Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Hi. I'm back. No explanations. Go figure.

We were treated to two snowstorms last week in the space of just over three days. The first was a fast mover which left a foot high calling card. The second was nastier and left two calling cards - about eight inches of snow, soon to be capped by ice. Lots of fun and a great opportunity to share some chili and watch the Patriots win #14. Not bad for a weekend.

So with #1 I'm getting ready to go out and start shoveling. I see my neighbor is having his driveway plowed and wondered if the plow would hit the corner of his stone wall or my mailbox - again.

I shovel about a 10' square up top and then go down to the road to say hello to the hard packed snow and salt, compliments of the town plows. If I don't get to it fairly quickly successive runs by the plows can build up rapidly and then it all compresses and morphs into the dreaded white cement.

My neighbors are out shoveling their remnants.

I call across: "Are we having fun yet?"

Peter calls back: "Oh yeah, how about you?"

I chant back: "Definitely, and it looks like I'm going to have a lot more fun than you."

We both giggle mirthfully, and I start working towards breakthrough - that's how I like to do it. I identify the highest reach of the plow spew, start digging in a straight line towards the road and then declare breakthrough! when I get to the road. Then I start going in random patterns east and west. That's the system. But the pace is definitely guided by not rushing. It'll get done when it gets done and it's always a grand opportuity to listen to the snow falling, saying hello to my body and the satisfaction of doing something concrete.

Peter mosies over and asks: "Want some help?"

I take my time in responding and say: "I pretty much have it covered, but as long as you're here we could work on this part together and talk in between."

We continue at a leisurely pace sprinkling many breaks in between. Actually the shoveling is brief and the breaks are fairly long.

"Here's how I figure it." I say. The whole system started to break down when there was a rush to get things done - fast." "And now that I know that I take my own sweet time, but keep working at it, bit by bit. Sweat's good, difficult is good, discomfort is good, but having to get it all done chop chop quick quick like yesterday is not only not good, it's bad (except for certain circumscribed events.)"

Peter agrees. Now I know I'm on a roll.

(Magically insert another conversation with another friend, Jeff.)

Over breakfast, my treat this time, I ask: "When do you think it all changed, all this speeding up stuff?"

He says: "Easy; it changed the day fax machines became available for the home-office. Then you never got away from it and it also created an expectation of urgency where you had to deal with it right away and get back to the sender."

"I generally agree. I first saw it when I saw the marketing material for the Digital Rainbow. It showed a guy dressed casually and sitting on his back deck overlooking the ocean and the dunes on the Cape. He had his feet up and had the keyboard on his lap and the monitor on a table a few feet off to the side. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. I didn't realize how much of a big mouth bass I was until after I bought it and found out that it did nothing to bring me closer to leisure and refreshment."

"Then later I looked at that original marketing material and finally saw the big computer box discretely tucked away behind a planter and all the cables also blended into the background so to be nearly invisible."

I asked Jeff: "So what did you do with your fax machine?""

I loved his answer: "I just tell people that when they send material to him, he will deal with it and get back to them but not to expect anything close to immediacy."

I ask: "How does that work for you?"

"Nicely," he says, "they know that I will deal with it and that's all they really need."

I say: "Good for you! You've managed to create a work structure that works for you, you have trained them and those who can't handle that can move on, and you have reclaimed your life. Neat!"

(Now back to the snow pile.)

Peter and I continued to shovel and talk. We talked about how in the old days and in "the country" people helped one another out. When you needed some assistance they would be there for you, no questions asked. The unspoken contract was that it would be reciprocated, but each person was expected to carry their own weight and make honest effort to work it out by yourself (and with your family) first. That built the bond of trust and made for good neighbors. That built bonds. That built community. And that's what we need now more than ever before.

The next day I brought him some of my not so famous chili (the short version is that I love it but my wife said that we have to get rid of it and that it's in my best interest if I never try making it again...little does she know) and a copy of Duane Elgin's Radical Simplicity for future snowstorms.