Man, what a couple of weeks.
I'm back home now after about a week and a half in the Midwest. It was great to spend time with family, but sleeping in your own bed is never overrated. Especially when you have a cold, like I seem to have now.
Though I spent quite a bit of time (especially last week) on work, I did have a chance to clear the cobwebs a bit. Thoughts in no particular order:
City personalities: If you want to know what's important to people who live in any particular place, look at what that place embraces. I amused myself a little by doing this on my trip. Are there billboards, and if so, what do you see advertised on them? What ads to you see on TV and hear on the radio? What does radio "talent" talk about? What are the leads on the local news? What is the main source of entertainment? Is there any consistency to the feel of a city's personality, or is it a mishmash? Are people openly friendly? How do drivers behave on the highways? Is there a lot of sprawl? If you assess these things, you can get a pretty good idea about what it's like day-by-day where you are.
Wally World: I certainly don't like Wal-Mart any more than I ever have. I want to be as fair as I can in saying that. To be more precise and honest, what I don't like is Wal-Mart's level of dominance in local merchandising. (This is different from admiring their business success, which I do -- but acknowledging their success and liking their behavior is two different things.) I also don't care for the fact that, somehow, your local Wally has somehow become the center of town in many places. No more barbershops, town squares or diners. Nope -- any more, it's "I was talking to Bob at Wal-Mart today..." That's what I don't like.
Official end to the holiday season: You don't need more proof from me, but I'll say again that it's wildly evident that Christmas is more a commercial holiday than a spiritual one. You heard holiday music for since mid-November, but none yesterday.
TV is of course overrated: I didn't necessarily intend to do so, but I managed to watch hardly any TV for more than a week before Christmas. One less stimulus fighting for my attention. I highly recommend it. Somehow, you're not going to waste away by not watching Entertainment Tonight.
Intention: Speaking of intention, I had a chance to reflect on what has become my favorite thought from this year. I blogged in July about it, but it started germinating from a casual dinner discussion in New Zealand in March. (I gave the location not to be pretentious, but to recognize at least in my own head the value of having the conversation somewhere other than in your familiar surroundings -- better for the perspective.) Most of us, probably close to all of us, live without much in the way of significant intention. At best, we float around, and at worst, we're dragged through life by our impulses. I was talking earlier in this month with a friend who told me about someone he knew who felt trapped in his job (one he hated) thanks to a huge mortgage he's carrying and other similar handcuffs. I wonder if -- at say, age 12 -- he thought, "You know, what I really want from my life is to be a purchasing agent and feel like I can never do anything else in life because of a big stack of bills I rang up."?
Of course not. But that's where many of us find ourselves. Just today, in returning to the office, I found a Christmas card and letter from a friend who, in her words, was presented a chance to do a six-month assignment in Paris and jumped at it. Her husband started French lessons, and they're packing up their toddlers to live there for half of 2007, maybe longer. Good for them. What a way to actually live.
Happy New Year.