Monday, September 24, 2007

Don't just do something ... sit there!

My cat, like all cats, spends a lot of time virtually motionless. She'll either just lay on the living room windowsill, or curl up on the recliner or my bed. Sometimes she sprawls out on the parquet floor. And a lot of the time, she stares quite intently at some unknown spot in the distance.

Cats, more than most creatures, and certainly more than humans, don't have a need to be busy or occupied. They're perfectly happy to find a cozy spot or a nice sunbeam to lay within, and just let life pass until something (like a bird), gives them a reason to spring into action. Sometimes I like to think that they're trying to reason out some sort of Zen koan: where does the human go when she walks out the door?

In many ways, Hattie reminds me that we all need to stop and contemplate, just as much as we need to have activity and meet our daily obligations. In other words, sometimes those obligations need to include inactivity. We get so caught up in having to do something that doing nothing seems wasteful and unproductive, except maybe when we schedule it as part of a vacation. Many of us beat ourselves up about it. But sometimes maybe our bodies -- and our psyches -- force the rest time.

Other times it's the cat who forces us to slow down and just sit there. Sometimes they plant themselves in your lap and just won't get up.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gives you pause.

Earlier today a friend and I were IM-ing about some work issue or another, and as we digressed, she mentioned that she'd volunteered at Ground Zero yesterday, helping families preserve cherished items their loved ones had left behind that fateful day. Gave her pause, she said. For one thing, it really put into perspective the budget cutting stuff we were talking about. Put in context, a few bucks for a multi-billion dollar corporation didn't mean squat. Definitely isn't one of those things that you'd put in your obituary.

Now, I guess that's not all that surprising to hear. Life and death being more important than business -- it's a fairly common sentiment, any day of the year. Nonetheless, it got me thinking.

I've sat in countless business meetings where people avoid the really difficult dilemmas in favor of picking apart and "solving" the easier stuff. You know -- rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It's a very human tendency that makes us feel more in control. The big issue, well, nobody could have fixed that, but at least we decided what color to paint the hallway!

When you think about it, though, even the toughest of the business dilemmas are a lot easier to suss out than the really important things in life. Maybe that's why so many people get so out of whack and lose balance in their lives.

Consider it. Figuring out how to shave a half million dollars off a billion dollar budget is a hell of a lot easier than finding the one true love of your life. And all of the chair swapping of some pointless office decentralization is phenomenally less messy than figuring out what you're meant to be doing with your life. And really, anything you run into during a typical day at the office is a lot simpler than living each day as honestly, ethically and authentically as you can. Perhaps that's why so many people avoid the real life stuff in favor of work.

I know I'm not saying anything all that profound, and certainly there are others who could say it a lot more powerfully than I. We've all heard the bromides about living each day to the fullest, and how many of us pledged to see September 11 as a lesson or a message to live more authentically? But six years later, how many of us truly have?

I guess it all comes down to courage. It's a lot easier to be the person some company pays you to be for 50 hours a week, or the person that your family or your friends or teachers say you should be, rather than the person you were born to be. It's sure a lot easier to adopt someone else's mistaken view of who you are, versus trying to discover for yourself.

Then again, maybe we need to be kinder to ourselves when we're trying to work it out. Growing takes time, and it does take courage: courage that often doesn't come easily. Stop making pronouncements and just be.

And hope for the best.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Does Al Gore approve?

A recent Newsweek article outlined Honda's plans to outpace the iconic Toyota Prius with a new generation hybrid rumored to be the world's most fuel efficient car when it arrives in 2009.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit that I own a Honda and have never owned another brand. Love 'em to death. They're reliable, they're low-emission, and they just make sense. And Honda engineers never stop trying to solve long range challenges that other manufacturers haven't yet conceived of. You have to appreciate that.

The interesting thing is that Honda had really bad timing when it came to hybrids. A few years back, they stopped making the CRX coupe and replaced it with the 60 mpg Insight. I checked one out -- it made my own bare-bones CRX look like a loaded Jaguar by comparison -- but you had to give them credit for the effort. They were first out of the gate in the US, and the Insight had a truly unique body profile. People, namely the automotive press, said it just looked weird. They didn't sell very many. It was truly a car ahead of its time.

Then they pulled back and decided to focus on hybrid-izing the Civic and Accord. They even built an Accord whose electric/gas engine combo was designed not to improve gas mileage, but to add punch to the acceleration. (Personally, I think they were having a little fun with us on that one.) Meanwhile, Toyota introduced the rather distinctive and nicely appointed Prius.

Fast-forward a year or two to Hurricane Katrina, $3.50 a gallon gas and global warming. All of a sudden the average affluent Joe wants to look like a tree hugger and save a few bucks in the process. Does he go out and buy a Civic Hybrid? No -- he buys the car that tells everyone he drives a hybrid without him having to point out a small label under the model badge.

So, basically, the most fuel efficient car company in the world got its clock cleaned. (Not that I have an issue with Toyotas. They're good cars. They're just not Hondas.)

Now, of course, Honda is working on its own distinctive hybrid. I'd be happy enough if they'd just make a Civic hybrid coupe. Preferrably red. Right now you can get a sedan with a choice of colors restricted to white, silver, black, silver blue and gray. So not only are you a tree hugger, you're phenomenally boring. At least the Insight came in red. Dang. Shoulda gotten one.

On another note, Honda's new entry-level car is the cute and economical Fit. Nice car, but I can't conceive of owning one. I mean, imagine the dinner party conversation:

"So, what kind of car do you have?"

"I have a Fit."

"I understand. I had a fit when my mechanic couldn't fix my transmission. Now, what is it you drive?"

(Still, it's nowhere near as bad as the Ford Probe. Who came up with that name? A Ford exec who just came back from the proctologist?)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Dad's away ... let's have a party!

Friends in Australia tell me that Friday, September 7 has been declared a holiday in Sydney because George Bush is visiting the city. They don't like him, either, but they appreciate the day off.

One wonders: if he's left the country, why aren't we the ones partying?

Have fun dressing George for his visit!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Making air travel safe, one ridiculous restriction at a time.

On a recent visit to San Francisco, I dropped by Ghirardelli Square for one of their amazingly good hot fudge sundaes (containing, of course, the vanilla ice cream they're famous for). A sign caught my eye: Transportation Security Administration rules prohibit air travelers from bringing Ghirardelli's hot fudge on board as a carry-on item.

One might question this. If there are terrorists out there who are using fudge sauce as a weapon, well, now, that's terror. What's the strategy: fatten up the passengers so they can't get out of the plane?

In all seriousness, you have to wonder: why chocolate sauce? A quick glance at the TSA website suggests that it's permissible if it's carried in a three-ounce container. Now, I ask you, is that anywhere enough chocolate to satisfy a traveler on a cross-country flight? Haven't these guys ever heard of PMS?

I mean, really. On this most recent flight, they served a choice of cheese steak or cream of asparagus soup. Doesn't it seem like hot cheese whiz or a steaming bowl of creamy soup would do a lot more damage than some room-temperature fudge sauce?

Ya gotta wonder.

(Interestingly, while Googling "TSA," I discovered it's also the acronym for the Tourette Syndrome Association. Just coincidence, or a sly reference to the spontaneous swearing heard at airport security?)