Monday, September 29, 1997

INFP Revisited

For the second time in my life I took a personality test. For the second straight time, I failed. I have no personality or at least my personality barely registers. Tee hee. Just joshing you all. I am nothing if not Mr. Personality.

Once again I took the Briggs-Myers test and the results were the same: I am an I (introvert rather than extrovert), N (intuitive rather than sensing), F (feeling rather than thinking), P (perceptive rather than judging). What was a bit scary this time around was that my scores in each area were more clearly defined meaning I am becoming even more David than ever before. And believe me that's the last thing this world needs and exactly what I have been working hard to avoid.

In a way it was discouraging to get the same results as four years back. The events that have gone down in that period most certainly have changed me and colored my personality and one almost wants to cling to the belief that at the very least the personality isn't one of those things that is etched in stone and predetermined. One thing that struck me while reading the material of what being an INFP means was the statement that as someone who is more intuitive than sensing I often let my inspirations lead me, good or bad, for better or for worse. If there is one epitaph that would be appropriate to put on my tombstone that might be it. The bigger mistakes I have made in my life have often been caused by feeling a certain sense of inspiration and believing deeply that is the path I should follow. That many of those paths ended where they did in logical retrospect shouldn't come as any surprise yet each dead end takes a little more out of you. Do Itashi-Mashete.

To have its employees take the Briggs- Myers is sort of a 90's thing to do for organizations who have bought into the importance of the concepts of Quality, mission and vision statements, valuing employees and seeing the importance of the value of the employees' ideas to improve the day to day business. A happy employee is a productive employee; an unhappy employee is counterproductive to the goals of the many. To know your personality type is to know how that might effect the manner in which you interact with your boss and co-workers and their personality types. The last time I took the test I was so stunned at how closely my defined personality type matched the written description that I went out and deliberately sought tasks that went against what I was supposed to do best. Call it strengthening your weaknesses and weakening the vanity of your strengths.

While it's not exactly the most comforting thought in the world to think that your personality can be so scientifically analyzed and put into neat little boxes it is helpful to understand better how your own thought processes work (or don't work) and how you go about assimilating information as well as how those you must work with do the same. The Briggs-Myers even goes so far as to suggest the type of work those in your personality type usually seek or excel in (I think Mom's told her she would be an outstanding truck driver). For an INFP the occupational field types were defined as "arts and communications."

To put absolute credence in the validity of these tests would be a tad foolish of course. An organization is only as good as its individual parts. The individual parts are only as good as their ability to adapt to their organization's challenges. In other words in the best mental institutions the analytical standardized tests are only as effective in judging a patient's state of mind and potential to be cured as the group ceramics class. Or so I would hope. In the workplace this translates into the high chance of failure between two co-workers if they base their interaction on test driven definitions of how they should interface with each other. I may not know much about people but I do know enough to know to get along with another is to try to understand what makes them unique not what links them with other similar personality types.

So to better understand the bias' of the mind that puts together this publication every week let it be said that as an INFP I may not say much and I have a tendency to isolate myself. I don't always make logical, structured decisions because I value spontaneity and creativity above all else. What I am seeking in life isn't so much a Cancer or an Aries, but rather anyone who can shift boxes when the need be. And damn if that isn't getting harder and harder to do as the years go by.

Monday, September 22, 1997

Turning Japanese

I miss your opinions, stories and laughter. I miss your insight, sadness and disasters. I miss your triumphs, accomplishments and determination...
-for J.H.

First Impressions of Japan: I didn't feel as if I could say much. When I did speak people looked at me with a stunned, confused look in their eyes. When they spoke the meaning of their conversations baffled me. Everything was rather odd and a mystery. In other words, it was just like home.

Life in the Big City: It is odd to go to sleep one morning only to wake up later the same day to find yourself in a completely different world. The twelve hour flight was a bit wearying. I reminded myself the next time Max the Cat whines and moans as I load him up in the car I will remember what it is like to be trapped inside a metal tube with no way to control your destination. What made the flight somewhat bearable was listening to the Northwest Airlines entertainment channels through my headsets. Nine hours of a one hour Beach Boys' special played over and over. By the time we were over the Sea of Japan I swore if I heard Help Me Rhonda one more time I was going to jump out of the plane. But damn if those Pet Sounds songs didn't hold up even after the ninetieth listen. I discovered too late (the last hour of the flight) that on another channel played a Styx reunion special. The listening experiences erased any doubt which culture had warped and shaped my mind.

Can you hear when my voice is a whisper? When you look away is it more clear? Your words never hurt me but your silence does.

Before I left I had tried to sharpen the focus of the picture of what it would all be like in my mind's eye. That picture was shaped by the portraits that used to hang in my grandparents' house in St. Paul- paintings of Mt. Fuji, photographs of their trips to Japan. After arriving in Osaka and taking a train from the airport into town, those pictures were about as close as the one's recently returned from Mars. A quick glance of Osaka reveals a city that looks in part like any big American city; tall buildings slightly aged, with apartments and houses scattered about. In a way it sort of reminded me of Philadelphia- the age of the architecture and the layout of the city as viewed from an above ground train. But unlike Philadelphia the city didn't seem worn out but was rather well kept. Osaka definitely had its own rhythm, the narrow streets where cars zipped through past hordes of pedestrians and bicyclists. Yet somehow there was a comforting order to the chaos.

You taught me to buy shoes and to learn to walk again. You made me feel like I was back on track and helped me through the most confusing concrete lots.

At night the electric signs flashed into your eyes as life buzzed around you. There was no honking of horns from impatient drivers or ornery looks from passing strangers. The retail, hotel, and restaurant help was extremely polite, bowing as you entered their establishments. Even the immigration inspector was respectful and gracious and made you feel welcome, "Maeda-san..." The Kentucky Fried Chicken sign suggested not all was foreign and that we hadn't landed on Mars after all (although I'm sure when the Mars' landscape is developed a KFC will do quite well there as well).

Cultural Tips for the Uninformed: Japan is not a good place to go for a guy who does not own a good pair of socks. I'm the type of fellow who rarely gets rid of stockings, even if the elasticity is worn and torn and the holes outnumber the remaining material. I believe worn out socks are one of the prices you must pay for living in an imperfect society. But in Japan where one often removes one's shoes as you enter homes or restaurants, wearing worn out socks can be a bit embarrassing. Also the squatting at meals was a bit hard on the knees. But the food was exquisite and I've never eaten as much in my entire life. One thing you want to do is eat quickly. The Japanese don't dawdle when it comes to food. And they eat large quantities (I felt I was on some sort of sumo wrestler's diet). We had sushi (rice and fish wrapped inside seaweed), udon (Japanese noodles), tempura (fried vegetables and seafood), and sashimi (raw fish). We ate at a restaurant where there was a charcoal grill built in the table and you cooked your marinated beef on the grill.

God as my friend are you surprised it means so much? Do you ever wonder why we are all born crying and why we leave in so much confusion?

Wacky Tobacky: Want to quit smoking without the difficult side effects? Go to the Tokyo Wendy's, step into second floor area and take a deep breath. Within minutes you'll have enough nicotine in your system to last you for nine lives. These people can seriously smoke. And they also enjoy an adult beverage whenever possible. They probably drink more beer than your average Packer fan. I thought about trying to recreate the Paul McCartney 1980 Japan experience trying to sneak into the country past customs with some sort of hemp bi-product, but thought better of it. No use testing the immigration official's sense of humor. The first sign we saw as we got off the plane was one telling anyone who felt "abnormal" to go to the quarantine area. It was my first mental test. I always feel a bit abnormal but did the Japanese officials need to know that?

Possible link between height impairment and with smoking? One nice feeling was for the first time in my life I didn't feel noticeably short. Not that I was tall among the Japanese people but I was about average size until we got to Tokyo where all of a sudden the people (especially the women) seemed a bit taller than other Japanese. One look at their footwear suggests why that is- huge platform shoes.

Mary O'Del: We were told for the Japanese the name of a business or product isn't important as far as the meaning of the words. Rather it's the sound that the Japanese take into account. Thus we saw some oddities like a drink called Procari Sweat. Nothing quite quenches a thirst like a jug of sweat. And we also saw a shopping bag with the name Marginal Glamour. One wouldn't want excellent glamour when spending hard earned cash, mediocre glamour is OK.

Bow Down To Toyota: A Shinto temple we saw had a shrine where drivers drove up to an area where their cars were blessed for good luck and low accident claims by shaking a broom looking object in their direction. Unfortunately we witnessed a ten car fender bender while leaving the temple (not really).

Communication: Words flowed but little was understood. Still it was amazing how much can be communicated by a smile or a meeting of eyes. For those who do not speak there still is hope that there are others who still will be able to understand.

Common Meeting Experience: Like many business meetings I have participated in, the meetings we attended were a bit perplexing. Language differences made communication difficult. I committed a faux pas by forgetting to bring along my business cards which are used during introductions as a polite way to help people put names to faces. One of the meetings we attended was held in at a conference table in the company's showroom. The table was eye shaped and a bright light illuminated things yet it wasn't harsh on the eyes. It felt like sitting at one of those TV political roundtable discussions. With my camera case strapped around my neck like a tricorder it also felt a bit like I was a member of a Star Trek landing party meeting with some planet's dignitaries.

An Uncommon Bond: I watched several baseball games on my hotel TV at night. It almost made me feel a hint of homesickness. Differences? What's the deal with the trumpets that constantly blare throughout the game playing a fight song during the action? What is the deal with the plastic clap devices (and if you've ever used a plastic clap device you know just how painful that can be) that are given to the crowd to bang and make noise? And why do the ball girl's wear protective batting helmets?

A Moving Experience: I felt the earth move in Tokyo. Fortunately it was just an earthquake. And no one even panicked which is a good thing with the volume of the population. One thing the country has is lots of people. Many of them Japanese. So many people where anyone who might go in with an inflated value of their own self importance can be quickly humbled. Being in the middle of the Tokyo subway system during a busy time, as streams of people swarm around you from every direction you quickly can see how one individual's life is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. At the same time the opportunity to visit foreign worlds and see the possibilities that exist is eye opening and awe inspiring.

Get Back: On the trip home one of the in flight movies was While You Were Sleeping. Seeing Sandra Bullock's smile brought things back to the familiar. Looking out the window I noticed the flight to Japan was mostly in the light, the flight to the United States was mostly in the dark. Enough said.

I only wish you the best and know I intend to do better. I'll always cherish the time we did have. So I look to the east, stunned as I stare, the sense of loss too intense to bear. Prayers stuck in my throat along with my good-bye.

Silent J

From Tokyo to Osaka in just one day, listening for the silent J.

It's the same old story all over again. Complete of course without the happily ever after end. The woman left the stage and the boy went far away. A trip to another land, to the back of his mind where he couldn't let go even though the bottomless pit reached far into his soul. The doors snapped shut before he could say good-bye as he watched the train take her away. Like saving for a rainy day when you watch your savings float far away. Somehow feeling whole again until that train left him feeling a hole again. Left him to try to connect with the reeling muse to gain some comfort and peace to feel inspired again. But the words rattled inside as he tried his best to speak. A trickle within he couldn't figure out as it starts like a meek leak mistaking feelings for thoughts. Wanting to write to set it right. Then it all comes pouring out much too late. Internal breakdown at the Fukaibashi station that was more emotional than mechanical.

This is the place where I've come to stay, listening for the silent J.

Weeping girl under Osaka city. Empty soul with endless pity. He wanted to reach out to her but he didn't dare. To get too emotional was to show he cared. Revival of the spirit, rising sun in his soul. Scars that don't heal, and won't go away. The boy lost his shadow like a saturated sponge that soaked in too much and let go too slow. Shut him down paralyzed. Maps couldn't help him find what he were looking for as the rain came down with a cleansing purpose. Dysfunctional Haiku with a fractured syllable mess. Nude Marginal Glamour from the toothpaste lady, the only moviegoer who doesn't like popcorn. A terminal temporary nature to all of life's situations. And he didn't want to leave behind what seemed like it only just begun.

The music inside jingles all the way, listening for the silent J.

In his hotel bed he was startled to find that she still clearly crossed his mind. He knew when he came home, she wouldn't be there this time. Narrow roads that turned a knot inside his mind. They twisted and bent until they snapped his spine and left him with no feeling. Soul searching cars blessed by Shinto. Accidents that do sometimes happen. A pen out of ink with more words to write. A trip to his roots restored some sight. Cluttered mind and uncomfortable silence. They talked to him as if he could understand. As if he knew more than he did just like in his own land. Unable to communicate in any language. First impressions last, last impressions lasting like the first. Does he bow down or shake, what does he do when he suddenly awakes? Visions that crawl by when the defenses are down.

You have to press rewind if you want to play, listening for the silent J.

So many doors until he lost track, each one takes him back and a little bit more out of him through the cracks. Old and new intertwined, like soccer fields and baseball diamonds that somehow connect. Left to wonder what would come next. The tortoise and the hare racing through life, one steady and sure the other spins its wheels to nowhere. As it all persists he starts to see patterns. As the patterns appear it all just persists. A non stop inner monologue distracts and disturbs and won't leave him alone. Pencil to pen, dollars to yen, what can he do to stop this from happening again? Happiness within that he didn't recognize until it's too far gone. He couldn't come home to the way it was on the floor. Even the homeless he saw on the streets did not ask for more. The further he moves forward the farther he has to fall.

Your insides shake like the earthquake of Kobe, listening for the silent J.

Elasticity elapsed as he finds he is the same old person no matter how far or where he goes. He still wore her shoes to get him around. He wore them all around town The more he says the deeper the hole. Poetry in motion like noodles slurped from a bowl. Soft spoken and broken as his voice turns into a whisper. Industrial concrete stacks that blow steam rather than smoke, clouded up all the words they once spoke. Steel glass mountains too steep to climb. It takes an earthquake to put you on the map and get you noticed sometime. The rice fields growing in the warehouse district with a saddened and stressed foreign boy in a foreign land who looks to the horizon for answers but it is what's left within that leaves him confused and dazed.

It doesn't matter what you have to say, listening for the silent J.

He said a prayer to her, 'where the sun sets in the sky is where memories remain between you and I.' But he was shutting down more than he could shut out. Leopard skin lady approached with obscenely high heeled shoes. A lonesome photo opportunity. The burden too heavy to carry inside. The words mean nothing when your voice can't be heard. Your voice means nothing when the words can't be understood. It takes a ticket to express that train that rumbles by. And all he can recall is what he should have said before it all disappeared. You have to be limber to eat the food, you have to be nimble not to let it linger. From a crawl to the bullet train, part of him was there before he arrived, part of him he left behind once upon a time.

This is the price you have to pay as she aggressively looks away, while you're left stranded listening for the silent J.

Monday, September 15, 1997

Arigato Gozai Masu

Just flew in from Japan and boy are my arms tired... We had a most outstanding and inspiring time. We saw a beautiful country and met some impressive Japanese people. But more on all that next week. Thanks for asking me along, Al. I didn't want to come back although it is nice to be home and to see my little buddy Mr. Maximoto again.

Also thanks to Mary for doing such a great job with last week's issue of the newsletter. You did a terrific job and this publication has never looked better.

Going Going Gone
by Bob Dylan

I've just reached a place
where the willow don't bend.
There's not much more to be said
It's the top of the end.
I'm going, I'm going, I'm gone.
I'm closin' the book
on the pages and the text.
And I don't really care
what happens next.

I'm going, I'm going, I'm gone.

I been hangin' on threads,
I been playin' it straight,
Now I've just got to cut loose
before it gets late.

So I'm going, I'm going, I'm gone.

Grandma said, 'Boy, go and follow your heart and you'll be fine at the end of the line.
All that's gold isn't meant to shine.
Don't you and your one true love ever part.'
I been walkin' the road,
I been livin' on the edge,
Now, I've just got to go
before I get to the ledge.

I'm going, I'm just going, I'm gone.

I too share in the sadness of the news that we are losing Mark Lethert. Memories from ten years back are a bit tangled within the ever thickening fog and cobwebs of my mind but nonetheless I do remember the shifts we worked together and how I always enjoyed working with Mark and learning from him. I, of course was not always this calm, polished professional I now appear to be and back in those days my moods were a bit turbulent. Working with Mark was always fun and he taught me a lot about dealing with human nature. It was remarkable how after working with Mark I would leave the store in a better mood than when I arrived. He was fun to work with, had impeccable taste in music and a joy to watch deal with customers.

Mark represents the best of Cheapo, professionalism with a sense of humor, vast knowledge, a keen creative mind and the desire to always do the best job possible. And on top of all the outstanding work he has done for this company he is one heck of a fine fellow too. His knowledge of music, film and literature always impressed and was greatly appreciated by me. His wicked sense of humor, wisdom and calm disposition was inspiring.

For the last few years my contact with Mark has been as a customer at the St. Paul stores and it was always great to walk into the store and see him working and sharing a laugh and watching him work with so much skill. It's great being on the other side of the counter and being the recipient of such a skilled customer service representative. Finally, Mark's contributions to the newsletter have been wonderful and I always looked forward to reading his submissions. He made my job easier and the newsletter better. Thank you Mark.

Best of luck to you, I know you'll do well with all your new ventures and adventures. Cheapo has lost a great person. Please keep in touch. Sayo-nara and thanks for the friendship.

Monday, September 1, 1997

Love Sick

Late one night last spring my new friend called me to tell me she had just seen on a promo for the ten o'clock news that Bob Dylan had been hospitalized with a potentially fatal ailment. She already knew me well enough to know the news would have a major impact on me. So I watched the news and learned little. I went to bed that night thinking how sad it would be if the world never knew another Bob Dylan song or heard another Bob Dylan performance. The only comfort was I also lie there thankful that I had found a friend who seemed to understand and cared enough to take the time to break the news to me with a reassuring voice. I then put on Shot of Love and marveled at how the power of music can make even the most confusing and unbearable moments in life seem somehow meaningful.

The lesson from that night is that prayers are often answered at the same time you are being blindsided. Bob survived and all that remains of that most missed friendship is the knowledge that my title has officially changed from the World's Biggest Dork to the World's Biggest Jerk. The timing of Dylan's most recent stop in Minnesota couldn't have been better. How cool was it that he was playing a show within walking distance of my house and I was going with a person I don't get to spend nearly enough time with? I needed to see Bob again, and when he hit the stage at Midway Stadium after solid opening sets from BR5-49 and Ani Difranco (who truly impressed me with her terrifically versatile voice and her live performance ability which was better than the recorded efforts I've heard of hers- including a moving cover of the Artist's When Doves Cry- one of my all time favorite songs), it was truly reassuring after the past few difficult weeks. The ability to survive and endure is perhaps Dylan's most appealing quality.

"I waited for you when I was half sick. Yes, I waited for you when you hated me. Well, I waited for you inside frozen traffic, when you knew I had some other place to be. Now, where are YOU tonight sweet Marie?" Dylan opened with a solid version of Absolutely Sweet Marie which I didn't think would make much of an opening song. After hearing the song in other slots on this Never Ending Tour the arrangements never seemed to impress. But there was real fire in the vocal as there was most of the night. His voice was more phlegmy than usual but there was a conviction to the songs that was unmistakable. Next was a seductive version of Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You which made the loss of Marie seem somewhat bearable as the singer turned the tables: "Is it any wonder the love that a stranger might receive? You cast your spell and I went under, I find it so difficult to leave..."

He sort of lost the crowd with the rather obscure Tough Mama which demonstrated his mercurial side- replacing the traditional All Along The Watchtower spot with a jangly Planet Waves song and a version that would have made the Band proud. The sing song You Ain't Goin Nowhere was next and the a cappella OOH WEE finish was a fun moment. At this point I sat back and took stock- my fifteenth Dylan show and I had already heard three songs I had never seen him do live before. The acoustic set was equally as good with a rollicking cover version of Roving Gambler, Mr. Tambourine Man, and Tangled Up In Blue which has become a receptacle for an acoustic jam with Bob gratefully taking the solos.

"It strangled up my mind, now people just get uglier and I have no sense of time. Oh mama can this really be the end?" He didn't say much yet he was positively outgoing, speaking more than I've ever heard him speak before. "Let's hear it for BR5-49, my favorite new group except the Wallflowers of course..." The absolute highlight of the show was the ethereal This Wheel's On Fire sung so poignantly with the bittersweet lyrics performed in front of a passing train behind the stage, "This wheel's on fire, rolling down the road. Best notify my next of kin, this wheel shall EXplode." It was one those rare moments in life when everything seems perfect and the way it should be; when your heart melts and you're with the person you want to be with, admiring and enjoying someone that has added so much to your life. "If your memory SERVES you well..." The moment was matched by Forever Young, a song I've never really liked before this perfect, sad sung, appropriately timed version, "May your heart always be joyful, may your song always be sung, and may you stay forever young..."

Just about on cue the threatening clouds let loose a few big rain drops as the encores began and I turned to my friend who had put her hood up. I had made her a tape a few weeks back of my favorite Dylan songs, of songs he might perform, and a few of his most played songs. Her effort to try and understand and appreciate the man's work because she knew it meant so much to me truly touched me. So as we walked home we talked about the new horizons that await as long as you hang in there and keep trying. At the same time the familiar things you think you know are always changing depending on the moment, who you are, and who you are with. The world may turn upside down overnight but those that are there to comfort after the bad times and that are there to share in the good times are to be cherished and appreciated and never ever taken for granted.