Positive v. Negative – Designing My Personal Universe

Over the past week-plus, my life has been literally turned upside-down and shaken like a snow globe. Three days prior to the start of a new semester, I accepted a full-time position in the college’s Institutional Research department, which effectively removed all my classes from my control. I interviewed for the position on a Tuesday, and the next morning I accepted the position. After that, my status in the school’s system changed nearly instantly. Just a lesson in life for me, everything can change in the span of a single eye-blink – literally.

If only that could work with a lot of what is presented in the rest of the world. A single police shooting in a St. Louis suburb spawns several days of turmoil and anger, spurred on from the wraith of black v. white racism that has haunted the United States since the 1960s and 1970s. An uptick in the violent struggle between the Palestinians and the Israelis, a fire that gets fanned every so often from what appears to be very small issues – at least for those of us outside of that conflict. Aggression by Russia against one of its neighbors, which includes land-grabs, inciting and arming “insurgents” and the seemingly accidental downing of a civilian jetliner. And none of this covers the parade of nightly shootings and assaults that festoon the daily morning news broadcasts. Nor does it include the constant barrage of anger, vitriol, accusations, and outright slander that is on display in local, county, state, and federal elections here in the United States.

It does not take a lot for folks to see all the negativity that permeates the world around them. I sincerely believe that a lot of what happens in the above noted scenarios comes from people feeling frustrated in their daily lives, and that negative feelings are so easily accessed. It does not take a lot for anyone to reach for feelings of anger, hatred, and resentment. It certainly does take a lot more energy and effort to move past those feelings and find more positive manners of reflection. After all, you have to push past the negative aspects, and attempt to see everything from another perspective.

“So, Mr. Smart Elf,” I hear you saying to me, “How do we get past the issues in Missouri, Israel and the Ukraine? How do you spin those in a positive light?”  My answer is simple – I have no idea. I do know how I can deal in the issues within my own life. I am no longer in a position of instruction with the college. But I know that in my new position, I can help the college grow, become stronger, and find new patterns of looking at the entire environment there. “How dare you compare your loss of a teaching job to things far more important to the world?” Yep, that’s the typical sentiment I hear – particularly from people who hold one or more of those issues as being “extremely important”. When I do not hold the same world view that someone else does, that’s the typical attack vector.

To be completely honest, I don’t hold my loss of a teaching position to be of greater importance. But it is an important focal point in my life. And one where I can affect a measure of immediate change. When I was in the Air Force, one of my shift supervisors once told me that it wasn’t the manner in which you fought that made a difference, it was knowing which fights you could make a difference in. The ones where you couldn’t make a difference, you observed and waited for the time when you could make a difference. In other words, I had to learn to pick the fights to fight. The same thing applies to issues around the world. I can get angry about certain issues, we’ll use the Ukraine issue as an example, but there’s nothing I can do to make any change there – short of quitting my job, selling my house, buying a ticket there, and volunteering to fight in the Ukrainian army. And even then, I am unsure that I would have any affect on the outcome one way or the other. I can (and do) write letters to my Congressional representatives, asking them to draft legislation to bring the United States firmly in on the side of the Ukrainians. And there’s still a measure of doubt as to how effective that may be. But I can make a difference in my place of employment, by becoming an excellent analyst. In a manner of speaking, its a way of analyzing the pattern and determining not only where my own thread is in all of that, but how much the pattern is dependent on that thread.

The other side of me has moved towards reading the news every couple of days – rather than nearly every hour as I had been doing. And choosing to fill my time with things that hold more meaning to me. Again, I am not trying to say that none of the events that I mentioned are important – just that none of them is going to fill every moment of my day with thoughts of what I can and cannot accomplish. Again, in a manner of speaking, I am choosing to design my own corner of the universe. And I am choosing to set aside the easier emotions of negativity to find a way to access a more positive manner of thinking. Perhaps others may consider me to be deluding myself with this approach – and I not only respect that, but can accept it as their chosen perspective. Its a shame that typically will not run in the other direction as well.

 

006 – Welcome to the Backwaters of Pagan Podcasting

In this episode, I talk about my recent job change, along with my philosophy on data analysis. I also provide my own perspective on some news bits as well. Musical feature is “Soul Quest” as performed by Jim Faupel and Paul Newman.

Jim Faupel’s music can be found at http://www.jimfaupel.co.uk/home/default.aspx .  Paul Newman’s music can be found at https://paulnewman.bandcamp.com/.  As always, if you like the music you hear on the show, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE buy it from the artist, so that they may continue to provide us with such rich and wonderful sounds!


Contact Information

Email: elfster@gmail.com

Google Voice-mail: (972) 514-7315

Skype: tommyelf22

Twitter: @t_elfster

Direct Download:  http://traffic.libsyn.com/paganpath/006_-_Welcome_to_the_Backwaters_of_Pagan_Podcasting.mp3

And the Crow Said

I am constantly reminded that Life is all about change. One of my favorite quotes comes from the TV show “The Highlander”:

“Life is about change, about learning to accept who you are: good or bad.”

–Duncan McLeod to Methos

And it is so very true. This morning, I find myself in a place I have not been in five years:  not teaching a college class. Honestly, its quite a frustrating moment to realize that. I have gone from being a professor to being an Assessment Analyst. Gone from teaching students to notice patterns in business data and practices, to utilizing that same instinct of pattern searching to assist the same college I taught for. And its a transition. One I am slightly uncomfortable making, and absolutely terrified at the prospect of starting.

To say that this has been on mind for quite some time is an understatement. I have heard people talk about those moments, when you are trying to get to sleep, and you find yourself staring at the ceiling in that darkness with your thoughts racing a mile a minute. That exact scenario has played out for me quite a few nights now. One in particular has now stood out in my memory – my dream from Saturday night.

The Dream

Crow in Trinidad, CO

Crow in Trinidad, CO

I have an Inner Grove that I consistently utilize in my daily meditations. Its a small meadow in the middle of a heavily forested area. In the center of the meadow are four things – three trees in a single line (Birch, Oak in the middle, another Birch on the other side), and a large rock about the size of a Volkswagon classic Beetle. I usually find myself sitting on this rock, lounging in the warmth of the sun during the day or basking in the ghostly shine from the Moon at night. At this particular moment, the sun is out, and my mind is wandering to my thoughts of terror concerning my upcoming job change. In the middle of my thoughts, a Crow hops down from the branches of the Oak. Its not uncommon for Ravens to be a part of my dreams, so I am not startled at all. I nod quietly at the Crow, and start back towards my thoughts. And then the Crow speaks. This is extremely uncommon for me, the Crows never speak in my dreams. They caw at me, and occasionally bring me items, like buttons and bits of colored yarn. But this Crow clearly startles me with what is said:  “Everything you have done, leads to this moment.” And he flew away. When I awoke from this dream, I spent several minutes jotting down things – particularly what was said, so I would not lose what was said. Dreams have a funny way of dissipating from my memory very quickly after I awake, so I have taken to keeping a Dream Journal in the drawer of my nightstand.

During the interview, I was to give a presentation., which I did. At the very end of the presentation, I made a statement regarding my philosophy concerning data analysis.

If you look at the data and see only the numbers, you only get half of the story. Underneath all the numbers are countless stories. Stories of people, stories of lives, stories of dreams. In order to make sense of the data that is presented through instruments such as surveys and questionnaires, you have to dip into those stories. You need to understand the people from which the data is collected from. You don’t need to be an expert on them, nor do you need to interpret their dreams for their careers. You do need to understand where they are coming from – to find the relationship that starts the pattern that is recognized in the data.

For me, this is pure Druidry applied to a discipline that is as cold and unfeeling as data analysis. And from what I am told, this was the statement that cinched the interview for me.

And there’s a lot to think about — but let me take a step back to the Crow’s message in my dream. I have done a lot of stuff over my career. I have worked in nearly every position one can work in Information Technology. I have taught students about Information Technology and how it applies to their lives. I have three degrees – a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science with an emphasis on Database Management, a Master’s degree in Information Systems Management, and a Master’s in Business Administration. Each of those areas will provide me with immeasurable experience and first-hand knowledge of the discipline I am about to undertake. I had just never thought of the jumbled steps in my career and collegiate studies to be inter-locking towards a particular job. Until the Crow said something.

I know that each step is going to be difficult to take in this position – particularly as I mourn the loss of my previous position of being a professor. I loved being in the classroom, I enjoyed talking with the students, making the material come alive and sing its song to each student in a unique voice that they could hear. But now, I get the chance to let a new song be sung, the song of the data that the school gathers from the students. I have the opportunity to sing my philosophy in an environment that should…nay…an environment that MUST look beneath the numbers and sing the story of the students, the faculty, and the administration folks. A collegiate environment is one geared towards study – the teaching of the students and the learning facilitated for the students. But put in those simple terms, its not alive. There are countless stories of students who place parts of their lives on hold, so that they can earn collegiate credits towards a diploma. A diploma that should propel them onwards into environments where their knowledge will walk hand-in-hand with their hard-work ethic to help them achieve their dreams. There are even more stories of faculty members who have stepped away from much higher paying jobs in their field of study, so that they can help facilitate the future through the students. And yet, these faculty members will most likely never see the achievement of many of those dreams – and may never even be aware of the dreams that their students harbor. How to get these stories in front of the data? I certainly have no idea how to make that happen – at least not yet.

Walk softly through the desert sands
Careful where you tread
Underfoot are the visions lost
Sleeping not yet dead

Hang on – Winds starting to howl
Hang on – The beast is on the prowl
Hang on – Can you hear the strange cry
Winds of change are blowing by

 

–Jefferson Starship, “Winds of Change”

Farting Rainbows and Riding Unicorns

One of the most important lessons I have ever learned is in understanding the inter-connectedness of everything. Everything is connected throughout our environs, small connected circles growing into larger circles which are much more far-reaching. And whatever is done in one of the smaller environs ripples into others.

unicorn_farting_a_rainbowOver this past weekend, I was contemplating how this works within our current news media. Seemingly, we are bombarded with news of war, crime, suicides, violence, protests, and killings on what feels like an hourly basis. Occasionally, more positive news comes to the forefront, but is nearly swamped by all the other negative news that gets reported. In a way, this becomes very disheartening to read/listen/watch. Add to that, the constant berating and criticizing of government officials over their actions and choices – all based on whatever political affiliation they have at the end of their name and title. Is it any wonder why we see the world in such dark and dismal tones??

Even in areas where we choose to relax, we are bombarded with such imagery. For instance, while I completely adore the multi-layered thematics contained within the Matrix movies – the immediate layer depicts a dark, oppressive society in which the characters live within. I realize that a part of the appeal of the Matrix is social commentary, as are movies such as “V for Vendetta” and others – but it certainly was food for thought when looking at how much negativity is handed to us on a daily basis.

Right about now, I’m quite sure some of you reading this are thinking I am wanting a world where we all fart rainbows and ride our unicorns to work. The truth is actually far from that. I just would like to see some balance in all of this – particularly in the news environment. However, I am also a realist. I know that violence, bloodshed, and dramatics are what sells within the news environment. The old adage of “if it bleeds, it leads” has held true for so long. – and continues to do so.

But just to consider for a moment – the Internet has changed a lot of this for us. In a way, a wonderful communications method has not only brought our world closer together with easier manners of communicating, but has also brought about instant news coverage of events that we would normally have paid little attention to. Fox News is notorious for playing video of car chases on their national coverage. Prior to our ever-connected news cycle, most of those car chases would barely have received a mention on our nightly news cycle.

Our society spends a large amount of time in front of a screen of some sort. As I sit here and type this, I am looking into the big screen of my iMac. Elsewhere in my home are a laptop screen, and a television screen. At some point during the day – I will watch what occurs on one of these other screens. But I will also spend several hours outdoors, away from these screens. But it is increasingly obvious that our society is glued to these screens for far more time than I am. Obesity rates are up. Literacy rates are down. I am not saying there is a direct correlation between those points, but I am certain there is something that can be pointed to in some of the cases in our societies.

Look around the Internet – you will find people angry about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. You will find people angry about the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq. You will find people angry about this or that politician holding an elected position. Where are the people who are finding happiness in the course of their everyday lives? I post a Facebook (and now Google-Plus) status about watching my morning sunrise. It’s a moment of beauty that reminds me of how small I am in the world around me, but also how a single moment can have a positive effect on so many people.

Perhaps I am looking for everyone to fart Rainbows and get their Unicorns out of the backyard for the ride to work. But damnit, I like the idea of farting Rainbows…and my Unicorn has been watching far too much TV instead of exercising….

Home Again…and Glad to Be…

It has been one really whirlwind weekend. Thursday and Friday, I drove a box-truck from Dallas to West Lafayette, Indiana via Memphis, Tennessee. Saturday and Sunday were spent driving back home from there – after spending nearly seven hours helping the former roomie assemble some Ikea furniture so he would have a place to sleep. I don’t mind helping people move…but I seriously am hurting this morning. At least home will be a far less stressful environment.

I have a few posts percolating in my brain at the moment…but those will have to wait a bit more until I get the cobwebs out of my head. The second part of the drive home was a marathon 18-hours on the road…and I know there are going to be some moments of sleep coming. In the meantime, I will tease you a bit with this picture of the Stonehenge replica at Missouri Science and Technology in Rolla, Missouri.

IMG_6170

Because the Name is Different

Every morning, I greet the Sun as it rises. Whether I am indoors or outdoors, I take the moment of sunrise to stop and try to empty my mind. Its not the easiest task in the world, after all – I have a billion thoughts roaming around in there at any given time. The goal is to relax for a few moments, and start the day fresh with a new focus and a cup of coffee in my hand.

My evenings tend to wind up the same. I wait for the sun to settle below the horizon, and as I watch the ebbing tide of light disappear, I do a reverse of the morning moment. I spend a few moments taking inventory of how the day went, what I managed to accomplish, and what still needs a few moments of my time.

I have never been big on ritual. If you have read me enough here, you are aware of that. But I really need to establish that a little more. I’m not a huge fan of formalized ritual. I don’t see a need for formalized movements and recited words and prayers. Instead, I seek conversations – with myself, with my backyard trees, with the birds that are flitting from branch to branch in the evening, with the Kami, whose presence I feel in the nearby area.

Ok, I get it. I understand the wide-eyed, “you’re so strange” look you are giving me right now. But before you call out the guys with the butterfly nets, and tell them I need a new sweater that ties in the back – let me push this out in return. Why is that when a person – let’s use the generic concept of a “Christian” as an example – why is that when that person prays out loud to God or Jesus, their prayers are not consider to be a point of mental confusion? Its the same thing – you know.

When I hold conversations with the trees, the birds, and the Kami – its the same concept of prayer. Except that I am not asking them for anything. I’m not wanting anything from them. Except a moment of their time. I’m not asking them to intercede on my behalf. I’m quite capable of fixing my own fuck-ups, thank you very much. All I am seeking is a momentary interaction – on a personal and private level. Sometimes I get answers, sometimes I get responses. Most of the time, I don’t. But I still want to take the time, just incase I might get some form of a response.

I would suppose the same can be said to be true of the Christian that prays – out loud or silent. They pray to God or Jesus, not necessarily expecting much of a response, but they do so – just in case there may be a response of some sort. And yet, despite the similarity, I’m the one that gets labeled as mental head-job. I’m the one that is told that I am living in a Fantasy World. But the conversation would be flipped to a positive if it were God and/or Jesus.

I’m not saying this to tear-down what a Christian may have in the way of a personal, private interaction with God or Jesus. In fact, I would applaud anyone who has managed to cultivate that relationship. I have a similar relationship with Crow. I don’t always get told what to do, or how to feel – sometimes its just a “checking in” thing. But because Crow is not Jesus, because Crow is not the Christian God — I’m the one that gets the label of “mentally not there” — even despite the similarities. All because the name is different. And to be perfectly honest, I find that to be very sad.

RIP Robin Williams

morkI started this blog post out on another topic. Fifteen minutes ago, that all changed. I popped over to Facebook to check a few messages, and discovered that Robin Williams had died…of an apparent suicide.

March 19th, 1982. September 27th, 1986. August 9th, 1995. July 28th, 2014. August 11th, 2014. For those that are not aware: Randy Rhoads, Cliff Burton, Jerry Garcia, Margot Adler, and Robin Williams. Each had a profound effect on my life. Rhoads and Burton introduced me to a style of music that I have never set down. Garcia showed me a world of poetry, and helped me understand how expanding one’s vision can help broaden one’s experiences. Adler was my introduction to the world of Paganism. Robin Williams was all the stuff in between – the little bits of glue that provided funny moments, encased in brilliant social commentary.

And I sit here, watching my blinking cursor, as I try to find something – ANYTHING – to say. In a way, its a similar feeling to when I found out that Jerry had died. I remember that day – and the subsequent night very well. The total numbness I felt, and the evening sitting in a local park near downtown Dallas – holding a candle and signing song after song from the Grateful Dead catalog with complete strangers. We all were bonded by the poetry, and the music.

And as I sit here, listening to some Grateful Dead while I write this – the lyric “We well get by, we will survive” echoes through my speakers. And even going on past this day – into an uncertain future…one filled with news article after news article of violence, bloodshed, angry rhetoric, hateful politics — his comedic genius and timing, his biting commentary on social matters, and the heart-felt love he portrayed in his on-stage shows…. All of that will continue. He had shown a light of laughter, joy and fun into a world that increasingly is clouded into darkness through the actions, angry and hatred of others.

And while it is sad that he has passed – and that there may be even more tragedy behind the “why” of his death — his legacy is one of smiles, laughter, and enjoyment. I remember the soaring riffs of Randy and Cliff, the poetic stylings of Jerry, and the manner in which Margot injected her thoughtful commentary into the information she provided to us. I will remember Robin’s laughter, his antics, his comedic brilliance, his ability to turn a moment from something somber into one of hysterical laughter — he was the consummate improvisational comedian. He will definitely be missed…but he most assuredly will be remembered.