Lost in Translation and others

I make no apologies for today's post, I present unfinished thoughts - unrefined brain fodder. Todays post is made up of all the posts that have sat unpublished in my blog. Take them for what they are - unfinished, unresolved - some are old, some are new. A few are finished. Some need to be rewritten - they will not be. Some need to be corrected - they will not be. These are undeveloped snapshots - they are word studies - they are raw notes. Take what you will - tell me what you think. Do you understand - do you see? Snatches written during lunch breaks, written on time slips, on graph paper, on the back of pulled postings, and Subway wrappers. Written after work on Wednesdays waiting to give plasma, written at rest stops while trying to catch a nap.


Grabbing a stack of loose scratch paper I head out for my lunch break. Only one goal – to write. I’ve been cooped up in the office for far too long and so I head out – today’s sound track – Pink Martini. The sun is out, warming the cold streets. The wind is out, doing its dirty cruel work. There is a small plaza not far from work and it is there that I reside. It has very little going for it – very little indeed. I can smell nearby coffee shops and pizza places. I can see a small slice of the world, a row of shops, a busy intersection – and that’s about it. I don’t come here for the view, for the sights and sounds. No, High Street Square has only one redeeming feature – only one. There is a bench set into a raised garden plot that fits me like a glove.

It is one of my many “spots”. Spots that I’ve found.

Here I can slouch, I can sprawl, I can sit alone. I can sit and read, sit and think, sit and write. The sun is at my back and lights my page. I’ve found several of these “spots” in town – in coffee shops, and plazas, classrooms, and libraries, hillsides, backroads, parks, and trails. Spots that are mine. Quiet places midst the noise of life.

Someone questioned my motives yesterday – his question was fair, and honest.

The question was not hard to answer and the answer was hard to articulate.

I answered his question with a seemingly unrelated question.

“Why do you give presents?”

And not just presents – but that gift which screams perfect – that gift you can’t wait to give. The gift that will cause faces to shine, jaws to clench, and eyebrow to rise. Do you know that feeling you get when you know that you can make someone’s day, all of the sudden the gift is something you want to give, something that you get to give. You are so glad that you found it!

Seeing this person happy makes you happy – if seeing them happy did not make you so – then the gift would not really matter. It’s weird how connected this is. And we’ve all felt the opposite of this – the present that failed. The one that missed the mark, and we are kinda of bummed. And we feel as if we’ve failed, let them down somehow. We missed – it’s not the gift but rather the way the gift expresses feelings.

I want to give feelings – but I cannot bottle emotions.

You can’t capture those things behind the eyes – there is so much that cannot be written, explained, packaged, or delivered.

And we find that so much of life is lost in translation.

Bridging that gap from heart to head, from self to world.


I see my reflection in a can, in a jar of Vanilla extract. I see it and realize that I like the angle, I like the shot. The inky black surface reflects the room remarkably well. I can see the overhead lights, desktop clutter, Kleenex and houseplants. I’m in the lull of the day – ate a late lunch – looking forward to going to bed – bed however is hours away. Life gets busy then it gets still. Fast then slow.

Feeling pensive, feeling old, aware of all the decisions that I have to – that I need to make. And the weird thing is – the odd thing is that these are decisions which should be and are exciting. So why does looking for a job – why is this something that I’m avoiding? Why am I not excited? Why am I worried? Why am I paralyzed? Why am I recasting my fear as indifference? Why am I pretending to be too busy? Why?

Honestly – when I sit here and look into the jar of Vanilla extract, when I stop and think and listen. I know what it is. Fear of failure – if I don’t enter the race I can’t lose – if I don’t try I can't not succeed – but it’s


Sometimes encouragement comes in the most unexpected ways - in fact I would venture to say that the more unexpected it is, generally the more encouraging it can be. I love the random phone calls I get from people telling me to get outside and look at a the beautiful sunset. The random emails from friends sharing pictures that remind them of my photos. People don't know how much that says sometimes.

I was driving around picking up students for college group with a young man, when he told me how proud he was that I drive to Seattle on a regular basis - totally unexpected - the sort of thing that you don't even think to be proud of - so encouraging. There is a woman at my church - I think she is the most encouraging person I've ever met - I'll have a five min


The tank is empty - looking inside at first I see no one thing rising to the top - the waters are cloudy. I don't know what to write - I type and delete, write and erase. Think and think and think. I've got no pictures - I've been house bound. I've got nothing I want to get off my chest - at least nothing that is processed enough to type here.

Or maybe I do.

I don't want to talk about me right now. I want to listen not talk, to hear and not speak. To revel in another's tales. To listen, and to do more than that, to let their story connect with me. To let them in. To know someone - to see their shoulders and know it's been a long day. To hear the smile in their voice over the phone. To see the light in their eyes even when they are hundreds of miles away. I want to know and be known. I want to be a part of their life, as much as I want them to be a part of mine. I want to finish sentences, and answer the thoughts rather than the questions.


I've been sick for a while now, battling a cold that has been migrating back and forth from my head to my stomach to my chest. It returned this week with new found energy and vim. Yesterday was spent mostly on the couch, with a brief recess at a local burger joint - where I tried to infect as much of the local populous as I could while meeting with a brave and foolish friend who risked catching the crud in order to have a chance to connect.

Today was almost the same.

I woke up late - called work and told them that I would not be in. Going to have to bust my butt come Monday - they deserve as much for being so understanding. The couch sang it siren song till about noon where after talking to my nurse I decided that maybe getting out of the house would be a good idea. Maybe reading a book in a warm back corner of a coffeehouse somewhere. I've been trying to finish "Desiring God" forever


I don’t imagine large enough – I don’t dream grand enough – I sit and shrink my dreams under the guise of being practical, being responsible, being level headed - so I tone down what I want in life – fearing that if I can’t have the huge big dreams – I’ll just change my dreams into something smaller that is attainable. I’ll settle. I’m not talking settling for a smaller house or a cheaper car. I’m talking about finishing my homework, cleaning my room, doing my laundry. I don’t hold myself to that higher standard enough.

There is a tale of a great war horse that once freed finds it almost impossible to do the feats that he was once able to do. With no one standing over him pushing him on - he settled. I don’t always settle – in fact I’m most content when I haven’t. I know that there is a harder path, a path that is harder now, a path that leads not to ease but better and harder things. Why do I shy from these better harder things? These gems?? They are the things I prize. The things I have sweated for, worked for, prayed and waited for. Why do I settle? Why do I give up? It hurts sometimes; it hurts a lot of times, the striving, the pressing on. But I know what’s best – and so often I avoid it, so often I let myself forget, and so often I find myself relearning the same lessons over and over again.

Why do I change my sights – and turn my striving into loosing?


“Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father.”

I was going to write about tradition this morning – after reading some Chesterton, I’ve decided to wri


As a guy I want to fix things - to put them right - set them in order - take something that is broken and make it not. Most days this is fun, most days this is exciting, most days you feel as if you've accomplished something. Then there are days when you don't know how to fix something. You can see that it is broken, you can see the problems, but maybe you don't have the tools, or maybe your fingers are too large, or maybe you're afraid that you'll only do more damage. You loose sleep wondering what approach is best, you try and find someone who has fixed this before. You talk to people who have worked on similar problems. Sometimes you stumble on a solution and sometimes you come up empty handed.


Looking out my window, I see the snow, I see the white, I see tomorrow. Nina is singing, asking me where I’m gonna run to. Where am I going to run? So much to do – I should feel overwhelmed – so much to think about, so much to talk about, so much to feel out. Planning, praying, persevering, smiling, enjoying it all so much. The song flows thru me, the piano – the guitar – tomorrow is here. Today is passing. I was by myself in the office today. I left the lights off, turned on my desk lamp – and had the whole world to myself.

I sat in a 2000 square foot sparsely furnished room and heard the clock on the opposite wall. I heard the tires of the traffic in the wet snow outside. I heard me - processing my work, clicking, typing, humming, sketching, sorting, filing, listen and you could hear the ebb and flow of the city’s paperwork. I heard the voices of the octogenarians and septuagenarians who met beneath my feet. The power went – the power went and so did Nina, so did the hum of my monitor, so did my clicking and all was quite. The voices were still, my office dark, and the snow fell outside. Then seconds later it came back – just one powerstrip tripped. My monitor buzzed back to life, the Nina picked up near where she left off. The printers ran a self-diagnostic, and the scanner rebooted itself. I felt the hum of the carpet being vacuumed in the hallway, my boots were off and my toes were free. Free to tap and dance in slow steps beneath my desk.

I had the world to myself -

Not alone – but to myself.


Last week, I got my Trooper back from my folks. Red, boxy, dented - I love it. I fit in it. I can see out of it. It takes me places the Sable never could go.

Years ago I bought a Mercy Sable from a good friend - 500 bucks, busted up fender and all. I like having a car - just not that car. It's a grandma car. It's a grandma car with a busted fender. I don't know if you've had something that you need but don't really want. The shocks and struts are gone. It leaks oil like a sieve, I've got fix-a-flat in three of the four tires. The windshield is cracking. It gets me around at 30 miles to the gallon so that's a plus. But there is no pride of ownership for me with this vehicle.

And I had to laugh at myself when having the Trooper - the first thing I did was buy new seats, vacuum it out, armor-all the interior, take out the center consul and wash it out. There I thought - pride of ownership. I vehicle I can be proud of. Pride was almost the right word. Almost right. I started wondering if pride can ever be a good motivator. And I'm not sure if I've answered that question for myself but I did stumble on something else, and as I thought about it, it changed into something new.

At first I thought I saw a connection between pride and humility. The idea started with humility - humility being that you realize what you are, that sometimes you need work, that sometimes you are wrong, that sometimes there are just things you can't do. But humility does not prompt you to change or at least that was my initial thought. I remember wrestling in junior high, and for the first two years never winning a match. I knew that I was not great, and I got very good at not letting loosing bother me. I had no pride in myself or my skills. Now please understand what I mean - I was not downcast, it did not eat me up inside. I did not care. I was not going to win, and if I let myself care I would have been miserable inside. All of that changed when in the ninth grade I won every match except for one. Weighing in at 225, I had been wrestling in the unlimited bracket for two years now. Fat kid wrestling is very different from fit kid. The fit kids need to know things, skill and determination play a large part. Fat kid wrestling is a different sort of spectacle. The trick here is to use your weight to your advantage, we were not in shape, we did not have to have may tricks or complicated moves. Get the take down, roll him over and get the pin. And I won all my matches that year with ankle picks and half nelsons. A little speed, a little inertia and it would be over. I was having a blast. Winning is fun - it really is. I found that I really enjoyed it. Then came the one match I did not win - a small guy - 180 was wrestling in my weight class - I trotted out to the ring ready to make quick work of him. This should not take long.

I got that part right.

The whistle blew, there was an explosion of arms and legs, I felt the world spin and they I saw my companions of old, shining down upon my face - the gym lights. Pinned in six seconds. Six Seconds - SIX SECONDS. We shook hands and he trotted back this time. That was humbling in ways that two years of solid defeat never had been. I learned from it and when we met again in districts that year it was an epic battle. We went all three rounds and while he won - it was only by two nearfall points. He earned it this time. There was no anger this time - he was the better man, but I had put him thru his paces and offered the only real resistance he had ever seen that season.

But this story is about pride and humility and cars not wrestling I should get back on track.
I started this whole train of thought in the car trying to see if there was a link between pride and humility. The idea being that you needed both. Humility to show you that you needed to change and pride making you want to change. But there was something that pride was lacking. It was close, so close but not quite the connection that I was looking for. I'm proud of the Trooper but that was a reason and not a cause.

Pride - humility
pride - myself - pride - me
humility - others - humility - not me

Humility and Pride - somethings not right. It's almost right but not quite.

Then it hit me, it's not pride that motivates when humility shows us something lacking. It's not two opposites that spur me on to change and grow.


  1. The dualists out there would say that without pride, you could not know humility, that pride is the light that illuminates humility, in the same way that without evil we would not recognise good, without the dark we would not understand the light.

    Ouch. Deep thinking. Head hurt.

  2. Well after all my talk about not finishing now you've got me wanting too :)

    Pride and humility are linked I think - but not directly - not opposites – no I think they are coupled together by something much stronger, larger and more powerful than either. I don't think pride is what spurs us on when we are humbled. Hang with me here - no pride is not a cause – I think it is a result, an effect of this greater thing. The same with humility, humility is not a cause, an effect rather of this more powerful thing. Now I am venturing into areas beyond my knowledge and understanding – you are hearing me think aloud, so please bear with me as I muddle thru this - for I see glimpses of this other idea, this thing which I know so little about, and understand even less.

    I’ve never seen anyone be proud of something or someone that they did not love. In fact the greater the love the stronger the pride.

    I’ve never seen anyone humbled about some part of themselves that they did not treasure. I’ve never seen anyone embarrassed about anything that they did love.

    Take love out of the equation and pride and humility become causeless. Leave it in and all of the sudden they make sense – sometimes not the best sense – I’m not saying that this love is perfect and selfless – it may be a twisted self-absorbed love, you can tell when it is this way by the fruit it bears. Look at the pride it can spawns, look at the false humility it may exude. Examine the fruit to see the health of the plant.

    So that’s my take – pride and humility not two opposites that counteract each other, not two driving forces that need to be balanced, not two ideas that define each other. But two expressions of something larger, something older, and something deeper than either, something that apart from which they are meaningless.

  3. Interesting point, but I have to make a slight argument (not for the purposes of being contentious, but as fuel for further contemplation):

    I have seen people be proud of things they did not love (The vain man being proud of his trophy wife).

    And I have seen a LOT of people be embarrassed about something they love (the Broadway play "Equus" would be a case in point.)

    But I think you're right, that we shouldn't look at pride and humility as opposites, as we shouldn't any emotive pair (hate and love, happy and sad, worry and joy). I tend to think of them as colors on the wheel of emotion, changing forms as we move from blue to green to yellow. And as you move toward the center, you can see how the colors blend--how love colors pride or humility, how hate shades shame and despair.

    My head hurts again, but this time it's the meds.

  4. Yes!!!!
    But I think in the case of the proud man what he loves is what the trophy wife does to the thing he loves ie himself - his appearance, his reputation, his self-esteem.

  5. Ah.... I was wondering if someone would be able to find the counterpoint to the trophy wife... I figured there had to be an answer... I just didn't know which it would be... very good eye there Neil.

    Thank you for sharing all of your thoughts. Very insightful as usual. And this discussion of humility and pride is very thought provoking.
    You are an inspiring man!