I’ve never really had much use for mirrors. Sure, they help me see the pizza sauce on my face or a hair out of place, but in the end they only ever show you who you already are. What I would like much more is a window. This is a formidable metaphor. Windows, as it turns out, are an excellent basis upon which to build a picture of my grandfather.
Some people sit in a stuffy room in their home and think how sad their lives are. Clarence was a man who wouldn’t tolerate inaction. If there was something worth doing, he was doing it. He was always looking for opportunity, seeking paths to improve his life and the lives of his family. He knew how much better things might be if we could see beyond the walls. Rather than hiring someone to cut a hole in the wall and install a window, he reached for the toolbox.
He gave me a toolbox when I graduated high school. He hand-made the toolbox and filled it with functional antiques, living relics he found at garage sales over the years. I felt honored, doubly so years later when he told me he had given one to my son as well. Liam still speaks fondly of that toolbox. I’m proud to know my son has embraced the tradition of fixing old things, rather than replacing them. This is a strongly held belief in my family.
His was not a short-term perspective, which is no criticism of his appreciation of the now. He had a remarkable ability to enjoy the moment while also being very focused on the horizon. You might find him in the garden, planting or harvesting or battling weeds; or you might find him in the shed, cutting wood for a birdhouse. If you asked him what he was thinking, he might tell you about his paying off the car next year. Truth be told, I never actually asked. He always seemed so content and peaceful working with his hands.
He built the house I grew up in with his bare hands and a limited set of tools. He and my father laid every brick together. He taught me the value of hard work. More than that, he helped me see some things are worth a little blood. I have spilled blood many times building and/or fixing machines. To this day, if I don’t bleed a little when I work with my hands, I feel some sense of disappointment, like I didn’t try hard enough.
This was a man who, after falling off a ladder at work and breaking his back, he drove nearly an hour home before considering going to the hospital. When he told me about the experience, I barely believed it. He said every so often, he would hit a bump on the highway, and the car would bounce. The resulting searing pain left him momentarily blacked out. Somehow, through blinding pain, he made it home and then quickly to the hospital. The man was a tank.
Maybe not always the easiest person to be around, he definitely had his gruff moments. Still, no amount of momentary vitriol could ever outweigh his relentlessly progressive spirit. The words “heart of gold” simply do not suffice here. He would – and occasionally did – invest everything he had to protect and secure his family.
To me, he will always be the foundation of my pyramid, the ground that supports my home, the rock upon which my entire existence is built. He bestowed upon me a most welcome gift. While we can build windows to gain perspective on the beauty of the now, he gave me a magic sight glass to know my future long before it happened and to be ready for it, even if I didn’t always like it. As I write this, all I want in the world is a window on the past, so I can look upon him in his prime and wave. He wouldn’t notice me, though. He’d be too focused on keeping his hands busy, planting next season’s crop or building another birdhouse. As it should be, his own special blend of zen.
When I arrived in San Francisco, I was new. I had shed the skin of an old and tired chapter in my life, with nothing but adventure before me. Well, almost. For many months after moving to this beautiful city, I carried a burden of lost love. I wrote often during that time, as it was rich with drama and wonder, and writing is a necessary part of my soul. It is in these bold new moments that we encounter hallways within ourselves, paths that take us to memories of our future selves. These are memories we come to cherish throughout our lives, moments that become building blocks of our hearts. It is about such a moment that I write this today, after nearly a year traveling along a path that will serve as a central conduit of my future creative self.
(It may not be apparent yet, but I’m talking about how origami cranes changed my life. Stay with me. It’s worth the read. This story is about the evolution of self, annealed by hard work and tedious patience. It’s a story about love and dedication, to others and to oneself. And it’s about a whole lot of folded paper birds.)
Let’s start with scale
How many things can you honestly say you’ve done a hundred times? Sure, we talk about things as if we’ve done them many many times, but there are few things you’ve actually done a hundred times. Some of us (probably not even me) can say we’ve read 100 different books. That counts, right? Yes! What else? Think bigger.
At some point in the last year, I had a discussion with my cousin about things we’ve done a thousand times. Being a highly intelligent person, he immediately identified biological things, like breathing or heartbeats or pooping.
Fun fact: if you poop twice a day every day for 20yrs, that’s still less than 15k times. I was surprised, too.
If we eliminate things your body does (sometimes without your consent), we’re left with a slightly different approach: decisions. If we focus on choices we make actively, we’re left with a much more obvious set of things. As an example, I proposed that I may have pressed the clutch pedal in my Honda over a thousand times. While we don’t normally think of these things as choices, they are. As we expanded on the theme, things like toggling a light switch came into view. Maybe opening a refrigerator, or opening a beer. Some of us may be surprised at the number of beer bottles we opened in college. Others will be proud.
Still, if we reduce the scope just a bit further, we see things in an entirely different light. How many things have you done intentionally one thousand times? I can say with certainty that in my case, it is no less than one, but also probably not greater than one either. I know this because I set out to fold one thousand origami cranes, and I completed the task. I am proud that it took only a few months, and I’ve met others in the last year who have folded more cranes in less time. Still, it is an empowering achievement.
Those of you who follow my Twitter or Instagram feed will already know of my quest to assemble one thousand origami cranes into a tapestry to hang on my wall. What you might not know is the deeper story behind it all. As it turns out, this sort of thing requires a great deal of planning. One does not simply conjure up a tapestry made of paper cranes. It takes careful strategy and accounting (mostly that second thing). There were piles of cranes around my house, each representing an even hundred. They added up quickly.
It all actually started when I read an article about the senbazuru legend. Last year, for my grandfather’s 75th birthday, I gave him 75 cranes to celebrate his life and family. I made ten of each of five colors, representing his children, and 25 of a sixth color to represent my grandmother, who had died the previous year. They were divorced for many years, but we all saw the pain in his eyes at her funeral service. This experience sparked my interest in pursuing the thousand.
Traditionally, people assemble cranes onto strings and hang the strings to blow in the wind. It is an overwhelming experience to enter a room where hundreds of cranes hand from the ceiling. After my experience with my grandfather’s birthday gift, I came to consider some ideas about the idea of weaving the cranes together. My first attempt was simply to hang the strings together on a stick (sourced from my grandfather’s lumber pile). What I realized from this experience was that every crane moves independently – a lot. Simply hanging them will not be possible beyond a small number of strings. They would need to be woven together.
So Many Birds…
After the first dozen or so, I started to get into the groove. I found a good foil paper I really liked, and I set out to find all the great cafes in my neighborhood. A google search will reveal a disturbingly large number of cafes in SF. I set out to visit them all, spiraling outwards from my apartment, while folding cranes at each. Over the first month, I was visiting new places three or four times per week. The unfortunate thing about outward spirals is they take longer and longer with each subsequent attempt. I think at last count, I had visited 15 cafes before I finished folding all the cranes. Granted, that took three months, and I started folding more at home as the months went on. Still, it was a fascinating journey.
At one cafe, I met a young woman studying at a local university. She was working on a masters degree and had her face buried in a boring-looking book when I sat down across from her. One thing I’ve really grown to love about SF is the community feeling I get in a lot of cafes. The seating layouts inspire a sense of warmth and openness. Every time I’ve sat down at a table of strange people, I’ve made new friends. This new friend told me of a hazing ritual in her sorority, where they were forced to fold a lot of origami cranes in a short time as proof of their dedication to the group. I was in a competitive phase of my crane folding practice, and I asked her how quickly she could fold one. She stunned me with a casual recollection of once folding fifty (50) cranes in an hour, while sitting in a lecture. Even after folding a thousand, I am nowhere near a one minute bird. My personal best is 2mins 20secs.
When I first started, I put so much care into each fold, it would sometimes take 10mins to fold one bird. As I grew more and more familiar with the shape of the crane and the feeling of the paper in my fingers, I started to gain a sense of what was important. I found myself drawn to focus precisely on critical folds. For the rest, I could be sloppy, and it wouldn’t matter. Eventually, this became clear as a life lesson as well.
An Unexpectedly Spiritual Path
Knowing the different between what is important and what can be thrown together is a crucial component to success. After spending a few months folding cranes, I had my big beautiful pile of shiny cranes. I had kept track of them, meticulously counting them over and over, to make sure I had the correct number of each color. Initially, I had designed a shape that represented my partnership with a great love. I envisioned a clock shape, where the minute and second hands pointed to our birthdays. It was an ambitious project, and in many ways it mirrored my perspective on the relationship. Our lives diverged, and it took nearly a year to process what I thought was the loss of my greatest love.
I spent many hours folding cranes and reflecting on my experiences with her. I even sent her photos of the first 29 cranes, made in blue (her favorite color), a celebration of one of the clock hands, which would point at 7 and 29 (29 July, her birthday). I considered this to be a pinnacle of romantic gestures. She never spoke to me again. It would be many weeks before I finally came to realize that she had no interest in continuing a relationship with me. She became a ghost in my eyes.
I had spent all this energy focused on a life with her, but I never really put much thought into what I wanted. As I folded crane after crane, I endured strong emotions. I sometimes crushed a partially finished bird or ripped it apart and threw the pieces in the air, frustrated with my memory of her. Eventually, those thoughts faded, and I found serenity in the cranes once again. When I folded the last crane, I wrote my wish inside, to be lost in the thousand.
Japanese legend says the crane spirit will grant a wish to anyone who folds one thousand origami cranes.
It is unclear whether this wish is to be kept secret. I prefer to keep it secret here, sharing it with a precious few. What I will share is the journey along the path to my final wish.
The Unselfish Path
When seeking a wish from a presumed deity from a religion I do not follow, I had no real frame of reference. At first, I considered wishes like “world peace,” but that quickly became obviously broad and unrealistic. Also, I find that one especially ambiguous, as if “world” implies “the world we live in” and not some other planet. I also find the word “peace” especially concerning in this vague context, as it could easily be interpreted as “compliant in response to overwhelming oppression.” That seemed like a terrible end to bestow upon someone, certainly when intending to do something good for others.
So, world peace is out. Let’s aim smaller. The wish granted by the crane spirit is often described as general health of loved ones or specific prayers for one person. This part was the hardest. I began to wish vision and/or understanding upon a specific person, namely my lost great love. I was convinced that if she simply understood things more clearly, she would see the glory of a life with me. After meditating on this for a good long time (maybe 200 cranes worth; I began to think of them as meditation currency), I found that the universal benefit of wishing for anything like love was in this case exactly zero. After we’re both dead, any love we feel – for each other or otherwise – dies with us. That imparts exactly nothing to the greater good.
I can’t wish for a bigger television. I can’t wish for world peace. I can’t bring back the dead or make someone love me or anyone else. I can’t even wish that wishes were easier to choose! I need something bigger than myself, but not so big that it’s unrealistic. In the end, I settled on a mantra, something I can champion throughout my life and share with others who agree with the philosophy. In choosing a mantra as my wish, I gained an appreciation for the fallacy in the nature of reward.
I began this journey hoping to earn something, hoping to prove something. Now that I’ve completed it, I see that I earned nothing and proved nothing. And in the process I learned a little something about everything. It was never about my wish. It was never for love. It was about the devotion I invested into this one task, about taking an active role in my own future.
I now have this amazing tapestry on display in my home, woven from a thousand origami cranes. As it formed and changed, it was made stronger and more beautiful, annealed through the forge of time. I find it fitting that the tapestry’s final shape is a shield with two mirrored birds, flying through each other. To me, it represents the duality and independence of love, two fierce creatures seeking a balance between freedom and companionship.
Now, I share it with you on this anniversary of my birth. I hope it brings you as much joy as it has brought me, this year and for many years to come. 🎁
I saw your photograph today. You looked happy. I want to be happy for you, but I’m not. I want to understand why you torture me with your words. Confusion is a word I have used often since I last saw you. You looked in my eyes and said “I love you” and you meant it. You could have said “I always thought you were a coward,” and still your heart would have betrayed your lying mouth. It shines brighter than a thousand suns, so brightly that no shadow of doubt can remain. Yet shadows of your ghost haunt me every time I think of your face since that day. I wake up on chilly mornings, and my soul reaches out for a fleeting moment, hoping you slipped into my bed in the night, like so many times before. I want so much to be surprised by the feeling of your warm soft skin, pressing into me and shying away from the crisp morning air; to wrap you up in the cotton wool of my heart as we did on so many mornings, as we watch the sun rise over the bay.
I miss you like you died. I can’t touch you or smell your hair or feel the depth of your love radiating from your chest. All I have is images of your smiling face in my social media stream, reminding me that you’re not in jail or laying in a hospital bed. And still, I see in your actions no evidence of this love we share. One singular response, telling me it was fun but you’ve moved on. Two words, to let me live in peace: “fuck off,” but all I see is empty space. All I hear is the devastating ambiguity of silence, like an echo chamber for both hope and despair; a cruel joke, and no one’s laughing, not even you.
All those nights I sang you to sleep, all those nights I dragged my fingers gently along the contours of your body, all those times I satisfied your corporeal hunger or soothed the savagery of your menses with laughter, love, and lust; and in the end, you reciprocate with a big fat slice of nothing. In a few rare moments of clarity, you told me how much you appreciated all that I do for you, but there was always something missing. You have such a rich capacity for love and joy, and you share it with all who are worthy of your presence, yet you keep me at twice the distance of a random beggar on the street. What you give so easily to others, you make me earn every inch and then judge me for it.
So I live my life, resigned to know that one day I will wake up and not feel this distance I feel now. It won’t be because you’re in my arms. It will be because our love faded through apathy, a withered rose neglected by an absent gardener. For, even fertile soil and bountiful rivers can not overcome the stale tide of neglect, a monument to callous indifference.
22 Dec 2014
My heart nearly leapt from my chest when I saw your name on my phone. You were calling to wish me a happy birthday and to thank me for the flowers I sent you. We hadn’t spoken in months. I was shocked, as I expected never to hear from you again. The flowers were one last romantic gesture, hoping to remind you of the love we share and how important it is to show that love. You cried as we talked, told me stories of your sadness, how lonely you feel, how much you wish you had someone to hold you on those lonely nights. It hurts every time I hear you say that, as I want to be there with you every night. I know how hard it must have been for you when I moved away. We made plans to spend time together when in California.
Days passed. I reached out to you the day you were flying into town, invited you to an adorable tea shop near your hotel. As with so many text messages before, I received no reply. The next day, you invited me to an event related to your conference; an Ignite event, like those we have attended in the past, both as speakers and attendees. You were so excited to see me. We talked all night, caught up on some of the things we’re doing in our professional lives. We went to a speakeasy for a drink. On our way, we stopped for a smoke, huddled in a cubby hole in the wall on the street, trying to get away from the rain. As we walked back to your hotel, you felt distant, yet connected.
Just like all those times before, I rubbed your neck and back, as your stress melted away. You turned to face me, and I ran my fingers through your hair. You kissed me, and like so many times before, we made love for hours. You fell asleep in my arms and snored softly in my ear, something I cherish very much. We awoke to the foggy sunrise over the city, and made love again.
When it was time for me to go, you walked me to the elevator, held me close, in what I have come to understand as the “don’t ever leave me” hug. You thanked me for a wonderful night, kissed me, and said “now you know how to find me.” It was the happiest day of my life.
That day, I reached out to have dinner with you, but I received no reply. The next day, I invited you to a Cirque du Soleil show, but I received no reply, so I stopped by your hotel. I will never know why you felt threatened by my presence that night. I only sought to spend time with the woman I love, to take you out for a night on the town. I only ever want to treat you like the amazing woman you are, to surrender myself to you and bask in the glow of our collective hearts, beating in time with each other. I respected your space and went to spend time with a friend, knowing you would reach out if you wanted to get together. I thought you wanted to spend time with me, but now I’ll never see you again. You left the next day without saying goodbye.
I wanted so much to leave things on good terms, but you made that impossible. So, it’s over. I want you to be happy, and you seem so happy with me, but something is always missing. And that something is you. I don’t know exactly when I lost you, but you’re gone forever. I hope you find happiness. You’ll always be my number one bird. Fly and be free.
I’ve written several times over the last few years about relationships, love, and loss. I’ve had what seemed like great lovers, only to realize they aren’t and never really were. I’ve dated women who seemed interested, only to find they weren’t willing to give as much as they take. One lover in particular has inspired this piece, and I doubt she’ll ever read it (a testament to how little she cares). If she does, maybe it will help her understand my point of view a little better. If not, so be it. This is not about her. It’s about me.
As of today, I am abstaining from the chase.
I don’t anticipate giving up on dating entirely and living a monk’s celibate life. I like intimacy and sex way too much to do that. Instead, I’m deciding not to try anymore. I’m finally taking the advice I’ve heard over and over for years: “you try too hard. just let it happen naturally.”
After all this time, I finally understand what that means. I thought for many years I could never take this advice because it felt like every fiber of my soul was screaming things like “don’t give up!” and “nothing happens when you make no effort.” While I still agree with those feelings, I must acknowledge that many of my past relationships have been unbalanced, almost one-sided. I do so much to fuel the fire that my lover stops doing anything, once they believe they no longer need to try. This is what many people refer to as “taking someone for granted,” and anyone who has experienced this will know how it feels once this line is crossed. Respect is lost, and there’s no going back.
My friends, my family, and even strangers I meet randomly in the world, when told the stories of my struggles, universally say this:
“Fuck that noise! She doesn’t know what she has. You’re ready for something real and she’s just a party girl. When she turns 40 and looks around to see the bunch of 20-somethings she has for friends, if she has that at all, she’ll see what she lost.”
My rational solution-finding brain tells me to attempt to avoid this outcome through communication and compassion. I want to talk about it, hug it out, and reach mutual understanding. The reality is simple – there is no problem to be solved. I’ve manufactured a problem because that’s the only way I can make sense of the irrational behavior I observe.
About a year ago, when I first started into a rough patch with my girlfriend, my mother gave me the following advice: “walk away at the first sign of trouble.” My natural reaction to conflict has always been to try to find middle ground. At the time, I was going through some highly stressful drama, and my girlfriend told me she couldn’t handle it and wanted a break. Basically, at the peak of my struggle, when I needed support most, she bailed.
My unbearably predictable reaction was to negotiate. I didn’t want her to leave because I loved her. I tried to find a way to understand her needs, sacrificing mine in the process, thus doubling down on my stress in a gamble for my happiness; I lost the bet. What she did was an awful thing to do, especially to someone you love. I knew it then, as I know it now. I was hurt by her casual disregard for my needs. It took the better part of a year to realize this, but now I can say with certainty she didn’t love me. It was a word she used to control my behavior to get what she wanted. I doubt she was conscious of it, but that’s exactly what it was. Like others before her, she used me to get something she wanted.
Today, I draw a line in the sand. No more of that. There is such power in choice. The act of standing up for a belief is exciting and engaging. People spend their whole lives choosing from the options in front of them instead of finding more options. When you don’t like the options, make new ones. I don’t like feeling like I’m always chasing, so I choose not to chase. As my best advice to guys who struggle with dating has always been “be the pretty girl, and let them come to you,” I’m finally taking my own advice.
Do I still love her? Yes. Did we have some great times? Absolutely. Is it worth sacrificing my needs to spend time with her? Fuck no! And this goes for everyone I’ll ever meet.
My new plan is not to have a plan; to live fully in every experience, invest emotionally and intellectually, and walk away when it’s not what I want. It’s a terrifying and brilliant future, so far outside my comfort zone that I will be forced to be comfortable. I can’t wait 🙂
Have you ever been so close to the edge that you no longer know how to tell whether you’ve crossed it? It’s a hard thing to live this way, yet this is all I’ve known for years. When your credit cards are maxed out and the only thing you have is the cash in your wallet, it’s a paralyzing feeling just to pay a bar tab. There’s a certain panic in spending 60% of your available wealth on two beers and a stack of potato fries. Sure, you play off the declined credit card as an oversight, but deep down, you know just how close you are to oblivion.
It’s easy to see how such a situation might cripple anyone. Still, there’s a strength to be found in all that chaos and uncertainty. If you can look past the debilitating rejection of having tens of thousands of dollars of credit, all stretched to their full extent, you find yourself in a peace known to few. I imagine it feels something like drowning. Despite the sudden onset of declined credit transactions, there’s a looming catastrophic quality to the experience, like watching the boulder from afar as it tumbles down the hillside toward your imminent demise.
I envision it like kayaking over a waterfall. Sure, I could keep a constant pulse, checking in with the sherpa shouting from the shore, waving his arms madly in a futile attempt to inspire me to paddle toward the dock. Instead, I find solace in the knowledge that there is more to learn in the quick trip over the edge than I could ever hope to encounter in the safety of knowing that there is another force dragging my boat. Whether I measure it or not, I’m going past the event horizon. I can not know the terror that awaits me, nor could I ever embrace its totality. Still, I close my eyes and sing to myself sweet songs of my inevitable victory.
You may call it foolish or even insane, and you’d be right. In describing the audacity of hope, you will inevitably find yourself questioning the basic fundamentals of what it means to live. I promise I don’t have any answers you want to hear. Frankly, there have been as many times as not that I’ve wondered how much easier it would be to flip my boat and drift away in serene aquatic asphyxiation. But I’m not interested in that death. I have far too much to contribute to this world to seek that path.
I’m not done with this life after these 36yrs. I’m doubling down. I’m ready for another 72, and I’m willing to bet that at the end of all those years, I’ll do it again, if for no other reason than to dare the universe to give me a thousand times more hardship than I’ve faced in these 36yrs. If I can survive this chaos and use it as a source of continued strength, another hundred years will only serve to anneal my heart and soul that much more. I no longer believe there is anything the universe could throw at me that I could not use to grow stronger. And that is the most peaceful feeling I could ever hope for.
I didn’t think it would hurt this much. When I told her I wanted to marry her the first time, she smiled and thought I was being dramatic. Maybe I didn’t mean it. Maybe it was a raw expression of emotions I didn’t understand. I didn’t have a ring. I didn’t propose. I just told her in the best words I had that she means the world to me. She always will.
This time, it was different. I had a ring. And I meant it. More than I’ve ever meant anything in my life. I’ve been married and divorced, yet I’ve never loved someone so much. Sure, it wasn’t a ring for her finger. It was a beautiful handmade bracelet a good friend gave me from India. I knew it was foolish to buy her a traditional ring, partly because I’m broke right now and spending my last remaining cash on a ring would mean she gets a decoder ring from a cereal box. More, it was a matter of simple facts. I’m moving to San Francisco, and she lives in the Other Bay Area, 3500 miles away.
I’m not sure what hurts more – the fact that we will be so far apart or her reaction when I gave her the bracelet and told her I want to marry her, but it’s not going to happen now, maybe not ever. It felt like she said yes to a question I didn’t ask. She kissed me with a passion I have rarely experienced with her.
We had only recently broken up. She said I love her too much, so much that it’s overwhelming. She thinks I’ve made a series of bad choices with employment, and she’s probably right. She doesn’t like it when she feels like I take better care of her than myself. Then, I told her I was taking a job at a great company in SF and would be moving within the month. I guess that was what she needed to hear to remind herself how much she loves me. We can’t be together now, but we’ve never been closer. The connection we feel with each other is stronger and more robust than ever.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I hope not, for her sake. I fear if I love her any more than I already do, she will dissolve into the brilliant light of my heart and be lost forever. Still, I walk the city streets, taking pictures, find examples of thing she would love. I only send her one in ten because I don’t want my intensity to be her burden. I also don’t want to tease her with a life of adventures she shares only by digital proxy.
For now, our lives diverge. Like paths in a Robert Frost poem, it’s bittersweet and beautiful.
7:50pm: get a Lyft downtown. Meeting Sierra for a drink.
8:05pm: Randomly run into Emily. She is also joining us, but I had no idea. Very happy to see her, as I had been trying to coordinate something before I leave. Emily tells me stories of her sudden and inexplicable hospitalization.
8:25pm: Sierra arrives. Drinks commence. Conversation is free, open, and genuine; just as it always is with good friends.
9:40pm: Sierra laments her absurd and hilarious mishap involving a boat, a slippery ladder, and stitches in her vagina. She shows me pictures. Legit. Ouch. Hospitals are becoming a theme…
10:10pm: Ride home with Sierra, who gingerly comments on the bumpiness of the road. Empathy cringe. I don’t have a vagina, but I imagine stitches there must be painful, especially while seated.
10:12pm: Remind Sierra her sunglasses are still at my place. She left them there 18mo ago when she gave me a massage. That was nearly the last time I saw her. She is unsurprised and thankful.
10:20pm: Outside my apartment, Sierra waits in her car while I run inside to retrieve her sunglasses. She gives me a big hug and wishes me well on my trip. I’ll see her again in a few weeks.
10:22pm: Attempting to burn through the last of the white widow before I go. Watch some old Star Trek. Nostalgia. Sleep soon follows
6:26am: It’s Thursday. I’m getting roasted tonight. My best friends in Tampa are sending me off properly. Looking forward to it. Shit, this is really happening. Snooze.
7:29am: Think of Sophia. My internal clock is incapable of sleeping past 7:30am, largely because Sophia’s birthday is 29 July. She sets her alarm at that time, so I’ve been trained to wake then, whether she’s with me or not. Miss her. Going to miss her a lot more than I’m comfortable admitting.
8:15am: Off to the WaVE. Or not. Distracted by Mike’s random app ideas from yesterday. Let me just take an hour to build this web app real quick. Might as well record my screen while I do it.
9:05am: App complete. Text Mike with the good news. Ok, now to get ready for my last day at the office.
9:28am: Witness a man, likely in his 60s, walking barefoot across Kennedy Blvd, wearing only a pair of shorts. He walks on the white painted part of the street. Smart man. He looks pensively at the bus stop bench for a moment, then grabs the two unidentifiable items from the bench, nods affirmatively. Light is green. Must go now, strange man.
9:30am: Arrive at the office. No interns at the desk. Typical. Feeling like I won’t get much done today. Also typical. I do more code-related things at home anyway.
9:40am: The congratulations begin. Chris, my neighbor, is the first to offer his regrettable and envious sentiment. He also asks me to help with a code problem, which I do. Volunteer time and a willingness to help is a key part of my having an office at Tampa Bay WaVE.
11:30am: Congratulations continue to punctuate my morning. Getting some editing done, but not very focused. Roasting is on my mind. Pan-fried ginger, I believe. Smiles. Now, time for coffee. Walk down to coffee shop downstairs. More goldbricking with baristas. I order a cappuccino, only the second time I’ve done that. Jared gives me the “wait… what?” face. I always order a small coffee.
2:08pm: Set up in the studio for podcast recording. Justin is late. He is forgiven because he brings a bottle of bourbon, which we haven’t had on the he show in months. We talk about his woes regarding web service API versioning. We talk for so long that we must break it up into two episodes. Good stuff. I asked if he wanted to do a farewell show. He said no. Not ready to admit I’m really moving yet. Hope this won’t be the end of the show. It’s far too much fun to give up just because we don’t live in the same city anymore.
3:40pm: Finish recording. Great episodes! Strike all the recording gear and head back to my office for editing. No possibility of getting this out before the roast. Punt. Do it on the plane tomorrow. Let’s get drunk instead.
4:05pm: People start to arrive for the roast. This is going to be good.
4:20pm: Drinks are flowing. Pizza is on its way. Great company already ramping up for the roast.
7ish: The roast was epic! Raffled off a bunch of my stuff for entirely less than it was worth. I think we gave away about a thousand dollars worth if stuff for a little under $100. Hope y’all enjoy my stuff as much as I did. Thanks for coming!
8ish: the roast has evolved into a band practice for Tech Jam. Ned straps on the wireless mic. I use the wired one. We sing. Justin plays guitar. It’s amazing. Really feeling a lot of flow and synergy. Only need to practice songs a few times and it sounds amazing. Gathering an audience, all very impressed. Deb tears up the background vocals. She’s going to be on stage with us, if I have anything to say about it. Of course, if Justin’s wife gives birth that day, there will be no show for us. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. 🙂
10ish: Done with band practice. Heading to the hotel bar across the street. Bump into Saxon, who has managed to find the prettiest girl at the bar and captivated her attention. Turns out she’s 50. Brava, ma’am. She looks like a sexy 32. But that’s Saxon, always ballin’ out. Everyone else drinks gin. I drink bourbon, with authentic maraschino cherry.
10:30pm: Trying not to be hungover for my flight, I bow out. Many hugs. Many good vibes. So long, folks. I’m going home to smoke some weed.
6:15am: Up early. Pleasantly feeling fine. Ok, gotta pack the suitcase. Shit, left it at the office. Ok, laundry then. How do I fit two weeks worth of clothes into a suitcase the size of a medium sized dog?
8:30am: Ok, gotta get to the office to get my suitcase. Then back home to pack. Then back to the office. Still have some editing to do. Gotta publish an episode today…
11:02am: Call from Mitch. Deb’s birthday is today. Going to have lunch to celebrate. Just finished packing, so I’m good to go.
11:16am: Chat with Lyft driver about SF. He wishes he were moving.
11:35am: Arrive at Anise for lunch, early. Find table for six.
11:45am: Mitch and Deb arrive. Wow, the samosas are amazeballs! Almost worth not leaving… Almost. We have three orders. 🙂
12:45pm: Bill is paid, gotta get back to the office! Got a plane to catch.
1pm: Stop by Justin’s office. He’s ready to go. We drive to the airport. I tell him about this article, including the random highlights. We laugh. The look on his face when I tell him about Sierra’s stitches is priceless. I will miss him the most.
1:30pm: Security was a breeze, like Ganesh clearing my path. One person in front of me in line. Effortless. It’s like the universe wants me to get to California.
1:43pm: Sitting at the Cigar City brewpub. I will miss their excellent beer. I will miss a lot of things about this town. Finish my beer and head to the gate. Perfect timing.
I’ve been writing a lot lately about humility and vulnerability and leadership. All of those things involve a great deal of sacrifice and a willingness to embrace the unknown. This week, I spent a few hours each day helping kids build software. Most of them had game ideas. Some had seemingly impossible goals they achieved and surpassed. A few finished early and went on to make two and even three apps. All of them showed something on a mobile device or laptop after only a week of development. We’re talking about campers age 10-12 building fully functioning games from nothing in a few days, all with original artwork.
As someone who started learning to build software at age 13, I am humbled to see what these amazing young people are doing each day. The rate at which they are able to absorb and apply the fundamentals of interactive product design is simply breathtaking. What was most astonishing to me was how much they remember. With every adult I’ve trained, they all universally needed to be shown something more than once. These aspiring engineers are routinely demonstrating their attention to detail and appreciation for the moral and ethical implications of their efforts.
As someone who has worked with intellectual property for years, I feel great pride in these intrepid young people. They recognize the right of the creator to be credited and possibly compensated for use of their work, even when discovered through Google Images. I feel embarrassed for my marginal use of such copyrighted material in my past work.
I’ve written before about the rockstar curse and what it feels like to be openly referred to as a god (still happens, still uncomfortable). My experience this week changes everything. I thought my choices were limited because I have trouble finding anyone with more skill or expertise than I have. As it turns out, I was looking the wrong way. Mentoring is the right way. I learned more this week than in the last month of client work. But it’s not about me. It’s about the brilliant young minds who will go on apply what we’ve taught them. That’s worth more than money can buy.
Rarely in my life, some say too rarely, I have had the good fortune to experience something awe-inspiring, something that humbles me and reminds me how powerful community can be and how small I am in the big picture of the universe. Today, I experienced one of those moments. I’d like to share it with you.
Last Thursday, shortly after recording a podcast episode for Distilled (iTunes link), my co-host, Justin Davis, made a comment to Ned Pope that changed my life. Ned is president of Florida Next Foundation (http://floridanext.org), which supports the efforts of non-profit organizations in Florida. His office is on the opposite side of the building from mine. Justin’s is halfway in between. Before last week, we barely discussed much detail about today’s event, but we chat all the time about the various goings-on of our lives. Ned and I shared a stage last year at Karaoke for the Kure (http://becauseofezra.org/k/). He is a rock star in more ways than I thought possible, but that’s a story for another time.
Justin’s comment was a suggestion that we interview some of the folks running non-profits, as part of a live podcast during Give Day Tampa Bay (https://givedaytampabay.org). I think he meant to do it as an audio thing initially, but it quickly escalated. Sunday night, we collectively realized we had never done a video podcast, let alone a live video podcast. Monday was a scramble of “oh shit” moments, as we quickly surmised we did not have the capabilities we needed to achieve the goal. Cabling issues persisted until this morning around 10:45am, when Justin returned from Tiger Direct with the one cable we didn’t have. Quickly, things fell into place.
What happened after that was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. I’ve walked away from a devastating car wreck uninjured. I’ve held my newborn child in my arms. I’ve built some products that captured the hearts of millions of free users and others that made over $1B in revenue. All of this pales in comparison to the magnificent display of collaborative problem solving and general excellence I witnessed today at Tampa Bay Wave.
We went from a whim to a high quality live video broadcast in under 48hrs with almost no structure at all. We tried two different cameras, only to barely succeed with a just-in-time cable purchase. We tried two different sets of mics because of background noise. We tried to green screen the Tampa skyline as a backdrop, but couldn’t get the software to play nice. We called an audible and stole (borrowed?) tablecloths to use as a backdrop. The only challenge we faced that we didn’t overcome was a Skype call-in for one of the ten guests we had scheduled. For that, we needed Just One More Cable™. The green screen was just a nice-to-have anyway.
Amazingly, nothing went wrong. People even started saying “nothing’s going wrong! this is amazing!” which almost begs for something to go wrong. But it didn’t. We coordinated video transitions smoothly. We showed supporting material when appropriate. The conversation was engaging and personal. We really had an opportunity to showcase some wonderful people doing great work for all aspects of the community. There were funny moments. There were tragic moments. Nobody dropped the F-bomb. For over three hours, we were a window to the world, empowering non-profit champions to tell their story.
This was an entirely volunteer effort. No one got paid to do it. And in the end, we raised over $1M for local non-profits in under 24hrs. That’s the power of community, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
We’ve all felt it. We hear about it our whole lives. The saying goes “we always want what we can’t have.” There are plenty of other expressions we use to describe the feeling. Something seems amazing until we have it. Then we lose interest. That is until we learn about value. It’s easier to talk about this sort if thing with an example.
Think of your favorite shoes. When you saw them in the store, you probably thought they were amazing, but too expensive. You rationalized buying them because you love yourself and deserve nice things. Maybe you compromised your budget plans and added some debt, an investment in your happiness. You wore them out of the store and then every day for the next month. You didn’t take them home and put them on a shelf as a trophy. You wanted them long after you felt that you couldn’t have them. You mourn their loss when they die. But shoes are simple. Low maintenance.
Think of your dog. You love your dog. Since the day you met him, he is your amazing, silly, often sloppy companion. Before he was yours, you probably went through a set of concerns. You weren’t sure you were ready for the commitment. You weren’t excited about the prospect of a lifetime cleaning up after him. Still, you rationalized the decision to make him yours because of his perceived value. You didn’t resent him five years later when he ate your favorite shoes. You didn’t stop caring for him at any of the times if was inconvenient to have him. You don’t think of replacing him with another dog.
If you find yourself feeling unsatisfied with the things you have, it’s not because you saw some prettier shoes or a sillier dog. It’s deeper than that. When you want things you can’t have, that is the first warning sign of a crisis of self. If you stop wanting something, it’s because your perception of value changed. If you feel annoyed, remember patience and tolerance. If you feel frustrated, remember openness and communication. If you feel hurt, remember vulnerability and compassion.
You would never blame your dog for making you clean up its mess. Own your choices, focus on value, and remember why the things you’ve chosen for yourself are amazing. If you find yourself thinking they aren’t so amazing, ask yourself if they changed or if you did.