The Trickster

I’ve always been fascinated with the myth of Trickster. He is cunning and sly; the wise man who acts as the fool. His very nature is contradictory because he is a bringer of both chaos and order. He is considered evil, but a necessary evil.

Every culture has Trickster in it, though the actual representation may differ. For instance, to many Pacific Northwest and Alaskan native people, the Trickster is Raven. The winged God with the dual nature, Mercury, is considered Trickster in Greek Mythology by some (because of Mercury’s dual nature), and Loki is Trickster in Norse mythology.

To the Turkish (Islamic) people, Trickster is a person, Nasreddin Hodja, and takes on the personification of Trickster as wise man who plays the fool. It’s hard to pick among them, but my favorite Hodja story is probably Everyone is Right:

Once when Nasreddin Hodja was serving as qadi, one of his neighbors came to him with a complaint against a fellow neighbor.

The Hodja listened to the charges carefully, then concluded, “Yes, dear neighbor, you are quite right.”

Then the other neighbor came to him. The Hodja listened to his defense carefully, then concluded, “Yes, dear neighbor, you are quite right.”

The Hodja’s wife, having listened in on the entire proceeding, said to him, “Husband, both men cannot be right.”

The Hodja answered, “Yes, dear wife, you are quite right.”

The Navajo (the Dineh) have, in my opinion, the most sophisticated outlook regarding Trickster, who to them takes on the persona of Coyote. In fact, Coyote still forms an important aspect in current Navajo culture to the point where many of the Dineh will not cross the path of a live coyote, in case it is Coyote come to play a trick.

Occasionally you might hear a reference to Coyote in regards to a person having to fight their own personal demons. In particular, the Navajo associate many forms of illness with Coyote, referring to alcoholism, drug addiction, stomach and other illnesses as “coyote sickness”. This sickness is usually associated with an external influence such as alcohol or drugs, or poor diet and even exposure to chindi, or ghosts.

To resolve these illnesses, the shaman will perform a healing ceremony and take a person back to their center, performing a ritual cleansing — a healing way — as the person makes reparations for the offenses they have made.

You won’t find much online about healing ways, nor will you find much about the sandpaintings used by Navajo shaman during the rituals associated with healing — the Navajo consider that this information gives power and power given foolishly can rebound on the person who disseminates it indiscriminately. However, I did find reference to one healing way, the Bear way, that seems to be for women in their 40′s. The mention of the “crystals” in the ceremony, though, would lead me to guess that this is new age rather than traditional Indian ceremony.

The study of Coyote and illness, particularly illness associated with addiction, isn’t restricted purely to Navajo medical and religious tradition. In an excellent article, Jacques Rutzky discusses addiction and Coyote from a psychotherapist’s position, somewhat based on Jung’s Archetypal Trickster:

Forced to cultivate an awareness of the Coyote in myself as well as my patients, I have come to recognize that Coyote’s greatest delusion, that he knows everything, is frequently my own delusion as well. I try to remember that the images, associations, and thoughts that arise in my mind may be a link to another’s experience. Or they may not. And though I know with great certainty that Coyote will never be destroyed, I can, at least, recognize his familiar shape, smell, and howl when he comes into my office, sniffs the furniture, and plops down beside me, smiling.

The Yellow and Black Skunk

When I was a young’un, I lived on a farm several miles outside of Kettle Falls, in Washington state. Below the farm was an undeveloped field with a dirt road running through it that connected several homes. And below the road and the field was Lake Roosevelt. Surrounding all of this was bits and pieces of the Colville National Forest.

Back in those more innocent days, my mother let me go down to the field by myself as long as I didn’t go down to the water.

I loved this field of tall golden weeds. Since I was only about five at the time, the weeds would come up to my chest and I could look out on a sea of waving fronds and imagine I was on a ship in the ocean.

I loved the dust of the dirt road and would walk it slowly, sucking on the end of a grass blade pulled from the side of the road, occasionally chasing after a grasshopper or butterfly. Every once in a while I would see another critter such as a deer or a skunk, always trying to entice the former towards me, always giving considerable room to the latter.

Imagine a soft, warm summer afternoon, blue sky, glimmer of light reflection off of the water in the distance, the sound of insects and birds the only noise. And absolutely nothing to do but walk along the road and think thoughts of faraway places and strange new doings, such as my cousin coming for a visit and my Uncle giving my brother a rifle and not me because I was a girl. I got a stupid china tea set. You know the kind of thoughts — a child’s thoughts.

One day, there was a movement in the field towards my left. I stopped and looked, hand over eyes to shade the sun, squinting my eyes al-most tight (sign of glasses to come the following year), trying to see what was causing the motion.

Up a head pops and then down it goes.

What?

Up a head pops and then down it goes again.

What is that?

Again, the head appears and I have a better view. It’s golden and kind of flat and has black markings.

That’s not a deer. Too small for a deer.

Up the head pops and then down it goes again.

That’s not a bunny. It’s too big.

Up and down.

That’s not a skunk though it does have markings like a skunk.

I watched this strange creature for some time. I wasn’t frightened. If anything I thought this new experience was a huge treat considering the usual activity associated with a warm sunny afternoon, such as standing in the middle of a road of dust, listening to the insects rub wings and legs.

Up the head would pop, down it would go, each jump moving it farther away until with a last rustle, it disappeared into the woods.

I ran home and opened the door and there was my mother, washing something in the sink, the smell of good things to eat hanging in the late afternoon air. I remembered running up to her, excited, telling her in the jumbled child manner about this creature in the field that had these black markings and it jumped up and down and up and down and up…

“That’s a skunk, honey, You just saw a skunk is all.”

A yellow and black skunk? Well, okay. If you say so, Mama.

So I went for the just the longest, longest time, with this memory in my head of my warm, sunny afternoon and the field of gold and the dusty road, and my yellow and black skunk.

Until the day when I was looking at a new picture book and realized that my skunk was a bobcat.

New York, New York

t isn’t Fall without trees changing color, birds flying south for the Winter, and being in New York to speak at the Internet World conference — this time as part of the Webmaster Forum.

However, this time, I stayed in New York for a few days. What an adventure.

New York Cabbies

The cab that took me from Penn Station to my hotel was driven by a gentleman from Haiti who happened to have strong religious beliefs. I know he was religious because he kept playing religious tapes, and would slam on the brakes occasionally in order to jot something down in a notebook he kept by his seat. I knew he was Haitian as he would alternate this behavior with Haitian utterances under his breath as he literally tore through that town, determined to get me to my hotel at all due speed.

I didn’t know one could drive between cars in car lanes in New York. I also didn’t know that one could drive 60MPH down Park Avenue in the middle of the day. I do now. I also received a lesson in the finer points of car horn blasting in New York.

There’s the light tatoo on the horn that says “Yo!”. There’s the more emphatic tatooing that seems to say “Yo! Stupid!”.

There’s the single tap that just lets folks know you’re in the vicinity and to watch out. Compare this with the heavy hand on the horn that will get even the most diehard New Yorker’s attention. If the horn blower is a cab driver, people seem to understand that the cabby is just letting someone know that they are invading the driver’s personal territory, whatever that may be.

I also know that pedestrians in New York don’t walk in front of the cabs without looking at the driver’s face, first. How does this driver define territory…

Cab rides are a way to experience New York, but I can’t experience a new town or city from a car — I just don’t like cars. So, I decided to walk to Central Park. On foot. No cabs.

Walking to Central Park

I started my walk on Madison Avenue — established home of advertising agencies everywhere.

Madison Avenue doesn’t have the crowds other streets do in New York, thought there are a large number of gray and black suited people, all with cellphones glued to their ears (call them New York earrings).

The buildings along the way reminded me of some of the canyons I used to explore in Arizona, except those canyons were created by water flows over a millenium of time. New York canyons are built on man’s desire to one up nature. I did notice, though, when I crossed over to Fifth Avenue that the human tide is remarkably similar to a moving river. Woe to you going against that tide of affluent and determined shoppers.

(I particularly treasure a moment when two older, well dressed women walking behind me suddenly stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and murmured “Armani” in one breath. I consider this to be a quintessential New York moment.)

The Park

Central Park is a surpise after all the opulence of the surrounding stores and the shadows cast by the towering buildings elsewhere in downtown New York.

Part of the Park was closed off for renovation, but I walked every last bit of those sections that were open. And it was a long walk.

First, let me state categorically that I cannot BELIEVE that anyone would jog in the Park after dark. The place is full of nooks and crannies, dark corners, and bushes. Charming by day, sinister by night. A horse carriage ride, yes — but not a lonely stroll through the footpaths. I’d rather play tag with a grizzley. It would be safer.

Central Park is pretty, but the trees look a little tired, and more than a bit dusty. However, the bushes and lawns were very pretty, as were the little specialized areas such as the Dairy farm.

I found an old fashioned carrousel and thought about taking a ride, but dignity intruded — dammit.

My favorite sections of the Park were rocky outcroppings with bits of mica scattered about, sparkling in the noon day sun. Something like the windows at Tiffany’s and Cartiers I passed on the way, only I could touch the rocks at Central Park and not get arrested.

I actually saw a black squirrel; I’ve not seen one of that coloration before. I don’t have my books to check to see if this is a natural variation, or a protective adaption based on New York city smog. (I know, meow, meow — but Boston is a whole lot greener.)

I walked through some bushes at one point and found a group of people silently standing around a mosaic embedded in the cement. All the mosaic had on it was the single word “imagine” — I was in Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon memorial.

One word, and I stopped dead in my tracks. One moment, with a lifetime of memories, flooding in, all because of that one word.

Back from the Park

I was getting tired at this point, so back to the hotel.

Towards the end of my walk, I stood out in from of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, an incredible edifice of which New Yorkers take considerable pride. If you’ve been to New York, you know what it’s like to come upon the Cathedral after blocks and blocks of modern glass and steel.

I have to admit that when I first looked at St. Patrick’s, I thought of how much further we would be as a people if only we expended as much energy and resources on education as we did and still do on religion.

We could have cured cancer by now, eliminated all smog and pollution, perhaps be walking on some distant planet around some distant sun.

Then I walked into St. Patrick’s. I literally stopped in the middle of the Vestibule, overwhelmed by the absolute rightness of the interior of the church. The vaulted ceilings, the stained glass windows, the slight smoky air from thousands of votive candles lit by the faithful.

It then came to me that without faith — or perhaps human spirit — we wouldn’t even try to cure cancer, or walk on the moon, much less planets surrounding distant stars. And we wouldn’t have beauty such as that.

Maybe we didn’t do so bad with our time and our resources in the past, after all.

New York, New York

My last stop on my walk was Rockerfeller Center, located a couple of blocks from the hotel. As I approached the Center, I could hear the strains of the Sinatra song, “New York, New York” filling the air. I kid you not — there had just been an ice show at the center, which finished by playing New York’s anthem song.

I couldn’t end my walking tour of New York on a better note than that.

Working at Home

Imagine this scenario: You get up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, and wander out to the Living Room. You stand and gaze out the window for a few minutes taking advantage of that great mountain view. Then you casually go into your home office and start looking through your email. After you handle your email you take a shower and get dressed, sweats or jeans or shorts maybe, and you go back to your office and get down to some serious work. You break when you are tired and you eat when you are hungry. When the kids come home from school you chat with them about the day and maybe you even go for a walk with them. Later you get back on the computer for another few hours and quit for the night, satisfied with your day’s work.

Okay, everyone, you can stop crying now. And you can stop shaking your head,  saying this is impossible. With today’s technology, this is not only possible it is becoming cost effective and practical.

Today many of us have access to computers in our homes that enable us to do anything from creating a report, researching a product, to writing complex computer software. With the increased proliferation of ISDN lines and alternative connectivities being explored, we can connect with our jobs and have virtually the same access as we would sitting at a desk on site. And that office does not have to be in the same town.

Security? This does not have to be a limitation. We are learning more about computer security than ever and we are finding more ways to increase the safety of our systems.

Cost? How much does it cost you to maintain a workable environment for each of your people? If you are maintaining a site for a software developer you are maintaining software, a machine, a phone line, restrooms, an ergonomically designed workstation, and you are maintaining a location. That last one is a real key. Companies are growing and are finding that they may actually be running out of room to house their people, so they double up and cram people in and they lose productivity and they may actually lose people.

Teamwork? Have you had a chance to try out Netscape’s new version 3.0 beta software with LiveChat. I went out and talked and shared a virtual whiteboard with some person in Utah, and someone else in Texas. And this is a freebie add-on to an internet tool. You have the technology now to have cameras mounted on PCs and have people share virtual working spaces and work cooperatively online. The only thing you don’t share is bad breath.

Benefits? I bet if you promised this capability to people on only a partial week basis you will have increased worker satisfaction and a whole lot more people wanting to work for you. How about having to maintain less desk space if you have workers desk share? How about having fewer cars in your parking lot, which is probably overcrowded as it is. How about giving back to the community by fewer cars being on the road?

Sick Time? If you have an employee with a broken leg they can work at home. If they have a bad cold? The employee probably would come into work, be pretty uncomfortable and manage to pass their germs to half a dozen other people. Wouldn’t you rather they stay home? How about maternity or paternity leave? Nice option for those folks who would like to be available to their kids and still have a career. What a concept!

So, why is this not happening more? Some types of work just won’t make the transition to at home work such as factory and manufacturing processes and many services and other professions. If you have a home cleaning service, this usually means the customer’s home. And some companies are not set up yet, and may not be able to afford the type of setup that would enable their employees to work from home. Other companies may work on super secret stuff that has to be worked on behind armed guards and locked doors.

Now let’s look at the ‘bad’ reasons for not allowing people to work at home.

You don’t trust your employees and you have to have your eye on them at all times. Go Away. You have hired professionals and adults, consider treating them as such and you probably will not have the turnover you now have.

The work you do needs a centralized database. With the increased ISDN line connectivity, you can connect to your database efficiently from home. How about taking snapshots of the database to work on from your home PC? Concerned about someone accessing company secrets from this? Ask yourself this: Do you think that your secret is important enough that a person will break into your employee’s home to access their PC? Do you have armed guards at your front doors to keep people from walking in? Do you have absolutely no connection between your internal computer system and an outside connection? If you answered No to any of these, try a different mindset.

A legitimate concern is the availability of people for mentoring, or for brainstorming, or for any other cooperative task. You might want to consider how much of this really does occur and you then might want to consider a partial solution such as desk sharing: two people share a desk and a PC and work at home part of the week and at work part of the week.

Communication? Last I heard, homes had phones too, and email and internet connectivity…

Concerned about that security issue? Check with consultants in your area and find out the security risks. Don’t just assume that this type of connectivity will take your important systems down, find out the facts.

How about liability? Concerned that your employee may get hurt at home and sue you? Check with your lawyer and also your insurance companies about steps you and your employee can take. And lawyers and insurance companies, start understanding this type of business…it will only increase in the future.

Costs? You bet there will be costs to enabling off-site employees if they need computer access. But consider what you can get back: The main factor that raises envy in me and my professional peers is when one of us can work at home. It even beats out salary as the number one reason to take one job over another. And for most companies, the number one cost is their employees. Want to attract and keep the best?

There are a lot of issues to working at home. I would like to hear from companies that have made this transition successfully and would like to publish your success stories in the month’s to come. And I would also like to hear from those companies who have made a choice not to allow off-site employees and their reasons. Let’s start exploring this issue and see “Why we CAN work at home”.

That’s it, folks.