Archive for life

Over 1000 Words (What!?) On Why I Took A Job At Craft Tasting Room

Posted in beer, life with tags , , , , , , on October 16, 2014 by cueball

“Well, I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.” – Rob, High Fidelity

This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot today.  Today, I gave my notice to Lowe’s Home Improvement in Shelby, NC so I can essentially go and become a bartender (It is more complicated than that and I will get into that later.).

I’ve been thinking about that quote because, since announcing this move, I’ve been getting some well-meaning advice and concerns from friends and family.  I think the reason for this is, for most people this seems like something that has come out of the blue and seems to be a lark.  A move that makes little to no sense because it seems to be a step down from what I am currently doing.  My past history probably contributes to that feeling.

While this particular job, bartending at Craft Tasting Room and Growler House in Charlotte, did arrive on my doorstep suddenly, the planning for a move like this has been ongoing for at least six months.  Actually, it started before that.

In the last year, I’ve applied for two jobs at Lowe’s and I got neither.  The first that I applied for, was for a job with the Lowe’s Foundation that had the same description as the job I held at Foundation For The Carolinas.  I would kind of be doing the same work I left 6 years before, which is a whole other set of issues that were thankfully avoided.  I didn’t even get a telephone interview.  I do not even know if I really wanted the job, but I knew I had the skills to do the job.

Not even getting an interview forced me to rethink many things.  I decided to stop and reevaluate what it was that I truly wanted (mostly I knew I didn’t want to stay at Lowe’s on the sales floor for much longer, but not much more) not just as a job but how I wanted to live. That sounds like a bunch of new age bullshit, but I felt myself falling into patterns that were dangerous for my mental and physical health. Let’s put it this way, I really like beer and bourbon.

So, I rededicated myself to my rudimentary study of Zen Buddhism and mindfulness training while actually taking the time and effort to think about my life from the ground up starting with the most basic question, “How do I want to live my life?” This was not some abstract philosophical question.  This was a day to day logistical question of what a normal day for me would entail in my perfect life scenario.  Once I had that I moved to the specifics of where would I live to have this life and what would be doing for work to have this life.

There were four places I would like to choose from to eventually settle permanently:  the Triangle, Charlotte, Asheville, or Denver, CO. Then I had to figure out what kind of job would I have to live this perfect life scenario.  To get to that I thought long and hard about what skills do I have and what are the things I like.  Then I tried to manufacture a way to combine those things.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written, you can probably guess the job/jobs that will provide me with this life scenario I created involve writing and beer.  Here is the problem, there was no direct line from the job that I have to the type of work that I want.  The last six months especially have been about doing what was possible working a full time job with shifting hours to train and prepare myself for getting the work I eventually want.  At some point I was going to have to make a choice and make short-term sacrifices to get to where I wanted to be.

So over the course of a week almost a year ago, I actually set out a path for myself with what I wanted my life to be like and how I planned to get there.

Oh yeah, I did apply for another job at Lowe’s.  This time I applied for an Assistant Store Manager’s position at a neighboring store.  I did get an interview, but I think I subconsciously tanked the interview and didn’t get the job.  I say I tanked the interview because as I left the interview I remember thinking, “Do I want to be a store manager,” because getting that job would have put me on that path.  The more I thought about it, the more no was clearly the answer.

At that point, I knew I wanted more than to be a department manager or an ASM for the next ten years.  Watching that life unfold in my mind’s eye was as chilling as any horror movie.

This isn’t to denigrate anyone who does those jobs.  There are some people who are built to manage in retail and they are great at it, and I’ve worked with some of those people.

Not long after that, I decided to become a Certified Cicerone (I’ve earned the Certified Beer Server designation) and dedicate myself to the study of beer.

So, while this may seem to be sudden and foolhardy move on my part, it has been something I’ve been preparing myself for, for almost a year.  This isn’t a move without risk and it is not risk taken lightly or with no forethought.  To get where I eventually want to be, I need to be in the craft beer industry full time and I need to have the time and ability to really study craft beer as a product and as an industry. I believe this job at Craft is the perfect opportunity for that and it is an opportunity that met the preparation I began almost a year ago.  This is not the end point of something, it is the beginning of it.

What does all this have to do with that line from High Fidelity? This move isn’t something silly I’ve thought up and just decided to do with no conception of the consequences.  This is the first time I’ve actually thought out the direction of my life and what I really want it to be and taking this job is the second step in getting that life. Up until now, with the exception of one decision (the conscious decision to move to Charlotte after a time in Greensboro), I’ve gone with my gut during every decision.

Taking the time to think out what I want, how to get it, and the consequences of attempting to get it this time has taught me, I was a lot like Rob.  I looked around at where I was and what I was doing and I realized my guts had shit for brains.  They put me a hundred miles from ever a semblance of the life I wanted.

No life goes exactly as people think it will.  I’m probably not going to have everything in that perfect scenario I have in my head, but in the attempt to get that, I think I will get close enough to have a life that I actually like.

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Late Night Musings, Edited For Clarity In The Light Of Day

Posted in life, writing with tags , , , on August 25, 2014 by cueball

This may be the most personal thing I will write for this space (and yet it is still rather obtuse).  I have been thinking about this blog.  I have been thinking about my life and everything else.  Mostly, I’ve been thinking about writing and its role in my life. 

After going a few months without really doing any writing and then coming back to it, I’ve discovered that I am the best version of myself when I write. 

What does that even mean?  The best version of myself.  That is some first world verbalization of a concept that had no meaning until the last 20 years.  For me it means the act of writing stills my mind.  It isn’t something I need to be paid to do.  It is something I need to do to keep me sane and to keep the better angels of my nature front and center.  It allows me to see myself and the world around me clearer. 

It lets me like myself.

The act, this very thing I’m doing right now, forces a discipline on me that compels me to make choices on a daily basis that are good for me.  In doing this thing, I am totally present for at least a couple of hours a day. 

Maybe that is what I mean by the best version of me.  Writing makes me stay present.  If not I have a tendency to lose myself in the past and the future of my imagination. 

Everyone needs that thing that is theirs.  That thing they do that makes the world seem correct, logical, and safe.  That thing that takes them to a place where they feel comfortable.  The place where you do not care what anyone thinks.  It is about you and for you and nothing else.  You don’t do it to make others happy or to make others comfortable.  You do it because it means more to you than anything else and it makes you happy. 

I read a lot of writing advice books and essays.  Sometimes the person writing the piece will say you need to think of your ideal reader or your audience when you are writing.  I agree you need to write in a way that is clear so that you do not confuse your audience.  You should write in a consistent voice that follows the internal logic of the work so that your reader will stay with you.  However, if you are writing for anyone but yourself (once you strip everything away), you will not be happy.  You have to write because you have something to say, something you need to express.  Yes, you want others to like it to read it to tell you it is good, but that comes later.  In the beginning, it is just you and the page.  The first priority is for you to say what you want in the way that you want.

There is a certain amount of selfishness and perhaps self-delusion to be a good writer and to live a good life in general.  Selfish enough to tell people no and to walk your own path without regard to others.  Delusional enough to think that you can do whatever you put your mind to. 

Walking away from the life you have for the life you want is not an easy thing.  It is fraught with minefields from internal and external forces.  When you make the decision you have to be know what you are getting into.   That is one of the things I’ve learned in my life.  In any decision you make, you must know and understand the consequences of your decisions and actions.  If you can accept the good or ill consequences of the decision you make, you have made if not a correct decision at least one you can live with for the rest of your life.  

When Robert Johnson was at the crossroads and he made his deal with the devil, he knew what he was getting into.  I love the idea of the crossroad.  It’s that place where you have a choice.   Neither choice is necessarily wrong, but they both have consequences.  You just have to decide what you can live with, what you can accept. 

Digging A Hole: The Return of 500 Words

Posted in life, writing with tags , on August 5, 2014 by cueball

Dig a hole and fill it up.

I have been thinking about process a lot recently.  (That is the kind of thing you do, when you don’t have the occupational success you expected.  You retrench and start thinking a lot.  This is why you learn more from failure then success.)  Your process has a greater bearing on your “success” then your goals.  Success is an overly abstract concept that differs for each individual so, let’s use outcomes instead.

If you have ever gone on a retreat for an organization or been charged with coming up with a new direction, campaign, or program for an organization or just been involved in any kind of brainstorming session, you have had the talk about goal-setting.  In fund raising/development and grant writing, your days are consumed with it because of the way foundations now award money and collect data. This particular type of goal-setting is broken down like this:  Mission statement, end goals, outputs, and expected outcomes.

The mission statement and goals are expressions of the problem you would like to solve.  The outputs are the things you will do to solve those problems, and the outcomes are the measures of change you expect to come about from your outputs.

Here is the thing about outcomes: In large bureaucracies, as many foundations and nonprofits have become, the pressure to hit your outcomes and benchmarks becomes so great that people start “juking the stats.”

If you watched The Wire you have heard the term before.  It comes from the way many officers in the fictional version of the Baltimore Police treated their crime statistics.  In order to make it look like they were making progress commanders would change rapes to breaking and entering and murders to aggravated assaults.  Because of funding and individual ambitions they had become slaves to the outcomes.

An individual cannot juke the stats to his life.  (A large organization can’t really do it for too very long. Eventually, it catches up even with the largest and most important agencies.) An individual cannot look at their bank account, see a balance of $100, and pretend they are rich no matter how you try to move things around.  (If your outcome is based on money.)

So, it comes back to your process or your outputs.  How do you live your life?  What do you do every day?

A digression.  Every sports coach worth a damn knows that the score and the final outcome of any individual game is out of their control and their team’s control.  They understand that the only thing they can control is their execution.  Doing the right thing the right way every time.  These are their outputs.  The process.

500 words.  That does not seem to be a lot of writing.  It actually isn’t on any individual day.  The words come easy, but the ideas are hard.  It is in that struggle and difficulty of coming up with one idea a day and hammering at it for 500 words that makes it fun and worthwhile. It is digging a hole and filling it up.  Then digging a hole and filling it up.  Then digging a hole and filling it up.  This is one of my outputs, part of my process.  The idea is to remember to keep writing every day.  That is the output that points towards the life I would like. The outcome is to get to do the work you want to do every day.

I’ll be back tomorrow.

It Started With Odds and Ends and Stopped with Alan Watts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 20, 2014 by cueball

I haven’t posted in a few days.  Not because I haven’t had thoughts and threads of ideas.  I have.  I always do, but nothing coalesced into a single piece.  My work schedule didn’t allow me to do much writing in that regard.  So here are some of strands, observations, and ideas I’ve had over the last few days.

I’ve been reading two books.  The first is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.  It is part of my year of going back to classics.  This is the first on the docket.  I will also read Ulysses, continue my exploration of Faulkner and Hemingway, and drop a little Conrad and Camus into the mix this year.  However, after finishing Invisible Man I’ll probably read the Barry Hannah short story collection Long, Last, Happy to keep my Southern dirty realism run going.

The one thing had forgotten was how much I disliked the narrator.  Dislike is probably the wrong word.  I had forgotten how unreliable and naïve bordering on stupid the narrator is.  I cannot help but wonder why Ellison created this character in this way.  Maybe it was to make the character and the book less threatening and polemic then say Richard Wright.   I have to think it about more.

The other book I am reading is Alan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity.  It is a wonderful and funny introduction into Eastern philosophy.  What has struck me most about it is Watts’ continuous discussion of how symbols begin to obscure what they are supposed to symbolize.  (This is where I could drop some Derrida and talk about deconstruction, but nobody wants that, least of all me.)  For example, money has come to be happiness for many people when in fact money is only a symbol of happiness for those people.  Money represents the ability to purchase more symbols of happiness which in the end do not actually provide happiness.

Even before reading Watts I have been thinking about how celebrities and other famous people have come to be symbols either out of circumstance or worse by choice.  They are not human they are these famous objects that we can talk about with impunity.  We talk about these human beings as these things (athlete, movie star, reality star, professional celebrity) because they have ceased to be human in our eyes and are only symbols.  While I believe treating people this way (even if they have asked for it) demeans us as a public, it must be hell to live your life as a thing and not a person.  Watts would say, the people who have chosen to live life like this in pursuit of the happiness they believe fame and money will provide them is illusory because there will never be enough fame or money to give them actual happiness which come to us internally.

I had other thoughts on college sports, Richard Sherman and, Sherlock, but those things have been talked, tweeted, and blogged about  to death this morning.  To go back to Watts for second, the endorphin rush from getting a lot of page clicks, follows, and retweets is not a good substitute for happiness, so adieu.

Perception and You, A Kind of Love Story

Posted in beer with tags , , , on January 16, 2014 by cueball

Perception is an interesting thing when you are reviewing something.  When you taste a beer, a wine, go to a restaurant, or watch a movie, are you reviewing the thing you are experiencing or are you reviewing its representative?

I recently read the book The Beer Trials and one of its central theses is that perception effects your enjoyment of a beer (or wine or book or movie).  If you paid $10 for this 750 ml bottle of beer, it must be good.  It is certainly better than that $1.50 12 oz. bottle.  By conducting blind tastings of 250 beers the authors proved that sometimes our perceptions driven by the cost, availability, and the advertising are completely wrong.

This is the same in any other creative enterprise.  The perception of a thing affects how many people rate something and how much they enjoy it.  A new television show coming on HBO is often perceived differently than a new show premiering on network television.  A book self-published by an unknown writer or even just published by a small independent press will be perceived differently than the latest novel published by Random House.

It is actually quite interesting to think about and watch how advertising, price, and availability work to effect the perception of a product.  In some circles, the more you advertise, keep the price low, and make ubiquitous a product the more it is desired.  In other circles, products with those markers are avoided.  Beer is the perfect example.

There are you mass-produced pale lagers which are the kings all over the world.  They are advertised endlessly, they are sold at a low price, and they are everywhere.  To some people that signals good enough and that is all they buy.

On the other hand you have a certain section of the craft beer movement where products that are never advertised, expensive, and almost impossible to find are the beer most coveted.  That is partially why Pliny the Elder and anything from Westvletern often get voted the best beers in the world, they are intentionally in short supply making everyone want one so that they can say they drank it and look at how cool they are.

Our perceptual bias is fueled by how we define ourselves and how think we are defined in the minds and eyes of others.  Too many people carry around a book so others can see that they are reading it or drink this beer so others can see they are drinking it.  Fooling yourself about who you are and what you like is silly.  It will just make you unhappy.  Defining yourself through other’s eyes is a fool’s errand because the only things you can control are your actions.  You can never be sure how any of the things you do will be perceived by others much less control how they are perceived by others.  That is not to say you should not care what other’s think, but that you cannot let the desire to influence what other’s think about you to define your behavior.  Be a nice person and respect other’s opinions, but do not let those opinions take you down paths you do not want to go.

Being Alone

Posted in life with tags , , on January 14, 2014 by cueball

Being alone is hard.  I do not mean going to Starbucks and sitting by yourself while you read and drink your latte.  I mean the late at night and it is you and your mind alone in a room with nothing but the lamp light.  Of being alone, I think their own active mind is what scares people the most.

Your mind is a catalog of all your mistakes, success, failures, etc. and it reminds you of them when it is alone and there is nothing to get in its way.  Today it is much easier to find things to get in your mind’s way.  Here at the early part of the 21st century we have created many ways to keep the mind occupied so we do not have to feel alone and let the mind wander to those places we are scared to look.

Television is a great time suck and occupier of mental space.  Music and reading are a little more difficult because they both suggest introspection at times.  The Internet, however, is great at occupying the mind.  First, there is always something going on somewhere that needs your attention.  Maybe it is your Twitter feed or your Facebook timeline or it is the latest suggested videos on YouTube or your instant queue on Netflix.  Then there is how the internet does create communities.  If you are on Twitter or Facebook you feel like you are not alone because there is always someone talking.

Television and the Internet are the two newest ways to hide from your mind and its cold stare.  There is always the old faithful of drugs and alcohol.  Those do not allow you to hide as much as confuse and dull.  Your mind isn’t as accusatory when it is numb and unable to connect thoughts.  It is the “click” people are looking for when they abuse.  As Brick says in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof he needs that click.

“It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.”  — Brick, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams

That click is the point when you have enough chemicals in your body that your mind says, “Fuck it.  I’m going to sit over here in this corner and be quiet for a while.”

Another way to avoid loneliness is stay in relationships long past the sell by date.  People will put up with all manner of shit from someone else because they don’t feel they deserve any better and they would rather do that then be alone and deal with why they do not feel worthy of something better.  It is easier for them to deal with mistreatment then to inhabit and explore the empty spaces within their own mind.

It is hard to accept yourself and find comfort in being alone.  It is one of the last things that come with maturity.   Even then it comes and goes.  Sometimes you just need to know that other people exist and are worth talking to occasionally.

However, we should not find too much comfort in being alone.  After being alone for a long time it can become some weird combination of comfortable habit and burden.  You can forget that we are social beings and become emotionally feral and almost unfit for emotional human interaction.  One cannot allow comfort with yourself and your demons to turn into isolation.  That may be worse than being an emotional zombie staying in dead relationships simply for the contact.  The balance of being comfortable and accepting of being alone with meaningful human interaction is what we should all strive for in our lives.

Stream of Consciousness Philosophizing

Posted in life with tags , , on January 10, 2014 by cueball

I cannot say yesterday was a good day or a bad day.  It was a day.  A day much like 99% of the days that fill all our lives.  Nothing of any great import happened.  Those are the days where we get up, eat breakfast, shower, go to work, and attempt to find some happiness or at least contentment with the day’s happenings.  Then we come home and try to find some separation from and meaning from all that did or more likely did not happen during the day.  Some numb themselves with more work, others with alcohol/drugs, others with mindless or high minded television, still others with the banality of family life.  Then the day finally ends and it is off to sleep and to the hopes and dreams that tomorrow will be better or at least interesting.  Then that day finally comes when something interesting does happen.  However, it is not what you thought it would be.  You get mugged, your wife has a car wreck, your son tells you about the man who tried to touch him, or a group of terrorists crash planes into skyscrapers.  You discover it is not interesting things that you want to happen.  You want something to give your life a point.  Not a meaning, just a point.  You search for what the point of you existence is in everything you do: work life, home life, family, television, stimulants.  However, you never look in the one place where you can actually find the point to your life:  Within yourself.  Some are scared to look there.  Others have never been told to look there.  But there is the only place it truly lays.  Waiting.  Dormant. 

I am amazed at the links people will go to in order to no think about the point of their existence.  The number of people who have no self-awareness and only peer outward hoping that someone or something will tell them who they truly are and what their purpose here on Earth is amazes me.  Sometimes, I do envy them though.  Sometimes I wish I did not look inside some much.  But, then I think which is worse.  A life of constant searching for, I won’t call it truth, but for something that makes this time above ground worth it or a life of intentional obtuseness up until that final moment.  The search is so fun.  The search is interesting and illuminating.  The search makes everything that you experience more interesting and more important.  The search teaches you to be present and to be mindful of where you and what you are doing.  The search will probably not make you money or famous.  The search will make you content and happy because you will know why you are here and you will work towards that every day.  It will not seem like work because it is a part of who you are and will be as comfortable as breathing.  That is the true state of grace for which we all search.