cunningham suggests and Simon turns him down. When the men see Boylan, Bloom wonders what Molly and the others see in him. Jack Power pointedly asks Bloom if he’ll be traveling to Belfast with Boylan and Molly – to whom he refers to as Madame – implying that he knows something of the affair. Bloom remarks that a sudden death is the best death because there is no suffering and the men disagree. When Bloom thinks of Rudy, he quotes a saying that if a male child lives, its because of the mother, if he dies, its due to the father. John Henry Menton doesn’t remember Bloom but remembers Molly and wonders why she would marry him. At the end of the chapter, Menton snubs Bloom after he helpfully tells Menton that he has a ding in his hat.
  • Bloom rises above the slights: In all of the cases mentioned above, Bloom carries himself with dignity. After Power’s “Madame” slight to Bloom, he wonders about the mistress Power keeps, but of course he keeps it to himself. When Power brings up suicide as the worst of all and Dedalus adds, “The greatest disgrace to have in the family,” as well as “They say a man who does it is a coward.” Bloom does not reply, but he observes that Dedalus “looked at me.” He then critiques Simon Dedalus and his drunkard wife who has died, but he leaves it all alone. Bloom is satisfied with the thought, “He looked away from me. He knows. Rattle his bones.” Finally, after pointing out the ding in Menton’s hat and being curtly thanked, Bloom thinks, “Never mind. Be sorry after perhaps when it dawns on him. Get the pull over him that way.” As with Menton, Bloom is paying it forward with all of these men. He does not get into a battle of egos but rather taking the slights in good graces even though he’s armed with the knowledge to fire back.
  • Father and son: Early in the episode we get to compare Simon’s position on Stephen and the Gouldings to what Stephen said it would be in Proteus. Of course, Stephen had his father pegged. Simon is harsh on Stephen but Bloom gives him credit for looking out for him, like Bloom would have done for Rudy. Bloom also thinks about his father and his son, both of which are dead. He repeatedly says “poor papa” when thinking about his father. As mentioned above, Bloom is taking the blame for Rudy’s early death. We come to realize that Bloom’s lineage is over at the moment and he is very much on his own.

At the close of this episode, I am inclined to forgive Bloom his trespasses for carrying on with a flirtatious pen pal and to pull for the hero to rise above his troubles. With no father and no son, and certainly cast as an outsider in the group, the episode leaves us with a distinct impression of vulnerability for Bloom. We know his wife is headed for an affair with Boylan and that Boylan is a man about town. Death is on his mind and we know that his father – who Bloom says was in pain – committed suicide. There are so many thoughts and impressions in such a little space. Hail to the master, James Joyce!

Going Home

“Going home and spending time with your family and your real friends keeps you grounded.” – Jennifer Ellison

This weekend, my wife and I went “home” to the greater Portsmouth, Ohio area. She and I were both born and (as for me, mostly) raised there. Her parents are still there. Mine moved on when I was 14, but I still have plenty of roots. We were without kids this weekend and owed her Mom some “we” time, so made the 2+ hour drive from our house to my wife’s childhood home. I think I can speak for my wife to say that going home for both of us this weekend was bittersweet.

Life in Portsmouth is completely different from our life in Columbus, Ohio. Portsmouth is the epitome of small-town middle America with a population of less than 30,000. Columbus is a major metropolitan city where the population approaches 2 million. In Columbus, we have something going on every night of the week; dinner with friends, kids’ sporting activities, organized after-work events, and so on. In Portsmouth, there might be one event per week in addition to Wednesday evening church service. When we go “home,” we experience the life of our childhood. The life that we couldn’t wait to escape. The slower, sleepy life that would drive us nuts from boredom on the long-term, but that we honestly relish in bits and pieces on these brief weekend treks down memory lane.

This weekend, I went hiking  for four hours with my cousin’s husband. From start to finish, neither of us could get cell service among our three mobile phones. Not that we wanted it, I’m just offering a sense of how remote things are in the greater Portsmouth area. My wife and I also attended a car show, which is where people from all around the local Tri-State area (Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia) drive their always polished, often restored, sometimes cobbled together hotrods and put them on display for eager gawkers and some serious bragging rights. The night usually wraps up when the hotrods begin to file out onto the main road and leave a good bit of rubber behind in a plume of blue-grey smoke. It is like a scene out of the movie American Graffiti. We spent a good bit of time with family sharing food and catching up on stories and events. My wife and I also squeezed in a 3 mile training run in the downtown area and on the campus of my first alma mater, Shawnee State University. During our travels around the county, I drove past every house I lived in until I moved away from the area. All of this brings me back to the bittersweet point.

A part of me – a very small part indeed – misses that life. Sure, we couldn’t live in the house we live in now. Our kids wouldn’t have had the opportunities that they’ve had in the Columbus area. No, we couldn’t travel like we do. Yes, I find myself getting cranky at the painfully slow drivers while I’m down there. On and on. But. BUT, a small part of me misses that simpler, small town life. A part of me misses the time when the big event of the day was putting two bare feet into the water and casting a fishing pole. That same part of me misses the house I grew up in, the friends with whom I learned about life, and the roads on which I learned to drive. Judging by my wife’s eagerness to show me the artifacts of her past, I think she share’s the sentiment.

I’m sure this is just the nostalgia of the trip taking hold. If you moved us back to Portsmouth today, my wife and I would go stir crazy in 3 days – or less. I think the important thing here is to revisit memory lane with vulnerability every now and again. With vulnerability, I mean to be open to the trip, to slow down and walk the paths of the memory, to revisit events and consider their impact on you. We can so easily get caught up in planning the next big trip or office politics or whatever. But there’s nothing like a trip to your childhood home to ground you in the terra firma of who you are and what in life is important. It offers a whole new perspective to the impending work week.

The house featured in this post is the current state of my parent’s home when I was brought home from the hospital more than 43 years ago. I remember it as a quaint red brick and red siding house in good repair surrounded by a chain link fence to keep me and our small dog in the yard. But that was a long time ago. Times change.