Saturday, January 31, 2015

leveling up

One fine Sunday morning at the end of November, Anna and I were having a lazy morning on the couch. Being adults, we can last a while without breakfast, so we'd stuck with lazing for the moment.

J walked in.
"Um, I need breakfast."
"How about you make breakfast for all of us?"
"Um, I don't know how."
"You could make your own breakfast."
"Do you think there's an art to pulling the turkey slices out of the package or something?"
"Take your time. I can wait, I've got coffee."
"Ummm... Oh! Okay!"
(That's me responding, of course.)

And he went into the kitchen and assembled his own breakfast for the first time ever. (He doesn't eat many things, so most breakfasts involve turkey slices for protein.)

Needling him into a moment of independence is really more than I could have hoped for. I just didn't want either of us to have to get off the couch.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

a conversation with HR.

[9:47 AM] Chris: whenever you get a chance, could you give me a pointer to FSA enrollment for the new plan year?

[9:56 AM] HR: hey chris. we have open enrollment for health benefits and FSA mid Feb. We have not made official decisions on new plans just yet
[9:57 AM] Chris: ah okay, so there'll be emails then. thanks!

[9:57 AM] HR: oh tons of them
        you will be sick of me nagging :)
[9:57 AM] Chris: ALL THE EMAILS
[9:57 AM] HR: hahaha
[9:57 AM] Chris: no it's totally good for people like me
[9:58 AM] HR: and thats why i do it ;)

[9:58 AM] Chris: my wife gets justifiably nervous when there's some piece of paperwork that's up to me.
[9:59 AM] HR: HA!
        love it
        we have an odd plan year, so ive heard this from a few people

        they think they have missed something

[10:00 AM] Chris: at one point she was like "I'm doing all this stuff, is it bothering you that I keep asking you questions? I feel like I'm nagging, or assuming you're not competent to handle it yourself."

"nono, my inability to do paperwork on time long predates you. anything that wasn't critical often didn't get done at all."
[10:01 AM] HR: this is awesome
[10:02 AM] Chris: all about the teamwork. :)

Monday, January 19, 2015


I was in the Pacific Northwest for ten days, which I think is the longest I've been away from home since Chile, and possibly before that. We were at my brother-in-law's for 4 days, and then Anna and J went home, and my company (which is mostly people working from home) had our annual kickoff rally, where everyone comes into town and we spend days and days figuring out the coming year and hanging out.

The sad thing about visiting the Pacific Northwest, and Seattle especially, is that at some point I have to leave. I like it there. It's moist, but not overwhelmingly so, and without having spent a full year there, I think I've clocked a full month, spread out over all the seasons. The weather seems to have plenty of variety for me, which fits with the two kinds of ex-Seattle people I've known:
  1. "Oh, God. I lived there for twenty years, and it was just constantly gray and raining and I had to leave or I was going to die."
  2. "The weather's fine. But don't tell anybody, or else they'll want to move there!"
I joke about how they told me I'd only have to visit Seattle occasionally, and in fact I've been there almost every month since I started, but the truth is Seattle is one of my favorite cities. I wake up in my hotel, get everything together and go to breakfast (somewhere besides the hotel, because life is too short to eat at the Marriott), and air is all damp and misty and full of salt from Puget Sound. In the winter, it can often be below 40 degrees, and the buildings are insulated (which my house is not). I've no Seattle trips planned for a long time, sadly. I'm sure I'll wind up traveling at least a few times, especially now that I'm a manager, but it'll probably be to chat with some major customer in Montana or something.

With the new year, I'm a manager again. I only have one employee, but since it's my old friend and enforcer Jess, that one is thoroughly satisfying. Others will emerge throughout the year. We're doing cool stuff! We spent the Rally week fleshing it out, refining the story of what we're doing and why everyone should care. It turns out that when you collect fundamental measurements of your product usage, everyone cares, and you just have to give them a chance to tell you why. Engineering, Support, Operations, Customer Solutions, Sales, Marketing. The executive team. Let me tell you, it's a ton of fun to be working on something the executive team is really excited to get their hands on. No pressure, though.

I really enjoy using my leadership brain again, of course. Every leadership role is a new set of challenges, and this one is right where I need it: figuring out what to build and how to present it. I've already done team composition and dynamics stuff, and while I'd hardly say I know it inside and out, I've got a good handle on it. Jess and I are (a) two people, and (b) sort of a pre-packaged functioning team, so that's just not a concern.

I'm tired--I had one of my sleep downswings again, now recovering--but life is good.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

right speech and urban evasion.

We do some things right, we do some things wrong.

I was walking down 1st Avenue this afternoon, and a woman was waiting to cross at the corner. A man passing behind her looked her up and down, and just past her looked over and said "Heyyyy, how you doin'?". The woman, as almost all women do, looked anxious and exasperated and tired of this prime example of the bullshit women deal with, and grimaced at him and looked away.

I've never spoken up when this happens. But there's a choice to make. How does the world get better if I just stand there and let it slide? How many times can I stand to watch this shit and not do anything?
"Dude, leave her alone. What the fuck is your problem?"
Oops. I once called a fellow aikido student "punk-ass bitch," which was something every group of friends had tossed around casually since high school. However, he had served a couple years in prison for dealing meth, and had quite a violent streak, and it turns out that in some hypermasculine and crime-associated American subcultures that aren't mine, that is an extraordinarily serious insult, and I had to talk him down from reflexively beating the shit out of me. Better late than never, I softened my language.
"Leave her alone. What the hell is your problem?"
Okay. There are better ways to say that. The traffic light turned and the woman and I crossed the street, with the gentleman shouting obscenities, which I decided to laugh loudly at as I walked away.
As I walked past, I told the woman, "Like you don't have enough problems."


"Thank you for that."
She went into a shop for lunch, Harasser Guy turned his corner and walked, and I kept walking. The day went on.


After I'd gone about half a block, I heard angry yelling again, and looked back and the guy was walking after me, about a block behind.

I was obvious I needed to ditch the guy, but here's the full risk assessment that went through my head:
Harasser Guy is walking, not running. I can't run very far right now, but I can probably get myself to a safe place. He's about 6'3", about 300 pounds, quite a bit bigger than me, and people willing to get into fights usually have experience doing so. I have a black belt in a primarily defensive martial art, and a very sharp pocket knife. My body has very little energy due to my health issues, and I am carrying a fully loaded commuter backpack.
As you may or may not know, my preferred movie genres involve lots of shooting and/or swords and/or explosions--I usually get car chases as a bonus--and so I've seen a lot of non-James Bond spy movies, as well as every episode of Burn Notice and The Americans.
(Don't get me wrong, I've seen every James Bond movie as well, but here we're only interested in spies who try not to get noticed.)
I've seen a lot of these movies multiple times, so I remember the urban chases in some detail, and there are some pretty simple and logical ways to handle this. Also fun, since I have the really excellent Plan B (running flat out to safety, which would be fine but then I would be all sweaty), and the extremely unappealing Plan C (fighting, which would be a shitshow). Here's the map.

He harassed the woman on the southwest corner of 1st and Main. I was about 2/3 down the block to the north when I heard him coming.
  1. Take a right onto Washington eastbound.
  2. Jog to take the next right along the east side of Occidental Park: if the pursuer has started running, I don't want to be caught in the open, and that side of the park has bars to duck into and parked vehicles for better-than-nothing cover.
  3. Start walking diagonally northeast across the park, which has many small groups of people (with open space between them, and they're almost all black, so it's not like it'd be hard to see me, but you work with what you have).
  4. My very large, bright blue hooded jacket is the visual cue he'll be using to track me, so take it off and bundle it up inside-out so the blue is hidden and the gray liner is showing. Now instead of a large royal blue target, I am a normal-size black-shirted one.
  5. Shift my backpack from two shoulders to one, which may not help, but can't hurt.
  6. Walk at a normal pace, don't look around nervously, and especially don't look back. Judging by the yelling, he's not interested in sneaking up on me.
Instead of going diagonally northeast across the park, I had wanted to go straight south to Main, west across 1st Ave. and closer to my destination; but the guy had been turning east up Main when this started, so if he had given up looking for me, I could just run into him again, and I can only fit so much stupid into a day.

I reached the far corner of the square, and the cover of the building that must be at Waterfall Garden Park (intersection of Main and the alleyway). I peeked around the building just in time to see him stopped on the sidewalk on the Washington side, looking around, and not finding me. I continued on and made a bit of a loop out of my way, and back to the office. If I get myself into a mess, it's at least pretty gratifying to get myself out.

Obviously I fucked up, and nothing reminds us why we try to practice Right Speech like failing to do so and weathering the consequences. There are a few ways this could have gone poorly, and then the absolute worst case would probably be if the guy were a fast runner with a gun. But it didn't go worse, and that's enough to be grateful for.

Most people would read this story and think it's pretty odd that I thought and did all this, and they would be absolutely correct. I haven't had any training, not even a course (though those look like fun). I don't have a terribly clear explanation for you, except to say that I watch spy movies in part because I find this stuff interesting and potentially useful, so I've paid attention, and that I've spent decades refining my tendency not to panic, and probably those things came together today in exactly the way I would hope.

And some luck.

Monday, January 5, 2015

strictly missionary.

Visiting my brother-in-law in Recent Subdivision, WA leaves me a little bit adrift. The pre-teen boys are playing Minecraft, of course, and the other adults play games and seem mostly content to stay in, but I have to leave the house or I will go insane. So every day I go to the coffee shop.

Recent Subdivision gets the epithet because unlike most subdivisions, this was not actually designed to mimic Dante's conception of Limbo. It's quite nice if you like your house to be beige, taupe, gray, or slate blue, or a mute pine green, if you're particularly racy. There's a small main street with an adorable library and a mediocre diner and a Verizon store and the coffee shop. There are a couple dozen miles of beautiful Pacific Northwest trails spread throughout generously wide greenways. It's quite walkable, and the roads are thoughtfully laid out to prevent fast traffic, which means it's easy for me to get lost. If it weren't for Google Maps on my iPhone, I might not have returned from that first excursion.

Yesterday I took a different route in the general direction of coffee, and as I approached the mini-downtown and started looking for a way in, there was a call from across the street.
"Good morning, sir!"
I kept walking.
I turned around and saw two guys, maybe 20 years old, identically dressed in black suits and trenchcoats, name tags and briefcases. I know that uniform!
"Good morning. Mormons?"
"Heh, yes. How are you doing today?"
I thought about ditching them, but that was going to be a pain: evangelists always peacefully and quickly retreat from my doorstep, for some reason, but on the street they won't take the hint any more than schizophrenic homeless people. I sympathize. If they gave up easily, they wouldn't be doing their job. So I let them catch up and decided to let my plans be changed, figuring that I've never actually talked to Mormons about Mormonism, and it could be almost as interesting as reading my novel.
"Well, I'm headed to the coffee shop, but you guys are welcome to tag along and chat. You don't want coffee, obviously, but they have other stuff."
Now, the only active Mormon I've spent much time with is a former co-worker, who is brilliant, curious, widely-read, and grew up outside L.A. My bar may be set wrong. I talked about my co-worker spending his missionary years in Sweden, and how they drew the long straw in not being sent somewhere particularly far off. They asked if I had a faith of my own, and I said "Zen Buddhist."
"You must learn a lot about Buddhism in the Middle East."
No. No, you don't.

I kept returning to them and their experience; unsurprisingly, they've clearly had a bit of practice re-focusing the conversation on how reading the Book of Mormon brings you closer to God.

I did manage to get us a little far afield, because I think they get thrown by the idea of spirituality without a deity, so we chatted for a while about meaning and love and connection. At one point I mentioned theodicy, the question of why God allows evil in the world; most people don't know the word, but I'd expect studied Christians to at least know the concept (or have considered the question).
"Do you guys study basic Christian theology? Augustine, Aquinas, all that?"
"No...not really."
"Augustine...why does that sound familiar?"
"He's one of the foundations of Western civilization."
"Yeah, I think maybe...I studied humanities before my mission, so I think I might have read something by him."
Oooookay then.

I had to get back to the house, which made ending the conversation easy. They were nice kids, but I was pretty surprised at how ignorant they were: the LDS Church tagline (which they repeated) is that the Book of Mormon is a completion of Christianity, but as far as they knew, it is Christianity.

I was super nice, I thought. I did a lot of work to keep the conversation going, because there are a whole lot of awkward questions you can about about Mormonism:
  • Why does the story of Joseph Smith's revelation sound like any number of new religions and cults that have appeared in the past 300 years?
  • Why would I believe this one over the others? How do you know there weren't other prophets after him?
  • This is, prima facie, a little odd.
 And my favorites, if those are too crass:
  • Why did God's prophets in North America have to be white?
  • Doesn't it seem even a little odd to you that the President of the Church, God's living prophet on earth, just happened to have revelations about polygamy and racial discrimination (really, about the fundamental worth of black people) not long after political circumstances required them?
I learned a lot, though. At one point they said "You can't change someone's mind," and I said "What do you guys do all day?". But they really don't view themselves as being in the business of persuasion, as though this were debate club and Mormonism were like your opinion on cap-and-trade schemes. They speak from a position of Mormonism being self-evident if you just open your heart and do the reading; they are "inviting" people to join the awesomeness.

The only religion I've ever seen that was even close to self-evident was Zen. And I only thought I understood it.