Tools of the Trade

I wrote last week that I’d started a new job. The intervening free-time between then and now has been something of a whirlwind.

And that this is a new venture for me, to be a Contractor. Having worked with and supervised Contractors before, often on some job-sites, they’d be “that guy”:¬†belonging, but not really belonging.

Not so for me, with this new outfit. They value each employee, and are small enough to recognise the contributions that each of us makes. There is a warmth and a camaraderie to the workplace that is refreshing. We enjoy a firm competitive advantage with our products, and we all are working to keep it that way.

I have also seen the care, ownership, and personal responsibility that everyone takes with everything that goes out the door: I was looking over a gimbal in a calibration mount, and chatting briefly with the engineer.

“This one’s going flying tomorrow”, the engineer told me with great pride in his voice. He then released the gimbal from the mount and packed it into a case with all the care with which a father handles a newborn.

I recognized it: He was working in his gifts, with the God-given Tools of his Trade. And it was a marvelous thing to see.

I went back to my desk, back to the mild frustration I’ve been having. I’m working on a User’s Guide, and I’m having to do it in a workaround manner. I can see the time I’m wasting, and being a high-performance person, it bothers me. I like to deliver value for my salary dollar, and I can see the gap between where I am and where I could be. It’s because I don’t yet have the particular Tools of my Trade. I’m being held up by new Information Services systems; one day, my write access to my working folder quit. It. Just. Quit. Working. I have the very great fortune to be The Very First Guy through a large number of simultaneously-newly-online, brand-new systems; and from the amazingly intricate contortions of the the results, I accept that it’s now my duty to find all the hangups. All at once.

As I sat and wrote a first draft of this post last night, I could feel God’s hand upon my shoulder, saying, “You are exactly where I need you to be.”

I will comment in a rather more direct manner that I am Case Number One, in front of more than fifty others, all in the same situation.

So in the meantime…. It’s been two weeks, working with the equivalent of a hammer and a dull screwdriver, but I am getting work done. I’m ready to rock and roll, doing typesetting and document layout; but I do feel God’s hand on my shoulder, with a gentle reminder that his timing is always perfect.

And I want to acknowledge the great efforts of the IS folks to get all of this resolved. Once they get it ‘fixed’ for me, others will be zipped right through all these difficulties. It’ll be kind of like when you’re pulling a stubborn nail from a board: it resists you greatly in the beginning, then all of a sudden, it gets easier, then next thing you know, it’s out.

But it’s been trying in the interim. I’m just admitting it.

I pray the same prayer when I’m impatient: “Lord, you obviously have a lesson for me to learn here. Let me learn this lesson quickly and deeply. Let me bring your wisdom into the core of me. Let me go forward with the change that this wisdom brings. And Lord, please… can it happen soon?

Amen.

First day in the new job…

Okay, so sometimes things don’t go as we humans have planned. Especially when my new employer is switching several HR systems and practices, all at once.

But I’m used to this; having been a pioneer in several aspects of my old jobs. I’m used to working ‘beyond the known edge’.

(Wow, that sounds ‘Star Trekky’, doesn’t it…) But hey, I’m an old ST geek…

When I worked in Corporate Television, we frequently did ‘Internal Only’ stuff; things that sometimes made us roll our eyes, but we did it, knowing it was something that might have been (at the time), a proof-of-concept, that took us farther as a Corporation, and maybe did some good for everyone as a whole.

Successes and failures, I cannot discuss. Darn.

But I have to tell you, this new job has this same spine-tingling feeling of doing something great that will help other people in a positive way. 

And today there was the unfortunate red-tape matter of Access. To be able to do work (God’s) work in several documentation areas. I need access. But because of the red tape involved, it’s not happened yet. 

Tomorrow is another day. And I just look at this as God’s pause to lay upon me a renewal of the gifts which he has given me, and a renewal of the directions in which he has always pointed me.

May I do well, both for my new Company and for all who would benefit.

A Last Morning of Quiet

Following the advice of a friend whom I lost to Cancer about a dozen years ago, I came out to enjoy the quiet of the morning.

I had just ‘been around to be a friend’, and had been talking with him about the need to get outdoors and participate in Creation, by watching the sun set.

He agreed, and then took the lesson for both of us a bit further: “Do get out and watch the sun rise! Light, Glory, and Hope return to the world in a sunrise! It is a reminder that things are never totally lost.”

I missed the sunrise this morning, but the sun hadn’t risen but a little from behind the mountain. My chair was dripping with dew, my coffee was hot and black, and bees were humming industriously nearby, working the blackberry blossoms.

Dara, our rescued dog, came by to offer love and to be my “a-boy-and-his” dog, and I had but a moment of perfect staging to grab a shot:

I go back to full-timing soon, so these last few mornings become precious. It’s a great gig, for a great outfit. And there will be new relationships to build; another reason to briefly look back…

Charles and I had an interesting relationship: as Head Design Engineer, his word was pretty much law; and as a Technical Writer, I interpreted what he did so it could be used by Designers and System Integrators. I learned humility pretty quickly, and through him, I learned how to ask the right questions in a way that wouldn’t waste his time. We built a mutual respect for each other, and importantly, for each other’s craft.

I thought of you this morning, Charles.

I can only begin to imagine the conversations which you and He, who invented and created all forces and effects of Physics, may be having.

Gathering and Worship

These last few Sundays, as I have eased back into being on Church Council, I have noticed the spirit in which we gather. 

As I was outside tonight (in near hundred-degree heat) doing devotions, it slowly became clear: God calls us to gather, and then to worship. 

First, we are called to gather. There is a deep Spirit which goes back through the ages, which calls us together. 

We come from near and far, to learn little things about each other, and to be updated: How is your wife doing? Good to see you back-how was your trip? Hey, I saw a dump truck by your old house… 
We share each other’s joys and burdens, small and large sorrows, small and large triumphs. 

And then we bring these stories before God.

Each carrying a part of the burdens and joys of our friends, we lay them all before the One. 

We sing, we confess, we hold each other up. We pray for our leaders, our world, and for each other. 

And we all ask as part of the Body of Christ, “Hear our prayer.”

We leave our differences at the outer doors, and inside we are all of one heart, and of one Body. 

And after Coffee Hour, once we leave the Social Hall, we’re free to argue politics all the way to the parking lot. 

Hey fellas, don’cha think that’s just a little low…?

I had just sat down to begin my devotions a bit early last night when on the far side of the mountain came the rhythmic thunder of low-flying rotary-wing aircraft.

Military.

Really low, coming really fast.

Then the first of three Apaches was roaring overhead, at not more than a thousand feet, and going like his hair was on fire. Second one, similar height and similar speed.

I grabbed the phone and made a photo, just in time to catch the third one, blasting along behind. Guess my news-shooter instincts are still good:

You can just see the leader and the second in the flight in this shot.

Oddly enough, it was almost 27 years ago, when we were building this house and I was outside one afternoon doing cleanup, when a similar thing happened.

The trees on the mountain weren’t as tall, and you could easily see the top of the mountain. Ours was one of just a very few houses, and in the evenings, you could see the huge herd of deer making their way across the ridges and the mountain.

I heard something coming, and turned to look. The deer began to scatter, and suddenly an Apache pops up over the mountain, they’re flying nap-of-the-Earth. The guy is no higher than 300 feet, and he’s coming like a freight train.

With a full war load. Rocket canisters, missiles, nothing’s missing.

And just by coincidence, he’s flying straight at me.

Yeah, it took me a couple minutes to catch my breath.

Ready… Set… Oh, wait.

I was all ready and set up to go to work this week, but that’s not happening, so far.

I’m working through a great Staffing Agency which handles a lot of temp and contract professionals. These folks are phenomenal in their client and labor interactions. Their agents have exactly the right touch, and it’s obvious that they value you and support you as an individual. I can’t say enough about how well they handle things for their clientele.

But they’ve just moved to a new Payment Agency. And it looks like I’m one of the first to be run through the new system. So many times in jobs past, I was the first to do, or try to do, something. Nowadays, we call it the ‘bleeding edge’, and looking about, I find the situation to be familiar.

And… Payment Agencies… Oh yes, this is definitely familiar ground, from my days when I was in television. I’ve seen it from the client side. We’d cast someone, make the call, shoot the video or record the audio. Then we’d agree on a set number of hours for this call, the person would submit that to their Payment Agency, and the Agency would invoice us. Accounts Payable would handle the distribution, and meanwhile we in Video Services would be post-producing the program.

At that time, the Payment Agency was to us like Alice’s rabbit-hole. Things go in, and we’d have to trust that they’d come out somewhere.¬†In general terms, ‘the entertainment industry’ uses payment agencies to make sure a very long list of people get paid, for when Union talent is used in production. It gets even more convoluted when the talent signs a contract that includes residuals or a piece of the distribution. From talking with various talent folks, this was never pretty from their side of things, and it was seldom prompt for them, then. This was because that payment to them went through a number of ‘splits’. I’m going to list a typical set of the splits (as I recall them), in order, here:

  • The talent agency
  • The talent’s agent
  • The Union
  • The talent’s Union rep
  • And finally, the talent themselves get paid.

Each took a percentage, and each took time to process things, as that payment went from hand to hand. Often, a lot of both.

The saddest thing for us as a talent employer was that if we called Union talent for a program, it could take up to three months for that person to get paid. Meanwhile, the poor guy is starving, waiting for the check to come.

That was then, this is now. Now we have things like internet-based processing, which is of course much, much faster.

Fortunately for me, I don’t have all those splits and percentages to worry about. Just the setup time. Which has taken all of this week, so far. The analogy of Alice’s rabbit-hole is holding amazingly true. And here I was, hoping to start the new job this week.

But even after all the initial setup, there will still be paperwork. I have to have a set of documents witnessed and Notarized, then send them in. “In the tunnel there are many objects and things, and the walls are filled with books and jars…”

I pray that my work here as one of the first will make it smoother for those who follow.

So meanwhile, somebody has to go first, right? I guess God has selected me for that role. Maybe I’m helping others even before I get to go do this job.

About which I still remain energised and excited.

And can’t wait to start, so that I can again be making a positive difference.

Remembering my father on Memorial Day

My Dad served in WWII. 

He found a way to serve, in a way that did not violate his faith at the time. He was a Mormon (then), and therefore had restrictions of conscience upon how he could serve. 

But he found a way. Eventually becoming Master Sergeant of Patton’s motor pool (many stories there), but when the battalion was in motion, he took the most hazardous job in the column: driving a Low-Boy (a drop-center trailer) with a tank on the back. Everybody and his sister waited to kill that transporter, because it meant disabling of that tank. 

There was a Jeep both in front and in back, with soldiers whose job it was to protect that tank. Dad told me a couple stories about everyday encounters, but only hinted at the treachery and violence which was attempted. Suffice to say that reports from Vietnam were the same or even a bit milder. 

Dad was there, all through the invasion of Sicily, Anzio, and finally Italy, serving in a nonviolent role until he was “damn near killed by a bunch of drunk assholes” by being run over with a halftrack in Paris, while trying to get a decent Christmas dinner for his division. 

His back was broken in several places, and these well-meaning but drunk soldiers picked him up and put him in the back of a Jeep, to transport him to the nearest field hospital. 

Dad came home on a hospital ship, and lived the rest of his life with two pieces of steel in his back. That didn’t stop him from meeting Mom, and from loving us two kids in a way that valued our lives. 

I can’t say more than two words: 

Thanks, Dad.