Wednesday, May 18, 2011


If you’re going to do something, you may as well do it well. Otherwise, find someone else who can. Ask them how to do it better now so that the next time a similar opportunity comes up, you can be the one who does it. It’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you learn from the experience and don’t make them again. We go through training and spend our time learning in order to better ourselves, in order to do whatever we do, better. Or at least, that’s the intention. It doesn’t always work out that way and I see this in all aspects of my life.

For me, I enjoy doing a good job. It doesn’t really matter whether I’m repairing a computer, building a retaining wall, making a Subway sandwich, proofing an advertisement, running a raid in World of Warcraft or writing. I am where I am and it’s pride in my work, no matter how shitty that work, that helps me move forward. When people describe me, I want them to use words like capable, competent, hard-working. Talented, intelligent, friendly are nice too, but are a subset of the prior descriptions.

When I owned my own business with a friend, one of our company philosophies was to do the best work for the most reasonable price. While monetary profit is important, our reputation for doing our work right the first time, for giving not only good advice, but the best advice was more important. A perfect example: one of our customers was having internet connection problems after her ISP changed their hardware. She spent hours on the phone with them and their solution would have cost her hundreds of dollars. She called us and we found the simplest, cheapest, and ultimately the only right answer to her problem. . . she reset her router to the factory defaults and voila, everything worked. The fix took about ten seconds and cost her nothing. Guess who she took all her business to until we closed our doors?

The subject is so important to me that I recently left my guild in World of Warcraft and started one of my own called <Competence>. It’s founded on the idea that a casual group of skilled players can accomplish end game raiding goals in spite of minimal time spent. And our first night we killed a raid boss on our fifth try (similar to a puzzle game like Labyrinth, in which your marble can drop into a hole and you have to start over, only with 10 people who have to work together), in spite of a more experienced raider’s doubts about our ability to do so. For all that it’s a game, I’m proud of our accomplishments so far.

Finally we come to the spark that inspired this article. I work as a proofreader for an in house advertising agency. A recruiting project for our company made its way across my desk today and after reading through the copy, I was disappointed. It was limp, lifeless, repetitive and unengaging. Had they been attempting to recruit me with this project, I would not have been impressed. I wrote down some suggestions for changes and took them to the copy director. She hadn’t even seen the copy and both agreed with my opinion of the work and approved of the suggestions I made. While it feels good to have my own ideas accepted, I don’t think it should have made it that far. As an advertising agency for a major brand, our standards should be a little higher. We should look for and expect the product we ended with, not the product that came to me to be “finalized”. Maybe the company would be doing better overall if that were the case.

So there it is. Competence. You can only hit a target if you aim for it in the first place.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

To Write, To Ramble

 I’m not sure what to write today, but since I have the time I may as well write something. I’m not certain there’s a better way to spend free time than writing. It’s a great opportunity to be creative, particularly since I’m being paid while I’m doing it. I suppose I should be writing pages of my novel, but that’s a hard habit for me to create. I’ve avoided writing prose since poetry became my medium of choice. It was a matter of effort, really. Poetry comes from me like a geyser. The pressure builds, I fall in love with an idea, a line, a woman, and the words flood out, wash away the white of the page in the waves of tiny black detritus. It’s a flash flood, whipping through one of those arroyo’s during a summer storm, just like you read about as a child. Was it Gary Paulsen? Or perhaps the Happy Hollisters. No matter, it’s quick and easy and over almost as soon as it began.

Prose is more like adding a water feature to your yard, or a reservoir to a national forest. You have to lay a base, craft, form, create. There must be a solid foundation and it must be engineered so your words don’t simply seep out into the soil and leave you with a dry, empty basin. It is built, layer upon layer like a retaining wall. Prose is rarely a project accomplished in a day, let alone an hour. That, I think, is my stumbling block. My prose is the first shovelful of unbroken ground and I have a tendency to lean on that shovel and stare at all the work that’s left to do. Future effort added to the concept of the completed project equals a lone shovel and no one to dig it. Forget that I lose time when I’m writing, and I enjoy losing time. Forget that it seems like the road that leads to my dreams. Prose is the mountains on the horizon and writing is the seemingly endless trek toward them. 

Perhaps part of the problem is there’s too much wondering what I want to write about and not enough writing. I haven’t brought what I’ve learned from Zen into my creative side. I’m daunted by the goal instead of letting the journey be the goal. Maybe that’s what’s next. Time to be Camus’ Sisyphus: “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Tool for Getting More by Taking Less

I have been a Catholic, a polytheist, an atheist, and a glorified agnostic. In varying amounts I’ve studied Zen, Christianity, Wicca and so on and so forth. I’ve read Nietzche, D.H. Lawrence, Albert Camus, Abraham Maslow, Voltaire, Aristotle, Plato, Derrida. I enjoy anything that opens my mind, gives me a broader perspective on life and teaches me that acceptance is the road to contentment. Be where you are and all.

There is one philosophy that has carried me through all of my education, formal and informal. The basic version everyone knows: “take life with a grain of salt,” but I have another metaphor that I think more accurately defines the point I want to make and it’s all about fishing.

Fish with a net, not a bucket.

I don’t believe any one person or any one source has all the answers. There is no need to conform completely to any one idea or path. What makes us unique as human beings is that each piece of information we gather resonates differently with the experiences we’ve lived through. Like fishing, there’s a purpose to our learning, and that’s to gather fish with which to nourish our minds. (It’s the omega 3s, you see).

Let’s imagine it’s a hot, summer day. You live a mile from some of the best fishing in the area. Your favorite fishing hole takes a path through the woods, so you leave your car far behind. When you arrive, you settle in and the water is busy with fish jumping. You wade in. Within minutes, the first fish bites and you excitedly reel it in. As it gets closer, you see it’s a big one and it’ll feed you more than once. So here’s the question. Net or bucket? Let’s explore the consequences of both.

Bucket: you scoop up the fish, along with a good four gallons of lake water. You begin the two mile hike with fish, bucket, water, fishing pole, and all. Everything that’s in the water, you’re carrying with you. The extra burden of its weight. Some algae. Probably giardia. A fish that’s flopping madly about bruising its flesh against the side of the bucket. Once or twice, it escapes entirely, dropping to the ground and splashing you with water. After all these trials and tribulations, you make it home. You collapse on a chair, exhausted, damp, and smelling like fish water. The fish, when you finally do get to eat it, tastes much like you’d expect after that journey.

Net: you scoop up the fish, string it up, grab your pole and head home. Fifteen minutes later, you’re there. You clean it, grill it, enjoy a delicious meal of fresh bass.

Which sounds better to you?

Why You Should Dance (with other people)

How’s your health? How’s your fitness? How’s your memory? When was the last time you really connected with your significant other? There’s a panacea for all these things that anyone can do, and it’s called social dance.

This may seem like a big claim, and it is. But the studies are out there to back it up. If you’re looking for a healthy and fun exercise, according to Discovery Health’s Activity Burn Rate Calculator, swing dancing can burn approximately 265-326 calories an hour for someone weighing from 130-160 pounds. Not enough? Dancing can help your posture, balance, and even help improve your intelligence and prevent memory loss.

Let me share with you some study results listed in an article by Richard Powers, an instructor and dance historian at Stanford.

The only physical activity [in a study of the effect activities have on memory loss] to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.

                     Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia
                     Bicycling and swimming - 0%
                     Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47%
                     Playing golf - 0%

            Dancing frequently - 76%.
[Dancing] was the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.

Why, you ask? Well, the answer is pretty complex. Simply stated, social dance is one of the most well rounded activities out there. As Powers wrote, “Dancing integrates several brain functions at once, increasing your connectivity. Dancing simultaneously involves kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional processes.” When you dance, as either a lead or follow, you have to be constantly aware of many things at once. You have to know how to move, where to move, when to move (I call this staying on beat). A dancer must make a connection with their partner and speak clearly (and listen) without ever saying a word. You’ve heard that 55% of any communication is body language, (Albert Mehrabian, UCLA), well, one can manage whole dances without saying more than seven. “Would you like to dance?” at the beginning and “Thank you,” at the end.

Which brings me to the final point, connection. While I know from reading I’ve done that dance is a growing, successful form of couple’s therapy, I don’t need studies or quotations to tell you about the importance of connection in social dance. As a former ballroom and swing dance teacher for the University of Idaho, the Swing Devils of the Palouse non-profit corporation, Festival Dance, and private dance instructor, I’ve spent countless hours teaching hundreds of people how to connect, communicate and move together. As one couple in a class I taught just last Thursday so aptly said, “This is the closest to my partner I’ve been in a week without a child between us. It’s nice to be able to just look into her eyes.” When you dance with someone, you have to be willing to accept who is leading, who is following and really open up to listening to both your connection to yourself and how that connection relates to your partner. Whether you know how to dance or you’re just beginning, it’s a wonderful way to learn and grow together. And do I even need to mention the benefits of that much physical contact, especially with someone you love?

If you don’t know where to begin or if you’re worried about those two left feet, I’ve got an answer to that, too. Start walking. Put on some music and walk to the beat. Put on some Michael Jackson and do your best moonwalk. When you realize that I’ve said “walk” four times in the last four sentences, you’re starting to get the picture. Now add a dash of attitude. There you go, you’re dancing! It’s that easy.


Discovery Health

Dancing Makes You Smarter