neighborliness

Last night when I came home from work, all of the painted parking spots in my lot were full. There is space between two of the buildings in my complex, however, that is wide enough for a car without blocking any of the garages. I’ve parked there before when I’ve been in a hurry and only came home to drop something off or pick something up really quickly before heading out again. Since there’s no posted sign that designates it as a NO PARKING zone, that is where I chose to park last night.

This morning when I took Fearsome Pup outside, I found this on the windshield of my Jeep:

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What an abrasive note! I mean, it would have been worse to discover a ticket on my windshield or a boot on my tire or to have found that my car had been towed altogether, but it still didn’t melt me with warmth for my neighbors. Reported? To whom exactly have I been reported? Since there’s nothing to indicate I shouldn’t have parked there in the first place, could I not have been perhaps warned first?

I brought the note upstairs, and as I got my keys to move my vehicle, I fantasized about drafting a snide reply on neon poster NO PARKINGboard and posting it on the side of one of the buildings adjacent to where I parked or purchasing a tin sign and finding a way to mount it so that others aren’t victims of such bitter missives.

It was a sour way to start out the day, and after I indulged in the petty ways I could get the last word in, I wondered how happy the person who left the note is in his/her own life. A note like that doesn’t scream compassion, and I wondered whether the person who left the note felt a sense of moral superiority or authority over the neighborhood or some other version of self-justification by leaving the note on my car. Had s/he physically seen me parking there last night, would s/he have said something then or waited for me to go upstairs before writing the note and proceeding the way s/he did anyway? Has this neighbor of mine been the recipient of such communications him/herself, and how many other notes has s/he left for other people?

In the end, I can’t help but wonder if this neighbor ever learned the golden rule as a child, to do unto others as s/he would have them do unto her or him. I don’t know which neighbor left the note on my car and therefore have no idea what his or her story is or how joyful or grumpy s/he regularly feels, but after beginning my day with a crappy note, I would just like to echo the message Ellen Degeneres dispenses at the end most of her shows and say, “Be kind to one another.” Compassion is so underrated, and you just never know how much your words can affect someone else’s day.

a sense of urgency

The laws of physics posit that a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. As with matter, so with life.

Moments of clarity and inspiration feel wonderful! They’re motivating and offer a sense of direction and purpose. Those moments provide the goals we set for ourselves, and when we achieve our goals (or discover new paths), we have a way to measure how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown. Setting goals is natural. It’s inevitable. New Year’s resolutions. Bottom lines. If the only way we can go is forward, then dreams and intentions are like the magnetic poles that guide our compasses.

How do you ignore the different life forces, though? The frictions, oppositions, and distractions that slow you down? How do you maintain the sense of urgency that initially impelled you to act?

Tuesday night I watched the Colorado Avalanche lose an ugly game to the Edmonton Oilers.  The Avs were shut out 4-0 at home. While my brother and I were watching the game, he verbalized an observation I’ve also had several times: it seems as though the Avs play to the level that they expect of their opponents instead of playing consistently skillfully in their own right. The Avalanche team that was on the ice Tuesday night had neither the spark nor speed it possessed against more formidable opponents last week.

When the Avs lost in Detroit last Tuesday and in Chicago last Wednesday, it wasn’t for lack of effort. Those games were full of explosive plays up and down the ice. There’s a long-standing rivalry between Colorado and Detroit that heightened each player’s performance, but ultimately it was the Red Wings who came out with the W. The Avs, however, did not let that loss discourage them when they played the hottest team in the NHL the next night. They battled and even held the lead for a while before losing again.

Two nights later, the Avalanche had a rematch against the Blackhawks in Denver. They still did not let the frustrations of the games from earlier in the week get to them. Rather they stayed committed to playing good hockey and finally annihilated the best team in the league 6-2 and handed Chicago their first regulation loss of the season.

The Avs won again on Sunday night in dramatic fashion when Matt Duchene scored a goal with less than half a second remaining in the overtime period.  The San Jose Sharks had beaten the Avs in their first two meetings of the season (both in San Jose), but Colorado closed out the series between the two teams with a win at home.  But instead of using the wins against Chicago and San Jose to build momentum and confidence in their abilities as a team (individually there is so much damn talent!), the Avalanche diminished their level of play against an inferior team that, at the time of writing this, only leads the Avs by one point in the playoff race; with that loss the Avalanche are now dead last in the Western Conference.

What separates mediocrity from greatness? How were the Chicago Blackhawks able to go 24 games without losing in regulation while the Colorado Avalanche struggle to string more than two wins together at a time? What sparks a sense of urgency in the first place, and then how do you sustain and stoke the flame into something lasting and meaningful? People are all made with the same basic stuff. Water. Bones and flesh. We require the same air for survival. But our desires and motivations and confidence levels and strategies for execution are so different. While this keeps the world interesting and colorful and inspiring, etc., I am in awe of that intangible factor that allows one person to stave off the frustrations that would knock another person on his behind.

How does one develop the kind of steely determination that conquers doubt and discouragement? Where does one find the steadfastness to follow through on a project with the same zeal with which she started? What is the magical measure of passion that makes all of those outside forces irrelevant?

it snowed!

I love snow!

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The first week and a half of February worried  me, since temperatures were in the mid-50s.  An uncharacteristic spring day here and there is pleasant to break up the cold, of course, but with such high temps at the beginning of the month, which often has a tendency to hover around freezing, I was beginning to feel apprehensive about what kinds of heat July might bring.  I am a creature built neither for excessive heat nor stagnant humidity, and I dread the idea of another summer of smokey, apocalyptic-looking sunsets, wildfires, and week-long heat waves above 100 degrees to the magnitude that last summer yielded those conditions.

But it finally snowed last Thursday, and it snowed again today, and so right now I’m pleased that it finally feels like winter again.

Snow Jeep

It cracks me up and makes me shake my head when people think that snow is snow.  Of course snow is snow, but not all snow is created equal.  In late fall and the frigidness of winter, snow (in Colorado in my experience) is generally powdery and light.  It’s good for skiing and snowboarding but will not offer a very good snowman.  Depending on the temperatures on the days leading up to the storm, it can freeze quickly, and ice will endure on shady sidewalks long after the rest of the actual snow has melted.  Then, by contrast, there’s spring snow, which will sneak up on you as late as May.  It falls wet and heavy in clusters of snowflakes.  It clings to trees and makes branches bow down from the weight.  It melts almost immediately upon contact with pavement, although it sometimes accumulates into slush piles.  The clouds hang low and thin around the mountains after this kind of snow.  The world looks frosted and like a monochromatic illustration out of a Dr. Seuss book.  Everything is still for a little while, but it’s here-today-gone-tomorrow snow; the sun comes out the next day (or even later the same day) and brings the world back to life.

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Today’s snow was an anomaly, however, in that it was something of a combination of the two.  It fell steadily and wet, clinging to my hair in the couple of minutes it took me to take the trash out and check the mail this evening, but it fell powdery; you’d have a difficult time trying to pack it into a ball.  It frosted the trees without weighing them down.  It made the ground wet in some places, icy in others, and slushy in still others.

In a word, it’s been beautiful, and while I’m having difficulty classifying it, I maybe love it all the more for its deviation from what I’d otherwise expect!

mechanical insights? no

Technology as a subject is one that provides infinite fodder for editorial writing.  As mechanical as it is, it evokes a lot of emotional reactions (at least for me).  Technology is a tool.  It makes life easier.  It makes life more difficult.  The more I write, the more stuff comes up for me, but to kick things off, tonight I feel compelled to respond to James Wolcott’s column in the February 2013 issue of Vanity Fair.  In his article, Wolcott expounds his personal experience using various electronic devices that track different activities and bodily functions as part his interpretation of the Quantified Self movement, whose motto is “self knowledge through numbers.”  Wolcott wears not one but two pedometer devices as well as a monitor that measures his heart rate and doubles as a “biofeedback meditation assistant” and a pair of sunglasses with a camera mounted in the nose bridge.  My question for Wolcott and self-quantifiers everywhere is how much is there to be gained by enumerating habitual tasks and behaviors?  Does counting daily steps a better person make?  Ought I know my heart rate at any given moment beyond the span of time I’m engaged in cardiovascular exercise?

click image for larger view

click image for larger view

I’m a fan of statistics and empiricism when the data reveal something insightful.  I love to find patterns and then try to decipher if there’s underlying significance.  Where, however, is the line between insight and mindlessness?

One gadget that Wolcott covets is the Autographer, which is essentially a camera that takes all of the responsibility off of its owner to keep an eye out for candids and other ideal photo ops.  Instead, the camera has a GPS and a series of sensors in it that tell the camera when to take the perfect picture; the possessor of the device need do nothing more than wear it around his neck.  Call me a naysayer, but where is the artistry?  Where’s the intention?  You might end up with some cool pictures you didn’t ever realize were right in front of you, but what if you become so dependent on Autographer’s algorithm that you miss out on a picture you might actually have wanted?  It’s like the next step in the social media phenomenon where I must document my every activity no matter how commonplace or asinine.  At the end of the day I don’t want a clutter of images to sort through that I didn’t care enough to capture and preserve the first time around; I like having photos that inspire or otherwise mean something to me.  I feel proud when I’m responsible for an impressive photo, which leads me to ask who owns the rights to the photos Autographer takes?  Is it the wearer since he shelled out the $$$ for his new toy, or is it the person/team of developers who came up with the algorithm that determines each optimal photo moment?

Wolcott also alludes to Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues in his column and suggests that Franklin was “a founding father of self-help programming, exhibiting a recordkeeping punctilio converting daily fluctuations into accounting reports with pen and paper.”  While the Fitbit One fastened to his right wrist does seem to promote “industry” by encouraging Wolcott into action when phrases like “steponit” flash across the LED screen, I hardly think that Franklin intended for the effort of self-improvement to be governed by the devices that measure those efforts.  Rather, I speculate that Franklin’s standards for developing oneself had something to do with a mindful or sincerely intentional pursuit of a more virtuous character and not merely a Pavlovian response to a buzzing at one’s wrist (not to mention “moderation” was another of the 13 virtues Mr. Franklin promoted).

Perhaps I’m a nostalgic sucker, but I want to believe I live in a world in which the will, inspiration, and spontaneity characteristic of humanity outweigh any insights that might be tabulated by an electronic doodad.  I want to believe that tactile and other sensory experiences are still relevant to one’s understanding of the world.  I want to believe that technology is superfluous and at best secondary to the human experience.

blackbirds and miners

I’m a sports fan who had no intention of watching this year’s  Super Bowl.  Once the Broncos were out of the playoffs, my interest in football went dormant, not to be piqued again until late August.  Yet here I sit, computer on my lap, with Super Bowl XLVII on in my living room.

In years past when I haven’t cared about either of the teams playing, I’ve enjoyed imbibing Fat Tire and watching the game with my brother and other people, but this morning I decided that I’m not going to consume any alcohol for the next 100 days (May 14  will be day 101).  Thus the social aspect of drinking and football was lost on me today.

I thought about watching for the commercials, but I generally mute commercials during any commercial break.  That got me thinking about the Super Bowl commercial hype, though, since so many people find regular commercial breaks on any other day as annoying as I do.  My Google search just revealed that a 30 second ad running during the Super Bowl this year could cost as much as nearly $4 million.  But when you consider the companies and corporations that can afford to spend that kind of money on advertising, is the return on investment worth it?  Do they actually get exposure to a new audience or demographic?  For example, by spending $3.8 million on a Doritos commercial in which a bunch of men play princess dress-up with one of their young daughters, is Frito-Lay really going to garner more business?  Will Anheuser-Busch’s sentimental Clydesdale commercial sway enough Miller and Coors drinkers to make the switch to Budweiser so that the commercial was profitable?  Or do these companies continue to pay for the airtime that gets more expensive year after year because they feel like they’re part of the Super Bowl culture?  Super Bowl commercials have become something of a source of entertainment in their own right during the breaks in the game, and social media has made it such that the companies that can afford them are competing across industry lines for memorability.  I guess I conclude that those corporate decision-makers who opt to showcase their marketing creativity on Super Bowl Sunday do so not so much to appeal to a new consumership but rather in order to maintain cultural relevance during the grandest annual event in American sports.

But that’s not why I turned the game on.

I suspect I turned the game on because even though I don’t care specifically about the teams or the commercials per se, I concede that the game is culturally significant beyond the four to five hours it occupies the airwaves.  The big plays and coaching decisions will be deconstructed all week on the radio and different news programs during slow cycles, and then again during the preseason later this year when other teams are scheduled to play the Ravens or the 49ers, and then again next January during the playoffs all the way up until Super Bowl Sunday 2014, and then again whenever something about some future game can otherwise be compared or related back to this one.  It’s simultaneously just a game and so much more depending on whom you ask.  It’s drama unfolding in real time with varied and unknown implications that, since I have no substantial reason for caring, I’m loathe to admit has drawn me in.

quality vs. quantity

I’m sitting at Denver International Airport more than 6 hours after my original flight was scheduled to depart.  364 days ago, my best friend from high school and I decided (assuming the world didn’t end, of course) to spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square.  That plan evolved into spending New Years in Nashville, and unlike the kind of plan you make with friends when you talk and talk and talk about how much fun something would be without ever getting around to making it happen, this plan came to fruition- sort of.  I bought my plane ticket.  We booked the hotel.  And then my United Airlines flight from DIA to Nashville at 10:12 this morning was canceled because there was no flight crew.  That’s right, flight canceled for lack of flight attendants.

Honestly I think it’s pretty funny.  When I get past the fact that I would rather be catching up with my old pal in Music City, the ridiculousness of reality amuses me.

I got to the airport plenty early.  My mom and I had tea before I made my way through the purgatory that is security and finally got to my gate about half an hour before boarding was supposed to start.  The first thing I noticed was that there were 4 gates all operating out of one doorway/podium area.  Gates B57, 59, 61, and 63 all shared the same bay.  It concerned me briefly, but I heard the speed with which the announcers were calling out the boarding sections; they didn’t mess around.  There was a flight to Birmingham, Alabama, scheduled just ahead of my flight to Nashville out of the same gate number (B61), and it was delayed- also due to lack of flight crew.  The plane that was supposed to take me to Nashville, however, was late arriving from Memphis, so it seemed like it was all going to work itself out fortuitously.  The announcer said that the  plane from Memphis was expected to land at about 10:30 and that once they let everyone off, they would clean/safety check the plane, and boarding would likely commence within 5-10 minutes or so of that.

By 10:54 my plane still hadn’t landed in Denver, and when it finally did, a pilot was available, but there was no flight crew.  We waited.  I called my friend, who was on her way to meet me in Nashville, to apprise her of my delay.  Then, just after noon, the boarding announcer got on the loudspeaker to say that, since it had been nearly 2 hours since we were supposed to have left, they would be issuing $10 food vouchers to let us go grab something to eat but that we only had about half an hour before we needed to be back.  When I got my voucher, though, the ladies at the podium suggested that we go grab food and bring it back to the gate and eat it, because if a flight attendant showed up, they’d put her on the plane for the safety check, and boarding would be quick to follow.  I went and got a chicken club sandwich and brought it right back so I could be aware of any news about my flight as soon as it was available, and right after I finished my sandwich and got up to throw my trash in the bin, they announced that the flight was now canceled and that everyone ought to go just across the way to the Customer Service Center.

It was a mad dash to an already long customer service line.  The girl ahead of me in line gave me the United Airlines customer service phone number, so while I stood in line (for an hour and 36 minutes) I actually got booked on another flight that leaves at 2:00 a.m.. I finished out the line anyway, though, so I could get my checked luggage squared away.  Also, I wanted to see if I could get any “customer service” freebies out of the situation (answer: another $10 food voucher).  When I finally got to the front of the line, I asked how this kind of thing happens.  How does an airline not have enough flight attendants to satisfy all of the scheduled flights in a day- flights that have been scheduled for months?  How does an airport not have enough flight attendants?  The associate explained that, being the holidays, the airline added flights to accommodate all of the extra travelers, so staffing was already spread thin, and then when Denver-bound flights out of different airports get canceled for whatever reason, it affects the flight crew staff coming through this airport.  The result is insufficient flight crew staffing, which is a major bummer for just about everybody.

And so, while I sit on Concourse B at DIA and wait for 1:30 a.m. to roll around so that I can hopefully board my flight to Charlotte that will connect me to my flight to Nashville, I finally arrive at the point of my rant:  Has there ever been a benefit to sacrificing quality for quantity?

In my situation now, the customer assuredly suffers.  I’m bummed that my vacation is delayed by 19 hours, but there are plenty of people who have more pressing business on their shoulders for which they need to get back to Tennessee or wherever else their connecting flights may have taken them; jobs and pets come to mind, not to mention additional airport parking fees.

And I can’t imagine that customer service representatives love their jobs on days and occasions like today.  They have to spend hours upon hours dealing with hundreds of disgruntled travelers who just want to be wherever they were scheduled to go.  It’s not the representatives’ fault that the flights were canceled, and yet they have to smile while they diffuse the stress and absorb all of the hostility of the customers who are massively inconvenienced.

Even United Airlines doesn’t win.  I’d be shocked and surprised if the corporate bigwigs profited off of all the flights that never actually took off.  Instead United has to reimburse the unhappy customers and book them on flights with other airlines.  On top of that, I’m sure there are plenty of people who will swear never to fly United again and will tell everyone they know about the misery of this experience.  Mine wasn’t the only flight today that was delayed/canceled on account of flight crew issues, and the people in front of me and behind me had unfortunate travel experiences on their way to Colorado this same trip.

Why schedule more flights than you can handle, United Airlines?  Why?  It only pisses off your customers and makes your employees want to rip the hairs from their heads.  It might seem profitable in theory, but does it really, really help your bottom line at all?  It is my ever-so-humble opinion that a new business model for the holiday season is in order, perhaps one in which you hire more flight attendants based out of international airport hub cities and staff appropriately, for starters.  Sustainability and customer satisfaction might be concepts you consider while you draft your new model, too.

 

What do you  think? Is there ever a situation in which high quantity makes up for poor quality?

doomsday purging

I’ve stayed away from WordPress for the majority of the past month and of a half with a mixture of guilt and good intention.  It hasn’t been for writer’s block or a lack of inspiration; on the contrary I have a running list of topics that’s grown considerably in the meantime.  Lately it seems, however, that whenever I start to brainstorm an idea and flesh it out in my mind before I would theoretically go to type it, it turns into another rant that criticizes the way things are or the way other people go about things, and I don’t want to be a nagging presence in the virtual world any more than I want to be one in the physical and tangible world.  I very much believe in “live and let live,” and while I appreciate a witty tongue-in-cheek diatribe, I find constantly self-righteous and/or wallowing people to be tiresome.

All of that said, on the eve of the end of the Mayan calendar I feel that it’s not entirely  inappropriate to dispense some of my pent up distress at the state of things.  I also hope that if I finally just purge my negativity, I’ll be able to resume writing guiltlessly on a more consistent basis.  So if you inhabit a mental space of holiday cheer or otherwise generally optimistic anticipation, perhaps you ought to put off reading the rest this posting until a more sullen day.

The world we live in is a brutal place.  Hurricanes.  Wild fires.  Earthquakes.  Tornadoes.  Add people into the mix and you wind up with things like mass shootings, genocide, and nuclear weaponry.

All devastation aside, it seems like everything is increasingly commercial, too.  We don’t celebrate for the sake of joy or achievement or loving camaraderie.  Rather celebration anymore seems like just another way to show off: how can I make you covet what I have?  Award shows and red carpet events are ways for celebrities to show off their dates, designer clothes, and, in many cases, bodies, while the actual talents for which the ceremonies are held appear secondary and even trite.  And don’t get me started on all of the wedding shows on television.  Again, the love, commitment, and long-term idea of marriage between the couples seems almost like a pleasant afterthought to all of the pomp and bling of the venue and dress and entertainment and food; bridezillas make for better television, after all.

And as much as insecurity-driven consumerism is at the forefront of “celebration,” politics is assuredly at the heart of tragedy.  No matter the crisis, it seems that any and everyone with an agenda to push is immediately vocal and able to manipulate the tragedy on behalf of their cause.  After the Aurora movie theater shooting, everyone had something to say about gun control.  In the case of Superstorm Sandy, boy, thank goodness Romney wasn’t in office and hadn’t had the chance to privatize FEMA.  It’s as though the people behind the issues forget and even consciously dismiss that there are people in the middle of the tragedies, too, who are struggling just to make their lives recognizable again.  Now I do believe that crises and tragedies can point out vulnerabilities and provide opportunities to improve things, but sensitivity, discretion, and sincerity seem to be increasingly undervalued.  This just ought not be so.

Now to get back to 12/21/12.  I very much believe that balance is inherent in the universe, and I believe that when conditions become too volatile or unstable and remain that way for too long, there are (usually destructive) forces or elements that act to restore equilibrium.  For example, this past summer was far and away the most expensive in Colorado history in terms of the wildfires that consumed so much of he Rockies.  But the truth is that fire is one of nature’s ways of purging.  Colorado is climatically a dry state anyway, and the 2011-12 winter provided less precipitation than usual.  On top of that, bark beetle has been rampant and gaining prevalence for years.  Thus, in a nutshell, there were increasing numbers of dead, dry trees throughout the mountains.  By June especially, much of the state was a tinderbox just aching for a spark.  While the devastating side effect was that hundreds of people were left with charred lots where their homes had been before, the fires did finally clear a lot of dead growth that had been accumulating for years and make way for new, healthy growth once more.

Do I expect the world to cease to exist tomorrow?  No, I do not, but there are certain systems that are dysfunctional and have been so for a while, and I wonder if the end of the Mayan calendar in any way coincides with or portends the destructive catalyst that aims to set right any/some/all of these imbalances.  For example, let’s take a look at the U.S. economy.  Balancing the budget seems all but impossible, and the “solutions” so far have been to increase debt limits and print more currency.  Now I’ve never taken an economics class in my life, but I recall from a high school history class that after World War I Germany started printing money like it was going out of style until the money was essentially worthless and they shifted to a new form of currency.  And then that crazy Adolf Hitler fellow rose to power a decade later.  Is it a coincidence that the deadline for the fiscal cliffs talks is, since Congress hopes to adjourn by then, December 21?  Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t.  We’ll find out soon enough.

And then there is the environment; “while a fragile environment becomes more vulnerable to natural disasters, the natural disasters also degrade the environment in a pernicious circle of causes and effects” (WMO).  I would equate anyone who does not believe that global warming is a thing to the people of Galileo’s time who still staunchly refused to believe that the earth, in fact, revolves around the sun and not the other way around.  Nothing is permanent.  The world has been changing slowly for over 4 billion years.  I believe that climatic cycles take place (e.g. seasons, El Niño/La Niña), but 2012 has been a year of meteorological extremes and anomalies.  I’ve already alluded to a couple, but others include record Arctic ice melt over the summer and July, 2012, being the warmest month on record in the United States.  How interesting that carbon emissions and the rate of increase of carbon emissions for the past decade are higher than ever before!  Somehow and some way balance will be restored, but at what cost?  Where is the point of no return, and how drastic will the repercussions be once that threshold has been crossed?  The idea that we may be on the cusp of answering that question, whether we find out tomorrow or next month or ten years from now, has kept me from sleep on more than one occasion.  I like breathing air that isn’t brown.  I like drinking clean water.  I would like for neither of these things to ever be a distant memory.

Lastly, to round out my doomsday fussing, I was looking through a slideshow of the world’s 20 most amazing volcanoes and was reminded of what used to be my “favorite” apocalyptic theory for what 12/21/12 would bring.  Essentially the Yellowstone Caldera in Wyoming is a supervolcano that has erupted 3 different times in a little over the past 2 million years.  According to the information in the weather.com slideshow, Yellowstone has the potential to erupt with 6,000 times the force of Mount St. Helens’ 1980 eruption.  I don’t know how to wrap my head around that kind of force and destruction; a whole lot of North America would be decimated.  Such an eruption would be unpredictable and largely inescapable, and it’s absolutely terrifying to think that  it’s possible.  It is possible.

On that note, I’ll take my leave.  Hopefully my rant has curbed my negativity, and hopefully tomorrow doesn’t mark the end of history.  Just in case, though, it might be a good idea to put some extra positive karma out into the world today.  Be kind.  Be thoughtful as well as mindful.  Live like you mean it, because tomorrow you just might not have the chance.