Friday, August 11, 2017

What Happened to My Life?

On the heels of my triumph over the bathtub drain -- and I must say before we go any further that there's a certain giddy pleasure in standing over a drain that's working perfectly and with something like enthusiasm and knowing that you're responsible for that! -- I realized that I don't do things like that often enough.

Whatever the reason, recent life has become a mad rush from one task to another. I'm getting a lot done, but I'm never caught up. I never have any downtime. And because some of the tasks themselves are variable, there is no rhythm to it.

I call this phenomenon "spinning the plates" and it's the worst of all possible worlds.

This is not to say I don't have any fun. I have plenty of fun -- but it's been another appointment on the calendar, competing for attention and always accompanied by that twinge of guilt that reminds me I "should" be doing something else.

Time to change that. Time for some more-than-halfway-through-2017 resolutions.

I will say no more often. Overcommitment is a big challenge for me.

I will stop worrying so much about what needs to get done and let others do those things more often. It's likely the world will continue turning even if I'm not there to leap into every gap.

I will arrange my life so I don't come home from the workday, grab a quick dinner, and sit down at the computer for another marathon session. That's no way to live.

I will read more. Not just because challenge deadlines are beginning to appear on the nearer horizon, but for pleasure.

I will prioritize some of the "me" things that seem always to get steamrolled by over-scheduling. Sleep. Exercise. Decent meals. Downtime. I will rediscover them all over again.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Small Scale Self-Sufficiency

It's a minor thing, but an accomplishment is an accomplishment, I say.

How minor? Well, the bathtub has been draining slowly and growing progressively slower over time. When the end of my shower found me ankle-deep in soapy water, I'd had enough. Bailing out the tub gave me the motivation and plenty of time to decide the problem needed fixing pronto.

I could have just asked Kayak Guy to do it, but because I'm flexing my independence muscles these days, I wanted to do it myself.

First, I identified how to remove the drain plug. Yes, there are different kinds. (Who knew?) No, I am not very mechanical.

Wishful thinking suggested it might be a gunk problem. A quick internet search revealed an easy and non-toxic cure for that: baking soda and white vinegar. First I poured a coffee pot of boiling water down the drain. Then I added the baking soda and poured the vinegar over. What fun! It foamed like crazy and made a hissing sound. I felt like a mad scientist!

Between that and the fact that I didn't have to pour something hazardous like Drano down the drain (I can never forget that eventually what goes down the drain ends up in our rivers and lakes and oceans and ultimately in our drinking water), I was totally stoked that this was the right solution.

But alas, it was not enough. The final application of hot water went down very reluctantly. Which meant it had to be hair. Ugh.

Using a tool fashioned from a coathanger (I'm so resourceful!), I extracted a hairball the size of my fist out of the drain. (Aren't you glad this post has no pictures?)

Voila! Success! Cue the feeling of satisfaction all out of proportion to the task at hand! Now the water positively gurgles down.

I followed it up with another baking soda and vinegar cocktail, though, just to end on a good note. That part is highly recommended as a fun way to achieve a clean drain and a sense of accomplishment. The hairball part is only fun because it worked and it's over.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

TED Book (not really)

When you have  TED in your title, you'd better bring your A game, because your reader's expectations are going to be sky high. I opened Carmine Gallo's Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds with high hopes, but they were dashed rather quickly.

In retrospect, perhaps it was a warning sign that the book isn't "endorsed, sponsored, or authorized" by the wondrous TED Talks, which are indeed one of the best things about the internet. I should have paid more attention to that disclaimer, intended to avoid any possible confusion with the real thing. Lesson learned.

My quibbles with the book are few but serious. First, Gallo's criteria for the best TED talks, the ones he holds up as examples for readers to emulate, seems to be the number of views. If you agree that success equals "viewed more than 15 million times," then you'll accept that the talks selected are the best ones. But I grew tired of hearing over and over how many views this or that speaker's talk received. The concept of "best" for me is more of a subjective evaluation, not a strict numbers game. For example, I'd measure success by how many people went out and changed their lives, or at least their perspective, as a result of what they heard. That would be much harder to measure, of course. But I'd be more impressed by the resulting "best" designation.

Second, the public speaking "secrets" were solid but not all that secret. If you've done any public speaking research at all, you already know that you want to connect with a personal story, corral attention with a novel approach or subject, be conversational, use imagery, and keep it short. I guess I was expecting something more rarified, based on the promise of TED-based tips.

Last and probably most difficult, after a few chapters the organization of each chapter began to sound formulaic to me. Each chapter followed a predictable pattern: Introduce the rule with a personalized story about a TED speaker. Give details about his or her talk and how it exemplifies the rule. Add extra hints and details backed by some scientific studies. Give a few more pointers. Wrap up by repeating the rule. I'm all for organized writing -- don't get me wrong -- but this was rather too much. Organization should be effortless, not obvious.

This book would be very useful for someone just beginning to learn about public speaking or making a presentation for the first time. It's good enough for what it does. After all, it's a top 10 Wall Street Journal bestseller. I'm sure it's been read millions of times.


A few sentences earlier, [Bill] Gates was talking about how many children's lives are saved due to better medicines and vaccines. "Each one of those lives matters a lot," he said. He delivered an empathetic presentation, saying that millions of people die from malaria every year. Gates used humor and a shocking moment to drive home his main point.

One popular technology blogger wrote the headline, "GATES UNLEASHES SWARM OF MOSQUITOES ON CROWD." Well, it wasn't exactly a "swarm" of mosquitoes (the small jar contained only a few). Regardless, the presentation went viral. A Google search returns 500,000 links to the event. The original video on the site has attracted 2.5 million views, and that doesn't include the other Web sites that link to it. . . .  A memorable moment gets shared, spreading the message much farther than in its immediate audience, often around the globe.

Note: This book counts toward the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Change of Heart

Okay, so I did some research about my "when to quit" dilemma.

Answers were all over the board. Some people said that as soon as you start questioning why you're reading the book, it's okay to decide not to continue. Others said you needed to give it a certain number of chapters, or a certain number of pages.

And of course, there were the diehards who said you had to finish, no matter what. Some of my most admired reading friends fell into that category, and I was mildly ashamed of myself for even asking the question, given their stalwart sense of what was necessary . . .  even when they very kindly said they wouldn't think less of me if I didn't hold myself to the same high standard.

I had fun researching the question and soliciting opinions. In the process I realized I'd probably never get over my disappointment if I didn't stick to my personal goal.

It's the goals we set for ourselves that are the hardest to abandon, am I right?

So. Onward! I said I would read all the Booker winners, and I will. Because no one can give me permission to abandon a self-imposed goal except myself, and I'm not going to do that.

Besides, the book has picked up a little bit lately. I think I'm actually beginning to enjoy it.