Who doesn’t like a good haunted house story? Well, I suppose some don’t (who are you people?) but given the enduring popularity of the genre, there must a be a sizeable chunk of readers out there who like reading about things that go bump in the night. In my experience it is more difficult to sustain a haunted house story for a whole novel, especially when you compare that to how effective short stories can be. How well does Richard Matheson do in Hell House? Read further if you’re ok with spoilers (though the book was published in 1971, so it’s not exactly hot off the presses.)
My current car book (popping in the CDs, very old school) is a biography of James Madison. It’s good, and I’ll maybe do a review of it later, but I want to talk about a comment I heard this morning that the biographer makes as he is describing how Madison and Jefferson first conceived of the Republican (now Democrat) party.
My new job means that I’m on the train for work and then I transfer to a bus for another 20 minute ride. I’m still getting comfortable with being a public transportation professional. I’ve noticed some things in my month plus of riding.
First, people generally don’t talk to each other on the train, unless they are already acquainted. I haven’t made any bus or train friends yet, but I do think some of the people on these modes of transport are only friends because they’ve ridden together so long. But for the most part, people put their headphones on, watch movies, listen to music, a few read books, and many scroll through facebook. This isn’t a place for deep conversation, it’s a place for decompression. Especially on the way home. I’ve been trying to use my time wisely when I’m on the train, make it productive (in fact, I’m typing this post on the homebound train), but it’s much more difficult in the evening. After a long day in the city working, you just want to do something mindless. I’ve heard that Facebook’s reach is on the wane, but if the people on the train are any indication, Zuckerberg’s company should be pretty safe in the near term.
I love the engineers and bus drivers. Most of them are black, and they’re no nonsense, funny, gruff, sassy, practical and some are jovial. I overheard one, a gentleman probably in his fifties, tell a gaggle of admiring female riders that it was his last week on the job. He was switching to something new so he could spend more time with his family. You could tell the women adored him. He had them laughing the whole time, even with his sad bit of news. “Tickets,” they shout, and you better have them ready. “Up top,” they shout and everyone is ready. Well, not everyone. A few days ago, someone said he’d already shown his pass to the conductor, who hadn’t seen it. “Don’t get rude if I honestly hadn’t seen your pass.” But it was a minor incident without any lingering animosity.
The bus rides can be more challenging. I’m not sure who designed the seats on the Chicago city buses, but they are a slight step up from lying down on a bed of nails. They are too narrow, uncushioned, and want you to conform to them rather than the other way around. Your body rebels against them after only a few minutes of use. People on the buses are even less social, but that’s probably because it’s harder to form relationships with a more random set of people.
One more note on the train conductors. I love that they wear uniforms and caps. Sure, they’re sometimes wrinkled, and some are ill-fitting, but it’s that little bit of effort that makes it work.
I know people get sick of the commute into the city, but I’m not there yet. I wouldn’t call myself Mr. Professional Commuter yet (for example, I don’t know what car to get on to exit the train in the perfect place), but I’m getting there.
Because I’m thinking about goals and objectives at work right now (both for myself and my employees), defining success has been on my mind of late. It strikes me that you can get pretty far in life and not have defined success for yourself at all. It would be interesting to find out what percentage of the human population never defines it, just has “success” in their minds as a nebulous quality of having “made it” or “getting there.” I think the percentage is likely high. And then, when “it” never really happens and “there” seems as far away as the peak of Mt. Everest, disappointment and envy settle in.
Is the most difficult thing in human life defining your goals and sticking to them? Does discipline separate those who are satisfied with their lives from those who aren’t? I’m not sure. I think there are plenty of content people who haven’t ever defined success for themselves but do end up feeling satisfied with how things turned out. This may even happen at a biological level. Because the human organism prioritizes itself over others (whether this is eating the choice cut of meat or knowing at a cellular level one’s way of thinking about things is superior to someone else’s) and because as you age, you mellow out. Biology and the human process of aging mean you’re “ok” as the twilight years come on. The passions that drive the young to goals fade away. You find yourself on a porch, rocking, hoping that your kids stop by to play Uno.
All that said, I wish I had defined success earlier for myself, and constantly struggle to stay focused on what success means for me now. I recently watched a few interviews of Jordan Peterson, and participated in a future planning course. It is arduous and easy to let the goals you set up slip. At least it is for me. But I’m glad I did it – I’ve accomplished more this year (with it being the end of February) than I would have if I hadn’t done the program. Over and over the message rings out – define your success. If you don’t, well, you may be content, but you may also never know what you could have done.
I’ll keep revisiting this idea, whether at work, with writing, or at home dealing with my kids. This post is as much for me as anyone reading it. Success- define and achieve, define and achieve. Rinse and repeat.
There’s a certain energy when you start a new job, which I did today. It’s taking a leap, it’s shaking new hands, shaking some trees, and people wondering about you and you wondering about them. “This guy seems all right,” they might be thinking. Or, “This guy might not know squat and now he’s in charge of what? Madness!”
I’m supervising people that I want to put at ease. A new boss from outside is always a strange thing. I know, it’s happened to me. There’s an art to doing it right and I want to do it right.
I’m working for someone new, and I want him to like me, but I don’t want to come across as a bootlicker. Keep your balance and pride, young man! A little bootlicking can go a long, long way.
I’ve inherited from my dad a lack of ability (or maybe interest) in retaining people’s names. That’s not a great characteristic to have on your first day. People open with their names and by the third sentence in the conversation the name is gone like hot breath on a window. No vestage of the name remains. My wife, who taught college classes, made a point of learning all her students names on the first day of class. What a gift she has. We’re a good team. She knows the names, I ask her about the names after the person at a party we’re at has wandered off. “How many times have I met him?” I sometimes wonder obliquely, a little afraid of the answer. She might give me a sidelong glance on that question before she answers.
I was at my last job for ten years. A long time by today’s standards. There was a lot of comfort in the job. I enjoyed it, and did it well without taxing myself. But this feeling today, where all is new and fresh and scary and jumbled and frantic was good. I wouldn’t want this feeling every day, but today, it was welcomed.
For the perfect plot twist to work on you, you have to feel afterward like you should have seen it coming, but you didn’t. As a result, when the big reveal happens, it blows you away.
If I know there is a twist in a plot – then, Game On. I’m like a hog snuffling after a truffle. Some (my wife) might say I have a problem. Continue reading “The Perfect Plot Twist”
I recently finished a book called Way Station by Clifford D. Simak, and thought it was good enough to post about. Enoch Wallace is a civil war soldier whose house is transformed into a transfer station for aliens traveling around in space. It’s kind of a like a backwater bus stop no one stays at because there’s nothing to see. He becomes the keeper of the station, and therefore immortal. The story picks up with the government finally noticing the strange behavior of this hermit, hiding away in a remote part of Wisconsin, who never ages and who sends diamonds away every now and then to maintain his funds. You’ve probably never heard of the great diamond mines of Wisconsin. Well, neither has the U.S. Government. Enoch has lived a hundred years or so as the keeper without an incident, but forces beyond his control are bringing things to a head. (Warning: the analysis of the book below contains spoilers). Continue reading “Just a Pit Stop in the Galaxy”
My mother turned seventy this past week. I flew my family out to surprise her in Colorado. As part of the surprise plot, my mother and my sister picked me (and only me) up from the airport, because my brother and I told her months ago he and I were going to celebrate with her. But she had no idea the whole family was going to be sprung on her. So while they were picking me up, my bro-in-law was picking up my wife and kids at another part of the airport. The conspiracy was on! Continue reading “Thanksgiving and 70”
My youngest was on a favorites spree two nights ago, and my wife was coming out on the losing end of the stick. I was the big winner in almost every competition. “Who’s your favorite – a chocolate milkshake as big as your head, or Daddy?” “Daddy!”
We were at the dinner table during this episode, enjoying a meal my wife had lovingly prepared, and she was holding it together pretty well, until the dam finally burst. I think my youngest had picked our dead cat (whom she’d never actually met) over her mother, and the gloves came off.
“Who cooks your meals, changes your diapers, wipes your nose, takes you to therapy after therapy after therapy, agrees to be Stitch or Mulan or whatever random Disney character is lodged in that head of yours and I don’t even beat the cat? I mean, come on!” Continue reading “Favorites”