Friday, July 31, 2009

A cluttered desk is a beautiful thing

I hate an organized desk. On rare occasions I had one. It was my first day in a new office. But it never lasted. After two days my papers, folders, and books were everywhere. And I dared anybody to straighten up my desk.
People with an organized desk are disgustingly proud of the accomplishment. They are apt to say piously, “A messy desk indicates a cluttered mind. A neat desk suggests an organized person.” That is nonsense and I can prove it.
My philosophy is that a messy desk is a sign of a hard-working person who is good at multi-tasking. Why settle for mono-tasking when you can do several things at once? Doing one task at a time requires much less creativity.
I know the argument against multi-tasking. If you focus on one project at a time, you can get your work done more quickly. You will be much more efficient if you will concentrate only on one task – the one in front of you.
But that approach can make work rather dull. It removes the challenge of trying to do three things at once. We all know that the truly brilliant person is the one who while talking to you on the desk phone can put you on hold, talk to someone else on their cell phone, and at the same time carry on a conversation with a visitor in his office.
Now that impresses people, just as a cluttered desk convinces people that you are capable of working on five projects at a time. The clutter convinces people not that you are disorganized but that you have amazing creativity.
It takes a lot of skill to find something on my desk. I have piles everywhere but I know what pile to look in when I need to find something. Only a person with my kind of competence could find a lost document as quickly as I can. With me, hope springs eternal; nothing is ever lost. It is here somewhere so I keep rambling until it shows up. Sooner or later it will turn up. The lost will be found.
The best way for me to lose something is to file it. If I file it, I forget where it is filed. The other day I searched for the manual for my riding lawn mower. Since it is a John Deere, I looked under “J.” It was not there. I looked under “M” but no luck. Well, maybe I filed it under “G” for grass. Wrong again. Finally I looked under “L,” and there it was.
I gave up on filing cabinets. I prefer now to stack folders on the floor around my office. You can lose stuff in a filing cabinet. I came across some stuff the other day I had not seen in 44 years.
I am glad I am not looking for a pay raise. At my age pay raises are a joke. When my pay changes it goes down not up. A recent study reveals that most employers factor in an employee’s level of organization when considering annual reviews and pay increases.
One company even dispatches workers to look in the car window of an applicant’s car to see if it is clean while the interview is being held. If there is clutter on the car floor, this indicates the applicant does not have organizational skills.
That company would never hire me. My car is cluttered with papers I may need while I am away from the office. Ride somewhere with me and you will have to wait five minutes while I move my stuff to the trunk or the back seat.
Any fool knows that if you want to find a highly skilled, competent, hard-working person, you look for a messy car and a messy desk. The reason is obvious. The person with a neat desk does not really want to work. And inside the drawers of that neat desk are piles of paper that need attention. The person who thrives in clutter is the one who can get the job done.
Somewhere on my desk is a new book written by Dave Crenshaw. It is titled The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing it all” Gets Nothing Done. I hid it under a pile of papers. I don’t plan to read it. He is entitled to his opinion. I am content with mine. A cluttered desk is a beautiful thing and brilliant people can do three things at the same time. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. + + +

Sunday, July 26, 2009

If I Never Saw the Sea Again

What if I never saw the sea again?
What if I never heard the waves hit the shore?
What if I never felt my feet upon the sand?
What if I could never come here anymore?
Yet life is filled with moments like these,
When I see the boats racing by
And feel the gentle breeze
And watch the seagulls fly.
May your presence fill me with a thankful heart, I pray.
Even if I never come again to the sea
At least I have today.

Dean Albritton
(Written by the sea, February 24, 2009)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Family Enjoys Sharing Memories

On the 4th of July the family of Seth and Neva Johnson gathered once again for a meal and sharing time. The usual crowd of about 150 people showed up. My Uncle Wylie P. Johnson passed out copies of a book he had published titled Memories of Carol Villa, the Land, People, and Home of Seth and Neva Kate Johnson. Several of my cousins and other family members shared in the book their memories of Carol Villa. What follows is what I shared from my own rich memories of my grandparents, their grand home, and family experiences:
Family gatherings at Carol Villa were exciting when I was growing up. Caroline, my mother, was the oldest child of Seth and Neva Johnson. Born in Newnan, Georgia, in 1902, she grew up in Montgomery. The family lived in that large, majestic home south of the Atlanta Highway that became know affectionately as Carol Villa. Mother had nine brothers and four sisters. They all called her “Sister.”
Our modest home in Elmore County was comfortable but nothing compared to the stately home of my grandparents. Its massive front porch with white columns offered an impressive view of the large cotton fields on both sides of the dirt road leading to the house from the Atlanta Highway.
The grand old home had quite a history. Built in 1838, and expanded in 1860, it sat proudly amidst towering Oak trees for 128 years. Having served its purpose the splendid structure was finally torn down in the mid-1960s, giving way to the homes now called the Carol Villa subdivision.
The large Johnson plantation enabled my grandparents to raise a large family and have a good if not affluent life. Thirteen children grew to adulthood. They produced more than 50 grandchildren of whom I was the oldest. The number attending reunions grew dramatically every year.
The most important annual gathering was usually the Saturday nearest the fourth of July. Hot weather was no problem since we had never heard about air conditioning. High ceilings in the old home place did assuage the effect of the heat, as did several big ceiling fans. When the temperature seemed unbearable we could stir the air with the old funeral home fans.
I never knew my paternal grandfather. He died years before I was born. Since my mother’s family was close-knit I did get to know her parents well. Her mother was “Grandmama.” Her father was “Papa.” Grandmama took care of the home; Papa handled the farm. Like many cattlemen he grew a lot of cotton and corn as well as the hay needed for the cattle.
Papa taught me one lesson I have never forgotten. When we were walking in the cow pasture one day he pointed to a fresh pile of cow manure and said, “Walter Junior, don’t cut your foot.” He meant not to step in it. That became later a principle of life for me. It is important to be careful not to step in the manure that we often find on life’s journey. Some of it is not created by cows.
Papa’s pump house was one of my favorite spots. It was in the back yard, not far from the steps leading up to the kitchen. I loved to go inside the pump house and listen to the old water pump wheezing, coughing, and sputtering as it struggled to pull cold water out of a deep well. I think it was powered by a gasoline engine.
It was always fun to play with my cousins, especially Mickey, Buddy, Buck, Randall, and Seth Arthur. We shared many adventures during those daylong reunions. One of our favorite sports was to find a yellow jacket nest, disturb those stinging devils, and run for our lives. The slowest ones occasionally got stung. Our uncles, older and wiser, always lectured us about upsetting wasps and yellow jackets. Then they would treat our stings with wet tobacco from a cigarette or a cigar. We were proud of those stings. They were our badges of courage. We figured our bravery impressed the girls.
Every reunion was an occasion to romp and play in the hay barn. Behind one barn we found a good place to hide and smoke rabbit tobacco. That was exciting until that sad July day when carelessly we burned down the barn. I say “we” but evidently it was I who burned down the barn, since none of my cousins remembers helping me. I keep hoping that one day one of them will admit smoking with me that day. As always, hope springs eternal. I remember my dad gave me a good whipping with his mean, black belt. Dad blamed me more than anyone else since I was the oldest. I was never as sure about that as he was. But it taught me a good lesson. That was the last day I ever smoked rabbit tobacco.
One of my uncles (whose identity I will not reveal) taught me and one of my cousins something else at one reunion when I was about 12 or 13. He had several bottles of whiskey in the trunk of his car and offered us a drink. Since my dad was a teetotaler I had no idea how strong a drink of Four Roses straight bourbon whiskey would be. It took my breath away and convinced me my dad had the right idea about alcohol. I had no trouble following his example of abstinence. My uncle did me a favor.
One of the problems of growing up in a big family like ours was the teasing our uncles imposed on us. Like it or not we had to learn how to deal with friendly ridicule and sarcasm. They taught us many lessons, sometimes by embarrassing us. If we were too loud, or impolite, or unwilling to wait our turn, we got a stern reprimand. No sin was left unnoticed or unpunished.
In my late teens I brought my girl friend to the family gatherings. Having grown up in a small, quiet family with one sister and no brothers, Dean was shocked by my loud, boisterous family. She blushed in utter humiliation when Uncle Philip said, “Walter Junior, your girl friend is cute. Where did a country boy like you find her? Has she let you kiss her yet?” Both of us blushed as everyone laughed.
Grandmama more than made up for the teasing we endured. She made Dean feel welcome in her home. The two of them developed a special relationship that lasted until Grandmama died of cancer not long before we were married. Dean admired the quiet strength and strong faith of this courageous woman who faced her impending death without whimpering. Grandmama showed us how to face the harshness of life without losing faith in the love of God. I still remember how scared I was when she asked me to pray at her bedside not long before she died.
Every family brought lots of food to each gathering. It was like dinner on the grounds at a country church. Desserts were plentiful but the main dessert was homemade ice cream. Even warm banana pudding was no match for the ice cream. When my cousins and I were old enough, it was our job to turn the cranks on the ice cream freezers. Our uncles saw to it that we turned those cranks as long as we could. Then one of them would turn the crank a few more times to show us how weak we were.
Many of us remember how scared we were of Fling Down, the ghost that lived in the attic. Such memories are fun to remember and share. One thing we can all agree on is that reminiscing about Carol Villa is truly good for the soul. @

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Good Friends

Good friends are one of life’s most precious treasures

Many of the world’s animals hang out together. On the farm growing up I saw cows, horses, hogs, sheep, goats and chickens socializing in groups, large and small.
What I never saw were two animals that seemed to be best friends. No cow or horse ever nudged me on the arm and said, “This (cow or horse) is my good friend.”
Bring dogs into the picture and I reckon you could make a case, though a flimsy one, for the idea that two dogs sometimes appear to be friends. But mostly they just run and play together.
The concept of friendship, especially loving friendship, is reserved for human relationships. Human beings can develop friendships that the so-called lower animals can never enjoy.
Lovers of cats and dogs sometimes press me to believe that a human being and an animal can have a strong, loving friendship. That I cannot embrace. A strong attachment, but not one that is deserving of the word “friendship.” People can be friends. People can love their friends.
When a person tells me, “I love my dog,” I understand that to be a misuse of the word “love.” People may indeed love an animal, but they would be wiser if they “liked” animals and loved people.
“But,” someone will object, “My dog is my best friend!”
No, dear, I must point out, your dog cannot be your friend. Dogs are incapable of friendship. Your dog cannot love you. Your horse cannot love you. Your cat cannot love you. People can love. Animals cannot.
Still another protest is made: “My dog would die for me!” Perhaps. But it will not be because your dog loves you. Call it instinct. Call it loyalty. Call it whatever you wish, but do not call it love.
Your dog may lick your hand, sit in your lap, eat food off your dinner plate, but your dog is unable to love you. Your dog may defend you and risk death trying to protect you, but love will not be its motivation.
Your dog may be “like” a companion and go with you wherever you go. You may be so attached to your dog that you consider the two of you inseparable. You may talk to your dog as though the dog is a person, but that will never cause the dog to have human capabilities.
When I was a boy I had a Shetland pony. I named her Josephine. If you had asked me back then, I would have told you that I loved Josephine. We were inseparable. I rode her every day. I fed her, rubbed her, and even talked to her.
I also had a beautiful Bulldog. With little imagination I named him “Bull.” For several years Bull was my buddy, my constant companion. We romped and played together. He licked my face. I fed him and talked to him. Bull growled at strangers, but he recognized me even in the dark and played the role of my protector.
Then I grew up. I met a woman named Dean and fell in love with her. I formed strong friendships with people who became, and remain, dear to me. Finally, I realized my affection for a horse and a dog was in a different category from the love I felt for my family, my wife, my children, and my friends.
Roy Rogers liked Trigger. He liked Trigger a lot. But he loved Dale Evans. Dale returned Roy’s love in ways Trigger never could. Roy and Dale were friends and lovers in a dimension beyond anything Trigger could ever comprehend.
Now I am an old man. A lot of things have changed, and my life keeps changing every day. I am glad I once had a horse and a dog. I liked them; they were important to me. I enjoyed a strong attachment to Josephine and Bull, but they were animals, nothing more.
In the twilight of my life I think sometimes of an old poem that went like this:
“False friends are like autumn leaves, found everywhere. True friends are like diamonds, precious but rare.”
I realize now that my friends are more precious than diamonds. And I would not trade one of them for a thousand show dogs or all the grand walking horses in Tennessee.
Who can estimate the value of one good friend? A good friend will never lick your face, but when the chips are down, the love of a good friend will be worth more to you than all the gold in Fort Knox (if there is any left!).
Now go walk your dog. Enjoy your dog. Ride your horse. Milk your cow. Slop the hogs. Feed the chickens. Like animals to your heart’s content.
But love your friends and thank God for them. They are one of your greatest treasures. + + +

Monday, July 20, 2009

The journey may be hard but encouragement helps us endure

THE recent serious illness of my wife caused me to take a fresh look at my priorities. Such wake-up calls are always helpful. Human nature being what it is we all tend to lose focus on what really matters. The jarring prospect of losing someone you love dearly can clear the cobwebs from your brain.
Putting first things first is never easy. But it is possible. And it is necessary if we are to live well. Now and then we must stop the merry-go-round, look in the mirror, and take an honest look at how we are living. Are the choices we are making everyday helping us to make the most of our brief span of life?
Trouble reminds us that the journey of life can be long and hard. None of us is immune from suffering. Our personal problems may be difficult but we quickly discover that others are hurting too. To be human is to suffer.
Life is hard. But it is also a mixture of good and bad. There is pain and there is pleasure. We may be laughing one day and crying the next. As we grow up we learn to accept the bitter with the sweet, the rain with the sunshine. Reasonably mature people find a way to handle this mixture. Otherwise they become cynical, allowing the bad stuff to rob them of their joy.
Maturity does not come easily. It comes gradually, usually the result of a lifelong search. None of us reaches it without help. The help we all need is that strange thing we call encouragement. It is hard to describe but when you receive it, you know you have been given something more valuable than money.
Oddly, the only people who can offer us encouragement are fellow strugglers, friends who step outside their own troubles long enough to come alongside us and cheer us up. So often the people who come to comfort us when we are hurting are themselves in pain. The fact that they do not speak of their own pain makes their comfort all the more wonderful.
Encouragement is like oxygen; we will die without it. People do not die from loneliness; they die from the lack of encouragement. Everybody needs somebody who will encourage them to persevere and not give up. But we soon learn that it is foolish to expect encouragement from everyone. Those who become cynical are simply unable to encourage others.
All of us have some people in our lives who are examiners rather than encouragers. Examiners constantly evaluate us. They enjoy pointing out what is wrong with us. Examiners try to convince us we are inadequate and that we will never make it no matter how hard we try.
Encouragers offer us affirmation instead of criticism. They are our cheerleaders. They give us hope that “we can do it.” Their praise inspires us to believe in ourselves and to reach for the best that we can be. And it is good news that every person has the potential to be an encourager to some fellow struggler. Each of us can choose to live as an examiner or an encourager.
During recent days of soul-searching many of my encouragers have come alongside us with hope and comfort. They have laughed with us, hugged us, prayed for us, and made us feel loved. They have generously blessed us with food and flowers. They have put their own pain aside long enough to care for us. And they have made a profound difference. We have been cheered far beyond our deserving. Love does indeed ease one’s pain.
Once more Dean and I have been reminded that though the journey home is sometimes long and hard, the loving encouragement of friends helps us endure. And what is true for us is true for others. As strength returns, we must be up and doing the things that matter most. As long as we have breath, we too can make the hard journey of others more bearable by offering the precious gift of encouragement. Doing so will help us to put first things first. + + +