Inferior Superior


Finding Your No

What do you do when you work for a supervisor or manager that is ineffectual and/or incompetent, someone who hasn’t the education, the experience, or the expertise for the position? For example, how do you deal with someone who gives you little or no direction or the wrong directions, and then blames you for his error? Perhaps you are a teacher who has been assigned to teach a class but is not given any curriculum; then you are reprimanded for what you are teaching. Suppose your boss places you in charge of scheduling, changes the schedule without telling you, and then holds you responsible for the ensuing chaos. (Note: These are all real scenarios.) What do you do?

Here are my recommendations based on personal experience.

  1. Set your own goals, standards, and expectations based on principles of truth, integrity, perseverance, and competence. Make your standards exceed the company or group standards. This builds your capital and strengthens your voice.
  2. Create your own timeline and agenda with built-in flex time for emergencies—especially those created by your supervisor. Keep a daily journal of your time and activities. This documents the work that you do.
  3. Document everything. Take notes during meetings, allowing it to be known that you are taking notes.
  4. Keep the focus of any meeting or discussion on the present situation or task. Do not allow yourself to be sidetracked by peripheral issues or vague tangents until the issue at hand is addressed to your satisfaction.
  5. Front-load as much as possible by setting up group norms and common agreements. Do not assume that everyone is thinking alike. Make an agreement of expectations, definitions, and goals.
  6. In all situations, clarify the appropriate protocol or procedure. If there is not one in place, suggest one for consideration and approval.
  7. Develop a “rhino hide” that is impervious to emotional manipulation and intimidation. Do not let fear take you hostage. Again, document everything.
  8. Maintain clarity. Restate what you hear, repeat what you say as a data statement, and remain silent rather than justify yourself. Allow the facts of the situation to speak for you.

Several years ago, a young man was promoted to assistant manager of a department of a large firm. One of his supervisors was overextended and the other was too inexperienced to provide any guidance or input. The previous manager had left the department disorganized and the workers discouraged. The young man decided to set new standards for himself that exceeded company expectations. He front-loaded the situation by meeting with the workers and coming to an agreement of what worked best for them. Then he took on the role of a servant, making sure that his workers had everything they needed to do their job. Within a year, the department was back on track for productivity; after a few years, it was the most efficient department in the company. The manager achieved maximum results by applying the strategies listed above.

Complicated rules to adjust behavior are a weak substitute for simple principles.
Mary Wollstonecraft ~ A Vindication of the Rights of Women

Daily Prompt:Substandard


Literary Mothers


My mother felt that something was wrong, and displayed a lot of sympathy, which tortured me because I couldn’t repay her with my confidence. One evening when I was already in bed she brought me a piece of chocolate. She asked what was wrong with me, and stroked my hair. I could merely blurt out: “No! No! I don’t want anything.” She put the chocolate on the night table and left.

Emil Sinclair in Demian by Hermann Hesse

The problem with Sinclair’s mother is the same with many literary mothers—they are shallow. They are one-dimensional saints, sinners, or shadows.

Why is that with literary mothers? Either they are perfectly wise like Marmee in Little Women or they are perfectly silly like Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice.

Demian’s mother, Frau Eva, is an exalted guru who guides Sinclair on his journey to adulthood; she’s exceedingly deepeeboo, but that is all she is. I had great hopes for Anne Shirley to be a complex, interesting mother; but all motherhood did for her was relegate her to the background, like a beautiful dish of fine china displayed for special occasions.

Perhaps I am mistaken. After all, I haven’t read every book about mothers. However, of the ones I have, mothers do not come off very well. I wonder if mother-characters are a nuisance to create. I’m going to have to explore this issue further. If my premise is that literary mothers are shallow, then I can do them justice by giving the matter a thorough analysis.
Daily Prompt:Shallow

Offended ~ Unfriended


Life at Cabela’s

A huge, living daily increasing grievance that does one no palpable harm is the happiest possession that a man can have.

Anthony Trollope ~ The Eustace Diamonds

“I say, Satterthwaite,” said Sir Bartholomew, “you’re looking rather peaky today. Is everything alright?”

Mr. Satterthwaite shook his great head.

“It’s nothing, really,” he said. “I’ve just got a bit of a puzzle on.”

“Well? What is it? You may as well tell me now because I’ll beat it out of you eventually. You know how I am.”

“Indeed I do,” said Mr. Satterthwaite sardonically. “Very well. It’s Sir Charles. He has up and dumped me, and I have no idea why.”

Sir Bartholomew snorted.

“Dumped you!” he exclaimed. “Whatever do you mean?”

“I mean that ever since Egg’s cocktail party last week, he has been snubbing me. At first, I thought he hadn’t been getting my messages. But Barty, I have phoned, written, emailed, and texted him without so much as a hidey-ho.”

Sir Bartholomew frowned.

“That doesn’t sound like Sir Charles,” he said. “Why, he’s always been a decent sort of fellow who would never let the sun go down on his wrath. Are you certain you did or said nothing to offend him?”

“That’s just it! I don’t know! That is what I’ve been puzzling about. You would think that if one fellow had offended another, the offendee would let the offender in on what the offense was. It’s rather hard on a fellow to be ignorant of his offenses. What if one’s ignorance is what is offensive? That’s makes it rather difficult to put right.”

“Well, now,” began Sir Bartholomew, but Mr. Satterthwaite interrupted.

“You know how there’s that spot in the Bible about leaving your gift at the altar and making things right if you’ve offended someone. That’s fine and good if you know what the blasted offense is, but what if you haven’t an earthly clue? A fine fix that is to be hanging about an altar with a gift you can’t give.”

“Satterthwaite, get hold of yourself! It’s no good troubling your head about it. You’ve been unfriended, and that’s that.”

“But what should I do? It annoys me no end not to know what the matter is. It bothers my conscience that I may have done something wrong that I cannot make right.”

“Look here, Satty,” said Sir Bartholomew. “No, not there—here! Take a gander at Sir Charles. Note the look on his face. What do you see?”

“Hmm…he looks a bit sour to me,” said Mr. Satterthwaite.

“Exactly! He has a new grievance to nurse, and you, old fellow, have given it to him.”

“NO! Really? Do you think?”

Mr. Satterthwaite studied Sir Charles more closely. Then he gave a delighted laugh.

“Why, I do believe you are right, Barty; he looks positively puckered.”

“Of course he does. I told you he’s not the sort to let the sun go down on his wrath. Whatever you have done to offend him will keep him stewing for days on end. For all we know, Sir Charles’ supply of grievances may have dried up. You, in the office of a true friend, have replenished the well.”

Mr. Satterthwaite’s eyes shone.

“I never thought of it that way. It’s like that spot in the Bible about the loaves and fishes and whether it’s better to light your candle and search for the lost sheep.”
“Huh?” said Sir Bartholomew.






Traumatic Fragrance


How Reading Look Homeward, Angel Got Me into Diapers

Actually, it’s more like thinking about diapers and their distinctive fragrance. A few days ago, I started reading Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. The novel gets off to a grim start and seventy-three pages later, is still chugging along the same route.

(Note to Self: Wolfe was only twenty-nine years old when the novel was published, so his excessive grimness can be excused. Everyone is grim at that age. Twenty-nine was the grimmest year I had experienced by that date. So overlook grimness in all writers under the age of thirty. They have earned it.)

Thus far, I cannot figure out the characters; there is no logical pattern that I recognize. It’s like the author has forced opposing personalities, who usually avoid one another at cocktail parties, to inhabit the same person. What I find even more disconcerting is that the infant Eugene appears to have a higher level of consciousness than the adults. He is aware of how new and strange his world is, and it terrifies him.

Eugene is traumatized by everyday occurrences because he does not understand them—and he knows he does not understand them. Smiling adults peering over his bassinet, tender arms picking him up, sounds of cooing from his siblings, all make Eugene’s waking world a nightmare. It’s just too weird.

However, to be fair, I thought about whether babies in general could be traumatized by innocent Life. Then I remembered the time I changed my sister’s diapers when she was a baby; I wondered whether she was traumatized by the ordeal. I was three years old at the time and was dead set on Helping Mother, however much she dreaded it.

I think my mom was outside hanging the wash when I discovered that Debbie had a soiled diaper. I felt called to the task of changing it. I vividly remember two things: One, the diaper was huge; it was like negotiating with a wool blanket. Two, feces was everywhere; like the movie The Blob, it kept growing and devouring everything in the room.

I tried to kill it with a liberal sprinkling—make that dousing—of baby powder. Powder, powder, everywhere! It didn’t work. The Baby Blob was undeterred. To this day, the fragrance of baby powder carries with it a slight hint of baby poop. I guess I was traumatized.

Daily Prompt:Fragrance

LOTR ~ Between the Lines


Therefore at last the Council was again summoned and the lore of the Rings was much debated; but Mithrandir spoke to the Council, saying:

‘It is not needed that the Ring should be found, for while it abides on earth and is not unmade, still the power that holds it will live, and Sauron will grow and have hope. The might of the Elves and the Elf-friends is less now than of old. Soon he will be too strong for you, even without the Great Ring; for he rules the Nine, and of the Seven he has recovered three. We must strike.’

To this Curunir now assented, desiring that Sauron should be thrust from Dol Guldor. Therefore, for the last time, he aided the Council, and they put forth their strength; and they assailed Dol Guldor, and drove Sauron from his hold.

J. R. R. Tolkein ~ The Silmarillion

Gandalf, Galadriel, and Elrond were relaxing one evening at Rivendell. Elrond poured himself another glass of wine.

“Sauron is vanquished for the time being,” he said, “but I look for him to return. His defeat is but a feint; he will lie dormant while he builds his strength.”

Gandalf had been wandering in and out of a light sleep. At Elrond’s words, he sat up and sputtered.

“What!” he said. “Did you say Sauron was a doormat?”

Galadriel laughed while Elrond rolled his eyes.

“Dormant! Dormant!” he said. “Why on Middle-earth would Sauron turn into a doormat?”

Gandalf shrugged.

“I don’t know. If he is really lying dormant, then he might well just do it as a doormat. Who would suspect? Even now he could be lying there at the entrance to Barad-Dûr with “WELCOME” written on him in bold letters.”

Galadriel shook her head.

“I disagree,” she said. “Sauron is not the kind of guy who allows people to walk all over him. He’s not the rug-rat type.”

“I thought rug-rat was slang for child,” interrupted Gandalf.

“It is,” said Elrond. “That is what Galadriel is saying—one just cannot picture Sauron as a little kid.”

“Wait! I thought we were talking about doormats, not rug-rats.”

“We are,” said Elrond. “Galadriel just made a little joke.”

“As I was saying,” said Gandalf. “I think that Sauron would go to any length to regain his power, even to the point of being a dormant doormat.”

“So what do you suggest we do?” asked Elrond. “We can’t very well go around inspecting all the doormats in Middle-earth.”

“We don’t have to,” said Gandalf. “I’ll tell you what we will do. We will hold a contest for the cleanest rug in the land. We’ll hold competitions in every village and hamlet; the winners will advance to the semi-finals and eventually the finals. The grand prize will be a free week’s vacation in Rivendell. If Sauron is hiding as a doormat, we will beat it out of him. What do you say?”

Galadriel and Elrond looked at each other and then at Gandalf.

“We love it!”

Daily Prompt:Dormant

Gateway Books


I was Leviathan with a hook in my jaw, pulled inexorably onward by an unseen angler.

The Book of Rhino

When I read a book by an unfamiliar author that immediately engages my interest, I call it a “gateway book.” By my definition, a gateway book is one that hooks me on a particular writer. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd got me hooked on Agatha Christie; Foundation did the same for me with Isaac Asimov. Once I read that first book, that gateway book, then I chase down other books by the same author.

A gateway book is not necessarily the first book an author has written. For example, in the case of Mary Stewart, her gateway book for me was The Crystal Cave, published in 1970, sixteen years after Madam, Will You Talk?, her first novel. Had the latter been my introduction to Mary Stewart, I would not have pursued the relationship.

I am just about to finish The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. I have a feeling that I have just found a new gateway book.

Some of my other gateway books are:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy M. Montgomery

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkein

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Man with Two Left Feet by P. G. Wodehouse

The Curate’s Awakening by George MacDonald

There is a glaring problem with this list. If you know about these authors, you will see that all of them, except for Philip Pullman, are dead. I’m in the sad situation of being hooked on writers who will not be writing any more books. That’s the danger of reading books by dead authors; if one of their works happens to be a gateway book, your supply of satisfying reads is finite.

I should have known better than to read Maugham—him being dead and all, but that’s the thing about gateway novels. One never knows until the reading deed is done that one has stumbled onto a gateway book. A person may innocently open its pages and find herself unable to put the thing down.

Perhaps there should be warning labels on books by dead authors.

WARNING: This book is known to instantly engross the reader in the story and characters. There is only a limited supply of books by this particular author so read it at your own risk.

In the meantime, Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe looks interesting.

Daily Prompt:Gate



Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake ~ The Tyger

“Among the forces which sweep and play through the universe, untutored man is but a wisp in the wind. Our civilization is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast, in that it is no longer wholly guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason. On the tiger no responsibility rests.”

Theodore Dreiser ~ Sister Carrie

It’s Snow Disaster


Winter camp was located in a small valley surrounded by snow-covered hills. Skandar took one look at those slopes and decided something must be done with them. He persuaded Sir Arlan to allow him and the other boys a break from training so that they could go exploring in the hills. What he failed to mention was that they were going to take some large shields with them. Skandar had an idea: Sit on a shield and slide down the hills on the snow.

The shields worked beautifully. Their curved surfaces allowed the boys to sit comfortably inside, holding onto the arm straps. Skandar and his brothers had a grand time of it, sliding down the hill, toiling their way back up, and sliding down again. Then Skandar persuaded them to link themselves together, in a sort of human chain. So there they were, Skandar, Wilbert, Trevor, Wilfred, and Rhino lined up on the shields, with each one holding onto the legs of the fellow behind him. Rhino, who was in front, gave a push, and they all went flying down the side of the hill.

Toward the bottom of the slope, they encountered a small hummock of ice covered with snow. When they hit it, they broke free from their chain and tumbled in different directions. Skandar, Trevor, Wilfred, and Elbert struggled to free themselves from the snow, laughing and whooping in excitement. The boys regained their footing and took stock of their situation—there was no sign of Rhino! They looked around and shouted his name in mounting panic; Rhino was nowhere to be found.

“What have we done?” cried Elbert. “We’ve lost Rhino!”

“Now, lads, let’s not get in a muck,” said Wilfred. “He’s got to be around here somewhere. Here Rhino, come on, lad; tell us where you are.”

The only response to Wilfred’s call was the muted creak of tree branches shifting under their burden of snow. In the meantime, Skandar and Trevor had been combing the surrounding area for any trace of the prince.

“Whatever will we tell Sir Arlan,” Trevor fretted, who was nearly in tears.

“Brace up, Trevor. He’s here somewhere; I can feel it. We just can’t see him as yet.”

The boys continued their search, carefully scrutinizing the terrain beneath their feet and the trees overhead.

Suddenly Skandar shouted, “Over here! I see something!”

He pointed to the base of a huge fir tree. The others crowded around and looked where his finger was pointing. There in the snow was a small object that looked like the tip of a boot. They immediately began digging around the object and in a few seconds exposed the entire boot. Heartened, the boys intensified their efforts and in a few minutes uncovered Rhino, who had been buried in the snow.

Apparently when Rhino made contact with the hummock, he sailed into the air and landed at the base of the tree. His body impacted it with such force its branches dumped their load of snow on Rhino’s head. The boys anxiously crowded around Rhino, who was trying to catch his breath. Skandar was beside himself with remorse.

“Rhino,” he said, “I am so awfully sorry. I never should have suggested such a mad scheme. Are you broken anywhere? Oh, I am such a heedless dolt! Speak to me, Rhino, please; tell me that you forgive me.”

Rhino shook the remaining snow out of his ears and drew a deep breath.

“Skandar”, he said. “You’re brilliant. Let’s do it again!”

S. M. Hart ~ The Book of Rhino

Daily Prompt: Disastrous

A Bit of Earth


“Do you want toys, books, dolls?”

“Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth?”

In her eagerness, she did not realize how queer the words would sound and that were not the ones she had meant to say. Mr Craven looked quite startled.

“Earth!” he repeated. “What do you mean?”

Mary faltered. He gazed at her a moment and then passed his hand quickly over his eyes.

“Do you–care about gardens so much?” he said slowly.

“I didn’t know about them in India,” said Mary. “I was always ill and tired, and it was so hot. I sometimes made little beds in the sand and stuck flowers in them. But here it is different.”

Mr Craven got up and began to walk slowly across the room.

“A bit of earth,” he said to himself and Mary thought that somehow she must have reminded him of something. When he stopped and spoke to her his dark eyes looked almost soft and kind.

“You can have as much earth as you want,” he said. “You remind me of someone else who loved the earth and things that grow. When you see a bit of earth you want, take it, child, and make it come alive,”

Frances Hodgson Burnett ~ The Secret Garden

Daily Prompt:Soil

Tasty Trifles


Man. This elegant little biped has long been valued as a delicacy. It forms a traditional part of the Autumn Feast, and is served between the fish and the joint. Each Man——

C. S. Lewis ~ The Silver Chair

Humans are edible! They are not only edible, but they are apparently delicious, according to the Giants’ Cookbook. It’s amazing really how many creatures like nothing better than the taste of Man.

In addition to giants, trolls and orcs also like a bit (or rather, bite) of humans. Dinosaurs and dragons, vampires and zombies, lions, tigers, and bears (oh, my!) all savor their pound of human flesh. Cliff-ghasts and giant worms just can’t get enough of it. With all these worldly and otherworldly predators—(oh, yeah, add Aliens and Predators to the list)—wanting to take a human to lunch, it’s astonishing that the species has not been eaten into extinction. Instead they keep breeding at an exponential rate.

In 1798, Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, Mr. Condorcet, and other Writers, in which he stated that the human population will always outrun the food supply, unless checked by birth control, famine, war, and disease. He did not take into account all the creatures with teeth that like to eat humans.

That humans are not extinct is perhaps evidence that vampires, trolls, orcs, dragons, cliff-ghasts, aliens, predators, and dinosaurs have read Malthus’ essay. Perhaps they are wisely managing their food supply, with only occasional raids on humans. A pint of blood here, a left brain there, here a limb, there an organ, all taken with restraint, ensures that no one runs out of food. However, it works only if everybody cooperates and doesn’t take more than their fair share of humans. Someone needs to tell that to the zombies!

Daily Prompt: