Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Examination of Conscience and Getting Things Done: The Balance of Prayer and Productivity

I'm a big advocate of Getting Things Done, a productivity process laid out in the book of the same name, by the consultant David Allen. GTD is a popular method amongst the Old-Lifehacker/Hipster PDA/Moleskine crowd. The whole process is certainly enough to fill a book and I'd be remiss if I were to explain it in detail, not to mention likely violating a law or two, or at least the spirit of that law. I found my copy for ten dollars at my local big-box book store. It's been worth every penny.

What is relevant to this discussion, and what you really need to know for this comparison to make sense, is that the method focuses on moving as much as possible out of mind, while keeping it readily accessible, achieving the business equivalent of the focus-high common to professional athletes. The idea is that you aren't wasting mental energy trying to remember everything, and you trust your system enough that you know you won't forget anything. It has the rigidity of a full organizational scheme while maintaining the flexibility of real-time prioritizing... but the main element is the "review".

You review to find anything you might be missing and refresh your memory about your longer-term commitments and goals. Mr. Allen suggests doing so weekly in order to truly benefit from it. You search your mind for anything actionable or quasi-actionable and put it together into some readily-referenced format. That gets it off your mind, into the hands of something much more capable, and frees you to work on what you need to work... the areas you identified by doing a review!

Today I realized there was a similarity between this practice, and the Catholic practice of an Examination of Conscience, one of the necessary steps to prepare for confession. In an Examination, one consults one's own conscience, often with the aid of a list, and calls to mind the state of one's soul. Most Examinations focus on Mortal Sins only, which is fair, as these are the only ones we are required to confess, though some people more experienced than me tell me it's helpful to confess venial sins too. That's a topic for another time.

With the Examination though, I find there's a side that is often overlooked. We think of Confession as wiping the slate clean, and it does, but many mortal sins are sins of habit. Let's face it, if we know something is wrong and we do it anyway, it's not because we want to be bad, it's because we've associated that bad thing with some sort of positive outcome. I think paying attention to your Examinations, and maybe even keeping any done within, say, a two-month period, would be helpful in allowing you to identify areas where you're having some trouble... sometimes they aren't always as obvious as a major addiction.

I'd leave you with a dilbert comic, but I can't afford the licensing fees. Instead, I merely ask that you try and find the origin of the statement "I intend to fuse six sigma with lean methods to close the gap between our practices and our goals."

The Power of a Nice Blazer

Don't ask me to explain this particular artifact of human behaviour, but I am universally treated better when I'm wearing a blazer, no matter how casual or even ragged my other clothing may be underneath. I have a number of options for a jacket when I'm leaving the house, including a few different hooded sweaters, a fleece windbreaker, a sued jacket and a heavy wool winter coat. The winter coat and the blazers seem to elicit the best reactions out of people. Salespeople smile, bus drivers give a friendly nod, instructors ask how I'm doing, and so on.

But if I wear one of the sweaters? Forget it. Human nature is what it is, I suppose.

Busy Day

I don't have my own car, which forces me to keep my schedules pretty simple, most of the time. When it takes twice as long to get anywhere, or do anything, it becomes more necessary to take one's time. Transportation takes a lot of my day, and I've never figured out how to really optimize my time on the road.

Every now and then, though, there's a day where I do have to do more than a handful of things. Tuesdays are normally grocery day, but normally I can get my groceries on the way home from the college by just stopping at the mall, where I'd have to transfer buses anyway.

Today, my day is somewhat more complex. I've got a class that was cancelled, so my whole school day was shifted by about two hours, and, unfortunately, it wasn't a shift which engenders extra sleep. The doctor called to move my appointment to today, specifically this afternoon, which the cancellation of the class had freed up only hours beforehand. What's more, there's just enough time in there to travel, between my last class this morning and my appointment, with a nice gap in the middle where I can eat something if I have it with me. After the Doctor's Office, I'll presumably have to turn around and get right back on a bus, where I *should*, if everything goes according to plan, meet my brother at the mall to do the groceries.

Then, I come home, rest for an hour or so, and go see the RMT my mother sees, who will hopefully be able to tweak my back and wrists so that I'm good for at least a little while longer. Not that either are particularly bad, I suppose, but it would be nice to be rid of the aches of both for at least a few days.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Today I became aware that I've spent the last several days in a spiritual dryness. I talk the game well and I study my catechism, but the actual spiritual side of my Faith is lacking. I don't pray often, because I try to pray in private and I don't get much of that.

About a week after my Baptism, I fell into a mortal sin I have a particularly strong habit for. I made an arrangement with Father to hear confession, but I wasn't very clear about the sin being recent, because I felt shamed of it being so recent, and when he said that baptism washed away prior sins (which is true), I didn't bother to press the issue. I didn't want to go to Mass, then, either, because I didn't want to wait in the pew for the Communion, and I definitely didn't want to profane the Eucharist by recieving in a state of mortal sin... so now I'm up to two.

I feel a very strong need for Confession. The only anonymous confessions in the city are held at the Cathedral on Saturday afternoons, which is a less than ideal time to travel by bus, but it's a sacrifice I'll just have to make.

I honestly feel there is a connection between my slipping into my sins and the feeling of a spiritual dryness I am experiencing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Meditation on Catechism

Lately, I've been reading the Catechism. It's been one of those "I should do this but" activities that I have so many of, but someone made a gift to me of the hard copy, and tucking it into my backpack seemed to be all I needed to do to make a habit of it.

I originally set out to annotate the entire thing, but that's a tall order and the sort of thing you should really only do if you're making a professional study of the document. So far, however, what I've read isn't what I expected. I can read some pretty dry stuff, and I'm fluent in about eighteen different dialects of legalese, which is more or less what I was expecting. This document is a standard, a sort of deposit of faith in its own right, that is supposed to lay out all there is to lay out about the Christian faith. And it is, but what I was expecting was a rather long list of the "thou shalls" and "thou shall nots". I was expecting, for some reason, to have my faith challenged a bit as I am made to consider that I don't always put God first. And it was. But the read so far has also been edifying. I want to share a few graphs I found to be particularly so.

154 Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason. Even in human relations it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions, or to trust their promises (for example, when a man and a woman marry) to share a communion of life with one another. If this is so, still less is it contrary to our dignity to "yield by faith the full submission of... intellect and will to God who reveals", and to share in an interior communion with him.

159 Faith and science: "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth." "Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are."

Finally, to anyone considering taking up bible study as a serious hobby or as a legitimate form of spiritual growth, at the very least, read the Second Article of the first Part, Section, and Chapter of the Catechism, entitled Sacred Scripture. It's like an owner's manual.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Few Special Projects

I just wanted to let you all know a few of the special projects I'm starting over the next few days.

  • Converting my old fish tank for my younger brother's pet leopard gecko, so that she can have some proper legroom.
  • A full Getting Things Done audit after about three months of not using the system properly.
  • The first stages of business planning to decide exactly what field I'm going to go into when I begin private practice.
  • A full read-through of the Catechism, which I'm annotating heavily, and for which I'd like to thank my confirmation sponsors, Jim and Joanne, since it's something I'd never have bought for myself and probably never have read without a hard copy.
  • A collection of my notes on the same, which I'm tempted to distribute electronically, for educational purposes and under all the appropriate fair-use clauses. Just let me confirm with my law instructor that that's something one can do.
So if I seem sporadic, that's why. At the very least I'll try and come up at least once a night to say something. Cam put a lot of pressure on, mentioning me to her readers! I feel like I'm on a deadline now. (Don't worry, that's the way I like it.)

A Last Note on Infanticide

I try not to get too hung up on one topic for too long, and between my classes with the college and trying to get up to speed on the Greek financial crisis and the impacts it's going to have on the Eurozone, the World, and Canada herself, I don't necessarily have the time to write a treatise or anything.

On the other hand, things good and bad have a habit of coming in in threes, and I still have something more to say on the subject. Something I thought wouldn't need to be said, but I'm not entirely surprised to find I really, really do need to say it.

I do, as a matter of fact, feel that the penalties in the Effert case were too light. I feel, to be honest, that the maximum penalties assigned to the crime of Infanticide (as defined in the Criminal Code of Canada) are too light as a whole. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I feel that Infanticide should be separated from Second Degree Homicide at all.. My explanations of the case were more to alleviate the mentality shown on the CA Forums and elsewhere that "Those immoral Canadians have legalized killing infants!" is an entirely vacuous remark.

We need serious criminal reforms in this country, and not always in terms of tightening up the penalties. This is the sort of thing that always reminds me I may very well have politics in my future... I just can't keep my mouth shut when I see something being done incorrectly.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Can you blame me?

Everyone knows there's not a person alive without a particular sin they struggle with. Some are liars, some are cheats, some are thieves, some like the hunt of the night... but just about everyone seems to have a thing. We all fall, and hopefully we all try not to fall too often.

Catholicism teaches that this is an unfortunate, but perfectly normal, part of our existence. Mankind is disposed to sin but called to rise above his dispositions. There are so many sins that we've split them into two categories, according to their gravity; mortal sins and venial sins.

Mortal sins are all the ones you can think of off the top of your head (not really, but you get the idea). These are the sorts of sins that, done intentionally, with full knowledge of their nature, land you in a world of otherworldly trouble when, god forbid, you kick it. They are deliberate refusals of God's will. And when we commit a mortal sin, we need special grace to bring ourselves back into communion with Him: the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Reconciliation, or Confession, is probably the most recognizably catholic sacrament, after communion. It's also the most widely misunderstood. I hear all sorts of thoughts about it, and a lot of them come from my own head. Things like: "The priest will use this information against me.", "It will get out.", "I don't see why I need to confess to a mortal man."

I'm not writing a scriptural defence of the sacrament. The Catechism does a pretty good job of that for me. What I am writing about is the state of the sacrament in my diocese, a sacrament that I need and have difficulty obtaining.

First of all, it's pretty thin on the ground. Father has said, and others corroborated, that you don't see too many people making a regular practice of it. Accordingly, the only place in town where it seems to happen regularly is the Cathedral. Anywhere else, you need to make a special appointment with your pastor. First Confession is observed, or so it seems, among the little ones, but other than that, even the older Catholics from Pre-Vatican II-era St. Ann's don't make confession often enough to make an open window every week that important. St. Ann's doesn't even have a confessional in the building.

Why would it be important for there to be a regular period for it? Well, for one thing, not having to arrange for an appointment leaves the door open for anonymous confession. That's what we have confessionals for, after all; the screen allows you to hide your face from the confessor. Some say that that removes some of the psychological pressure and makes the confession less effective as a practical measure against repeat punishments, but I think that, if we want to be healthy, we should look at confession less as a punishment as more as a wonderful opportunity.... and that's really hard to do if you're dreading telling a person who knows you personally your innermost struggles and vices.

Having Confession only at the Cathedral presents quite a chore for me, and anyone else in my immediate area without a valid driver's license. For me to get to the cathedral from my house takes roughly an hour to an hour and a half on a saturday, which is when the confessions are heard. What's more, from what I hear, the door isn't always open every week, and I'd hate to have travelled that distance, particularly with winter coming up, to find the cathedral doors locked.

Being a good catholic with all the proper disposition, observing all we are told to observe in the Catechism, was easier 50 years ago than it was today. Can you blame me if, occasionally, I don't?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Addendum: R v Effert: Perspective

To be perfectly clear: the previous post was not an endorsement of Abortion or Infanticide. in point of fact I think the laws should be somewhat more stringent for both.

What the previous post was was a general admonition against sensationalism. I've spent the last few days having to explain to both Catholic and Agnostic friends and acquaintances from the US that this judgement isn't a legalization of infanticide but an application of a concept in Canada called common law. Previous rulings have all treated mothers who have committed this crime in much the same way, provided they have sufficiently similar circumstances.

Judges in Canada are not empowered to alter the criminal code on a whim. The SCC is empowered to overturn laws on the basis of violations of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, but the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench (the jurisdiction involved) is not.

Infanticide has always carried a lighter penalty than murder, even within the text of the code itself. That's because not every murder of a child qualifies. The killer has to be the biological mother, and she has to be shown to have a suite of clearly-defined mental illnesses.

We might not like that the original homicide conviction was overturned in favour of infanticide, but that's not our choice. There is a reason why we have a right to refuse trial by jury in this country. Laws are not the structure of the public opinion, and they are not the codes of morality. In point of fact, morality cannot be legislated. For every person, the moral code is a higher bar over which we must jump. The laws are merely the bare minimums of behaviour we expect out of people who wish to live in our society.

Again I invite all of you to pray for the peace and the souls of those involved, from the deceased infant to her mother, to the rest of their family, and all the judges and lawyers engaged. And, again, I implore you, do not make the mistake of letting a journalist's good story get in the way of the news.

Friday, September 16, 2011

R. v K. Effert: Perspective

The Bloggosphere and forums like CAF have been abuzz lately with the latest news out of the Great White North: Infanticide has been legalized by Activist Judges! Oh God, have mercy on them, they know not what they do.

Reality Check. Some like websites like LifeSite News. Others like the reliability of CBC. Me, I like to go to the source; the actual Memorandum of Judgement.

The most important thing to consider is that the judgement was passed by the Court of Queen's Bench, a court responsible for finding in federal crimes. Ms. Effert is still guilty of the crime of infanticide. She has still been penalized. She must notify the court if she ever again becomes pregnant. She is subject to a suspended jail sentence, and to court-mandated psychiatric evaluation.

That sounds like a conviction to me. But don't let that get in the way of headlines like CAF's "Fourth Trimester Abortions Legal in Canada as Infanticide OK'd."

Don't take me wrong. Abortions and Infanticide are all tragic events. But we can't let the issue of the tragedy supplant the truth of the situation. The law wasn't overturned; this woman wasn't even acquitted. But that's the spin segments of the Catholic e-Culture have put on the story, which belittles the death of the little one. It is farcical, and a disgrace to the rest of us who occupy that sensible band of worldly awareness where we actually read and, failing to fully understand, research, rather than regurgitate the headlines of the disingenuous.

God gave us brains so that we could apply critical thinking skills. Let's not turn our back on one of his greater gifts. I hope the rest of you can join me in praying for the peace of the unborn, of the poor victim, and for the forgiveness and conversion of Ms. Effert.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Professionalism, Pride, Charisma, and Humility

School is going smoothly, and I'm glad to be able to say that despite sitting in the classroom with the frequent severe temperature shifts, a developing head-cold and a bad case of fatigue. However, being back into business studies has woken up a few old maxims I usually left to sleep somewhere between the correct way to fold a fitted sheet after its been washed, and the proper colour to wear for a pocket-square.

I speak, of course, of the idea of Professionalism. That's not to say that I was unprofessional as a cook, though there were times when my professionalism left something to be desired. The difference is that professionalism changes a bit when we're talking about an office setting. Certain things that pass for situation normal in an industrial kitchen are totally unacceptable in the offices of an accounting or legal firm. For one thing, there's a much higher premium placed on deportment and dress.

The thing is, as professionals, there are certain unwritten standards to which we are held. Customers and managers like to see professionals with a charismatic way and a sharp sense of dress. A cheap dress shirt counts for little when one can wear a nicer one. A tie with a subtle but unique design seems like a cheap innovation but can cost two, maybe three times what a similar-but-not-as-nice tie would cost. A simple suit, even with a good fit, is rarely a substitute for a tailor-made one... and so on.

Don't get me wrong, I like all of those things. I like them a lot. I'm just concerned that acquiring these goods, and the charismatic, I-own-the-room demeanour that comes with them, is detrimental to the virtue of Humility. Where is the line drawn between taking a bit of pride in one's appearance, behaviour, and profession, and that pride becoming Vanity?

It's an interesting question, anyway.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years

You know, I remember where I was ten years ago. I remember almost exactly how that day went.

The Scriptural Readings for the Sunday Liturgy are amazingly relevant, dealing with how we must forgive others before we can be forgiven by God.

That's all I really have to say about that.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

College Orientation - Day One

So, today was the first day of college, what I was expecting to be the first-and-only orientation day. Turns out they've stretched it to three. That would make sense, given the fact that the NBCCSJ campus is about three times the size of the Saint Andrews campus.

Thing is, in a course that's centred around business administration, there seems to be a lot of wasted time. For starters, every single new-entry student was on campus today, and began their days by crowding into the gymnasium only to file back out again immediately afterward. There was a grab bag and some sign ups during that time, but it was nothing that couldn't have been distributed to the classrooms that we all tried to get to en masse. Traffic jams, pedestrian or vehicular, are a major source of stress for me, which is a big reason I've totally ignored the idea of going into urban planning. The lecture in the classrooms was relatively worthwhile, though there was a certain "get on with it" voice in the back of my mind, since most of the lectures were fairly self-explanatory for anyone who'd already been to college; the workloads are heavier, the hours are longer, the attendance is more of an issue... that sort of thing.

There was a catered break with coffee and donuts, and then a tour of the campus that everyone tried to do at the same time, causing more traffic jams. The tour was nice, but with all of our classes in the same room (a feature I haven't had access to since the sixth grade), it was a little superflouous. Then there was a two-hour long lunch (presumably because everyone was expected to wind up in the cafeteria), followed by a Q&A with program graduates, and a general dismissal about an hour ahead of schedule.

All and all, a good enough day, though it demonstrated a certain hyperbolic tendancy among the staff. Time management is crucial, and you've got to work hard to succeed in our courses. Cut to the famous clip of George Bush solemnly speaking about dying US soldiers in Iraq at a golf course, and then turning and saying "Now, watch this drive."

Tomorrow promises to be only marginally more productive. An hour-long information session on school policies and general housekeeping tasks, followed by fifteen-minute mini-tutorials for each of the semester's courses, going over the syllabi, meeting the instructors. Somewhere in there there's room for another two-hour lunch, a campus-wide barbeque with students of both years in attendance and lines as long as the school, to be sure. In as much as a population of largely 18-19 year olds can be expected to form lines on their own. Supposedly we have a scheduled slot to hit the book store, something I would have done weeks ago if I hadn't been uncertain as to which courses, precisely, I would be exempting. I have at least two of the courses exactly from my previous work, and in two of the other courses I have very similar credits. Then there's an hour and a half for the students who are leasing laptops from the school to pick them up, followed by another early dismissal.

Friday seems somewhat more promising. Fridays for us are generally half-days, with the afternoon blocked for testing and whatnot, but more often than not, leaving us with a lot of empty time on our hands. Other than that, there's a toonie breakfast from 9 AM to 10 PM, followed by an hour-long software download session (and, so help me if I have to change any of the software I'm already using, like office 2007 (which we are required to use anyway) or, say, McAffee (also a requirement), and then an hour to make sure we can all log into the school network okay.

So I guess the hard work doesn't start until next week, huh? Maybe I'm just acclimated to the busier environment of college through my past with the Hospitality and Tourism Management program, but even a "heavy day" sounds pretty light to me.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Creativity in Faith and Practice

Certain members of what I jokingly refer to as my fanbase (the half-dozen or so people that have been exposed to my creative writing exercises) seem to be concerned that my move away from the professional kitchen and into the office lifestyle will put some sort of damper on my creativity. In truth, I've never felt less creative as a writer than I did when I was in the kitchen! You're busy all day, putting your mental energy into coming up with newer, better ways to do established menus, and your evening hours become dedicated to creating new dishes or searching for new ideals in the pursuit of food.

The subject of creativity has come up a lot, lately, with regards to my upcoming conversion, with some of these same people. There seems to be a general understanding of Catholicism that ranks it as the least 'creative' or the least 'individual' of the Christian communities. Never mind names like Aquinas, Botticelli, or Michaelangelo, I suppose.

No, the contention doesn't apply as much to sacred art as it does to practice of the faith itself. People take the vast selections of what I sometimes call "canned prayers" that are employed by the church as some sort of indication that people shouldn't pray in their own words. Certainly, the number of already prepared prayers is massive. There aren't very many adult catholics who can't at least say the Our Father, the Apostle's Creed, and the Hail Mary in their native tongue, and quite a few older than me remember these in latin. Then, of course, every Mass of every day of the year is formed almost entirely from the lectionary, with only the homily needing preparation by the priest. Similarly, there is the Liturgy of the Hours, which, in its most complete form, is a four-volume cycle of prayers that seems to require a mentat or savant to accurately calculate (actually, it's rather simple, once you find your place). Add this to the various chaplets, devotionals, and prayer cards, and you almost never need to pray in your own words.

Only you do. In fact, you really do. Going to Mass, praying the rosary or a chaplet, or keeping the Liturgy of the Hours can all be personally edifying, but, at the end of the day, we all need to quietly approach God and pray in our own words. He is our Father, after all. Whether you want to write out the prayer first and read it in a more formal tone, or simply dialogue with Him is a matter of your own personal practice... but God is God. Our Faith is a gift from Him, He died for us, and, as we say in the eucharistic prayer, it is right to give Him thanks and praise.

So I would say it's unfair to call Catholicism somehow more restrictive in terms of its access to God. If anything, the Church encourages us to grow and develop in faith until we are in a state of constant, contemplative prayer, as a very young child doting on his or her powerful, wise, and ever-loving Father.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Brief: Faith, Reason, and Science

I just wanted to make a brief statement this morning with regards to the way that faith and science interact in our day-to-day conversation, by which I mean in the public sphere. Someone has constructed the false dichotomy that one can believe in God or Science but not both, which is absolute rubbish.

The scientific method allows us to make learned observations about our physical world and construct theories as to its workings. It deals only with things that can be empirically measured. Since God cannot be measured, Science cannot rule one way or another as to the truth of faith in Him.

Further, the Church says we should accept science, cf. CCC 159, CCC 341.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Example of a Manic Day

Today was something of a manic day, and the reason I know that is because the train of thought that had defined the day was, frankly, all over the place. Here are just a few of the things that happened today and the thoughts surrounding them.

  • Got up early to shower but wound up spending the vast majority of the time I was in the bathroom reading my book. That happens a lot and its a perfect example of why I shouldn't shower first thing in the morning but do something else first. Normally I try and say the Morning Office, and today would have been perfect since I have the house to myself, but for whatever reason, I wasn't feeling it.
  • For the record, a hot shower and a close shave are second only to a haircut in terms of their ability to inspire a bit of a charismatic feeling.
  • Reheated a small amount of pasta and ate a slice of cold pizza for breakfast. Sunday was always supposed to be a "good breakfast" day but sometimes you have to purge the fridge of leftovers. I've been nursing that pizza all day and there's still three or four slices left.
  • Mass was fantastic, which was unusual, because, in any other setting, most of what made it fantastic would have probably annoyed me. Father's sermon was on the idea of the person as a corporation, referring to the debt of love we owe others as a dividend. He also slipped an announcement in that I would be being Baptised and Confirmed during the Saturday vigil mass, and somehow everyone in the building automatically knew who I was. I got to meet most of the other people who will be helping with teaching this year, and found out I'd be teaching the Grade Ones with the Parish DRE's niece, and while I was being told I was teaching grade ones, I was introduced to the person teaching the next grade, so no pressure or anything! Honestly, though, I feel pretty good about this. Teaching people is certainly something I enjoy and with all the materials prepared in advance I'm pretty confident I can pull this off.
  • I responded to four or five potential buyers for the larger fishtank and spent a fair amount of time stripping it down, but I'll need help to get it off the stand and into the bathroom for a real thorough cleaning.
  • I wasted the better part of an hour taking my own measurements for a suit that I'll probably never buy, because a friend of mine mentioned in passing that I would probably like the styles on a particular website and was right.
  • I blew a particularly large amount of time watching the third season of the west wing, eating the same day-old Pizza, and generally wishing for another root-beer without being bothered to actually go out and buy one.
  • I rewrote my resume and spent a large amount of time putting bookmarks into my old communications book. I also got into an argument with myself over whether or not to include my most recent job on the resume, for which I was fired, and applied for a part-time postion with a car dealership.
  • I wrote three blog posts; an overhaul announcement, the previous writing about bipolar disorder, and this one. And now, I am going to bed.
And that, in so many words, was my day.

Living with Bipolar Disorder

I have a mental condition called Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember, but I was diagnosed with it when I was eleven or twelve. Having that sort of external attention directed at your mood and the way you think has a remarkable way of getting you to notice it yourself, and I believe that, if more people spent less time thinking about how they feel and more time thinking about the reason they feel the way they feel, there’d be a general upswing in the human condition.
Bipolar disorder isn’t what most people think it is. People my age tend to think of Bipolar Disorder as being rapid mood swings from happy to angry and back again. They think of it as a perpetual case of a short fuse. Those who are said to be bipolar are those who go from being chummy to being cranky during a beat. I’m sure it seems that way, to those on the outside looking in, or else that wouldn’t be the impression we have of the disease.
I can’t speak for the other forms, since I don’t have them, but Bipolar Disorder is varied, much like the autism spectrum disorders. At its core, though, bipolar disorders share their root in a malfunction of the brain’s natural rhythm. As humans, our brains don’t always work the same way from day to day, month to month, season to season, or year to year. Anyone who has ever been a student knows that there are days when learning and working with the brain is easy, and there are days when memory, retention, and logic just don’t want to work with each other. You artists out there know that there are days when creativity works and days when it doesn’t. Everyone out there has had days where they are “just tired” or “just cranky” with no discernable reason. These ups and downs are known respectively as the manic state and the depressed state.
Psychological depression isn’t the same thing as the emotion of the same name, though the two often walk hand in hand. Think of the brain for a moment like being a computer, and chart its performance on a graph. You end up with a vaguely sinusoidal curve, a series of ups and downs. The depressive state occurs when the brain is performing below average. By comparison, Psychological mania isn’t a crazed state; it is the state when this graph goes above the baseline. In depression, the brain is “running slower”, and in mania, the opposite. It’s not a perfect analogy, I understand, but it is close.
For quite a few years, now, I’ve been taking a medication called imipramine.  Imipramine is a common antidepressant with a few side effects that are rather immediate, making it less popular than some of the newer antidepressant drugs. The most common are drowsiness and changes to the heart’s rhythym, but can be adjusted away with changed dosage. As well, a prescription comes with supposedly-regular bloodwork due to the risk of liver damage, but a decade of use seems to have done no damage to that particular organ whatsoever. I take it at night, the lowest available dose, and I supplement in the winter with vitamin D, which is said to help somewhat with mood.
The reason I talk about medication is that most people with BPD have difficulty taking it, and I am no exception. It is easy, when manic, to forget to take the medication. The manic phase is something of a high, a period of accelerated learning and creativity. Many medications affect the quality, frequency, and duration of these periods.  Me, I’m learning to be creative and to be productive without them, because, hard as it might be to get fired up without mania, it’s even harder to motivate oneself to create, produce, or do anything other than be entertained when depressed. In classical bipolar disorder, you might have one of each period in the run of a year. In rapid cycling, at least in my cycle, these fluctuations take place over the course of a month. The dizzying rise and the subsequent crash are as hard if not harder to go through than the elevated or depressed states themselves. Irritability sets in, and a short temper. Everything becomes an insult and anything less than absolute compliance becomes a frustration. When you’re manic, you know everything, you see. When you’re depressed, you can’t be bothered to fix anything; it’ll just revert back to the way it was before anyway. That’s why the medication is important.
It’s not the only thing, mind you. There isn’t a medication on earth that would make someone well-behaved, courteous, even-tempered and productive. It’s just not there. But the anti-depressants and mood stabilizers and all the rest of it level out the cycles. Instead of a roller coaster, you get a pattern more like a normal pattern, more like a hilly countryside road. From there, you’re free to learn the things you never got a handle on in the first place. Things like healthy ways to diffuse your anger, how to deal with conflicts calmly. You learn how to motivate yourself even when you’d really rather not be doing anything, and you learn how to let yourself relax when you’ve been treating yourself too harshly.
Life is a learning experience, after all. If you don’t learn how to play nice with others, you won’t get very far.

A Mild Change of Direction

Good Morning!

It's Sunday morning, so I will be brief, as I still have to go through my pre-mass rigmarole, and actually walk down to the parish, which'll take me a good twenty minutes.

In any event, I'm taking this time to announce that there will be some changes to the format here. While the blog will remain 'catholic' in the sense it will talk about Catholicism and my journey through the faith, I'm going to give it something less of an essay-format flavour and something a bit more like a journal... much in the way that Cam over at A Woman's Place does. The old material will remain available for anyone who wants to read it, and you can expect ideas-based commentary in the future, but we'll also begin take a look at a bit of events-based writing, if only to keep things a little fresh and exciting. Additionally, the blog will be undergoing a name change, and possibly a URL change as well.

If I do change the URL, I'll try to devise a way for us all to know well in advance what I'm changing it to. Changing the name itself really does little other than editing the header at the top of the page. I was thinking "An Auditor and a Gentleman", but since I'm neither a proper accountant nor much of a gentleman, a different name might be better suited.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Business Communications, Professionalism, and Personal Relationships

For those playing the home game, I'm a graduate of the New Brunswick Community College with a diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management, and I'll be returning this year to start another diploma program, Business Administration, with a speciality in accounting. Business Communication is one of the many management courses we (the class of '10) studied and that most of us (including, admittedly, myself) blew off as a tangentially relevant and otherwise easy credit. Most of us went in with no intention of ever actually opening our own restaurants, and it was only the few who did who eventually realized how important the course was.

These days, the textbook lives close at hand. Anyone who spends any amount of time writing has a tendency to develop their own style, and I'm no exception. All the same, having a reference on hand with the fundamentals is a handy thing to have, especially when you don't have stellar interpersonal skills to begin with. A good communications textbook like this is invaluable for the writer, whether you're composing actual business correspondence or tinkering away with your pet novella. Most of the time I try and deviate from the templates for cover-letters and resumes and the like that are thus provided, but the chapters themselves are invaluable in shaping my own go-to-templates.

The reason I get to bring this up here at Rationality is that the communications textbook doesn't, strictly speaking, apply to business alone. While it is certainly written with that slant, the fundamental concepts are the same as those you would apply in almost any relationship. Some of the formalities might be dismissed when dealing with more familiar people, but the fundamentals remain the same.

We can say what we like about the importance of self-identity and maintaining a positive sense of oneself as a person, but we cannot forget that our reputations do, in fact, proceed us. We can identify as level-headed, calm individuals who are stoic professionals, and that self-image may even be accurate. However, others will see us according to how we actually present ourselves. No amount of Moore's tailoring or perfect grooming will compensate for leaning on a counter or using language better suited to the bar at the corner than the Bar Association. True, being casual has its place, and the workplace is moving to increasingly casual environments... but it's not all about work.

You see, a thought occurred to me this evening while I was working on my resume. When you think of a charismatic individual who is "good for all time zones", you think of someone who is polite, clean-spoken, and moderate in taste and fashion. These are not just the qualities of a professional in an office somewhere, but the qualities we normally ascribe to "Good People".

The Church is going through its identity crisis, but whether you can call it the mid-life crisis or that awkward moment of searching for a place in the world immediately after graduating high school and moving away to college is a subject for debate. She's been rocked by scandal. The positions of the Church on homosexuality, misunderstood as they seem to be in the public forum, have made it unpopular, to say nothing of her stance on issues such as Reproductive Rights. Between the label of bigotry that is all-too-happily slapped onto her and the stain of the abuse scandals, it's easy to see why the Church's popularity is dwindling and why more and more people, myself included, have a hard time telling people they're Catholic.

Thing is, the Church has an identity defined by the people within it. We can, as a body, reason that away with whatever excuse for our own behaviour suits us, but the reality is that the people on the outside, looking in, are going to see us the way we present ourselves. Are we the old women and grumpy middle-aged men disgruntled by the young whipper-snappers and their flashy lights and funny words, or are we the 30-somethings who can pull a cheap sport coat off the rack and wear it like Armani?

A bit vain of an image, but the idea remains. We owe it to ourselves to be polite and courteous, upright and honest, in all of our dealings. Our hearts and minds will be better for it, to say nothing of our reputations.

And, on that note, I must apologise for a previous post, Catholicism as Counter-Culture. While the sentiment was one honestly-felt, the point itself was poorly argued, and the style confrontational. Having said that, it serves as an excellent object lesson, as this post mirrors the message in an entirely different light. We must seek dialogue - Polite, honest dialogue - rather than allowing conversation to degrade as soon as one party or the other is offended.

Pax Christi.