dal niente

Month: September, 2010

Lean

It’s never enough to just say “Life ain’t easy.” That’s just annoyingly obvious at times, and it’s about as useful as the rebuttal which is like telling someone “you’ll understand when you’re older.”  What do I think is the most important thing that people need to learn? To lean.

On one hand, when your legs are heavy, it means having someone around you who can psychologically or physically crutch you through the ordeal.  When you’re hurt, you’ve got to consider– do you need help? Asking for help is one of the hardest things you can ever do, so I don’t say this lightly!  I know I hate asking for help.  And I know that to compound the problem, I’m stubborn, have illusions of grandeur, and am pretty competitive.  Relying on others however serves a twofold importance for me– firstly to help me get through the logistics of the ordeal, by either offering fresh perspective or muscle; and secondly, and more importantly, by giving me the sense that people are there for me.  As far as the external benefits of leaning– it also has the nice effect of making those you rely on feel needed, and trusted.

You don’t need to lean when you’re in trouble.  Take a completely different situation: if you’re just standing there, feeling quite passively like a purposeless idiot (as I often do), you need to lean– not on someone, but in any direction.  What happens? If you don’t put your feet under you, if you don’t move your foundations to support your head (which is in the clouds and has scant idea of what is next) then you will fall over.  Leaning isn’t the first step, it is what leads to the first step.

The first step of what?  It doesn’t always matter.

In my head, then:

  • to lean kinda somewhere between the nouns courage and curiosity, but it’s an action
  • leaning is not usually as dramatic as the verb to brave, (since bravery isn’t a daily thing, and if it is, then man, that must be a stressful life) but every bit as important because leaning is a daily occurance.
  • to lean is to decide to shift because the current situation will not do.

It doesn’t mean you need to know where you’re going, and it doesn’t mean that leaning is guaranteed to get you anywhere.  When we see seek the cousel of others or we decide to change the scenery, its because there is nothing more for us in our current state– then the answers lie elsewhere.

Unsung Heroism

“What will you miss most about this place?”

I think about it.  It’s been a good year that I’ve worked at OR (the “Operating Room,” for pediatric surgery) but in a few days, my work contract here is over.  I’m only a full-time replacement; the person who left on study leave is coming back, and that means I’m out of a job for the immediate future.

“Charging twenty-six dollars per hour to check my mail?” I suggest jokingly.  I didn’t have an immediate answer.  It was while eating lunch that it came to me though.  “Cafeteria food,” I said when I came back.

“Cafeteria food? You’re kidding, right?”

I used to go the extra mile– chopping up peppers, grating cheese, using fresh tomatoes and sometimes, if I have time, finding some italian sausages or at least some minced meat to add heft to a slightly spiced sauce.  Nowadays?  Between graduate studies and working full time, picking up a cooking knife or turning on the stove is an extreme rarity.

It’s not a 5-star meal.  Food comes slopped either on a heavy, chipped plate or in a styrofoam container.  As a general rule, never use the metal cutlery. Upon closer inspection, you’ll find stuff caked between the prongs of the forks.

I eat at the cafeteria almost everyday, nonetheless.  Why?

Cafeteria food costs $4.52 for the union-subsidized meal.  For paying that modest price, you’re entitled to a 250ml box of milk (skim, 2% or chocolate, which I choose depending on the day), a soup, a pair of Ritz crackers, a fruit (apple, pear, peach, orange or banana) and whatever is the main course for the day.  Despite all the bad rap it gets, it is usually when I sit down to have lunch that I feel things are going to be okay.   It is a hot meal.  It makes me think of being cooked meals at home.  It feels like it is giving me life.  It isn’t magical food– it’s just cafeteria food– but every little thing about the religion of eating it adds some stability to my life.  It gives me a little bit of strength.  It is one of those unlike details, one of those unsung heroes of my day that gets me through it.  Every day the menu is a bit different– I never know what it’s going to be– but I know that I can rely on it to be there like clockwork for me, amid the institution of everything else at work.  Cafeteria food is simply one of those unlikely things that makes my day that much better.

Nevermind work for a moment.  Getting through the daily grind of life yields even more strange heroes.  There are a lot of obvious things that one associates with happiness: maybe pay day, or just friday, getting concert tickets, getting to see a friend, reading an interesting story in the paper.  But at the end of the day, what I take with me to the next day, what gives me strength are small little intimate details that make no sense to anyone else but me.

 

To anyone but us, it will seem like a strange thing.

The way she holds her knife.  The way she sips her tea.  The memory of all that? Oh no, you can’t take that away from me.  That CM is an amazing cook is one thing.  I like what she cooks, I like that we can cook together, and those are things to hang on to and look forward by their own rights.  But as much as I like those things we do, I equally hold onto things like her broken sink (which would spray water all over the place if we weren’t careful).  Lunch or dinner with her wearing nothing but our underwear, if anything at all, as if all the parties, friends and jobs in the world will hold on until we’re ready.  The secret, species-transcendent language of dinosaurs and cats that we’ve developed.  The smile of her eyes.

These little things?  They rescue me, daily.

High Score

Yep, just keep on waiting.

 

There are a lot of things in life that I like to ‘keep score’ on.  How much money I have in the bank.  How many hours of overtime I work.  What level I can get to in a game.  How many kilometers I put on my bike, versus the number of bustickets I have to buy.  How many credits I’ve raked up for my graduate studies.  The scores I get on papers.  How much I can save at the checkout by buying this when it’s on special.

 

Some things though shouldn’t be scored.  I don’t count them, and that’s they way it should be– certain things in life cannot be defined by statistics, cannot be converted into numbers, they should just be, as they are, about the feeling.

I got a handful of phone calls, emails containing more than just a few generic one liners, and a lot of people in person genuinely smiling and wishing me a happy birthday.  Do you think they’re any more real than the dozens of FB wall messages wishing me the same?

 

You’re damn right they are.

 

 

I am not one who is going to complain about social networking sites and what they do to society.  But if anyone ever asks me what I think is a ‘secret’ of being happy?  It has a lot to do with what you do in your private life, who you include in your private life, and who you take the time to exchange words with on a meaningful level.

 

Tech Up

What has technology done for us?

On one hand, I’m told that it’s made peoples’ lives a lot easier.  At some point, people were moving giant stones  to build pyramids with raw human power.  Nowadays, we harness the power of the ooze of dead animal matter to power out construction vehicles.

At the same time though, it’s lead to the industrialism, mostly uncapped.

If you were a shoemaker in the 1600s, you’d be pretty popular: everyone needs shoes!  Either you were making shoes or repairing shoes.  You were part of an essential circle of social life.  Nowadays though, a lot of the circle has gone… well, outside of our circle.  As a result, maybe you own a shop that just repairs shoes now.  But you don’t know much about leatherworking, you probably just buy product from some factory to polish the shoes, some glue made in china to stick soles together…  there are some good shoe people still out there who do things the oldschool way, but mostly, you’re not needed as much as you used to be.

Because technology has taken your trade, your skill, and rendered you obsolete versus the profits and convenience of alternative, technology infused means of production.

You’re part of this problem though– because you enjoy technology.  You like all the convenience in your life, like how things come in shrink wrap, with labels, and how when you’re done with it you can dispose of it.

Is that what the tech was all about?  Throw away convenience?

Do we draw a connection between that trend and the one where, at work, the amount of pride that goes into a trade is less?  There is more division of labour, more erosion of trade skills, lower wages and an increasing sense of disconnectedness between people and their jobs.

But on the other hand… I enjoy technology.  I can’t save everyone.  If people are going to fall behind the times… as long as it’s not me?

I dread the day when I’m left behind.

Hello Darkness, my Old Friend

My day started off pretty much as usual today: 5 minutes late and not even in my scrubs  yet.  There was something wrong about the energy of the huge group of scrubs standing around the desk, but not saying much. I should have known that something was up.

When I got out of the locker room though, I just rounded the corner, headed to Recovery Room to pick up the anesthesia records for yesterday, and then the eerie feeling hit me.  There wasn’t a single kid in there.  Just a few nurses, and the nurse manager for OR.

“Ted Hunter passed away this morning.”

Ted Hunter is the best anaesthesiologists I know.  Does that stop because he’s died?

And the hallways were filled today, not with crying patients and parents, but of my sad-faced coworkers.  Some were hanging on by a thread, barely managing to only look sad, while others had wet tissues in their hands and streaked mascara.

I didn’t know him long enough to love him, but I’ve worked with him enough to know that I have a great deal of admiration and respect for him.  His passing leaves a gaping wound in this unit.

The department has always been strained with staffing and budget shortages, even since I joined only a bit less than a year ago– strained, but always fighting– and today, as you walk through the unit, you see how this hits us.  31 surgeries today were cancelled.  The hallways are silent, except for sterile shoecovers shuffling back and forth as people shift their weight left and right, awkward at a lack of purpose.  More than half of the OR staff was sent home.  Social services, psychiatry and pastoral services gingerly wait at the peripherals, waiting for a place where the unit might collapse and spill out; but it’s unlikely that outsiders will become a part of the greiving process.  This is a family issue.

When you’re in this line of work, you hear lots of jokes about how we always suffer. The long hours, the infuriating beureucracy, the terrible pay– but we’re content because we’re doing it for the children.  We’re fighting “the good fight” and all that, but though we get tired, we always end the day feeling that we’ve done some good.

Dr. Ted Hunter was a doctor who worked with the team.  He respected his fellow doctors, he respected his clerks, he respected his residents, he respected housekeeping and orderlies and everyone.  When you talked to Ted, he made you feel like he was talking to you and wanted to know what you thought.  He asked for your recommendations.  When you overhear him talking about other people, you hear him arranging things so that nursing won’t get shortchanged, or so that the person who would be taking over his job in the morning wouldn’t get shafted– he was always looking out for others.  That’s extremely rare in this business– the increasin corporatism of healthcare has lead to the development of jaded cynicism and self-preservation.

Dr. Hunter though was a paragon of a higher ideal.  One of helping.

Ted leaves behind a wife and three kids.  And a team that will miss him dearly.  Healthcare in Quebec today has suffered an enourmous blow, not just at the loss of one of it’s most brilliant doctors, but of a genuine old-fashioned good man.

Selective Vision

 

By stepping outside of oneself, one learns to introspect.  Distance education refers to two tihngs in my life right now– on the one hand, it’s a return to formal schoolwork.  I finished my first paper, and got the grade back– 75%.  That’s not too shabby considering it’s my first attempt at paper writing in over five years, at the graduate level to boot– and I know that my paper’s worth more because I actually lost a fair amount of points for spelling and grammar errors.  Would you beleive that after doing no less than 6 revisions, typos such as writing the same word twice, or forgetting to write articles, would just escape my scrutiny? I guess it’s not so unexpected– when one looks at the same thing way too much, one tends to get selective vision that makes it difficult to find minor things in one’s own paper, especially after you’ve been looking at it for days in a row.

Distance education also has to do with my long distance relationship with CM.  It’s not easy at times– but that makes me grow in ways that have made me feel more like a man than ever.  I’ve become, I think, more sensitive because of the experience.  I’ve become more responsible, more accountable– because every mistake counts, and at the same time, every little gesture does as well. 

 
The thing about distance of any sort is that it changes your perspective– and I think that’s what one needs to get out of the immediacy of one’s situation at times.  Distance, thematically, means stepping out of what you’re used to seeing, and seeing things from far away.

It gives you a different perspective on things. You can focus on different things if you’re not so close that it’s impossible to see a bigger picture.

 

 

Looking at the picture… and seeing how it’s growing? I realize that things are going well, going in the right direction.

Tenuki

In Go/Baduk, there exists a Japanese term– tenuki.  It means that when faced with a problem, sometimes the best option is to ignore it for now and work on another problem.  That’s because the problem immediately in front of you may not have any possible good resolution– it’s resolution depends on a change in other situations around it first.

 

I really appreciated the concept of tenuki because it adds nicely to my existing techniques of living.

Two others are fire and forget and run and gun.

 

Fire and forget is like a heat seeking missile.  You lock on a target, you pull a trigger, and then you don’t think about it.  Ideally, you do this while you run and gun– which means, you don’t try to do everything from one place– you have to keep moving.  That means seeking new environments, and new targets.  Ideally, the combination of run and gun and fire and forget means that you keep moving, you keep on hacking away at life, and you keep on kicking ass without taking too much time to pat yourself on the back.

Arnold did it all the time. So did Stallone.

 

But lately, I’ve been running into a different situation– tenuki is, in some sense, a tactical retreat.  It is fundamentally the opposite of fire and forget, because fire and forget implies that you need not dedicate any more thought: that problem is toast.  Tenuki on the other hand…

 

While I’m not losing, I just feel like my brain is so tired of juggling… and not winning now.

Red Dwarf

I was really disapointed that when you search Google for images of “gathering chi” all you find are people wearing Chinese clothes posing in ways that, if I chucked a dodgeball at them, they’d probably look kinda stupid catching it with their faces.

 

Right now, this very moment, is one of the first times I take a little breath in several weeks. I’ve completed and submitted the first paper of my masters.

Because CM mentioned it recently, my mind has been on analogies of Street Fighter. Specifically, gathering the force to perform a super.

 

I also read Zanshin’s recent post about all the things he’s made of himself. And you know what? Hearing a friend say good things about me is one thing. Hearing him say good things about himself is another thing entirely– it makes me feel good. On levels that are are hard for me to describe.

 

Life is a progression of challenges. Depending on how you handle them, in retrospect we look at them as heavy costs, doors shut, and dissapointments; or as things that built our character, made us a little crooked in the back but ultimately stronger, scarred us for life but gave us the edge over people who don’t know the experinece.

 

Do you ever have a moment where, in life, you just want to say “That’s right, motherfuckers!” because you showed them how it was done?

All my life I’ve been conflicted.  It’s a lot like the way you have Ryu (from Street Fighter) conflicted about using his abilities just for the sake of destructive power.  On one hand– I do want to become a better person.  On the other hand, sometimes that power gets used to crush people– real people in the real world– or to feel better than people. And I don’t want to be better just by comparison to others. I want to feel better because I am confident in who I am and who I am becoming.

At work over the past few weeks, time have been tough.  It’s really been [CM] and [Zanshin] who have anchored me in sanity through little chats and correspondence.  They might not know it, but they kept me from insanity.  In the last two months, I’ve gotten myself involved in several ugly situations involving office politics. In all these situations, I ‘won,’ in the sense that the overall result is that nobody will mess with me on those fronts anymore, because I have the support of the majority of my peers.  But I don’t like playing those games.  The truth is– I like accumulating ‘power’ but every time I use it, I feel guilty.  Because almost always, in the real world, when you use power, it is to adjust a balance of human interaction– and that means that someone gets shut down.  It means that after you’ve won, you’re saying “That’s right, motherfuckers!” to a particular person, someone who is also human.

I was looking at facebook randomly because I needed someone’s email address. Everytime I open facebook, I get the same feeling– it’s a giant yearbook of people, events and activities that I’m supposed to be aware of, keep track of, be in the know of and feel all cool to be enabled to see– but I don’t. I just see personalized advertissments, and I pay about as much attention to them as the ads on the side of my gmail account while I write to people who I do care about.  But it wasn’t always like that. People I knew are getting married, and in those wedding pictures are people who I used to know.

I think the strange thing is– I don’t really miss out on it.  The simple fact is… I don’t care about being popular anymore.  Office politics are the exception, because there are very real consequences on my ability to function, since my job has a lot to do with interdepartmental cooperation.  But other than that? 

And maybe that’s what makes me a loner, a vagrant. If it weren’t for school forcing me into peoples’ company back in those days, I might not have 90% of the friends that I did.  I just recently saw Diary of  Wimpy Kid with CM, and frankly, that reminded me of how much of meeting people is just about the popularity game.  It’s about making people like you. The thing is, I don’t care about playing that game anymore– and once I stopped, I just realized how few close friends I have. Does that sound sad? 

I’ve realized a few things about the way I deal with friends.  One of them is that how often we see eachother doesn’t matter– I can see someone, not see them for a while, but then when I see them again I can hit ‘resume’ and we can catch up.  The good friends are like that anyhow– these people, I want to know what’s new because I genuinely want to know how their adventures are going.  I generally try to ask people with open invitations because I like to catch up.

But you have to wonder why it is that during those times when I’m busy working my ass of, where are the invitations?  I’m not sending them because it’s not convenient. But I know tons of people who have lives marginally as busy as mine.  I always took the time to see them when they were down at the drop of a hat. I even took the time to see them when there was no reason to– just because I liked their company.

But I don’t play the popularity game, you see.  I’m not on any but a few Top Ten lists because I’m not the personality at the party.  I’m the one who works 10 hours a day at work, 4 or 5 hours a day on my Masters, spends the rest of his time sleeping or chatting online because I’m too exhausted for anything else.  That kinda stuff isn’t cool, simply.

Today, I have the evening off– I’ve given myself the evening off. For the past hour or so I’ve lain in bed, not sleeping, but in silent meditation of who I’ve become.

It’s a question beyond like or dislike– but I understand, now, more than ever, who I am and my place in this world.  And I’m fine with it.

 

Deciding that I don’t need to be popular, and realizing that I’m not– that puts me exactly where I want to be.

Assignment #1: Done!

God, finally.

 

Now I can finally take a nap.