10 Minute Topics

004: This Year’s Greatest Experience

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“What experience from this past year do you appreciate the most?”

For the past 11 months, I have served as an Area Director for the Toastmasters organization. It has been, by turns, fulfilling and frustrating, rewarding and … really, really difficult.

In terms of appreciation, however, it’s hard to beat this experience.

Taking on this position inspired me to take on greater challenges in the office, and in other spheres of my personal life. I have said “yes!” with enthusiasm to several opportunities which I would have hesitated to accept in the past, even when I was unsure of my capacity to execute them with perfection.

I have met such a large group of warm and wonderful people, all of whom are invested in improving their skills and being of service to a larger cause. They come from all over the Chicagoland area, and when the District is split between North and South I will miss seeing several of them, but will rest well knowing that they are continuing their good work in another sphere. I consider many of these people friends, and several of them as inspirations.

I’ve learned a great deal about myself and have improved my skillset as a leader. While I could have done more – and I will always feel I could have done more – I have certainly grown in terms of dealing with challenges and setbacks, in terms of long-range planning and in dealing with sometimes difficult personalities.

I no longer fire off immediate responses to questions which can be set aside until more important matters are attended to. I have learned to keep my hands off those projects and clubs which are running well, relinquishing control and delegating authority to the proper individuals. I have also learned how to most effectively step in to offer assistance when it is needed.

At some level, too, I have learned to lose more gracefully. In this year, not all my efforts have borne fruit. Some clubs into which I put my time and energy have decided to discontinue their charters, and ideas I advanced have been turned away by others. I have yet to be able to find a replacement for my position, which is a source of some vexation.

Still, I do not take these as slights on myself or on my capabilities. Instead, they are lessons in the famed serenity prayer, choices made by others which are beyond my actual control.

For that knowledge alone, along with many other insights and opportunities, I can truly say that I have appreciated this challenge.

I can also say, however, that I will not pick these reins up again lightly. I enjoy crafting words and phrases, speaking in public and sharing my knowledge with others. The administration and oversight of others is something I can now gracefully relinquish into hands which are unknown to me, but which I am certain will be up to the task.

003: Does “Perfect” Exist?

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In which we wax philosophical, apparently. I believe that there is, indeed, such a thing as perfect. However, that thing lies not in a thing as it is, but in a thing as it is perceived.

Let’s consider a perfect afternoon. I’ve eaten a delicious lunch and had a small cocktail to round things out. The sky is bright azure and there are small, white, puffy clouds skittering about the ceiling of the world. The temperature is in the mid-seventies, the grass is green, the lawn work is already done, leaving me comfortably sore and tired. I have no commitments in the evening or for the rest of the afternoon. The hammock is set up, and I am in that hammock, watching the clouds in the sky and considering this perfect day.

The day, in and of itself, is not perfect. Somewhere, a child lays screaming; somewhere, missles are being fired, somewhere, an old woman is dying alone and unloved. The day itself is certainly not perfect. The experience which I am having – my perception of this day – is perfect, as long as I don’t consider these other elements of lives outside my own.

And yes, these are the thoughts which intrude upon my most perfect days. For how dare I enjoy perfection in an imperfect world?

Let’s consider a perfect meal. A beautifully balanced pre-dinner drink, made by expert hands with a strong sense of flavor. Appetizers which prepare the taste buds and sharpen hunger, perhaps a little crunchy, perhaps a little sweet. Soup to follow which cleanses the palate and is presented with precision. An entrée of tender lamb, with a crisp crust and an interior which falls off the bone, served over garlic whipped potatoes and sweet peas. Dessert of crème brulee and a glass of Armagnac to finish.

A perfect meal, but one which would turn a vegan’s stomach, which would send an alcoholic packing, would absolutely freak out anyone more frugal than your humble narrator. A perfect meal nonetheless, in my experience and perception.

And yes, I ask as I eat; how dare I enjoy such luxuries, when I am surrounded by want and need? Who am I to partake of perfection when others go hungry?

Or a perfect relationship, one in which each partner’s needs are perfectly and exquisitely balanced to bring maximum pleasure to each one, to serve one another’s hopes, dreams, and desires and which lasts until the day they pass peacefully together into that long night. Hardly perfect in the eyes of their divorcee friends.

Perfect exists as an experiential state of mind. Is there a platonic ideal of any material thing? Perhaps elsewhere. Perhaps in the mists of another world. Here, however, as Milton says – Our minds can make a Heaven of Hell, or a Hell of Heaven. With our thoughts and our eyes, our choice of how to see those things around us, we can make perfection here on Earth …

Or we can question our rights to Heaven.

002: A single backpack

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If you were forced to eliminate every physical possession from your life with the exception of what could fit into a single backpack, what would you put in it?

Credit cards to everyplace that sells physical possessions? I kid, I kid.

First things first, a photo from my wedding, a photo of my wife, a photo of my parents, and a photo of my sister, all laminated against spills and tears.

Next, my laptop computer and wireless mouse. This covers all my entertainment needs, most of my social needs, and the vast majority of my working needs; though a printer hookup would definitely be choice. If by “from your life” you mean “forever,” well, I’m more than a little hosed; so let’s aim for a small portable printer as well.

Secondly, a selection of pens and my Leuchtturm 1917 paper journal. This keeps me sane, together, and focused. It’s my to-do list and my aspirations.

Thirdly, my cellphone and Kindle. Yeah, the tablet’s kind of redundant to the laptop, but it’s less than book-sized. Oh, and chargers for all electronics, obviously.
Two changes of underwear, one change of pants, one change of socks, and three shirts all in a gilly roll at the bottom of the backpack. Razor, soap, deodorant stone, shampoo, conditioner, hair product (my little secret) and electric trimmer. As my buddy Ben once pointed out, I believe neatly groomed facial hair is key to the Kingdom of Heaven.

I mean, there’s not much else I need. This is basically what I carry to and from the office every day.

That said, I’m assuming climate won’t be an issue. If so, a good coat is probably going to take up the rest of this backpack.

By the same token, if we’re talking serious post-apocalypse, throw out ALL the electronics, ain’t gonna need them. Replace them with the complete works of William Shakespeare and Dashiell Hammet. The rest of the backpack’s a good sized multi-knife, a mess of canned food, a can opener, mess kit and water purifier, and a tarpaulin for sleeping. Plus a guide to edible flora in the area, as I’m likely going vegetarian. I’d be a lousy hunter.

001: What did I do last week that was memorable?

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(Note: This was written several weeks ago, but is being published today.)

Oh, plenty of things. How much fun to answer this after such an eventful week. If I were speaking on my feet, I could not refer to my bullet journal; so I’ll work to simply recall in writing as well.

I completed the edits for two short stories, putting my work on the Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus to bed. Well, the writing work. I also designed a book cover and was paid a pretty penny, which is going to purchase a PlayStation 4 – mostly in anticipation of Red Dead Redemption 2, but partly because I’d like a modern console.

I wrote quite a bit in these blog entries. Five full entries out of an attempted 3. I didn’t get any fiction writing done, but am aiming to fold that in this week. I delivered a speech off the top of my head to an appreciative room and got at least one amazing compliment out of that.

I read a lot. Two chapters in an assertiveness workbook, which is doing me a world of good. Five chapters in a book on compulsive behaviors. Three in a book on soul-friendship, given to me by someone very dear, a true Anam Cara. And five chapters of Jack London’s The Iron Heel, a socialist work against the oligarchy, and very timely in these miserable days beneath the heels.

Probably the two most memorable moments, though, were gathering with another dear friend for coffee on Sunday afternoon – a day when I am often found curled up at home, avoiding the world and myself. She surprised me with gifts from a recent trip, both for myself and my lovely wife, along with a few new card games for us all to try.

And I took said lovely wife to the theater for the closing night of Any Other Name, an excellent new black comedy starring three dear friends – James, Michelle, and Frank. The set design was splendid and the actors were each phenomenal. The tickets were a surprise gift from my good friend Phil.

By Julius Schorzman - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=107645 I felt very taken care of last week, honestly. It seemed like the world was bending over backward to make good things happen for me. I got the news of both a merit increase at work and the annual bonus payout, both of which made me very pleased. We did our taxes, too; but between state and federal it came out to a wash. Still, I’ll take a wash over a nasty surprise any day of the week.

Aha! Referring back, I see I also got out of the house on Monday and Friday to play games! First time to the Burdsell Manor to play Mansions of Madness over cheese curds and Miskatonic beers, second time to Chateau Glovier for our first try at Archipelago. Dan and I enjoyed tonkatsu udon for dinner that night, which was just delightful; and I was able to treat myself to a rare luxury Sunday evening with the missus.

It was, to be honest, a lovely and golden week. I look forward to this new one with a smile.

 

#000 – Ten Minute Topics

What’s a Ten-Minute Topic?

One of my biggest issues with the blank page: where to begin? That hardly makes me a snowflake – most authors are, I think, in the same boat. Whenever I have tried maintaining a blog, I inevitably run out of things to say in relatively short order. Often, when I have something to say, the same rampant pseudo-perfectionism that has caused delays in my books sneaks into those pages as well. As a result, the blog lay fallow for a long, long time.

Then I joined Toastmasters, and was introduced to Table Topics.

In Table Topics, the meeting’s leader asks a particular question. Anyone in the room can volunteer to speak to that topic, but they are only given 1-2 minutes to speak – and no time to prepare.

It’s designed to hone your ability to speak in an impromptu manner. I enjoy doing these exercises well enough, which is why I’m surprised it took me so long to apply it here.

Moving forward, when I have something timely to say – an honest inquiry, an upcoming event or release, or a piece of current events I can’t hold back on – I’ll certainly work to craft some eloquent response.

On the scheduled days that I have nothing current, I will share a Ten-Minute Topic.

I have a list of over 300 prompts to keep me going. Using a random number generator, I select one for the day, then type out as many words as possible on that topic in the next ten minutes.
These topics range from the simple “What’s your favorite song” to the more complex “What would life be like with a 40-year average lifespan” or the more revelatory “Who is the one person you cannot forgive?”

I’ve been crafting a number of these lately, and it’s exciting on a number of levels.

First off, of course, it’s a way to limber up my writing muscles. I’ve been using this as an exercise to get my fingers moving and my mental voice in order.

Secondly, it’s a bit more of a game than a real assignment – what will I be asked today? How should I respond? Can I get more words than I did yesterday?

Thirdly, it’s a confidence boost to see I can average 500 words in 10 minutes when I don’t overthink it – and a reminder that maybe not overthinking the first draft is a Very Good Thing for my productivity.

Finally, it’s a bit freeing.

I’m sometimes given to reserve. I’d like to sound as if I’ve given a great deal of thought to any particular question put to me, whether or not that is true; and I prefer to appear polished when I appear before others. With ten minutes to write and a self-imposed five minutes to edit the post, I can’t be too careful about what it is I say, how eloquent I sound.

So with that, I welcome you to the first of our Ten Minute Topic posts. They’ll be tagged on the menus for easier access and viewing.

Oh, and as to the topics – I reserve the right to put any questions sent in from readers or audience members into that list of 300+ for my number generators. Nothing urgent or really important, of course. Your kind attention is worth more than ten minutes’ ramble, but I do enjoy a bit of back and forth, so feel free to lob the questions to me.

Sound fair?

Then let’s go have some fun.

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