Snow Shovelin’ Man

The people who showed up yesterday morning to shovel snow at the University of Minnesota’s TCF stadium were willing to do some physical labor in the great tradition of John Henry – a character out of folklore who generated a variety of songs about man’s unquenchable spirit in the face of a challenge from the steam drill.

Unfortunately, some of yesterday’s shovelers waited through the morning, and left in frustration before doing any actual work.

John Henry simply beat the steam drill with brute strength, and then he laid down his hammer and he died. Tough wages. But brute strength won’t help you overcome a mismatch between available workers and piles of snow in the absence of a plan that can quickly put them together. That’s a real heartbreaker.

When John Henry heard about the Vikings,
playin’ in the winter’s cold.
Well he picked up a shovel and his parka and a hat
Said Shovel’s gonna bring some Christmas gold, Lord, Lord.
Shovel’s gonna bring some Christmas gold.

The captain said to John Henry
You can wait over there in that line.
With your shovel and your parka and your hat, Lord Lord
You can wait ‘til it’s shovelin’ time.

John Henry said to the captain
I’m freezing and I’m ready to go
Before I’ll wait and stand and get frostbite on my hand,
I would die with my shovel in the snow

Now the captain said to John Henry
Just an hour more and maybe you’ll begin,
There’s a form you gotta sign and another friggin’ line
To endure before your shovel’s suckin’ wind, Lord Lord
To endure before your shovel’s suckin’ wind.

Now the planners that did those logistics
Meant to organize the snow removin’ troops
But so many came to town, when that sun was goin’ down
Poor John Henry hadn’t turned a single scoop

Now John Henry had dug snowy mountains.
From Duluth to Saskatoon and on to Nome
But he never dug that day where the Golden Gophers play.
He just waited ‘til they told him to go home, Lord Lord.
He waited ’til they told him to go home.

When have you been victorious against the machine?

93 thoughts on “Snow Shovelin’ Man”

  1. Rise and Shine Babooners:

    I can’t remember a time I have even competed against a machine for anything, but I’ll have to think on this for awhile. Baboons who think of these things more clearly than I will probably produce some ideas that will make me think of this differently.

    I usually like what machines do for me, but I don’t care how they work. My husband loves cars, both for what they do and for how they work. My son loves computers, both for what they do and for how they work. To me machines are great conveniences and I like what they do. But I don’t seem to care how they work. Nor do I ever care to compete against them.

    I think I am a people person, not a machine person.

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    1. Jacque, before I forget again-are you the Baboon who knows how to make Swedish egg coffee? Barbara in Robbinsdale-any chance of you posting the kringla recipe?

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    2. people are almost always the issue. the machine works fine its the people in charge of interpreting the machines directions that muck it up. the above story seems simple. got a shovel go shovel don’t have a shovel go over there and get one. roberts rules of orders for volunteers is a bozo soultuion

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  2. this is my cup of tea. it’s a little like the part of five easy pieces when jack nicholson tells the waitress he wants wheat toast and she says they don’t serve wheat toast and there are no substitutions. so jack orders a tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat bread, toasted. hold the tuna salad. the waitress says what do you want me to do with the tuna salad. jack says put it between your knees.
    this is a classic moment in history and i got to relive it somewhere sometime down to the put it between your knees part and i got the biggest kick out of it but the waitress didn’t get it.
    they used to have a rule at embers that you would have to wear shoes in order to get in ( imagine) i went out to the van with a buddy and we crafted roman greco sandals out of cardboard and twine we happened to have on board. no good for hiking but great for getting into restraunts. ( i think we saved tham and used them as getting into restraunt shoes numerous times after that.

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    1. If you think you can come into my home for BBC barefoot but in cardboard sandals, bucko, you got another think coming! No shoes, no shirt . . . no book club! Now, I might be inclined to be lenient with a fellow baboon, but DeeDee up the block is quite a different story. And if you entered my home in cardboard sandals, DeeDee would know.

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  3. I’m kinda with Jacque…. don’t spend too much time thinking about the machines in my life, until they go wrong.

    Last weekend, I did my big snowblow/shovel at 10 p.m., after it had stopped snowing, since I knew I might have to get out early the next day. Snow blew in my face over and over… the next morning, over the last bit of shoveling, I told my neighbor I hoped my swearing hadn’t been heard through his walls (our houses are only a driveway apart) every time the snow hit me in the face. He said “doesn’t your snowblower adjust to throw the snow down instead of up”. I said “No, it was just inflexible plastic.” We walked back to my garage and lo and behold, the top of the snowblower nozzle DOES adjust up and down. I never knew. I’ve only had this snowblower for 19 years!!!!

    So, no… machines mostly win where I am concerned!

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    1. i sell snow blower cabs for exactly your application. if you look up universal snow blower cab on google my face pops up. let me know where to send you one.

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  4. Most of my triumphs with machines involve not so much conquering them as working with them to get them functional again. It’s a thrill every time to restore something to usefulnessI inherited my grandmother’s old Singer Spartan sewing machine and the thing would not budge. Took the whole thing apart, piece by piece, cleaned and oiled it and put it back together-worked just fine. It had been felted solid.

    Grandma was many excellent things, but not the mechanic her late husband was and she would never have considered taking a screwdriver to the sewing machine.

    I never knew that grandfather, who died when my mother was 12, but I think one of my brothers and I must have inherited that valuable gift from him.

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    1. Very valuable gift indeed. My method (which works quite well on the pc too) is to try one thing after the other, slowly and methodically. Most of the time, I eventually figure it out. But I would never have the nerve to start taking things apart!

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    2. I’m the one in our family who fixes things. I can resonate with you, MIG, over the excitement of getting the broken to work again. When I was quite small my dad used to give me things like old electrical outlets and weird mechanical gizmos to take apart and mess around with. My husband comes from a mechanically challanged family. He is also left handed, mostly, except when he throws and golfs, and it is painful to watch him with tools. Our daughter refers to me as her “father figure” when she sees me fix things. On the other hand, no one else can produce written documents of the quality that her father can, so I guess it all balances out, at least in our family.

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      1. Ours too – except in our house I’m in charge of tools and words, Husband fixes anything involving computers. Also, he tackles most of the yard work and cleaning (man is it nice having clean socks just appear in my drawer…).

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      2. I always grinned at my mother’s way of repairing things, Renee. She believed household appliances had souls and spirits. If they went down, well, you could push them aside and give them time to get their heads straight. Her phrase, more precisely, was that she allowed appliances to “fix themselves.” Is the toaster burning toast? Shove it to the back of the cupboard and avoid using it for two weeks. Chances are, it will “fix itself.”

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      3. Anna — what can I say? Some toasters fixed themselves, quietly licking their wounds in the dark. Some recalcitrant dishwashers only got worse as they sat around. She (my mom) was rewarded often enough that she went on doing things this way.

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      4. Don’t know if it worked for Steve’s mom, but I often put small appliances in time out, so they can consider whether or not they would like to be a contributing member of our household.

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      5. That approach recently worked on my toaster oven. Unplugged it for about ten days. When I got around to trying to figure out what was wrong with it, mysteriously there was nothing wrong with it.

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  5. i had a friend steve gross who would come over to my house and my parents would let him go up to my room and wait for me and he would start taking stuff apart. my radio would be in pieces on the bedstand with the tubes form the radio on the table like a challange for me to figure out after he had gone. funny guy, genius and tauht me its ok to go in and mess with stuff. i also grew up with a bunch of motor heads who would buy 56 chevys jacck up hte rear end puiing spacer in te springs, cut a hole in the hood to have a scoop coming out. switch the automatic transmission and replace it with a hearst shifter on the new 4 on the floor. i just learned to work an acetylene torch this week. cutting steel pallet racks to fit in a 14 ft tall warehouse i’m moving into. not my thing but i can learn.

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      1. Good morning industrious people,

        I like doing things with my hands. If we continue to have snowy winters, like this one, I might give up shoveling snow by hand and get a snow blower. I inherited my tendency to do things by hand from my Dad who, I am sure, would continue shoveling snow by hand long after everyone else had a snowblower.

        When my father was young he worked in an electric power plant and needed a part which wasn’t available to make a repair. His solutions was to make the part himself by carefully filing a metal part that didn’t fit until it did fit.

        This effort to make a part by hand was a long slow process that no one would ever think of doing. Also, it was something that he had never done before. He remembered some one telling him that, at least in theory, a file can be used to make metal parts. Later in his career he came up with a solution to a problem with power plant design that was another example of finding an unusual way to solve a problem.

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      2. Well, somehow I put the above comment in the wrong place. It isn’t really a reply to madislandgirl’s reply to Tim, although I guess it could be.

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  6. Been lurking the last few days, with nothing really to add; for instance 1) I remember very few specific toys from my childhood. 2) I work alone and any food here I bring; plus the description of rear ends yesterday came too close to mine, for comfort, pun intended. 3) My life has pretty much been one long battle with machines–farm equipment to maintain, power tools to keep in trim, computers and their allied elements the last few years. It was pretty much a draw until the computers. Well, then there were the cars . . . .
    But I have one over-arching comment–what a bunch of Minnesotans, especially on the cookies. Doers every home in MN have the same cookies in it as we all do?

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    1. glad to hear from you i was windering where you and crystal bay got off to. its lacking when you are gone. hell if nobody said anything unless it was worthwhile this would be a much quieter blog. cmon in. the stories about nothing specific are some of the best. cookies we all have at christmas, how about counter height. does anyone else get back spasams when you stand at the counter 6 hours straight?

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    2. I have a few oddballs… lemon snowflakes, pecan shortbread, white chocolate macadamia. But as I’ve said before… traditional teenager picked most of the cookies this year!

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  7. Morning–

    Machines. Yes. I’m in the group with Clyde; most of my life has been one battle after another with some type of machine. And I believe you have to leave one thing broke, for if you fix them all then something else will break anyway.
    Be it hauling manure at 20 below or the broken, overflowing drinking cup in the barn on a cold winter night to getting that stuck bolt out. My favorite chapter from ‘The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Robert Pirsig is when he talks about ‘Gumption Traps’; that $.15 stuck screw that stops you from getting the cover off to get at the points that stops you from getting the cycle running again…. yep; gotta watch out for those gumption traps.
    Couple weeks ago was working on a set here and every day it was one thing or another and this particular day it was stair spindles that were too short and I’m out of time and money and I remember thinking ‘Why does everything have to be a battle!? Can’t something just ‘Work!?’ But we made some spacer blocks and that worked too… sometimes the victory is in the struggle.

    Tim, my ‘play nice’ training is my nick name for a consulting firm promoting “…Quality service training for front-line campus staff…” Even got a certificate of completion yesterday…
    I’ll not post the company name or website lest anyone think I’m promoting something I’m not. Don’t want you to make any CONNECTIONS NOW or anything… hint hint nudge nudge

    Anyone in Rochester for the Lego Tournament tomorrow?

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      1. My favorite gumption trap is “not enough fabric”. Used to work with a designer who would bring in the Perfect Fabric, delivering it with the words, “now, this is all of this that there is in the world, and it’s a little short……”

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  8. My victory over machine was somewhat backhanded. The only book I’ve written was done in longhand (mostly frrom a cozy spot under a comforter). Folks were amazed that I wrote a published book without a computer. Now, I don’t think I’d do it that way again, but it did leave me feeling rather smug.

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  9. All computer-related technolgies are $1000 machines that depend upon .01 cent palstic parts that easily break and cannot be replaced for less than the price of replacing the whole thing.
    But I agree with tim. The real issue is how people use the technologies. We once again got to throw away a few hundred dollars of drugs because people do not look carefully at the patient files and not just the top of the scroll or the first page, although the fact that my wife is allergic to penecillin is supposed to be at the top of everything. Of course, I have never made errors like that.
    Also, once again we proved the thing that people do not want to remember: doctors still do not know all and cannot cure all. My wife’s brain has events that do not match any known event, such as seizure, tia, stroke, others.
    I had a doctor friend who used to say, if he was listening and paying attention to everything, every contact with a patient is an expirement. I guess everything in life is pretty much an experiment, even cookie baking, and most definitely contact with machines.

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    1. Clyde — after having watched this process carefully, I’ve long been convinced that every elderly citizen in our country is a walking pharmacological experiment. Most of us over 60 and certainly over 70 have various maladies that have various drug palliatives. Two things: 1) doctors often don’t know in advance what drugs will do to these things, so they learn by guess and by golly by prescribing drugs and observing the results; and 2) since old folks have multiple health issues, the drugs combine with each other in totally unique and unpredictable ways. Just watch this. You’ll see that your doc is fiddling around, making it up as he or she goes.

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      1. I continue to be amazed that at the age of 76 (officially as of today), my mother takes nothing stronger than some vitamin/mineral supplements and ibuprofen from time to time. I can only hope I do as well as she has done (may dad, on the other hand, was a chemical experiment in Norwegian yard gnome form…)

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    2. Be aware I was not complaining; my point was that my doctor friend I believe is right in many ways. I am not sure what to say about the load of drugs we put in the elderly. The unattended mixing of drugs is a huge issue. My wife is now on 23 prescriptions–three are very short term. Each specialist prescribes his/her drugs and no one is really asking how they all mix, if they do mix. But the fact is that my wife is alive with a pretty good quality of life because of all these drugs. Without the artifical thyroid she would have died long ago. Without the lupus and pain and related drugs, she would be in a nursing home, if even alive.
      My friends point about practicing medicine was a discussion we often had about how medicine and teaching are very similar professions. Teachers are often taking their best guess, making it up as they go, experimenting, that is learing from success and failure. It’s the teachers who think it’s just a formula you go through withot asking what results you are getting that are not doing the job, not attending ot individual differences in the student. We met a couple of doctors who think it’s a formula when my wife had her last episode and went to the hospital.
      And in both professions the general public does not understand the art of the professions, the learning process that should always be going on for teachers and doctors (and therapists, such as we have as fellow babooners).
      But of course, I could be wrong. And sorry for the diatribe.

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      1. Diatribe away Clyde. My dad’s cocktail of assorted medicines were also sort of a guess at times too. Helped a lot when his GP hooked him up with a gerontologist – that doc took the time to really look at the cocktail and see that two of the meds my dad was on could have the potential side effect of decreasing memory, which is not good in a dementia patient. He swapped one drug for a different one, tweaked some dosages, and ‘lo – Dad’s memory was better…at least for awhile. It is art, craft, and a certain amount of educated guessing, I think. Glad your wife has found a cocktail that works at least most of the time.

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      2. The U of M School of Pharmacy has a program in which the third-year students meet with patients under a professor’s supervision, and look over their medication regimens, checking for drug interactions and that sort of thing. The philosophy there is that it’s the pharmacist’s role to do that, since there are multiple doctors per patient and the doctors aren’t necessarily filling that role.

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      3. That’s not really a diatribe, and certainly not inappropriate.

        My comments on how each patient is a unique experiment were not meant to be critical. What is important is to realize that at some point (with five prescriptions a day, or maybe twelve a day, or . . . ) this kind of medicine ceases to be science and becomes pure experiment. “We should maybe double the pink ones, stop the green ones and how about we try this orange and grey tablet? And we’ll see you in two weeks to see how it is going.”

        Unfortunately, at the point where patients catch on to the improvisational nature of the process, some are inclined to start making their own experiments within the experiment. Doctors call that “non-compliance,” but patients have less harsh words.

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      4. When my grandpa was still alive, my grandma organized all of his different pills every week. He had multiple pill cases that had to have the right amount of pills with the correct pills as well. She had everything written down in a notebook and had done it for so long, she knew what he needed and when he needed it. When she when into the hospital, quite suddenly, she hadn’t gotten his pills ready yet. We think this is why my grandpa died a few days later. A month later, she was gone too.

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  10. Oh, come on now, people. There are different interpretations of ‘machine.’ Think of the popular metaphor of individual persons as cogs in the mechanism of society…be it work or just in your social group. Think of a ‘machine’ in terms of a ‘system.’ Think in terms of when you found it necessary to break the rules. (I think this is Dale’s attempt to dig up blackmail material on us…not that we have anything worth blackmailing over but you never know when ‘leverage’ will come in handy.)

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    1. That was actually the first thing I thought of, but as I am in the midst of the struggle, and am part of a group effort to solve the problem, so can’t really discuss it at this point, but the s&h is getting a great civics lesson in the meantime.

      Just because the system is dishing something out, doesn’t mean you have to take it.

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    2. tim went that direction too, about “Five Easy “Pieces.” My battle with The Machine of which you speak was teaching in The Public School System. I finally decided the only way I would win was to get out. I admire Donna and some close friend teachers who have had the patience to hang in there, because that System really needs those good teachers.

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      1. I was taken off the sub teacher list because a principal thought I was not keeping the classes under control. I think that principal was out of control herself. I have lots of things to do and don’t really need the sub teaching jobs. I did like being with the students and they told me I was one of their favorite sub teachers.

        Some of the teachers appreciated my willingness to fill in for them. I had the most trouble with managing the lower grades. I have a lot respect for elementary school teachers. The principals at the elementry schools were glad that I was willing come and fill in for teachers and didn’t worry if I had a little trouble managing the classes.

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  11. Does getting Excel to do functions and math for me count? I felt pretty proud of myself for figuring out how to get Excel to concatenate text strings for me (so I didn’t have to manually update a big list of XML code), and was very happy to discover the “COUNTIF” functionality…

    Otherwise, I mostly seem to use machines to conquer and shape other things – wood into sets, fabric into clothes and other things, 1s and 0s into web text. I did once pull out a carburetor from an old Honda Civic and rebuilt it – with, it turns out, incomplete replacement parts…but I got it rebuilt enough that the thing ran (which it wasn’t before) so I could get it into a real shop to get replaced.

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      1. I actually have a little post-it note stuck onto the side of my work pc that says “pebkac”. I’ve had it for years to remind myself that whatever is going on is probably my fault!

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  12. OK, Kringla Recipe:

    Cream together: 1 stick butter or margarine, 1 C. sugar

    Add and stir well: 1 unbeaten egg, 3/4 C. buttermilk

    Sift together and add:
    3 C. flour, 1 tsp. bkg soda, 1 tsp. salt (or less!), 2-1/2 tsp. bkg powder, 1/2 tsp. vanilla
    Beat well and chill several hours or overnight wrapped in waxed paper or plastic wrap.

    Divide the dough into 4 parts and with your palms roll each (using extra flour as needed) into a log of about 1-1/2 inch diameter. Keep the ones your not working with on a wax papered tray in fridge. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 475 degrees F. (Yep, you heard right.) Remove one log from fridge, and on a floured surface cut off 1 inch pieces and with your palm, roll each into a thick “pencil”, adding as little flour as possible. (You’ll have to use some, as these get sticky.) Pick up carefully and, on an ungreased cookie sheet, create a “Q” shape by overlaping one end over the other of a circle. (If you want to do Figure Eights, you’ll need maybe 1-1/2″ pieces.) Bake for 8-10 minutes in the hot oven. I can usually get 12 Qs on a standard cookie sheet, and it says it makes 40-45 if they’re small. Cool on wire racks, best served slightly warm with, what else, Butter.

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      1. BiR — you should be able to request it now. HCLib sends their stuff all over. I don’t think you have to wait for your local library’s copy to be there.

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      2. MiG… I also know no restraint where the library is concerned. This has led (fortunately or unfortunately depending on the day) to a complex spreadsheet listing the books that I’m in the middle of when they have to go back to the library before I’m finished with them!

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  13. Hey people. I just want to say that I have finished one week of music class concerts at my fabulous public school and I am so happy to have 2 weeks off. I am a gluten free person who can have cookies such as macaroons and coconut date balls. My husband is the snow blower machine king of our block which is filled with old people and single mothers. And I do so enjoy lurking on this blog where we can put sentences together with no apparent connection.

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    1. Holly… I am on tonight because I’m also feeling light at heart since I have the whole next week off. I haven’t had the whole week off at this time of year for about 2 decades. I’m almost giddy! Congrats on the first week of concerts.

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  14. Holly and V. Sherrilee – I know that feeling, remember it well. Enjoy!
    Holly – In what way were you involved with these music class concerts? You may have mentioned, but the brain is not now a reliable source of information.
    Sherrilee – your spread sheet leaves me breathless. 🙂

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  15. Greetings! At first, I thought of “The Machine” as the system, Big Brother, big government and the whole “Matrix”-like mind programming. When I was waiting to hear if I had passed the security clearances to be able to work at the Xcel Nuclear facility, I talked to a hippie friend of mine who was one of my references. I just had to know what they asked and how he responded. Once I told him I got the position, this was what he said with a deep, eerie voice; “Joanne, you know you’re going deep inside The Machine, don’t you?”

    And it’s true — the quagmire of rules, regulations, record-keeping and authenticating is astronomical. But this isn’t something you go up against and win. I can’t come up with an adequate explanation of what The Machine represents as my friend was referring to it. It’s more a feeling or oppression of spirit. This requires more thought and I’m terribly tired from 5 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work and 3 hours of karate. Later, Baboons …

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    1. Get rest, Joanne: re-fresh and re-create and re-wind over the weekend.
      There are machines and machines at larger levels, like fractals the pattern replicates itself at multiple levels. I was thinking of this over the last few days. I left teaching because I was burned out and went into writing educational materials and teaching alternative instructional and assessment design, at which I have some talent. A small part of what I did was sales, marketing, and management, three things at which I have little interest and not much talent. But then market forces hit and the educational/political pendulum swung far right and there was no place for my writing and training. Thus as the company shrunk, as a co-founder, I had to take on sales, marketing, and management as my only roles, or else switch to something else. Back into the classroom was not an option because no one would hire me at my age and costs when they can get 24-year-olds so much cheaper, not blaming them, except for the current widely-held silly notion that old and experienced is bad. So as my wife’s health and mine both slipped as we aged, I had to make the safe choice. So I tried to tell myself it was not lack of talent but lack of interest for the three roles. Not sure which it was in the end, just a poor match of me and roles. Then market forces drove me father into the machine, as Joanne’s friend calls it. I would say beast. I was caught in a machine at a much larger level than the company. I do not regret choices I made, but it all drove me father and farther from my skills and wants. I know that many and many a person has walked this walk. So be it, and thus ends my career, like many others.

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  16. Well, I’m sorry to report that I haven’t been victorious over any kind of machine. I have learned to repair my lawnmower but, truth be told, I am the most mechanically inept human being alive. I want to get a snowblower, especially this year, but I don’t because I know I’d have to mix the oil and gas properly or something. It’s easier to pick up a shovel.

    I’ve conquered the driveway, the roof, the backyard and the deck though! Me and my shovel!

    I know that for every machine that breaks down and can’t be repaired, another one roars to life. The pain of losing that old familiar machine can be hard, though. Like my 1992 Honda Civic hatchback. Like Dale and TMS.

    Like my current life: one door slams shut – another door opens. I’m stepping across a new threshold and into a new kind of challenge. Maybe I’ll finally figure out the right mixture of oil and gas this time…

    Like

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