Loneliness is Crowded Room

Sometimes the universe sends us signals.  You know what I mean and you see it all the time.  There is that horrid Prius commercial that is so ubiquitous that I’m now nauseous when it airs.  Clearly it was that man’s time to buy a Prius and change his life.  Other times, the universe sends us false signals.  On one unnamed TV show, the lead sees the same number over and over and over.  Realizing it’s a sign, he engages is risky behavior centered on that number with disastrous results. (I’m sure many of you will binge the show later so I’ll keep the title covered.  Hint: it is not Firefly, Game of Thrones or Real Housewives of Atlanta.)

Similarly, I’ve been a bit of a funk for a while.  I’m not great at hiding that, and my four loyal readers know I often process my moods here.  And by often, I mean about 10% of the time that I start to.  I do edit myself a little and I really don’t want to turn this into a forum people avoid.  No, not you Sir. I know you are here for the Ashley bashing, that is located here.  But today, the fingers type, the words flow, and the Oxford Comma prevails.  What is going on around me?

The commute and the attitudes around me in the office weigh heavy on my generally happy soul.  For those of you that don’t know, I leave the house at 6am and return home generally after 6, too often towards 7.  That’s 75-90 minutes in the morning and 2 hours on the way home after spending day in a cube where there is limited human interaction and too much of it revolves around not meeting hidden expectations and the constant implication that no one is working enough hours.  Keep in mind that I am not a piecemeal factory worker or laborer (and both are fine, honorable jobs) – I think, I plan, I influence to gain results.  There is no clock measuring my thoughts thinking &  ideas.  When a thought hits me and I work on it, it can be driving, doing dishes or at 3am coming out of a dream.  I’m generally engaged 12-18 hours a day on what I work on.  So why the ridiculous obsession over time?

Just because I’m paid hourly doesn’t mean I don’t put in lots of time that is not technically on the clock.  Oh, and 40 hours a week is the absolute maximum.  I once made the mistake of working 2 hours on a Sunday, because something came to me late on Friday, which I would need to act on early the next Monday.  My hours didn’t exceed 40, but I was told in no uncertain terms that anything other than 8 per day, Monday through Friday would require advance approval.  I keep forgetting that not everyone sees me as the adult I believe I am.

Every day for the last week and way too much for way too often, I keep hearing the seminal hard rock anthem “Closing Time” by Semisonic.  (I looked for the sarcasm sans font, but couldn’t find it and I know WordPress does not feature it.)  As silly as the song is about the hook up life at 2am, one phrase stands out.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Is the universe trying to tell me to move on and find a new beginning, a new cubicle?  When do I become too old to be attractive in the new economy of disposable workers?  Are my experience and skills an unwanted commodity, the Filet-O-Fish of the work world?  How heavy is the baggage that is my gray hair and wrinkles?  Can I embrace the reality of my fading youth, yet still see that experience and wisdom are liabilities in my world?  What is my place?  Is there a new beginning to be sought?

And no, I’m not having a midlife crisis. But much weighs heavy.  And I consider the adage about the grass being greener elsewhere and see my lawn turning brown due to drought based water restrictions.  I’m not one to take the easy route. I’m not quitter.  Of course I think about it all the time, but in the end I do the right thing, even when it’s the more difficult, arduous path.  Maybe I should have been a mountain goat.

Today, I sat in traffic behind some unseen delay on the approach to the bridge.  Of course I heard the song about the “last call for alcohol”.  Seriously? People paid for that record?  But then I realized that it was part of a shock and awe bombardment of sad, aching songs.  Like a train wreck, I couldn’t turn away.  Horrified at the sonic sneak attack on my already fragile emotional state, I embraced the sadness.  For more than 30 minutes I sat, not hearing an uplifting note.  8 stations, making sure I paid attention.  Of course I skipped over the Eagles and Journey, it is in my DNA.

There were songs about the  break ups to come.  And then the actual breaking up and the aftermath that follows – longing, regret, and sadness.  Lonely sailors waiting for their bitter end, stranded on an island without Gilligan.  No wonder I spent my youth listening to mostly progressive rock, there are very few love songs and their opposite numbers.  And in those days I had nothing to measure songs of the heart against.  With age comes experience, and those experiences yield so many different yardsticks to use as needed.  I had several in use today.

I sit here, silent, typing, and reflecting on how I’ve been feeling; the loss of empowerment and the shrinking of my ego.  The sadness of the forgotten wrench in the bottom of the tool box, replaced by a shiny new tool straight from a well-produced Kickstarter campaign, left to rust in the dark.

Years ago, I was driving to pick up a date.  Yes, this was over 30 years ago.  One of my favorite songs came on the radio.  “Dance Away” by Roxy Music.  I always loved that song.  But in that instance, that song of finding solace in music and motion, became something different.  It became the manifestation of a rough break up a few months prior.  Tears flowed and I think I finished processing the pain I was holding.   Decades later, I still love that song and I still feel the emotions of that relationship ending. And sometimes I feel the relief of finally recognizing how to move on.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself, just musing aloud.  Much like music this morning, this silent, six by six cubicle is quite sad and lonely.  Perhaps I can figure out a way to make these days better and repurpose that discarded wrench.  Just typing this out helps.

Here are few songs to help you see the frame of my day.

Dance Away, Roxy Music

A Salty Dog, Procol Harum

Childhood’s End, Pink Floyd

Train in Vain, The Clash

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Management 2016 or Navel Gazing in the Age of the Internet

I have been thinking a lot lately about Leadership, Management and Identity. It seems in the new world, this one born of the internet, smartphones, investor returns and social media that our world has changed.  As I started my career, the way to success was through management.  It didn’t matter if you were technical or support staff.   Increased pay, growing responsibility and interesting work followed through the management path.  And naturally, so did I.

I had 6 months of management training before being allowed to supervise or manage anyone.  Then, out of the blue I was managing 8 developers, all 10-15 years older than myself.  They weren’t happy about it and I had to prove myself.  It took time, but I did.  As a manager your job is to remove obstacles, allowing others to achieve, while making sure that their work is aligned with the goals and objectives of the company.  Piece of cake, right?  Not in the least.   But that was the past and bluntly, the past seems to matter less each day.

There has been a shift, one as big as the rise of man in the ranks of the predators.  Gone are the dinosaurs, the professional managers.  Management skills have been devalued for hands on technical skills.  I have interviewed for positions over the years where my skills were needed, but the focus of the manager (or director or VP) was to be hands on.  80% of their view of management was to configure the infrastructure or write code.  The staff’s well-being, professional growth, and productivity was sacrificed for more staff, more line labor and ultimately results that missed the mark.

As I’ve transitioned from a managerial leadership role to a place in the temporary labor force, I see managerial skills lacking all round me.  I have worked for managers that could not manage, let alone evaluate staff.  Hiring the wrong person is worse than not filling an open position.  The damage can be anywhere for bad to nuclear.  I’ve made that mistake and watched others decimate their teams with decisions that were far worse than simply “bad”.  Of course we all make bad decisions.  How we and fix them is what separates good leaders and managers from placeholders.

I’ve worked in environments where leadership was clearly lacking.  Managers and executives had limited interaction with their staffs failing to ensure strategic visions were communicated, actions were aligned and results we achieved.  In general, people want to do good things, they want to contribute and they want to achieve.  If they didn’t need help, the role of manager would have never been created.  People never really finish growing.  You thought you knew everything once you finished High School or College? Nope.  There is always more to learn, there is always improvement just beyond your grasp.  Providing the help you need to get there is what good managers do.  Leaders instill the vision; managers translate that vision to actions while growing a company’s most precious resource – its employees.

I’ve seen managers refer to their staff as cattle, to their face repeatedly.  I’m pretty sure that was not a compliment and did not instill loyalty.  But then the manager didn’t care, it was clear he saw people as a commodity to be replaced as needed.  While it is rare to hear this, I don’t think that is the majority view.  But as managerial skills are devalued and eroding, the attitudes become more prevalent.  People become devalued as generic tools, and the results are larger than the bean counters care to notice.

Since I am not a manager, and I do not have the authority or license to really lead, who am I?  In today’s world, our identity has shifted.  We have our identity at home, which differs from our online identity, which is clearly different from our work identity.  And some of have even more.  There was a point in time when I was a husband, father, leader and teacher.  The world was simpler and those all rolled into one nice neat package.  Today, it is less clear.

You are reading this on a screen.  It is not part of an oral history.  It most definitely is not work related.  No, this is part of your social or self-educational experience.  If I can help you I’m glad.  But this is far different from my other social media identities.  In each setting, various elements are set up to provide opportunities for people to show their personalities and interests.  While I’m not a troll, I’m most definitely not a taste maker.  Well, unless you want to come for dinner and peruse the wine cellar.

The change in the employment environment changes everything.  My core identity was once that of a leader and problem solver that contributed as much directly as indirectly.  I worked hard to help the people around me grow. Now I am a wrench, to be used on very specific tasks as needed.  Leadership, as I’m defining it, is not part of the workload and it most definitely would not be lauded if it emerged.

I wonder if that impacts how others perceive me.  Am I less than I was? Do those closest to me see me as less?  Has my gravitas given way to grey hair and the ultimate devaluation of my skills?  I pretend I’m not less, but professional fulfillment has been replaced by the practicality of paying the mortgage.  I sit and ponder my identity and my place in this world far too often these days.  Changes happen when you least expect them and deliver new pressures and influences to our perspectives and actions.  I think in this new world of ours, we probably need to spend more time connecting with our inner selves and with others.

Years ago, I worked for an executive that I had a love/hate relationship with.  She was a bit nutty and a hugger.  I am picky on who I hug.  If I hug you, it says a lot.  If I don’t, no need to be offended.  She taught me a lot – mostly on what not to do.  But, I always remembered that she was the one that told me “high tech means high touch”.  The innovations in this world are meant to help us, not separate us.  As we move further apart, we need to have the time and skills to really interact, really make a difference and not just hope that last short email changed someone’s mind.

So while I’m not who I was, I am still me.  I strive to make a difference. I work to help others and when no one is looking, I try to lead.  I try to set the appropriate example.  I believe I can still make a difference.  But sometimes, in my own private corner, I wonder if I’m fooling myself.  In some ways, I’ve always been naïve.

 

 

 

Hummus I Feel

We all have deep dark secrets.  I have a few.  I keep them locked away tight, as direct sunlight or a casual observance may bring down the entire house of cards that is my life.  With some minor prodding, I realize it is time to make the first step, to admit out loud what so few know.

I like Ambrosia.  I don’t mean the old timey desert with whipped cream and canned fruit cocktail.   I am referring to the seminal San Pedro based (softish) rock band.  Sure you all know the soft hits, but dig into “Life Beyond LA” or “Holding on to Yesterday”.  And what other band pulls from Vonnegut (Deadheads need not answer)?  Of course there goes my hard rock cred.  That’s ok, I cry a lot too.  Don’t pick up my copy of Stephen King’s 11.22.63, the last half of the book is tear stained, if you need proof.

With apologies to David Pack, let’s get started.

That’s hummus I feel, feel for you, baby.
Hummus I need, well I need you for lunch.
Hummus I live, I live for your goodness.
That’s hummus, that’s hummus,
That’s hummus, that’s hummus.

Today is all about hummus.  On the Book of Faces, not to be confused with the Hall of Faces from Game of Thrones, there was talk about needing to make your own hummus, due to a Sabra recall.  I do like my hummus and I make a fresh batch weekly, so Lambchop and I have some for snacks and some for lunches.

Hummus is pretty easy to make and most of the ingredients are in your kitchen if you like to cook.  Let me be frank, I wing it every time and my hummus is not “plain”.  It is rich in delightful flavors, many non-traditional.

Lee’s basic, non- basic, hummus

2 14oz cans of Chickpeas (garbanzos) drained

2 Meyer lemons, juiced and zested (I use my microplaner)

10-20 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon of Kosher Salt

1 Anaheim pepper, whole

2 Jalapeños, whole

1 Tablespoon Cumin

2 heaping tablespoons of Tahini (sesame paste)

½ cup Good Olive Oil

½ cup water

Salt and Pepper to taste

Lambchop likes her hummus lemony, so I often use more than 2 lemons and I haven’t seen a recipe calling for the zest which I believe adds complexity.

Step 1:  Break the garlic barrier

In a small shallow pan, put in the garlic, Anaheim and Jalapeños.  I put the chilies on top. Pour the olive oil over the garlic and peppers, to roughly cover the garlic.  Spin the chilies to get them coated in oil.  I roast these in my toaster oven at 270 for about 40 minutes.  The garlic should not brown significantly, but we do want the peppers to blister.  If they haven’t blistered, take the garlic out and broil them for 2-4 minutes a side to blister the skin.  Throw the chilies in a sealed zip lock or plastic container for 10-20 to cool.  Peel of the skin.  Remove seeds to temper the heat.  Either way.  Make sure the oil is back to room temp.

Step 2:  Whip that Tahini

It is time to get out your food processor.  You can use a blender, but I prefer the trusty Kitchen Aid food processor over my smoothie maker.

Some recipes do not call for tahini, some call for more some for less.  I like about 1.5T per can of beans.  Add the tahini, the lemon zest and half of the lemon juice to the food processor. Whip on high for at least 30 seconds.  Whipping the tahini gives body and helps it incorporate more evenly.

Step 3:  Peas to the Pool!

Add your garbanzos to the processor and process for 10-20 seconds to get a rough grind.  Add in the garlic (not the oil), chilies, cumin and salt.  Process the peas for another 20 seconds or more.  The mixture should be fine, but not a puree.  This is an inexact science, you’ll learn the flavors you want to add, how much garlic etc.  Perhaps you want 3 Jalapeños, or none.  I usually add about 4 grinds from my pepper mill at this point.

Step 4:  It’s Time to Rain on this Parade

Hummus is an emulsion, not a mix so the liquids get added slowly.  Turn the processor on low and drizzle in the remaining lemon juice.  Turn the processor to high and drizzle in about half the oil or until the hummus is near the consistency you want.  Then start drizzling in water to get the final consistency.  When the consistency looks right, taste it.  What do you think? Add in more oil, more garlic or more salt if you think it needs it.

When it is how you like it, remember it will be better tomorrow.

In my world, I often add in other ingredients.  My favorites include:

½ white onion

Harrissa

Red Bell pepper

Cayenne pepper

Chipotle pepper

Homemade pepper sauce

Paprika

Oregano (dried or fresh)

Rosemary

 

And if you don’t like my fancy hummus, here is Epicurious’ recipe that I started with.  Its time I mosey on to somewhere I’ve never been before.