Soul of Senbazuru: Little Bird, Big Love

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.)

Not even 100 cranes… This is 96

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.

IMG_1523Those 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.

Some History

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 IMG_1356celebrate 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.IMG_1357.jpg

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 moIMG_1451nth, 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.IMG_1519.jpg

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.IMG_1509

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. 🎁

Love, Loss, and the Awesome Power of Choice

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 🙂

Why Text Message Read Receipts Are So Important

Remember that time you received a text message from your crush? You thought to yourself,

“oh no, I don’t want to appear desperate and reply right away. shit, how long am I supposed to wait before sending a reply?? oh shit! I forgot to turn read receipts off on my new iPhone! they already know I saw this message… what will they think if I don’t answer?? surely, I must never speak to them again. so embarrassing!”

Me neither.

A cursory scan of Google results for “text message read receipts” yields something I might have expected from a trashy teen romance novel about vampires. (why are they always about vampires?!) The top results are blog posts imploring you to turn off your read receipts, lest you be transparent to your potential friends. It’s almost as if being clear and straight-forward about your intentions is a sure-fire way to lose friends and be labeled a loser.

If Google is to be believed, the status quo has devolved into a sea of people neurotically manufacturing reasons why they didn’t reply to a text message immediately. The most common reason seems to rely on an overt lie:

“oh, I didn’t see your text message.”

While many people appear to agree with this approach, they may not realize it sends a different message than they might intend. By choosing the path of active misinformation, they accidentally send this message instead:

“I don’t respect you enough to be honest about my interactions with you.”

The reason I turn on read receipts, and also why I have great respect for the friends who do the same, is quite simple. I may take time to compose a response after receiving a message from someone, sometimes hours or even days later. But I’m not worried if they think I’m dead or in jail or that they’ll think I don’t like them anymore when I don’t respond within a few minutes. They are confident in our relationship and trust that I will honor them with a response eventually. They understand I am a respectful and thoughtful person who genuinely tells people when I don’t want to interact with them, that I am direct and honest in my communication with others. They are compassionate souls who empathize with the perpetual state of being busy with work and life. Like most people, they just want to know if I saw the message.

And if they don’t receive a read receipt from me, letting them know I saw the message, when it’s urgent, they pick up the phone and call me. And if I can, I answer, because that’s the kind of friend I want to be. I don’t always answer, but I always make time to return the call. Because it matters to me that they understand how much I respect them.

Don’t Hide Your Love Away: An Open Letter About Sex and Communication

This post is for men. Ladies, you’re free to read it, and hopefully you can help the guys learn a little about love and sex. Mostly, it’s for all those fools who think it’s better to withhold their feelings. It’s the 21st century. Men are allowed to have a more refined sense of awareness and expression when it comes to their feelings.

John Lennon was wrong. You don’t have to hide your love away. You can, but you’ll regret it. Sure, it may feel like people are laughing at you, and maybe they are. If they are, it’s because you expect to be immune to suffering, yet you bleed out every day by your own hand. Love is something to be experienced to its fullest. You simply can’t do that if you hide it. Men are taught to keep their feelings inside, never to be shared even with their most intimate lovers. Women are taught to be attracted to men who bury their feelings and never discuss them. I’ve met a lot of really feminine women who seek a sensitive, creative, affectionate man in theory, only to act on naive notions of caveman culture, to be beaten into submission and dragged off and raped. I have actually heard educated women say out loud “I wish he would just come over to my house and rape me. God, that would be so hot!” The first time I heard that, I was horrified.

Do we need an intervention? Show me on the Pikachu doll where the bad man touched you, honey.

Jokes aside, it’s much more complicated than that, and yet simple at the same time. Women are indoctrinated at a young age to compartmentalize their affections. Their fathers were busy building the family foundation, earning money so they could, in point of fact, bring home the bacon. That bacon was what the whole family ate every morning, and without it everyone would suffer. Fatherhood evolved as a form of automata. Mom’s job was to fend off disease, starvation, and boredom. Dad’s job was to keep Mom equipped with a constant supply of food, water, and shelter and defend against attacks from external influence. Mom is a nurturing provider, while Dad is a stoic sentinel. These roles are far more pervasive in modern society than we might want to admit.

With the advent of the first world came a more sensible egalitarian philosophy about the delegation of responsibilities in the household. Since Mom is now allowed to vote and earn money, the lines are blurred. The stay-at-home Dad phenomenon became a viable option when Mom’s skills in the workplace were potentially more lucrative than Dad’s skills. The hardest part happens when Mom and Dad both leave the house to exercise their skills to bring home dinner. Yet we still read in popular media all about how families struggle with gender equality in the natural order of things in the home. Men continue to have the attitude that women cook and clean. Women complain about being treated like live-in maids. Women continue to develop complex sexual fantasies involving the rugged and trustworthy milkman, even though milk hasn’t been delivered to anyone’s home in nearly 50yrs. Men continue to develop inherent mistrust of any other man who might wander within 20m of the house when they’re not home, as if their wives are helpless victims-to-be. That doesn’t sound like a healthy respectful atmosphere to me.

At the root of it all is the core behavior of withholding our feelings about love and sex. American culture is steeped in the doubt and self-loathing of sex as currency. We use competitive metaphors to describe how men “win” sex from women by rounding the bases on a baseball field. Teenage boys brag about “making it to third base” instead of talking about how much they respect the girl next door for her creativity and intelligence. In their minds, they are conning her into “giving it up,” as if she derives no pleasure from the experience. Imagine their confusion when she says frankly “I want to have sex with you now.” Some part buried deep in their caveman brain will think she’s deceiving them, that it can’t be so easy. Instead of having open honest communication resulting in mutual satisfaction, their defenses go up and they label her a lying bitch, thus destroying the moment that would otherwise have led rather quickly to the thing they both wanted in the first place.

Have we all regressed to being insecure children about this most fundamental aspect of humanity?

Communication doesn’t need to be the thing that destroys the mystery. I promise there’s plenty of mystery to go around. Communication is the hardest thing anyone can ever do. It requires mountains of patience, a willingness to be humble and honest, substantial self-worth on all sides, and the tools and training to build trust and chart a path to mutually beneficial outcomes. It all comes down to being confident in your own desires and having the courage to state them clearly.

You might be surprised how exciting it is to express that you’d like to lick something off your partner’s naked body and see them reach for the whipped cream and start slicing berries. The simple act of participation can be orders of magnitude more interesting than the hope of being overpowered. And with the right kind of open expression, you can ask to be roughly handled, bordering on abuse, taking you closer to the edge than you ever thought possible, all without ever losing the trust and safety with your partner. This is possible because of open discussion. In fact, conversation is what brings us all closer together, not just the mingling of slippery body parts. Just remember to agree on a safe word and always respect the safe word. Knowing where the line is and refusing to cross it will help strengthen your bond. When you’re near that line, remind your partner how much you love them. Actually, any time you think of your partner during the day, let them know. Over time, you’ll find those little moments add up to a deeper relationship.

Also remember this: vaginas are tough; testicles are the fragile parts. Think about that next time you call someone a pussy.

Mentorship is Worth the Pay Cut

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.

Wearable Society

Let’s do a thought experiment. Try to remember the first time you encountered someone in a wheelchair. In your eyes, it was an anchor. You most likely focused on the limitations they must encounter regularly in everyday life. In their eyes, it was a rocket ship. With a little finesse, it could take them to places their body would not avail.

I think of social media in a similar way. Some people see it as a possible threat to personal security. Others see it as a mechanism to provide security through community. No one disputes the additional exposure we incur for using location services on our mobile devices. The key is to provide the sensory value while also offering the ability for the individual to control their level of exposure. This personal authorization layer is critical to the long-term survival of any mainstream solution for data publishing.

As personal devices multiply, the infrastructure required to coordinate all the information becomes exponentially more complex. Sharing this information in real-time helps people make decisions. Decisions are the currency of the internet of things. The choices we make now ripple outwards to subscribing devices, which take actions based on our decisions. In many ways, this is the definition of society. Disney got it right when they depicted a team of dishes and appliances working together in harmony to achieve the goal of cleaning the house. Usually, they represented this as magical in nature. I’m sure Arthur C. Clarke would agree that we have achieved sufficiently advanced technology that we barely believe our own abilities.

Fortunately for our childlike dreams of magical solutions, reality isn’t far removed from the dream. We have just enough understanding of the idea of connectedness to envision a world where the conversation involves machines. We’ve all seen it from early life, when we watch robots make jokes with each other using noises we can’t understand (but still laugh about) in Star Wars. We’re already indoctrinated by science fiction to accept this future as a natural, inevitable outcome, and we couldn’t be happier about it.

So, when the waste band of my running shorts tells my shoes to cool off my feet, so my body temperature cools, allowing me to reach a higher natural speed, I doubt I’ll be aware that they’re having a conversation at all. In fact, I won’t even know it happened until I look at the details of my weekly fitness report and see my average cruising speed has increased. And if I can authorize my doctor and my immediate family to see those same details, I guarantee I won’t be angry if they comment about it in casual offline conversation. It would be wonderful if I could share this data with a wellness coach, so they can make adjustments to my daily regiment (diet, exercise, rest, etc) on my behalf. Granted, I’ll still eat a pint of ice cream all to myself from time to time. You can’t fight basic carnal desire…

All of this is possible with a little magic, if you choose to see it that way. Any way you look at it, we can not ignore the impact of machines on human society. I don’t think we’re headed for the Matrix, but I do believe wearable technology will change the fabric of humanity, pun absolutely intended. I, for one, would love to have a rocket-powered hover chair, which is clearly the natural evolution of the wheelchair. Duh.

Give Day Tampa Bay: A Humbling Experience

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 (, 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 ( 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 ( 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.

Empathy is My Superpower

Over the past year, I’ve come to terms with a hard truth. I cry in movies. It’s true. Not just the romantic ones, either. I cried when Optimus Prime took on four Decepticons to protect Sam in the second Transformers movie. I cry because I can’t help it. I feel moved, sometimes in a happy way, sometimes in a sad way. Sometimes, I feel angry at some perceived injustice. I know full well it’s a fictitious universe with characters made up by some Hollywood writer. But it doesn’t matter. The situations presented in film are often intentionally gut-wrenching. They want you to feel, and they succeed every time with me.

It’s not just movies, though. I cried this morning watching a TED talk ( My tears are an indication of the intensity of my emotions. My heart resonates with some things very strongly. When it does, I can’t help but cry. Often, this happens when I feel hope. Witnessing someone’s radiant strength is all it takes to fill my eyes with tears. I have enjoyed many intimate moments with lovers crying tears of gratitude, an expression of my appreciation for their contributing to my happiness. I have endured many cold moments with those same lovers crying tears of grief. When there was conflict, I would share their anger. This was an incredibly confusing experience, one that often led to escalation of the conflict. I know now that I was unprepared to handle the complexity of feeling other people’s emotions in addition to my own. I had trouble separating my feelings from those around me. In fact, it’s still a daily struggle.

There’s an aspect to empathy for which I was especially unprepared. We often think of human interaction as happening only when there is a direct connection, such as physical touch or vocal communication. Even over the phone, we can feel the connection to another person. When I focus on the resonant feelings in myself that mirror those of my friends and family, I start to realize the connection is not dependent on distance. I refer to this phenomenon as empathy at a distance. There are days when I feel lost and frustrated, or angry for seemingly no reason. Sometimes, these are my feelings, things I don’t understand about myself. Sometimes, I’m sharing in an emotional experience of a connected soul. I haven’t yet learned to identify the soul without reaching out to my close friends asking if they’re ok. I’d like to believe I can focus enough to feel their identity as well.

So, if you also find yourself fighting back tears you can’t explain, maybe you have superpowers too. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. And remember to use it for the benefit of others. That is unless you like feeling self-disgusted at a distance.

A Whole New You

Often, we hear the same story told again and again. People don’t change. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s a bunch of bullshit. What folks mean when they say that is “you can’t change people.” That’s some good advice and probably the purest truth I’ve ever encountered. I can’t change you. I can inspire you. I can offend you. I can even teach you new things, which seems like changing you, but it’s really just catalyzing your personal growth. And that’s the crux – personal growth. Growth is good, and I encourage it. There is something more powerful, though, that is the topic of tonight’s musings. That is making a whole new you.

When I first started to make sense of this concept, I found myself gravitating toward common metaphors. Rebirth, reincarnation, and the cycle of the phoenix all came to the forefront of my mind. I latched onto this idea of being deconstructed and reassembled in an improved way. That, also, is a bunch of bullshit, stagnant and unchanging. Sure, it looks like change, what with the flaming death and subsequent rebirth. As I ponder on this, I encounter a challenge identifying how this is actually change. It’s no different from conservation of matter or energy. But this is spirituality, not causality. There is no law of conservation of soul.

I also don’t mean to say that this form of “new” involves the destruction of your soul, nor its subsequent reintegration into corporeal form. This kind of “new” is about how you view the world. It has taken me the better part of 18 months to realize this, but I died. Well, the parts of me I didn’t like died. And they didn’t come back from that. I don’t want them anymore. It wasn’t a conscious choice, like which flavor of cream cheese to put on my bagel. It was the natural culmination of years of self-denial. My beautiful truth was beaten down by self-abusive doubt and eggshell walking. Eventually, something snapped, and my world ended. And it needed to end.

It hasn’t been easy. In so many ways, I feel like a baby, just born and still figuring out what those wobbly blurry things are that keep waving in front of me. I’ve only recently started to appreciate that those are indeed my arms and legs. More interestingly, I’m starting to see the other things in my new life, things I didn’t have before. I’m genuinely kind now where I was once kurt and brutally honest. I feel a strong need to connect with people, and not just to lecture them on how to be better humans. I listen more than I ever have, and for the first time I’m actually hearing things I never heard before. It’s almost overwhelming, almost.

So, how do you achieve this new you? Simple. Say to yourself this sentence and be ready for the complete and utter shit-your-pants confrontational truth, when you realize you’ve never actually tried to define yourself before:

<your name> is a person who <fill in the blank>

Now’s your chance to be amazing. All it takes is a bit of focus, and you can change your entire world, everything you ever thought possible. Aubrey is a guy who will show you how beautiful your truth can be.

Breaking Personal Patterns

Years ago, I wrote a post about one-sided relationships. This morning, I went back and read that post again. It rings as true now as it did then, but with different context. As I read it again, I felt myself resonating with my own words, but in a different light. This week, another relationship ended. As I’ve spent the last few days trying to make sense of things and find closure, I’ve thought back on all the moments we shared together. My goal was to truly identify moments in the past where I put rose-colored glasses on. I wanted to understand better the situations that trigger my ostrich dance, the one where I close my eyes and ignore key aspects of the world around me in favor of my own world view. This is a crippling pattern I must stop.

As with the last time, I am open, able, and ready to nurture a deep spiritual bond. I am hopeful to build a strong emotional connection with another sacred soul. I am inspired to explore a rich intellectual attraction with another open mind. I am excited to play and seek new experiences and adventure with another sexual creature. All these things I feel for my love. All these things I see resonate in her when my heart shines on hers. Still, something holds her back from fully expressing her true self. It’s time for me to accept that she needs time to address her own hurdles. There is simply nothing more I can do. As I swallow my stomach and wipe tears from my eyes, I know this doesn’t need to hurt. There’s no script that says she will never call me again. That’s a script from an old and tired story. This time, we write a new story.

This time, I don’t hide behind fear or pain. Yes, it hurts, but what I lost this week was not my love. I will always have that. Even with all the betrayal from my last great love, I still miss her. I still want the best for her, and I believe maybe one day she will reach out to reconnect. This great love is different. With the last one, I lost hope of even having a friendship. Her betrayal was so painful that it took years to forgive her and move on. With this one, I lost only my rose-colored glasses. I lost the feeling that she and I share a common goal of building a life together. I lost the future I had planned, a future in which I was really happy with her and our children. The glasses had convinced me that she shared that dream. In truth, I never actually asked her what her dream was. It’s time to change that.

So this is my new story. I will not allow her actions to dictate mine. She does not have the tools to express her true self in a way I hear clearly. That means we can not be together romantically, but it doesn’t mean I must say goodbye forever. As I said in the post years ago, I seek vulnerability. I wanted this, so I could grow stronger. Her hurtful words could have inspired me to twist my love into hate. Instead, I choose to further invest in love. I will continue to reach out to her, to be the friend she needs, to help her when she needs help, and to expect nothing in return. It will take time for me to be ready again to seek a new great love. From now on, I follow my new path, and I see the world as it truly is. Most importantly, I know now to stop myself when I feel rosy.