Meaning in work

In preparing for the podcast that should post Friday morning, I came across the following video that speaks in a big way to the story I will tell. The podcast is about the worst job I ever had. The video doesn’t deal exactly with the factors that were part of my story, but it’s a good conversation about work.

What if I Have it All Wrong?

There is a story I tell often, one that I haven’t presented in a podcast yet, but one I plan to someday. It’s all about how one woman in an unlikely place, New Orleans, helped me land a job in Oregon.

A story from this weekend’s This American Life program draws me to at least consider the possibility that I have some details wrong. Michael Lewis, who has had so much success as a writer of books like The Blind Side and Moneyball that he doesn’t need any promotion from the likes of me, tells the story of how a kid from Bosnia stole a library book before emigrating to the United States, and how plagiarizing from that book helped him get into Harvard. A woman who was in his life for no more than a couple of weeks helps him do it.

The show hires a private investigator to find the woman, who has no reason to hide but is inconceivably difficult to find. Lewis, after demonstrating just how much effort had gone into finding this woman, crafted what I thought was a particularly eloquent statement of the perspective he had when the boy’s former temporary teacher appeared forever lost:

After a couple of months of this you couldn’t help but wonder why was this woman the most difficult person on Earth to find. Was it because she wasn’t an earthly creature? Not once, but twice, this boy had found himself in a world more intent on destroying him than in building him up. Maybe he needed evidence that people weren’t all bad. Maybe that’s where angels always come from.

Fortunately the woman is found. The surprise, one I’m not spoiling much, is that her recollection of how things played out differs in some pretty significant ways.

In my story I’m still certain I have the basic facts right. It helps that I didn’t lose contact the woman who helped me. I stayed in touch with her for at least a few months. I might have even sent her flowers to thank her, which is something I’ll have to ask her to confirm. We’ve since become Facebook friends, though we haven’t discussed how we know each other.

Despite my certainty about those events from 19 years ago, I have to hold open the possibility that I’ve got some facts wrong. This might be no small problem for someone who tells personal stories in a podcast once a month. But from the very first podcast I came to accept that my stories are my version of what happened. On those stories that are particularly personal to me, I’m usually the only fact checker I can find.

Ten reasons the St. Louis Cardinals are better than the Los Angeles Dodgers

History, in one measure, will tell you that the St. Louis Cardinals are easily a better team than the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cards have won 11 World Series titles to the Dodgers’ six. Until 2011 I could have claimed the Dodgers were better than St. Louis since my boys moved to Los Angeles, but this decade the Cardinals evened up that record. Each team has won five titles since 1958.

I’m writing this on the night the Dodgers won their fifth straight game and look like they could be on the verge of turning around what has been an awful season. So bad it has been that five straight wins still leaves the team seven games under .500 and six back in the division.

More World Series titles is one reason the Cardinals are better than the Dodgers. I’ve been dared to come up with 10. Here are nine other reasons, in no particular order.

fallon1. They broke the Red Sox jinx. Cardinal fans won’t like me for this, and in some ways many of us wish the Sox fans would go back to being the lovable whiners they were instead of the insufferable blowhards success made them become. But at the time it was a wonderful moment that changed the ending of a Jimmy Fallon movie I might not otherwise have seen. None of it would have happened had the team that looked like it was going to steamroll its way to another ring not fallen limp before the history the Red Sox were making. In fact, because the Sox made it to the series by staging a miraculous comeback against the Yankees, the World Series was anticlimactic.

2. The 2011 World Series St. Louis Cardinals were probably my favorite non-Dodger single-season team ever. They earned my love in game six. Game one of the 1988 World Series had my favorite single moment ever in a World Series game, and the context behind the Dodgers’ improbable win made that moment and the game even more special. But game six in 2011 between the Cardinals and the Rangers was special from first pitch to last, capped off by a walk-off home run by hometown boy David Freese. They just wouldn’t go away.

3. Personal history. I played baseball for 10 seasons and in four of those I played for the Cardinals.

4. Dizzy and Daffy Dean, two brothers as colorful as their names suggested. “Son, what kind of pitch would you like to miss?” Dizzy Dean asked a hitter. He also was quoted saying, “”It puzzles me how they know what corners are good for filling stations. Just how did they know gas and oil was under there?”

pilots5. In 1982 the Cardinals kept the Milwaukee Brewers from winning the World Series, and I don’t ever want to see the Brewers win the series before the Seattle Mariners do. Before there was a Milwaukee Brewers they were, for one year, the Seattle Pilots. The Pilots were an expansion team with possibly the worst uniforms ever, at least the hats. That the team moved doesn’t seem at all to be Milwaukee’s fault, or even the fault of Bud Selig. Seattle’s owners really had no business even getting a team, because they were fatally optimistic and were far short in the cash necessary to own a Major League Baseball team. But since when are grudges based on facts? I love my new city and it is home to my second favorite baseball team, the Mariners. Once the M’s win a World Series then the Brewers are welcome to win all they want. Until then I demand a curse.

6. The cross and 6 on the mound. This year the groundskeepers at Busch have taken to drawing a number 6 on the mound behind the rubber, as well as a cross. This isn’t an idea I necessarily want to see carried on at other parks, but to me an expression of faith in sports is preferable to some alternatives, especially on a day when a high profile NFL receiver was arrested for murder. And the 6 honors a treasured part of the team’s history, Stan Musial, who died this year.

7. In 1899 the team was known as the St. Louis Perfectos, had a manager/first basemen named Patsy, and a pitcher named Cuppy. Cuppy’s first name was a racial slur. The top player on that team, by the way, was Cy Young. You might have heard of him.

pujols8. The Cardinals let Albert Pujols go and you can argue they got better. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal the team has seen the same production at first base without him that the Los Angeles Angels have with him. The team missed the World Series by one game last year and are tied with Pittsburgh this year for the best record in baseball. Meanwhile the Dodgers loaded up on free agent talent (a move I still think was wise) and got worse. I think the Dodgers’ investment will pay off, but what the Cards did already has.

9. My saying the Cardinals are better than the Dodgers makes me humble, which makes me a better person than any Cardinal fan I’ve ever met. And I constantly strive to be a better person.

The ‘gap’ offers answers

Over the past several months as I pondered the future of the Field of Steve podcast, I decided I wanted the main “Field of Steve” page to be the podcast page. That meant I would need to take this blog and give it a new address. I knew that would be FieldofSteve.com/blog. Not a real stretch.

The stretch for a guy like me, though, is in handling the IT work necessary to make the change. One day I might have someone handle the web presence. But a successful $300 Kickstarter campaign doesn’t quite get me there. So I do this work myself.

Some of the first steps came easy. I created a subdirectory, a task not at all within my comfort zone. Then I struggled, but figured out how to load WordPress onto that directory and export all the content from one site to another. I messed up, though, when I tried to delete the content from the old site and ended up deleting all of it. And I probably wasted an hour trying in vain, struggling to think of a solution, to fix the problem.

Eventually I stepped away from the task, calling on something I remembered reading from Deepak Chopra in Creating Affluence. Here it is from the audio version:

“Perhaps you recall an instance when you were trying to remember a name, and you struggled and struggled but with no success. Finally you let go of your attachment to the outcome and then a little while later the name flashed across the screen of your consciousness.

“This is the mechanics for the fulfillment of any desire. When you were struggling to recall the name the mind was very active and turbulent. But ultimately, out of fatigue and frustration ,you let go and the mind became quiet, and slowly quieter. And perhaps so quiet that it was almost still and you slipped into the gap, where you released your desire and soon it was handed to you.”

This is called “stepping into the gap” between thoughts. You stop fixating on the task and solutions appear. You might not know how this works, but you know it does.

I went downstairs, got a snack and parked myself in front of the TV for the final three episodes of The West Wing. Sometime during all of that, and I can’t recall how, the term “uninstall” came to me. When the shows were over I went upstairs and found out how to uninstall the WordPress blogs from both places, then reinstalled it and put all the content back.

It took just a few minutes.

The second issue came with moving the podcast from TheNarrativeArts.com to FieldofSteve.com. At one point I thought I would have to essentially recreate every page, including loading the podcasts from my computer to the site. Knowing that would take way more time then I already wanted to on a night I was already up way too late, I threw up and “under construction” notice on the page and linked to the blog and the place where the old podcasts were.

Yesterday at the day job, while working on something else I began wondering if it could be as simple as dragging folders from one place to another. I went home and tried it.

It was.

By stepping away from the task I had stepped into the gap between thoughts and twice found solutions I couldn’t get through struggle.

You need instructions? Chopra provided them:

Step 1: You slip into the gap between thoughts. The gap is the window, the corridor, the transformational vortex through which the personal psyche communicates with the cosmic psyche.

Step 2: You have a clear intention of a clear goal in the gap.

Step 3: You relinquish you attachment to the outcome, because chasing the outcome or getting attached to it entails coming out of the gap.

Step 4: You let the universe handle the details.

When the podcast returns

When the Field of Steve podcast returns the first episode will about a night I gave a couple a ride, a decision that wasn’t popular with my wife even before she learned every detail. I lived to tell the story so it didn’t end too badly. Later, though, I found out how bad it could have been.

Below you can watch a silent version of the presentation I’ll have to promote the podcast. Later I will add sound. You can get a decent idea of the story from this presentation. And even though I spoil it by giving you the ending, what it took to get to that ending was endurance and whole lot of faith that the woman in the car wouldn’t die on the spot and I’d be able to leave the pair somewhere, anywhere.

A glimpse into my storytelling future

“The only way to find that territory is trying to keep your mind constantly open. That’s the only way that you’re ever going to see the sort of signs of where to go.” — Tom Jenkinson, musician

Angela Dice, a friend and former coworker at the Kitsap Sun, and I discussed putting together a storytelling night here in the summer. We put the idea on hold when the Bainbridge Island-based writer’s organization Field’s End hosted one. We both planned to go and participate in that, hoping to learn about what kind of process would work. Then, neither of us could go because we had events to cover for the newspaper.

Yesterday Angela contacted me again about scheduling an event of our own, so I can say that this idea is in the planning stages and I hope we will be announcing something before too long.

Angela’s timing was one of those moments where I begin to believe that some godlike force is giving me a nudge. That nudge started on Sunday as I was driving to church listening to a broadcast of The Moth storytelling program on NPR.

The speaker I heard on my drive was Janna Levin, a professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University. Fortunately for me her story had very little to do with what she teaches, because the most satisfying D grade I ever received was in the Astronomy class I took in college my final semester. That D meant I could graduate, so I was just thrilled to pass. And by the way, it was my only college D.

The story, which included understandable elements of astrophysics, was all about how she met her husband. That’s a story I can relate to.

I was moved, but not to tears. I was moved because it touched on thoughts I’ve had recently about how I believe I am supposed to pursue my career efforts in the near future.

Within the last couple of weeks I posted a link on Facebook to a story about a longtime sports writer who quit journalism and is now teaching English in high school. With the link I wrote, “I want to do this.” I was dead serious.

Journalism is a great love for me most days. One day, probably not anytime soon, I will quit this line of work and when I do I hope I create an opening for someone else to come in and take my place. That has not predictably been the case in our industry for quite some time. People who quit are not necessarily replaced at newspapers. My own paper saw its share of downsizing, a shame, because I know the value journalism has for the community, but also for the journalist.

More people should have the experience I have had over the past 13 years. But like soldiers and sailors there comes a day when it’s time to move on to something else. As I said, my day doesn’t appear to be coming soon. If I don’t hit it big with my side efforts, it might not come until I hit retirement age.

The journalist who is now a teacher is following an enviable path. In reality, though, I’m not sure I’d leave this line of work for that one.

What I do see myself doing is more along the lines of what Levin does in the 17 minutes she shared in the story I heard on my drive. What moved me was not so much the story itself, although that was beautiful. It was how she organized and crafted the story to include the real science with her life experience. I left my car, went into the church building, found Diana and our boys and sat next to them, continuing to consider what Levin had done. And as I continued to think about her story it hit me that she provided me the model for how I want to teach.

Someday soon you’ll see how that plays out.

In the meantime I suggest you take the 17 minutes necessary to give Levin’s story a listen.

The Book Ahead — Spill Your Guts’ Guts

This is not the final cover version, but it’s probably not far from it.

During 2011 I set about creating a podcast, an experiment of sorts in storytelling for me. It was fun to do, but it was a lot of work and after several months I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with it. I needed time to come up with a solid plan that I could eventually discard when inevitably the universe would serve up a much better idea I had never imagined.

Over the past several months I put the podcast on hold, very nearly re-released a novel I wrote years ago, then got serious about how I want to proceed with what for now is a side career.

The mock book cover here will be the first iteration of that solid plan I have in mind. Tentatively titled Spill Your Guts’ Guts, the book will take those podcast episodes and simply put them in a new format. It might read like a transcript sometimes, but it will mostly be a retelling of stories I thought compelling. You’ll get pearls like this:

“Redheaded Mike and I were old enough to know that the finger was an insult and that for some reason it was considered naughty. I yet had no clue about sex. I knew that being naked was not for public events, but I don’t even think I knew that the finger represented something people did most often when they were shy of their clothes. The boldness of the gesture and to be playing a massive trick on an unsuspecting audience of passersby appealed to redheaded Mike and me and so we decided that we would wave it at each car that managed to get within eyesight of our path.”

The audio from last year’s podcasts will also be worked over to some degree.

More importantly, a podcast will return. This time around there will be an overarching theme to the content, a focus that will be pretty much the same each week. I’ll give you more details later.

For now you can go to TheNarrativeArts.com and find three of the podcasts, or go to iTunes and search for “Field of Steve” or “The Narrative Arts” and find more of them. For some reason they are not all there. When they are reformatted the old versions will be removed and replaced.

And now it’s time for me to get back to the task at hand, getting this book ready.

No good reason for a break, but I’m taking one

I'm sure you can find plenty to do while I take a break.

The Narrative Arts Podcast will get a break for the next two weeks. This week there is no good reason. Next week is Thanksgiving, so that one is justified. The week after that I’m on vacation at work, so in theory I should take that week off from the podcast, but I think I will post a new episode then, and the week after. Then we will be done for the year.

During that time keep looking back here for updates on my weight and other items. I want to take the time off to focus on the book I wrote all those years ago to get it ready for republication.

If anyone knows how to fix websites, too, I could use a hand. I changed the settings to make it wider and the font bigger, thinking it would make the site more readable. The only trouble is I can’t seem to find the code for that spare piece of the header at the top of the page. I thirst for ideas.

If you want a great podcast to go listen to, I highly recommend you plug in your ear phones to the This American Life podcast “Very Tough Love.” I don’t think of TAL as hard-hitting journalism, but this show caused some real ripples. You can read all about it on the site. I may say more about it later if I can get an answer to a question I asked.

Talk to you again soon.