Daniel Joseph Pezely
13 September 2018
Through introductions involving a mutual friend, I meet Jenny for coffee. The aroma from the cafe’s roaster lingers, and as appealing as that may be, I order Darjeeling tea.
Between bites of muffin and sips of her soy latte, Jenny establishes herself as intelligent, fiercely independent and motivated in pursuit of her life goals. She coaches others on using similar tactics applicable in their own lives and careers. For added measure, she drank the kool-aid for becoming certified by various institutions, which appeases some of her clients.
She explains the premise of a book that she just finished writing along with ideas worth exploring for future endeavours.
One particular aspect remains difficult for her to articulate. She embodies that feeling of a word being on the tip of one’s tongue with simultaneous awareness of not yet knowing the word.
I feel compelled to provide not just a token word but something that satiates and quenches the paradox, but no such word comes to my mind, either.
That’s it– not a word, not even a phrase but an idea.
My memory pulls down a book on architecture now considered a modern classic, The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander, 1979. The author introduced a generation to differences between design versus experience, particularly in architecture of buildings but also applied to construction of software among many other subjects.
In certain circles, his fame grew from a successful experiment in Oregon where paths remained unpaved at a new college campus. Instead of dictating where the paths should be carved, observing wear patterns on the ground after actual use revealed where to put them. This also helped determine major thoroughfares and quiet paths alike.
Talking about many wonderful facets of this book and how it has been applied with much success throughout many disciplines fills much of my conversation with Jenny.
One point that I highlight, as emphasized throughout its text: The author describes the quality without a name. He immediately advises avoiding the obvious acronym, “QWAN”.
After all, much value exists by this quality remaining nameless.
History demonstrates countless prior efforts becoming subverted largely due to misusing a name. For instance: quietly replacing propaganda with public relations which blossomed through the mid Twentieth Century and to this day obscures its agenda component; or prior campaigns for raising one’s level of conscious awareness through proper attitude becoming hijacked in the 1980’s as simply “Attitude!” plus most other terms during 2010’s being labelled as an internet meme.
I feel so strong about the value for Jenny and her immediate colleagues grokking this concept that I offer my cherished copy of the book for her to borrow.
Weeks later, Jenny’s innermost circle of life and leadership coaches meets at her house. I’m invited too.
Upon arrival, I hand her the book. Seconds later, a kitchen timer rings. She serves gooey cinnamon sticky-buns that were warming in the oven.
After sampling a piece herself, she immediately returns to the book. Turning from page to page, she notes aloud the excellence of writing and elegance of concepts presented.
Ideas expressed in the book become the subject or at least opener for many subsequent conversations over the next several months. Sometimes, the group meets in person. Other times, it takes place via 4-way video chat.
Going against the author’s advice, the professional coaches latch onto the acronym, QWAN. This begins innocently enough. First, they attempt finding a domain-specific term, one directly applicable to their clients. Futility gives way to using the ill-advised acronym as placeholder, and as habit emerges, the proxy becomes de facto.
On one such call, Jenny indicates that she should return the book and purchase her own copy.
The timing is fortuitous, as the book’s subject arises while mentoring another new contact of mine from a different network. It would be useful lending the book to this other person.
For our next meeting in person, however, Jenny forgets to bring the book.
Months go by, as she has a busy travelling schedule.
Upon her return, we arrange meeting at a coffee shop near her house for the main purpose of returning the book to me, but again, she forgets to bring the book.
I would go the few blocks to retrieve it after we’ve finished with coffee, but she’s heading out directly from the cafe for additional errands in preparation of her next business trip.
This becomes a running joke with my wife. During breakfast or dinner conversations, the topic sometimes touches upon architecture or books. After an eventual segue, I express doubt if the book still exists, or if it does, whether it is intact, pages stuck together from cinnamon bun fingers or otherwise damaged.
My attitude becomes resigned based upon a few principles that could apply to the situation:
My wife offers a third option: Maybe it’s about fighting for it.
Based upon my upbringing, I counter: Maybe it’s about letting go.
It would be another full year before breaking radio silence with Jenny.
In that time, similar circumstances play out with a long-time friend. With that one, however, I lent him money. Some people get weird when money is involved. It’s now many months past when he committed to repaying.
My wife asks if I see the pattern and also has me inquire of myself, what is the one thing consistent among these and similar episodes of my life.
Of course, this pattern of treatment should not be tolerated.
The one thing in common here, obviously, is me– my involvement with such people.
While being treated this way by another person indicates anything but a true friend, I hesitate naming this type of person. On one hand, naming something becomes a first step towards controlling the situation. On the other, naming something brings it to the foreground of awareness, and I’d rather shed such a category of people from my life.
As sometimes said about life, you must close one door before the next will open.
With nothing to lose that hasn’t already been lost, I request everything be returned from everyone.
Jenny responds, noting how she saw the book on her shelf earlier and thought of me– “Synchronicity!”
My wife acknowledges the moose in the tent: if so, why didn’t Jenny initiate returning the book herself?
Jenny agrees to meet… but in another week, because she’s travelling for the next few days.
The day arrives… but she isn’t feeling well, so we reschedule.
When that day comes… she reschedules to later in the afternoon.
Again, I question to my wife if the book actually exists or is intact. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Fifteen minutes before the re-rescheduled time, a text message arrives. Jenny is just leaving her house and will be at my apartment building in about fifteen minutes. At her request due to perpetual parking difficulties in our neighbourhood, I agree to meeting her at the corner.
My wife muses whether Jenny will send another text about something coming up at the last minute.
Two minutes to the hour, Jenny’s next text message states that she’s here!
I go outside.
There’s Jenny holding the book.
As we talk, my fingers find the pages crisp with no evidence of sticky bun. Yes, the book remains in great condition, just as it was lent to her well over two years ago.
We catch-up on whereabouts of mutual acquaintances and such things.
In mid sentence, Jenny yells “No” repeatedly as she sprints away.
A Parking Enforcement officer snaps a picture of Jenny’s car, framing its license plate and the adjacent “No Parking Beyond Here” sign, which her car clearly straddles.
He had not yet taken a picture of the bright red fire hydrant, for which this bit of road made the posted parking prohibition redundant.
After saying that she was right here with the car the whole time, was simply stopping to return a book while pointing at me holding said book, and was surprised that parking rules were enforced on a Sunday– the officer responds by noting that in essence she just admitted wilful violation.
He points out multiple available parking spots just two and five car lengths further ahead, and had it only been a moment like she said, those spots were probably vacant when she illegally parked here.
After further scolding, the officer finishes by saying that he won’t give her the $100 ticket, for he’s feeling generous today.