Hiccuping the Corporate Ladder by meeks
April 25, 2012, 8:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

On the moon, without an atmosphere or other travelers a footprint can last years, even decades. Wandering and wondering around the busy metropolis of Seattle, I know that any trace physical of my footprints will be swept over almost immediately.

At least there will always be the internet, where people just don’t know your name but probably also you date of birth, IP address, your exact location, social security number, shopping habits, parents maiden name, the next vacation you are planning. Don’t believe me? try it. 

Scene: My boss calls me into her office.


‘How is your affidavit filing project going?’ she deadpanned.

Considering that she had hardly talked to me at all the previous week, I was cagey trying to weave this open-ended question into a series knots until I could gather more information as to her intentions.

‘Well, I have been discussing scanning options with Bob, and he wants everything for the ALT files in alphabetical order, but just the ALT files…the non-ALT files have a different scanning protocol. I will have to reference Christian…’

‘Well, I am not sure if you have looked over our internet policy….’ She graciously cut me off. ‘But we monitor your computer activity and you were doing a lot of browsing yesterday afternoon. We will have to ask you to just use break and lunch time for the internet. We pay good money for our temps….’

I felt rush of feelings- naked, vulnerable, and most of all phony saying one thing and unequivocally having done another – all while emoting nothing.


Looking back, I believe my separation of action and intention stemmed from my own ambivalence towards the job. Some part of me when entering the corporate world still felt a need to ‘stick it to the man.’ To prove to myself that I’m not really part of the system, I felt a need to put one over on the man.

Experiences like these that round ideas into humans maybe is part of the maturation process how most people evolve from fiery teenagers to staid adults. I now realize that the man that I was really putting one over on were the people that trusted and vouched that I was a capable worker- my temp coordinator Pat with whom I bonded over going to college in Minnesota, and my roommate who also works in the accounting department to name a few.

Regional’s monitoring process could have been a lot more extensive. A friend of mine works at a company where he completes the same kind of mind numbing 3rd grader work that I do. He is subjected to weekly productivity meetings in which his quotas are digitally recorded and compared to his peers as well as to his previous weekly output. I will leave Regional Accounting still believing that technology is neutral; people are the ones to implement the morality and that my bosses are really not that bad.


Pondering Performance by Andy Shenk
April 24, 2012, 6:41 pm
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: , , ,

Last week I attended a Switchfoot concert in the Twin Cities. That makes three live concerts that I’ve attended in my life, if we’re not counting orchestra performances or various cultural events that include music. Contrast my paucity of concert-going with the dozens of live sports events I’ve attended over the years and you’ll quickly see where my sympathy lies when it comes to spending money on live events.

While standing for an hour and a half in Northwestern College’s darkened Maranatha Hall, watching Switchfoot perform, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the differences between live sports and live music.

As the concert began I looked on with great skepticism, unsure of the level of passion, freshness, and excitement that the band would bring. Unlike a basketball game, in which the outcome is never known before tip-off and each play builds spontaneously from that which preceded it, a musical performance is always scripted, rehearsed and perfected. Could I trust the sincerity of lead singer Jon Foreman when he reached down to touch members of the audience from the stage or walked out into the concert hall to get closer to the crowd? Did this happen at every concert, during the same song?

When Switchfoot began to play their hit singles of years past, songs which I knew very well, I found my attitude shifting. I forgot about the band’s motivations and enjoyed the sensation of watching songs I loved performed live. I sang along with everyone else in the room, swayed back and forth to the beat, mesmerized by the choreographed light show projected onto the stage. The music spoke to me, as music that I love always will, and I appreciated the camaraderie of the crowd so clearly in tune with the moment as well.

There isn’t much more to say. Sports, as I shared, captivate me with their unpredictability and the honesty of the athletes’ pursuit. When the team or athlete I root for wins, well, that is just an unexpected reward. The staged nature of most live music, and other similarly scripted performances, on the other hand, will always leave me feeling a bit jaded. Fortunately, my soul is still stirred by art and beauty in almost any circumstance, and I value artistic or musical performers’ generosity to share with me their beloved craft on stage.

I wonder, where does writing fit in this discussion? The most scripted and controlled of any art form, it, nonetheless, has had the greatest impact on my life and is the medium of expression I wish to pursue professionally. Hmm.

Persistence by Andy Shenk

Over a week ago my workplace held an in-service day for the staff. During one of the teaching sessions, our director presented us with two simple graphs: one representing the rate of learning for average adults, the other representing the rate of learning for our clients, those with developmental disabilities.

The average adult is able to process information quickly and respond accordingly; their rate of learning is depicted by a steady, increasing diagonal line. Adults with developmental disabilities, on the other hand, process much more slowly, often needing weeks or months to learn a concept and respond appropriately. Their graph resembles a staircase; each newly mastered concept followed by a long period of what outwardly looks to be stagnation. Other staff, much more experienced in the field than me, told stories of this principle in practice: one client learned how to open doors only after months of twisting objects in the same manner as a doorknob, another took the step of washing his hands only after staff patiently demonstrated and encouraged him to do so for week after week without seeing any results.

For the last week I’ve been turning these contrasting graphs over and over again in my mind. I’ve become much more patient as a job coach, more determined now to help my clients work independently and take on new responsibilities. In the short term, our work takes longer, but I am beginning to trust the crew more often and love to see them succeed without my assistance. I do not lose hope so easily when progress appears non-existent.

My favorite blog, Pounding The Rock, takes its name from the organizational philosophy of the San Antonio Spurs. Head coach Gregg Popovich brought this concept of “pounding the rock” to the Spurs after reading  the work of early-twentieth century immigration activist Jacob Riis. Riis, explaining his theory of how social change takes place, used the image of a rock cutter pounding a rock again and again until, on the 101st strike, the rock split at the exact right spot. So also, Riis contended, do we bring about social change: persistent, seemingly fruitless labor, ultimately rewarded when others would have given up long ago.

Popovich credits his team’s four championships in eight years to this same willingness on the part of each member of the organization to patiently work together in pursuit of one goal: playing the best team basketball possible at the end of each season. When the season ended in triumph, as it did four times for the Spurs, one could not credit any one moment for the team’s success. Rather, the Spurs’ single-minded devotion to their goal over long months of labor held the key to their success.

Calvin and Hobbes’ creator, Bill Watterson, wrote in the foreword to The Complete Calvin and Hobbes that after college he worked at minimum wage for five long years designing layout for grocery store advertisements. All the while he pursued his dream of creating newspaper comics, sending idea after idea to comic strip syndicates, receiving rejection after rejection in reply. Finally, after five years his Calvin and Hobbes strip received syndication. Over the next ten years he achieved massive notoriety, influencing the lives of millions of readers with his sincere, beautifully drawn stories.

Since the 5th grade I struggled with an addiction that consumed my thoughts every day, produced enormous shame, damaged relationships, and crippled my self-esteem. Despite pursuing various cures, reading books on the topic, praying with many about the addiction, and pleading with God to fix me, I saw no progress for twelve years. Then, a few months ago, my addiction left me. I was healed, set free from the burden that had crippled me for so long.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary fantasy, Lord of the Rings, centers on the plight of two friends seeking to save their world. They journey in obscurity, with little hope of success, while the kingdoms about them rage with war. At the end, saved by lucky chance, they overthrow the evil despot, and are saved themselves in the nick of time.

Take heart when the long night of doubt blots all else out. When we faithfully pound the rock that darkness is shown to be nothing more than a passing mist, dissolving in the light of new triumph.

6 steps to Success at the office by meeks
April 19, 2012, 3:52 pm
Filed under: Humor | Tags: , ,

All the time, I get from readers: ‘Meeks, you named this project how to succeed in business. Enough with this philosophizing, just spill the goods!’

Being a pleaser, I guess, I will forego the dance and just drop the pants clothing these secrets. Below is an unadorned list of tips I gathered from these past couple weeks sure to shoot you straight to the top.

1. Don’t ask and they won’t tell
No place to park your bicycle? The storage closet seems as good as any.  No headphone wearing allowed? Work hard and you won’t be able to hear your boss’ objections over your bumpin’ tunes.

2. Never let your coworkers see you not work

Give them the illusion that you are always working! Stairwells, or another floor’s break room are ideal locations to take your breaks out of sight. If you are tired and need to take a power nap under your desk, make sure your desk is fully obscured or start draping your desk full time.

3. Always eat what people bring in

Food is office currency like cigarettes in prison. For a healthy economy to function you need to be an active player. If you are not a consumer, than what are you? Should your office consumption levels drop below a certain threshold people will wonder how you cannot want. They may begin to suspect that you are a communist.

4. Keep conversations to a MEMO length
In fact, conversations should mostly be conducted via computer, even to adjacent cubicles. That way you make sure you are never disturbing your co workers during their break time.

5. Compartmentalize

Outfits, glasses, inflections, clothes; This dichotomy will block any non-p.c. part of your real personality from potentially seeping into your work personality and vice versa. You will still be able to behave like a human being outside the office, while not risking any personal entanglements in the office.

6. Drink coffee.

It is work fuel. Most offices are aware of this, and while you have to pay for your parking spot and lunch hours, you never EVER should have to pay for coffee in the office. I believe OSHA is proposing legislation to codify this statute.

Be advised, if you are an older male and you overindulge, coworkers may suspect that you are having prostate related incontinence issues and your health insurance premiums could go up.

Follow these 6 simple guidelines and  you are in the fast last on the track to be a Future Business Leader of America (T-BLOA). I will send you dear readers off with an ode to #6:

black morning gold
you are my sunshine

3 oclock, my head throbs
for your mug

%&#! The Lakers by Andy Shenk
April 14, 2012, 10:59 am
Filed under: Sports | Tags: ,

I’ve already mentioned on this blog my appreciation of the way sports can develop perseverance and faith in its fans. The San Antonio Spurs sorely tested that tenacity on Wednesday by falling at home to the Los Angeles Lakers, 98-84. I could stomach the loss, even though it came at the hands of a hated rival, but this game felt like more than a loss. The Lakers, absent shooting guard superstar Kobe Bryant, utilized their two seven-footers, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, to devastating effect against San Antonio’s undersized frontcourt. My worst Spurs’ nightmares—Marc Gasol/Zach Randolph of last year, the Laker trio of Bynum/Gasol/Lamar Odom, Shaquille O’Neal in the early 2000’s—resurrected once again. Bynum pulled down thirty of his own rebounds and Gasol buried every mid-range jumper. When the lead reached the upper twenties, I cracked and shut the game off. Unable to quell my despondency, I wasted the rest of my evening with meaningless Web surfing.

I hated myself that night because I’d lost my equilibrium during the game. My brother-in-law, Richard, and I had been talking about this the other day: the phenomenon of fan loyalty, which makes cheaters (Barry Bonds, Pete Rose, Ryan Braun) even more popular in their hometown. Die-hard fans defend their teams like protective mother hens, preen over victories, and ache miserably with each loss, identifying personally with it all. Now, watching the Spurs lose to the Lakers, each successive, disorganized, frantic possession on offense by the Spurs mirrored my own insecurities in constructing a meaningful life. The Lakers’ smooth scoring reminded me of all the slick, polished, successful peers I knew in college.

Unable to control my emotions watching the Spurs lose, I spilled out frustration everywhere. I wasted an opportunity to write because I was too angry to compose myself. I went to bed late, even though I needed to wake up at 5:30 for work. I ignored my wife all evening. Yet again, I failed to cook anything, even though we’re low on meals in the apartment. Clearly, my spirit exhibited none of the faith and perseverance I’ve described so glowingly.

You know what pissed me off most of all? ESPN.com featured the Spurs’ embarrassment prominently on their front page when last week’s Spurs’ road win over the Celtics had been relegated to the back page. There’s nothing like adding national insult to ego-bruising injury. Looking back, I can only hope that the Spurs had a bit more composure than I did in dealing with the loss.

Howling At The Moon by Andy Shenk
April 13, 2012, 10:41 pm
Filed under: Sports | Tags:

Last night my wife, Nikki, and I, along with one of my clients, John*, attended the Wolves-Clippers game in Minneapolis. Nikki and I don’t own a car, but we were able to borrow one from a friend for the evening. She picked me up from my job in Dundas a little after 3 pm and we made the twenty-minute drive west to Faribault to pick up John. From there it’s just an hour drive north on I-35 to downtown Minneapolis and the Target Center. We stopped for a quick supper at Chipotle in Burnsville, then booked it the rest of the way so that we could be there when the doors opened ninety minutes before the 7 pm tip-off.

We made it to the arena right at 5:30. Even though we’re not season-ticket holders, the Wolves’ staff let us in through the season-ticket holders’ entrance, half an hour before the general public is allowed to enter. I went off to buy some Wolves gear on which to collect autographs, while John and Nikki hung out on the concourse. When I got back, bearing some Wolves decals, John was buying a large soda from a concessions booth. Nikki and I had told him beforehand that sodas cost about $5 at the game. He couldn’t believe it and decided to buy one right away. He had to wait a bit for his $5.75 souvenir Mountain Dew, since the vendors hadn’t set up the cash register yet,  but that made it all the more fun – he made the first purchase of the night from the booth.

From there we moved down to the court so that we could watch the Clippers and Wolves warm up and hopefully snag some autographs. Nikki camped out on the Wolves’ side, while John and I observed the Clippers. Far more fans were clustered around the Clippers, most lining the tunnel through which the visiting team walks on their way to the court. It pained me to see the lack of attention paid to the home team, but it also seemed fitting, here at the end of this tragic Wolves’ season. Soon after we arrived the man everyone was waiting for, Blake Griffin, sauntered out. He paused for a few minutes to sign autographs, inducing the crowd to surge around his 6’10”, 250 lb frame. Neither of us got a signature, however, so we moved back to some seats to watch him, and the rest of the Clippers, prepare.

Though we didn’t get the Griffin autograph, we were rewarded with ink from DeAndre Jordan and Bobby Simms. When we met back up with Nikki, we found out she also had scored one from Timberwolf Derrick Williams. Initial warm-ups complete, we headed up to our seats in section 116. They were near the top of the lower bowl, opposite the Clippers’ bench and they did not disappoint. Just a few minutes before game time, the Clippers, back out on the court for final warm-ups, decided to loosen up the rim and backboard as well. Thunderous dunk followed thunderous dunk, capped off with one gravity-defying dunk from Griffin. Standing out at the three-point line, he threw the ball up in the air, waited for the bounce, then sprinted forward, grabbing the ball high above the rim and slamming it through from what looked like a distance of at least ten feet. John and I had ooohhhed and aaahhhed over the dunks from the beginning, but when Griffin delivered the final slam we turned to each other, high-fiving, nearly jumping out of our seats. The Wolves’ fans seated around us didn’t seem too happy, looking our direction perturbedly. Griffin’s not very welcome in Minnesota: his attention-seeking dunks and celebrity status contrast starkly with Minneapolis’ adopted son Kevin Love, the prototypical, unassuming lunchpail, blue-collar big man. With Love unable to play due to a concussion suffered in Denver the night before, Griffin would be opposed most vociferously tonight by the hometown fans, who rained chants of “Overrated!” down on Griffin several times during the game.

Such loyalty had no pull on me, however, a Spurs fan, or on John, self-avowed enemy of all Minnesota sports teams. With a crowd-pleaser like Blake Griffin in the house, John’s rooting interest tilted even further from the Wolves.

The game unfolded much according to script. Minnesota’s injury-ravaged roster finagled a one-point lead going into halftime, pleasantly surprising the 16,000+ fans. The third quarter bore witness to an initial Clippers surge, countered by the Wolves, who cut their deficit to three near the end of the period. The crowd, truly awake now, howled with fury at the full moon suspended from the upper deck of the arena, implored to do just that by the PA Announcer. Nikki and I joined in, howling brazenly at the players below, happy for one night to channel those fearsome inhabitants of the North Woods.

Alas, Minnesota crumbled in the fourth. As the game slipped further and further away, the Clippers’ offense, contained for so long, opened up at last, freeing Griffin for several trademark alley-oops. John celebrated accordingly, turning excitedly to the fans nearby, who, not surprisingly, remained nonplussed. I had no trouble sharing his happiness, however. The game had entertained far more than I expected, and, besides, I was far more invested in the scoreboard updates, which showed that the Spurs were stuck in a nailbiter with Memphis.

After the final horn we hit the exits, heading straight for the Timberwolves’ garage, located just around the corner from the Target Center First Avenue entrance. We mostly went there to gawk at the cars as they drove out one-by-one, but we also thought we might snag a few autographs in the process. First came big men Brad Miller and Darko Milicic, inactive for the game. A bit later Ricky Rubio, implored by the fans to stop for autographs, made his getaway, piling into an SUV with several friends and avoiding the crowd. Eventually, the meat of the active team, those who had played significant minutes, began heading home. Anthony Tolliver walked right up to the three of us to sign autographs. While he signed for fans, his wife brought out an adorable yellow lab puppy from a dog carrier in the trunk of their SUV, giving it to Anthony when he was finished. He plopped down in the passenger side, puppy on his lap, and his wife drove him out into the Minneapolis night.

Finally, the highlight of the night. Michael Beasley, his wife (wearing one of her husband’s jerseys), and little boy piled into $400,000 worth of vehicles. Mr. Beasley drove out first, stopping to sign autographs from his Audi R8, followed closely behind by Mrs. Beasley in a black Bentley sedan. Soon after they left the garage door closed, the fans dispersed, and we slowly headed back to our parking garage a few blocks away. John had grabbed three autographs by the garage, Tolliver’s, Beasley’s, and Wes Johnson’s.

An hour later we were dropping John off at his group home in Faribault. Following a quick stop in Dundas to throw my bike in the trunk, we pulled into Northfield a little after midnight. Our little apartment felt even smaller after the night in the big city. I still felt the buzz of interacting so closely with fabulous wealth. But, soon enough we were ready for bed, for sleep and its welcome pause before waking to another spring day in small-town Minnesota.

*Name has been changed for privacy purposes

How to stay awake: Really! Trying! by meeks
April 13, 2012, 3:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

I once read that Wayne Coyne, frontman of Flaming lips, worked as a short order cook at Long John Silver’s for a decade. I always wondered how he was able to artistically revive himself after such a long period doing tedious, monotonous work. If I recall correctly, he remembers the time fondly and found the experience to be an important prelude to his later artistic period for giving his mind the time and space to drift.

I wonder about the long term ramifications of rote work on different people. As a new worker, these are questions beyond the horizon that I will probably never be able to answer from personal experience, but as a scientist and cultural critic they are tantalizing. I wonder about the effect on the psyche of imputing personally meaningless numbers for a decade, or even a epoch timespan.

I do not think that I am being dramatic overstating the possible effects. The reality for most people is that they spend most of their day working. For example, you sleep for 8 hrs, work for 10, that is 3/4ths of your day spent in ambient darkness. I consider the workplace with its neutral hues, limited windows, inoffensive music, and fluorescent lighting (actually the whitest form of common lighting) an environment designed to deflect notice, therefore a sort of awake darkness. The body has a way of shedding excess through atrophy. Prisoners held for years in solitary confinement go blind; those that stop eating lose their taste buds.

For now, Corporatopia is new and exciting, even the grey and tan jigsaw pattern on my cubicle walls are striking. But subsisting in an environment that takes great pains to not be stimulating to withhold art and aesthetics, for years, decades, a generation, well, I fear that grey has a way of sinking in.

Apparently, Wayne Coyne was able to push through the doors of perception even after being held to a fryer for the better part of a decade. Was it the the thrill of waking-up out of a stagnant life that pushed him through? A yin to a later yang. But what happens if one never wakes up?