Friday, August 17, 2012

On Protection and Purpose

Wie viel ist aufzuleiden!
How much suffering there is to bear!

I am getting to the second half of "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl.  It's a weird book written by a holocaust-surviving psychoanalyst, but the part about the meaning of life really resonates with me.  There is no meaning of life.  I realized that the process of evolution basically precludes a meaning of life.  It's like learning the code you've been writing for 16 years isn't actually compatible with the operating system.  It took a bit of a nervous breakdown, but over the years I have patched the system.

Frankl makes a lot of supposition in the book, and assumes what worked for him was also what worked for all the jews who survived the Holocaust, that it will work for anyone, and that survival is paramount above all else.  He uses a lot of fuzzy logic and asserts a lot of stuff that I don't believe in.  One big concern of mine is his focus on the future and past, rather than the moment.  He touches on, but in my mind misrepresents, meditation.  But I like this paragraph:

What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. 

Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

That's beautiful.  Life is so richly full of such opportunity.

The last time I wanted to rush to the defense of my lady, I was living in Williamsburg, illegally, in a house with my girlfriend. When Lindsay interacted with the landlord, it was terrible, with harassment and many other issues.  But she managed to mess up the lease badly enough that there was little recourse, and of course me living there illegally didn't help her case because  the landlady had spies checking on us and ties with local government.  So my hands were pretty well tied.  It sucked to feel like my suggestions, to help our situation, were falling on deaf ears, and to not be able to get enough information to do anything but blindly trust Lindsay to figure the situation out.

Eventually, Lindsay and our housemate Emily were in this huge one-sided feud where Lindsay seemed to be having some sort of nervous breakdown that only involved Emily and none of her other life activities.  It was an awkward spot to be put in for me because Emily was also crazy and so it was hard to tell the stories apart and have any idea of what was going on.

Fast-forward.  Now I have a lady with a proven track-record of maturity and responsibility.  No one is perfect, but she seems eminently qualified for the things she feels she is qualified and recognizes her weaknesses willingly.  She is being manipulated by a person who is trained to recognize psychological weaknesses and yet cannot seem to influence or manage anyone in a positive manner.

My lady is in danger of being fired because she has a hard time showing this person their cognitive distortions of the situation.  This person is seeing things wrong, and has for many years, and it's ridiculous to expect a first-year farmer to be able to teach clarity of mind to her manager. I want to rush to protect her, but I also know this is her battle to fight.  I don't want to be like my father, coming in to school to make things go my way.

So how do I support Jules without being overbearing?  How do I express how much more I trust her than anyone else in my life, without overwhelming her and without giving up my autonomy of understanding?

Of course, I know she will read this, and so I will get that answer from her, hopefully.

But in the meantime I can speculate a little bit on my own weaknesses.

I get passionate and hear what gives me glimpses of understanding, not necessarily what the other person is trying to tell me.

I insert myself into situations to "micromanage".

But that one is hard.

Sometimes, an important situation requires micromanagement, as in mountaineering with a novice.  Other times, it's less critical...

At work, someone, let's call him D, and I were tasked with arranging the technical presentation at coming tradeshows.  Big money involved, a big chance to make big impact, present an image.  We decided to go with a very slick 60" smart-TV.  So we divvied up tasks and one of his was: find cases to fit the monitor.

Several conversations later, numerous iterations, we both have a much better understanding of the problem, which is good, but he is getting a 42" monitor to fit the case he had decided on, rather than the other way around.  I suggested he think about the larger cases, which I went out of the way to find for him, but he had already contacted the shipping company about the standard size.

So I don't think we will ever get the info we needed to truly make the decision which is: what is the cost of the case and shipping for a 42" versus a 60" monitor?  What is the impact, at a tradeshow, of a 42" versus a 60" monitor, and what is the ease of setup of a 42" versus 60" monitor?

Then we make our best decision on the information.  But a lot of people around me, they don't know to look for that information.  And D is better than most.  So I don't want to push it, I don't want to say look here, look here, look here, do that.

He is receptive to my ideas and he understands what I am trying to do most of the time- that's valuable support when I'm trying to push through a technology project that other team members might be scared of.  But still, do I just let it slide?  For now I am letting it slide.  This is my first time working with D and I don't want him to feel it is a grindstone to be avoided.  I like working with him.

I think Frankl hits on something that is very Jewish, and also maybe key to other religions as well.  Not only does religion offer a sense of place and purpose, but, Judaism in particular, offers a unique sense of service and fulfillment through simple service to oneself and the community that is possibly a happy uniter of the protestant work ethic and buddhist

I guess the bottom line is this- My life has plenty of calls to rise to the occasion.  I have lots of opportunity to find the right (or wrong) answers in life, and to fulfill the tasks life sets for me.  I only hope I am up to the challenge.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Becoming Human: The Search For Meaning

The Great Books Foundation published a book series that was somewhat transformational for me.

I had just dropped out of college, was back living with my parents, and had little hope for myself, mt future, my world.  I was seventeen and felt overwhelmed by a world beyond comprehension, and out of control.  I mostly lived in the internet, and wandered aimlessly in my bathrobe.

I was suffering, yet with the impossibility of comparing personal experiences, I will never know the depths of it.  So I was wandering aimlessly in my parent's basement (something of the coolness, isolation, and mustiness was reassuring, as I am sure I was comforted by the solid concrete floor and walls) when I happened across several brown paper bags full of books.  They were mostly mildewed and tattered and water-stained and swollen- but in the piles, buried in between pounds and pounds of books I found this series.

The series was called "Becoming Human".

It probably did a much better job of giving me a foundation for coping with tragedy, stress, suffering and despair than my 17 years of suburban upbringing ever did.  A few years later, I recognized this, and suggested the series to a friend.  I'm not sure he even bothered with it, despite his being a voracious reader.  I guess we are each receptive to things in our own time, under our own terms of circumstance.

In future posts, I'll try to talk about each piece of written work within each book of the set, some 50 or more written pieces, and discuss their personal significance to me.  If I have a hard time remembering the details, or it feels immediately relevant, I will reread a story.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

While you were sleeping...

I saw that title in Chronogram and it resonated with me pretty well.

I guess I feel pretty disconnected from my friends and all their happenings.  I haven't seen Irene in ages, Juliana and I are always varying degrees of sick, tired, and busy.  One of my oldest friends seems to be headed for certain trouble in sketchy situations.

I don't know, I'm just reminded of that part from Cabaret:

Can we ever tell where the heart truly leads us?
All we are asking is eine bisschen Verständnis -
A little understanding -
Why can't the world 'leben und leben lassen'?
'Live and let live...'

So, in case you missed something while you were sleeping, here's what's going on in my life:

I am trying to really come into my own as a marketer at work.  I am really into UXD (User Experience Design) as a sort of life choice, since it encompasses a lot more than just gamification, but also embraces gamifying things.

Which now makes me think of La Vita Dolce, the movie where the father convinces his son that the concentration camp is one big game to win a tank.  All I remember is that kids big goofy grin at the end, full of joy.  A whole horrorshow joke built up to that end.

Maybe my head is in a dark place.

It's stressful, trying to live a life on my terms, in this area.  I often wonder if my coworkers can understand even half of what I say.  It's very discouraging, but I guess I must keep trying to learn their language, even when I gently lead them to a simple conclusion and they blissfully assume the exact opposite despite my best labors.

And I feel like I never have the time I need to communicate with Juliana.  I am living an entire life of on-the-fly last-minute interactions.

Continuing, while you were sleeping...

My digestion, for weeks, has been terrible.  My insides feel ripped up from the burrito I had last night.  I keep trying to eliminate grains and starches, because that seems to help, but then my energy cycle gets weird, which upsets Juliana, and I inevitably find the rigor too difficult and go back to eating something full of wheat.

I've also been thinking about autism, depression, cognitive distortions, the relation of diet to autism and whether or not people thing so differently that they might never understand each other.

 My apartment is lovely, and a joy to live and cook in.

Juliana is caring, and beautiful.

I live near where I work, and I have ever-greater specificity of purpose, even if my faculties often take a couple steps backward.

My biggest concern is a lack of will and time for reflection.  I need to stop rushing from thing to thing without thinking.  I don't do it with work, when I am in the office, I force myself to think out things to avoid mistakes, but this is harder to do with my personal life.

My bigger biggest concern is my health.  I simply can't keep burning the wick at both ends.  It's not nearly as much fun.  I have to figure out how to dial it back.  My current lifestyle doesn't meet a number of my passions and desires and yet I still rarely have a couple hours of rest.  I have no idea how Juliana finds the strength to do it, seeing how she works a good hour extra on either side of her day, or more.  I feel weak and unsupportive sometimes, but she assures me I am doing great- I guess she is an excellent manager.

Vinny's birthday is coming up, the Juliana's and then mine.  A quarter century.  

And we are going to NOFA this weekend, the Northeastern Organic Farmer's Association's bi-annual conference, now in Amherst MA, full of workshops on how to run manage and grow a farm.

Gotta run!