Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Meaning of Life... Cellos???

I have discovered the meaning of life. It happened during the inauguration yesterday, yet it has nothing to do with politics.

I have seen it before, but I didn’t really understand its significance until yesterday.

It became even more powerful to me when I was forced to try to explain it in spoken words to Gail this morning.

YO-YO MA provided my epiphany yesterday. He is the cellist who performed with the quartet immediately before Obama took the oath of office. The sight of Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello was a vision of joy and perfection.

This morning Gail asked why I was so moved by it. The answer is:

Watching Yo-Yo Ma play cello was exactly like watching Big Brown run at the Preakness.

There are key moments in life where we get to see someone doing on a world stage what he was born to do. Yesterday, Yo-Yo Ma played cello before the largest audience of his life, and his face radiated the look of passion and joy that showed for that moment, he owned the world. His face said, “Regardless of what has come before…regardless of what the future holds…at this moment in time I am experiencing the performance of my life, and I am loving every minute of it.”

Loosely paraphrasing author Terry Davis, it is a glorious thing to watch another creature achieve perfection. For these rare moments allow mere humans to share the sight of one of our own, basking in joy as they do on a very big stage the one thing they were born to do. And our witness of their achieving perfection manages to pick us all up a little and propels us to a better place.

The meaning of life is achieving your moment of perfection that makes the entire world, if only for a blink, a better place to be.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Are You Ready To Soft Rock????

As my whiny-ass ranting in the comments area pointed out this week, everything I own has been trapped on the back of a couple of semi trucks since the second week of December. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it appears that Barack and Michelle will not be the only couple moving into a new sprawling estate this week.

We thought our stuff would only be on the truck for 5 days, but back in December the deal on our new house fell apart the day before closing, and so we had to go out and find a bigger and better home to buy while our stuff sits on a truck. By the way… I didn’t coat any of my cast iron equipment because it was only going to be 5 days on the semi… as the calendar clicks past 40 days of my stuff living on the back of a truck in Indianapolis, I have to assume my Unisaw, Jointer, Bandsaw, etc are now a lovely shade of red (we’ll see).

Luckily Gail and I are not living in a semi. I have been living with my parents since the middle of October, when I left Michigan to take the new job in my hometown. Gail and Peyton have been staying here since December 1st. Being a full blown adult with a family and moving back with Mom and Dad is interesting. It’s almost like Southfork around here (only without the cowboy hats and piles of Oil Money).

So to keep from losing my mind as I suffer woodworking withdrawal, I have embraced a new hobby. I have become a karaoke singer. (This is completely different than the Karaoke I experienced in Asia…) However, just like all of my hobbies and passions I have managed to Skiver-up karaoke, too.

You see, I do karaoke of INSTRUMENTAL songs. While others get up and belt out lyrics that sound like a lost calf bleating for its momma, I stand in front of crowds and “perform” during songs like "Axel F," Herb Alpert’s "Rise," and Chuck Mangione’s "Feels So Good." Needless to say, my karaoke gift is very, very special.

Still, there are some people who just don’t “get it” and I often face the torment of hecklers as I try to perform "The Theme from The Bridge On the River Kwai." It hurts. So I am thinking about eventually getting into the more traditional form of Karaoke singing… ya know… the kind where you actually sing. I don’t know if I have what it takes or not. We’ll just have to wait and see.

I suppose if it did work out I could eventually become a wedding singer. That would be pretty interesting. Can’t you just imagine what it would be like to hire Jeff Skiver to be your wedding singer???? I would gladly Skiver-up a wedding by going deep into the songbook and singing anything… regardless of the social stigma. Mark it down now, when I become a professional wedding singer, I will gladly sing ANYTHING, including the Top 10 songs you hardly ever hear sung at weddings:

1) "The Stroke" by Billy Squier
2) "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" by U2 (which, by the way, was a much bigger hit than their follow up, “Monday, Scabby Monday”)
3) "Love is a Battlefield" by Pat Benetar
4) "Father Figure" by George Michael
5) "Black Betty" by Ram Jam
6) "Love Hurts" by Nazareth
7) "Silent Night, Holy Night"
8) "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard
9) "I’m On Fire" by Bruce Springsteen
10) "Like a Virgin" by Madonna

Friday, January 16, 2009

Honey, Is Andrew's Easel Still in Our Bedroom?

Andrew Wyeth died today.

I suppose it is “nice” that he lived to be 91, but I am saddened by his passing.

For me it wasn’t “Christina’s World” or any of the paintings of Helga Testorf that endeared him to me. In the case of Andrew Wyeth's portfolio, I am just not going to be a deep thinker. Even though Andrew Wyeth may be my favorite American artist of all time, I don’t look at his work and attempt to church it up. I really don't care about the torment of Christina.

Instead, Andrew Wyeth spoke to me when I came across a painting that was painted in 1965 but could just as easily have been a photograph taken in my home on any given day since 1998. I refer to Master Bedroom.

The beauty of art is that it is personal. Some see a sleeping dog. Many could not care less and would relegate this painting to flea market campiness. But this painting touches my soul, and it doesn't matter to me if you like it or not.

Today America lost an amazing artist.

The Airbus 320... Now with Cockpit Big Enough for the Biggest Balls on the Planet

Autonomous power is seldom seen in America. Most things fall under committees. Checks and balances necessitate one group confirming (either approving or vetoing) the decisions of another. My woodworking is one of the few autonomous things left in our nation.

In my studio, I am the king. In my shop, I am the Lord.

Last night I discussed the power of airline pilots with my wife. I told how two weeks ago a couple of families were removed from a flight because the pilot didn’t like what they were talking about. That was it… game over… no discussion…. the decision of the pilot was law on that flight, and those folks were escorted off.

Likewise yesterday when Captain Chesley Sullenberger III, apparently faced the failure of both engines of his Airbus 320, he made the autonomous decision to put the plane into the Hudson River. There was no blue ribbon task force assembled. There were no focus groups consulted. Captain Sullenberger observed his situation, processed his alternatives, and had the cojones to follow the course he deemed appropriate. When I see that everyone walked away, I sit in judgment believing Captain Sullenberger did the right thing.

Leadership isn’t about pleasing people. Leadership is doing what has to be done, at the moment it needs to be done, and accepting responsibility for the decisions you make.

It’s easy to be a leader in my shop. The Monday morning quarterbacking from my dog Peyton isn’t all that nasty. It is a far more difficult position to be the leader of 150 folks on a plane. It is an unfairly brutal job to have the courage to lead 304 million Americans.

Regardless of the race, sex, or political affiliation of the person who sits in the Oval Office, he (and eventually she) deserves the respect of US citizens for having to call the ball daily on decisions that would make most of us curl up in a fetal position and cry for our Mommies.

Friday, January 2, 2009

That Which You Manifest is Before You

I seemed to have closed out the year with dog stories. Yet, I neglected to tell you about the dog that symbolizes the most recent changes in my life. No matter how much I love Peyton and Simon… regardless of the memories that Marley stirs in me… the dog that has most recently reminded me of the beauty of life is a dog named Enzo.

I’ve told you before that Amazon is spooky. As well as I thought Tivo knew me based upon the input of the up and down thumbs I provided, I have to admit that seems to have an even more keen insight into who I really am.

A few months back I was busy purchasing Sir Jackie Stewart’s autobiography at Amazon, when they tossed out a little blurb that went something like this: “Hey!!!!!!!! Yeah, you, Jeff!!!!!!!!!! Hey, Dogboy!!!!!!!!! We have a book you need to look at. Really. If you are truly the dog lover you say you are, and if you are the Walter Middy Formula 1 racer you think you are… then you need to click on the purchase button for The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.”

Two days later, a dog named Enzo started changing my life.

Let me verify for everyone that I realize I am blessed. It seems like God’s favor has been pelting me from on high since the moment of my birth.

Still, there are principles that are laid out in Garth Stein’s piece of fiction that are the very things I have used to live my life. Specifically, I am the human embodiment of Stein’s seminal phrase from this book, “That which you manifest is before you.”

Am I in the right place at the right time…sometimes.

Am I blessed with a superior education…US News and World Report says so.

Mainly, I understand that I am responsible for my own life. Like everyone, since my earliest moments of childhood, I have encountered the naysayers who are there to tell me what I cannot do. These are the same folks who are always too quick to hit the brakes, run for the storm shelter, or cry to the referees. My vision of life is different.

That which I manifest is before me.

In 1996, I left Indiana and headed for Michigan to design car parts. Now, I am sad that the auto industry is falling apart. However, this summer I chose to take responsibility for my life and take control of my destiny.

But Jeff, you’re an automotive engineer. Your degree is Mechanical Engineering. There is no way you can go into consumer electronics!!!!!!!!! Really? Enzo says, “That which you manifest is before you.”

“You were downsized, Jeff. You need to try to hang on and avoid foreclosure and wait for the government to bail you out…” Really? Perhaps I could use this opportunity to get away from a job that was rotting my soul and find something that is more rewarding to my mind, my body, and my balance sheet.

Jeff, you can’t just become a writer. You have to struggle and face rejection. Really? What if I find a magazine that has a need and find a way to fit my quirky personality into that slot?

It seems like every time we find someone telling us that they are experiencing success, their reason for talking is to sell us a scam. “Hey, everybody…look at all of the money I made in real estate. Pay me $50 and I’ll share those secrets with you.” So, friends, here is what I leave you with today (and it is not a commercial for “my system”).

I recognize the world is in a recession. Like everyone, I wish I had greater assurance that my job would always be here. However, the one thing I know is that I control my own destiny, and since I am in control… I can make my life ANYTHING I want it to be.

The other racing truth that Garth Stein shares is: “The car goes where the eyes go.” Let my 2008 be proof that our lives go where our visions are focused. Dream Big, but don’t stop at dreaming. With your dream in place, create a plan to get there. And develop the mindset that opportunities for success are ALWAYS present. Even if the world starts burning around you, it can serve as your notice that you need to be supplying the world with fire fighting equipment.

The Art of Racing in the Rain reminds us that a wet racetrack separates the field. Rain causes some to complain about the conditions. Rain makes others fight the car in a death-gripped panic. Yet, rain also permits others to move ahead, because they are prepared to deal with everything the world throws at them. 2008 rained on us all. Many spun out. Many slowed to a crawl. As a testament to Enzo, I made some great passes as I moved up the field on the rain-soaked 2008 track.

2009 begins with the rain still falling. Find the life you long for and choose to make it happen. “That which you manifest is before you.”