I think the concept of “failing well” … in other words, fast and cleanly… applies to the notion that successful people don’t put all their metaphorical eggs in one basket, and don’t try and make omelets from the ones they drop.
Every year I set a running goal. This year things fell into a bit of disarray and prompted a wave of uncertainty… and eventually a mid-year re-adjustment of that goal.
In late June, still recovering from a sciatic nerve pinch of some kind that left me hobbling to run meters (let alone kilometers) I took my plan of running 1650 klicks in 2014 (by then, firmly out of reach) and re-calibrated my sights on 1313 klicks.
At the time I wrote: Goal setting is tough. You always want to drive yourself to be a little better, push a little hard, and try something more amazing than last time. And following an amazing 2013, 1650 klicks was actually a conservative target.
But, as I alluded to, pain and injury don’t play well with ambition.
Over thirteen hundred klicks is still an awesome feat. It’s my second biggest year of running to-date and coupled with my 2013 total brings me over the three thousand klick mark in just two years, and from back when I started seriously tracking in 2010, tallies to nearly 5,500 klicks across 5 years.
I passed my goal of 1313 klicks this morning. Uneventfully. Unceremoniously. Just briefly noted by a glance at the watch (because I knew the exact number remaining to two decimal points) and then followed by another nine and a half klicks through the icy, cold streets.
And having given myself permission to ignore next year until this year was under wraps, I spent that last nearly-ten thinking about 2015. And again: Goal setting is tough. You always want to drive yourself to be a little better, push a little hard, and try something more amazing than last time.
So, I figured we’ll do this: 1313 klicks from 2014 plus my age for 2015 equals… next year’s distance target is going to be 1351 klicks.
As an island in a sea of spectacular failures.
I think I’d rather fail than end up feeling like I’d never ever tried.
A reloaded post is a short-and-sweet collection of the (sometimes-interlinked) randomness from my recent life, universe and everything else in between. They would be more detailed but they tend to be events lacking in either (a) details or (b) depth; Or lacking in the time to more fully record them. Enjoy.
It's — apparently — almost Spring. Well, technically it IS spring. But you wouldn't know from the weekly blizzards and the lowest-in-130-years temperatures we've been recording lately. Nevertheless, the snow is melting away in gushes of sloppy, dirty puddles, the days are getting noticeably longer, and summer seems just around the corner.
Something Sickly This Way Comes
I hesitate to label myself to firmly in the “sick” category. I've spent the last couple weeks fighting a lingering cough and stuffy nose, but other than the typical tired-all-overness that comes with a busy and productive week, I feel fine. I think it might just be some kind of allergy, what with all the snow finally giving way to the brown and rotting remnants of last year's grass. Snow mould?
Lost in the vacuum that was last week's minor blogging hiatus, I neglected to post here about Dopey. If you follow me on nearly any other form of social media, or have been reading my new running blog, FEETS dot CA, you will already long since know that I gave some money to the runDisney group, filled in some forms, and signed up to run in the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend in January.
“Marathon?” you ask.
Yeah, but as I've committed to running the Dopey Challenge, I don't get to run the marathon until I've run the 5K, 10K and half-marathons first. But hey, it's only 78.2 klicks in four days.
I don't normally write anything about work, and these few words aren't much anything at all except to mention that I had an awesome success this past week in my job: See, one of my projects is as a technical architectural lead in re-organizing the entire corporate intranet system, currently a time-worn jumbled mess of cluttered and out-of-date information.
I had the inspirational idea of game-ifying the staff engagement and input process, turning the usually-arduous process of getting feedback and opinion from our audience (ie. my fellow employees) into a light-weight electronic card-sorting tool. The system is very basic in the front end — essentially a click-and-drop game — but provides invaluable data when used by a wide range of people. I would have been happy getting, say, 100 people to use the tool, proffer their opinions on the data set, and therein rake in a few thousand data points to analyze. That would have been a blazing success.
But after three days, I switched my home-brewed tool down last night at the appointed time. Results: over 600 of my awesome fellow employees participated and we sorted a little over thirty-two thousand electronic cards. Wildest dreams exceeded! I doubt any of them are reading this, but if they are: you guys rock!
While I go on narcissistically bragging up my own insane commitment to running a darn-near ridiculous race, I can't neglect to mention the fact that six — yes, 6 — of my family members also signed up to run in Florida next January. That's right, not only are Karin and (then-to-be) six-year-old Claire going to run the 5 K family fun run, but both my parent-in-laws, my getting-more-respectable-by-the-day brother-in-law, and also my new (then-to-be) nine-year-old niece-in-law. There will be seven of us lined up on the start line, probably not setting record times, but all out for a five klick jog none-the-less.
I guess I'll be putting together a lot of training plans this summer.
Some of Claire's running training, if you can call it that, will likely start in a couple weeks when the fields clear up and she jumps into her first official team sport. We signed her up for the local soccer league this spring. Two nights a week she'll be chasing the black-and-white around a quarter-sized field somewhere in the neighbourhood. I'm not sure she quite gets what she's in for yet. She repeatedly tells me she doesn't know if she should play soccer because she doesn't know how: Uh, yeah… that's the point.
My daughter everyone: a perfectionist. I wonder where she gets that.
Either way, between that and us pushing hard on her new-found cycling skills of last summer, we're probably going to have an active and adventure filled spring and summer, I think, and by next January a short five klick run might not seem so out of scope.
You’ll pardon me if I take a moment to revel in the glorious light of personal achievement and epic goal-meeting success.
My alarm woke me at quarter to six this morning. I ate. Showered. Dressed in the running gear I’d laid out last night before bed. And was in my car on the way to the LRT by the time the clock in my car read six-thirty. The train itself was packed with runners: dozens of seats I’m so used to being filled with commuters were filled up as we hit each subsequent stop with bib-wearing racers prepping for the upcoming run.
…the anthem was played, the gun was fired, the swarm was moving…
I arrived with enough spare time to meet up with Clint and some others from the training group. We queued for a bathroom, assembled at the start line, and before I had any more time than I’d already squandered getting there to ponder the magnitude of what I was about to do, the anthem was played, the gun was fired, the swarm was moving, and I was clicking the start button on my watch as I crossed through the starting gate.
I paced myself. A few folks from my training group swished by me, but I was focused: focused on my watch pace, concentrating on a slow warm up and trying to center that pace on the calculated number I’d worked out weeks ago. Five minutes and forty seconds per kilometer. It was my magic number, and I was going to stick to it come hell or high water… at least that’s what I told myself.
I glommed onto a few fellow racers, people I could spot from a distance: the girl with the swooshing pony-tail and bright yellow shirt was who I followed for near on five klicks until she picked up her pace faster than I dared follow and disappeared into the distance ahead. Another dude with a mess of dark curly hair set my pace for at least another three kilometers, but his shoe came untied and he pulled off to re-lace. A girl in a red shirt… the guy who seemed to be following me, strapped into his headphones which were blaring so loud its amazing he could hear himself thinking… the overly-sweaty guy who I had to pass because his stink was making me nauseated… the girl in yellow again, who I caught up to and passed… another girl who stripped down to her sports bra around kilometer eighteen and, to be perfectly honest, held my attention for a solid two klicks as pulled myself toward twenty-one.
At ten kilometers I looked down and I was at a little less than fifty-seven minutes. At fifteen, I was holding my Canada Day run time, but my legs were starting to throb with the pain of nearly an hour and a half of pounding asphalt. I kept running. I didn’t stop for an unplanned rest or even a pain-induced, wimp-out walk break. I just focused, and each time that dark, looming feeling of wanting to pull to the side and just walk a few steps I reached in the pit of whatever shallow pool of motivation I could find and pulled out the will to crank out another few hundred steps. And again. And again.
As I rounded the last corner the volunteer minding the turn encouraged me on. I passed a girl who was literally sobbing with pain, and her friend — or maybe just a kinder stranger than I — put her arm around her shoulder and whipped the waiting crowd into a cheer. My foot crossed the sensor pad a few dozen meters before the finish and as I heard the voice of the sports guy from CBC read out my name I put in one last push and dashed across the gate hearing the telltale beep of my chip registering my time, simultaneously clicking the stop key on my watch before looking down at my time: two hours, three minutes and forty-five seconds.
No kidding; 02:03:45.
Nearly my ideal, not-quite-imaginable goal time. An average pace of 5:43 per kilometer. Hey… I know it’s not Olympic or qualifying for anything. But for a guy who in the course of a summer has run over six hundred and fifty kilometers, lost nearly thirty-five pounds, burned through the most amazing, painful, intense, and satisfying training clinic I’ve ever taken, and had just beat his own personal best time by over nineteen minutes… like the race slogan told us this year: just plain “Crazy Fast!”
Now? A few days off, and then… well Vegas, right?
Update: Various photos have been showing up in email and on news sites. I’ll post them as I find/get them. Ron via The Sun | Another of Ron from our training group via The Sun | A pained photo of me just about dead at the finish line courtesy Lisa | My “Finish Certificate” via the Race Website | Crossing the Line via official photo site (probably need to buy these) | Another pilfered finisher photo | The route map via the Race Website | Clint & Rhonda (not paying $12 for any of these) | Ron & Sarah | Daryl | Simon the pace bunny crossing the line | Our instructors, Simon & America | Leon | Andrew | A group shot, but I missed this one I guess
I’ve been reading through Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, a kind-of non-fiction graphic-novel-esque work that deconstructs the art of comics in the form of a comic. It is an aging work, originally published in 1993, and thus has little to say about the advent of web comics and such (topics I assume are covered in his newer books written in a similar style.) But this is largely inconsequential because the perspective McCleod takes is easily translatable to newer and (likely) future mediums.
What struck me however — at least enough to slog out a blog-entry opinion on the subject — was the chapter I read most recently wherein McCloud explains his thoughts on the progression of the artists themselves. He covers this topic as The Six Steps of artistic creation. And this interests me because I think there is some overlap (some convergence) to some very similar ideas from folks like Ira Glass and his “Gap” or Malcolm Gladwell and his “10,000 hours” — both of which I’ve written on previous.
There has been a lot of buzz over ‘The Gap’ lately. The Creative Gap. Maybe you’ve seen it. I’ve seen hints of it roll through the social networks in the last couple of weeks, getting all inspiring on our feeds and walls and such, particularly tweaking the eager minds of young creative professionals and their wannabe counterparts.
But what is this ‘The Gap’… and no, I write not of the ubiquitously famous and identically named clothing retailer one might find peddling khakis in the mall? I write, more precisely of Ira Glass’ Creative Gap, detailing that mental, intangible, ineffable space between on the close end of (1) just knowing something is good and wanting to replicate it and on the far end of (2) knowing something is good and actually being able to match or better it in quality, both at will and on a regular basis. And usually, that ‘something’ refers to things artistic, literary, or otherwise born of personal expression and skill. The Gap is in the middle there; It’s the space between now and that undetermined point in the future.
I thought it appropriate — given that today is the fifth of the month and thus the three month anniversary of when I reloaded this blog and picked up my (nearly) daily writing again after that uncomfortable silence of last year — to write about creative inspiration, hard work, repetitive creative exercises, and persistently just-getting-it-done on the path to that far off perfection (or at least, idealized honing) of one’s personal style and ability. That is after all what this blog is for me: writing for the sake of writing, writing to get better at writing, writing to fill The Gap with words.
Ira Glass, a somewhat famous radio personality, author, et cetera explains it as this:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me… is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it\’s just not that good. It\’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it\’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn\’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it\’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I\’ve ever met. It\’s gonna take awhile. It\’s normal to take awhile. You\’ve just gotta fight your way through.Ã¢â‚¬Â – Ira Glass
It’s a neat idea, of course. And I wrote about something very similar a little more than two years ago. If you hunt back through my archives (or just click on this link for my post ‘Six Million Words’) you’ll find a quasi-review and some personal insight on a very similar idea to The Gap in the form of Malcolm Gladwell’s Ten Thousand Hour Rule. In that idea lives the theory that in order to achieve greatness at anything — no matter what that anything happens to be — there is a temporal space between now and that point of greatness: 10,000 hours of effort. Again, a gap to be filled with practice, work, honing, review, critique, successes, failures, tweaks, risks, and a million small moments that will never, ever, no-matter-what be recognized by anyone for anything of value — but moments that fill that gap. The Gap. The Creative Gap.
The GreyscaleGorilla has a lengthy but insightful video of his presentation on not only the idea of The Gap, but strategies that he has found, adapted, developed, and honed to fill The Creative Gap with the fodder of those millions of small, dead moments. The video is focused on design and animation — his area of interest — but worth watching (or listening to in the background while you work) no matter your own personal gap.
And all of this — the Gap, the 10,000 Hour Rule, the creative exercises, the pain, the work and everything — gets me back to this blog. Not you. Me. Why? Because these are my moments: literally and not-so-much literally. These are the written moments of my life, but they are also my small meaningless moments of effort meant to fill my own creative gap between where I know I am and where I think I can be. Again: writing for the sake of writing, writing to get better at writing, writing to fill The Gap with words. Sure, there are benefits of story and personal history and potentially a random collection of texts for my descendents to read and understand this vague yet wordy ancestor from the turn of the millennium poking away on his petroleum-based plastic keyboard, words projecting into his eyes via little antique panels of glass, crystals and radiating light. Sure, there’s that. But for me. Now. And for that point in my future, this blog — my photos, my poking at design and digital comics, my sketching, my video editing, and my scattered attempts at writing fiction — all of it is gap-fodder. Both risks and benefits: understood.
For the entire month of June I’m planning on writing a series of blog-a-day posts based on a set series of open-ended questions to myself. This is one of those posts.
June 27th // Something You Want To Win
I did a quick Google search prior to putting fingers-to-keyboard on this post — largely to get a reminder of what I think I might have meant by “to win” when I drafted these questions over a month ago — and the net result of that search was a scattered mess of three similar, but distinct, categories: “winning at sports” or “winning at gambling” or “winning friends and influencing people.” And this — while it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it occupies the highest tiers of the collective of indexed online information on said topic — seems strange to me.
It probably seems strange because, largely, I am not a very competitive person and the whole idea of winning has not been something that has filled my methods or motivations in getting through life. In fact, when I thought of something worth “winning,” and then typed it into Google, I was more than a little frustrated that no one had managed to convince the search engine of the value of such a thing. No one seemed to have spun up that whole idea of winning into a discussion topic less tangible than the obvious ‘pick-my-name,’ ‘pick-my-numbers,’ ‘first-through-the-gate’ ideas of winning that show up so prevalent in Google — particularly as it relates to “quick fix methods” for the same. I’d rather have seen instead an elevation my search results to a thing conceptually broader in that definition, more like the idea of winning as simply beating-the-odds-against-all-odds for the sake of the win… that kind of discussion.
Does that make sense? If not, let me paraphrase: the societal obsession (at least according to Google) towards winning cash, sports, or social status doesn’t really float-my-boat on it’s own, but the idea of working hard to beat seemingly insurmountable odds playing against you in completing a task or achieving a success — whatever form that task might take — kinda does.
I mean, I’m interested in beating odds… and not just mathematically, but philosophically, too. And by that I mean, I’m interested in winning at something — at being a winner at something — but, given that I don’t really gamble (winning-money-against-stats), watch competitive sports (group-winning-by-association), or seek fame, political stature, or other notoriety (winning-friends-through-social-means) I’m kinda stuck with figuring out what I want to do that’s actually worth winning AND would make this post even slightly relatable to someone reading it.
And that makes me a little stuck. Why? Because I feel a lot like I risk a whole bunch of made-for-tv-movie cliche looking over my life and considering all the little things that (a) require some serious odds-beating, and (b) are worthy of philosophical reflection and introspection. That list, as you might guess, reaches into the realm of topics in in running, parenting, spousing, working, being healthy, and general contribution to society sort of topics. And would you even call that “winning” or would you just call it being a whole person with simple goals and human aspirations? I mean, while an argument could be made for “beating the odds” with respect to some far off marathon-running goal, or “beating the odds” by staying healthy for as long as possible, or “beating the odds” around the modern statistics of parenting and strong family relationships, are these really equatable to winning, per se? Or are we just talking general success?
Maybe it really does come down to odds. And it comes down to whether those odds are good, bad, or even measurable? And if you measure those odds, where is the line between likely and unlikely. Perhaps then here’s a good example to illustrate, and something that I wouldn’t mind winning at: A marathon. But how to define “win?” My odds of winning, say, the Boston Marathon (given that I’m a moderate-to-slow paced runner in my thirties with an ankle problem who has never actually run a marathon) are probably quite low… and probably insurmountable. My odds of winning any given local marathon, say the Intact Marathon in August, are still quite low, but not as insurmountable as Boston might be. My odds of winning my age category in the Intact Marathon are still low, but a little better than the previous two scenarios. And, we could work through all manner of lesser (but still worthy) achievements until we get to a basic finish: my odds of winning against just myself — having never done a full marathon and plain old cross the line at any old 42.2K race — are ok, but still not even really leaning towards a certainty at this point, if only because it isn’t — though it is — on my radar.
But here’s the thing about odds: those odds are (technically) much improved over the odds of the same measures from, say, four years back, when I was not running. And those odds of today might be completely different again four years from now — better or worse, depending on my life’s progress in general. So, then, maybe I’m wrong and it has nothing to do with beating odds, particularly if those odds are sketchy and ever-changing. (And if you come from a deterministic perspective, odds are entirely moot, anyhow. But I won’t go there.) Should that give me hope of someday being a winner of this (or any other) random marker of glory, achievement or practiced skill? And, what is winning defined as then for a guy like me for who winning is a sideline sport? Unexpected wins? Out of the blue success? Windfalls of cash and prizes for which I didn’t even realize I was competing? Or simply meeting my little goals.
Google couldn’t tell me much about that, no matter how many times I twisted the idea of winning into something less than the so-called normal. According to that particular measure of society’s worth, I’m not winning at anything, be it football, poker, class president, or the lotto. But I think winning might be a little deeper than that. And I do suspect that most average folks would side with me, despite the Google evidence. FTW!
For the entire month of June I’m planning on writing a series of blog-a-day posts based on a set series of open-ended questions to myself. This is one of those posts.
June 7th // Something You Have Failed
And… ah. Another tough one. But is it a tough post to write because I cannot think of a good answer or because I’m uncomfortable revealing too much of the honest truth about this particular topic? Let’s think about that shall we.
The thing is that failure is such an abstract concept in many ways. The simplest idea one might consider of it is that failure is the negative partner to success, but that in itself is a bit of a circular and unsatisfactory definition, isn’t it? Because then we’re just left with the question of ‘what is success’ and I’m probably going to need to answer that in a few weeks anyhow so we may as well get the thing properly sorted out now.
Failure, I’d argue, is loosely defined as not achieving some expected outcome as measured by some predetermined set of goals or standards. But when you are a guy like me who is always setting arbitrary goals and subjective standards for success then failure is a cheap commodity, no? Failure happens daily by that definition. If I’m not failing I must not be trying. Or, if I’m not failing I’m not setting the metaphorical bar high enough. Either way, unsatisfactory right?
So, where have I failed lately? And where (like with the problem I wrote about in the ‘Something I’ve Lost‘ post) have I failed that is worth writing about in a blog for the recollection of future readers?
I suppose, the one thing that does come to mind is my fledgling small business: that failed not so much because I am a failure at the business itself, but that failed because I was successful in other ways. I’ve hinted at here that over the course of the whole unrequested-job-change-year I embarked upon an enterprise of reaching a state of guru, or as I called it at the time, a tragically ill career given a diagnosis with a foreseeable cure. That is to say — forced into unwilling sabatical due to downsizing, or something equally not-my-fault — I intended to use that time to hone, polish, and slick-ify my ramshackle collection of information managment skills into a more subtly refined expertise. I had intended to (a) develop a new blog where I planned to write extensively on topics related to those ideas, (b) develop a foundational resume repleat with awesome information management skills that would position me as an industry expert, and (c) craft a persona — the ersatzowl — that would represent the notion of someone, somebody, who knew what he was talking about when it came to information architecture, informology, and the vast world of digital data combobulations.
It worked. Really. It was a success, at least so much in that it positioned me perfectly to get the job I currently have, and to stretch my career-slash-personal-slash-professional development plan-slash-diagnosis out on a longer, grander scale, well into the future with prospects for… well, whatever I choose to make of it.
It failed because I poked at it gingerly — to reference this past weekend’s rodeo adventure in a career-based-metaphor — rather than spurring it forward with the vigour and enthusiasm it deserved. It failed because the persona I tried to craft as a multidimensional, profession-oriented character rendered in the brilliant 3D animation of my mind fizzled into a mere pencil sketched charactature. It failed because I focused on dealing with all the raw emotions and frustrations of the past and quasi-employment in a career-minded society rather than focussing on the future and how I wanted my life and contribution to that society to shape out.
That’s all. It’s not a lost idea, but for now it is something of a failure in my mind… at least until I figure out how to remedy that.
It occurs to me that the title of this post, second in a series of ten (planned) around the anniversary of my unrequested job change, might imply a certain aspect of blame for which I’ve already stated I want to avoid. It might… though it shouldn’t. I think the most apt analogy might be: salt in an open wound. The salt cannot be blamed for the wound, but neither is salt a good idea in such a case.
So, what happened next? Lots of things. Life, work, and the days dripped on as they would have. We did our jobs. Hints of curious ideas trickled in assuring us, in some ways, that our preminotory thoughts of an uncertain future were not merely whisps of worry. And months passed.
The thing is, after this point — I have been thinking — it is difficult to go forward in my story without more definite resolution of the many characters involved. But, seeing as I don’t want to directly implicate anyone, or cast aspersions against the characters of people who I know would make use of a legal system (balanced in their favour) to get back at me for anything I would happen to write about them, I’ve decided not to write about anyone at all. Instead, and thus, I’ve decided instead to write a vague, ficitonal and non-connected little story about a private golf club restaurant called the Clubhouse. That’s all. Nothing more. And in doing so, I’ll start with some basic introductions. Meet…
… Tipper, the lovable coot of a head chef of the Clubhouse, skilled as much in cooking a fried egg to over-easy perfection as he was in massaging the ire of an impatient customer. Trusted by staff, if only in combination with sidelong glances of awe and wonder, the Clubhouse’s elevation to a four and a half star establishment is adorned in the laurels of Tipper.
… Lenny, the former head snufferoo of the members exclusive breakfast club, and certified coinosseuer of the blueberry waffle. As much bravado as breakfaster, Lenny’s long lost lucrative career in the long island sausage industry made him a natural fit for the breakfasters club… or did it?
… Ava, the newest head snufferoo of the breakfast club following Lenny’s defection to the (though he’d have denied it before ducking) much more member-exclusive cocktail diner’s group. Ava and her rarely-seen husband were certified pros on the links, but Ava’s recent forays into Clubhouse dining found her some measure of social success and affective indebtedness to Lenny’s fortuitous departure.
…Harriet, the soft-hearted, soft-headed, bombshell and el presidentia elect of the golfers membership association. Another pro turned politico, dedfacto member of each of the dining clubs, Harriet often found herself at odds with head chef Tipper over menu selections and wine pairings after a long-past, frequently reminiced stint on a small-town cable cooking show named after previous host.
…the unnamed membership of the club and participants in the Clubhouse dining groups, a prototypical collective of clashing interests, cookie-cut from the upper crusts of their inner society.
…the staff of the Clubhouse, waiters, bussers, and line cooks which are, of course, scattered and many throughout…
…which was really nothing to get excited about. Well… okay… it was nothing to get excited about unless you were one of the wait staff lingering about in the sidelines during one of those too-often held breakfast meetings. Really, the staff had it quite hard. I mean, to sit there in the kitchen a few meters away and listen to the foodie rhetoric — as though a few private-member golfers were some kind of end-all-be-all experts on toast and jam. They thought they had all the answers, and us in the back room were just pulling this stuff out of a freezer-box or something, and frying it up. We were line cooks, but these were chef-inspired recipes. And fresh ingredients. You couldn’t get this stuff anywhere else within a five-hour drive. And certainly not at any of the neighboring clubs.
I guess what really set it off was the consultant. That’s what he called himself: The Consultant. Harriet had used him as a some kind of self-proclaimed food-expert, held-on-retainer back a few years when she was the resident pretty-face on that cooking show they used to produce out of — what was that station called again? They keep changing names everytime they get bought out by some conglomertate multi-national… anyhow. She invited him as a special guest to the breakfast club one meeting in late November. The links were closed, so I guess there was nothing else to do.
Tipper bailed. It was not like him — and he had a good excuse, though no one was really sure they believed it. But, Tipper couldn’t stand the thought of some big-city critic running his hands through the menu and picking apart the ingredients.
Funny thing is, the guy didn’t even eat. He showed up, made some fiddly-fuss about the menu fonts or whatever — who can even remember it was so trivial — but not the food. We sat there on the sidelines, listening to this ass proclaim his expertise, and he never even took a single bite. I mean, Ava called him on it… a bit… in her way… never really with any confidence, and the guy just steamrolled over her. “Oh, but you’ve gotta taste the eggs.” Then he’d glower at her and, with this exasperated huff, reply: “Hon, in this business an egg-is-an-egg. What ya’ll need round here is not some cook, but a chef.”
But Lenny, who’d dropped back in on this exclusive opportunity to see this so-called master at work, cuddled up beside Harriet and (figuratively, of course) drooled at this guy’s feet.
Of course, there was no going back. The staff were proclaimed useless, overpaid buffoons: not good hard working folks anymore — not in the eyes of these consultant’s new desciples, anyhow. Expendable. Replacable. And “what the fuck are we waiting for, then? Huh? Let’s harvest the low hanging fruit and get on with making this the best club restaurant in the West.”
I mean, sure, it was their right. But that’s not how these things are really done… not unless there was a problem, and the problem wasn’t with the menu. If you asked me, and not many people bothered, it was promotion. A damn country club, and they expected the customers to just fill the place without… shit, without anything. Without an advertising budget, without a publicity campaign. Hell, if any of them had bothered to stretch their social circles beyond the club, they could have… but what am I saying? I was just a cook, so what did I know?
There is a story here. Really. And maybe that story is lost in between the lines of a simpler message: an outsider arrived, and knowing nothing about the deeper issues, caring not for the real solutions, took his pay in a shallow, trivial, and disinterested citique of something he never bothered to understand. And the wedge that created between two very distinct groups of people, well, it never really got any smaller after that. And in the end, the lesson to take away is that like many people doing anything for money, the great Fixer instead became the great Divider… and invoiced for the former.
I’ve been reading / listening to a book called “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a non-fiction, pop-sociology-type book that seeks to explain the success of successful people through analysis of pre-conditions in environment such as timely access to resources, opportunity, and instruction. The point of the book — so far at least, as I’m only a couple chapters along — is that success is rarely due to innate characteristics (or because of what one might call ‘nature’) but rather that it is the result largely of nurture and the correct and opportune opportunity for the right kind of nurture. There have been a few interesting arguments in the book so far, and I’ll reserve judgment for when I’ve finished it, but I wanted to mention one of the original reasons I picked the book up in the first place. CBC had done an interview with the author (at least I think that’s what it was — I missed the beginning) and had been exploring the concept presented in the second chapter of the book: the ten thousand hour rule.
The Ten Thousand Hour Rule? After looking at various groups of “successful” and (what we might call) “talented” people, the author’s conclusion is that most of these folks have one thing in common: they have mastered their craft, skill, or ability because they have spent a lot of time practicing. In fact, they all spent about ten thousand hours practicing before they considered themselves at the top of their game — before they were considered experts, elites, or the best at what they did, before they published great or defining works, before they composed masterpieces, won the gold medal, earned the top prize, or became billionaires because of their skills — before they broke through the platinum standard of what society considers the best and became who they are.
Ten thousand hours is a lot. The author calculates that if one “practices” for three hours per day, every day, one could reach ten thousand hours in about ten years. I roughed out some math and figured out what that might mean for me, as an aspiring author, in terms of practice. I estimated that writing — not typing or transcribing, but actually generating words from thoughts and ideas — a good, solid pace is roughly, on average, ten words per minute. And I’ll reiterate: I’m not referring to typing speed or whatever. I’m assuming readers understand that when I write “writing” it is not the physical act of writing, but rather the mental process of thinking about an idea or story and turning it into words on a page. This blog post, for example: if I was talking about just ‘typing it’ I could probably type it in half the time I could ‘write it’ — get it? So, the ten words per minute concept… I estimate this based on a lot of writing — maybe even a lot of practice. And the thing is this: if you do the basic math that equates that number to the ten thousand hour rule you get the magic word count that takes one into the realm of expertise… six million words.
Now, the fun part is this: If I take all the writing I’ve done in my life and add it up — blog posts, creative words, business documents, and that kind of stuff — I think it would be generous to claim that I’ve hit about a million and a half words. That’s all. I’m a quarter of the way there. And at my current pace — assuming I didn’t hit my stride until I really started writing in this blog and putting together so much fiction (at a pace of about 100,000 words per year — I’m looking at another 45 years of practice before I can claim expertise. I’ll be in my mid-seventies by then. That’s a long wait.
I guess I’d better pick up the pace.
PS. You’ll also notice that with this blog hitting the 425,000 word mark around about this post, that a simple calculation of invested time here should tell you that I’ve spent over 700 hours working on this: that’s 17 weeks of ‘full time, 40 hour weeks’ or nearly a third of a year of un-gainful employment. *Sigh*