Friday, April 27, 2012

A Mixed Bag

Today happened to be a mixed bag for me at work. I've been trying to get an issue resolved for the past seven months ( to no avail, but it isn't from a lack of trying). My boss sees things one way, but another boss doesn't see things the same way. We have been at an impasse for about the past five months as I grit my teeth and bare it.

Earlier this week, my boss' boss met with the other boss to try to reach some agreements—not only for my work, but also for four of my colleagues who do various other tasks. Today we got the report.

Things were going great. There were some good in-roads made on one colleague's front. Then great changes came for another co-worker. I became hopeful. Then the time came for my verdict.

I heard the report fall from his lips, "With eComm, we weren't able to reach an agreement." I was a bit floored. Or quite more than a bit. I couldn't believe that they couldn't come to any sort of agreement. So we agreed to give up. We will be letting all writing standards go out the window. I will not be doing anything more than copying and pasting items for them—typos and all.

 I left the meeting quite disheartened. I find it hard to fathom that when a business has help that they would flagrantly deny that help. And it was even worse that after all my offers to help, all my examples provided to management, all my hours that I had invested to make the documents better were completely ignored.

My boss asked me to stay behind and talk to him for a moment. He let me know that since we would be spending less time on this group, we would find more challenging items for me to be doing. And that he was planning to get my position moved to another classification. That meant a raise. While I'm excited to get a raise, and I'm excited for more challenging and new work, I feel a bit bad for all those workers who have to fight their way through the documentation and not get the clarity they deserve. I feel bad that I have to give up on that.

But, for the time being, I'll just have to be glad that I got a mixed bag today. I'm happy to get some good news after a week that seemed to be two and a half weeks all crammed into one.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Public Service Announcement on SHAS

My brother was up with his family for Easter. While they were up, they introduced us to an interesting acronym that we have since adopted in our family: SHAS.

You might not have heard of this acronym before. It has nothing to do with the orthodox Jewish political party, nor the Scottish Housing Advisory Service. Instead, it has the power to turn Munchkin from this:

to this in less than two minutes:

Or to turn Munchkenna from this:

to this in the same amount of time:

Does this look familiar to you? If so, SHAS might have struck you or one of your loved ones.

SHAS stands for Sudden Hunger Anger Syndrome. It can wreak havoc on families, turning the most amicable children and adults into wrathful monsters who lash out at everything near them.

My brother claims that it is carried through the genes of Swedes. While this has not been proven through the recent research on the human genome, we have found it to be true with our children. Since my wife's family is Swedish, and my sister-in-law's family is Swedish, I guess our kids all inherited the SHAS gene.

Munchkin has been very grumpy when she wakes up each morning recently. I blame SHAS.

She has also been full of harumphs and sarcastic sighs right before dinner. I blame SHAS.

Munchkenna just yells when the food isn't coming fast enough. SHAS again.

Please don't let SHAS effect you or someone you love. It can easily ruin your life, and many see miraculous improvements after ingesting a banana, cheese stick, granola bar, or even a five course meal.

For the sake of your Swedish friends who might be adversely affected by this debilitating condition, please keep a little food handy. I know we do.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Blast from the Past

Yesterday at work, I was in the middle of a conversation with a coworker of mine. I occasionally help her out with some of her duties, including loading some case-specific information into another system. While you might think that this sounds more boring than watching leather dry, you get to see some of the craziness that is people's lives.

I was relating what little I had gleaned of a case that was worthy of a Hollywood movie plot (sorry, no specifics), when a manager I rarely interact with loudly—and somewhat rudely, might I add—yelled "Hey John, come here for a minute." I politely informed her that I would be there in a moment, and she seemed a bit amused.

I finished with the rest of the details of the story, then proceeded to this manager's office. I occasionally helped her with computer issues, so I began to mentally change into my IT hat. What I saw surprised me.

One of my old bosses from BSU sat in the chair, grinning up at me. I didn't think I would ever run into her in my current capacity, but there she sat, grinning like a teenage boy at an all-you-can-eat buffet. She knew me from back when I was still fighting my way through majors five, six, and seven, so one of her first questions was, "What do you do here?"

I told her that I was a technical writer. Her smile faded a bit as her brain raced to figure out what that was. After a few pleasantries, I was shooed out of the room, as there was official business to be conducted.

It turns out that my former boss works for a non-profit organization that works with this manager on a frequent basis. Frequent, as in they are in that office 20 feet from my desk on nearly a weekly basis holding meetings. How I have worked there for over a year and never run in to her is a mystery. I try to keep a low profile, but whenever I walk from place to place, my head is much higher than the cubicle walls, so I am a prominent fixture if you are looking around the floor. People know me. I don't bring a water bottle to work so that I can get up frequently to get a drink. I should have run into her before this, but fate would have it that we didn't meet until now.

After the official business was conducted, she came over to catch up. I showed her all my pictures of the kids, told her where we were living, what I was up to, then she proceeded to tell me how she was thinking of me just two days prior. I thought Why in the world would I cross her mind? but she gave me the answer before I had the opportunity to ask.

She was having an event for her non-profit group, and wanted to do something to make the event special. When I worked for her, I reserved rooms in the Student Union Building. They caught wind that I played the piano, so they asked if I would be interested to play for any events. Since she wanted something extra special, she thought of me.

I have to say that I'm a bit flattered. She asked if I would be interested. I told her that I would, expecting it to be in a month or so. Turns out it is a couple of days after my birthday in October, so we'll see if she remembers. I gave her my number, but part of me thinks that she won't. I guess only time will tell.

It was pretty fun to run into her and have a blast from the past. I'm sure she'll stop in more now that she knows where to find me.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I took my customary lunch walk today at around 11:00. I realized that cars were slowing down and stopping on a road that is generally not very busy, so I meandered over that way to discover what I could see. I was happy to find six young deer lazily wandering through the neighborhood and snacking on some of the tender green chutes of the bushes.

I got to thinking how fun it is to live in Boise. Where else can you find deer aimlessly wandering through the bustle of a city at 11:00 in the morning? I got to thinking back on being raised in the greater Boise area, and got thinking about the pictures I took the other day. Especially ones of this trailer.

I was amazed at all the blues I found in this picture. I couldn't believe how vibrant some of them were after at least 30 years of weathering.
And I loved the grain of the wood in this picture mixed with the flaking of the paint.

Then I got to thinking about Boise again, and came to the conclusion that this trailer and Boise are quite similar. To many, the city of Boise seems old fashioned and bland. Some think it needs new wheels, or a fresh coat of paint, and others just want to abandon it completely.

Beneath everything, there are some interesting grains to see, as well as some amazing colors. Boise is small enough to be feel like home, but big enough to entertain me. Sure, I don't get all the big concerts coming through town, but I do get a few here and there that actually interest me. Sure, I don't have all the Broadway shows I would like, but I saw Wicked here last year, and am planning on seeing Les Miserables within the next year. There are robust opportunities, but not so robust that I get lost in the shuffle.

Boise has growing pains, much like any other medium-sized college town, but all in all, I enjoy exploring the backyard of my work building. I'm about three blocks from the heart of downtown Boise, and about four blocks the other way from the foothills. When I need bustle, I wander downtown among the masses. When I need the quiet, I head towards the dog park and the hills to wander in solitude.

I think my walks are what keeps me sane at work. If I didn't have time to leave and chew on stuff, being exposed to other stimuli besides a beige cubicle wall and identical gray desks, I think I might have been admitted to a mental hospital a long time ago. Things like the herd of deer refresh me and help me remember that Boise isn't all that bad of a place to be right now, even if some things don't shine like they did right when they came out of the box. There is still enjoyment to be found in the weathered grain of the wood.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sunday

Today was an Easter I wouldn't mind repeating. It was filled with lots of family and music, so what more could you ask for?

I got asked on Saturday to play the organ for our church service today. I enjoy doing that, and wouldn't mind doing it more so I could get better on the organ. I still don't know much about stops, but if I had to play more often, I would be forced to learn. Anyway, the only let down about the service was that we didn't sing my favorite Easter hymn, O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown. After the meeting, I had an elderly woman come up to me from the congregation and paid me a very nice compliment. She said that every time I get near an instrument, it thrills her. Although I flubbed a few notes, I guess I did something right on that old organ.

I also loaned my copy of The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis to someone who is struggling with the passing of his father. I read this novella a few years ago, and found it most instructional on what the afterlife might be like. If you are so inclined, I highly recommend it. I'll be eager to talk with him about if he found it helpful in his current situation.

We got the girls down for naps, even though Munchkenna didn't stay there very long. I watered all our non-flowering tulips and daffodils in hopes that they will flower this spring. Our hyacinths flowered great, but only one daffodil flowered, I'm guessing because we didn't plant them until early last year, and I think they are still trying to root into the earth before flourishing. Maybe next year.

After a ham dinner with the in-laws, the kids hunted Easter eggs. They had so much fun that we sent them back inside and hid them again. The sun was shining, and it was about 70 degrees. Perfect weather to bask slightly out of the sun on the deck.

We went to an Easter concert tonight where one of Munchkin's aunt was singing a solo. Munchkin sat entranced on my lap as her aunt did a great rendition of Tell Me The Story. After it was done, Munchkin had to be escorted out of the chapel to use the restroom. Along the way, she kept singing part of the lyrics back to me. I had her go sing it for her aunt after the concert, and I think they were both equally pleased. And I also forgot to mention that I got to play prelude music for the concert. More creating for me! Hooray!

All in all, an above average day. I might even go so far as to say a great day. Now, tell me how your Easter was.

Friday, April 6, 2012


About a year ago, I got a new job. It was not my ideal job, but I figured that it would be a good place to be, as it had good insurance, and I had just spent almost three months unemployed.

As time went on, I got more comfortable in my position, and started getting more comfortable in my work. I had felt out the organization, and started making more aggressive changes to the documentation to make it better.

Things were going fine until one of the two organizations  I work for started not liking the edits I was making. I was just changing things based on the style guide my organization provided me, but the changes were too drastic in the minds of this organization, so I was strictly forbidden from changing anything. I became a monkey for them that published whatever they gave me--typos and poor design and all.

I really got frustrated in September when, on a Friday afternoon, I was handed a document at 4:57 pm and told that I needed to get it out that day. It was my mother's birthday, and we had planned to do something with them that evening. Since I wanted to make a good impression, I stayed and finished everything. A bit disgruntled, I left from work an hour late.

Things steadily declined with this organization, and lo and behold, a month ago it was my mother-in-law's birthday, and we had dinner planned at our place for them. I got something at the end of the day for a release again, but this time, I chose not to stay. I was fed up. It all got smoothed over in the morning, and I was pretty frustrated (and still am).

The thing that really gets me about this whole situation is the fact that the other organization I work with things I walk on water. They love my edits, my questions, my vision for the documentation, and like the way I use my education to help their staff understand the message. I offer them the same support I offered the first organization before they shut me down, and it is well received.

Organization Two loves my work because they understand technical communication. When I tell them that we should chunk the information into smaller pieces to help staff understand, they understand the value. They like making things concise, and realize that there are things like scope creep in a document. While some information might be nice to have, if it isn't vital, it probably can be edited out.

Organization One doesn't have any formal writing training. They don't understand the changes I make, and don't offer me an opportunity to explain them because they refuse to adhere to any deadlines, so I get things later than the 11th hour. Getting information an hour before it needs to be published (along with four other documents) doesn't really allow me the opportunity to do my job and see how usable the document it. Plus the training department has already had the documents for a week, and completed their training for the next day two days ago, so they cannot make any changes.

I kept talking to my supervisor about the issues I was seeing. He is a middle manager who doesn't really have the power to change anything. After doing that for three months, I tried talking directly to his manager. That didn't do anything either, even though he has the power to change it. He is relatively new in his position, so he doesn't want to rattle everyone's cages yet.

Since that got me nowhere, I just started to stuff everything. I became resigned to the fact that I couldn't make any changes for Organization One, and it just continued to eat away at me.

About a month ago, I couldn't hold it in anymore, and had a frank discussion with my boss. I suggested that we find a different place for me to work, since I clearly wasn't doing any good for Organization One. I offered to hand over my software licenses to them and train them so that they could publish their own information. I let him know how frustrated I was, and what was frustrating me. I told him that I realized that I had stopped dreaming. Two hours later, we walked out of the room, and I went back to publishing like a monkey.

The thing that really tipped me off that I needed to have this conversation was the fact that I hadn't dreamed in a long time. I have always been the type to wake up every day and tell my dreams to Wifey (much to her chagrin). Realizing that I hadn't dreamed in four months was kind of scary to me.

I like Brandi Carlile, and in one of her songs, she has the lyric "I have seen your nine to fives wash away your dreams." That has always resounded in me, and I realized that I had allowed my job to literally wash away every dream I had. I had become numb and unimaginative. The stress of work spilled into every other part of my life. I would lie awake at nights trying to figure out how I was going to fix everything, then wake up in the middle of the night with my mind still spinning thinking about what to do the next day, then climb out of bed exhausted, dreading to go to work to face the actual problems I had been wrestling with all night. In short, it was no good.

After I realized that I had allowed myself to be crippled by the situation, I started really thinking about the situation. I realized that I'm not going to be able to change my current situation. The upper management likes to keep their hands in everything (which is part of the reason why Organization One cannot deliver content in a timely fashion so I can do my job), and since they don't see me as adding value because they don't understand what I do, I am powerless to change anything. I realized that I wasn't mad at the people I worked with from Organization One, but consumed by the friction the process caused.

I'm convinced that most interpersonal conflict in a business comes not from personal differences, but because of inefficiencies in the process. People don't get the time or resources they need to complete their job in a way that gives them satisfaction.

The night after I had my 2 hour meeting that should have lasted 15 minutes, I started dreaming again. I started waking up inside and wanting to create again. My dreams have continued mostly every night, and I am finding exciting things to do and experience in my every day life again. It is wonderful.

Yesterday, I took some time to walk around my parent's property and take some pictures. I took a handful of people, but took a lot of scenes from my childhood as well. I was creating. So at the end of this post are a few of them. There will probably be more smattered through upcoming posts, so if you see a random photo, just know that I am trying to awaken my creativity again and do something to keep my sanity.

Nothing has changed with Organization One. In fact, it has only gotten worse. I get more stuff later, and I continue to just copy and paste it into our manuals after voicing some very basic reservations I have with the documentation design. It is terrible documentation, but it is what they want, so I deliver it for them. But I have reclaimed my ability to create and dream again.

Lichen on the manger

Lichen on the bricks

The lane from the haystack up to the house

The hay derrick and a dilapidated cattle trailer

An old wheel on another dilapidated cattle trailer.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Spring's Gonna Be Good!

Spring has arrived, and so have I. It has been quite a while since I have written here, but with the world waking up, so am I.

With waking up, sometimes you can look a bit disheveled (or downright ugly like the picture of two baby pigeons I took today), and things might be that way for the next little bit. I'll push through them though.
I had a realization a couple of weeks ago that changed the way I look at a lot of things--life, work, long-term goals. While I'm not going to fill you in right now, I promise to let you know where I've been, and why I'm glad to be taking pictures like this outside my parent's front door:
Grape hyacinths
For now, all you get is a tease, but more to come (pics and words). And much more frequently than I have posted recently.