Sunday, September 16, 2012

My Muse

An author wrote that the "language of art is symbols. It's a wordless language even when our art is to chase it with words. The artist's language is a sensual one, a language of felt experience. When we work at our art, we dip into the well of our art and scoop out experiences." I feel my writing is my art. Another friend told me that, when I write about myself and my life, that is more real to the readers than when I write about science and technology. She says there are lots of books about science and technology, but only one book about me — the one I'm writing.

As I've stated before, my writing is largely biographical and collected will be a memoir. It is a fun way — at least for me — to recall my past. I doubt anyone will need this record of my life. Perhaps those close to me will appreciate it, or enjoy it, or use it to understand me better.

As you gentle readers know, most of my writing is technical in nature. That is a reflection of my person as I am technical in nature. I am, at my heart, a technologist. When I was young, I wanted to be a scientist. Now that I'm old, I view my life and my career as more of a technologist. That is, an applied scientist. I've had many titles during my lifetime. I started out as an electronics technician and as a broadcast engineer. The latter title came from my possession of a First Class FCC Commercial License, but I wasn't an engineer. The job in radio and TV broadcast is really a technician job.

There is a clear boundary between the jobs of technician and engineer, although the line can be fuzzy. Just as there is a clear distinction between a nurse and a doctor (although the line is much brighter due to licensing restrictions). There are on-the-line jobs, such as engineering assistants and physician's assistants, but the professions have the lower level job and the higher level job. Typically those in the lower level job support and assist the higher level.

As I progressed in my degrees and my experience, I crossed over the line to engineer. I even went as far as to take the Professional Engineer license exam, a requirement for engineers in areas of civil and mechanical engineering to work legally on things like roads and bridges or building architectures. In electronics, there was no real need for the license, but I liked the challenge and didn't think it would hurt, so one fine day I spent in a classroom at Colorado School of Mines taking six hours of tests to earn the PE designation.

From there I branched out into math and physics and ultimately computer science — also a misnomer as it is more software engineering. (It's a new field, relatively speaking, and titles are still being sorted out.) My most recent work has been as head bean counter and customer hand holder as I led a $2 billion company's quality program — at least the technical side of the program. I was staff to the Vice President of Quality and Customer Satisfaction and my title was Technical Quality Leader … or was it Quality Technical Leader — what's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

I've had other titles that were really of much greater significance: son, brother, husband, father, uncle, grandfather. Of course those are the really important roles in life. Still my professional life is very important to me, and, with my family and faith, lies at the very center of my being.

So it is not surprising that so many of these essays are about technical topics. After all, I'm first and foremost a teacher. Always wanted to teach and explaining things is my great joy. I actually was a teacher — got paid for it and everything — for many years. I taught at Electronics Technical Institute in Denver for over five years. In many ways that was some of my best experiences. I wrote my own curriculum, lectured, created tests, and just enjoyed the hell out of those years. Later that was supplemented by my teaching at Metropolitan State College of Denver. The topics were more engineering and math oriented, the students were different, and it was a prestigous to be a "college professor" — alright, "adjunct instructor," still it was slick.

After joining IBM, I worked as an engineer until 1985 when I joined Technical Education and began 14 years of teaching and course development and many other roles relating to knowledge, skills, and abilities. That was great fun with wonderful travel to the ends of the earth. Ah, but it was the travel that ultimately soured the job. It got rather tedious and difficult to be gone from home so much. It made it harder to fullfill the primary roles of husband and father, although my wife was able to shine in the increased responsibility it afforded her, and I think the extra demands strengthened her inner skills and abilities and forced her to grow.

My wife has the biggest heart of anyone you will ever meet. Her first and greatest concern is always the welfare of others. She was the most loving wife and mother to our little family while caring for parents and friends and even strangers. Her first thoughts are always of others and how she can help or how her behavior must be such to lift these others up. She walks in the footsteps of Christ, having been tutored in that walk by her loving mother and grandmother. When Linda gets to heaven, they will have a special testimonial for how selflessly she has lived her life and how she has won the hearts of all that know her.

Why would I want to miss any minute that I could spend with that beautiful angel. So I quit teaching, at least in general, to spend all my time here in Colorado. I still teach, and, after I retire, I'll continue to teach. That is what all the technical articles are really about, teaching. I love knowledge. I love sharing it.

Yesterday I spent a wonderful morning in solitude at a local coffee shop. I love my family and being with them, but on that morning Linda was at the hospital with her dad (and where else would that angel be?), and the grandkids and cousin that spent the night were still sleeping to recover from a long night of movies and giggles. I was sitting with a tall cup of decaf and my little writing instrument reminiscing about SxSW and my favorite band. I was sitting next to a neighbor. I've known him for about twenty years. He is an outspoken critic of our school system and writes many editorials about the foolish spending and the lack of results.

Of course, that makes him a target for criticism. "Kill the messenger!" Most of his critics complain that he is only complaining and not doing something about it. Of course, most of those critics do nothing. Further, as I know, he is doing something — much more than most — he tutors. He has a web site to assist with homework and studies, and he also tutors one-on-one. (That something I've done a lot in the past too, and expect to do more in the future.) He was at the coffee shop with an older student, seemed in his early or mid twenties. After some pleasant talk that I overheard, they moved on to over an hour of excellent tutoring. He was explaining force and torque. I loved the way he taught it to his somewhat reluctant student. Very clear explanations, putting things in appropriate terms.

After a while he said, "Now explain it back to me. Assume I don't know this. Create a four or five or six step procedure and explain to me how you arrive at these answers." At first his student was reluctant. "You want me to teach you?" But he insisted, and soon the student was stating the steps to follow to calculate the force and the torque and it became clear he was really learning.

Now I have to say, judging by appearance, this student didn't look like someone interested in physics. I don't know the background. Did he not complete high school? Is he in college? Does he have problems learning from books and most teachers? I don't know. But I was impressed that my neighbor was spending time teaching in the most effective manner possible. Critic of the schools indeed. This man loves learning and education. He's a critic of the inefficiency and downright dogma of the schools. "We've got to give more money for the kids!" No, we've got to give the kids a good education. Money helps, but not if it is spent unwisely.

What a world we live in. I breath deeply of the technology, and I welcome the changes that are unfolding and advancement of new knowledge. But many are overwhelmed, intimidated, and just simply left behind. I won't repeat the well known facts that, in China, and in Japan, and in Russia, and in Germany, and in India, and even in Brazil, the youth is digging into math and science. While American youth (at least the vast majority of them) seem more interested in video games, celebrities, and rock and roll (gotta love rock and roll), they are not as interested in studying math and science. It is a race folks, and we're falling behind. While everyone bemoans the loss of jobs overseas, an event driven largely by the lower standards of living in other countries with the accompanying low wages, it is also about knowledge, skills, and abilities. The race is to the swift, of mind and legs.

Still, I digress. I really wanted to talk about ME and my writing — my art. I write so many technical essays because 1) I love science and live and breathe and read and think about science all the time. 2) I love to teach. These essays are intended to teach. You should learn something. In the age of the internet and wikipedia, you should have an appetite, a thirst, a desire to learn. It doesn't have to be science and math. It can be Civil War history or knitting or guitar playing, but we should all have a passion for life-long-learning. And, 3) I'm a conceited so-and-so who likes to talk big and impress people. I like to associate with smart people and share in smart conversation.

I have lots of smart friends and family, and these essays are conversation with them. I have a close friend who lives in Denver and, when we get together, we talk into the night. We share so many interests. He's a talented musician who has moved from rock to classical and is currently writing an opera based on a little known story in the Bible. He plays everything from guitar and drums to piano, violin, and flute. He's a prolific song writer and lyricist and a deep philosophical thinker. He was raised a Lutheran, grandson of a deacon and church founder, but he has crafted his own special belief system based on goodness. He's a Bible scholar and a deep thinker and Linda just listens quietly when we ramble on by the hours. (She's an excellent listener. I'm a big talker. Sort of Jack Sprat and spouse.)

We have another mutual friend that is an expert at decorating and organizing a home. Linda and her talk for hours about life and households and style, and she and I recite poetry to each other. It is a great evening when you take turns reciting from memory, each person encouraged and motivated by the poem recalled by the other. What a stimulating life. There's vintage wine in the cellar, coffee on the stove, and interesting conversation around the table. This is truly heaven on earth.

Family, friends, and conversation. Quality conversations are a necessary part of relationships, especially between family and friends. Conversations with those we care about can help us learn more about them and their lives. It also gives them a chance to get to know us better. Moreover, conversations with our loved ones can provide us the opportunity to become more involved in their daily lives and activities, thus helping us build stronger bonds with them. FB helps that over the many miles we can grow together.

This is especially important for the relational development with our spouses and children. One mistake I made as a father was not enforcing "dinner time" as conversation time. Seemed the boys had so many distractions with work and school and friends that I let them skip dinner time. That was the biggest mistake of my parenting years. You new parents, don't make that mistake. Life is short and life is hectic and we can't always be together. Cherish the time we can be together. Cherish the conversation. Oh, and read a book or two. Did I mention brushing your teeth? Well, enough for now. I've rambled and rambled and it's time to say goodnight.

So please join in the conversation. I appreciate comments. At least that tells me someone read this. Not essential that someone read my thoughts, but heartening that someone cares enough to actually care. That is what life is: love and caring. That is what art is: love and caring. That's my muse.

Originally written March 13, 2011. I retired from InfoPrint Solutions on March 31, 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment