Perfect

For most of my professional career, I’ve been in telecommunications. In telecom, there is a maxim:
Five Nines

That means that our systems (mostly telephones) must have 99.999% availability. They must work 99.999% of the time.

It’s kinda cute how they give one thousandth of a percent as wiggle room.
Does anybody really do everything exactly right 99.999% of the time?

Telecom systems get pretty close. I’ll tell you how we do it.

We have systems and we put these systems in place very very carefully. We make sure that every person/entity that touches our systems understand what the processes are and track what they’ve done.

We are very aware of any changes. We keep track of errors and even near-misses, the things that didn’t actually break but might have.

And the engineers that live in this world are very very specific kind of people.

We strain at gnats. We THINK about straining at gnats.

It’s a glorious environment for perfectionists. There are designs, plans, backup plans, tests and proactive measures.

There are reports and definitions and demarcations. It’s beautiful.
You know what there isn’t?

Creativity. This stuff is not meant to be played with.

We fear change. So much that there are very serious “Change management” processes.

And by change, there’s a really strict definition.

Upgrading a piece of software? SERIOUS change.
Swapping out one old server for a new server that’s exactly the same? HUGE change

That’s what allows this 99.999% to be remotely possible.
I say remotely, because it’s usually four nines. 99.993% or 99.996%
I did say that for most of my career I was in that environment. I did well in that environment.
Now, I’m in a different environment. A couple years ago, I was trying to understand why I found my days so exhausting. I realized, I am not getting that little payoff that I got when I performed a task and KNEW it was done precisely right.

I thought, “I’m not in the world of five nines…it’s more like nine FIVES!”

55.5555555%
Getting it right more than half the time seemed like the goal.
Hmph.
And for most of the people in the world that is far more reflective of their reality. After all, the definition of “doing it right” is more fluid in life than in telecom.

For things like parenting and housekeeping, it’s more like retreat and call it a victory.

Perfectionism is not a progressive stance.
I am realizing that it’s worth exploring the idea of good enough.

Perfectionism can be a very tidy trap. It’s better to be done than perfect.

Tri-Cornered hats

As an American, tri-cornered hats always mean the heroes of the American Revolution.  AKA the good guys.

I had to re-examine my assumptions about these hats last week as I was watching “The Rise of Catherine the Great”

Russians wore tricornered hats too. In this series, they put fur around the corner. Ekaterina, known as Catherine the Great to English speakers, wore this fur-trimmed tricornered hat when she dressed as a soldier. Most of the time she wore gorgeous dresses and fabulous jewelry.

The series is in Russian, with marginally translated English subtitles. But the dresses and the winter palace made it very worthwhile.

Thing is, the tricornered hats were tough. Tricornered hats are as big a “good guy” flag as a super hero cape. I mean really!

But the world of Catherine had very few good guys. I wouldn’t even say that Catherine herself was a good guy.

There was a lot of intrigue and power struggles going on.

The tricornered hats clued me in that all this was happening during the same time period as the American Revolution.

What? There were other things happening in other parts of the world OTHER than the American Revolution. This is nothing we ever discussed in school!

In the world portrayed in this TV series Peter the Great’s daughter Elizabeth is ruling Russia. It turns out that another “great” was gathering strength. Frederick the Great (is this getting a little tedious, all the greats?) of Prussia was ripping through Europe.

Prussia was a proto-germany. Germany hadn’t yet congealed. It was a bunch of different little states, so when Frederick the Great took his little army of Prussians and tore through Europe it freaked everyone out. He wan’t supposed to be able to do that.

It was called the 7 years war. We don’t know about the 7 years war in America, even though it spanned 5 continents. Here it was called the French and Indian War. George Washington got to be a baby officer in that war—a sixteen year old lieutenant.

But in Europe, England and France were fighting, when Frederick jumped in and took advantage of their distraction. England allied with Frederick and kept fighting with France.

All this happened immediately before the American Revolution, and it was really the first world War.

One thing I’ve picked up about world wars is that they seem to repeat. Like, 20th century world war 2 was really an extension of World War 1.

So, as it happened, the American Revolution was really ANOTHER world war, and a continuation of the one just preceding it.

Remember how England was allied with Prussia? And France was fighting Britain?

I DO remember from grade school that Ben Franklin persuaded the French to fight for America. Now that I’ve learned the history from a tv series, I can see that it had less to do with Benjamin Franklin’s charms and more to do with sticking it to England.

I also remember that the Hessians fought AGAINST the Americans. Since the British had allied with Frederick just previously, it makes sense that they would get German troops to fight for them.

Catherine the Great was amazing. And with a combination of this Russian historical drama and Wikipedia I put the pieces together and really learned something about the world outside my front door.

 

American Man

Week before last I got to go to a weeklong work training.

26 people, four women.

I was pretty sure I’d be the only one, but when I found out there would be four of us I wondered if we would all group together and make our own enclave. Or should I say coven?

When I got there, that is not what happened.

It turns out I like working with men, which is good because that’s all I’ve done. I’ve always been in male dominated careers.

Yep. Never a line to the bathroom when I’m at work.

I started out in information technology, and those guys were far more likely to try to impress me with their knowledge of database configuration.

Now I’m management in construction, and they don’t do they. These guys are simpler: they wink at me.

Both groups do a lot of “mansplaining” but the new construction guys are more tedious because the subject matter is more basic.

Although they do a better job of offering to lift heavy boxes.

So there’s that.

At my training, I got to meet people from all over the country, which is fun. I met a guy who was from the Minneapolis office.

“I’ve been to Minnesota. Everyone is named Krista.”

He was actually from California, but moved to the twin cities because his GF was from there. Now she’s his wife.

“Is her name Krista?”

He laughed.

Then there were the guys from Texas: Boots. They know the answers, but they don’t rush to tell you.

The ones from New York, they tell you. They tell you like they are mad you don’t know already. But that’s just they way they talk. They aren’t really mad, you know?

They actually will help you and be really nice about it. As long as you are listening, they are very sweet.

The guys from Chicago, well, don’t interrupt them. I have learned this. They will talk fast and ramble on, but there’s this thing about interrupting that can totally derail the conversation. If I interrupt with a comment, polite Chicago boy will stop, which was not required, and when I invite him to keep talking, he’ll consider that and interruption too and we have to wait quite a while for him to gather his courage enough to continue the conversation.

It’s a bit awkward, but they are nice guys.

I have to wonder if these guys have a whole other way of talking to each other that is different from how they talk to me, a woman.

I wish I could find out.

It’s not that I want to be a man. I just kind of wish I could find the zipper and unzip this woman suit and step out into the world a smooth green genderless alien.

And that I could interact with people based on my knowledge and experience, not on the shape of my body.

Haven’t found the zipper yet.

THe claws of Simon

I like my cat. He is very interested in me, and the people in my family in a way that cats often are not.

He DOES nap, as cats do. But he wants to know where people are. He will position himself at the nearest window where one of us has left and keep watch at that window for a while until we return.

Not if we are gone for hours. But he’ll stay there while we take the trash out. And if he can see us, he’ll stay quite a while longer.

Atypical cat behaviour.

Also, almost every morning he will come and insist on lap sitting. He NEEDs to sit on our laps.

I usually get up first, so I get to have a purring cat on my lap as my eyes focus enough to read my facebook posts.

Then he will start to use his claws.

He has sharp claws. And he will use them NOT in a playful way, but in a “oh yeah, I have lethal weapons on my person and I am a killing machine” way.

So all of us have small wounds.

I remembered though, that we have a set of fingernail clippers. And when I remember, and catch him at the right moment, I can trim his claws.

I remembered this morning. And then I got to watch him try to scratch the couch, as his blunted lethal weapon claws skidded off the fabric.

He was confused.

I was delighted.

Good Kitty

Book report

I’ve been helping Veronica with her book report. We were working on the summary.

It’s kind of a skill to summarize the book.

We got through it. I had read the book but she explained it to me and I explained to her what main points were.

She squirmed a lot. It was tough.

How many book reports will I have to do in sixth grade?

Well Veronica, when I was in college book reports were the only thing that I did.

What?! *pause* What kind of job did you think you would get?

My kid is brilliant

 

 

Strum true

Of all the forms of art in the world, my focus has been writing. I’ve worked hard and steady on my craft, and I’m proud of what I do.

And I look around sometimes and wonder at the other possibilities. I could have focused on music, you know.

Music is magic.

It’s time based. Tempo is part of every piece of music.

It’s temporal. It lives in the time stamp. The music starts and it ends and it’s over.

But for the songs that I hear over and over, they are a time machine. Somehow, they preserve the moment when I hear the song the first several times.

I’ve had that happen to me. Even songs that I didn’t even think much of, if they were on the radio at some moment and I hear them years later

BAM

time machine

I’m back to when I heard it, awash in all the feelings. Was I crushing on someone then?  Was I broken hearted?

Now, years later, when I hear the song again, I am right there.

What other kind of art does this?

As much as I love books, that’s not my experience with books.

Music strums our hearts in fantastical ways. It’s a highly exploitable characteristic.

I know. When I played the piano for church, they taught me how to use Major 7th and minor chords to manipulate the pews.

And Madison Avenue and Hollywood have even better tools than a single spinet piano.

Sometimes I’ll hear the soundtrack swell, and my eyes will tear up and narrow at the same time. I’ll feel so betrayed, when the music swells and I am moved while at the same time I realize the story doesn’t deserve this strong of a reaction.

I can feel the music buttressing the weakness of the story itself and it WORKS to a certain level, but only skin deep.

Sincerity matters. Authenticity matters.

Don’t lie to me, music.

Songwriters and performers have a similar relationship. Songwriters have the skills to write beautiful songs, but they often need people whose skill is performing.
That same sort of betrayal can happen when performers who haven’t earned the right to sing certain songs. I think of boy bands.

And then…There are performers who take a song and make it more theirs than the initial performers.

I stumbled onto this video of two guys singing Toto’s Africa. These guys, for an audience of nearly nobody, sang the song better than the band.

I find that so much more moving than a boy band. Music will carry so much of the load, but in the end all art has to be true.

Curriculum

I have a meeting this week on a college campus. Sitting here right now, I’m nervous that I won’t be able to find the building and the room that the meeting is in.

University campuses are often confusing. Also, I find them terrifying. The gravitas of Higher Learning makes me feel small and uneducated. These places are NOT FOR ME, in scary capital letters.

And oh, how I’ve always wanted them to be. At least I used to. Part of what I want to share today is what’s changed.

I remember when I was in high school, and people or magazines told me that I should look into what college I wanted to go to. As a homeschooled kid in Alaska, I didn’t know what they were talking about.

I sent in a postcard asking for college information, and packages came to my mailbox. Large envelopes with pictures of happy students–slightly older and WAYYYY cooler than me– sitting on lawns under trees laughing and studying.

Alaska had very few lawns or trees you could sit under.

When I got to the part where they outlined how much it cost I couldn’t believe it. Forty five THOUSAND dollars for a school year?

For four years in a row?

That wasn’t going to happen.

And, in fact it mostly didn’t. I took classes when I could, between working to keep myself alive and pay for school. The University in Alaska wasn’t like those fancy college packets.

Years pass and I move to California, where the colleges were a lot more like the packets. But I was now older that those still WAYYY cooler kids, and behind and not catching up.

I would walk the grounds of colleges sometimes; I felt the hunger to learn every single thing I could.

But it won’t for me. I was still there on my night classes, like some kind of stowaway, sneaking snatches of learning.

Snatches of learning served me well in the jobs I was doing to support myself. I was always ready to learn more in my job, and so I got better and better job.

Then came the magical moment that I graduated from college. Which felt great!

Except then I wasn’t in college anymore.

But wait! There’s graduate school! College can go on forever!

But I’d already started my career without college. And I’d have to abandon a perfectly good career path to go to graduate school.

Isn’t that completely reverse of what they tell you?

Yeah. But learning for learning’s sake still called to me. And when I would go to college campuses, I would have this surge of wishing I could study there.

Until it kind of felt nostalgic. Like I was wishing for a past that I has imagined I could have had but then didn’t actually have, but not in the future was remembering wanting.

Did you follow that? I hope so.

So looking at these Ivory tower campuses got really confusing.

And after I finished writing THE BEAST, aka The Russian American School of Tomorrow, I knew that colleges–even grad school–couldn’t have helped me write THAT. I was and am so proud of that book and what I created that I saw something.

I had gone past what college could do for me. Not to say I wouldn’t learn something from classes, if I took them.

But the neat packages of learning that are outlined in syllabuses are not what I’m doing anymore.

I’ve graduated. And I finally feel it and know it.

So when I go to UCLA for my meeting, I can appreciate it. Maybe like a person an old unrequited flame.

But I’m really happy with what I’ve been learning and doing. I’m confident that I have my own curriculum I’m uncovering.

word count

“You have to cut it in half.”

“What?! I wrote it, and it says what it’s supposed to say!”

“The rules of the contest say it has to be half the number of words. Don’t worry, this will be easy.”

I did not believe it. But my mom, my best writing teacher ever, took the time to go over my story, and we did in fact cut it in half. I won the contest and have never forgotten the lesson I learned as a young teenager:

Say what needs to be said, in as few words as possible.

Then came college, and the assignments included writing a ten-page paper.

Ten pages? Of what?

Whatever the topic is, apparently. And I had to use sources, which means I am writing ten pages of stuff that has already been written. But for my paper, I can’t use the same words as the original stuff. I’m supposed to make it my own.

But never use the word “I” or refer to myself in any way.

My mind exploded. Who is making these crazy rules?

But I was used to unfair rules, and I learned to do it. I cranked out a series of ten page papers in enough succession to get a bachelor’s degree. Then I learned that in order to get a master’s degree, you had to write 20 page papers.

That was a bridge too far.

The length of a piece of writing should serve the purpose of the idea it’s trying to convey. It should be interesting, it should definitely convey the voice of the writer and it should not ramble on.

I graduated from college 15 years ago, and I’ve done more writing after than I ever did during. And I did get past the 20-page mark, but I used the first person “I” many many times.

I have been able to make my own rules about what makes sense in my writing.

It’s been lovely.

AND

A new unfair rule has popped up in my world. The rules of the search engines.
The Wonderblog lives in a world dominated by Google. It’s 15 years old, and I have published more than 2,000 posts. Very very few of them are more than a thousand words. Very very few of them are less than 300.

Heretofore, I have spent no time thinking about Google’s opinion of my blog and my posts.

I am thinking a little about it now. A lot of people do think about it. I found this article that suggests Google prefers to serve up articles of a certain length: 2500 words. So if I want people to find what I write by using Google, I have to meet these new rules.

I wonder.

Does Google really know what people want?

I don’t know. I’d love for more people to read what I write, but not at the cost of making my writing worse.

It’s probably the same issue that the university had. Neither Google nor academia is a great judge of art.

They are systems, not souls.

And if I wanted to play by their rules, I had better bring a different set of tools.

Sometimes 500 words can do what 2500 can’t.

Cruising with the Spirit of the City

I’ve been told that for Shakespeare, England is always a character. England motivates and moves the action of the play.

I recently discovered a character, Tim “Speed” Levitch, who gives tours of New York City and who is the subject of an existential and metaphysical rant of a documentary called The Cruise.

He tells the story of his city, New York, from the same heroic perspective. The City is a character.

The title of the movie comes from his concept of the motion of life. It’s a cruise, a magnificent and glorious forward motion.

In the interview I heard with Tim Levitch, he brought up another kind of forward motion: the commute. The commute is when all parts of me are focused on the goal of BEING THERE.

When I am going to work, I am commuting and I want to be THERE. Especially when I am commuting home.

The streets in California–wait, the highways–have a complete character all their own. They have a life and a will that is implacable and must be reckoned with.

A consciousness, as I am beginning to see.

If I am in the city, and in the traffic, on my commute, and all I am focused on is BEING WHERE I AM NOT YET, then I miss so much of where I am.

The mindset of the commute robs me of my life. I am commuting so often, not only on my way to work and back, but also when I am at those destinations. I live in the future of when THIS project will be done, when THIS goal will be achieved.

I miss the now. It doesn’t even exist when I am so goal focused. I don’t even exist.

I recognize this in my life. I come in and out of that mentality.

I will get caught up in the goal, the desired end, and forget myself and forget who, what and where I am.

And my discomfort increases.

At which point I shake myself into awareness again.

 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help [psalm 121]

That’s what I see on my commute. Hills. And when I look up to my beautiful surroundings, I remember that my goals and my problems have a bigger context.

There is a whole world of beauty and love out there.

These roads are part of it too. The paint is just lines and dots. They are part of the city, not all of it. Even if they are the part I am most intimate with.

We are in this world together, agents of destiny. My desire is to add to the glory and beauty of this cacophony. With intention. Where I am.

I’ll get where I’m going in good time.

anonymous and the monomyth

I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman. -Virginia Woolf

It’s called the Monomyth, also known as the Hero’s Journey. If you’ve seen Star Wars, you know what it is. George Lucas was a big follower of Joseph Campbell, who wrote Hero of a Thousand Faces to outline how this same story has repeated itself throughout history.

Homer’s lliadBeowulf, King Arthur and Luke Skywalker all are doing that thing. That’s a big swath of history for one basic story to cover.

We know this story. I breathe this story. I read the hero stories–fantasy like Lord of the Rings. And when I watch movies, I pick the comic book hero movies.

This is how I like to see my life. Conquering adversity, be it a dragon or a self-serving government, and rescuing myself and my people.

Those stories have something else in common. They all have male protagonists. Where are the women?

What is it about women? Why aren’t we as frequently in the hero’s role?

Dorothy? When she went to Oz? Her return to her home was as uneventful as it comes. In the sequels to the first book, she is even treated for being insane for her journey.

That’s not a great example.

Alice following the white rabbit to Wonderland? Her journey was equally uneventful, in the book she wakes up in her companions lap, with the whole journey dismissed as a dream.

Why are the storytellers finding it so hard to see a female in this role? I don’t have a problem picturing myself as Frodo, travelling against all odds.

How much does it matter?

I believe it does. Because when I walk through the door, my shape and gender declare themselves as NOT the one who solves the problem no matter what.

Other people will assume that I am meant for saying safely at home to care for family and children.

Because it’s the other people, the ones who I am NOT, that are the heroes and the problem solvers.

I’ve been racking my brain for weeks. I finally thought of one:

The nightmare world of The Hunger Games introduced us to Katniss, who is a hero(ine) to rival Achilles. In a horrible dystopia she fights, first for her sister and her special knowledge spreads to bring salvation to everyone.

One.

Can you think of a female hero?

Woolf had a point. Anonymous has had a big impact on our world. I wish she would come out of the closet. We need her help now.