Scarlett’s Letter July 6, 2013

We started the day with waffles at the neighbors; wonderful, delicious, fantastic waffles with homemade whipped cream and raspberries and honey. I am sure there is no better way to begin a long weekend day than with “from scratch” waffles baked in a cast iron waffle iron. Well, there are better ways to start the day, but waffles rank pretty close.

After our late breakfast we made our way to the next social event of the day, a BBQ at the “homestead”, another neighbor, to enjoy Olaf. When I was visiting here just last month, I met Olaf and friends, three young, fat, pink pigs. Today, Olaf was the guest of honor at a neighborhood BBQ, and Olaf was delicious. Everyone brought food and beverage to share and I had the opportunity to meet many more folks that live in the area or who are connected with the family who owns the homestead. My impression of people from these parts, they are very open and accepting, very sincere and hospitable. This is true in many destinations I visit, but more so here.

The “homestead” is a very special place, a ranch, homesteaded by a man and his wife. There they raised their large family, who have now grown and are raising families of their own. Being an only child from a very suburban, “cookie cutter” lifestyle, and having always loved country life and the idea of self-sufficiency, I find large “farming families” terribly romantic.

After enjoying Olaf and company, we headed out, according plan, to fish at some ponds along the Steese Highway that were recently stocked with Grayling and Rainbow Trout by the Alaska Department Fish and Game. Free for the asking, is a list of all the waterways that have been stocked, with how many of which species and on what dates. This, I contend, is not an unfair advantage, especially considering our recent “kill” rate and the “closing” of the king salmon fishing, and the limits on other fish by species, location and time of year. I’m beginning to think there are no fish in Alaska.

We met up with the neighbors and worked our way down a seven-mile stretch of road, dotted with stocked ponds about every two miles. We had better luck in some than others. A couple of the ponds were overpopulated with people, mostly families with children and dogs that were in need of naps. A couple of the ponds were under populated with fish. It was reminiscent of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, we did eventually find a pond that was just right. Except for the mosquitos. But that was to be expected.

Once we found a pond that had fish and didn’t have barking dogs and screaming babies, we just had to figure out what the fish found alluring (no pun intended, okay, yes, it was).  We came armed with jigs, spinners, flies, bobbers and various bait including cheese (Colby), shrimp, marshmallows and corn kernels. Everyone piled out of the car and started fishing at the closest point. There was a significant amount of algae or similar growth that I just call “snot” on the surface of the water over much of the pond. Every time you cast out and reeled in you brought a glob of snot that had to then be removed from the hook. I found a reasonably snot-free zone up the bank a ways and made my way there, beer in one hand, DEET in my pocket, fishing pole in the other. I applied DEET, liberally, and decided I’d try fishing with a jig (I’m new to all of this and hell bent on learning everything as quickly as possible, true to my nature). As soon as I set my beer down and made my first cast, I was in a black cloud of mosquitos, enough to chase the average Californian back to the car. I held my ground and found after a few moments about half of them disappeared, leaving only about a million to contend with. More DEET was in order, but by the time I made the second application, I later discovered, I had fifteen bites on my left shoulder, through two layers of clothing, nine in my cleavage and another twelve on my right shoulder. Note to self, Victoria’s Secret push up bra and scoop neck blouse equals good for party, bad for fishing at mosquito infested fishing ponds. I managed to get a few bites on my hands, fingers and even one on my palm. I fished on. On my second cast, I caught a fish, with the jig, all by myself. At the other end of the pond, at precisely the same moment, my man caught a fish, so my elation and proud exclamation went unnoticed. This was fortunate, because as I plied the hook from the mouth of the rainbow trout, it jumped out of my hands and back into the water, much like the chukar escape of the day before, leaving me with nothing but a fish story.

We learn from our mistakes. What did I learn here? After careful observation, much later in the day, I learned that you don’t try to unhook the fish, holding it, while standing next to the body of water from which it came. Place it on the ground, then go about your business. I was convinced that I’d be reeling in fish every three minutes, consistently, the rest of the day. Nope. And with every three-minute interval that passed catching only snot, I became more and more determined. Everyone else was having far better luck with bait and bobbers or fly-fishing. I’m new to fishing, I’m even newer to fly fishing and was not about to attempt in front of the neighbors, who had waist high waders, a proper fishing vest and a great deal of flair fly-fishing. I decided to wait for my private moments to hone my fly-fishing skills. The bobber and bait routine reminded me of what I have always considered fishing to be, until recently, boring. Sitting in a chair, drinking beer, waiting for the bobber to move is not my idea of a stimulating sport. So I continued flailing the jig into the water and reeling in snot. I caught no more fish at that pond.

Our friends left, grumpy and disgusted because of the show of force by the mosquitos, and we moved to another lake where I decided to go ahead and try to bait and bobber thing. And I caught a fish. Okay, I get it now, and for the record, I did it standing up, beer perched on a rock nearby. We came home with seven fish in all and, at the very least, I came home having caught one of those and having learned an important lesson, or two, about fishing. One, unhook on the ground. Two, it isn’t up to me to decide how to catch the damned fish, the fish will only be caught when he (or she) finds something appealing. It’s up to me to figure that out and go with it, sitting in a chair, drinking beer watching a bobber and catching fish is more stimulating than knocking yourself out trying to convince a fish to bite something it isn’t interested in.

I think this lesson probably translates to other areas of my life, and perhaps yours, in our effort to evolve. Determination is great, but approaching your goal utilizing a means you discover, after some trial and error, to be most efficient will get you a lot further and a lot better result than stubbornly going at it in the manner you prefer.

So, fish on.

 

WAFFLES!
WAFFLES!
Olaf - Before
Olaf – Before
Olaf - After
Olaf – After
Olaf and accompaniments.
Olaf and accompaniments.

Vessel

ves·sel
/ˈvesəl/

Noun
1. A hollow container, especially one used to hold liquid, such as a bowl or cask.
2. A ship or large boat.

We are very much like a vessel. At birth, we know nothing but how to breathe, and even that we sometimes have to be “encouraged” to do with a little tap on the back by the doctor, in the first moments of life. From that point on, for the rest of our lives, we are filled up with things. We learn to cry for food, for items and actions necessary for our comfort. Eventually, we are filled with knowledge necessary to speak, then read and write and perform arithmetic. This process continues until we become adults. Some of us learn just what we need to know to hold a job, others of us seek new knowledge as a lifelong pursuit. Always, we are available to be filled with new knowledge and information, like a pitcher or vase, glass or cask. We begin as a hollow container, we become filled throughout life.

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Much of what we hold, as vessels, are beliefs, opinions and information. Some of these are destined to change as we learn more or obtain new, more relevant information. Like a pitcher or vase, glass or cask, we can pour out what we no longer consider useful and be filled with knowledge or information that we prefer or can benefit better from. The beauty and utility of vessels are they are reusable many times over, they can always be filled with what we want to enjoy at each moment in time. Consider the coffee carafe, we fill it with fresh, hot coffee and fill our cup, and can even offer some to our guests. When the coffee in the carafe becomes too cold to enjoy, we can pour it out and refill the vessel. We are really no different.

Ideally, at some point in our lives, in our careers or as parents, or perhaps as volunteers, we can share some of the knowledge and information we have with others. We can share, we can teach or mentor. It is a fact that the best way to truly learn a topic or skill is to teach it to someone else. Like a vessel, a pitcher or vase, a glass or cask, we can pour out some of our contents for others.

Consider, now, the other use of the word “vessel”; a large ship or boat. This, too, is a container that is used to hold things. The area in which things are stored is, actually, called the “hold”. Of course a ship can hold far more than a pitcher or vase, glass or cask. And with a ship, it also moves forward, often great distances, bringing its contents to many others. A ship’s contents benefit many people far and wide. If we are all like vessels, which type of vessel would you rather be? One that holds a small amount of knowledge or information and makes it available to a few intimates? Or a great, large ship, moving about the world bringing large amounts of good things to many, many people? I think I’d like to be more like the second type of vessel.

We are limitless, as humans, in our ability to hold knowledge and information. I can remember lyrics to almost any song I enjoyed at any time during my life. It is amazing. I am always impressed by the amount of knowledge sports fans can recall about their teams and even individual players, including statistics and very specific dates. Incredible. And yet, if you ask me anything about math or science classes I took in high school or college, or to cite tax regulations, I would be of no use. Yet, I know people who can do these things. When we are passionate about something, when we believe in something very strongly, we are like the largest vessel on the ocean in our ability to share our gifts.

In our effort to evolve, I think it is important to consider what we know, and more importantly, what we need to know. Whether we are trying to become healthier, or develop better relationships with people in our lives, have a successful intimate relationship, dissolve self-imposed limitations, take on new challenges, overcome fear, or overcome victimization, there is knowledge and information we need to obtain. There may also be some deep-seated beliefs we need to “pour out” and “refresh” in order to evolve, make progress and achieve our desired results.

Over the past few years, I feel as though I have dumped out most of the contents of my vessel and have refilled it, now, with that which has carried me through many personal trials and eventual triumphs. I am hoping to be able to share some of my experiences, knowledge and resources with other people who may find them useful, informative or beneficial. Whether I am a pitcher or an ocean going vessel, I have plenty that I’d like to offer to as many people as possible. And in this manner, I will continue to learn and grow, to fill my own vessel, the contents of which I can continue to share. As you evolve and change and grow, as you follow your own personal path to fulfillment, I encourage you to share what you learn along the way. Don’t be afraid to pour out what you know and believe, for the benefit of others, or to refill yourself with more useful knowledge and information. You are the vessel and you get to choose your own contents. There is no shortage, you have no limits, and no one can take that from you!

Sponge Worthy

I am a sponge. I thirst for knowledge. I thirst for information. At no point in my life will I assume that what I know is adequate. Knowledge evolves on a moment-by-moment basis. We are inches away from discoveries that will alter the world, that will alter our lives. I don’t know what these discoveries are, but as a species, we evolve constantly. As a member of this species, I think it is my responsibility to continue to soak up knowledge, to evolve.

There was a famous episode of Seinfeld where there was a shortage of contraceptive sponges on the market. In fact, they were off the market for many years, but, thankfully, have returned. In this famous episode, Elaine had to decide which men in her life, at the time, were “sponge worthy”. As a human sponge, soaking up knowledge, I have to decide what is sponge worthy because it is not possible to acquire all knowledge. I’ll admit, I am a little ambitious in my endeavors outside of work. There is just so much to learn, to know, to do, to experience, I am having sort of a hard time prioritizing them all. All of these things I want to learn, know, do and experience require soaking up some knowledge, some information. And so, I have about two hundred unread books on my Kindle on various topics of vital importance and I want to read them all NOW!

I have much that I consider “sponge worthy”. There is a lot out there that I consider unworthy. Like the food I put into my body, cleansers and products I use in my home, I am equally discerning about the information I’ll fuel my mind with, knowing that I cannot possibly soak it all up and wring out what I don’t find useful. When it comes to information, and information overload, all I can recommend is to know, and trust your source. I can’t tolerate quotes that begin with “they said …”. I don’t know who “they” are; I can’t even begin to discern their expertise, their trustworthiness as informants. I don’t know how “they” arrived at their conclusion. Who made the study? What information was gathered? How were the results tested, analyzed, what statistical methods were applied? Were the results audited independently? Who the fuck are “they”? Please don’t thrust a newspaper at me as “proof” against a belief of mine, and by all means, don’t read the newspaper article out loud to me. I will go ballistic! You’ll give me no choice but to ask how they arrived at their conclusion, who made the study? What information was gathered? How were the results tested, analyzed, what statistical methods were applied? Were the results audited independently? Who the fuck are “they”? One liner references to a study administered on a topic will never convince me of anything. Four or five books by respected authors citing relevant sources may. I’ll soak it all up and decide what to wring out. You can imagine how I must fare in front of the evening news on television! Let’s just say I don’t go there.

As a member of this quickly evolving world, again, I think it is vital that we soak up the information we consider sponge worthy. If not for the sake of knowledge and personal evolution, then for the sake of those around us, our friends, family and loved ones. We are never too old to learn, to make changes, to evolve. At what point in life does knowledge become irrelevant? The last split second before death. Up until that point, it still applies. I can hear an audible click, like a phone being hung up, so often, during conversations with people of all ages, but mostly my age, or older. I can almost see a little display on their forehead that says, “You have been muted for the comfort of the occupant”. They may as well clasp their hands over their ears and scream, “la la la la, I can’t hear you!” We have all become so closed-minded; we are unwilling to soak up any information that requires some application of thought. I am a Republican. Click. I voted for Obama. Click. I believe in abortion. Click. I support the second amendment. Click. Processed food is bad for you. Click. Our minds are not like a soda can, capable of holding only twelve ounces. Once filled, no more knowledge will fit. Really? Never can anyone, ever, say, “I know everything I need to know.” “No more knowledge necessary here, thank you.” Knowledge isn’t like Girl Scout cookies! You can’t turn it away because you don’t want any! We never reach an age where a new way to do something isn’t going to be beneficial. “I’ve made it this far on what I know”. Just making it just isn’t making it.

Admittedly, I can’t be swayed by a brief blurb on network television or in a newspaper, I believe with all my heart that we need to know both sides of every story, of every argument, before we can wring out the sponge. I studied crime and politics in college. Two separate fields of study, not one, though you have to wonder sometimes. In both these fields of study, it was impressed upon me to know all of the arguments, all of the supporting philosophies. I studied a lot of criminal and civil law, and I needed to be able to argue either side of the case. It is ingrained in me to learn and to know both sides of any argument, anything less than that is being uninformed, or worse yet, ill-informed. On a daily basis, with the barrage of popular media and it’s sensationalized delivery, where the reporters sound exactly like the guy advertising this weekend’s monster truck pull, it is nearly impossible to get both sides of any story. For this reason, if not for the assumed, panicked expression and monster truck announcer’s tone of voice, I don’t participate in popular news media. I am old enough to remember when a counter view was allowed to be expressed on television after the news or other similar programming. That’s when popular media was popular with me. That’s the last time the media was unbiased. Once the opportunity for a counter view was removed, popular media news became nothing more than propaganda. I’ll soak up current events in a number of places, contemplate both sides of the argument, and usually arrive at a pretty moderate conclusion. All by myself. Shut up monster truck announcer news guy, you have been muted for the comfort of the occupant. I’m going somewhere quiet, with my Kindle. You are so not sponge worthy.

Good Enough

Why settle for good enough? If Thomas Edison had said “good enough” on the first several hundred attempts to develop an electrical filament for the light bulb, we may still be in the dark! Do you think researchers today, on the brink of a breakthrough for a cure for cancer are going to give up and say “it isn’t quite there, but it’s good enough”? Do you think Leonardo DaVinci slapped paint on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel one day and said “good enough”?

Do you approach life with a “good enough” attitude?

I spent a very large portion of my adult (married) life driving cars that just ran “good enough”. And sometimes they didn’t quite run good enough. Or at all. My AAA card got more use than my Target Red Card (which I use almost daily to save 5% on my purchases). At one point, all ten cars were rendered motionless by mechanical ailments stemming from an attitude of “good enough”. I guess we’d run out of hangers, baling twine and duct tape. My husband had worked as an auto mechanic before college and vowed he’d always maintain our fleet of cars so we wouldn’t have to rely on costly mechanics or auto repair facilities. I guess you get what you pay for, unless you use the Target Red Card, in which case you get 5% more than what you paid for! My husband lives a life of “good enough”, which really means it was ALL good enough until it wasn’t good at all, at which point, it was kept anyway because, someday, if we had the time and money, we may be able to make it good enough, again. But that never actually happened, because things were always good enough that we didn’t really need to make good use of time to find a way to make enough good money, once the previous career(s) weren’t good enough. I left him, and all the cars, and all the other broken things, including our broken relationship. It just wasn’t good enough.

In our current job market, where good jobs are hard to find, and as hard to keep, do you think “good enough” is going to cut it? Absolutely not. So why should “good enough” be good enough in any other aspect of your life?

Let’s take this to the big picture. Is your life good enough? I hope not! And I don’t mean that quite like it sounds in the literal sense! I’m not saying I hope your life is shit. What I AM saying is that I hope you aren’t settling for good enough because that’s where you are and you don’t see the point in wanting more. If we have a roof over our head, frozen pizza in the freezer, batteries in the remote and premium cable, then life is good enough. Sigh. Ok, maybe add a Target Red Card so you can save 5% on the pizza and the batteries. And on underwear when yours is no longer good enough.

Me? Life is fantastic! But never quite good enough. I have a very, very long list of things I want that my Target Red Card won’t buy. These things are called experiences. Life experiences. Some experiences I can easily do, daily. I can always go outside and marvel at nature! The warm California sunshine and light breeze today. A sprinkle of Texas rain last week. The stinging, cold of an Alaskan winter day last month. Twenty hours of Alaskan daylight next month. I am not wealthy to afford all this; I just rearrange my priorities so the money I do make, which, by the way, isn’t quite good enough, allows me to afford some awesome life experiences.

Some experiences I have on my list are going to require a bit more work to, well, experience. I would like to travel Europe, parts of Asia, parts of Africa and South America. I’d like to see the rest of the United States, because, even with my travels for work, there is much I haven’t seen. I want to learn to white water kayak, I want to learn to snowboard better, I want to climb some mountains, and I want to backpack the Pacific Coast Trail. I guess you might say this is part of my bucket list. Just part. Because my bucket list just isn’t good enough. It needs work.

My “not good enough” attitude crosses into other areas of my life. For my age, I am pretty darned fit. But even that isn’t good enough. I can always be a little more fit. I am pretty darned healthy, but I could always find more ways to live a healthful life. I have a good career, I make enough money, and I’m fairly well respected professionally. Why, just moments ago, I received an email from a client that said, “I think that you were wonderful, thank you.” If I had done just a “good enough” job in our consulting session do you think I would have received that level of compliment and gratitude? I always look for ways to try harder, to learn more, to give more. At work. At home. In my relationships with my family, my friends, my love.

My knowledge is never “good enough”. There is so much to know, to learn. I want to learn to be a sommelier. I want to learn to cook better. I want to learn to take better photographs. I want to learn to sing. I want to learn to dance better. I want to learn a half dozen foreign languages. I want to be able to identify flowers and trees. What I know just isn’t good enough.

When will anything be good enough? The correct answer, in my opinion, is never. Once things are good enough, we’ve become complacent. Grab your Target Red Card and stock up on the hangers, bailing twine and duct tape; it’s going to be a slippery ride into misery. Me? I’m going to grab my Target Red Card and stock up on a new scarf, some rockin’ new sunglasses and cute tote bag, because the ones I have just aren’t good enough, for my next life experience!

Profess

I do not profess to be an expert on anything. As the comments and feedback trickle in on this recent adventure, mostly in Japanese, I feel the need to provide clarity. I am not an expert in anything. What I write are more musings, contemplation, ideas – not absolute rules, methods, facts, truths, because for each of us, these will differ. I have made enormous changes in my life, mostly for the positive, using the advice of those I have found wise, again, my personal belief, and I feel I benefited. I wish to share my observations, my personal wisdom in the hopes that it may appeal to and perhaps even benefit others.

On expertise; does someone who professes to be an expert on a topic really know everything there is to know about that topic? Certainly not. There is always more to know, more to learn, more to profess. At one point in history, it was professed that smoking cigarettes had health benefits. Now we know differently. Think of the technological advances made in the last one hundred years. The last fifty years. The last twenty years. The last ten years. The last two years. Always progress, always developments, always evolution. Our rate of progress increases exponentially with each passing day, week, month, year. Why do you think so many professions and certification programs require continued professional education? Because what we knew, as experts in a field, at the beginning of our careers, has evolved tremendously over the course of time, and as “experts” in that field, we need to know and apply those changes to what we do to be relevant, to be accurate, and in some cases, to be safe.

Again, what will “work” for some of us in self improvement, in personal development, will not work at all for others. And time is of the essence, as well. What worked well for me ten years ago does not now. Life is a journey, certainly we all realize that, and as we change, how we grow and learn, how we evolve, is bound to change, too. Or should. Using an analogy I employ in one of the classes I teach for work; you are making rice, you follow the instructions on the package, you get a certain result. You start adding a little more butter (always more butter), maybe a pinch of you favorite spice, you get a better result. And yet, the addition of your favorite spice may not appeal to others. Is life any different? Find your own spice.

I feel passionate about what I write. Of course, the level of passion is often impacted by the number of cups of coffee I’ve had, and the clarity of the delivery of my ideas, perhaps, by the size of the glass of wine! Regardless, there is always passion and I really want to share my ideas, my thoughts, my musings. Those who feel passionate about what they have learned, what they know, what they’ve observed often feel the need to profess that information to others. What they profess is nothing more than a collection of their thoughts, beliefs and observations, sometimes legitimized with corroborating evidence or opinions. In the end, it is still a collection of thoughts, beliefs and observations.

In college, all those years in college, what I learned more than anything else was, there are two sides to every opinion, to every theory, and the key to success is to be open to learning both sides, appreciating both sides, and then forming your own position based on your individual interpretation, knowledge and beliefs. What a professor professes is only what he or she currently holds valuable and true at that moment in time, based on the knowledge collected thus far. It is subject to change. As Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think”.

Additionally, how one professor delivers the content of the course will differ significantly from how another professor delivers the same content. And every student benefits from different delivery methods and certain teaching methods. So, in discussing life and personal growth and development, how one “expert” discusses the topic and presents their ideas, methods and opinions could differ considerably from how another “expert” professes their ideas, methods and opinions. No one is more correct than the other, only, perhaps, more appealing to you as an individual, at that particular point in time. Choose your favorite spice.

For these reasons, I keep my mind open to new ideas, new approaches, new methods and styles. I may profess my own interpretation of those ideas, approaches, methods and styles based on how I tailored them for my own adoption. It is up to you to decide what is of value and benefit to you, and what “professors” you prefer to have instruct you. At the end of the day, you will be your own professor, taking what you have learned and applying it in a manner that suits you. If you choose to share that with others, to profess, just know, your’s is not the only recipe for rice. Add your own spice.