Mr. Sensitive

August 26, 2010

Waiting For The Tanks

Filed under: Me Myself and I — lbej @ 11:02
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I have been forced this morning to make a complete and unflinching assessment of my offensive capabilities.  Many of the symptoms of mononucleosis have abated or disappeared altogether in the last ten days, most notably the fever and the severe headaches.  Yet fatigue and cardiovascular distress, especially heart palpitations, seem to be intensifying.  An especially vexing aspect of this particular ailment is that strength returns to the afflicted over time and by degrees rather than as a restorative surge.  When I’ve had the flu or strep throat or a bad cold in the past, there’s a distinct and perceptible period of time during which my body is struggling against the invading pathogen and it diverts a significant portion of my energy for that purpose.  Then there is a watershed moment when the disease is overmastered by my immune defense, and a rapid disengagement and demobilization occurs, releasing huge amounts of energy, which feels awesome.  That hasn’t happened this time and it seems that it isn’t going to.  Systemic weakness persists, and the doctor says I shouldn’t “overdo it,” whatever that means, lest the more prominent symptoms return.  Those who know me understand why I would have difficultly with that sort of open-ended injunction.  To my mind, one is sick or one is not, and so I make a lousy convalescent.  But I can’t deny that my offensive powers are diminished.  Endurance is the element I’m lacking; I can summon the strength to strike hard–a definite improvement over my condition a week ago–but I am easily spent.  That means I can’t apply the principles of deep battle, which would require sustained pressure in depth.  Deep battle, if correctly executed, would never create an unstable salient, because penetration would be furthered and consolidated as a matter of course, and would be designed to cause catastrophic failure of the enemy’s supporting echelons of defense.  Deep battle theory recognizes implicitly that a breakthrough can be incredibly hazardous to the army scoring the tactical victory if that army lacks a plan and/or capability to follow through.  Germany lost both World Wars in precisely this manner, first with the Michael Offensive of 1918 and then with the Stalingrad disaster of 1942.  I must, therefore, only advance when I can be assured of a safe retreat or of a defensible new forward position.  Sustained operations in depth are simply beyond my capacity.  It sucks.

I am reminded of the approach taken by Philippe Petain when he succeeded Robert Nivelle as commander of French forces following the latter’s disastrous offensives of 1917.  The French army was in disarray and experiencing widespread mutiny, as the soldiers on the front lines became convinced that their lives were being squandered by callous and inept commanders (they were not wrong about that).  Petain decided to forgo large-scale offensives for the remainder of 1917, focusing instead on re-establishing internal discipline while at the same time improving everyday conditions for his men.  He realized that the French army had reached the breaking point, and France was fortunate that she had not succumbed to the same revolutionary convulsions by then paralyzing her Russian ally.  Petain passed 1917, as he himself admitted, “waiting for the tanks and the Americans,” because he understood that France herself was spent.  Of course, there were no Americans and not enough tanks when the Germans returned in 1940, and so it should have surprised no one that Petain would decide no alternative remained for France but surrender and collaboration.  I would never go that far, and I would embrace annihilation before acquiescence.  But I believe this is 1917, not 1940, and the tanks are coming.  I’ve just got to avoid a Passchendaele while I wait.

August 23, 2010

Plan Vier On Schedule

Filed under: Me Myself and I — lbej @ 14:30

School starts in two days and then it’s back to writing.  Last night I couldn’t sleep.  Too often of late I find myself thinking about all that’s happened in the past year-and-a-half and wondering what I’ve become as a result of it.  Honestly, I don’t know yet.  I was going to die like my father did, and then the strangest thing happened: I didn’t.  I was driving at it as hard as I could, and I failed.  It means that the arc of my life is already greater than I thought it would be, and that I don’t know when or how it will end.  It feels like a new life that I’m living now, it really does.  I don’t know what I what to do with it yet, except that I want to do right.  That’s tactics, though, and I also need a strategy.  I want to burn a hole in history, and damn if it’s not hard to figure out how I’m going to do that.  I have to think about these things because they matter to me.  But it doesn’t pay to fixate on it, at least not too much at a time.  So last night I set my mind on the book instead, and it worked.  I got the first line, which is huge, and I figured out who’s talking.  Good work for a random sleepless night.  I may do this thing yet.  And I think I’m going to be able to use Alice In Chains as my soundtrack, which turns out to be all I’ve ever wanted to do as a writer.

August 12, 2010

No More Afternoon Coffee

Filed under: Me Myself and I — lbej @ 16:37

I’m not drinking coffee in the afternoon anymore.  It’s like having your reserves deployed all the time.  Then they’re not your reserves, they’re your regular army.  And you don’t have any reserves.

Meaning Of Gen. McClellan

Filed under: Me Myself and I,War and Battle Discussion — lbej @ 16:26
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The fellow you see on the page above is Major General George B. McClellan, the man who created the Army of the Potomac out of the chaos which followed the Union defeat at 1st Manassas, the first great battle of the American Civil War.  McClellan built such a splendid army that it seemed better to him to keep it on display in and around Washington rather than bloodying it in the field.  For months he moved tentatively if at all, prompting the President to say that “if General McClellan does not want to use the army, I should like to borrow it for a time.”  McClellan left the army better off than when he found it, but that was not enough and he should have known it.  The South would have to be conquered and men would have to die.  McClellan didn’t have it in him to use the advantage in men and materiel the North possessed.  Time was on the side of the Southerners, as the need for cotton might bring recognition from Europe.  What the Union needed was death, quick and abundant, because its armies could be replenished when the Southern forces could not.  Either McClellan didn’t realize that or he didn’t care.  Either way, he refused to fight, often against the orders of the Commander-in-Chief, and he got sacked for it.  I am waiting because it will hurt to attack.  So I am Gen. McClellan until I do something.  I need to confirm that I can’t make myself any sicker by resuming my martial adventures, but then I must resolve to do so, pain or no pain.  I must be sure I’m not being stupid, however.  If I expend energy I don’t have to achieve narrow tactical success and thus ensure catastrophic strategic defeat I will have to put Gen. Ludendorff back up.

Nobody wants to see that.

Biological Warfare

Filed under: Me Myself and I — lbej @ 13:17
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Blood test results have today indicated that I have mononucleosis.  I will not call it ‘mono,’ which is the opposite of stereo or an illness that teenagers get.  This development I did not expect.  I don’t go anywhere or see anyone, and so the contagion must have been introduced into my environs through the machinations of my enemies.  I had imposed a limited quarantine of myself as soon as I knew something was wrong but before I knew what it was, meaning that I asked that the huggy people I live with to stop hugging me.  Reagan is convinced that I’m going to die because I’m sick and has thus been even huggier than usual, but I’m having none of it.  I don’t want my children to be sick for any reason, and certainly not on my account.   Upon learning of my diagnosis and undertaking further research, however, I have found that children often carry this particular virus without suffering any symptoms whatsoever.  So not only might they have contracted it from me already, but I might have contracted it from one of them.  In fact I would say that the latter is more likely than the former.  In recent weeks they have been to sleepovers, and play dates, and concerts, and I have been…here.  Reagan in particular is notorious for taking sips of my Cheerwine, some authorized and others not.  Thus the agents of contagion stand revealed.  The agents of contagion who are now at Brittan’s house.  Whoops.  At least Brittan’s pool is chlorinated, unless it isn’t.

Interestingly, I haven’t felt as fatigued as I would have expected.  I’ve had a nasty headache for ten days so I’m not up for much that involves moving my head, and I feel a little like a crab in a pot what with running a fever for so long, but I’m not incredibly tired.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad.  Perhaps it means my native energy is so abundant that it can be greatly depleted without apparent effect, much like the Russian army.  Or perhaps I had so little native energy to begin with that I don’t notice the rest of it being gone.  I suppose in that case I will keep running on obstinance and arrogance as I have been.  August 25 remains the date for Plan Vier in either event.

August 11, 2010

Almost Made It Through

Filed under: Me Myself and I,War and Battle Discussion — lbej @ 15:36
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Hors de combat for ten days now, and running a fever for at least eight days straight.  The girls and I have been alternating between The Civil War and Friends.  Today we doubled up on Civil War episodes, and we did the one with the Gettysburg Address, which I knew could be dicey.  I don’t like to upset the girls by crying because they associate crying exclusively with sadness, not so much with awed, patriotic reverence.  I thought I remembered that the entire speech was recited in the episode, and so I allowed myself a bit of surrepticious tearing up in advance during the account of the battle in hopes that it would dry me out for the real thing.  But oh no.  I really wanted the girls to listen to this perfect speech carefully, but I don’t think they heard any of it because they were focused on why is Daddy sobbing uncontrollably into his pillow.  I didn’t hear it either except for the last line (the best line), but I’ve heard it before.  I was considering watching it again with them but instead I’m going to save that for the next time I’ve got something in my eye and I need to flush it out.  They’ll just have to watch it while I sit upstairs and love President Lincoln from afar.

August 8, 2010

Choosing A Different Corps

Filed under: Comic Books,Me Myself and I — lbej @ 23:55
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So blood starts pouring out of my nose this evening as it is sometimes wont to do, but I realize that it may have been the result of a simple misunderstanding between my clothing and my body.  I have had a spontaneous nosebleed in the last few months I would say four, perhaps five times.  Don’t be concerned were you so inclined; it happened at least that many times per week before I quit drinking, and those gushers would take hours to control as opposed to five minutes just now.  Going forward I should be able to lower the incidence even further, because I am going to get a new shirt.   You see, I observed  that three of the most 4-5 recent nosebleed episodes occurred when I was wearing my Red Lantern shirt.  Red Lanterns, as everyone knows, eject all the blood from their bodies when they take possession of their rings, much as Laira here is doing:

Clearly, I’m giving my nose the wrong idea with the shirt.   I must nonetheless give a nod of recognition to my face on account of the vascular effort, however misguided it may have been.  I need to pick a different corps–and not green, because too many people know what it means and will try to talk to me.  I tried yellow before, but that didn’t take.  I’m thinking maybe indigo, because then when people ask me what it means I can honestly say I don’t know, compassion and gourds on sticks?  And then they’ll go away.  Maybe I should go Star Sapphire instead, see how it feels to bend some gender.  At any rate, for the rest of the evening I decided to wear my 1-up shirt.

If it’s Shirt Destiny Day I might as well put in for an extra life.

August 5, 2010

Plan Vier

Filed under: Me Myself and I — lbej @ 17:49
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It has now been seven months since my final victory over professional success, and I have been busy.  Many spiders are dead, and so, perhaps, are many of my own worst impulses.  I can’t feel them anymore.  I gave myself time, and time gave me peace.  It’s really pretty neat how that works.  The house is better, the family is better, and I am better.  And for perhaps the first extended period of time in my life, the progress I have made has gained more for me and those I love than it has cost.  It’s been really great, and it would be enough…if it were enough.

I will never again do what I used to do for a living.  There was nothing unethical, there was just a lot of stuff that didn’t make a damn bit of sense.  Too many times we couldn’t do the smart thing because there was a policy that said we couldn’t.  Even more often we were forced to do a stupid thing because the policy said we had to.  Somehow, I was okay with that…until I got to write the policies myself and see the way they were approved.  I didn’t understand how arbitrary it was until I was the arbiter.  Again, nothing unethical to it, just nothing sensible either.  How many levels of approval will be enough for the regulators?  Four?  Five?  Let’s make it five even though we know no one above the third level of approval will understand or care about what they’re approving.  Where should we set the risk limit?  $2 million?  $20 million?  Let’s make it $20 million even though we know the LOB manager will freak out and shut everything down if the unrealized loss gets near $200 thousand.  That’s how it went.  The point was to comply, not to make money or manage risk.  I had no interest in making a bunch of rules because the people who make rules say we don’t have enough rules.  But I was a good risk manager.  And the way a good company rewards you for doing a good job with your work is by promoting you.  Yay, right?  Thing is, the more you get promoted, the further your career path takes you from the actual work you were good at doing.  Senior managers don’t do anything, they lead the people who do.  Actually, they lead the people who lead the people who do.  And they have lots and lots of meetings to talk about people who are doing things they would have no idea how to do themselves.  Oh, but it pays.  It pays well to do this particular sort of nothing for a big company.  And if you like managing people, I see how it could be satisfying.  But I don’t and it wasn’t, so no thanks.  I also have the problem that I don’t have any use for managers who don’t know their stuff and aren’t bothered by their ignorance.  I don’t take direction well from people who don’t know as much or more than I do, and as I mentioned, the more senior a manager is, the less she is likely to know about anything in particular.  The perverse effect of that is that the higher I rose in my company, the more senior my managers became, and the less use I had for them.  If you don’t know what to do, don’t tell me what to do.  I can go back, but I don’t want to.  I don’t want to do things just because I can, I want to do things because only I can.

So I used to write books.  Probably you know that.  But if you know that, you also know that was before, so it’s weird to think about writing again.  I’m not going down the “alcohol is my muse” nonsense road, not even a little bit.  I don’t think being a drunk helped me write the three books I wrote.  I did the first one before I started drinking, so that’s out the window.  But it will still be weird to do it again.  My brain got completely rebuilt, much like an engine, and until I really floor it there’s a part of me that wonders whether I’m just going to be sitting there like Ben Quadinaros in the Boonta Eve podrace.

You’re welcome for the greatest simile ever that just happened.  If you need to rewatch Episode I to get the full sense of it, please do so.  It’s better than you remember.  Not good, but better.

Now it so happens I have an idea I might can do something with.  I don’t know if I can do the things with an idea that I could before, but I’d like to know.  So that’s what’s happening.  Of course, I’m not writing the first paragraph tomorrow.  I put a lot of research and mental preparation into building the structure of a book, and that’s got to come first.  I’m giving myself until August 25 to get ready for even that part of it.  I’ll buy some pencils, have some dreams, stuff like that.  The girls go back to school that day, and I’m going to drop them off in the morning, come home, sit down in my office, and do what I do.  Or did.  I’m calling it (the effort, not the book) Plan VierVier is German for four, as this would be my fourth book.  To my non-German readers, vier is pronounced like the English word fear.  And that is emphatically not a coincidence, as I’ve definitely got a little trepidation happening.  It can stay, no problem, but so far there’s been hesitation, too, and that’s what’s got to go.

To my German reader, if I have one, I would like to ask if I might borrow the tank some time.  Don’t be coy; I know it’s under that tarp in the sub-basement.  I won’t tell France, I promise.  I just want to show it to some spider friends of mine and then I’ll give it right back.

August 4, 2010

Or I’m Sick

Filed under: Me Myself and I — lbej @ 16:32
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All the sadness is still very sad, but my temperature was 101 when I just took it, so perhaps I’m not crazy after all.  Ha ha no, I am.  But not just crazy.  Does that make anybody else think of the time Monica was sick and she tried to seduce Chandler only she was rubbing her neck with Vaporub instead of massage oil?

Maybe I should stop downloading old Friends episodes.

The One With The Episode Of Friends

Severe headache, nausea, and dizziness set upon me this past weekend and I have effectively been out of action for the better part of three days now.  Jenny reckoned yesterday to be the worst I’ve felt since I quit drinking.  Not positive where she got that from, but maybe the part where I shut myself in the downstairs bathroom for an hour-and-a-half because it’s the only room in the house that doesn’t have a window.  Happily, yesterday morning seems to have been the peak of the physical weakness; I felt significantly better by the end of the day and am better still this morning.  Some of it could be owing to slight fiddling with blood pressure medication my doctors are in the process of doing, but I doubt that’s the problem.  Sometimes the foundation moves and it doesn’t matter where you put the furniture.

I keep the visible, conscious levels of my mind rigorously and deliberately well-ordered.  I’ve always done this; it’s what has allowed me to pile up the immediate and intermediate accomplishments throughout my life without regard to what purpose any of it does or does not serve long-term. So it was that academically and professionally I have been all-everything with flying colors no matter what and/or why.  This is not a strategically sound approach.  It goes against human nature to be able to win and to conquer and yet decline to do so, but if you aren’t strategically disciplined enough to decline you can find that you’re administering the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights for fifty years or you’re a Senior VP at the company you only got a job with because you couldn’t move until your wife finished grad school ten years ago.  (One of those is me and the other one is Israel, in case you didn’t get that.)  So the tendency is to win persistently and indiscriminately and stay at least one step ahead of the implications.  But to quote Bobby again, all the while the slime was under the building.  And even though I keep moving, I’m not totally clueless.  I know that the foundation is shifting, but I figure there’s not so much I can do about it and I’m pretty good at ignoring it and keeping my eyes up.  The unfortunate consequence of this is that even if I have got a solid handle on what’s in front of me at any given time, I may or may not have come to terms with the tectonics of my situation.  Thus the context sometimes changes around me while I’m not paying attention—I look off in the distance and instead of Pangaea, there’s the Atlantic Ocean.  That’s what happened this week.

I finished up Operation Mortal Coil—all my mother’s things have now gone wherever they’re going.  All the rooms in my house that were full of boxes and furniture are now empty again.  So, yay, right?  Two-and-a-half intense months of learning things I didn’t want to know and seeing things I didn’t want to see, and it’s finally over.  It’s a win, a clear win.  I had a duty to perform and I did it.  My mother is gone.  But it seems that something shifted while I was sorting duplicate Kenny Chesney CDs.  I was starting to feel like crap Saturday, and even worse on Sunday, and then Monday night we were watching the episode of Friends where Phoebe thinks her mom has been reincarnated as a cat and she’s carrying it around and talking to it, and that—that!—was apparently too much.  Just like that I went from my mother is gone to Mom is gone, which is a whole different thing, and not so good for the composure.

I want to be clear about something: I don’t have any regrets about what I did or didn’t do at the end of Mom’s life.  I know some of my siblings do have regrets, wishing they had been here and done something different, or even wishing I had done something different since I was here.  I don’t think they should regret anything but that’s for them to decide.  The way I see it is Mom was always speeding and never steering.  She wouldn’t slow down and she wouldn’t ask for guidance when she didn’t know where to go.  She wrecked again and again, and if you live your life that way, eventually you’re going to smash it all up bad enough that you don’t get to walk away.  I didn’t want her to leave Pulaski, where she had friends and community and a support system.  I didn’t want her to marry that energy-sucking creature and move to Mississippi.  I didn’t want her to sit around all day in his house in Mississippi, or in my house, or in her rental house here, and do nothing but watch Law & Order reruns and do Sudoku, declining and dissipating instead of making any effort to live.  But I could not order her to do otherwise.  Katie and I intervened as much as we could given the power and authority we had.  Katie, especially, went above and beyond for Mom.  In the end, it’s for what Katie had to do and see that I feel truly sorry.  And me?  Well, my Mom didn’t like me, folks.  She said as much to Katie, and she made it clear to me many times over many years.  I was not the simpering little boy she wanted, and I’m glad of it because of what that would mean for me and my wife and children, but there it is.  That didn’t erase my obligation to her as her eldest son, but it did define and limit the way we could interact.  I would help her but I wouldn’t enable her, and she resented me.  I see the way Katie is with her parents, the sane, adult relationships, friendships, they have, and the contrast could not be more striking to me.  Katie gave Mom as much advice as she could, and Katie and I worked hard together to craft that advice for maximum effect, all the while knowing she’d disregard most of it.  But Mom would not take advice directly from me, not ever.  I didn’t have the ability to persuade her to change.  To have taken more aggressive action would have required taking away her ability to make day-to-day decisions, and I couldn’t have done that without her consent or, more likely, a court declaring her incompetent and bypassing her (clearly negligent) husband to give me legal authority.  I didn’t mean for her to die, not at all, and certainly not like she did.  But I didn’t mean for her to do about 90 percent of what she did in the 16-plus years since Dad died.  I’m not feeling my best right now, but even I’m not crazy enough to feel guilty because I didn’t use power I didn’t have.

I don’t want it to hurt that my Mom is gone, but it’s not up to me.  It took me two-and-half months and Phoebe’s stupid cat to realize that and I’d have ignored it forever if I could have.  Maybe I got that from her.

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