Heart Friends

heart-shell.png I just returned from a trip with my friend Dave to the hospital to visit our friend, Bob. Bob had open heart surgery two days ago. He’s recovering well and full of spit and vinegar. His stories are so amazing. He tells how God has helped him over and over throughout his life… including some pretty incredible stories about just getting to have this surgery. He’s a great encouragement to me.

When Bob introduced Dave and me to his nurse, he told her that we were part of his men’s group in Charlotte. He also said that I was the one who invited him to be a part of a men’s group. I had forgotten that. It was a few years ago, we had a men’s “retreat” one weekend with Kenny Luck as the guest speaker. Kenny was talking about having good friends and community. I was bored silly. During a break, I was standing in the church atrium and thinking about how little I needed to hear this stuff. I was already in community with several guys. I had all the things he was talking about. While I was sulking and considering whether or not to just leave, God whispered to me that there were others right there in that room who did not have community. Not men who needed to be convinced; men who desparately wanted community, but didn’t know where to find it. I felt the Lord prompt me to turn around and introduce myself to the first person I saw. I turned around and put my hand out and said, “Hi, my name is Jim.” He replied, “I’m Bob.”

I’m so glad that God entrusted me with that little job… and I’m so glad I didn’t let Him down. Bob, I pray for a speedy and thorough recovery for you. You are a great friend.

Workin’ for the Man – Part 4

Brass Musical Instrument Technician (Apprentice)

jimshands.JPGWhen I was a teenager and thinking about what I wanted to do for a career, I knew that I had three loves (other than Jeanie, of course): Jesus, music and working with my hands. I can remember agonizing about what I was going to do for a living the rest of my life. I had just decided that music education was not for me, but what was for me? That was the question. The rest of one’s life at 18 years old seems like an awfully long time. My love for Jesus and my love for music seemed to add up to “minister of music”, but the thought of going down that path was not at all appealing. Even then, I was driven by a sense that being a serious follower of Christ should be able to fit into whatever career path one took. I knew that I could follow Jesus with my whole heart without having to work in a church for a living. Please hear my heart on this, I’m not putting down anyone who works in a church. I am saying that I was not interested in a professional ministry. That’s about me… as is the rest of my blog. My other choice seemed to be to combine my love of music with my desire to work with my hands. I put those two together and decided that more than anything, I wanted to fix musical instruments. That choice was not clear out of the blue however. In high-school, when the repairman from Fox Music, Mr. Maxwell, came to my school to do maintenance and repairs, I watched him as long and as often as I could. I also hung out with Roddy, who was a repairman of sorts at Leonards Music Store. They were both great encouragements to me… although Mr. Maxwell’s most heartfelt advice was to run from this career. He kept telling me that I would never get rich from it. What he really meant to say was that I could very well get poor doing it. He was right.

In 1978, I left Newberry College, married my highschool sweetheart and we headed to App State (ASU) in Boone, NC so I could complete a degree in Music Technology (instrument repair). When I arrived and enrolled, I learned that the program was already being discontinued. I was determined, however, and I approached the leader of the now defunct Music Technology program, known affectionately as “Happy Jack”. Happy Jack had his own music store/repair shop in Boone. So I asked him (actually begged and pleaded with him) for a job in his repair shop. He tried to disuade me too, but I finally convinced him that I was serious about wanting to learn to do instrument repair, so he “hired” me to apprentice with his brass technician, John Dameron. I put “hired” in quotation marks because he paid me $50 a week for which I was expected to put in 40 hours as if I were a regular employee. I considered $50 paid to me to be more favorable than my paying tuition to ASU and I happily accepted the proposition. At that time, Jeanie was a nurse and we could survive comfortably on her income.

trumpet-bell.jpg John taught me everything there was to know about repairing brass instruments. He was quite a teacher. To say that he cared greatly about attention to detail would be a gross understatement. Let’s just say that he literally would not accept anything less than perfection. I learned everything from basic repair to dent removal to complete refinishing. It was sometimes meticulous, always demanding, frequently dirty work and I loved it! When we refinished horns, we would buff them to a mirror finish. In the final buffing step, we used a compound called red rouge. This was so fine that even wearing a tee-shirt, workshirt and an apron, my skin would be completely red on buffing days. Doing this kind of work, I felt like an old world craftsman. Even though we used modern tools where we could, so much of the work was manual and intricate. We often referred to ourselves as “elves”.

After being there for a year or so, I approached Happy Jack about really getting paid for what I was doing. He was not willing to increase my salary to something reasonable, so I resigned. In years to come, I would return to the world of instrument repair, but I didn’t know that at the time. As much as I wanted to be an “old world craftsman”, I was beginning to feel the tug of responsibility. It was time for me to find a way to earn a living so we could start thinking about a family. Many of the guys in our church worked on a tree planting crew and were making “big bucks”. More about the tree crew next time…


Workin’ for the Man Series

Workin’ for the Man – Part 3

jim-trombone-1977.jpg Music Librarian

At Newberry College as a music major, I worked in the music library for a short time. I have no strong memories of the music library. It was a job that gave me a little spending money. I was a student at Newberry for two years majoring in Music Education. The funny thing is, I didn’t want to be a music teacher. Does that make sense? It didn’t make sense to me either so I dropped out much to the chagrin of my parents.

I was quiet and kept to myself a lot, but I loved to perform… still do. I wish I had talked out my feelings about school and career and sought the wisdom of others. I don’t wish that because of regret for my choices. I wish it now because it would have been healthier for me emotionally then. I was pretty headstrong and sure of myself. On the inside I was scared of the future and unsure that I was really making wise decisions. In a way, I think I was full of questions and afraid to ask them.

I have a lot of fond memories of Newberry College. We had an excellent jazz ensemble and I got to play trombone a lot. (If you click that goofy picture, you can see the rest of the Jazz Ensemble). I had some pretty good chops back then… not as good as I thought I had, but pretty good 🙂 Each year, the jazz program brought in a world class professional jazz musician to do a clinic and play a concert with our band as the backup. They featured some really big names too. Each year, they rotated through the different sections of the band. My first year was trumpet year and they brought in Marvin Stamm. I remember Marvin as being a “health nut”, which meant that he was a runner and ate yogurt. One of the trumpet players in our band, Steve Wentzky, in imitation of Marvin, began eating yogurt like there was no tomorrow. Sadly, instead of making him a better trumpeter it led to kidney stones. The doctors had to open up his back to get them out, which meant no trumpet for several months. I felt so bad for him. He was a really good trumpet player. In fact, he played for Jeanie’s and my wedding.

My second (and last) year was trombone year, the year that they featured a pro trombonist. This was extra special for me because I was the only music major whose main instrument was trombone. Much to my delight, they decided to feature Bill Watrous , who was the number one trombonist around. I was beside myself. It felt like they had brought him in for me alone even though their choice was merely because it was trombone year.

I know this post was more about school than work, but it’s my blog and I can write what I want to. Tongue out

Next time, the beginning of my musical instrument repair career.


Workin’ for the Man Series

Workin’ for the Man – Part 2

This is part two of a series about my work career…

Sheet Metal Mechanic’s Helper

elbow.jpg Much like my first job, this was working for one of my dad’s sub-contractors. In the 1970’s we didn’t have flexible duct work like I see in houses today. Air Conditioning ducts were either sheet metal boxes that we had to custom make or hard sheet metal pipe. All the sheet metal and pipe was stored at the shop where we met at the beginning of each day. We, helpers would be assigned to work with a crew each day. Sometimes it was mildly interesting. Mostly it was hot, hard and miserable work. Even though we were working on AC, we didn’t get to enjoy AC for ourselves. I was paid minimum wage (about $3/hr) and with overtime, I could bring home over $100 in a week! That made it all worth while.

The owner of the company and I had a few unpleasant episodes. He was not a happy man. angry-boss.jpgOnce in the middle of the day, he was away and there were two or three crews at the shop making ductwork for our jobs… only we weren’t actually doing much of that. We were all sitting around or lying on the tables shooting the breeze. The owner drove up into the parking lot and everyone jumped up and started looking busy. Everyone but me, I should say. I wondered why the others thought we needed to pretend that we were busy when we weren’t. I guess I felt that we should be the same whether he’s around or not. Deep down, I can see that I had a good desire to be transparent. Had it been a perfect world, the incident might have turned out differently. As it was, I got an ass chewing that I won’t soon forget (it has been over 30 years). Although this probably wasn’t the message he wanted me to take away, I learned the importance of “not drawing attention to one’s self” and “always looking busy when the boss is around.” That lesson has haunted me ever since and has kept me from being as productive as I could be. I wish I could unlearn it easier.

One day I was assigned to a sheet metal mechanic from Vietnam. I have two memories of that day. First thing was that he was late for work, so on the way to the job site, we swung by his house to pickup breakfast that his wife had made. She had made some sort of egg roll looking dish, which he shared with me. I don’t know what was in it, but it stays in my memory as one of the best things I ever ate. Later that day, I asked him a rather insensitive question, but I wanted to know. I asked, “Why do your people always have names like, ‘Hong’ or ‘Wong’ or ‘Fong’?” His answer was perfect. He looked me in the eye and replied, “Why your people always have names like, ‘Jimmy’?” I didn’t ask him anything else.

One day, we had more helpers than we needed and I was designated to stay behind and clean the shop. Cleaning the shop consisted of sweeping the floors and straightening out the bins. The bins were wire cages in a storage room where the different sizes and shapes of pipe were separated. That room was a complete wreck! I started picking up pieces of pipe and throwing them in the right bin, but quickly realized that I wasn’t really making it any better because the pipe that was already in the bin wasn’t the size that belonged there. I realized that the only way to straighten the bins was to empty them completely then put everything back in its place, so I did it. It took all day to finish, but when I was done it looked great! Everything was in its place and the whole place was neat. When the crews came back at the end of the day, they were amazed. They had never seen that room so neat. Someone must have told the owner because he took a look and even he complimented me on what a good job I had done! Takeaway lesson of that day, “I like organizing things and I’m good at it.” In fact I still like to organize things. I think that’s why I enjoy working with databases so much.

Next time, My exciting and short career as a music librarian. Stay tuned.


Workin’ for the Man Series

Workin’ for the Man – Part 1

manhole.gif My cousin, Fernando asked me recently what other kind of work I had done before I turned geek, and why I am not doing that anymore. I kinda put it on the back burner for a while. However, since this blog is all about letting my family know who I am, I thought I’d tell a few work stories. These are the many types of jobs I have held over the years. Please forgive me if I mess up the chronology of it all.

  • Electrician’s Helper
  • Sheet Metal Mechanic’s Helper
  • Music Librarian
  • Apprentice to a Brass Musical Instrument Technician
  • Manufacturing Woodstove mats
  • Tree Planter/Tree Killer
  • Forest Firefighter
  • Painter
  • Iron Worker
  • Cook / Restaurant Manager
  • Musical Instrument Repair Technician
  • Business Owner
  • Computer Programmer
  • Other IT stuff

I will chop it into a few separate entries and then in the end, I may join them together in their own page.

Electrician’s Helper

When I was finishing my 8th grade year of school, my dad (a homebuilding contractor) arranged for me to work for his electricical subcontractor, Heyward. I was legally too young to work, but Heyward paid my $25 a week (a princely sum for me) out of his pocket. The work was hard and hot and I am sure that I wasn’t a good worker. Once while digging a ditch for an electrical wire, I was so tired and uninspired that I stopped to rest. I started working again when the boss arrived. I don’t remember him being angry, but he didn’t let me off the hook completely either. He told me that the way to do it is to work when the boss isn’t around so when he arrives, you can stop and shoot the breeze with him. Good advice. I learned to install plugs and switches in houses. The hard part (at least for a youngster) is installing the cover plates on the wall after they have painted without getting the wall dirty. Although I am sure I didn’t recognize it at the time, it was a great experience for me. Thanks Dad.

Next time, I’ll tell a story or two about being a Sheet Metal Mechanic’s Helper…


Workin’ for the Man Series

Photoreading

reader.png I did something different tonight. I photo-read The World Café, a book about creating environments where we can encourage and explore conversations that matter. My friend, John recommended it. When John tells me he thinks I’ll like a book, he’s usually right on target.

I like the idea of creating “café” environments where we invite a diverse mix of people, ask important questions, encourage everyone to share freely, “cross polinate” ideas, observe and look for the emerging ideas in-between the spoken thoughts. It reminds me of another book I read about a year ago, The Wisdom of Crowds , in which the underlying message is that all of us are smarter than any one of us. It is an idea that intrigues me and stirs me.

I find that most of the conversations I am a part of are about unimportant things and I do not feel compelled to jump in with my ideas. Sometimes I have the courage to inject some of my thoughts and try to steer the conversation into a dialog about things that matter. That opens the door to ridicule, bewilderment or silence. Every once in a while, it leads to a bigger conversation. One statement stirs another person to say something that stirs someone else and before you know it, we are talking about things that matter.

I started this entry with the intention of talking about photoreading, not the World Café. Disclaimer: I am not recommending any “PhotoReading” course. I have never taken any course or studied it formally to make such a recommendation. I just want to tell you about what I did tonight 🙂

I first ran across the idea of PhotoReading on another blog where a course was being offered at a substantial discount. I have read enough articles on this blog to have some respect for his integrity. While I do not always agree with the author, I feel sure that if he says he uses the system and likes it, he does. It was enough to pique my curiosity, which lead me to search the web about it. Of course the comments I found ranged from its being a waste of money to a life saver. I learned enough to decide that I didn’t need to spend $100 to find out more. I learned enough to try it all by myself. Here’s what I did:

  1. Sat up straight at the kitchen table with good light
  2. Looked over the book to see how it felt, type size and style, length of chapters etc.
  3. Looked closely over the table of contents to see how the book was laid out and what it covered
  4. Closed my eyes and breathed deeply for about a minute to help clear my mind
  5. Read the book by scanning each page. Took about 2-3 seconds per page, not worrying about getting all of the content
  6. Three or four times, I stopped for a break to stretch or go to the… well to take a break.
  7. After about two hours, I had read the book completely!

Thoughts about the experience:

  • The layout of the pages changed between 2 or 3 styles. Some pages were printed all the way across, while others were a narrower column with a wide margin. Some pages had lots of graphics and a few were laid out completely differently to put a lot of organized info on a page. The differences slowed me down.
  • I found that on the wider pages, my eyes were following a figure eight motion on each paragraph. On the narrower pages, I could simply scan them in a single, linear motion.
  • A few times, I read a page or two and realized that my mind had completely wandered to something else and I went back to re-read them. While this was mostly frustrating, more than once, my wandering mind was imagining applications for the information. That was neat.
  • Normally, this book would have taken me about a month to read. I wonder if I got as much out of the book reading it in one sitting as I would have reading it “normally”. My guess is that I got more out of it this way. When I read slowly getting every word, I don’t remember everything I read. I don’t remember every word now either, but I don’t think that is that the point.
  • The thoughts I shared at the beginning of this blog entry were from memory.  I don’t know how well I captured the whole book, but I do remember some of it 🙂
  • I could not have done this if there had been any distractions.
  • I really wanted to read this book, so that was a big motivator.

I said this was something new. It is actually my second photoreading session. I recently photoread, The Papa Prayer and then immediately re-read it “normally”. The second time through, I got more of the details. I wasn’t sure if it would feel like a second reading. It did.

Will I do it again? Definitely! Will I read every book like this? Probably not. I can’t imagine reading a novel this way.

What do you think? Have you ever tried anything like this? Would you? If you do, let me know what it was like for you. If you buy the program, I’d be interested in hearing about that too.

Team of Rivals

teamofrivals.gifI just got through listening to a recorded book, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I started this tome early in August when I drove to St. Louis to visit Melody in Medical School at SLU and just finished it tonight. What a great story! The book chronicles the lives of Abraham Lincoln and the men who eventually became his presidential cabinet. The common characteristic of each of these men in his cabinet is that they were his rivals for the presidency in 1860!  They each brought a different perspective to Lincoln.  While their bickering and in fighting must have been a distraction, Lincoln’s steady temperament held them together.  I highly recommend this book.

I never liked the subject of History, when I was a young man, but it is becoming more interesting to me now. I think that change is the result of a combination of at least three elements:

  1. I am older and I understand better how I am affected by history; both my own history and the history of those who came before me. I cannot separate myself from it. The lives that we have led and the decisions that we (and so many others) have made have brought us to where we are today. This is where we are and we must create our future from here. We cannot pick a different starting place.
  2. I think a new breed of historians are using their creative talents to find more compelling ways to communicate history. For instance, Ken Burns’ documentary, The War that is playing on PBS right now has my attention completely. The way he tells the stories makes me feel like a part of it myself.
  3. I am learning that the talents and leanings that God placed in me are largely centered around connecting with people, hearing their stories, encouraging them. When I read the biography of Benjamin Franklin a couple of years ago, I realized that the history around the man was more enjoyable to me.  As I asked myself why that might be, I realized that I was “seeing history through the life of the man” rather than “history by the events”. The history courses that I remember were centered on historical events first and people second; as if the people who were part of the events were less important than the events themselves. For me, connecting with historically significant people makes the history come alive as a secondary result of knowing the person.

My next recorded book is The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. I will let you know what I learn about me from that book too. 🙂