Saturday, October 27, 2012

On The Job

"Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho, it's off to work I go..."
~The Seven Dwarves
I got my first job when I was sixteen.  I'm fifty-one years old now and I'm working on job number eleven.  
This week, I decided to list all the jobs I've had in my life and figure out how long I had each one.  This is what I came up with: 
Jewelry Store - Five years.
Antique Mart - about 6 months.
Jewelry Store (again) - Two or three months.
Call Center - 1 day.
Gas Station - About two years.
Paper tube factory - A year.
Car Rental office - 1 day. 
7-11 Graveyard Clerk - About three years.
Film Distribution Library - Four years or so.
Legal Photocopy Service (1st Company) - Three and a half years.
Legal Photocopy Service (2nd Company) - Eighteen years (and counting).
I was a little bit surprised when I looked at the list.  I would have told you, before writing it up, that I was a pretty steady employee.  Once I took a job I held on it it.  When I do the math, though, it comes up to an average of three years and a couple weeks per job.  That doesn't sound like a long time to me, but then I was raised in a different era.  
You also might think that I found my "calling" when I got into the legal photocopy field.  Over twenty-one of my thirty-three years of my working life has been spent in that field.  After bouncing around from one job to the next, it would seem I finally found the job I was meant to do.  
I don't think that's the case, though.  I can say that because I know how I came into the field.  Actually, you can divide my jobs into three categories:   
"Career Opportunities are the ones that never knock,
Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock."
~Career Opportunities by The Clash
"Now that you got your license and can drive, I think it's about time you started looking for a job for yourself."  
That's how it happened.  My dad just came up to me while I was sitting in the living room of our home and said it just like that.  
He went on to explain to me that I wasn't going to get an allowance any more.  Nor was he going to pay for the gas I used in the car when I borrowed it.  I was going to have to get my own car to drive myself around, but he would hold off making me buy one until I got a job and saved some money (Thanks, Dad).  
AND...  He took particular care to emphasize this point, he wasn't going to make me pay any rent for the room I slept in as long as I was in school working for a diploma, a training certificate or a degree.  "I'll do that much for you," he said.  
Suddenly I was a stranger in my own home.  Not even "my home," any more. I was just staying there.  I nodded.  I said, "Yes, sir."  He walked out of the living room.  I sat there, thinking how much I hated worked, even though I had yet to be employed a day in my life.
The first set of jobs I had, the Jewelry Store, the Antique Mart, the Call Center and the Gas Station, were purely mercenary experiences.  I needed money.  I needed to get my dad off my back.  I found people that would hire me while working around my school hours.  That's all they were for me.  Plain and simple.  
The most fun job was the Jewelry store.  I found it through a notice board they had at the high school I went to.  I went to a Catholic school and the owner, raised Catholic, posted a job notice at his church's community board, which got forwarded to my high school by a priest that worked at that church.  
One reason I liked the job was because, on Saturday, when I worked a full eight hours, I got to drive into downtown Los Angeles.  I would go to pick up the supplies the jeweler needed, including precious gems, gold, pearls and what have you.  It wasn't lost on me, even then, that I was snotty-nosed teenager carrying around tens of thousands of dollars in the pouch they gave me on my shoulder through the downtown streets of one of the biggest cities in the U.S.  I probably looked like I didn't have more than a couple bucks in my pocket, which was why I was never stopped by any potential criminal.  
It was cool, though.  I'd walk into these secure buildings, something I didn't know existed in those pre-9/11 days.  The first time I went, ever security guard behind his glass enclosure called my boss to verify, "THIS is who you're sending?"  After that, they'd recognize me and buzz me through.  Even after that, though, I'd get watched by cameras, buzzed in through doors and watched closely by guards with guns.  I felt like some top-secret government agent, carrying plans for global domination.  
Plus, there was this restaurant in the basement of Woolworth's, when it existed, that gave you free vanilla custard for desert when you ordered their soup and sandwich plate for lunch.  It was awesome custard.  
The second thing that made it cool was the jeweler teaching me how to make and repair rings and chains and stuff.  I have no interest in jewelry, not then nor now.  But I was fascinated by how the gold would melt and run into the groves of a chain, making it look like it hadn't been broken, when you touched the flame of the torch to it just so.  It looked alive in that moment.  Like an alien bacteria melding itself to your body.  
Eventually, though, I started wanting more than just money from work.  It was during this time that I decided I wanted to become a writer of science fiction.  When I got into college I took acting classes to learn how to create better characters and got hooked by theatre.  The type of job I needed to have, which still included getting me enough money to pay for what needed paying for, changed.  
"Just because they sign my check
That don't mean they own my soul..."
~A Good Life, by Joe Grushecky
When you're trying to become an actor, you need your days free.  You have to take classes during the day.  It's also when they have auditions.  You need to be free at that time, or have a job where your hours are flexible (the reason why so many waiters in L.A. are aspiring actors).  
The problem with this from a getting money standpoint is that jobs with this type of flexibility often pay very, very little.  You can find yourself working hours when very few people are up and awake, and the ones that are either expecting you to serve them and let them continue having fun, or get on their way home, or their expecting you to hold up your hands, open the cash drawer and not call the police as they run out the door.  
The 7-11 I worked in was that type of place.  It was the first "real" job I had after getting back to California after spending a year in North Carolina (you can read about how I ended up in North Carolina in my eight part Road Trip series I posted at the beginning of this year).  
I actually enjoyed working at the 7-11, even though while I was working there David Letterman put it on his Top Ten List of Least Sexy Jobs in America.  I can't tell you how many friends called me to tell me they'd seen that list.  Glad the internet didn't exist then.  It paid better than working there during the day (because you had to pay more to get someone to stick around from 11 PM to 7 AM, and because we had so few people working the store I often got overtime and even double-time covering shifts), and it let me take acting classes and go out to auditions.  
There was a dangerous side to it.  I was assaulted once (some guys who wanted beer after 2 AM, when it's illegal to sell it.  I got a can of soda thrown in my face), and I had someone rob me of the contents of the cash drawer with what he said was a gun in his pocket (I tried to foil the robbery by faking a heart attack.  Did I mention that before?).  But it paid enough to live on and let me pursue my dream.  
But dreams change.  And so do needs.  My acting career, such as it was, was not getting me anywhere close to what I wanted it to be.  And I was wanting to live more in keeping with my age.  During this time it seemed to me that I was always living a step behind where I was in life.  In college, I was living like a High School student, in my parent's home, getting part-time jobs.  After I graduated, I started living like a college student, with a roommate in a cheap apartment, driving used cars, working odd hours.  I wanted to start living "more like an adult."  
"Now, all of my paychecks aren't worth
The paper they're printed on.
I get 'em Friday,
By Monday, they're all gone."
~I wanna Be the Boss, by Stan Ridgeway.
I'm in the Third Age of my Employment history.  
Work is what it is.  It's something I need to have.  In these times, it's something I'm glad I have.  
Most of the people I know in my life I've met through work.  This strikes me as odd, but it's true.  Colleagues, past and present, greatly outnumber family and friends, past and present.  I think people meet a wider variety of people through work than anyplace outside of their local DMV.  
Many of the people I've met at work have been used as the basis for characters I've written about in my stories.  I'll let you guess who you might be if you've read anything of mine.  
I was once told that a surefire way of coming up with the idea for a science fiction story was to take what you do for a living and imagine how it would be done 50 or 100 years in the future.  I've written stories about trying to serve a subpoena in outer space, and how going through hyperspace might legally make you dead based on that premise.  They haven't sold yet, but I still write them.  
I have a love/hate relationship with work.  I'm good at what I do, but I often feel like I'm fooling my bosses and colleagues into thinking I'm better than I actual am.  I feel needed on the job, but I know that no one is irreplaceable, and a change of events, or a slip of the tongue, can put me on the street.  I don't "like" being in the office, but I hate the idea of not having a job even more.  
I'm writing this blog entry in my office on a Saturday.  I came into the office to finish up stuff left undone from the week.  I'm doing this more and more often as time goes on.  I discovered when I got here that the system's database was unavailable, and there was nothing for me to do.  
Which is worse, feeling the need to work on your day off, or finding out that you can't do what you came to do when you get here?  I think it's the later, but not by much.  But even knowing that, I would do it again next week if I needed to.  
I'm "Taking Care of Business," just like B.T.O. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Taxonomy of Bad Decisions

It started the beginning of the week.  Someone I know approached me and told me about something they had decided to do in their job.  I listened.  I nodded.  I said, "Ok.  It's your call."  
What I was thinking, though, was, "What crack are you smoking to think doing something like that is going to work out?"  
Decisions are tough.  I have to make decisions everyday at work.  The hardest ones for me are those that involve dealing with the employees.  How do I approach this person on what they're doing?  How do I get them to stop making these mistakes?  Do I hire this guy?  Do I hire that gal instead?  Hate them.  Have to do them.  It's part of the job.  It's part of life.  
This week, I started noticing how bad decisions could be classified.  This is not an exhaustive classification.  I'm sure there are other ways to screw up.  People are inventive.  These are just the types I noticed in my life.  
Too Fast or Too Soon
There was a smell in the office.  A metallic oder that stung the nose.  Some people said they thought it smelled like burning plastic.  People were searching around their desks.  One or two said it was too much for them to bear and left their units.  
I was given the job of finding out where it came from.  We tracked it down to the storage room where our network equipment and server is kept.  A back-up power supply, a large battery plugged into the wall, was acting up.  My boss told me to switch it out before something happened.  
I grabbed one of the other employees and ran to the storage room.  Together we started tracing power cables and connections.  All of our back-up drives, where our work was archived, was plugged into the offending back-up.  Our office's server was plugged into it, too.  
We already had a brand new back-up purchased and set-up.  I ran back to my office and called our IT department to have the server shut-down.  I told the supervisor of my department the archive drives were going off-line.  I trotted back to the storage room, heading past the receptionist desk.  
"What's going on?" the receptionist asked me as I went past her desk.  
"We're switching the server to a new power supply," I said over my shoulder, already heading down the hall to the storage room.  
"Won't that affect the phones?"  
Crap.  I hadn't checked that.  Our office has a VOIP (Voice Over IP) phone system.  If the calls were routed through the server then everyone on the phone, with a client or calling a location, was in the process of being cut-off.  It might also mean that everyone using our system to status their work would be disconnect as well.  In my desire to get the battery back-up switched RIGHT NOW, I hadn't thought the problem through.  
Making a decision to do something before you have all the facts or thought it through is a good way to make a bad decision.  Fixating too much on the result you want is part of the bad decision making process.  
"I'll take care of it later," or The Decision to Not make a Decision
I spotted the Highway Patrol car as I passed it in the fast lane.  I was going home after a long day at work.  I wanted to get to Trader Joe's, a specialty food store I frequent, before it closed.  I took my foot off the pedal.  I winced as the patrol car swung behind me.  
I switched lanes.  He switched lanes right behind me and turned on his lights.  Damn it!  Not now.  Cursing under my breath, I swung over to the side of the freeway.  The officer used his loud speaker to tell me to pull completely off the freeway.  
I sat there, fuming, as he doused my car with his spotlights.  He came up to my passenger door.  I rolled the window down.  
"Good evening, sir.  How's it going?"  Very polite and professional fellow. 
"Fine."  I was neither.  
"I pulled you over because your license plate sticker is out of date.  Did you register your vehicle?"  
Damn.  I did.  I did it early, in fact.  I was on vacation when the updated registration arrived.  I found it in the pile of mail waiting for me when I got back.  
"Oh, yeah..."  I remembered thinking to myself when I found it.  It was on a Saturday.  It was the last piece of mail in the pile.  "I need to put this on my car."  Not feeling like going outside, I set the envelope on the far edge of my desk and thought, "I'll take care of it later."  
I hadn't.  Moreover I completely forgot about it.  I got in my car every day for weeks after that, "Knowing" that I had proper registered my car.  But I never put the sticker on my car, nor hung the registration car on the flap of my sun-visor.  
When I got home I tore my desk apart.  I didn't find it that night.  The next morning, my writing session turned into a "find that 'ehfing' registration card session."  I found it right at the end of my allotted hour and a half.  It had been pushed off my desk and gathered up in pile of junk mail to be sent to the recyclers.  I walked out to my car and affixed it right then and there.  
The fix-it ticket the CHiP gave me is $25.00.  That's twenty-five dollars I won't be able to use to go out for lunch or buy groceries.  Twenty-five dollars for something I already had.  
FYI: The California Highway Patrol doesn't charge you for the inspection to verify that you've fixed the problem on the fix-it ticket.  The Los Angeles County Sheriffs office charges you $17.00 for the service.  
This is the type of bad decision I make a lot.  I'm trying to adopt of mantra of, "can I do this now?" when I am asked to do something.  Obvious, I still have a ways to go.
It's Just TOO HARD
I was listening to a program on Nation Public Radio (NPR) this week.  They had a panel of economic experts discussing what could be done to get the American Economy going again.  The panel came from an extreme variety of economic and political backgrounds, from laissez faire free-market capitalist, to hard-core Keynesians advocating for broad government intervention.  
The panelist were asked to focus on policies they could all agree on.  To come up with economic proposals that a candidate for office might advocate that they all agreed would help the economy and lower the government's deficit.  In response they came up with two proposals that everyone of them agreed would work.  
Eliminate the mortgage interest deduction from Federal taxes.  Eliminate all corporate taxes.  
The consensus of their reason was that the mortgage interest deduction represented hundreds of millions of dollars the government doesn't take in.  It also makes housing more expensive overall, by allowing people to purchase homes they would normally not be able to afford, and keeps owning a home out of reach of the majority of potential home buyers.  It also favors the wealthy over the middle class, since they can probably afford the homes they are in easier, yet gives them a significantly greater deduction.  
Corporations, the panelist agreed, both big and small, are engines of job creation.  Eliminating taxes on their profits would allow them to put those profits back into their business to grow it.  Tax the people that own and run the corporations, but allow the corporations to keep their money.
The panelist also agreed on one other thing: Neither of these proposals would ever be offered in the platform of any candidate running for office.  The mortgage interest deduction is too popular.  And not taxing corporations sounds too unfair.  A decision to do these things, though reasonable, was too hard to make.  
I think this is the type of Bad Decision, or more accurately, an example of Hard Decision avoidance, that is rife in politics and government.  The decision to cut defense spending is another example.  The United States spent $711 Billion dollars on defense in 2011.  That's more than any other country in the world.  In fact, if you took the defensive spending of China, Russian, the UK, France, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Brazil, Italy, South Korea, Australia and Canada, the countries with the next thirteen biggest defense budgets combined, it would come up to $695 Billion dollars, or seventeen billion dollars less.  And at least eight of those countries are allies of the U.S., nations that are part of strong defensive alliances with us.  
To even propose significant cuts to defense spending, though, will get someone branded as "soft" on defense, someone who would leave this nation defenseless. 
Decisions in Stories 
As a writer, I create characters that have problems.  They have decisions to make.  Often these decisions are much, much harder than any most people face in their daily life, and they have to be enacted much more forcefully. 
But how often do I have them make a bad decision?  And once that decision is made, how often do they commit the act of making another bad decision, that of sticking with it, even after the evidence is in that it simply isn't working?  
We want our heros to be big and strong, smarter and braver, tougher than we are.  People to aspire to be like.  This desire made lead us to make them less fallible, a little too perfect in their decision making.  
Wouldn't they be more like someone I'd want to be like if, after making a bad decision, they admitted the truth and made the decision to correct it, even if that decision was hard, even if it meant taking action "right now"?  I think it would.
At least, that's what I've decided.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Staying in the Game

Did anyone out there see Game 5 of the National League Division Series?  I missed it because of work, but it sounded like a spectacular game.  The St. Louis Cardinals were playing in Washington against the Nationals.  The winner of the game would take the series and go on to play for the right to represent the National League in the World Series.  
Washington got off to a 6 to 0 lead, but the Cardinals kept chipping away at them.  By the top of the 9th inning they'd closed the gap to 7 to 5.  Beltran lead them off with a double, but then the Nationals got two quick outs.  The next batter, Yadira Molina, got the count to full.  One more pitch, one more strike, and the game would be over and the Nationals would go to their first World Series ever.  
But Molina walked.  So did the next batter, David Freese, who also was one pitch away from striking out and losing the game. Daniel Descalso drove the ball off the short-stop's glove to drive in two runs to tie the game.  The Cardinals would add two more before someone was finally struck out.  The game ended with a 9 to 5 Cardinals win.  
The comeback is being described as "Epic" in the press.  Everyone is talking about the toughness of the Cardinals.  One sports reporter on NPR talked about the beautiful aspect of baseball, that you have to play the entire game.  "There's no running out the clock.  There's no taking a knee.  You've got to get twenty-seven outs to win."  
I've often said that one of the reasons I like baseball is because it represents the universe.  I'm only being slightly facetious when I say this.  You've got to stay in the game.  You've got to keep playing until the very end.  
I read an article in the August edition of Scientific American this week entitled, "Which Species will Survive?"  The article is about how conservation groups are increasingly facing the prospect of trying to save endangered species with decreasing resources.  This is forcing them to openly discuss the problem they face in the form of triage, deciding which species they will spend their resources on and which they will leave to fend for themselves, potentially dooming them to extinction.  
One point the article made was that, while conservation groups have not discussed acting in such a manner openly, it is something that they have been doing for years now.  By bringing more systematic thinking to the process and greater transparency to the manner in which they make their choices, better decisions can be made.  And better decisions can lead to more and greater successes, which can in tern lead to greater funding for the proposed projects.  
I've been feeling at work that I needed to do some triage for some time now.  I had two employees quit without forewarning.  I was struggling to get the work assigned to my unit done.  I was, as mentioned before, feeling paranoid, certain that I was being judged for my lack of performance and that (for reasons I won't make explicit here) I was being targeted for removal.  
This pressure, that I was putting on myself, was making me an angry manager.  I didn't talk to my employees, I told them what to do.  I didn't talk with my colleagues, my fellow managers who I had to work with, I snapped at them via emails.  I certainly wasn't happy.  I definitely wasn't in the game.  
After a conversation with my boss, which revealed my paranoia for what it was, I rethought how I was doing things at work.  On the drive home Friday night I started performing a form of mental triage.  I stopped thinking of all the problems that I needed to solve.  I started thinking about which people in my unit could solve them.  Instead of thinking about the employees' short-comings, I considered how each individual did things could be applied to what we, collectively as a unit, had to do.  
On Monday, I made the changes I'd come up with.  I changed most people's assignments.  I changed how we approached our daily production goal, splitting it into a mid-day goal I checked after the lunch breaks plus a final goal for the end of the day.  I concerned myself with the final result, as opposed to how they were getting it done.  
On Tuesday, we beat the daily goal for the first time in two weeks.  We did it again on Wednesday and Thursday as well, by a significant margin.  On Friday, we were doing so well by the mid-day goal that I thought I might be leaving early that day.  Unfortunately problems set in, people had to leave early, and we struggled throughout the afternoon.  I started getting back into my "Angry Manager" mode.  It peaked when I checked the final number and saw that we only just beat the daily goal.  
But we still beat the daily goal, for the fourth day in a row.  Once that fact settled in, and I realized that I was angry not because we failed but because we weren't successful as I wanted to be, I was able to get myself back in control.  
Thinking and planning, making explicit decisions and following through on them.  That's part of getting into and staying in the game, too.  
And finally, there is this observation: 
Dead people look stupid.  
I know this from work.  Part of my job is to review the records and other material we collect as evidence.  I had to go into work Saturday morning to do this  (part of the reason why I was late posting this blog).  
One of the files I had to review were reports and photos relating to a single vehicle accident.  Two people, visitors from another country, had died in the incident.  The photos were from the accident scene, with their bodies in place as found, and autopsy photos.  I've seen enough of this kind of file over the years that I don't flinch at doing it the way I did in the beginning.  An observation I made very early in my work career regarding the photos of this nature I've seen remains.  
The expression you see on the faces of people that have just died is what you would expect to find on village idiots.  Open mouthed.  Half-lidded.  An expression of dull confusion.  The calm, sleep-like repose we expect to see is the result of the mortician's craft.  In death, we are stupid.  
And often ridiculous, too.  I remember the first such photograph I had to review to this very day.  A young woman, a lawyer that had just been made partner in the firm she worked for, decided to celebrate by buying the new sports car she always wanted and then drove it to a bar to drink with her friends.  While on her way home, her brand new car, doing about 80 miles an hour, drifted into the on-coming traffic and ran head-on into a family filled Volvo.  No one survived.  
The first accident photo I ever reviewed was of this woman, sitting behind the wheel of her ruined car, naked to the waist.  Her silk party dress was bunched up around her mid-section like a belt.  When I first saw the picture I shook my head in confusion.  Had she been driving home topless as part of her celebration?  Did she flash some truck driver right before losing control of her car?  
Nope.   Her accident disrobed her.  It happens fairly often.  It's like the magic trick where someone pulls a tablecloth from a table really fast and all the place settings remain in place.  In collisions, our clothing can become like the table cloth, slipping and sliding in all directions while our bodies stay relatively still underneath them.  
Another time, there was a photo of a business man behind the wheel of his car.  His coat, vest and tie were all in place on his  upper body, only slightly askew as if he'd finished a long day at the office.  His pants and underwear were bunched up around his ankles, like he was some pervert that had been jerking off on his way home.  
Death is game over.  It's the final out.  The saddest photo I reviewed this weekend while thinking about all this wasn't of either of the two victims, it was of the accident scene.  An empty two lane highway in the middle of nowhere.  The mountains in the background looking like a wall you couldn't pass.  From the picture's perspective the highway seemed to turn left and disappear into the desert scrub, coming to a sudden end.  In the center was the tour bus they had been riding in, looking abandoned.  It might have been sitting there hours, or even days, before someone else drove by and spotted them.  I began to wonder about the people they had left back home, half a world away, and how they found out what had happened and what they went through.  I'd say dying in a foreign country sucks, but dying kinda suck in and of itself.  
But I'm not there yet.  I'm still in the game.  I'm going to keep playing the game until that final out.  Life is the only game in town, I believe.  And even if one is down by two runs, one pitch away from losing, it is still worth playing with all you've got. 

Sunday, October 07, 2012

An Insane Rant about One Variety of Insanity

Things are not going well.  
Right now, my head hurts.  I don't feel motivated.  I feel paranoid.  I'm feeling my own mortality.  I feel like quitting.  
And so it goes...
I am editing myself all the time these days.  Things happen that impact me and I try to write about them, but then I falter and stop.  If it's something at work, I'll tell myself, "Wait a second...  What if my boss reads my blog.  What if my colleagues get mad at me."  I'll edit it.  I'll make it indistinct.  I'll change the names to protect the innocent.  I'll play the pronoun game to hide who I'm talking about.  
At which point I discover that the thing I was writing about no longer interests me.  It's boring.  It's bland.  I wonder what the fuss was about.  I set it aside.  I feel like I've wasted my time.  
And so it goes...
I want to rant.  I want to rant the same way so many people out there are ranting.  "This is what I think and I'm saying it at the top of my voice because it's RIGHT because I think it's right and if you think I'm wrong it's ONLY because you are one of those people that HATE AMERICA and FREEDOM and all the GOOD THINGS the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA has given you, you ungrateful WRETCH!"  
I don't rant, though.  It's that editor again.  I start thinking about the thinks I want rant about and words like "accuracy" and "truth" start getting in the way.  I don't want to be wrong.  I don't want to look like the idiot I think a lot of those ranters look when they blithely ignore "truth" and "accuracy," even while they seem to be convincing so many other people that their truth is TRUTH, which only makes me want to rant even more.  
Through most of Friday at work I was almost convinced I was about to get fired.  I'm not going to write about it here, though.  It was paranoia linking three unrelated instances together.  I found out the truth when I went into my boss's office and confronted him with, "Am I in trouble?"  I've tried three or four times this weekend to write about it, because what my paranoia came up with really fascinated me, but it all came out mucky on the page.  
And so it goes...
I got that from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  It's from his novel, Slaughterhouse Five.  I read it in Jr. High School.  In recent years, though, I've started saying it all the time.  It is the single most appropriate thing to say about existence in my opinion.  "And so it goes..."  Things continue.  They were continuing before we got on board, and they'll continue long after we've gotten off.  It even forms the basis of one of my standard greetings to the people I meet: 
"How's it going, Erick?"  
"It goes."  
I can feel it doing it now.  I couldn't when I was a fourteen year old kid, but I can feel it now.  Things are going.  Going, going, GONE!  Like a home-run in the bottom of the 9th Inning.  Game over.  Done.  Finished.  終わった。That's all she wrote.  The fat lady is singing her guts out.  Our lives start with the impact of the ball  on the bat, and they end when they've been knocked out of the field.  Lights out.  A trail that curves into the sky from one point to the end, with the landing marking the difference between "Is" and "Was."  
And so it goes...
Maybe I'm just feeling stuck.  Mental wheels trapped in the muck of life.  Spinning and spinning and spinning around and around and around, not getting any traction to move forward.  When it gets like this, I think, "Maybe it's time to quit."  Just give up.  Spend the time going to the gym.  At least doing that may add years to my life, keep the ball up in the air a few hundred feet more.  Just exist and maintain it for as long as I can.  
But I don't want to quit.  Not because of all the things I've been taught over the years.  Like my Mom telling me all the time when I was little, "Winners never quit and quitters never win."  Or the Japanese saying, "Fall down seven times, get up eight."  Or the Blues Travelers, in their song, Just Wait: "There's no such thing as a failure that keeps on trying/Coasting to the bottom is the only disgrace."  None of this makes any difference.
I don't want to quit because I want to complain about the universe.  Simple as that.  If I quit and then complain about how unfair the universe is, and how unlucky I was, then I'd just be a whiner and I really hate whiners.  
It's like voting.  If you don't vote, then don't complain.  You got exactly the politician you deserve.  
And it doesn't matter that, objectively speaking, I can look at my life and say that it's much, much better than what a lot of people, maybe even most of the people in world, can call theirs.  I want what I want and not getting it pisses me off.  I'm sorry if there's a line of people that would stretch around the globe three times over who would kill to have exactly what I have, I'm not in that line.  I want more.  It's human.  So there.  
So...  What do I do?  For anyone reading this, it's a rhetorical question.  My blog entries have become something like bottles with messages in them thrown into the electric waves washing up on my shore.  There's no real hope of one of them leading to my rescue.  I don't even have a deflated basketball I call "Wilson" to keep me company.
But questions deserve answers, so I'll try to give myself one.  The only answer that seems to fit, though, is one that worries me a bit.  
I will do as I do.  The same as I've been doing.  Just as I'm doing now.  I'll write something out and fling it out there.  Boom.  Done.  I will try the order I want to find in the chaos that is true nature of things and note it down.  
It's been said that the surest sign of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, expecting a different result.  Maybe that's true.  
This is, however, an insane universe.  Everyone that is honest with themselves, will, I believe, admit to their own level of insanity.  And...  "Insane" is not synonymous with "Illogical" or even "Ineffective."  Just that it doesn't correspond to expected ways of doing things by "normal" standards.  
It's trying to break through a wall, hitting it over and over and over and over and over and over and over again with a hammer, with the expectation that THIS TIME it will fall.  It's that type of insanity.  
That's all I have to say.  Back to life.
And so it goes...