Posts Tagged ‘career’

the scent of cents

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

What I really love about being an artist, a painter,
is the creating of things that no one has ever seen.

Creating environments in whose two-dimensional space
I loose myself in a world that is totally fresh and new —

colors and shapes that are filled with energy and movement
that propel my soul off its feet and into a weightless flight

through what becomes a multidimensional scape where
physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional intertwine

to make me one with the dance of light and fire,
of sound and wind, of muscle and blood that is the ringing

of a bell, the refracting of a ray, the heat of a thrill,
the breath of life and the mystery of death revealed all at once.

Its the complexity of the simple and the simplicity of the complex,
the amazement in the mundane and the peace of chaos

that brings me back in spite of my more practical nature
to explore the idiocy of intent and the sanctity of the perverse.

Roll on silver diamond, bring me back the painted face
and out of the mustached harlot a return to the source.

Grind on as I move about you like a humming bird in hunger
doing everything that makes sense more than the scent of cents.

labor day

Monday, September 7th, 2009

“Too lazy to work and too nervous to steal”
– Aaron “T-Bone” Walker

Hearing this rang a bell with me
that’s exactly how I feel about my life
I don’t like work and can’t bring myself to steal
nor do I do well as self-employed
unless the work comes to me

I’m a lone wanderer and a watcher
rather than a joiner or teammate
and my life’s path has been just that
a meander without many lasting connections
to hold me down as I float free from the web

that seems to hold everyone else
in comfort and ease to do what they please
while I bounce along on the periphery
risking all and gaining little
but happy nonetheless to hang there

so when I leave this iteration
there will be but a faint imprint
where I have trod though I’d like it to be more
something of value that made the world
a better place for my heirs and more

Something of spirit now moves me to dance
and sing along with the winds of change
to ring out clearly and linger on
in the hearts and souls of my progeny
to pass on through love to this world and beyond

Too lazy to work, too nervous to steal
brave enough to sing and make it all real.

90 pound weakling

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

When I was a kid
no one ever chose me for baseball
or football or basketball

I was lousy at sports
and hated having my shortcomings
displayed and derided regularly

I was the skinny weakling
who was embarrassed
to remove my shirt at the beach

I didn’t learn to swim
and even put off learning
to ride a bike until I was eleven

In high school I watched with envy
as the jocks got all the cool girls
and I hardly had a clue why

I had plans and dreams
that were vague and never came to be
but I was happy in their pursuit

In later years those jocks
got fat and inconsiderate
leaving me to shine with their wives

who found me warm and listening
thoughtful and fulfilling while
I enjoyed the spoils of my folly

all the while ignoring
my own blindness and weakness
that lead to so much pain

I’m still the skinny weakling
and I still don’t care for sports
while the fire of passion burns on

Maybe someday I’ll figure it out
but for now I can just live
moment to moment in wonder.

Guess nothing has really changed.

work

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

I’ve never really liked working
and have avoided it as much as possible
some say I’m lazy or a slacker
while others may merely ignore my reticence

or fire me or lay me off to draw my dole
where I enjoy my own pursuits in my own time
and feel far more fulfilled than at a job
where its never good enough or entirely wrong

working in exchange for food and rent
or the wherewithal to provide without meeting
the longings inside to be a real contributor
to something of real value to the world outside

It took me nearly fifty years to figure out
that indeed it is work I dislike not the people
within whom I struggle nor the places where
the dreaded acts of that work are performed

I love to labor at anything that directly provides
a valued service to the world that fits
with my values inside and find that when done
can provide the food and rent for years to come

words

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

now that I’m free from the confines
of job and position, schedule and plan
where will my course take me

as I drop my tools and brushes
to take up the pen and embrace
the ephemeral world of words

wood and stone build houses
paint and canvas become works of art
while words float all about us

calling us by our names
and announcing lunch while waiting
to be lines of poetry or prose

they are certainly easier to carry
and don’t require a truck or cart
but only a twist and occasional turn

artists drive trucks and novelists cars
while poets walk and essayists talk
their courses all defined in words

if time does any telling it will be in words
laid atop other words which rest on a base
of words and letters and spaces and

crowdsourcing

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

a whole lot of talk about nothing
words without actions and consequences
are just air forced from bags of flesh
through tightened sphincters past
chattering teeth softened by
a lack of nutrient and texture.

social networking is a sign
of the advanced stages of illusion
that plague our efforts at evolution
as if filling our bodies with helium
when we need water and food
and our growth is only imagined

twisting content and inference
into knotted webs of confusion
and the splattering of ideas against the wall
of mediocrity presented as enlightened
mass brain farms bursting with
excrement and spreading like fire

what a joke the crowdsourcing elements
play on systems burdened with newspeak
and warmed-over neoplatitudes when
hopes are falsely built for dreams
of synchronicity and success derived
from some imagined coalescence of thought

juvenile ramblings on newly discovered
antiquities of conceptual detritus cast off
for good reason but recycled into a plague
that looks like the new while carrying
seeds of destruction and failure
when all we need are true leaders

the twittering sparrows in their blindness
become a quick snack for the swooping hawks
who speak not but move to their own unstoppable
course into the wall of time where their own
failed programming will bring about their demise
while the spirits of the free fly on.

discipline

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about discipline recently. In approaching the art and craft of writing I find that when I leave it up to chance in finding time to write that the opportunities often slip away. My friend Paul, a professional writer, says that discipline is everything when it comes to creative writing. I’m wondering now why just the thought of discipline seems to sap the creative energy out of my mind. Is it my confusing the ideation with the crafting?

One of my granddaughters is finding it difficult to meet some similar challenges and I want to know if there is anything from my experience that could be passed along to help her with hers.

My experience has been that my best creative ideas come without notice. Before arising in the morning, while walking to the store or while engaged in some other activity, no matter its importance. Getting those ideas put down as writing or artwork requires the application of craft and that may involve not just already learned skills but the acquisition of new ones. There are frustrations as well as some degree of tedium in learning the finer details of a craft. This requires a high level of dedication, concentration and patience fueled by a strong inspiration.

I’ve mastered some things — digital painting and computer graphics, teaching, auto and bicycle mechanics, home restoration, photography, furnace repair, plumbing, cleaning polishing anything, gourmet cooking, and even a bit of altering clothing. I’ve found that I do have the patience to explore and analyze a new challenge in detail to decipher its solution. While this is usually best done alone, I am open to suggestions. I often research others’ encounters and solutions on line. Help is most appreciated and applied when I seek it out, not always wanted when it is freely offered.

I am self-taught in most things I do. I had to apply self-discipline to accomplish that. So why do I still have an aversion to discipline in learning? Is it just a matter of ego — or could it be something deeper, something genetic? I just don’t seem to take direction well.

I heard an interview on NPR yesterday [ 2/2/09 – KPCC interview on AirTalk w/ Ben Sherwood, author of “The Survivor’s Club” ] with a man who for years studied survivors and what allowed them to survive. He studied many things from the Holocaust to airplane and car accidents, from hurricanes to bad lectures. His work showed him that, in any of these threatening situations that 10% of people acted on their survival instinct while 80% waited to be told what to do. I don’t know where the other 10% fit but, its the 10% that survived that really count. He said that most cases involved luck. But what is luck? Its when preparedness meets opportunity. For example, its been proven that to have any chance of surviving most airplane crashes you would have to be sitting within 5 rows of being over the wing and, knowing where the primary and secondary routes to exit were, head for them as fast as possible. This researcher also found that belief played a strong role — people believed they could escape or believed they could succeed or that they were trusting a higher power to motivate them through the challenge. He found that people who regularly attend religious services in a congregation of fellow believers lived 7 years longer than others who didn’t. Though I haven’t attended a religious service for decades, I think I am one of those survivor types.

I have developed a reflexive positive attitude. I look for the good or the opportunity in every disaster. Granted, this is not always my first response. Sometimes challenges elicit anger or stark terror but, it doesn’t take too long for the positive attitude to kick in and help me to discern a path to safety or success. Could this be related to my aversion to discipline?

Maybe part of that confidence in my abilities, the part that would place me in the 10% that are survivors, is what enables me to learn best on my own. Perhaps its what makes me ignore what that 80% are so desperately looking around and listening for as I pursue a path I have instinctively chosen. Not that my choices always lead directly to success, they often don’t but, if the desire is strong enough, I re-evaluate and move on toward the goal. Self reliance is too often seen as antisocial and uncooperative, often it really is that but, how many people survive or become masters? While in the grips of a challenge, that other 80% are clamoring around trying to find out what they should do and, after the event, if still living, may even be jealous of the success of that 10%. They may feel that they didn’t have to work for it.

In school, such self reliant behavior is too often diagnosed as a disorder. Certainly, one engaged in critical thinking in the process of self-learning may find the surrounding clamor or the persistent direction to be a frustrating distraction from what they know they must instinctively accomplish. When I was young we were labeled non-conformists. ( an aside: I remember thinking that one can always tell who the non-conformists are, they all dress alike. ) Such disorder definitely poses some social challenges for a classroom teacher. This is where discipline comes in. This is where the various meanings of discipline need to be examined.

The word discipline is from the Latin word discipulus or pupil and subsequently disciplina, teaching and learning. Teaching and learning — these are good things. Learning is exciting in its portent of reward, gaining new insight and knowledge, and the development of skills. But, according to Webster’s Dictionary, the most common usage of the word is Punishment. Could this seemingly small detail be a major contributor to the decline in the level of quality in our educational system?

The second most common usage is Instruction. Having the concepts of punishment and instruction so closely related bothers me. It conjures images of the slapped wrist or standing in a corner, torture and humiliation. When self-discipline means self-instruction, it sounds good. I never feel like I am truly punishing myself — self-punishment — when I am applying self-discipline though the learning process may be arduous. In that process the achievement of the goal is primary and, just like in the survival example, focus is critical. This can result in behavior that those other 80% may see as uncooperative or divergent. This can result in the activities of the 10% being labeled as disruptive when its the reaction of the majority itself that is to blame. But, then, that majority may not be surviving or, have their learning advance as fast as the minority either.

Here are the other five usages of the word discipline:

2: instruction;
3: a field of study;
4: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character;
5a: control gained by enforcing obedience or order;
5b: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior;
6: a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity.

I haven’t completed this piece because I’m still deep in thought on it.

So, what do you think?

learning appreciation

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

I’m not sure how I first ran onto this but, I’ve learned to appreciate the craft in everything that people make or do. Most likely it came from experiences I had early on. That’s how I’ve found I have learned most things of value in my life.

There are things that people do, often on their jobs, that are done repetitiously. Whether you are an attorney writing a brief, a grocery clerk ringing-up and bagging store items or a garbage truck driver picking up the trash; these are some things that are done with a highly developed skill and panache. That’s the craft I speak of.

Its often easy to overlook but, its everywhere, all the time. My appreciation stems from my experiences in developing some of those. Right after graduating from high school my friend Roy recommended me for a job where he worked, at the most popular drive-in and hang-out in the Seattle’s north end.

On a typical day I would show up about 15 minutes early to get into my uniform and have a coke before starting my shift. The uniform was standard restaurant whites with a simple wrap apron, a brown neckerchief shaped like the one I wore in boy scouts and a disposable paper hat. I punched in and walked onto the floor from the small backroom. The sunlight was reflecting off the spotless stainless steel counters and the sparkling hoods of the malted milk mixers. The smells of fresh french fries and the toasting buns for the first batch of burgers signaled the start of another day shift at Dick’s Drive-In. Sally, a trim and rather short young woman, was on her tip toes, reaching up to pour the last bits of crushed ice into the lifted top of the large soft drink dispenser that was shaped like a large wooden barrel. Her taught body fit nicely into the tight fitting and heavily starched white cotton dress. Her dark brown hair was held with a hairnet which lent a look of another time. Not real stylish by the standards of the ’60s but it was required by law. She had the starched little white and brown crown held on her head with bobby pins. Though I was still a virgin, my body and soul responded instinctively to the exhilaration.

“Working the grill” was seen as the top job, often reserved for the shift manager since the grill was located in the center of the carefully planned work area and offered an all inclusive vantage of what was going on, both inside and outside the glass enclosed restaurant. It was a weekday morning and there were just 4 of us. I was helping on the grill.

I reached down and grabbed the flat stainless steel weights that lie on the bottom burger buns that had just reached the right state of brownness. I gave them each a swift tap as I lifted them off by their handles, to assure that none of the moist fresh Langendorf buns stuck to them, and slid the one-foot by three foot panels atop the vent structure that rose above the grill surface and separated the cooking area from the front counter and walk space where Sally had just opened the small pass through window.

“All of our burgers are prepared with a small amount of mild mustard and ketchup, sir” I heard her say. This was the mantra we could all recite in our sleep. Its what we were trained to say to our customers who wanted something different on their hamburgers. The owners of Dick’s Drive-In were pioneers in the fast food business and were geniuses when it came to organization and they had carefully planned out every aspect of service and thoughtfully choreographed the entire operation. The hamburgers were all the same; the only option being with cheese — a cheeseburger. There were little circles painted in red nail polish on the counters where salt shakers for the fries, stacks of plastic lids for the soft drinks or spare scoops for ice cream were to be placed. There were prescribed movements that had been studied and timed for maximum efficiency and customer service. It was a highly coordinated and effective operation in every aspect.

Sally was shouting out orders for burgers, tapping a mixing malted milkshake with one hand while reaching over to scoop a paper cup half full of crushed ice and then, single-handed, fill it with coke from the barrel dispenser on the counter just to the side of the window where she was serving the first person in what was becoming a fast growing line of hungry patrons. “May I help you next ma’m?” she shouted to the next in line, while snapping open up one of those cardboard trays that we gave out with multiple drink orders. It was policy to be serving as many customers at once as humanly possible. We all saw it as a challenge. We wrote down cash register counts of the number of sales each half hour. The most I recall was when one evening after a football game three of us had served 1,000 people in just one hour, mostly soft drinks probably, unless it was a Friday when the catholic school kids all rushed in at midnight to buy burgers. There were often fights to be broken up and fires maliciously started in the metal swing-top garbage cans that lined the concrete apron surrounding the service windows. The cops knew by now to be slow in responding to our calls. They must have tired of having to discipline the angry crowds of drunk teens. Meanwhile, inside we kept our cool and continued to serve them all with respect and speed.

But this was the lunch rush and the teens were a smaller part of our clientele. This was an older crowd, many whom were regulars. I remember one really old guy who came every day and loved to flirt with the counter girls. When ordering his fries he asked for “a shot of Red-Eye!” trying to sound like John Wayne or some other image of swaggering intent, when he wanted one of those little cups of ketchup we sold with the fries. Even then we questioned among ourselves the wisdom of someone his age eating so much of this greasy fare. When he didn’t come in for several days, we speculated he must have finally died of a peptic ulcer.

“Down to four cheese” Sally exclaimed. With a long bladed spatula, I lifted the buns two at a time and flipped them over and onto the warming tables shining surface. We were running a ‘48′, making 48 burgers, half of which would be cheese burgers, the others not. It took just 4 minutes to make a ‘48′. It begins with grabbing the bottom buns, six in each hand at a time, from the flat boxes that hung in specially constructed stainless shelves next to the grill. These are then quickly flung down onto the hot grill surface in neat rows, six deep. This is repeated until all 48 lie warming on the right side of the huge cooking surface. Flat weights made of stainless steel are placed atop each group of 24 to keep the buns in contact with the hot plate. Then this is repeated with the top buns on the far left side of the grill. Once the buns are toasting, a quick turn to the waist-high small doors into the 40-degree box, a large walk-in cooler right behind the grill where the meat, cheese and open condiments were kept, for grabbing neatly ordered and pre-counted stacks of meat patties. They are an eighth pound each and about 4-inches in diameter, stacked with pieces of wax paper in between them. they are placed in the middle section of the hot grill and the papers ripped off immediately. By this time the bottom buns will be toasted and need to be removed to the large stainless warming table, just to the right of the grill.

When the bottom buns were all lined up in 4 rows of twelve it was time to rapidly apply the “small amounts of mild mustard and ketchup.” We used conical shaped dispensers that had levers to release just the correct amount consistently, every time, without fail; as long as they remained full. Click, click, click, hitting all the buns squarely in the middle leaving what looked like a sloppy asterisk of moist condiment; then, slamming the dispensers quickly back into the carefully place stainless tubs that held them. First the ketchup in big splurts, then the mustard in smaller dabs. In the background, above the hum of the malt mixers and order taking you could hear the fry clerk bagging the crisp, warm tan potatoes, done to perfection. He slid the stainless tongs, held closed into the top little bag on the pile that rested in its place at the side of the french fire warmer and display. He released the tongs with a snap and placed the now open bag in his other hand, After salting and stirring the crisp potatoes, he took just the right amount and threw it into the bag. This was repeated until about a half dozen full bags lie ready for customers so they wouldn’t have to wait. The owners time and motion studies showed that it was more efficient to serve the french fries, and the ice cream desserts as well, through separate windows from where the main entrees were ordered. This caused some consternation for only a few customers as it really was far more efficient.

Back on the grill, the patties were showing just a small amount of red blood and juice on the still uncooked top side, indicating it was time to turn them. Grabbing the spatula reserved especially for the meat, they were quickly flipped two at a time, then quickly salted from the coffee-mug sized aluminum shaker that rested in its assigned spot atop the grill back vent. Roy and I were doubling on this batch. He instinctively swung around, flipping the chrome handle of one of the smaller waist level doors on the 40-degree box, and grabbed two measured stacks of 12 cheese slices each. It was processed cheese with the wax paper sheets separating each slice. He swung back and dealt out the cheese slices like a Vegas blackjack dealer, ripping the paper dividers off as he went. This all took just a few seconds.

After tapping the bun weights on his left and slamming them down atop the grill back vent, Roy deftly lifted and placed the top buns onto the finished patties with the spatula. “Hot stuff!” he shouted as he began lifting the now turned, salted and completed meat patties covered by the soft rounded top buns from the hot grill. We were passing each other quickly and it was warming up more rapidly behind the grill now. The sun beat in and the heat of the grill and fry tanks just to our left helped the temperature reach around 125.

While Sally’s shouted order was still hanging in the air like a multi-colored banner I began the wrapping ritual. The thin tissue-like papers, one stack, white for regular hamburgers, the other, yellow for cheese were just to my right on the warming table. In one swift movement my right hand slapped the top paper on the pile, sliding it onto the table surface while my left picked up a burger. The two came together and in another swift gesture I folded first front to back then back to front enclosing the burger, leaving two open ends at each side. As my thumb held the partially wrapped object of a customer’s hunger, my fingers reached over to fold the loose ends into triangular shapes, first the front, then the back. With another flip of the wrists, these ends were tucked under the hot burger and it was rapidly fired off to its reserved portion of the warming table. Those working the front counter know just where to reach for either a hamburger or a cheeseburger without having to look.

The whole process of making 48 hamburgers takes only 4 minutes, start to finish. That’s 12 per minute or one every five seconds. Once learned, it is done without stress or error, time after time, day after day. It can get monotonous but it is more or less automatic and can even be relaxing and rewarding in its accomplishment, depending on one’s perspective and attitude at any given moment. Usually, its seen as a non-event. Just part of the job.

I love to watch grocery clerks that have been doing it for long enough to deftly whip those items through and bag them and handle payment and quickly move on to the next in line, all with a smile and small talk. I love seeing the garbage truck driver wheel that huge rig up in perfect alignment with the one of three cans they are assigned to pick-up. Then, while sitting in the cab, perhaps talking on a cell phone or grooving on some tunes, looking straight ahead, pull the lever that extends the mechanical arms, picking up the can and inverting it overhead into the waiting mouth of the truck. He then gives a couple of quick flips of the lever to bang the can to be sure its contents are all released before placing it back where it was, in between the other two. All this takes less than a minute and he’s off to the next house. All done as if the truck and its complex machinery were an extension of his body and the task nothing more difficult than swinging a hip over to nudge someone.

I take the opportunity to commend and remark on this deftness whenever its possible. We all need strokes, whenever and wherever we can get them.

I am an artist and have taught art and been in many artist’s studio and seen many types of art produced. There are parts of my own art, the crafting parts, that involve timing and rhythm in their execution. Done in repetition, they become a dance. A dance, like cooking food, checking groceries, operating a garbage truck. Maybe its selfish but I really thrill at seeing people doing ordinary tasks with mastery and aplomb. It reaffirms my feeling that we are all in a big dance. Check it out, you’ll see it everywhere if you are looking for it. Shall we dance?