Small Assignments


I set a goal of writing three blog posts this week, and I finished one, but the second one completely got away from me. I wanted to write one more thing about my experience in the Pentecostal church, but then I had to explain something else in order for the one thing to make sense. The something else also needed to be introduced, and that introduction had half a dozen components, and so on. And I kept thinking, “This topic is just so big; I don’t know how I’m going to boil it down into a single post.”

I stepped away from it for a little while this morning hoping that doing some chores would generate insight—it happens that way, sometimes—but alas, when I returned to the page, the topic was still so big, and it grew even longer as I worked. I took another break, and picked up Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. There, I found my answer:

“The first useful concept is the idea of short assignments.”

If the topic is too big, don’t boil it down. Break off a piece. And if that’s still too big, break off another, until you get something small enough to write. I don’t have to tell my whole life story in one page.

Image by Stasi Albert.

How may I be of service?


I have always had an impulse to help people. As a child, I would always volunteer to help, whether it was around the house, or at school helping the teacher, or at school helping my classmates when they struggled with their studies. It didn’t even matter whether or not I liked the person who needed help.

I’d sometimes volunteer even at the expense of getting my own chores or tasks done. I remember helping a boy in my neighborhood finish up yard chores so he wouldn’t get in trouble with his father. Later, I was grounded for not mowing my own yard. Because of course he didn’t come over and help me with my chores.

I learned never to do anything for him again, but I still overextended myself time and again with others. I was the guy who would volunteer to help run your thing, get your stuff, or collaborate on your project. Often, I volunteered to do things that, on second thought, I really didn’t want to do at all. One example was my service on the board of the local chapter of the American Society for Quality.

Early in my Quality Assurance career, my boss encouraged me to get involved in a professional organization that would help my career, and I attended an ASQ meeting to check it out. During the meeting, they mentioned that they needed someone to serve as Historian for the chapter. After the meeting, I volunteered.

I was not even a member yet.

I joined the next day, and served as Historian for the chapter for about a year. After a few months, it became clear that I’d made a mistake. The organization, both local and national, was heavily geared toward quality in manufacturing. Software was an afterthought. I didn’t gain much in the way of professional development, and as a board member, I felt obligated to attend every meeting whether I wanted to or not.

Fortunately, I had the sense to decline the offer to step into the Secretary position when it became available. I resigned from the board, and stopped going to meetings that I wasn’t getting any value out of.

My impulse to help was one of the reasons I was so strongly drawn to the Scrum Master role when my company adopted Scrum. Being a “servant leader” is all about helping and empowering others.

Being a Scrum Master ultimately made me realize the folly of being too generous with my support. I recognized that the “leader” portion of servant-leader meant helping people to learn to solve their own problems.


Image by Fran Priestly.




I have posted something every day for 35 days. When I started the first two week challenge, I didn’t think I’d succeed. That I’ve kept it up for five weeks is an amazing run for me, and I’ve proud of myself. Now I know that I can maintain a daily posting schedule if I want to.

That said, I’m going to back off daily posts for this week. I’ve got a hectic schedule ahead of me, and I don’t want to add unnecessary stress to my life. I’ll be happy with three posts, not counting this one, between now and next Sunday night.

Confiscate it all

Here we go again. Republicans cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, which will sink the nation deeper into debt. When Democrats retake the government, Republicans will wail and scream that Democrats are fiscally irresponsible, that raising taxes on the wealthy is theft, and so on. It’s the same old cycle that’s been going on for longer than I’ve been alive. Except this time the con doesn’t even pay lip service to tax relief for the lower and middle classes.

We need to retake the government. Elect Democrats in a wave in 2018, then again in 2020. Replace the pervert in the White House with someone intelligent, honest, and sane.

And then we need confiscatory levels of taxes on the wealthiest. We need at least a 90% marginal tax rate on the one percenters. Almost that high for the top five percent. We need an inheritance tax that breaks up the wealth of families like the Kochs and Mercers. Let their offspring fend for themselves in the free market they purport to worship. Use their money to level the playing field for the bottom 80%, and to pay off the massive debt the nation will incur for their benefit.

We need to break up the giant media conglomerates so that they don’t control the national discourse. Enshrine net neutrality in law, so that it’s not a matter for the next Ajit Pai to overturn at the command of his corporate masters. No company should own more than one media outlet in any given market. No more vertical integration between news sources, so that there is only one voice in the community.

Destroy the power of the rich by taking their wealth. It’s the only way we regain our freedom.

December 1

I’m stunned that it’s December 1 already. It seems as though I sloughed off July only a few weeks ago, and now the year is all but over. I haven’t even started my preparations for the War on Christmas! My comrades in the 13th Armored Anti-Elf Battalion are going to be super annoyed with me.

Not the man we know!

Hoda Kotb, speaking on-air to Today Show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie this morning regarding the firing of Matt Lauer:

“I have known Matt for 15 years, and I have loved him as a friend and as a colleague, and… it’s hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know.”

What were they hearing?

As the co-host of NBC’s “Today,” Matt Lauer once gave a colleague a sex toy as a present. It included an explicit note about how he wanted to use it on her, which left her mortified.

On another day, he summoned a different female employee to his office, and then dropped his pants, showing her his penis. After the employee declined to do anything, visibly shaken, he reprimanded her for not engaging in a sexual act.

He would sometimes quiz female producers about who they’d slept with, offering to trade names. And he loved to engage in a crass quiz game with men and women in the office: “f—, marry, or kill,” in which he would identify the female co-hosts that he’d most like to sleep with.

I find it hard to believe that Kotb and Guthrie were wholly unaware of Lauer’s behaviors, or his attitudes toward women in general. (One had only to witness the way he treated Hilary Clinton last year to get a glimpse of it.) For Kotb and Guthrie to talk about how “beloved” Lauer is and how it’s “hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know” is perilously close to saying, “We don’t believe you” to the women Lauer abused.

I’ve heard this phrase, “not the man we know” before. A woman I once worked with endured months verbal abuse from an executive. She went to HR more than once, and was told, “That’s just not the man we know.” Others, including me, backed up her story, but we got the same brush-off.

What it amounts to is that men like these get away with their behavior for a long time, and often for their entire careers, because other people are willing to turn a blind eye toward it.