Monday, August 31, 2015

A few years ago, I wrote a piece for my book Granite Grumblings ( Snap Screen Press, 2011) that discussed the difficulty of surviving meetings as we achieved a more “energy-deprived” age.

I am a veteran of many years with two Fortune 500 companies as well as serving on over a dozen corporate and non-profit boards. I thought my observations on what goes on in these types of meetings could be a useful review for all of us.

The “business of life” can be stressful and tiring but I hope that today’s entry in my blog will prove both useful, and something that you could perhaps surreptitiously read on your I Phone if you start to have a “nap attack” in one of these own meetings.

Good luck!

Glenn K. Currie

The Challenge of Meetings

As I continue to distance myself from age fifty, I am finding a steady stream of additional burdens that those of us who have passed that magic mark seem to share. One of these is that I am having an increasingly difficult time staying awake in meetings, presentations and speeches.

And, as I look around me, while attending these events, and before my thought processes begin to blur, I can see others, generally also over fifty, wrestling with the same difficulty. I see a gentleman facing the wrong way at his table during a luncheon speech, clearly doing some serious introspection. And I see another, hovering dangerously over a plate of mashed potatoes.

I understand that certain speakers and subjects can bring out these tendencies even in younger participants, but it seems to strike more frequently now that I have passed my golden birthday. I have been trying to determine why this inclination towards “meeting somnolence” seems to afflict those of us over fifty more extensively. (Maybe it is partly the result of too many speakers using words like a couple of those in the last sentence.)

After some careful analysis, I believe I have isolated a few factors that may contribute to why we are more susceptible than younger people to this malady.

1)      Those of us over fifty have already had to sit through a lot of these darn things.
2)      I think most of us are more tired. (Hey, I didn’t say this was rocket science.)
3)      In an informal survey, 98% of us hate acronyms and speeches laced with PC (politically correct) double talk or bureaucratic wordspeak that advocates  intelligence-challenged protocols, requiring interventions and consensus-building. (No matter how many cups of coffee I have had, I am going to lose my focus and go comatose after about thirty seconds of this stuff.)

Because there is some justification, as listed above, for our condition, the good news is that when you get past fifty, people have a tendency to excuse a few sleep indiscretions.
This basically means that fellow attendees will generally ignore, perhaps even envy, you as long as your head doesn’t hit the table hard enough to break china, and you don’t snore too loud.

In business, I have seen some absolute masters at “meeting sleep”. My first boss in civilian life had perfected this skill to its zenith. He sat through almost all meetings with his eyes closed, so no one knew whether he concentrated better with his eyes shut, or just slept a lot. I learned that he had a remarkable ability to keep a mental tape recorder going so that, almost invariably, when asked a question at a meeting, he could answer it. After several years of observation, I realized that I could tell if he was really sleeping by how long it took him to answer. If he had to stare off into space for a while, demonstrating deep thought, and maybe did the “ church and steeple” thing with his hands, I knew that he was having to rerun that tape recorder back a fair distance to get a true sense of the discussion leading up to the question. It was a skill that required a special and perhaps unique genius, and the man was one of my idols as I learned the ways of the business world. A young man, however, could never have pulled this off. Young guys have to keep their eyes open at business meetings.

Another amazing display of successfully converting meeting time to sleep time was demonstrated by one of my own employees in Houston a few years ago. He was a 55-year old hardened field operator whom I had brought back from one of our Saudi Arabian projects. He was a veteran of some of the most boring meetings on the planet. Those were held in Saudi Arabia and involved 20-25 people. They were conducted almost entirely in Arabic, generally lasted three to four hours, and required almost no contribution from English-speaking westerners. When he came back to Houston, he was required to sit in on our operational meetings. He had a reputation for being taciturn and lived up to it. But halfway through the second meeting I asked him a question and got nothing. He was sitting there staring at the table, but it was like he was dead. A hand waved in front of his face didn’t even draw a blink. We were about to dial 911 when the commotion woke him up. He had absolutely perfected the art of sleeping sitting up with his eyes open. Since he was older and valuable in many other ways, he could get away with it. In fact, he also got out of most of our meetings since his presence could be distracting and a little creepy.

While I find myself now facing the same problem, I don’t possess any of the special skills of these gentlemen. I only have the standard defenses and they aren’t working as well anymore. I used to be able to drink five or six cups of coffee and be confident it would enable me to endure any meeting. Now, however, after six cups of coffee, I spend half the day in the bathroom. I’ve also found that this can have a negative snowball effect, because certain unscrupulous people will take the opportunity when you are out of a meeting, to appoint you to additional committees where you will have to attend even more meetings.

I also used to go stand in the back of the room if my eyes were really starting to glaze. Because of the severity of recent nap attacks, however, I now worry that I’ll lose my balance back there and incur serious injury.

In a desperate effort of self-preservation, I would therefore like to make the following suggestions/pleas to speakers, presenters, and callers of meetings.

1)      Don’t darken the room after people have eaten.
2)      Try to avoid using nouns as verbs, or speaking in the language of acronyms and abbreviations. This can lead to MEGOizing your audience. (If you don’t know what MEGO means, you haven’t attended enough meetings).
3)      Only speak to groups in rooms where the temperature is below 40 degrees. That way if we fall asleep we risk freezing to death. (Fear is a good stimulant).
4)      If you must drone on interminably, do it quietly, and don’t make any sudden moves or loud sounds. (People can get injured and a lot of the potential victims in this town are lawyers.)
5)      If you are doing a dinner speech, never start it after 8:00 P.M.. If I were home, I would probably already be asleep on the couch. An uncomfortable chair and indigestion at 9:00 P.M. will just make be a grumpy sleeper.

6)      Oh yeah, and finally, if you call a meeting, please make your point, get the decision and get out of there. And if someone looks like they are doing some deep thinking, leave them alone and let them sleep.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Well the summer corn is here. Those that have traveled to New Hampshire this time of year know that, for about a month in late summer, the butter and sugar corn raised here is the best in the world.

This fosters a false hope among many homeowners that they owe it to the world to create their own backyard vegetable gardens where they can grow the corn and any number of other wonderful things.

They are wrong! I am here to say that for many, many reasons, they should leave it to the pros.

Backyard Vegetable Gardens is a piece from Granite Grumblings, Life in the Live Free or Die State (Snap Screen Press, 2011). It pretty much says everything that needs to be said on the subject.

Glenn K. Currie

Backyard Vegetable Gardens

My wife suffers from a malady that seems to afflict many in New England. I believe the formal name for this illness is “wormabodus disruptus”, but most know it by the more common descriptive term of “gardening”. In particular, I refer to the deranged efforts by some of our citizens to grow backyard vegetable gardens.

I have never really understood the attraction of digging holes in the backyard. There seem to be better things that people could be doing with their spare time, like watching baseball games, playing golf or going to the beach. But every year, millions of amateurs go out to their backyards, armed with spades and trowels and bug spray and calamine lotion…and proceed to totally brutalize a good patch of earth. When we do this to another country, the world screams bloody murder, but if we do it out behind the garage, it is some kind of noble avocation.

I don’t understand why these people don’t leave the farming to the professionals. Real farmers know what they are doing and grow good stuff, like melons and sweet corn and beans. But backyard gardeners spend countless hours disrupting worms and grubs, so they can grow stuff like turnip, zucchini and gourds. What the heck do people do with gourds? Their only strong point is they will last for weeks, because no one eats them. And if zucchini is so good, how come every gardener in America spends most of the early fall trying to give the things away?

When I ask these questions of my wife, she tells me that working with the earth is a relaxing, healing process that counteracts the stresses of modern living. However, my unbiased observations of her work in the garden leave me skeptical of the whole process.

Let’s look at a typical summer in the vegetable garden.

1)      Dig up a patch of the yard, usually someplace where a horseshoe pit or barbecue should be.
2)      Make a diagram for the garden that looks like the invasion plan for Normandy.
3)      Wallow around in the dirt for hours at a time, fighting mosquitoes, black flies and snakes, in order to scientifically bury a bunch of plants and seeds; many of which will never look better than the day she puts them in the ground.
4)      Build a fence around the garden to keep out all the little animals that want to eat the plants she just bought.
5)      Get really upset and stressed out because those little animals are smarter than the average gardener, and find a way through the fence and eat all the little plants.
6)      Buy new plants and build a bigger fence.
7)      Buy fertilizer to spread on the plants. Fill the backyard with olfactory reminders of why we don’t raise horses and opted for indoor plumbing.
8)      Spend approximately two months pulling out all the stuff that really grows well in the garden, so the scrawny little plants can grow a little bigger.
9)      Face the fact in late August or early September, that most of the “good stuff” in the garden, isn’t going to make it. But take solace in the fact that the zucchini is doing well.
10)  Go to the farmers’ market the next six weeks to buy all the good stuff that never made it.
11)  Spend a month giving bags of zucchini to the neighbors, many of whom desperately flee when they see us approaching.
12)   Give the sad remains of the garden a proper burial, after the first frost, and cover it with fertilizer and compost so there will be lots of disgusting stuff to dig up in the spring.

I never could figure out how this whole process actually reduced stress. She would spend all summer looking like a refugee from a mudslide and worrying about rain and sun and plant predators. The annual budget would include funds for plants, fertilizer, seeds, fencing material, equipment and gardening paraphernalia. I once estimated the average cost of a tomato, (counting her time at $8.00/hr), was about $143.00. Cucumbers probably cost about $18.00 each. Zucchini, of course, were cheap. But what do you really do with them? I know there are probably books out there telling you a thousand things you can do with a zucchini (and I can think of one more), but have you ever met anyone that looked forward to a big plate of the steaming stuff? My theory is that they’re really weeds, but gardeners won’t admit it.

There is no arguing with the bottom line, folks. You are much better off spending your summer hours watching bikinis at the beach, reading a book on the patio, or disrupting the plant and animal life at the golf course.

If you absolutely must spend your time communing with the worms and grubs, I suggest you stick with flower gardens, which are a whole lot cheaper and prettier. And if you get a few weeds in the flower garden, most of us won’t know the difference. Some of them are prettier than the flowers. Weeds, like vegetables, are a matter of taste, but at least you don’t have to eat the ones in a flower garden.

Monday, August 17, 2015

As we search for our places in the world, it often seems that our population wanders around lost.

We cover our faces and pretend that it is enough to slog through our days immersed in the pettiness of keeping the sand out of our eyes. We huddle in our little corners and hope the storm will pass us by.

There are lots of movies lately that imagine the end of the world as we know it. It seems to be a favorite topic for all those young theater-goers who assume they will be the survivors.

But what does the Earth look like in those scenarios? Where have we arrived when the dust settles? Are a few pieces of silver enough for what we have given away?

I wrote “Shamal” (In the Cat’s Eye, Snap Screen Press, 2009) a few years ago to ask some of these questions as we continue our journey through human history. I fear that too many of us are now willing to do nothing as the Earth withers under the winds of war and the fires in the forests of our minds.

Glenn K. Currie


The storm rolled across the land,
Pushing a wall of sand a thousand feet high.
It carried the remains
Of crusaders and martyrs,
Filling the cracks in the earth
With ancient epoxy.
The lines of living were lost
In the enveloping darkness.
Borders disappeared,
As the wind blended sacred soil
With the sweat of shepherds and kings.
It was a world of the blind,
Each man a wanderer.
When the dust settled,
The moon spread pieces of silver
Upon the burial ground,
And the stars whispered assurances
That nothing had changed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I received my first comment on my blog today through Google 1. Thanks Mike. Hope things are going well and I am glad you liked today's post. I have a lot of visitors to this blog from all over the world. I hope all of you are also finding something here that you like.

So much in life is dependent on chance. Did we get good, healthy parents who gave us attention and guidance? Did we have the misfortune to be born to great wealth or terrible poverty, either of which can limit our choices and kill our imagination and initiative?

Okay, I hear you laughing at great wealth being a misfortune, but, from what I have seen, it can kill ambition and open a lot of the wrong doors in life. It is very easy to fall off the edge when expectations are high and you have little understanding of what the real world is like.

Yes, great poverty is a much larger hurdle to overcome. If you don’t have strong ambition and great strength of character, it is very easy to be swallowed up by the walls and the sink holes that surround you. But you grow up knowing that there are better places than where you start. I think there can be advantages in seeing that the world can be brighter where you are trying to go, rather than having the world so bright behind you that you find yourself staring into the shadows.

The real determinants in life are the choices you make from wherever you start. We all face a point in our lives when we must assess our particular strengths and weaknesses and decide which will dominate our path.

Luck determines where we start in life, but our choices determine where we finish. If we have the strength of character to overcome the stuff that circumstances and people throw at us, we can live good, productive lives.

Each of us has a “Stranger at the Door” (In the Cat’s Eye, Snap Screen Press, 2009) challenging us perhaps, or just waiting out there to see what we can make out of the great blessing of life.

We can pass the years hiding from the stranger or we can make the decision to open the door and face the world, no matter how much of a storm may be blowing.

The choice is there for all of us, no matter where we come from. What will you do?

Glenn K. Currie

                    The Stranger at the Door

There is a stranger at my door.
I hide behind my chains and locks,
Afraid of his judgement.
He has traveled a great distance
To demand more from me
Than I know how to give.

Through the drawn curtains,
I hear him taunting me for my fears.
“The Earth is too large”, I say,
“The universe is too small”, he replies.
My mind runs in circles
As I watch the mirror change.

I am torn between less and more,
What I am and what can be.
My vision is flawed by temerity.
Yet, if I dare, I will see
Who now stands so quietly,
This stranger at the door.

Friday, August 7, 2015

In New Hampshire, our charities raise a lot of money by hosting summer golf tournaments. These are opportunities for many of us to get out in the pleasant summer climate, support a favorite cause and demonstrate our total incompetence at trying to hit a small white sphere with a big club.

Unfortunately, too many of us get upset at our inability to play this stupid game.

Because I want our charities to continue to make money from these fundraisers, and I want to minimize the stress level for our combatants, I wrote a piece called “Playing Charity Golf” which is included in my book Granite Grumblings, “Life in the Live Free or Die State” (Snap Screen Press, 2011).

I hope all of you who venture on the golf course two or three times a year for these events will learn from this.

Glenn K. Currie

Playing Charity Golf

I brought my golf clubs up from the basement this week. It’s July and my golf season is about to begin.

I don’t know why.

Every year I tell myself that I am not going to once again inflict upon my fragile psyche another season of pain and humiliation. But then these charity tournaments come along, and friends invite me to play in them. They do it so they can watch me make a fool of myself. This seems to give them pleasure.

I agree to this because I am a fine person who wants to help out some good causes…and because they usually have pretty good gift bags at these things. These gifts go to all participants, even me. The one problem with these little freebies is that most of them are golf-related, so I have to keep playing in order to use them. It’s a vicious circle, which I can’t seem to break.

Another attraction of these tournaments is that I almost never have to actually play my own horrible shots. As long as one person in the foursome hits a decent ball, everyone else can play from where he or she landed. This doesn’t really cut down on my lost balls, but at least I don’t have to spend as long looking for them.

I have noticed over the years that the “scramble” format has also encouraged other lousy golfers to stumble out onto the links. We are like a special fraternity of hackers. The golf pros at these courses would normally never let us near their precious tees and greens, but on this special day, they have no choice. And we pretty much tear the place up. We play from the wrong fairways, land on the wrong greens, bang balls off the roofs of the members’ course-side homes, and generally scare the hell out of the real golfers. And it all can be classified as a noble effort to support needy charities.

I also find it really amusing that, occasionally, we win the good prizes. Over the years, I have won three special awards for sinking the longest putt on a designated hole. In one typical case (pre-scramble format), I was lying six or seven by the time I got to the green, and I was on the outer edge because I had just blown an easy chip. I then proceeded to sink a sixty or seventy foot putt to save my eight…and, oh yes, win the prize. One of the nice things about winning this prize is that it is a real advantage to be bad. The closer your approach shot lands to the pin, the less likely you are to be in position to sink the longest putt.

I have never understood, however, why they give a putter to the winner. I have three putters from these things, two of them beautiful handmade jobs that I wouldn’t think of bringing on the course. Besides, my twenty year old Ping is the only thing in my bag that works. Why don’t they give us something we can use, like a ball retriever or a three wood…or a lesson on getting out of the sand?

Even hackers like myself, however, eventually pick up a few pieces of useful golf wisdom from our years of appearances at these tournaments. And while they are not of much value to the good golfers out there, I think they could be useful to any of you who are actually thinking of following in my footsteps and playing in some of these tournaments.

1)      Put your gift bag in the car before the tournament actually starts. That way they won’t be able to confiscate it while you are still out on the course.
2)      Be prepared for humiliation. You will always hit your worst shot when the most people are watching.
3)      Golf  balls are inherently cowards. They will invariably hide in the woods or tall grass in order to keep you from getting a clear shot at them. Water holes are a chance to exact your revenge on the ones that have performed the worst. Don’t yell “die sucker” too loud, however, if people are putting on a nearby green.
4)      The faster your swing, the more time you will have to look for your ball.
5)      Always take the short cut over the trees when faced with a sharp dogleg. You’re going in the woods anyway, so you might as well go out in style.
6)      There will always be one guy in every foursome who points out that “it’s still your turn”, or “you didn’t make it to the ladies’ tee”. Disposing of him, preferably early in the round, is the only appropriate reason to ever remove your 3-iron from your bag.
7)      Don’t waste your time figuring out if you have the right club for a particular shot. The chances of you hitting the ball properly are infinitesimal. And if you do hit it well, it will always be the wrong club. (This is humbly claimed as Currie’s Law).
8)      Bring lots of rain gear and pray for a downpour. This will be your only chance to actually win a tournament. We once finished second in an event in which they had to stop play and draw numbers to determine a winner. We were about a hundred over par at the time.
9)      Never read any books on golf. They will only confuse you. Go out there without any plan except to have a few beers at the earliest opportunity.
10)  Don’t celebrate too wildly when you win the big raffle prizes at the post-tournament dinner. The real golfers all have bags full of potential weapons.