Monthly Archives: January 2008

It’s All Fun and Games Until…

Tonight the Tattered Thread household hosted the monthly euchre party. The concept is a relatively straightforward one: 12 people get together (plus interested spectators) and play euchre, exchanging partners and tables in an intricate dance after every 10 tricks. Four rotations later, a winner is determined based on total points and a small amount of non-existent money changes hands.

What I completely don’t understand is how we manage to get along. If you look at the group on paper, the only real common thread that ties it together is some connection to teaching (all the participants are 1st or 2nd degree friends of Kathy’s) but that thread doesn’t seem to actually come into play very much. There is some amount of low-level “shop talk” but not enough to account for even 10% of the actual interaction. No, somehow if you put 13 people in a room and give them something to do they’ll find a way to entertain themselves together. From a purely logical standpoint I simply can’t fathom it. Even more puzzling to explain is the fact that I manage to participate in it in some positive way but could not for the life of me tell you how. I just do not understand frivolity. I can apparently do it (not all that well mind you) but I just can’t explain it.

Now, it was all fun and games until … the “internet video” screening. I should mention that these get-togethers do have at times a somewhat adult thread running through them. This is natural of course whenever adults get together but sometimes it can run horribly amok. I won’t state which of the many “worldwide internet fad videos” we watched (as a group) at one of our guests suggestion but suffice it to say that it was, by far, the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen. It was personally difficult to resist the temptation to vomit on my own floor. If I’d been standing over someone else’s floor I might not have tried so hard. This is exactly the reason you invite hip young people to your parties. They know all about this… wait a minute… maybe that’s why you DON’T invite… Any rate, no harm done except for the large, brown stain on my eternal human soul.

The one thing I’m not overly thrilled about is the choice of activities. Despite the fact that the party is billed as a ‘euchre party’ the cards actually seem to have very little to do with it. In fact, in the past when we’ve had substitutes for missing players who were actually intent on the game, they were a detriment to the enjoyment of others. Playing cards is really more of an excuse to get together than a reason to do so and while the structure of the game forces a regularly timed mingling, in the end it gets in the way and creates moments of awkwardness. Depending on how the rotation works out, you may end up stuck at a table for 20 minutes with the 3 least compatible people in the room or you may find the people you enjoy the most stranded at a distance for the entire night. This was a much more enjoyable format BEFORE we’d done it a dozen times and got to know each other well.

There is also a bit of a quandary on the topic of alternative party activities. During one of our monthly club meetings we were short of the necessary quorum for the usual game by a significant amount so we played charades instead. This, in my opinion, was an order of magnitude more enjoyable than euchre. Where euchre divided us, charades brought us all together to play and have fun as a unit. What is odd about this is that many people simply refuse to play and I’m puzzled as to why. Technically speaking, being a reserved person I shouldn’t play a game that requires me to get up in front of other people and act the apparent fool but for some reason I enjoy it. It forces me to crack open my shell and let the world see what’s inside. Having brought this up to others though it seems like it’s actually the more outgoing people who refuse to play and I have absolutely NO idea why. You would expect that being in front of people and having their undivided attention should be natural to someone who is extroverted. Several in our group though flatly refuse to even attend if charades is the game of choice. It makes me question the true nature of what it means to be extroverted; why am I, socially clam-like as I am, willing to expose myself to the universe in this way while more outgoing people are not? Is this a universal trade-off that I’ve failed to notice until now?

Even further from the original topic of this post, this makes me question the entire dynamic of friendship and interacting with people. I’ve always viewed extroverted people as open people who are out there to be befriended by anyone. They were, in my mind, always ready to share of themselves and that’s what made them everyone’s friend. Introverts were clams that you had to pry open with a screwdriver. They were hard to get to know and you had to really work at it.

It seems clear to me now though that it’s actually the opposite. Outgoing people put a good face on it, they have a version of themselves that they show to the world and is available to anyone who merely wants to take the time to look. This is not to say that the face you see is fake, it’s certainly them but it’s only a part. To get to the heart, the true self, of an extrovert you have to first dig down past those outward layers. The hardest thing about this process I suspect is knowing when you’ve actually finished. How do you know when you’ve finally gotten to a person’s true feelings? Is it when the office clown suddenly becomes serious? Perhaps when the pious man admits he has doubts? I just don’t know but it’s certainly an adventure trying to find out.

Anyway, it’s officially 1 A.M. and I’ve suddenly realized that this post that took you a whole five minutes to read took me two and a half hours of typing and analysis to generate. I’m not sure I’ve come to any new conclusions except that there are some people I’d like to try to get to the very heart of (but won’t know when I get there). Further, I’m going to nag my wife to schedule a charades party and invite every person I can think of. Then we’ll see who shows up and who doesn’t… Then those of us who do show up can psychoanalyze those who don’t.

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Black and White just make… Gray

For various reasons, over the past month my life has been composed primarily of dizzying heights of absolute bliss and depressingly abysmal lows. I haven’t laughed so much or enjoyed life so much in any of my recollectable history but conversely, I don’t remember having been so randomly worried, depressed or pissed off either. Overall it has been a great few weeks but I tend to think I’m handling it the wrong way; I’m mixing the black bits of life with the white bits and getting gray rather than keeping them separate and enjoying them in their purer forms.

For example, today I went out with some co-workers who are, as has been mentioned, very pleasant and at least similarly-minded people. For some reason I can’t fully explain though, something in the course of the day pitched me into the very depths of fury. I had a name for the target of my rage but it wasn’t exactly justified or completely comprehensible, even to me. Yet as ineffable as it was, this blackness consumed what was otherwise a perfectly pleasant situation. I’m still a little surprised that we went to lunch without the actual guest of honor (ok, not surprised, horrified) but be that as it may it was no reason to let unrelated fury consume me so. It wasn’t constructive; nothing was gained whatsoever. Yet consume, it did and everyone felt it.

Then just as I was about to come down from that stratospheric fit of annoyance I arrived home to find a message on my home answering machine from my boss’s boss. It seems that while I was meeting with the rest of the department one of my customers called my boss’s boss’s boss to complain that I hadn’t resolved the issues they had reported just a mere three hours ago while I was in a meeting. Further, they complained that they hadn’t heard from me all day. This was especially surprising since we had one phone conversation and exchanged six emails in the morning before the meeting but be that as it may, this was officially an emergency of the highest caliber. The appropriate response is, of course, to panic so I spent the next four hours snapping people’s heads off, being a general asshole and trying to sort out problems while all the interested parties had long ago gone home for the weekend and stopped worrying about whatever was so important before. This bit of black ink in my life consumed the entirety of a Friday night.

If it were just me wrapped up in this, that would be fine. I can suffer alone. But it’s not just me, there are other people involved in every step of this, some of whom I love and care deeply for. From my puzzled lunch mates to my family they all suffered in some way whether they just took the time to inquire after my mental state and offer words of encouragement or made me dinner. I feel bad that my ink splattered on their lives; people have enough ink of their own to deal with.

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My Bored Bubble Popped

After a lovely chat with the Mrs, my bubbles are back in the bottle again. It’s amazing how well she knows me after 14 years. She always knows just the right thing to say to put my train back on the tracks. The funny thing is that nothing has really changed. Television is just as boring… These books are just as dull… This laptop is just as scalding hot on my lap as before… yet none of it seems to matter quite as much.

The question remains, what to do about it long term. I think my original propositions stand; I need to get out more and widen my sphere but it’s no longer an emergency. I need to reconnect with my work in a strategic rather than a reactionary way. I need to remember to relax and not view everything (even recreation) with such urgency. *yawn* *stretch* Luckily tomorrow is another day to practice.

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Bored, Bored, Bored and Grumpy x3

It has become clear to me that weekends are my downfall. There is just NOTHING to do around here. Saturday began at 2:30am as the whole house found itself awake for no particular reason. The wife and I concluded a conversation we’d dropped the night before before bed (since we had little else to do) and finally faded off to sleep around 4:00. After a dull breakfast the kids and I hung about the house while my wife dined with a friend for lunch. After lunch we hung about the house while waiting to go to dinner. We shared an uneventful and somewhat quiet dinner which was, in fact, so quick that our movie plans changed from Sweeney Todd to Atonement. I was completely unaware just how much I did NOT need to watch a 2-hour movie about a frustrated love affair. *sigh*

When I wasn’t bored today I was just plain grumpy. For whatever reason, this usually happy clam has a bit of sand in his shell. Frankly, I blame the weekend. Those things which seemed merely typical the day before became damned annoyances today. There is a black fog over the planet as of late that I’m unable to penetrate. The piles of books that seemed so entertaining before are merely doorstops today. Television is even less entertaining than usual. All the fizz has left my soda pop it seems.

Anyway, I’ll stop complaining now.

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Words, Edgewise and Otherwise

Last night we had one of my wife’s FABs over for dinner and during the ensuing discussion I was struck by a few unrelated thoughts.

Firstly, I have to wonder if all people have conversations like the ones my wife and her friends share. They seem to have examined the people around them in vast psychological detail. I’m not sure I’d categorize this as gossip per se as it’s not done in a vindictive manner but it’s just astounding how much thought they’ve spent on this analysis. Where other people might discuss politics or world events these two do detailed psychological profiling. I have to wonder if this is some unique characteristic they share and that makes them deeply compatible in that way or if it’s just what normal people do. That said, much of it, on the surface, is somewhat redundant from one conversation to the next; I’ve heard many of the same observations occur in multiple conversations but I think this is really because the purpose is not to exchange new information. Through this communication they’re trying to draw new conclusions about the situations and people at question. It’s as if they’re constructing some vast mathematical proof together and at the end, both parties actually have MORE information than they started out with, some of it generated on the fly. After the conversation is over, those new conclusions are taken into the field and put to the test. Days or weeks later when they come together again results are compared and new conclusions reached. In this way they both come to a deeper understanding of the people around them. It’s really quite freakish that all this is hidden in the guise of idle gossip.

Aside from the profiling I’m also astounded at the depth of their conversations about very personal topics; when I defined a FAB a couple weeks ago I don’t think I took into proper account the level of emotional intimacy. I’m sure this is more common than I realize but it is somewhat surprising to see it in action. I tend to consider myself a very open person; I’ll answer any question put to me almost unholy honestly but I’m not really sure that this makes me at all exceptional. I think that on some very low level people want to be honest and open with others but the variable is the level of trust required for this to occur.

On a personal level, this reminded me of my ‘bystander’ problem in group situations. I’ve noted many times before that in 1-on-1 situations people find me relatively amusing because I have a captive audience and the rules of conversation are clear and simple. If the other person’s not talking, you talk. Easy enough. However, if you add a third or fourth person all the easy rules go out the window and often there isn’t really enough silence to interject very much. I’ve never quite gotten over the lack of available silence. Luckily in situations where I’m the ‘disconnected spouse’ this isn’t really a concern. If we’re out with the wife’s friends then being a bystander isn’t really a problem and even at my most exuberant I’m still seen as “just sitting there” so additional and costly effort seems unlikely to have a positive impact.

What makes this even more of a concern is the fact that in a few weeks we’ll be attending the wedding of one of my former co-workers and for the first time in several years, my wife and I will be with my friends with her as bystander. Frankly, these situations terrify me to no end. In 14 years this has only happened a few times; it’s a standing joke in all my workplaces that my wife does not actually exist because so few people have actually met her. The spheres of work and personal life are so utterly separate for me that when they collide I worry about even more unnecessary details than usual: Is my wife uncomfortable? What is she thinking about my friends? Did I say something that offended my wife/my friends? Am I paying enough attention to my wife? If you ask yourself these kinds of questions often enough you can ruin an evening pretty quickly. The real problem, I think, is one of balance. I don’t want to focus on the wife too much and exclude my friends as it’s these non-work interactions that act as the basis for real and lasting friendships. Sitting here on a Saturday morning with plans to do little except work and write blog entries it’s clear that I need more interaction outside the 50-hour workweek. Conversely, I can’t ignore the wife because ultimately she’s the one I have to connect with my friends. If I can establish a connection between her and the people I enjoy being around then everyone will have fun both at the wedding and outside it. At any rate, if I worry about this enough I’m sure I can manage offend everyone.

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Plenty of Tension

I’ve been up all night catching up on everything I completely failed to get done during the normal work day so you’ll have to accept a much abbreviated epistle from my soul tonight.

As I sit here mere minutes from the comforting warmth of my bed, it occurs to me that my entire day was REALLY tense. I spent literally the entire day either IN a nerve-wracking, uncomfortable situation or dreading one. That said, it was a good kind of tension. Today exemplified the kind of intensity that you only get out of life when you don’t simply go around and around in the same well-worn groove.

For several years my life has been relatively stress free. Sure there were moments of “how are we going to get all this done?” but it was always known that what we promised to do would be done. Perhaps not in the best way and perhaps not at the best time but it would get done because it was, frankly, just busy work just like the previous 10,000 units of work that preceded it. There was no real challenge, no real possibility of failure, no sense of adventure. Today, however, was a totally different story and I fervently hope that my trip out of my groove is not merely a temporary visit. It’s time to wear some new ruts in the universe.

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Life Without Regrets

Today was less than giddy. In fact, I experienced some regrets. I did a lot of pacing about the house trying to figure out what I should have done differently. I lectured to the walls about this option and that. I pondered several imponderables aloud and vociferously to no one. But in the end I think I concluded that you simply can’t carry around any regrets. The only true regret is that which comes from inaction. If you act at all times in accordance with your own best judgment at the time, then certainly you can go wrong but that’s no reason to regret anything.

No, the only real regret I can imagine is the one you experience on your deathbed when you realize you missed your chance, that one moment of realization that you let opportunity slip from your grasp out of fear or laziness. If you tried and failed, then often that’s satisfaction enough to know that you did your best. There are a few things I’d like to say I did before I die:

I’d like to see my name on the spine of a book. Not from one of those silly publishing houses that’ll print your life story in book form for $1000 but a real, proper, commercial book. My adoration of the printed page has been so complete since even my earliest years that I feel it only apropos to give something back to the art form. Or, if nothing else, at least use up valuable paper resources that would have gone to pulp romance novels.

Earn the real, sincere applause of an audience. Yes, I know, this is totally out of character for me. I’m the type who hates to do anything in front of people it is in fact my greatest dread. But something inside me yearns to perform, to cast off the shackles of reality and assume the personae of someone totally different, to sing a song (badly in all likelihood) or tell a series of awful jokes in a bad rendition of someone else’s voice. Doubtless this is just another form of escapism, a momentary rush to be experienced and described in minute detail later but it still earns a place on the list.

Host a really exclusive party. One to which I invite only friends I’ve known and talked to on a regular basis for 20 years. Preferably, of course, there would be someone to invite.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, I’d like to make a difference in someone’s life. Not in a family member’s life, that comes by default generally for good or bad. But just once I’d like to know that I helped a person in some significant way, that something I said or did had a real and positive impact on them. It’d just be nice to know I made a difference to someone outside the sphere of my own family. And this, I think I can safely say, is something we all want before we die.

Alright, I think I may have meandered a bit there but now that that’s all out in the open let’s get to work people. Make your lists and make sure that each day you do what it takes to have a peaceful deathbed. None of this pointless thrashing about at the very end screaming, “Oh!!!!! If only I’d planted daffodils instead of narcissus in the front flowerbed!” Let’s figure out what we want to get done before we die and do it. No fear, no regrets!


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From Giddy to Slightly Less Giddy in Six Hours

I have to admit, I was giddy to the point of inappropriateness this morning. Everyone was out of the house for the first time in two weeks and I could walk around shouting nonsense words at the top of my voice and nobody complained. I could dictate emails aloud to myself without interruption. I put on some music and turned it up so loud that I couldn’t even hear myself dictating emails. It was pretty much the pinnacle of bliss. (Well, maybe not the pinnacle but at least somewhere up the slope.)

To add to that I think I’ve re-figured out my requirements for enjoying a job. Infinite power over the processes that impact me you might suggest? Nah. Gobs and gobs of money? Um, no. A chance to wield all my powers of intellect in a maximally entertaining and productive fashion? Hardly. The adulation of my co-workers and bosses on a job well done? Not necessary. Processes that make optimal use of my time and don’t make me perform unnecessary steps to get a job done? Not even that. No, I think the only real requirement is that I have a job where I can actually succeed. A job where I can come in, sit down and do what’s expected of me and have those expectations not be utterly impossible. That’s it. Give me a job I can do and I’m good. Heck, give me a job I can do 80% of the way and I’ll have fun stretching to get to 100%.

Now, that’s not to say that the other things wouldn’t be nice. Clearly it’s in a company’s best interest to provide interesting work that puts their employees to the best possible use but that’s not necessarily a requirement from the employee’s point of view. I need to constantly remind myself that the point of work is to make money. Nothing more. If it’s enjoyable at the same time, all the better but it’s not required and generally the exception rather than the rule. It’s also not my fault if I’m not put to the best possible use after I tell the people I work for again and again and again what I think that best use is. There’s only so much I can do. Despite what Henley may say to the contrary, I am not the master of my fate when it comes to work.

Unrelatedly, I’m starting the believe in the power of ‘presumed familiarity.’ Someone once told me simply that she assumes people are her friends until she hears otherwise. I think that’s a powerful concept; there are a couple of people that I’ve tried this out on recently and it really seems to work. The trick seems to be to just convince yourself that you’ve talked to this person at least 10 times more often than you actually have and when you take that stance people can’t help but reciprocate. This of course makes future contact all the more likely and chances are good that you’ll actually fill in the presumed familiarity with real familiarity or at least have a lot of fun presuming. Again though, the theme is the same. Smile and the world smiles back… Scowl and the whole world scowls back… Be friends with the world and the world calls you for coffee on Saturday morning… Just remember to go dutch.

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Habits, Old and New

OK, I saw a promo for this new Fox show, “Moment of Truth” and while I’ll guarantee that I’ll forget to watch it, one of their promo questions did remind me of something. The question was, “Have you ever touched a co-worker in an inappropriate manner?” Ugh, dammit. Yes, I have, but here’s the stupid story.

Year and years ago when I’d known my current wife for a couple years I got into this habit of playfully swatting her on the rear whenever we’d pass by each other. Well one day I was working in the Terry Courts kitchen at Purdue as a waiter and a female waiter I knew somewhat (but not well) was leaning over cleaning something. By now you’ve probably guessed that something in my brain short-circuited and I playfully swatted her on the rear. I, of course, was three heartbeats from having my head explode with embarrassment and the only thing I could think to say was, “Sorry, wrong rear.” Luckily she seemed unabashed and perhaps flattered more than anything.

In the same vein, whenever my wife and I end a phone conversation we generally give it the “bye, love you” at the end and on SEVERAL occasions I’ve barely stopped myself from saying this to female customers on the phone. This isn’t surprising really; you have a lot of contact with a spouse and you build up habits that are hard to break with others of the opposite gender. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about all this but let me assure you my affection for our customers is purely platonic no matter what I may accidentally utter on the phone. The worst danger in this area is people who tend to hug. Aside from my wife, I get hugged about once a year so I’m happy to accept your hug but remember that the previous 499 hugs I gave out came with a little bit more than a hug.

There aren’t a lot of stories from my childhood kicking around in my brain but there’s one that I can remember word for word. If I have time I’ll transcribe it for you: “You took forever to learn to talk but once you did you never shut up.” OK, that’s it. That was pretty long by the usual standards. The point here may be that at some point I did shut up again. And I think that to a large extent any success I’ve had at these “job” things has been due to my ability sit down, shut up and work. In fact, I’ve been told that people avoided me specifically because I “looked like I was doing something important.” (It’s an easy face to pull off: lips together and slightly puckered, narrow your eyes and eyebrows down as far as they can go. Then stare determinedly at a fixed point. No one has ever been fired while assuming this face.)

Lately though I’ve gone completely the opposite direction. I can literally blast away an hour and accomplish absolutely nothing except lively banter about the lifestyles of Italian nuns. And I can see why people do this; it’s damn amusing. It’s probably the most entertaining thing I can think of. That said, we really need a short, polite, unambiguous way of saying, “Listen, I’m really enjoying this conversation but to be honest I have to get back to work because if I don’t… well, there’s going to be some sort of personal hell for me to pay later. So if we can, let’s just pick this up later, OK?” Perhaps a code word of some sort. Not rutabaga, that’s already being used to indicate when someone really needs a breath mint. No, I’d suggest watercress. It’s short and gentle sounding, “Sorry, man, watercress.” Who can get mad at watercress?

Anyway, watercress.


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Random Notes of the Day

I have to ask, do all women go around sniffing their significant others? I don’t wear any cologne of any kind yet my wife’s always telling me how ‘good’ I smell. What I wonder is whether she’s just gotten accustomed to my specific scent and associates me with it or whether people fall into certain ‘scent groups’ that somehow signal a level of biological compatibility. The latter seems to be suggested by the fact that there are other men in her sphere that smell ‘good’ and others that she describes as ‘stinking’. Similarly, there’s a ‘my baby’ smell too apparently. When our daughters were small my wife always said they smelled ‘good’ while all other babies were, again, ‘stinky’. This is a measurable phenomenon since studies indicate that mothers can always smell the difference between their own baby’s blanket and those of other babies. Someone should commission a man-stink study but I think the thing to remember may be to smell your man (I’m told the neck is the best place to put your nose) and if he stinks you may have a problem. Similarly, give that baby a good whiff before you bring it home. If it smells sour then check the hospital’s records.

On a completely unrelated matter, I realized recently that it’s been literally years since I’ve seen a “man” movie. For 14 years, almost every time I enter a movie theater it’s to see one of those “romantic comedy” movies or worse a children’s movie. Now don’t get me wrong; I can appreciate a woman movie with the best of them but give a guy a break. Well I’ll tell ya, I’m seein’ this damn Sweeney Todd movie; if blanket invitations to all the eligible people in my sphere are ineffective I’m druggin’ a wino and propping him up in the seat next to me. Yes, I know it’ll suck and be nothing like the stage version but that changes nothing. Some things you have to see for yourself. Oh… what’s this…? my wife’s putting in a DVD. What could it be… well crap, When Harry Met Sally. Dammit.

90 Minutes later…. this movie’s puritanical views are bullshit.


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