23 February 2007

Up Up And Away?

Ah, the adventure of winter travel. I am off to Santa Barbara for an annual conference. It’s good to have it there in late winter for us wintry workers. But there is always the risk that the winter we crave to escape will imprison us at the moment of escape.

Yes, a storm is 'a-comin,’ and that means I could be delayed. Already I tried to rebook a day earlier but discovered that to do so would mean buying a whole new ticket for $900. That decision was easy, let me tell you. Now it’s wait and see how crappy the weather gets. Remembering the horrors of Jet Blue so recently I am a mite more anxious, imagining hours spent on tarmacks and arriving many hours later – jet lagged and miserable.

Some years ago I said that air travel has gone from the fast version of train travel to the fast version of bus travel. Gone is even a shred of glamour, except for those in the front seats. That’s why I horde my “miles” for long trips like this. Yes I am booked for business class, which for me is a treat. Another reason to be anxious.

Years ago, also traveling in February but not in business, I encountered a strike that meant my first trip to Paris was unraveling. I had only a week, and it would not come again for a year, so as I milled about the Ellis Island hordes seeking hope I saw a booking agent asking for volunteers to go on another airline's flight (the airline has since vanished both from memory and reality).

I seized the chance and soon found myself a platoon leader of about a dozen others. We were rebooked and found a pair of cabs to run around to the other side of the snowy terminal to get in line there.

This was a budget airline, and the crowd really was of the immigrant variety. It was going to Paris and on to Tel Aviv. Even in 1999 I had a moment’s anxiety seeing such a mix of orthodox Jewish and observant Muslim travelers. Needless to say, it was a packed flight now. That I was going to a different airport and arriving at a different time seemed trivial. Of course, I had to let my friends in France know, as it would make me several hours later. But how? I phoned my wife and asked her to send email. It would make no difference, ultimately.

Anyway. We were finally all on board and somehow made it up and away. I ended up next to a Frenchman clearly annoyed that he lost his business class seat from another flight. He cajoled a better dinner from the attendant and when the drink cart paused and she was turned away he looked at me, tugged his lower eyelid, and filched three splits of wine and tucked them into his seat. He offered me one, which I declined, to which he smilingly shrugged.

Across the aisle a Jewish child dropped some Israeli shekels and I retrieved them. The young mother would not accept them from my hand so I placed the coins on her tray. Gradually we settled down for the short false night of overseas flying.

In the haze of jet lag and sunrise the Jewish men clotted the aisles to do their morning prayers. Ablutions are required, so they lined up at the washrooms and then gathered in the spaces near the galleys to form minyans. Kerchief clad women still slept and children huddled against them. I could have sworn I heard a rooster or saw a goat.

Whatever lies ahead, it will not be like that. As ever, the worst experiences make the best stories. As I told my children on our way back from four months travel in early 2001, “Travel is hard; remembering is fun.” And it is.

17 February 2007

The Tax Man Cometh

Time to start my taxes.  

Thirty years ago it was pretty simple stuff.  Even I could do it, and I did.  The little Luddite in me relished doing my taxes myself, even when software came around.  Being a clergyman helped, as we are odd ducks tax wise.  

OK, I got a letter from ye old IRS or my local state every two or three years saying I had made a mistake.  I always paid.  But even that got tired and so I finally bit the software bullet and it was a relief and a burden.  I did not have to do the math.  That’s the relief.  But I had to wade through every question in the world – S corps and alimony and depreciation.  That’s the burden.  Overall, though it was better and all the papers were now on my hard disk

Crash!  Went my hard disk about three years ago, and $2000 dollars later (yes, that’s the price of recovering a herniated hard disk) I had everything back but my tax files.  I filed by hand again the next year and then…

Crash! Went my life.  Two parents died in successive years leaving stuff to inherit and all.  I moved from one job to another, one home to another, such that in 2005 I had to file in six, that’s right, six jurisdictions.  (Old state, new state, feds, and two other states where inheritances had to be dealt with.  Also, there were two city income taxes, so I guess it really is eight in all)

Gave up.  Hired an accountant.  They did it, and figured my estimated.  Thankfully, this year I have only my home state, home town and the feds to worry about.  And maybe one other.  But that’s what God made accountants for.

Not cheap.  I could do it myself, I guess.  I could also plant my own wheat and raise my own chickens and train for a marathon.  But that’s not going to happen either.  

Is this laziness, age, or wealth?  I hope its laziness.

13 February 2007

Open Wide!

Sometimes the body simply takes over.  

I find myself hungry for sweets all the time.  Craving is probably a better term.  Chocolate in particular, but any old sugar will do – from those stale jawbreaker ‘conversation hearts’ to those little sleeves of sweetarts, to the handful of butterscotch morsels I just snatched from a bag in the kitchen.

It took a while but the reason is dawning on me.  Winter.  The dark and cold are doing a number on me that our whole culture cannot escape.  Consider how from April through October we have very few holidays and those that do exist have no sugar involved.  But starting with Halloween (candy) and going through Thanksgiving (pumpkin pie) to Christmas (candy canes and cookies) to Valentine’s day (chocolate and those stale conversation hearts) to Easter (baskets with jelly beans and pips and candy eggs), we get assaulted by sweets.  

This cannot be accidental.  I think something in our limbic brains goes on a carbo binge, some vestige of a hibernating gene that wants us to get fat and sleep through the season.  That’s what I want to believe, anyway, and I’m sticking with it.  

Mind you, I am always ready for dessert, sadly, summer or winter.  But it really is harder in the winter.  That’s why I work out like a fiend.  The temptation is not totally resistable, so I bump my 4 miles to 5 through December and to 7 in January and February.  It helps keep me from adding more than actually losing.  I am holding pretty steady at 190.  

But this is also the season of benefits and banquets, and there too is my weakness.  I paid for the ticket and I jolly well plan to get my money’s worth, as it were.  Woe to me if the seat next to me empty.  More cheesecake!


06 February 2007

Piniel? I Should Be So Lucky

Try as I might, I cannot purge my prose of misspellings and mis-typings.  Just read that last entry, and there they were again.  Fastidious is not my middle name, but do I have to seem so slovenly?

Tough day today.  Remember the leak I fixed.  Wrong.  When I came downstairs the radiator had been incontinent again.  Went into the cellar and discovered the furnace had filled itself again.  So I drained some, mopped some, and went off to the gym extra early because of an early meeting.  

Got home, and lo the radiator had done it again.  Wife frustrated.  Me frustrated.  Me late.  Made phone call to repairman who will come by later this morning.  I shower and tear out.

Meeting cancelled.  Three months ago.  Never purged from Outlook, my electronic memory.  Steam now rose from my head and came from my ears.  Slowly crawled down from my hissy fit of self anger.  Tried to use the time well, and mostly succeeded.  

Got email from wife that the repairman had diagnosed the issue and shown my helpmeet how to keep its bladder from spilling.  It involves valves and tubes and other plumberish gizmos.  How I hate my inadequacy with matters ‘male.’  I understand it well enough when told, but lack a fundamental curiosity to keep it handy.  Now ask me about zouaves and I am your guy.  Somehow it came up in conversation at work, or rather I mentioned it.

Look it up.  I am too embarrassed to explain.

Tuesday and Wednesday are packed with meetings.  I used to scatter them through the week, but found they chopped up the work day, so I decided to concentrate them.  It works, but the price is sometimes high.  Add anything to the mix, and the whole thing splits and seam.  

Well, without getting into details, I took delivery on some of the inevitable criticism this work produces.  But because of the day, instead taking it in stride and otherwise be a grownup, I let it get me down.  This is really easy for me, as you have probably figured out.  

No question that the greatest adversary any of us face is ourselves.  No question also that I came here to face that fellow down.  The challenge is dealing with the truth in criticism without feeling defensive or defeated.  The adversary in me loves to surrender, thinking that others must be right and thus I must be wrong.  Behind that, though, lies the reason for thinking that way.  While I am more aware of that shadow than I was years ago, there are still shadowy elements there.  This, the still hidden elements of our shadow selves, is what we struggle with.  

From a distance (thank you Bette Midler) it is a good and honorable struggle.  Up close, it is hard and daunting.  If it were not it would be a true struggle.  So I try to take my fear and doubt as signs that means this effort really does matter.  And that too is part of the struggle.  

Know what the Arabic word for struggle is?  Jihad.  And in Islam, the inner struggle is the true one.  The outer is the lesser, and even deceptive one.  No one ever said a spiritual life was a walk in the garden, but does it so often have to be a hike through the wilderness?

I guess so.

05 February 2007

Thawing Out the Frozen Heart

Wowee is it cold!  Sub zero ain’t just a refrigerator.  4 below at dawn.  Roared up to 10 by 11, when I was driving back from the gym.

Cancelled work today, for the whole office.  Ice and snow are now glued to the roads by the cold, I slid merrily along several streets last night delivering number two son to Super Bowl party with friend and back again.  My colleagues come from towns ten and twenty miles away, and there being no major event to monitor, it was easy to let it go.  That’s why I went to the gym late today.

Have not gotten as much done as I wanted, but laziness and crankiness about the cold conspire to take my endeavor away.  That and little chores like repairing the toilet paper roller in the boy’s bathroom (for the third time!) and redressing a very leaky radiator in the kitchen.  

That was no fun, as it spewed water all over the floor.  Quickly closed it, but in this weather we need heat there, so a phone call to the repairman was in order.  He called back and helped me diagnose that my boiler was overfull.  So down to the basement I go and drain most of 20 gallons, with a half gallon bucket, so it took me a while.  All I all, it seems to have worked though.  

I had hoped to edit some sermons for publication, though I mostly wonder if they are worth reading.  I think preaching is a performance art.  Reading a sermon is like reading a play.   You get a lot from it but not the whole thing.  

I have yet to get to the shower today, which makes me ripe company even for myself.  

Honestly, the charms of winter are ever more elusive.  But I have said that before.  That has not stopped me, however, from hosting an event here yesterday and one again tonight.  Somewhere in the middle of it I passed officially from 53 to 54.  Egad.  My lovely choir sand to me during worship yesterday and it was very sweet.  

Have just finished Garry Wills book, What Paul Meant.  Not as fulsome or thorough as Bruce Chilton’s Rabbi Paul.  I am chastened in that reading by the precociously gifted Sam Harris about whom I preached yesterday at someone’s request.  Man, I wish I had his combination of reasoning power and passion.  But as I said yesterday, his indictments are more powerful than his solutions.  

I am disposed toward the latter, seeking to find a truly potent liberal religious vision that can move people.  In fact, I have a good idea what it is, which I am laying out on my third blog.  But in this I am frustrated as what I sense inwardly and very clearly I fear I cannot express adequately.  My sense of personal and professionally inadequacy is very high right now.  I read about colleagues who are writing books, making speeches, making a mark and I find myself stumbling and struggling and feeling very thick tongued and inept.  

Forgive me for displaying all this.  Blogs, however, give permission for the equivocal and uncertain that those who lead in public cannot express in public.  Somehow there is a weird privacy to this very public venue.  By comparison, to seem unsure in public is to seem indecisive and that is precisely what leaders cannot be.  How odd, that we want our leaders to be more human, less pompous and more authentic.  To do that must include faults and frailties along with gifts and strengths.  But when leaders reveal those faults and frailties those they lead often recoil or begin to question the leader’s capacity.  

I need to take a shower now.  Guests are coming later.  At least the radiator is not leaking.  It is a good day after all.