Straight Outta Brunstucky

My sophomore year of high school was eye-opening. It was the year I joined the men’s choir. It was the year I met Jason, Eric, Tim, and Bill. It was the year I started playing D&D. This was the year I started reading Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut. It was the year I learned how music questions and changes the world.

I came out of St. Ambrose after eighth grade liking the music that my parents liked. Billy Joel, John Denver, Peter Paul & Mary, Kenny Rogers, Simon & Garfunkel. All pretty mellow, and let’s be honest, pretty white bread. That’s fine, and that has its place…I still listen to this. But I’ll never forget when Tim popped a cassette into the boombox and played California Uber Alles by the Dead Kennedys. The drums, the driving bass, Jello Biafra’s crazy vocals; it blew my mind.

Each of my friends introduced me to a style of music I’d never heard before. James gave me old Genesis, Aldo Nova, and the Art of Noise. Eric gave me Marillion. Bill, Jason, and I got into Prog Rock about the same time: Yes, Asia, and ELP. There was metal as well: Iron Maiden and Queensryche. Tim, though, Tim gave me some of the stuff that made me realize just how powerful music can be. Tim introduced me to punk via Seven Seconds and the Dead Kennedys. He introduced me to rap, as well. Imagine a bunch of suburban white kids rolling through Brunswick, Ohio, in Bill’s pea-green ’74 Cadillac Coup de Ville listening to Straight Outta Compton by NWA at full blast.

Is this comical? Of course, it is. But it was NWA that opened my eyes to how different things were outside of our little Midwestern wonderland. It was punk that showed me how directly you could question authority and made me want to understand the social side of what they were protesting. I was a dumb, pretentious kid with no perspective, but suddenly I had a window to a bigger world, and I was hungry for it.

I’m not sure I made good use of that knowledge, but when I meet people who don’t have it, I pity them; their worlds are small, lacking in external perspectives.

And now, when my kids walk in on me listening to something expected, and they ask, “What is this?” I get a big smile on my face.

Good morning, friends…

It’s been a while, I know. Cat and I have been hunkered in our bunker during the pandemic, making calls out to civilization for Amazon packages, take out food, and the occasional Zoom call for gaming with friends. This weekend is our fourth wedding anniversary, and we’re making an effort to detach from the usual foxhole mentality and spend time together without worrying about the election, work, or COVID.

Cat has been making art. She maintains that small projects with fixed scope help her feelings of depression and stress from … well … *gestures at 2020* all this. She’s smarter and wiser than I am, and it’s working for her.

For my part, I am working my way through the entirety of R.A. Salvatore’s *Chronicles of Drizzt* series. I am on book 13 of…24? I think? Fantasy novels are a good way for me to detach from the world and regain a little sanity.

The other thing keeping me sane are the D&D games I’m in right now. Playing in two, running two others. One of the games I am playing in will be winding down and I’ll be running *Rime of the Frostmaiden* for that group over the winter. (Good thing I’m reading those Drizzt book, you know?)

Work is. Then endless struggle to do good work while not letting the place eat all my time and my brain remains a challenge. The good news is that a project that I have been in charge of and working on for the last 418 days is finally complete. Big celebration over that one. Picking out a new web platform for a mid-sized company is not easy, but now I can say I’ve done it. RFI, RFP, negotiations…this was a lot of learning for me. Now we move on to the next part, implementation, where I am much more comfortable.

What else is new? Hmmm. Oh yes…I’m much less of an asshole when I don’t drink caffeine. Life lesson, that. Learn from me, kids. Don’t do drugs.

The picture attached to this entire is sunset over Mohican Lake in Perrysville OH. I need more sunsets in my life. Enjoy that one.

Tuesday (But Really a Monday)

Good morning everyone.

Had a delightful four-day weekend and now I’m rested and refreshed for the week. While I cannot say that I am excited to get back to work, it will be good to talk to my staff, who I care about and respect. They are wonderful to work with and I am a lucky man.

This weekend was a useful meditation on why hobbies are essential and how satisfying doing projects around the house can be. I brewed a batch of beer (English Mild) on Sunday. I’d forgotten how nice it can be to have a project with a defined scope to work at for half the day. To say that I started and finished something in one day was pretty great. As I write this the yeast is turning that wort into beer, and it should be ready for drinking in about six weeks.

My son and I also ripped out the old green carpet from our upstairs hallway and staircase yesterday. It was a bit of work, but he was a big help and by the time we were finished the hardwood floors were showing again. They could use some refinishing, and I’ll get to that in time. My son was a big help, I really couldn’t have done it without him.

In other news, I’m getting old and by the end of the project yesterday I needed SO MUCH ADVIL.

Other things top of mind as we get back to the work week:

  • Biden campaign sign theft continues here in Medina County. A friend’s 3′ x 5′ Biden banner was stolen from their property…didn’t even make it 24 hours. People are awful.
  • It’s been a week sing giving up caffeine and I feel good. I don’t miss the rushed, panicky feeling I used to get from drinking too much coffee. I didn’t realize how much it was causing me anxiety. My head is in a better place since giving it up.
  • Still working on the sugar reduction. Right now the only added sugar in my diet is the stroopwaffle that I have with my morning brew. It’s nice start to the day and I don;t find myself craving sugar the rest of the day.
  • I’m down to zero dairy, which is helping the inflammation in my joints. Yay!

Finally, I’ve found the perfect morning drink. Two tablespoons of good decaf coffee, two tablespoons of Crio Bru, and good shake of cinnamon. Combine in a pour-over device and add 400ml of water at 205 degrees. Add cream/nut milk if you are in to that sort of thing.

Transparency and Trust

In yesterday’s post, I made a comment about transparency being the opposite of trust. A good friend asked for me to expand on that. And here we are.

In my experience, trust is about a belief in the reliability of of someone or something. That someone is going to do what they say, or that they will act in a way that is consistent with what you know of them. And generally, this means that you believe this in absence of any evidence at that time. That is, you’ve seen the pattern and you believe the person will adhere to that pattern with you needing to verify, that they are doing so.

Transparency is observing the steps or process or actions of someone or something without obfuscation. It’s first-hand knowledge of a pattern or process.

This is what drives my comment about transparency being the opposite of trust. If you have to personally witness or verify someone’s actions, that’s not trust. That’s the opposite of trust.

I believe you can use transparency to build trust, and I believe that’s how trust begins. You observe someones actions, and once you are convinced they will act that way all the time, you can trust them. But saying, “I trust you” and then checking up on, or in the case of the office micromanaging, someone’s actions is not trust. Demanding total transparency all the time is not trust.

If you “trust but verify” you are not trusting. And so, in the context of my last post about the stress of work, there is often a big tension, when management says “I trust you” and then acts in the opposite manner.

Stress

Stress is just part of life, and I recognize that. I think, however, that the amount of stress I experience is driven by two factors: false urgency and cognitive dissonance.

False urgency comes from the perception (imagined) that everything at work is on fire all the time. Some of this is internal — I run a team that runs the website for a well-known company. There are a LOT of requests. I take them all seriously. Because I take them so seriously, everything feels like it’s on fire all the time. It’s not. There will always be requests. Some more important than others.

Another side of false urgency is urgency for appearances. Have you ever heard the phrase, “I’d like to see you display a sense of urgency around this”? Urgency should be reserved for actual urgent matters, not used a whip to flog co-workers into burning themselves out.

The second piece, cognitive dissonance, is something that has become a real problem. Conventional management practices are pretty sterile. Many of the practices that comprise “professionalism” are designed to suck the emotions out of a situation and turn relationships with human beings into replaceable cogs in a machine constructed from human resources, or my new least-favorite term, human capital.

This is not how I choose to relate to people, be it my staff or my bosses. I think there is a big difference between being a mature adult in a situation by navigating the emotions of the moment and have a series of tricks and techniques to get past people’s emotions to make them do what you want them to do. The way businesses run today is more like machinery than humans with agency and skills coming together for a common purpose.

I just don’t support that worldview. But I have to live with it because of the positions I have held over the years. I don’t think it works well and I think it robs people of the dignity of being a true professional. To me, a professional is someone who has opinions and a definite point of view on their area of expertise. They should be respected and trusted for the knowledge they have in their field. Instead, we have a lot of talk about transparency, which is the precise opposite of trust. Instead, there is an expectation that you go along to get along instead of helping to steer the ship.

Combine that with the mixed message that your HR department wants to create a culture of passionate individuals who believe in the company’s mission. You cannot have passionate cogs in the machine. Those two things mutually exclusive. Unless you are looking for cult members.

I want to be clear, I’m not calling out my employer in particular. I’ve seen this play out over any over again at nearly all of the companies I have ever worked at. It is very difficult to be an individual when the dominant theme is “One of us…one of us…” It’s part of the management classes I’ve taken. It’s part of the idea of corporate culture.

And so, the delta between what is desired and who I am on the inside and what I believe about people is another stressor. The fact that I have some very Gen X attitudes about corporations doesn’t help.

This is why I use my addictions. Something to help me move past the emotions. Something to dull them. Something to help me bypass the frustration. Something to keep me motivated and…well…docile.

I’m pretty ashamed of that last part. But the frustration and anger are hard to get past sometimes, and they eat you up from the inside.

So you find ways to cope. Even if they hurt you.

So far, so good

I’m 24 hours in, and I feel pretty good. No caffeine headache from withdrawal yesterday, and I’ll take that as a win. That was my biggest concern. I used to get terrible migraines if I missed my morning cup of joe. That didn’t happen this time. I’m relieved.

I slept like a baby last night. Around 7:30 I started yawning and was out by 8:15, which is odd for me. Normally, I’m up pacing the house until at least 11pm. Not so, last night.

I’m curious to see what affect this has on my anxiety and depression. This past February I took medical leave for several weeks because I had an episode and needed rest and treatment. New meds regimen, new meditations, etc. And it’s been helping,. but not as much as I would like. I suspect not taking in speed every day might help. What do you think? 🙂

A friend recommended Crio Bru to me as a replacement for coffee. It’s ground roasted cacao beans and has less caffeine than decaf coffee. It’s really delightful. I’m using it to replace my daily coffee ritual — my cuppa when I sit on the back porch and listen to the news in the morning and a second after lunch. I take it with some almond milk creamer, and it’s a treat.

And that brings me to the other two things I am giving up as part of this: dairy and sugar.

Sugar is pretty obvious…a man with type II diabetes should be managing his sugar intake as a matter of course. Sugar, however, makes me feel better — until it doesn’t. So this one is going to be tricky. After 24 hours I haven’t had the cravings I was expecting, which means they are probably lying in wait for me today. Wish me luck.

Giving up dairy isn’t about it being a addiction (well, not as strong an addiction as sugar, anyway). I have become lactose intolerant as I have gotten older. It is a major irritant which causes me to swell up like a balloon, makes my nasal passage close so I’m stuffy all the time, and has certain deleterious gastrointestinal effects that I won’t detail here. The good news about this is that it forces me to break other patterns of eating because dairy cannot be a part of my diet. I’ve given up dairy in the past, and I’ve always felt better.

Of course…all of this…the cycle of stimulants and depressants, the sugar highs, etc all point to something I need to address: stress. More on that in future posts as I unpack that box.

And so it begins

Remind me…what are you doing?

Well, I wanted to get some of my addictions under control. I use caffeine and sugar quite a bit to make it through the work day, and then wind up needing sleep meds to sleep at night. I want to get this under control. As much as I love my morning coffee, I drink too much of it throughout the day just to keep up the energy to do what needs to be done.

The sugar is all about eating my feelings. It gives me a nice hit, and I feel better. But it’s killing me. So that needs to stop.

My hope is that my sleep and mood will improve. Because right now, at the end of a day, I’m am completely exhausted, crashing from both of my drugs of choice.

Ok…I follow. So why did you shave your entire head? Beard and all?

The face of a man trying to get excited bout decaf.

I needed a fresh start. I needed a change. See…when I peel away my additions, I’m going to wind up delving in to the things driving them…my career, my lack of self-care, etc. I use my addictions to cover up a LOT of emotions. I realize that this is pulling the thread which ultimately, if I don;t give up, will lead me to the life I want to have.

And lest you think I am blaming the World for making life hard, no…that’s not it. I am an extremely fortunate man. I got me a backpack or two full of privilege. I’m not happy with the way in which I live my life at times. I want to correct that. Peeling away the numbness that my addictions allow me will force me to deal with some of the things I’ve been putting off for a long time.

I wanted to mark this point in time. I made a vow to myself, and I wanted some way to make it real in a way that I can see it every day. It is a largely symbolic gesture, but as I get older, this symbolic gestures have more meaning to me than before. I want to embrace that and honor that part of myself. It’s a part of me that does not get a lot of air time as I slog away in the business world.

Ok. I get that. So what’s next?

I’m going to keep writing here. I’m a little concerned about the caffeine headache I will get later today. And giving up sugar is going to be HARD. Today, I’m just buckling in for the ride. One day at a time.

I owe them much

When I look at the world around me, specifically the political nonsense of the last four years, I often find myself saying, “This is all what they warned us about! How can people not see this?”

Tonight, I remember why. Kris Johnson and I are rewatching the old V miniseries from the eighties. It holds up well, and I am more aware of this issues that they bring up: anti-science to promote ignorance and domination, control of the media, shades of Nazi influences.

But I was a child when I watched this. I was a child when I read my first Asimov, a teenager when I encountered Harlan Ellison . I read 1984. I read Animal Farm. My literary and media education what lined with all the lessons that allow me to recognize history repeating itself. I learned that education and questioning authority is everyone’s right, everyone’s duty.

I was a well-read nerd, taught by writers who saw evil, and used stories to teach me how to recognize it. This is the “they” I am forever indebted to.

And now, when I look around my community, I understand better how people don’t see it. They’re the people who didn’t have my education and the words of these writers. They ones who made fun of my bookish ways, who never heard the warnings. The ignorant, who see no threat because they think all this will benefit them. They don’t know how the worm will turn, because they do not know the stories.

It is a love/hate relationship I have with the human race. I am an elitist, and I feel that my responsibility is to drag the human race along with me — that I will never pander to, or speak down to, or play the safe game. Because my immortal soul will be lost.

Harlan Ellison

Hello World #5

Good morning, all. Couple of things to catch up on:

September is going to be Chris Confronts His Coping Mechanisms month.

Work has been pretty intense of late. When things get stressful, I inevitably fall back on my old frenemies Caffeine and Sugar. Then I find it hard to sleep, so I use sleep meds to fall asleep. But I have trouble waking up, so I…

You get the picture.

I’m at home, and I have few chances (if you ignore the convenience that is Doordash) to eat and drink poorly unless I make a choice to bring these things into the house. It’s not like I’m in the office which festooned with snacks, candy, and working lunches. So in September I’m going to go caffeine-free and low-sugar.

People tell me that drinking water, exercising, and sleeping without meds makes it easier to wake and feel energetic in the morning. I vaguely remember that to be the case: this is not the first time I’ve done this. It’s an old detox, and one that is usually very helpful. As age creeps up on me, the caffeine/sugar cycle is more harmful to me that before, and this might need to be a permanent detox.

I really like caffeine, especially coffee, you guys. I mean…it’s my drug of choice. By my heart and brain get pretty strained when I’m on it, so I guess it’s time to stop for a while. Eventually, I want to re-introduce a morning cuppa again, but keep it to one modest cup a day: a treat to be savored, not the necessary explosion to force my brain to wake up.

So while I’m looking forward to clearing my head and sleeping better, I’m gonna my my morning hit. I’ll shift to … decaf. (sigh)

September will also be A Post A Day month

I have a bad case of the Shoulds when it comes to writing things. I should be writing. I should be blogging. I should reanimate The Bindlesack. I should…etc…etc.

So this coming month I’m going to post every day, just to get myself into the habit. You are welcome to follow along.

I have no particular topic to cover other than Life. Guess we will see where it takes me.

Hello World #4

Happy Friday, folks. Just some random thoughts before I disappear into reading books and bingewatching The Umbrella Academy over the weekend.

  • If you are looking for a gender neutral way to replace addressing a group of people as “good morning, guys,” you should know that “sinners” fits the bill and sets the tone.
  • You know how there is Florida Man out there? “Florida Man wrestles shark,” or “Florida Man Leaps From Taco Bell Roof During Drunken Diatribe” would be good examples Florida Man behaviors. The Ohio version of this is “Man in Black Pickup Truck.” As in “Man in Black Pickup Truck Flies Confederate Flag At BLM Rally” or “Man in Black Pickup Truck Blows Bast Everyone Doing 60 in a 35.” Assmunches, all of them.
  • I can heartily recommend ignoring the news for your own sanity. I am here to tell you that two weeks off of news sites and most of Facebook is good for the soul.
  • The double album Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Joe Cocker is exactly what you need right now. Go listen to the whole thing.
  • Vinyl really does sound better than MP3s. Come at me bro.
  • My beard is now long enough to braid, but that doesn’t mean I’m actually going to do that.
  • The best ham I have ever tasted is from Father’s Ham in Kentucky. They use real hickory smoke on all their meats, and my house smells amazing after making some their bacon.