Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Tale of Egocentrism

adjective: egocentric; adjective: ego-centric

thinking only of oneself, without regard for the feelings or desires of others; self-centered.

Seems self-explanatory. "Thinking only of oneself." We all know people who do this. Hell, each of us probably have moments of egocentrism on a daily basis. It's a human condition. As earthly land-mammals go, humans are probably one of the most selfish.

However, just this week I was involved with a situation that allowed me to experience one of the greatest moments of egocentrism I've ever had the pleasure to witness. **Disclaimer: I have changed the names of people, places, and events to protect my own ass.

I work for a particular business. Let's call it a theme park. At this theme park, we have employees. However, our employees are on contract rather than on payroll. Recently one of our contract employees, we'll call her Rebecca, was having difficulty committing to her contract. She was often showing up late, or not at all, and when approached she told us she had a different full-time position that was interfering with her hours at the theme park.

In a move I assumed was mutually beneficial, the theme park decided to not renew Rebecca's contract for the following contract season. Rebecca seemed relieved, being able to focus on her other full-time position, and my employer (call him Todd) seemed relieved to "go a different direction."

This week Todd approached me with some sad news. He had seen Rebecca at Fareway. As it turns out, Rebecca has been diagnosed with cancer: pancreatic and colon. I had just enough time to say, "Oh, man. That's too bad. Has she started chemo yet," when Todd puffed out a huge sigh and said, "It's probably a good thing we didn't renew her contract."

I was shocked. Not that someone would think such a thing. I'm sure, given time, I would have realized the good fortune in not having to struggle to find a last-minute replacement for Rebecca if she decided she couldn't do her job or, heaven forbid, she died. This kind of thought process runs through each of our brains at one point or another as we live through the process of someone we know fighting for their life. Thoughts like, "I'm glad it isn't me," are completely normal and very human.

No. What shocked me was the fact Todd made this statement out loud. Not just to me, but to other employees who had joined the conversation.

What could I do? I am, after all, only a cynical and sarcastic creature. I'm not elevated enough to understand other, more tactful ways of approaching such a horrendous statement. With as much sarcasm as I could manage I said, "Well, way to go us! We saved ourselves from the burden of employing someone with cancer. Yipee."

Todd stared at me then, his mouth agape, and said, "Do you need a couple of extra days off this week?"

This wasn't a threat. There was no undertone suggesting that I be punished for seeing differently than him by losing my hours. No. Todd believed my sarcasm was rooted in my being overworked and over stressed. He couldn't even connect the dots that he had essentially patted himself on the back for Rebecca getting cancer and my reaction.

Completely oblivious.

Think about this the next time you open your mouth to make a statement. It isn't that I don't want you to speak your mind. I just want you to be aware of how you are going to be perceived if you speak exactly everything you feel.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: Redshirts

Redshirts Redshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It isn't often I find a book that grabs me and won't let go. Redshirts certainly did just that. I understood the premise. I had an inkling of what was going to happen, and even thought I groaned when I realized what I thought was going to happen was actually what was happening, Scalzi's narrative was written in such a way that I couldn't help but continue reading. I was a little leery when the crew of the Intrepid started talking about space travel, and even more concerned when the narrative pulled me out of the world of the Universal Union and took me back to 2012. Scalzi was still capable of pulling of a decent ending despite seemingly resorting to the same methods of storytelling he seemed to be mocking. Overall, I enjoyed the novel and would recommend it.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Tales from the North Woods: Bitch Slapped by an Eagle

There's something about getting up early and peddling through the hills of the Shingobee forest, watching the sun rise over the tree tops, and listening to the birds wake and the squirrels and chipmunks scavenge for food, that brings a certain peace - a certain zen.

I love the section of the Paul Bunyan trail that connects to the Heartland trail and runs all the way down to Brainerd. I love it because it's hilly. The hills offer a strenuous workout, but they also offer a solitude not found on the Heartland trail.

Most people don't want to work that hard, so the Heartland trail, which is fairly flat, always seems crowded and packed with people. While the Paul Bunyan trail (specifically the portion running through the Shingobee forest) always seems deserted.

Last week I had an encounter with a porcupine on the Paul Bunyan trail. This week I met a young skunk on the trail who seemed content enough to threaten me as I passed, but that was all.

However, the most amazing part of the ride didn't take place on the Paul Bunyan trail. I was actually on the Shingobee Connection, a short stretch of trail that leads from the Paul Bunyan, through Walker, and back to a different section of the Heartland trail.

The Shingobee connection weaves in and out of forest, it crosses driveways, and actually becomes part of the road for a while. There's one section of the trail that creates a horseshoe or U-shape. The trail spits you out of the forest, you cut a diagonal across someone's gravel driveway, and then you enter a bit of woods again as you start back on the trail. Those woods disappear after about five feet and the trail curves and opens up to look out over the first expanse of Leech Lake you see on the trail.

It's a blind curve. You keep to the right to make sure you aren't going to run into anyone else. A sudden bike accident isn't a fun thing.

This morning, as I curve around the bend and the first blue sparkles of Leech Lake make me glad I'm wearing sunglasses, a giant shape lunges from my left. I feel a breeze graze up my cheek moving air in the wrong direction, up instead of across.

I do what any normal person would do. I leaned away from the shape and turned my head to see what I was going to need to defend myself against.

I came face-to-face with the taloned claw of a mature bald eagle.

It was curled, and the eagle was flying away from me. Most likely I scared him as much as he scared me.

The branch the eagle had been sitting on bounced, and I saw how close we had actually come. That breeze I felt against my face was the rush of air pushing around the eagle's wings as he took off across the lake.

The entire episode took all of two seconds, but still I stopped and watched the eagle cross to better hunting grounds on the far shore. It was an experience both amazing and terrifying.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Tales from the North Woods: Porcupine L. Jackson

Tales from the North Woods:

I was riding my bike down the Heartland Trail this morning. This is not a rare occurrence. I try to ride at least three times a week if I can fit it into my schedule. Most days I ride the 10 miles to Walker and back, or the 7 miles to Nevis and back, and I always stop at the Cenex on my way home to drink a cup of coffee with Emily​.

This morning, however, I decided I needed ramp up my workout and attempt to plow through the hills on the Paul Bunyan Trail that connects with the Heartland Trail and leads all the way to Brainerd (and perhaps beyond).

What I like about this stretch of the Paul Bunyan Trail is that it's quiet. I have never seen another cyclist on this trail. In part that's due to my early ride time (I like to leave the house around 5:30 in the morning), but this is also due to the strenuous work it takes to navigate the hills. Seriously, there are signs posted all along the trail warning people away from the steep hills.

Because it lacks for population so early in the morning I have the pleasure of seeing a vast array of wildlife: mostly deer, ravens, and other birds, but today I met something different on the trail.

I have come to call him Porcupine L. Jackson, because he's one bad mother-fucker.

I spotted PLJ about two hundred yards off, trotting down the center of the bike trail. At that distance, I thought he was a racoon, but he was walking funny for a racoon ... almost strutting.

As I approached, and recognized the creature essentially blocking my way, I laughed. I've never seen a porcupine up close and personal. As is my nature, I like to make noises at the animals as I approach. I don't like the idea of scaring a deer into a panicked leap and having him choose the wrong direction and plow into me. On most flat stretches I'm cruising at 18 miles per hour, and having the full weight of a creature like that drive into you at those speeds ... it wouldn't be pretty.

So, I start calling to Porcupine L. Jackson. "Hey, Porcupine! I'm coming your way. Look out!"

PLJ doesn't even pause. He continues his strut down the center of the trail, owning it, like he was a finalist on America's Next Top Model.

I'm thinking, "Maybe PLJ is deaf. Maybe he can't hear me shouting at him." So, I slow the bike down. I drop to 15, 10, 5, 2.5 miles per hour. I might as well be walking. I'm still shouting, "Hey, Porcupine! I'm passing on your left!"

Maybe he hears me. Maybe he just senses there's something behind him. I'm about fifteen feet behind him when he stops and turns. Not his whole body, just this head. Like he's looking over his shoulder at me. I say, "I'm going to pass you. Do you want to move?" PLJ gives me this look, and I feel like Brett being asked to say "what?" again, and I can almost hear PLJ rehearsing the lines of Ezekiel 25:17, "The path of the righteous man," and all that.

But PLJ just turns back and continues his strut down the center of the bike trail. I'm going slow, but I'm also going to pass. You know, I've got that human sense of entitlement. I'm not going to let some animal the size of a basketball cow me.

So, I'm rolling up on PLJ, and I'm getting close. He's still strutting his stuff. I'm still talking to him, trying to let him know I'm getting closer, hoping he'll take the hint and cruise off into the woods.

He doesn't.

When I'm about two feet from him, PLJ stops. He doesn't turn to face me. He just stops. So I stop. I don't want him sprinting out under my bike. Not that I think I'd squish him, or anything, but I don't want to fall, and I don't want my bike tires damaged. PLJ hunches down and fans out his quills. Makes himself almost twice as large as he was.

Despite my better knowledge, images of spike flying through the air at my legs run through my brain. Some instinctual part of my body knows I've got to get out of there before shit gets real. I say, "I'm just going to pass you."

PLJ turns his head for the first time since puffing himself up. He doesn't say a word ... because, you know, animals don't talk ... but I can still hear what he's trying to tell me.

"Get that mother-fucking bike off my mother-fucking trail."

So I do. I pedal as fast and as hard as I can for about thirty seconds. Put a good 50 yards between us. When I look in my rear view mirror, PLJ is still strutting down the center of the trail, not a care in the world, and I'm certain he was muttering to himself, "That's right, bitch. Keep pedaling. This is my trail."

So I do. I pedal as fast and as hard as I can for about thirty seconds. Put a good 50 yards between us. When I look in my rear view mirror, PLJ is still strutting down the center of the trail, not a care in the world, and I'm certain he was muttering to himself, "That's right, bitch. Keep pedaling. This is my trail."

I finished my ride without incident. 30 miles this morning, ending with the usual cup of coffee at Cenex. It was nice to see a critter I don't usually see, but I'm glad I din't suffer any damage so far out int eh middle of nowhere.