Sunday, August 21, 2011

I Pick Huckleberries

A question that I hear from people in most conversations when I tell them I recently moved to Bozeman is: "What do you do there?" or "What are you doing?".

I know what they're getting at. They want to know what I'm doing for work.  But I hate that phrasing of the question because it's supporting that American cultural norm of being defined by one's career. I am a Systems Analyst or I am a Marketing Manager. I don't particularly care for that use of language so I like to mess with 'em a bit.

So when people ask me "What do you do in Bozeman?" I always respond by saying "Hiking, biking, enjoying the mountains. I can't wait for ski season." It's my way of trying to expand their horizons.

Saturday morning I went out on a hike picking huckleberries. Huckleberries are the popular local berry around here and one I'd never interacted with. They look like small blueberries but are more tart.

So the next time someone asks me what I do I'll be able to respond: "I pick huckleberries".

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Recycle Cycle

Bozeman does not have curbside recycling pickup and its a little sad for me to see how reliant I'd become on that convenience. There's no glass recycling to speak of (though I think there is a place you can take it where it'll be hauled to a different county or something) and everything else needs to be completely separated -- plastics from cans and paper from cardboard.

There are two levels to this inconvenience. First, I now need a whole bunch of separate bins at home where I've gotten used to only having two. Second, I need to transport these items myself to one of the several recycling centers around town, mostly located in the parking lots of big box stores.

Today I made my first recycling run. Since I've cut back on soda in the past year I've been drinking lots of La Croix sparkling water in cans -- two or three per day. So I had 6 weeks of crushed cans to recycle and, as you may know, I'm not a fan of driving my car. That means that I'd take the cans by bike.

Fortunately I recently purchased a kickass handmade messenger bag from Andy at Trash Messenger Bags and it was up to the task. First I crushed all the cans down small so I could fit 'em all in the bag. Here's a picture of my bike and my custom designed Trash messenger bag filled with recyclables.

And here's the same photo but with the can bag out of the messenger bag. The messenger bag has a great volume.

I only had to bike about a mile to get to the recycling bins, so that's not too bad. The bigger challenge for me is that I need to set up more recycling receptacles in my house. I don't exactly have a convenient space for them so these multiple inconveniences are causing me some delay in getting a new system setup. But I'm making progress and should get it all together soon enough.

This massive pile of cardboard boxes left over from my move might require more than a bicycle, however. Or at least I'll have to borrow a trailer.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Career (Chutes &) Ladder

Sometimes your life leads you down a path that you didn't entirely plan, but that, in retrospect, was leading you to the place you wanted to be all along. This is a story about a career path not towards more money and more prestige, but toward more freedom.

When I graduated from college, like many young bucks I wanted to climb some corporate ladder and make a name for myself in the business world.  Work downtown in a skyscraper. Carry a briefcase. Make a lot of money. Own a cabin and a boat. Because that's what the generations before us wanted, right? That's what we were brought up to believe was "success".

Times were tough after college so I was happy to get a job at Lutheran Brotherhood, due, in part, to a friendly family connection with the Chairman of the Board. I made $18,000 and immediately bought a new car for $12,000 because that's what rising young businessmen did. The new car is often the first big status symbol Americans purchase to let their friends and family know that they're making it. I worked my tail off those first 3 years, getting promoted up 3 more rungs and displaying my talents for all to see.

But then something changed. I was 26.

Truthfully, what I remember most about the shift in my focus are two things. The first is this John Denver lyric from "Rocky Mountain High":
He was born in the summer of his 27th year
coming home to a place he'd never been before

I used to come home from work and play that record on the turntable with my roommate Steve and we'd talk about how we should just up and move to the mountains and ski. The foundation had been set by my mom and aunt & uncle who all nourished the skier in me, and it would soon be the summer of my 27th year. Yet here I was, sitting in tan-colored cubicles in some office building downtown Minneapolis.

The second thing I vividly recall is the picture of the obese women in the Claims Department who did the same job day after day, year after year, sitting in their lifeless cubicles and never experiencing the full wonders of the world. The vision still makes me shiver.

So I moved to Utah with buddy Steve and skied my heart out for two years. And when I had had enough, I found myself back in Minneapolis working for the same company, which was terrific. I got a nice signing bonus because it was 1998 and I had a math degree.  Remember 1998 and Y2K hysteria? It paid to be thought of as someone who might be able to learn how to program computers to try to fend off the pending doom.

I spent 5 or 6 years programming computers and then was struck by the realization that the daily tasks of all the IT leadership I saw really turned me off. If I was going to keep climbing the corporate ladder I'd need to do it in a different part of the organization. So for the first time in my career I made a thoughtful and strategic lateral move to a job that would let me work with management from all over the company. This would give me a better chance to really understand the organization and find a place where I felt I would fit.

After 2 years in the audit shop I'd worked with enough V.P.s to know that I did not want to become one of them. We were simply cut from a different cloth and though I respect them I knew I had no interest in doing their job.

Strategic move #2: An opportunity opened up in a cool new department that was on the cutting edge, trying to develop new social businesses to make life better financially for the mass market of average Americans out there. I took a pay grade cut for this move, but it was getting closer to the sort of job that I now knew was best for me. The V.P. of this area was really open-minded and much more flexible on corporate structure than other places I'd worked.

I've been working in that area for that V.P. for about 5 years now and the tone that he sets in the workplace helped me be able to move to Bozeman and continue my same job.

My career path has not been one of moving up, but of moving out. I don't make as much money or wield as much power as I could if I had kept moving up, but I'm in a position of relatively low stress and I'm experiencing a new part of the world at the same time.

It's a different way to think of a career ladder. What's at the top of yours?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

There Are No Words

I've been listening to a lot of instrumental music lately. Perhaps its a new habit reflecting the fact that I'm working from home and lyrics tend to distract me a bit. But even before that I discovered a couple newish instrumental acts that I've been enjoying for some months now. Have any good instrumental recommendations to share?

Maserati - "Pyramid of the Sun" came out late in 2010 and I must've heard about it through a critic's Best of 2010 list. Electronic-y, but with galloping beats that make for better driving music than dance music.
Fuck Buttons - It's a horrible band name, but this was a big step for me into dancey, electronic mash music. And I like it a lot. I've been listening to the album "Tarot Sport".
The Alps -A little more mellow and neither danceable nor driving, but beautiful music nonetheless.
Glenn Kotche - The Wilco drummer is quite the talented percussionist. I don't normally go for pure percussion, but his album "Mobile" pushes the boundaries quite a bit and gets pretty creative.
Explosions in the Sky - These guys are a guitar rock band who make brilliant soundscape rock songs that sound as their name suggests (as long as you include the beginning of the explosion and also that lingering effect). The album I have is "The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place".