Archive for December, 2011

Hitting Your Marks

With the holidays winding down, it might be a good time to address the different things in our lives in order to insure that we are where we need to be, when we need to be there.

From the time on a clock, to the steps for constructing some new object that we might have received as a gift there are methods to the madness that permeates all of our lives. As I elucidate below, see if you recognize any in your daily routine.

Living on Martha’s Vineyard, anytime I need to leave the island (I never really WANT to leave the island) the issue of transportation looms large in the plans. I have never taken a plane to or from the island, nor do I ever plan to. That leaves transportation via the water and which of the few passenger vessels would be most appropriate. If I plan on taking my car, I have only ONE “choice”. The Steamship Authority can be difficult to deal with from the perspective that you should always TRY to make a reservation for travel in order to prevent either being stuck in stand-by for endless hours or finding out that there is NO stand-by on the day you wish to travel. That being said, you will need to decide which boat you can have your act together in order to be AT the boat on time. Miss that mark, and all hell could break loose. Trust me, even if you THINK you are ready, think again. I refer you to a December 23rd reservation that was prey to the ravages of the wind, canceling ALL boats, including mine.

When I was training for marathons, I had to maintain a certain cadence to insure that I was “on pace” to make the most of my training. If my heart rate was not high enough, I was not working hard enough, which would tend to negate the purpose of training altogether. If it was too high, I would burn out too soon and not have the stamina to finish the training session, if not the race. So keeping my heart rate in the “zone” allowed me to hit the marks, or splits, during the run. These days my running has diminished to what I refer to as “junk miles” that entail maintaining a pace that allows me to finish the workout before I have to start walking or hitch a ride.

Whether for business or for personal, we all have appointments and commitments that require use to meet with people at a given time, at a certain place. On island you might have to deal with a drawbridge that randomly goes up, even when there are no boats waiting to pass through. Or perhaps a couple of moped riders feel the need to ride side by side from the Aquinnah Lighthouse all the way to the Steamship Authority Lot as you are rushing to make your reservation. Then again, there is always the excuse my clients tend to have most often when they arrive late, there was no parking available. I have always found that it always best to be early than late, but sometimes fate deals you a cruel blow and it just cannot be helped. If you cannot be prompt, be gracious when you arrive. Everyone will appreciate it, trust me.

Dealing with a seasonal economy requires everyone involved to obtain a certain amount of seasonal wealth to carry then through the off season. The most important aspect is to understand that this fact exists before the season has passed; otherwise your options for independence dwindle rapidly. Consider working every day, for long hours, until the business slows to a crawl or until you can no longer function at the given, whether you like it or not. That will be the new “normal” unless you just come to the island to work seasonally, as a parasitic worker, in which case you can be on your merry way whenever the urge strikes you. For those of us with a mortgage, taxes, and a business to maintain, we continue to toil away for fear that it will all end too soon, leaving us short of what we need to pay the bills until the next season arrives. This has been an ever more difficult mark to hit, given that every season seems to be shorter than the last.

As the year comes to a close, I look back and see that I have hit almost all of my marks. Perhaps I could have set the bar a little higher, but given all that I encountered over the past year, I have to be happy that I made it this far. How about you? Here’s to next year!

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Anticipation

Here we are, scant hours before Christmas, and the anticipation is building. Like some reading of the lottery numbers for which you have bought a dozen tickets that you are sure has the winning combinations, every person waits for that special moment that we release all of the joy and love that we have spent hours preparing for. If only that moment could ever fulfill all of the expectations that we hope to realize; so seldom it does.

This is actually the time that I cherish most, the time before the actual event. If only we could have this energy for every day; without the gifts, without the bother of formalities, without the restrictions of a day that ends the joy. I rise every day hoping that the day that awaits me is better than the last. Now I know that is about as likely as every day being a holiday of some sort, but at least I hope and carry on with that in the back of my mind. I will always work to improve whatever I can, just so that I have made an effort to feel some sort of satisfaction of an accomplishment. I look forward to the challenge, in fact.

So it goes with every aspect of every life, we either look forward to or dread what awaits us; a new job, a new relationship, losing a job, ending a relationship. This time of the year concentrates the joy of various celebrations; Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, Festivus. It also brings us the end of one year where we look back at the year that we leave behind and allows us to look forward to the year that awaits us. The cycle perpetuates with our formal calendar, even though they are simply a series of single days strung together to form that calendar.

How do we determine that these days are those that must be celebrated with so much build up and to what end? If we were to look back in time, we can see how these holidays have become some marketing ploy; from Hollywood with the shows and movies, from Madison Avenue with a never ending ad campaign, from the religious faction looking to guide the lives of their followers. There are aspects of these days that must be noted as being commendable, they almost will us to spend more time with friends and family. Without such wide acceptance and expectation for all of us to spend time this way, it is doubtful that any of us actually would, opting instead to go skiing or travel to a tropical climate, as we tend to do during any other vacation time.

But I digress, as I think that we should want to spend time with our friends and family and that this holiday season does tend to bring out the best intentions from almost everyone. What I wonder is why can’t we do so more often? I mean there was that informal “truce” in the First World War where the soldiers organized their own sharing of rations and actually had a friendly game of soccer between combatants. While it lasted only until the superiors back at headquarters found out, the fact remains that this time of year holds magic. Unfortunately, this spirit quickly wanes when the bills arrive in January. I can only hope that this spirit could extend throughout more of the year.

Until the people of the world can stop and consider the futility of their nefarious deeds giving them spiritual fulfillment, I will enjoy the feeling that I get from the impending festivities. The anticipation feels more real than the actual event; and it lasts many days or sometimes even weeks.

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It Is Always Personal

Of the many jobs I have had in my life, there has always come a point where it seems I have been singled out for one reason or another. When it was for something favorable, I was told that it was for a job well done and that I deserved it for my efforts. Other times, when I was somehow being treated less than fairly, I was told it was “nothing personal”. Eventually, being the sort of person that believes in fair play, I would find a way to “even the score, never forgetting to mention to the receiving party that it was “nothing personal”. Make no mistake, it is always personal.

In high school, I was a member of a team that won the state championships twice. I attended Junior Olympic Camp. In my freshman year I was told by the coach that I was not going to receive my varsity letter in order for a senior to achieve that distinction, even though I attended every practice, every meet, and competed on the varsity squad when the senior in question did none of those things. I was told it was just tradition, that it was nothing personal. When I was a senior, the coach made his son, a junior, the team’s captain. I walked out and never returned. The “new” coach called me to his office and asked why I left the team. I told him if he didn’t know, then he should ask the head coach about tradition and that my leaving was nothing personal. They did not win the state title that year, needless to say.

When I was working in casino surveillance, I had a bit of a problem living with the hypocrisy that existed within the management structure. After several years of written time sheets, a time clock was instituted. A memo was issued about “dropping” time cards for other people; it was forbidden. I had been relegated to grave shift supervisor for professional reasons, nothing personal. One morning, very early in the morning, the Director of the department called into the office and told me he was on site. “Good to hear that, sir.” I said. “Drop my time card for me,” he said. “Oh, I can’t do that sir, there’s a policy against that. Nothing personal, but I take such professional matters seriously.” I quipped. I remained on grave shift until I resigned. He was fired a short time after that for embezzling. Seems some one provided the executive office with copies of invoices pre-dating phony “bids” for outside contractors for work that was never done.

When I was rebuilding my home, an electrical contractor kept delaying the project at key points in the process, eventually holding up my certificate of occupancy. This contractor said he had so many projects going that it was just a matter of time before he got to mine and that it was nothing personal. Meanwhile I learned that he hoped to sell his business if he got a better job elsewhere. Oddly, someone not only made sure that he did NOT get that other job, but they also told his workers that he was selling the business any time, so they had better be ready for it, prompting his lead electrician to quit and leave for another company. A short time later he was out of business. I believe that was totally personal.

When someone calls my office and says they prefer to work with a female therapist and that it is “nothing personal”, I think they are full of crap. It is completely personal, and ignorant on their part. Sometimes you get fed that line of crap one too many times. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it is not personal. It is always personal.

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Open Water

Every once in a while, somewhere in our busy lives, we suddenly realize that something is not quite right. It might take a period of time before we notice or it may happen all at once, but happen it does. I remember watching this movie, based on a true story, of a young couple went SCUBA diving off a chartered boat while vacationing in the Caribbean. It was a lovely time, with all of the brilliant under-sea beauty, until they surfaced to find that their boat was no where in sight; only open water. Needless to say, they were in a bit of a bind, as all they could see was open water; no other boats, no other people, no land at all. Well, sometimes life can seem like that; nothing to use to find your bearing and chart your course. Hopefully, you can do it before the sharks arrive. (Spoiler)

Living on an island can often give life a unique perspective that only other island residents can relate to. Personally, I take comfort in the seven mile buffer of water that keeps Martha’s Vineyard from being just another place to wander onto and exploit. On the other hand, to reside here you must understand that all of the rules apply to you; hostage to the ferry, limited employment opportunities, housing is a premium, partners should be imported unless recycled. I have covered most of those issues in past posts, but there still remains the open water as a metaphor for so very many things.

Recently a very prominent piece of property sold on the island for more than $22 million. Yes, million. The house next door to me was listed at $585 thousand and sold for less than $500 thousand. While the properties are not even in the same neighborhood, pun intended, it demonstrates the vast disparity of class that exists on such a small island. Chatting with another business owner recently, we both expressed bewilderment at the dramatic swings in the on-island business economy. We both have secondary employment to fall back on, but that could not easily reassure either of us given our primary interests in our businesses. But what to do in a community that is isolated in so many ways, other than make the best of what you have to work with.

I also spoke with someone in my profession that has a business off island. They could not understand the unique business dynamic of an island resort economy in an economic downturn. There are no easy answers when the off season population is hurting from an anemic season where profits will only last so far into the winter months. Getting new customers from a ‘captive community’ is like getting blood from a stone; less than likely.

So in the final month of the year, I try to regain my footing; professionally, personally, financially, and mentally. Planning, scheming, hoping, and striving to not just get by, but to also chart a course, in any direction. I’ll try to make my choice with as much information as intuition, but given the recent turn of events over the past year, any course of action is better than simply waiting for the sharks, right?

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