asher553: (Default)
This article on focusing the distracted mind popped up on my LinkedIn feed and it caught my interest.  According to their research, Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen say, the ability to focus consists of two distinct processes:  enhancement and suppression.  Enhancement means focusing on the things that matter, and suppression is blocking out the things that don't.  As we age (and this begins at about age 20), our ability to focus starts to weaken, specifically because of a deficit in the suppression function. 
The attentional decline we experience as we age has more to do with our inability to filter out distractions, not our lack of concentration. If you think it’s hard to pay attention now, just wait until you age a few more years.

As it happened, the latest issue of the Lubavitch International monthly arrived the other day, and in it I discovered Shmuel Loebenstein's article on itkafya.  Itkafya is a Talmudic word without a counterpart in Biblical Hebrew; it's related to a number of words meaning "to seize, overpower" (Jastrow, p. 1693) and the word itself means "suppression" or self-control.  Loebenstein cites a study that showed multiple benefits when children were asked to delay gratification (eating a marshmallow) by exercising self-control. 
... what better Aramaic word is there than iskafya (“itkafya” in Sephardic pronunciation), a word beloved of the kabbalistic ancients and equally embraced by Chasidic moderns. ...
When Chasidic philosophy lauds iskafya, the suppression of the animalistic instinct in ourselves, it is not talking about afflicting ourselves. It is about self-restraint, the battle between the ego and the id, the mastery of our character over our urges and instincts. You want to practice iskafya? Try not talking gossip for a day. Try befriending a person whom you dislike.

I've been struggling with mood issues lately, so this information is a good reminder of both the challenge and the potential in choosing what kinds of thoughts I dwell on, and which ones to let go.
asher553: (Default)
There's a tallish, professional-looking man in his 50s who lives on the 4th floor and sometimes we pass in the alley (he goes out for a smoke) or in the elevator. I ran into him twice this morning, once on the way back from the laundry room and again a short while later as I went to pick up a few snacks from the grocery store downstairs. I believe I overheard the grocer address him as Jim as he walked in while I was leaving.

Yesterday evening my intercom phone beeped from the lobby - first time I've had a ring since I moved in - and I picked it up, curious to see who would be petitioning me for admittance to the building. A misdirected pizza maybe? (Or, considering the season, Chinese food?) The voice on the other end was a cheerful female voice who said she wanted to visit someone on the third floor - I think she gave the apartment number as 312 - and wanted someone to let her in; apparently 312 wasn't answering. This all sounded fine, but I thought it best to go down and get a visual on the person, rather than letting them in by the buzzer, sight unseen.

She was an attractive young blonde woman, probably no more than 30. By the time I greeted her at the door she had discovered her mistake: the unit she wanted was on the fourth floor, not the third. So I rode up with her and made chit-chat with her as far as my stop and wished her a good evening, and maybe a pleasant holiday, I don't recall.

I saw her again this morning as we passed each other in front of the building; I was coming out of the grocery that Jim had just entered. Her face was contorted and wet with tears. "Hey," I said with cautious sympathy, "how you doing?"

"I've had better days," she said between muffled sobs.

What can you do? There wasn't much I felt I could do (I didn't want to pry), so I just said, "I'm sorry. I hope the new year is better for you."

"Thank you," she said, and went on her way.

So, what happened? Had she had an overnight encounter with Jim that ended in tears? Or was her story something else, and nothing to do with Jim? If I were the kind of writer who does these things, I suppose I would try to imagine a whole story behind her and Jim. But I'm not, so I won't try.

The bar at the Admiral is not straight but a double convex arc, like a very shallow, rounded W from the patrons' side. This means that you can see your barmates a little bit, without staring them in the face awkwardly.

I sat at the end closer to the door. Adjacent to me there was a man around my age with wavy, shoulder-length hair and a slight Irish accent. He made reference to his Irish heritage at one point, although at another moment he said something about his English side being the reason he's not typically very demonstrative. The woman with him - long brown hair, average looks, a little heavy but not fat, from what I could see - was his companion but not a date from what I could gather. He was very grateful to her for some reason - he told the bartender that she had helped him with "weeks of old mail, bills, and old CDs". I wondered why he would need help - was it an estate matter? But he mentioned just having spoken to his Mum on the phone. He turned to face his lady friend when speaking to her, and the bartender Angela when addressing her. Once he playfully put up his dukes and offered to fight his lady friend - "Hey, I've seen Charlie Bronson movies!" She protested that she was wearing glasses. "Oh you are? Well I never hit a person with glasses."

It wasn't until later - when he left the bar for some reason, and returned after a few minutes - that I understood. He came in tapping his way with a red-tipped white cane, and his friend called his name (I've forgotten it) to help him find her.

So, the friendly, easygoing Irishman had just lost his sight. From overhearing bits of his conversation, I heard him mention a couple of women he knew who had been blinded in shotgun accidents; presumably they had met through some rehabilitation group. One of the women, he said, had been so badly disfigured that she had to wear a mask when going out in public - "I don't know what she looks like, of course - I met her after."


2012-12-24 17:24
asher553: (asher63)
It's past solstice, the days are getting longer, and I feel like I've turned a corner this past year. My mind turns constantly toward thoughts of the future - particularly my planned move back to Oregon (at long last!) but also my future more generally. Where will I be? What will I be doing? Who will be a part of my life?

Right now I'm sitting on the overstuffed leather couch in my living room. It was a housewarming gift from my good friend B when I first moved into this apartment in September of 2010. It's also my bed. Bunny has the bed in the bedroom, and (mostly) the room itself; she's with me about half the week, and spends the rest of her time with her mom a few blocks away.

Against the opposite wall sits my Oxford English Dictionary across the tops of two small bookcases (the volumes are too tall to fit on the lower shelves), and on the other side of the TV are my Encyclopaedia Britannica and the rest of my books. The Britannica is the 1973 edition, which my family proudly purchased new when I was in grade school. I still use it - and the much newer OED - regularly.

The vintage clock I inherited from my parents still sits atop my tall bookcase. It's silent now just because I needed a break from the ticking and the chimes - I'm very fond of the clock but it is quite loud, and silence is a rare and precious commodity for me. Plus, I sleep in the same room with it, and I need my sleep.

The smells from my kitchen are frozen enchiladas, canned tuna, pasta, and burner spill, but mostly burner spill. At least the place is somewhat clean - last week I broke down and shelled out for a housecleaning service. It was well worth it - unless you're an especially zealous housekeeper, there's always going to be that stain you keep overlooking. And after it's been there long enough, you don't see it anymore.

TNG just stopped by to collect his allowance and say hi. I'm taking him to see 'The Hobbit' tomorrow. He's now 17 years old - how did that happen? - and while I haven't seen as much of him as I would have liked, I'm pleased with the young man that he is becoming.

In just over a month, I'll be turning 50. It's now The Twenty-First Century; it is The Future. I am reminded of that magnificent passage from 'Doorways in the Sand' by Roger Zelazny:
"Back where I left them so many years ago," he went on. "I've a very peculiar feeling now-the thing I set out to analyze tonight. Did you ever look back at some moment in your past and have it suddenly grow so vivid that all the intervening years seemed brief, dreamlike, impersonal-the motions of a May afternoon surrendered to routine?"

"No," I said.

"One day, when you do, remember-the cognac," he said, and he took another sip and passed me the bottle. I had some more and returned it to him.

"They did actually creep, though, those thousands of days. Petty pace, and all that," he continued. "I know this intellectually, though something else is currently denying it. I am aware of it particularly, because I am especially conscious of the difference between that earlier time and this present. It was a cumulative thing, the change. Space travel, cities under the sea, the advances in medicine-even our first contact with the aliens-all of these things occurred at different times and everything else seemed unchanged when they did. Petty pace. Life pretty much the same but for this one new thing. Then another, at another time. Then another. No massive revolution. An incremental process is what it was. Then suddenly a man is ready to retire, and this gives rise to reflection. He looks back, back to Cambridge, where a young man is climbing a building. He sees those stars. He feels the texture of that roof. Everything that follows is a blur, a kaleidoscopic monochrome. He is here and he is there. Everything else is unreal. But they are two different worlds, Fred-two completely different worlds-and he didn't really see it happen, never actually caught either one in the act of going or coming. And that is the feeling that accompanies me tonight."

"Is it a good feeling or a bad one?" I said.

"I don't really know. I haven't worked up an emotion to go with it yet."

And that's the kind of mood I'm in tonight.

For those who are celebrating, merry Christmas. For the rest, happy Chinese food day.
asher553: (asher63)
Actually, I am not disappointed in anybody this past year. (Not even myself, inexplicably.)

It has been a good year, and one of looking forward and building for the future. I'm writing this as an open post, so details of those near and/or dear will be sketchy, but suffice it to say that I feel like my life is moving in a positive direction.

It'd better be, because I hit the half-century mark in just over a month.

I haven't done anything, AT ALL, to mark my last few birthdays, but I am going to change that this year. Would like to invite a few people over - just those I'm closest to, and that's a small, select group - for a low-key evening. I feel like that would be a good stepping-stone for moving forward on the next phase.

Anyway, happy Festivus.
asher553: (Default)
As San Francisco goes, where I live isn't bad. But I'm looking forward to moving back to Portland.

Long-term, living in SF isn't viable for me in terms of money or mental health. I've toyed with the idea of moving to a suburb or smaller town somewhere in the Bay Area, but I don't really see that happening. It'll still be California, it'll still be the Bay Area, and the cost of living will catch up with me one way or another. It would get me out of the city, but if I wanted city life (entertainment, shopping, culture, work, school) I'd still have to deal with getting in and out of San Francisco - or Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, etc.

And I'm concerned about what California will be like in the next few years. The economy isn't in great shape here or anywhere else, but I'm thinking in particular of what will happen if (or when) the State's budget goes over the cliff. I am not conjuring up apocalyptic scenarios here, but I do worry. California is a big state. What will happen if Sacramento can't keep up basic services like infrastructure and state law enforcement? What will happen when state benefits and programs are cut? I worry about basic things like health, safety, crime.

Oregon is a much smaller state, and its biggest city isn't very big. It's a smaller economy, and I almost feel like it doesn't have as far to fall.

I've been getting job offers steadily - most recently from a Bay Area tech firm whose name is associated with very large numbers. If I can focus on building a good resume over the next year and a half, I'll be in a strong position to get work in Portland when I move back. That new Intel plant [ ] should be opening up just about the time I get there.

Wish me luck.
asher553: (Default)
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you become like him.
- Proverbs 26:4

The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
- Dale Carnegie

asher553: (Default)

A friend on FB posted this story with the following observation:

'That greatness can exist hand-in-hand with major flaws of character, abuses of power, and defects of leadership should be a humbling lesson for all of us. After reading this, that's what's most on my mind this Yom Kippur.'

I really do not think I can improve on that, but I'll just add my own thoughts.

I do not think it takes anything away from Steve's memory to observe that he was human, and possessed faults as well as virtues.

I think it's appropriate that there are favorable tributes to him; he will be remembered well, and I think he deserves to be.

No doubt at this very moment, somewhere some vindictive soul is setting about the business of writing a mean-spirited biography of "the real Steve Jobs". This is as inevitable as it is sad, because there's always somebody who wants to cut the great person down to size.

Far better and healthier, then, for the sake of Steve's memory and for the rest of us, if there's an occasional voice to temper the chorus of praise that arises after his passing.

Somewhere in the Rabbinic literature there's a saying (I'm too lazy to try to look it up now) that a disciple should study his master's flaws as well as his virtues, lest he copy them.

Steve Jobs will be remembered well. May we develop the character to live with greater kindness and courage - and to work past our own failings and those of others.

May we live our lives well enough that we may be remembered with both kindness and clarity.

G'mar hatima tova.
asher553: (Default)
Here's an open question for anybody anywhere in the work world.

So, we know that sometimes independent thinking is an asset. It's a good thing, and it is celebrated with slogans like Apple's "Think Different" motto. I'm talking about the people who think outside the box, who don't necessarily conform to preconceived ideas about how things "should" be done. They are unconventional thinkers and sometimes get into trouble, but they have brilliant insights because they see things no one else can see and they say things no one else dares to say. I'll call them Mavericks.

And then there's another group. These are people who hold up meetings or classroom work with pointless questions (typically of a what-if nature) seemingly designed to show the questioner's superior intelligence. They are the ones who throw up objections to any planned action because they've thought of something that could go wrong. They sometimes get in trouble, or never advance very far because they annoy people; but often they manage to stay a step ahead of the law and game the system by dazzling higher-ups with their spurious brilliance. I'll call them the Malcontents. They are a diverse group but they all have one thing in common: EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM BELIEVES THEY'RE A 'MAVERICK'.

So, here's the question: How do you tell the two groups apart? I mean, not just a hunch or intuition, but some objective measure that you can pin down and discuss with other people. And how do you - as a subordinate, peer, supervisor, or manager, deal with this problem?
asher553: (Default)
Marjory Asher was a friend and sometime girlfriend with whom I shared a birthday and a name. We stayed in touch after I left Portland, but I hadn't heard back from her for months. Now I know why.

I'll post a little more later. Right now I'm just stunned. It's been almost a year since she left us; don't know why it took me that long to do a google on her, but there you go.


She was found in the Willamette River.

"It has been determined that she did not fall."
asher553: (Default)
The household finances are hanging on by a shoestring, but we're keeping it together. Expecting significant bucks from a couple of sources within the next 4 - 6 weeks. Meanwhile, just keepin' on keepin' on.

We are starting to work with a financial planner - something I've been wanting to do for a while - and this will be a huge help in budgeting for the coming year. Meanwhile I'm bringing in a few extra bucks doing household work for a friend.

The creative juices are flowing again and more episodes of TQC are in the works. After long deliberation, I decided to put a crow in the last episode ( ). I'm thinking there are crows on Shakti, and various other kinds of regular birds and wildlife. That is, it's a planet in an alternate universe that developed an ecosystem largely parallel to Earth's. (For that matter, Earth's ecology is amazingly diverse. New Zealand is almost its own planet! There are almost no indigenous mammals there. ) Anyway, I decided to go with Ron Moore's philosophy for Battlestar Galactica and not rack my brains trying to make everything exotic and alien, which would just end up being a distraction - as RDM says, I don't want you sitting there going "So that's what a chair looks like!"

Right now G is sleeping in, and Our Little Bundle Of Insomnia is playing happily in her crib. We've taken her off the Enfamil and she's eating lots of solid food now; her first birthday is coming up in - yikes! - less than a week.

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