Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Garage Mess

Last Saturday I attended a leadership training session from 9 am – 2 pm, making it 2 weekends in a row where I devoted time to Toastmasters; my mind questioning if it is good use of time, unlike last weekend where one was able to do tasks planned; but this weekend was not productive, unable to work on organizing my garage, an activity I had hope to complete.  The week past was also a series of attending seminars on new software or new initiatives, taking time from my usual work which was setting up accounts and tasks, working on service request, instead jumping from meeting to meeting or training to training. It is the first time I find ‘time’ is a commodity I no longer have control, especially in the weekend where I have to do housework due to the illness in the family. So I try to organize myself during the week, so I could focus on essential tasks, but losing my weekend when external activities intrude plus the unplanned breakdown of iRobot, increasing my weekend vacuuming chores, forcing me to research on how iRobot can be repaired and buying the parts and equipment from Amazon, another unplanned activity that took my precious weekend time.

I discovered that my house plants were spilling water into the floor, the plant container had drainage holes that I did not see, leaking into the wooden tiles and warping its texture, needing me to purchase plant containers that I could put underneath to capture the water spillage, also necessitating the replacement of my watering can to a much smaller tool for indoors. I wondered if I am unnecessarily complicating my life, putting too many plants indoor and spending too much time taking care of them, as if I had lots of free time but plants to help make the air better plus psychological benefits like reducing stress. Unfortunately for me, increases work as well. Sometimes I feel that I am spending too much to accumulate stuff; plants, gardening equipment, cooking tools, new technology devices, etc. that I am buried in materialism, a condition that I had hoped to avoid, finding myself in a situation where I crave simplicity but had complicated my life unnecessarily. Perhaps it will turn out well in the end, when the urge to purchase is no longer there, instead enjoying a sort of serenity lost in the materialistic drive brought by envy and the desire for things. Satisfying the urge something kills the urge, ‘been there - done that’ sort of thing, but the never ending stream of the new is seductive.

One had also hoped to start a new blog on cooking, a new venture to monetize this venture, capitalizing on experience and new knowledge on making money online after watching a series of videos in Roku, an informative and unforeseen resource; the road suddenly open with new ideas. Plans are afoot to use YouTube, Word Press, Google Ad Sense and other such techniques now available in the internet economy, realizing that my experiments and current failure to earn money by blogging has given insight on how to succeed.  The elements are in place but not having time to work on them. This was my other activity for the weekend aside from organizing the garage, instead, watching movies saved in the DVR and drinking cocktails. I did manage to clean the house but never getting the chance to the do the real tasks I had planned. It now seems that activities planned for the weekend slips into the work week, with things planned for work slip into ones free time, where ones work life blends into unlikely time streams, where anything can be done, work and play boundaries dissolving as one now works in his bedroom or bathroom, technology providing mobility everywhere. The new world where time and place disappears with the ability to continue ones activities where and when ever needed. The mind needs to adjust to this spontaneous fluidity of work.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Cajun Weekend

Last Saturday I attended a Toastmaster meeting in Columbia, traveling in the early morning, glad the snow storm had ended, reporting at the meeting and feeling embarrassed since I am not doing a good job as area governor, eating at the Japanese Ramen house where I had my usual spicy soup afterwards. It felt good to leave the house and do a little driving and participate in this sort of meeting, where one needs to report at the officers at large, winging it and perhaps succeeding because showing up is the victory. On Sunday, we had lunch at Ford’s Oyster House, eating a seafood platter of fried oysters, Cray fish,   shrimp, crab cake and an entrĂ©e of red beans and rice with sausage, slightly spicy typical of Cajun cooking, then walking along the West End, going to the Museum of Art and the another one close by which featured Charles Dickens and the Victorian age. I did a lot of housework as well, vacuuming the house, cleaning the bathrooms, organizing the garage. It was a productive weekend, though I did not do any writing or arranged my papers, especially in preparation for tax filing. I still need to do more in my garage as still a mess and plan to buy a storage rack this coming weekend.

The week was again hectic, new software packages going live, attending trainings and rushing to install new software components. Yesterday, the whole division attended a yearly session outside the office at the downtown convention center, eating a good lunch of roasted chicken breast, steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes and green salad. The sessions were good, a recap of 2013 and the coming challenge in 2014, the top management doing their presentation on stage, enjoying good slide shows even videos with music and interesting editing. New subjects were learned like big data and mobile and cloud computing, like the whole world hurtling down the path of the digital universe, hastened by mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, a bewildering array of new technology pervading everyone’s life. For example,  I recently bought my wife a new Windows 8 tablet from Lenovo for Valentine, for myself I already have 2 Android tablets including Google’s Nexus 7; one device for downstairs and one in the bedroom where I surf before going to sleep or after waking up; gorging on Bloomberg and CNN. What extravagance, like an addict with a drug habit.

One admits that it’s too much, having too many devices including Smart TVs, emulating science fiction shows with computer screens everywhere, like having a Star Trek lifestyle in one’s own home. Perhaps this is what is driving the digital explosion, baby boomers reared up in Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock and Star Wars or the latest movies like Minority Report with their visual displays, the latest technology finally allowing fiction to become a reality. One need to learn to use the new devices, incorporate into one’s life, experimenting by buying net books, tablets and using software to make things happen. This afternoon I am attending another training (bewildering after yesterday’s whole day session) and on Saturday, another Toastmaster’s leadership instruction. For all its seemingly ‘boy scout’ nature, Toastmaster has helped keep one skills current, by forcing one to communicate and network with a larger community, perhaps expanding one’s outlook especially in the new locations where I moved to; a technology of adaptation as well as a mental exercise; to keep the brain cells from decaying. Technology helps in beating back the ravages of time and old age or makes one crazy in the process, where other technologies like meditating and journal writing helps to keep sanity.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Snow Bound

I have been working at home for the past 3 days, connecting remotely to the office intranet, seeing snow falling in the morning, often until noon, the landscape white and clean, blanketing the neighborhood and back yard, watching the snow falling lightly to the ground. It felt good working at home, moving from room to room, watching the snow through the windows, drinking cocktails and trying to adjust to the environment. I was never comfortable working here, preferring to travel to the office, enduring the 30 minute journey to and from work, now thinking that it would be good to be here but careful to make good use of time instead of loafing and getting tipsy.  I applied for telecommuting, going to work only 3 times a week, adjusting to the calmness and centeredness at home, away from the stress and office interaction which I used to like but now boring with friends moving to new locations in the building. One is starting to enjoy living a sort of mental nomadic life, adjusting to remote meetings and office intranet chat. Strangely one discovers that one can think better, discovering new features in software, impossible when attention is stressed by everyday work.

With the calmness of working from home, one discovers new things, or rediscovering old habits like making to do list in notebooks, wondering how sensible habits can be lost with the mind confused by thoughts, it is like a centeredness that comes from relaxation and serenity. I started to list down the things I needed to do, working from one task to another, not completing everything in a day, but content to save for tomorrow. One was stressed being in the office, without realizing it, enjoying the banter between employees, but losing the presence of mind that comes with centeredness, grounded with the everyday surroundings of home, no pressure except when receiving emails. One has a better chance to plan and send out invites, to arrange meetings and dial in and joining remote sessions, comfortable in the thought that everyone is also at home, snow bound by an unusual winter storm in the deep South, finally able to do some tasks long forgotten with the rush of the weekend, instead watching movies recorded in the DVR, listening to old music CDs, and discovering new features not thought to exist. One really needs to be here to improve one’s grounding in the present.

I was able to do my Tai Chi exercise almost every day since working from home, realizing that one has made his life more complex, exploring several devices and ending up not using any except for a few; thus contributing to mental stress. What was I thinking? Now I also get to listen to the radio while working, listening to a program called ‘Cognition and Aging’, appropriate considering my circumstances, realizing the mental churning going on in my mind, instead of stopping and getting a hold of one’s thoughts. This is a good opportunity to get better, to try and organize one’s work and life, avoiding the unclear thoughts plus a chance to correct erroneous thinking. One can also do other work, fixing and ordering one’s papers, trying to get one’s taxes in order, doing long term planning and hopefully going back and reading one’s emails. Listening to the radio program, I realized that I had dived into new technology like a drunken sailor, trying to be relevant and be adept in the new, instead resulting in mental confusion and stress, missing the whole point. Strange that I realize my mistake while being snow bound,  left with  familiar surroundings, unable to ‘escape’ as one normally does when engaging in the rat race, not being mindful in the moment. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Road to Perdition

I finished reading 2 books where the protagonists were subject to harsh circumstances that transformed them, a watershed event that shaped them thereafter, marking them for the rest of their existence.  ‘Zeitoun’ by Dave Eggers is about a Syrian immigrant, living in New Orleans who experienced Hurricane Katrina, plus incarceration in a prison camp with charges of looting and the destruction of his home and way of life; the brief imprisonment shaking his belief in American justice. ‘Miracles of Life’, an autobiography by JG Ballard, is an extraordinary memoir by an exceptional writer, especially his youth in Shanghai,  World War II and his family’s imprisonment in a Japanese prison camp, the atrocities of war, the disintegration of British colonialism in China (and elsewhere) and his eventual upbringing in England after the war.  Both stories are about survival, the individual’s way of coping with unbelievable difficulties; Zeitoun as a middle age contractor picking up the pieces after surviving Katrina and Ballard surviving, as a young boy, the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. Zeitoun is also about an America that can go wrong, the prejudice and injustice that can happen in the face of catastrophe while Ballard's memoir is also about the decline of the British empire .

These 2 lives seem to be coasting along in their normalcy until the road to perdition is taken though beyond their control, where they are challenged with their wits to survive and, finally, able to achieve a sense of normality.  One has experienced this as well moving here where the onslaught of work is much more than previously experienced, where the demands of life are great, where one needs to put attention to more work and a new way of living. Although materially abundant, there is a sinister seduction of materialism that can also corrupt the spirit, wildly clinging to technology for some sort of salvation but trapped in a sort of hedonistic indulgence. Also the coming of middle age, the dreaded period where life catches up with you, to discover frailties not only in your own body but of your loved ones, suddenly affected by chronic illness, one faces mortality. One had two difficult challenges since coming here: the troublesome warehouse program and the new assignment given last year where the stress and pressure was something one has never experienced before. Together with one’s changing circumstances, and extra work outside (complex tax codes, kids off to college, materialistic urges, envy, etc.); it is a miracle that one can maintain sanity.

Since coming here one has changed homes twice, changed roles twice and experienced difficulties that one had to solve on his own plus the health problems of loved ones.  I looked at my notebook when I was in Singapore, where I had written notes, drew mind maps and realized that I stopped using notebooks since coming here, preferring to write in scrap paper or on the white board, working with more powerful devices like smart phones or tablets but still scatter brained and confused at times. When watching the HBO series ‘Treme’, about New Orleans after the hurricane, a story about survival, about the artists, bar owners, cooks, musicians, cops all trying to rebuild their lives after the devastation, also the political maneuverings and breakdown of government services, one understands change. Compared to their travails, ones problems are trivial but nonetheless important; one must adapt and survive whatever the circumstances.  In one’s case, stress is caused by oneself as he tries to exploit the opportunities that come in the wake of the 2008 financial crises: to invest in stocks, in real estate, to buy a larger home, to get the latest gadgets, to keep up with the Joneses. One realizes in this milieu, in a culture of materialism, of striving to get one better over the other, is a road to perdition in a more deadly form.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

God Send

I tried to replace the side view mirror of my old Saturn Ion, destroyed after backing up from the garage and hitting the garbage receptacle, ordered the part online but received a different model. So I called the help desk and got a new part mailed to me though I need to send back the previous one, having to pay shipping cost because it was my mistake. It would have caused me about USD 100 if I had it repaired at an outside work shop, but instead found a YouTube video on how to change the mirror and ordering it online. I had high hopes on Saturday afternoon when I was ready to change the part; I bought a socket wrench at home depot and some kitchen utilities, coming back home excited to replace the mirror but finding out that the screws didn’t align to the proper places. It was deflating but in a way it efficient to call the help center and have everything sorted out, an amazing thing to do, realizing that the staff maybe half way around the world, likely in my own home country, going over a script on how to assist customers in another country , working with their computer systems to address problems thousands of miles away.

It was a good weekend coming into Friday evening with the news that my relative’s hospital bills, at least the major ones involving his operation and hospital stay, has been paid by the state medical insurance, like a gift from heaven. It was a God send and praise the Lord because there is someone up there helping and that our prayers have been answered, difficult to believe that such a thing is possible, giving one hope that everything will finally be settled. So there was a good mood all through the weekend, though my wife was not feeling well and could not attend the lunch scheduled on Sunday. The occasion was for a visit by a colleague from the home country, here for several months of training, coming together with friends with an excellent lunch of stuffed crabs, spicy glass noodles with Shrimp, barbecue pork and shrimps, steamed fish in soy sauce, rice and ice cream, apple crisp and tiramisu. We drank Chianti wine and lemon juice together with the lunch, and the obligatory picture taking. There was good conversation but eventually we seemed to have run out of topics, although there was laughter and jokes, it seemed strained and thought that the other guests were bored.

We played golf, nine holes after lunch, finishing at 5:30 pm, enjoying the weather after the cold spell last week, enjoying the sunshine outdoors. I had started the day vacuuming the house, removing  the dust and dirt after several weeks of installing curtains, drilling holes in the wall, afterwards cooking breakfast and preparing the desert cooked last night, thinking that I would be exhausted at the end of the day after playing  golf. But I was not tired coming home, invigorated somehow and watching 2 episodes of ‘Downton Abbey’, afterwards rushing through the magazines that I needed to return to the library tomorrow, missing the show ‘Sherlock Holmes’ but ready for bed by 11 pm. I had trouble sleeping, drifting in and out of sleep throughout the night, rising from bed near 6 am and going to the gym to swim. I felt good after the weekend, starting with the Friday news and the phone conference with my siblings, working on the house and paying my bills on Sunday morning before the lunch occasion and the game of golf. It was liberating because I had a chance to enjoy and have fun with friends though sad that my wife missed the event, but glad that I did not need to prepare and organize this occasion and ready to have others take care of the work, receding in the background and let others take charge.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Slip Sliding Away

Sleeping late is a curse, seduced by surfing with the Android tablet, wasting countless hours at night before napping; a bad idea before snoozing, the mind having images of website glimpses before slumber comes, haunting dreams as a way to forget the drudgery of work.  The week had a cold snap, lowering temperatures all throughout the Deep South: a strange occurrence of ice in Myrtle Beach, or traffic jams in frozen Atlanta highways, a light snow falling in a Tuesday afternoon, below zero temperatures in the night. I had finished setting up the curtains, again wondering about the silliness of it all, the mind forever comparing the properties of friends; now what would they say about this color or fabric, a social creature though one wants to escape and be alone in solitude with more fulfilling things like reading books and listening to music, drinking vodka cocktails as one falls asleep in the sofa after a heavy dinner while trying to watch movies borrowed from the library. It reminds one of the songs - ‘slip sliding away’ as one would say, declining in his old age in comfortable surroundings, with fear lurking beneath, of losing it all in some legal tangle, living in ‘quiet desperation’ as in TS Elliot’s poem.

Working on the curtains delayed my reading of several books and magazines now overdue, still rushing to read them or pay the small fine; one likes to eat his cake, too. One is glad the Sunday lunch is coming, too face again the crowd with thoughts of deficiency, trying to put a brave face when one realizes it is all a game, one does not need to act all the time but relax and now is the chance, with hosting activities shouldered by others; one can now just coast along after being the organizer and initiator of past social events.  This is the middle class dream, though jolted by reading Dave Eggers ‘Zeitoun’, thinking that it could happen to you, the descent into a hell of mistakes like an absurd and deadly play, amongst the hurricane destruction of Katrina. All is not well as one could see with this story, the antidote is Philip Caputo’s ‘The Longest Road,’ the ultimate road trip to affirm the vitality of the dream, by driving along highways from the Southernmost tip of Key West to the Northern regions of Alaska, to look for a sign that the vision of the founding fathers is still alive. But one begins to wonder after seeing the reaction of conservative members of congress to the President’s uplifting state of the union speech on Tuesday night.

There is still too much thinking, of taking care of the house, doing home improvements, dispelling the inherent depression of winter, fighting the cold, working from 8 to 5 with the challenges at work. One sees the main challenge is planning, to organize work in a way that is productive and meaningful not only to the person but to the rest of the department, realizing 2014 is a key year with the change of department managers; attention will be drawn to oneself if one is not up to the task. Daily debates with a co-worker, between libertarian and liberal policies, the bitter politics between the right and left wing, a microcosm of the partisan divide in the country, a meanness slithering along the country’s byways, like a sinister snake looking for victims among the good. It’s tiring but lively and educational discussion, a way to spice up work while one labors on the many tasks faced in the daily grind in the office. More is required from you: from work, from the family, from the house and car; all demanding time and focus or all hell will break lose. Is it something that one can just throw away or drown with vodka? Surely exercise, swimming and sleeping for eight hours a night will cure all.