Pre-shot tracker

I watched the final round of the World Golf Championships on Sunday. I like to play golf, although my game bears little resemblance to that of the pros who make a living playing it. While I have a 14 handicap and have only broken 90 on rare occasions, these guys seem to rarely make a bad shot. This week’s tournament was a little different because it was played on a newly redesigned golf course near Miami where both the field’s lack of familiarity with the design changes and the winds from the Atlantic Ocean proved to be major factors in the high scoring of the competitors.

On a course nicknamed ”The Blue Monster”, there were more balls errantly hit in the water over the course of the 4 days than at any time in the tournament’s history. I suppose it was to be expected given the proximity of water to many of the fairways and greens after the major re-design. Still, in many years of being a golf fan, I’ve never seen a tournament where every single player took at least one penalty stroke for a hitting a ball out-of-bounds, in the water, or in one case, up a palm tree.

Watching these guys grind out their mistake prone rounds in unfamiliar territory and tough conditions got me to thinking. Hell, that looks a lot like the way most of us live our lives, much less the way we duffers play golf.

shot_tracker

Sometimes during the telecast, a ”shot tracker” is used to show a replay of the ball flight from the time of impact off the player’s clubface until the ball lands. The bright red stripe of the ball’s path is a visual treat allowing the viewer to see the shot shapes these pros can produce, or, as was the case this weekend, how far off course a 30 mile per hour wind can push a golf ball. I remember one such ”shot tracker” sequence as a player took a hard swing at a ball buried in scrub grass behind a palm tree, that had to be played under some branches with a right to left slicing path to try to get the ball to land on the green for a chance at putting. In the best of conditions, it would have taken a perfect, near miraculous shot. The pro made solid contact, but with the poor lie, he failed to impart the correct spin on the ball that was also being pushed by a gusting breeze and it didn’t curve towards the green. Instead it crashed into the grandstand behind his intended target. The replay of the shot using the ”shot tracker’ looked like a laser guided missile from under the trees at the right hand of the fairway on an intentional line into the gallery. The red line on the television screen couldn’t have been drawn straighter by hand with a sharpie and a ruler. If the golfer had wanted to hit the ball at the spectators, he could not have done so any better. Fortunately, no one was injured. The person the ball bounced off of got an autographed glove. The player was awarded a ”free drop” out of the stands because his ball was unplayable from the box seats under a lady’s purse, and he luckily went on to salvage his par. His attempt at a miracle shot could just have easily resulted in a double-bogey.

Like Will Smith’s classic line on his first date with Eva Mendes in the movie “Hitch” when he says, “I didn’t see it going that way in my mind,” the golfer couldn’t have seen his shot happen the way it did in his mind during his pre shot routine. These guys are masters of visualization. Yes, they take several practice swings with their club to “feel” the shot before they take their real one, but mostly they are imagining exactly what shape and trajectory is needed to land the ball at a specific target. This ability to imagine and ”see” the shot that’s required, and then the physical skills and talent to make that vision a reality is what sets them apart and makes many of them multi-millionaires as the reward for playing the world’s most frustrating game. Knowing firsthand the inherent difficulties of playing golf well, it fascinates me that the pros have this exceptional combination of imagination, focus, and talent to consistently produce incredible golf shots…except when it doesn’t turn out that way…like the shot into the grandstand.

Which brings me back to the way I figure you and I live our lives. Most of the time, when faced with a decision or difficult situation, we probably have no “pre shot” routine. We just step up to a decision and ”hit it!” I know that’s too frequently been the case with myself. When making everyday decisions, I foolishly trust my instincts in spite of the fact that too often my instincts are driven by emotions like frustration, anxiety, fear, or pride.

For times like that, times when I’m in a hurry, or responding to an unforeseen crisis, or just don’t give a damn at the moment, I wish there was something that would go off in my head and give me a “pre-shot tracker”. I wish I could see beforehand what the ramifications of my decisions were going to be. If the golfer on Sunday had known he was about to fire a rifle shot into the stands, he would likely have stepped away from the ball, considered his alternatives, and maybe found a better place to “miss”.

I intend to learn from this. It’s not always possible to slow down enough to effectively calculate the consequences of words and actions. Some days, life comes very fast and feels very unfamiliar; leaving me ill prepared to respond well. It feels a lot more like a hockey game than a leisurely round of golf. I’ve hit enough “bad shots” playing golf to know what can happen to my score if I don’t take my time, see the shot, line up, and keep my head down through the swing. If you’re like me, you’ve probably hit your share of “bad shots” in life as well. I am gradually learning to stop trusting my “gut” when faced with a crisis. My gut reactions are almost 100% of the time patterned emotional responses deeply ingrained from past traumas, and are therefore defensive and shortsighted. In such cases, I might successfully blow off steam, protect myself, state my case, or “give someone a piece of my mind”, but rarely do I achieve the results I desire without serious, conscientious intention. So, I’m learning to try to relax and breathe and give my self permission to look one more time at the real result I want my words or actions to accomplish, and not just to “swing hard”, and results be damned!

As Sunday proved for a fabulous field of very talented golfers, sometimes knowing where to safely miss a shot is just as important as trying to pull off a perfect swing in imperfect conditions. As much as possible, I am going to think more on the front end. I’m going to try to see what my actions are going to produce and where the “ball” might end up. At least, I want to learn to miss in a safe place and not take as many penalty strokes in life. And I’m hoping that in my mind I’ll see a “pre-shot” tracker that will cause me to hesitate and take one more look rather than flailing away mindlessly.

On writing as a process

So, I haven’t written anything in 3 days and I actually feel guilty about it. This is a good thing. Writing has been good for me so far in many ways that are not necessarily empirical. It’s hard to quantify the type of catharsis that comes simply from getting my own thoughts out of my head and into a linear, written form. I’ve gained some clarity on the things I’ve written about as well as a sense of closure on some items (or at least a sense of taxonomy for where the issue should fit in my life).

Writing forces me to make choices. What to say? What not to say? What fits with what? What is and isn’t pertinent and important? It also makes me step away from the flow of ideas that are “gut level” and visceral and come back in a day or two to revise. I’m in need of revision in my life a lot of times and doing this “after the fact” editing in my writing will hopefully help me to remember that my gut level responses are not always right, or at least not always worded exactly the way they ought to be.

I really like the concepts of means and ends. I also believe that every action undertaken has one of two possible ultimate ends in mind at the type of the action’s genesis. The two possible ultimate ends of any human are: 1) to please oneself; and 2) the glory and pleasure of God. I learned this from reading Charles Finney’s Systematic Theology, written in the 1830’s before the Civil War.

Those being the only possible ends, I have to say that writing for me is a means of accomplishing both. I believe God has gifted me with the ability to synthesize thought and language in order to communicate ideas effectively. Thus, writing becomes a “tip of the cap” to honor God for granting me that giftedness. But writing also gives me personal, subjective, internalized pleasure that is quite real and gratifying.

I don’t always write with an end in mind. Like at this very moment, the writing is a means of getting some free form ideas out of my mind and onto this digital paper. But the act of writing is almost an end (a proximate one…) in itself. Being able to see my ideas take on some “concreteness” from the amorphous soup of my thought life is a pleasurable exercise in its own right.

I’m not sure if most writers sit down with their end clearly in view. I’m not sure if that is what makes for “good” writing. I think it must be true in some way that all “art forms” allow enough spontaneity in the artist that he enjoys the form, the medium, as much as the finished product. Surely a guitarist enjoys hearing himself play. And a ballerina must love the feeling of the dance. I suppose it could be true that the “enjoyment” is not necessarily always positive or pleasurable for the moment. I’m thinking of Van Gogh, and others like him, who painted or created with a sense of foreboding and self-loathing, and yet when a particular piece was complete, there was sense of finality and accomplishment. (At least temporarily, as Van Gogh was known to have painted over many paintings as he reused canvases due to both his self-doubt and poverty.) My guess is that no matter what the art, if the art form were too unpleasant for the artist, he would stop doing it before long.

I have just assumed that writers always knew the whole story beforehand. I think it’s true of some of them. (Dostoevsky is said to have known the last sentence of Crime and Punishment before he began the novel). But maybe that isn’t always the case. Of course, if a topic is given beforehand, it’s best to stay on point, but otherwise, I’m curious how much freedom and therefore “discovery” and surprise is experienced by writers.

I believe it’s this notion, probably erroneous, that I had to know the whole story, have everything mapped out and charted and diagrammed on the front end, that kept me paralyzed and not writing anything for so many years. I had no complete story in my mind, therefore I didn’t write anything, on any subject. But I’ve come to see in a few short weeks of self-imposed discipline, that I do know some about a few things and I can write it down.

I like where the words take me. I like not knowing exactly how the ribbon will get tied and where I’ll put the bow on the package. It’s exciting to let the ideas flow out and take their own shape under the watchful eye of my inner editor and critic. I get to “play jazz” and listen at the same time as an audience member.

That aspect of writing as a “process” is very unexpected for me. It is also thrilling! It is that feeling that makes me want to sit down and devote time to this endeavor. Even in a week during which I have 4 kids living with me (because of Spring Break) instead of the usual one, I have completed 4 separate trailer deals, I’ve celebrated one of the kid’s birthdays, and I’ve been stretched to still try to be a good boyfriend. I plan to keep on practicing and as Merlin Mann says put 5 words together on a page.

 

Bunnies and Eggs

Easter Cupcakes

“Dad, what do eggs have to do with bunny rabbits?” my eight-year-old son asked me last week. I just chuckled, shook my head and told him, “Not a thing, buddy. Not a thing.”

His question of course, was about the trappings of Easter. He’s seen them everywhere for weeks. When I picked up him and his older sister to spend the Spring Break with me, both of them were packing chocolate rabbits tall enough to reach their knees. Micaiah’s rabbit was already missing both ears.

I haven’t told him the full Easter story yet. I’d like to tell him today. At least to bring up what Easter is really about. I’m sure he’s old enough to handle the details. He can certainly handle the blood and killing part. He is a seasoned warrior on Call of Duty. I’m just not sure how to tell him about Jesus rising again from the dead without it sounding as crazy as an Easter Bunny who goes around handing out jelly beans and chocolate.

He knows that Christmas is really to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. His mother and I didn’t do “Santa” with him or his six older siblings. So, he’s never been told that Santa exists. He thinks that whole tradition is a big joke. But believe me, he gets just as excited as any Santa-believing kid does about getting Christmas presents!  He just knows they’re from me or his mom. He’s even bright enough not to spoil the Santa story for kids he’s friends with whose families do the Santa thing.

We don’t do the Easter Bunny either, so there’s no colored eggs in baskets when he wakes up this morning. This really isn’t a knock on families who do easter baskets. I think that’s a way to keep young kids interested in what really ought to be a special, memorable holiday. But I’m stumped about how to explain the true back story and meaning of Easter, and attempt to make any connection whatsoever with the pagan fertility symbols of eggs and rabbits. He is curious and analytical. He will want to know. The Easter cruft is much tougher to sell to a kid than the Christmas cruft. It’s a tough sell to me, and I’m nearly half-a-century old. With Santa, at least gift-giving goes with the story of the Magi and Jesus’ birth.  But truly, there is no “thread” I can conceive of to connect rabbits and eggs to the resurrection of the Messiah.

The only connection he might understand is seasonal. Easter occurs in Spring, when we celebrate new life. That’s cool, but to celebrate reproduction too? And, btw, just what does the fabrication and propagation of stories about a mythical bunny who goes around distributing colored eggs and candy in baskets of plastic grass have to do with a brutal execution and an empty tomb? I mean, who conspired to come up with this bs? I probably will leave out that stuff when I tell him today about the risen Lord.

Belief in the true story comes down to a revelation from God and simple faith. There is nothing in my experience that will help me to believe that someone can live again after he’s dead. I just believe. And I believe in spite of my experience or lack thereof. Neither is there anything my senses can deliver to me to assist my belief. Bunnies and eggs don’t help me believe in a resurrected Jesus. I believe in spite of chocolate and candy and every other thing that might distract me from the amazing truth that my Lord, my Savior, is alive!

Reading the passages again in the gospels I can see that there was a lot of fantastical stuff and a lot of unbelief surrounding the first Easter narrative. There are angels in sparkling clothes, a stone rolled away mysteriously from a tomb, grave clothes folded up by themselves where a body had been placed. There’s Jesus disguised as a gardener. There’s Jesus disguised as a stranger on the road. There’s Jesus materializing into a locked room. And then, in condescension and recognition of his follower’s dependency upon their senses, there’s Jesus stretching out his hands to Thomas telling him to put his finger in the holes.

Then he says, “Now, because you have seen do you believe? More blessed are they who have not seen and still believe.”

I am hoping and praying that my little boy will one day experience that blessedness of the un-seeing and come to know Jesus for himself, and that by faith he will experience the life-changing joy of His resurrection from the dead, and that he will experience the life of Jesus within himself.

I pray that he will know there’s more going on than meets the eyes or can be felt with fingertips or be tasted with the tip of his tongue…Even if sometimes the un-seen truth feels harder to believe in than egg-laying bunny rabbit myths.

Happy 25th Birthday, Rachel

Rachel PhotoShoot - 2

Today is Rachel’s 25th birthday. I have not seen her since Jordan was being released from the hospital with a broken leg in early May of last year. It was not a pretty scene. Since that meeting, there have been one or two ugly text exchanges. It is a broken relationship. Likely beyond repair. I hope not.

Still, on her birthday, I can remember her coming into the world at 409-B Wakefield in the upstairs corner bedroom of the townhouse her mother and I moved into when we got married in 1987. I remember being splashed full in the face with the amniotic fluid as she crowned and her head emerged from Jackie’s body. I can remember how hot she felt, and how red she looked, and I remember the way she smelled. And I remember how tremendously relieved and grateful to God I felt that she and her mother were safe and sound and alive.

Rachel was born on a Saturday. So, a few minutes after her birth, I drove around the corner to the beauty shop where Jackie rented a booth and cut hair to let them know she wouldn’t be in to keep her appointments. I parallel parked along Montford in front of the shop and when a complete stranger climbed out of the car behind me, I beamed and shared the news with him that I was a father, that my wife had just given birth at home to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. If I’d had a cigar, I certainly would have offered him one.

She was absolutely perfect, even when she looked at us sideways from her tiny eye slits. Her first nickname was “Sideglance”. Perhaps she never really trusted us, even from the beginning.

Early attempts at breast-feeding her proved futile. Both she and Jackie just couldn’t get the hang of it at first. To make sure she stayed hydrated and got some nutrition, Jackie pumped milk which I fed to her using a syringe and a tube run along the tip of my index finger. Her hard little gums would clamp my finger and when she sucked, the milk would flow through that tube. I stayed awake with her in my lap in the downstairs chair the whole first night of her life, changing her wet diapers and feeding her with that finger tube when she’d wake up hungry.

I was so proud of my little girl. And I loved her as hard and as well as any father has ever loved. As I write this with tears streaming down my cheeks, I’m still not sure what happened. I don’t even know when the train left the tracks. It’s heart wrenching and almost more than I can comprehend that something that began with such grace has become something so filled with hurt and bitterness.

There’s nothing clever to say in summation. Happy 25th Birthday, Rachel. I still love you, Daddy.

 

 

 

The Scale and The Pendulum, or Bad Libra

So, at the moment, it feels pretty much like I am giving free rein to the “serendipity” half of the equation in my life. Since I am also engaged in high school algebra (helping my oldest son who is in the 9th grade), it occurs to me that whatever I add to one half of my “serendipitymastery” equation, I must also add to the other side to keep it balanced. In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, I am a Libra. The significance of this is only that the Libra “sign” is a set of scales. LOL! I am a BAD Libra! I don’t balance well. Not to say that I’m imbalanced in general, but in life, the day to day kind, I’m just not balanced on a daily meter.

That is likely true for most people. We function much more like the swing of a pendulum. We all vacillate between extremes. Granted, they are subjective, personal, individualistic, and therefore relative, extremes, but extremes none-the-less. I am reminded of a phrase Mal Reynolds used in the television series Firefly, “out here on the raggedy edge.” In the series, which is one of my all-time favorites, but being a strange brew of science fiction and spaghetti western, when the fearless leader Mal said it, he was usually referring to their current physical environs. It was synonymous with, “out here in no man’s land”, or, “out on the edge of the known mapped region of space”. But I like the simplified, “raggedy edge”. That is where I live internally. I’m usually near the raggedy edge of the pendulum swing of my Bad Libra’s scale. I live pretty near to one extreme of “happy-go-lucky”, “take it as you find it”, “fly by the seat of my pants” Serendipity, or the focused, driven, “conquer this right now!” mindset of my obsessive Mastery alter-ego.

An example is my recent discovery of Hazel for Mac. Hazel is a cool, no, wicked cool, app that runs as a system preference in the OS X operating system. You can find it at www.noodlesoft.com/hazel.php. I forget exactly what manner of mental foraging I was engaged in when I stumbled upon it, but once i read about its cool ass capabilities, I had to install it on my system. (The pendulum had reached the raggedy edge of Serendipity and was about to swing wildly in the direction of Mastery’s raggedy edge.) Go ahead, intrepid Mac geek, get you some! They offer a free 14 day trial. What are you waiting for?

Hazel monitors a folder in your file system and then performs actions on the files it contains or that show up there. It comes loaded with some example folder/action pairs to try out. An obvious folder is the Downloads folder where all the cruft that you and I download from the world wide web (Serendipity Nirvana) gets dumped. This folder of digital shit is like my house. Stuff just accumulates there and gets left where it sits. Enter Hazel. This app can sort all the files by type (and even create sub-folders of that type), delete the files that have been there for an amount of time I determine, move the files to appropriate other folders, etc.. Very cool indeed! But wait, that’s not all…

While grokking out on all of its basic functionality, I started looking at all of the links on the Noodlesoft “Buzz” web page (www.noodlesoft/buzz.php)  for ideas and examples of what other geek types were doing with Hazel. I found an amazing, though not exactly cheap, video tutorial by a guy with a great German accent named Andreas Zeitel. If you’re interested you can find the tutorial here: www.macosxscreencasts.com/tutorial/hazel-tutorial. Anyways, midways thru the tutorial, Andreas has shown an example action that Hazel can perform which invokes an imbedded AppleScript to grab any file with file extension .PDF living in a folder called toEvernote and auto-magically opens the Evernote desktop app and send said file to Evernote as a new note. Cool, eh? I had to do that of course because by now, I’ve…just…got …to …tackle …all…Hazel…can…possibly…do!

I’m engrossed. No, addicted! I’m like the guy that has had a jones for coke for a month and then when he finds some he can’t possibly spread it out over say, a weekend, rather, he snorts all of it, ALL of it by the end of the first damn night.

At the end of Andreas’ tutorial, he gives an example of how one can set up Hazel to automatically open web pages you’ve been browsing on your iOS device. That way, when you get home to your mothership Mac, it will be displaying the very web page(s) your were browsing while your significant other was in the dressing room at Marshalls.

It involves Dropbox (www.dropbox.com/home), and creating a “Send to Dropbox” account (https://sendtodropbox.com), and creating a new user in your AddressBook with that handle so you can email files with web page URLs to a new folder created in your Dropbox account, and finally, a wicked cool, imbedded ruby script.

Keep up with me, now. I’m comfortable with Unix. I can write some basic shell scripts. The word “metadata” doesn’t scare me. I can even bullshit my way around a conversation involving Apache, or Postgresql, or php. I’ve installed Ruby and Rails on my system, but I’m not that guy that just uses ruby every day like typing a text message. And this damn action in Hazel using the ruby script just won’t work! I’m stymied. Do I give up? Do I count my blessings? Do I thank the coding gods out there who have created such Hazel and Dropbox goodness for me to enjoy? NO! Hell to the NO! I have to FIX it!

I get so engrossed on something at the raggedy edge of Mastery (I have to keep calling it that to avoid the obvious truth that really I have major OCD tendencies) that I even dream about whatever it is I’m captivated by. So yes, I dreamed of Hazel, and /usr/bin/ruby, and folder actions, until the next morning I woke up and just emailed Andreas Zeitel to tell him how much I’d enjoyed his video tutorial and how much I’d learned, but there was the one little, bitsy problem with my ruby script, and if he would be so kind, and if he had the time, could he possibly take…a…look?

I’ll be damned. Andreas is good people! He sent two different replies detailing possible problems with my script. One involved ruby’s reluctance, er, refusal to recognize “smart quotes” in any script. When that didn’t work, he just sent me a link to a page where I could just freaking copy and paste that mother of a script into my own little Hazel action world. Joy! It all worked! And it was the seventh day, and I could rest from my labors. Ha!

On to the next discovery…the pendulum is swinging back.