Living in a Quiet Place

August 27, 2004

I’ve been eating at the Subway near my office once a week for about five years now. I don’t always get the same sandwich, but nearly always. Today I got a turkey and ham, though usually I get a plain turkey.

If that sounds boring, well, it is. But I’ve found that while I’m always interested in new ideas in art, music, philosophy, etc., and I’m fascinated with new people, places and events, the truth is I’m happy with rut-like routines for the more mechanical aspects of day to day living.

With respect to wardrobe, I am far from a “dandy,” though I try not to be slovenly or wear clothes too far out of style. Occasionally at the office we have a “casual day,” which I usually opt out of. I have a good standard set of boring work clothes–khakis, black slacks, oxfords, and polo shirts from the local mid-value retailer–and the effort required to think up something more “casual” to wear (but not too casual) sort of negates any pleasure I might have in wearing jeans or shorts to work. Plus, I don’t even have that many casual clothes, so I don’t want to “use them up” before the weekend arrives. The whole thing just screws up my monk-like routine.

My last car was an Acura, but it got pretty old, so I traded it in–for another Acura. Hey, they’re just good cars.

It’s simple living, and I no longer find simple to be synonymous with bland or commonplace. Quite the contrary: as the whole population seems to strive for a life of some deeper significance, I accept life as inherently significant, and life’s simple acts as acts of faith in that belief.

My weekdays are filled with routine, though I like to break things up on the weekends. I’m happy to work, come home, work out or mow the lawn if it needs it, read the paper, eat dinner, walk the dog and read to my daughter with my wife, watch TV for an hour, and then hit the sack, where I sleep quite soundly. I look forward to each familiar component of these evenings as others might look forward to a coming change. There is a quietness to these days, a rhythm that is in tune with my life’s rhythm, at least for now. My earlier life was so frenetic, unpredictable, often dangerous. I’m happy to be in this new stage, one where I might plan a long-term personal project without the need for a deadline. I can plant a tree, and say to myself in earnest, “Well, that will be looking just great in about five years or so.”

I can still contemplate the old days, the lessons they taught me. This old life lives on in my mind, a spirit life of some lone gypsy obsessed with finding meaning, searching for people who knew about living, expecting to find significance lurking nearby like a wino in an alley. He eventually stopped wandering and found meaning–in a child’s eyes, a swept porch, a Saturday morning kiss, a dog’s soft ear, a garden of wild lilacs and daisies. The necessary thing was to stop looking.

And now, waves of meaning wash over each morning shave and mirror stare. Who am I today? How will I change to face events, and how will events change me without my knowing? How far away am I from that naïve child who felt so apart from everyone else? How much closer am I now, and will I move closer still, to those I love?

It is the exquisite, almost painful beauty of the world as seen from a quiet place, with room and time to observe the day’s passing, that I crave. And I find it so often, I am approaching a contentment I never knew was possible.

I wrote a bad poem some time ago, about the sun as an indifferent ball of fire careening dumbly through space. I thought it was a poem about alienation and the loss of significance in the face of the death of God, etc.–a riff on the current Zeitgeist. Now I know it was just a poem about loneliness. And that’s what most angst must be about. The inability, if even for a while, to move from separate lonely spaces to a common warm, quiet place of belonging and acceptance. To come home.

Questions for the CEO of Civil Corp.

An oft-cited Republican mantra promotes the idea that the United States government should be more “businesslike” in its approach to governance. That is, it should not borrow excessively, it should manage its affairs with efficiency, it should not engage in Quixotic pursuits unrelated to the success of the company, etc. This is all in keeping with the conventional wisdom that businesses–and by extension, nations–survive because they are “fit” (AKA Social Darwinism). And it under-girds that famous, non-ideological axiom (so dear to the hearts of capitalists), that “The business of America is business.”

Let’s imagine, then, in light of such a premise, a list of questions that the Board of our company (that’s you and me) might have for the CEO (that’s you-know-who) as he petitions for continuance of his position as leader of the corporation.

Questions from the Chairman of the Board of Directors to the sitting CEO of Civil Corp:

  1. OK, it looks like we started off in Fiscal ’02 with a surplus of a couple of hundred billion. Now, according to these numbers from Lou in accounting, we’re looking at a debt load of about seven trillion bucks. I know we’ve hit a few bumps in the road, but Lou tells me your budgets are running half a trillion in the red for the next ten years or so, and it’s got him and the whole accounting staff pretty worried. How are we going to stay afloat with numbers like that? What are you doing to boost revenues and profits and reduce outlays?
  2. On acquisitions – it says here in your ’01 corporate goals report that you planned to scale back acquisitions. Even so, we went ahead and backed your hunch on Ira Co. and green-lighted the hostile takeover. Now we’re about 200 billion down here, with nothing to show for it and no prospects apart from more fiscal hemorrhaging and loss of key personnel through…um…attrition. That’s not to mention the PR beating we’re taking in the industry at large. Now I’m all for expansion, but it looks like your team never really had a post-acquisition plan in place. Did you honestly think the Ira Co. loyalists were going to bend over backward to help Civil Corp. restructure the company? I think it would have been prudent to expect at least a little foot dragging. The shareholders might have reacted differently to your proposition with more information on alternative outcomes. You know as well as I do the law of unintended consequences. Anyway, I want a full report on your plan for Ira Co. in fiscal ’05 by early October. We need a serious plan, and we need it now.
  3. HR is reporting that hiring is way down. It looks like we issued huge bonuses in both ’03 and ’04 to your top people, but bonuses down the line toward middle management and labor are flat. That doesn’t bother me, but since Accounting can’t justify any more revenue for payroll while we continue to hand out these bonuses, we’re understaffed. What’s your plan to help turn that around?
  4. We know the competition hit us pretty hard in ’01 right after you came on, and we don’t blame you for that. It was a rough year for the whole industry. You got right on the stick, and we’re grateful. But getting back to Ira Co. – it says here in your business plan that the takeover was part of a plan of targeted acquisition of competitive rivals in order to consolidate our market share and protect the company. But the boys in research were apparently wrong, or else you misunderstood them–Ira Co. isn’t even in the same markets as we are. Obviously, we didn’t “know” Ira Co. was gunning for us, because we now know they didn’t have the manufacturing capacity to do so. And what’s more, All Chaos, our biggest competitor, is still out there punching away at us and intimidating our business partners. And Tali Brands – are we sure they’re out of the picture? I’ve heard rumors. The shareholders will want to know–why did we reduce efforts addressing a known threat in order to go after a paper tiger
  5. I’ve got a report here from the facilities manager that says our utility bills are soaring, and they’re climbing every year. He says we could put a real dent in these bills just by encouraging our building managers to make a few changes–turn off the lights, turn down the thermostats, reducing fleet vehicle size, that kind of thing. Now you know I’m not one of those touchy-feely environmental types, but business is business, and we have an opportunity to increase efficiencies here. I think we just need to lead the way, and the staff will see the value in it for the good of the company. Still, your executive VP–is it Dick?–issued a memo last year that actually discourages staff from reducing our utility bills. He seems to think there’s no need to conserve at all. I think I speak for most of the board when I say we need to conserve everywhere we can. It just makes good fiscal sense. (And by the way, I’ve heard rumors that the utilities are heavily invested in All Chaos. You look at it that way, and we’re helping All Chaos succeed with every extra dollar we spend on energy.) Will you look into what’s behind Dick’s apparent abandonment of environmental efficiencies as a company policy?