Loss & Gain

I’ve been faced with death a lot recently. The death of friends, of family and my own sense of mortality have come to visit like unwanted guests, and over stayed their welcome like the same. In addition to the sadness they bring, they remind me that eventually my time will come and, if I’m like most, it will come without warning.

I deal with death in my own way, as I’m sure you do as well. While I would have gladly traded my recent experiences for better ones, they have gifted me a few insights.

What you lose in death is potential. All of the potential experiences, discussions and relationships that only exist tomorrow.

What you gain in life are memories. Memories of everything you’ve done, everyone you have met and every place you have been.

If you are very lucky, when your time comes, you have gained much more than you are losing.

But I think is the most profound part of death is that when you are gone, you leave a hole in the world. The memories you leave with others are shadows, footprints in the world that show who you were. But they aren’t YOU. You are no longer in the world.

What you take with you are all of the private memories you never shared. All of the quiet moments of solitude when you were alone, both happy and sad, which can be some of the most important moments of your life. You can’t leave those behind, you can’t leave shadows or footprints, because no one else was there. No one can see what you saw, feel what you felt and even known that moment was meaningful. Those private moments are a hole within a hole, something no one else would ever know was there.

We all have those private memories, but they are not lost, you just take them with you. Many of the memories you leave behind and the potential you lose are felt by others, but those private moments get packed into your bag for your final, solitary trip. And that’s a good thing, those moments help make us who we are.

I imagine all of that private history lost to us every time we lose someone special. All of those private memories that pass away with the person who owned them. I wonder how our lives might be different if they were left behind.

Still, I like to believe that they provide some comfort on your final journey. Like a worn, familiar knapsack full of your favorite clothes, the weight on your shoulder is reassuring as you take those final steps.

 

Mom

My mom died.

If I had to describe her in one word, it would be “strong”. She was a relentless advocate of our family, a woman who would move the world to protect us. In the end, her heart was strong as well and kept her alive long after the doctors expected it to give out.

She leaves behind a long life, well lived, and a lifetime of memories that I will hold onto for the rest of mine. You cannot summarize the impact your parents have on you in a few anecdotes, but there are some memories that stand out for me when I think about her.

1/ During my first semester in college, during the study period right before finals, there was a knock on the door of my dorm room. It was a surprise delivery of chocolate chip cookies to help me keep my spirits up during the harsh prep for finals, some of the largest cookies you have ever seen. I dubbed them “cookies of knowledge” and my mom made sure I got them almost ever study period during my college years. It made one of the most stressful times much easier.

2/ We went bowling with some of our friends when I was young, and after a full afternoon of bowling she went to pay the bill. The bowling alley had some kind of malfunction and wanted to charge us an exorbitant amount, threatening to call the police if my mom didn’t pay. She told them “Good, please do call the police”. The alley relented and fixed the bill, as their bluff was called. At the time I didn’t really understand what happened but I’ve never forgotten the lesson: Don’t be afraid when you know you are right.

3/ When I got divorced, the feelings of sadness and failure were an overwhelming burden to carry. My parents were one of the first people I told. I still remember the words my mom used then: “I hope you don’t think of yourself as a failure. You aren’t a failure.” And told me a story about one of her friends that went through the same thing. It was what I needed to hear to start the the process of healing. The right words at the right time.

I’m thankful that she came to my wedding to Beth, met Alexis and held Connor. I will miss calling her every Sunday and hearing her happy voice when she recognized mine. You never know how much time you have left, so sometimes it needs to be enough to have a chance to say goodbye. I was lucky enough to be able to do that.

I miss you mom.

scan-7

Body of Work

2016-05-25 18.10.55

One wall of our home is covered entirely by a bookcase, and on that bookcase lives every piece of pottery I have ever created. I worked in ceramics from 2008-2013 and during that time I took classes, spent countless hours in the studio and made dozens of pieces. When the ceramics studio I belonged to closed, my ceramics career ended with it.

It is very unlikely I will ever work in ceramics again, for many reasons, so this collection against our wall is the entirety of the ceramics I will produce in my life. That isn’t good or bad, happy or sad, it just is. I’m proud of many of those pieces, especially the very last one I made. It’s a double walled vase, made in two parts and it is (almost) perfect. A great cornerstone to a bridge I built over a long period of my life.

I am a maker. I love to make things and the process of making is one of the most important ingredients for me to be happy. I love to draw, to build, to design and to code. I always have at least one project in progress at any given time, something that is in the process of being made but not done yet.

I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful family, including an incredible wife and two amazing kids. As I look at them, and think about how I’m getting older, I wonder about my last project. The one project that I’ll never finish because I’ll be gone before I have a chance to finish it. While I hope to live a long time, I also hope that I am making for a long time. At some point, I will start a project and never finish it.

Of course, I will be the only one who never knows which project will be my last. I could be starting my last, unfinished project at any time. I could be working on it right now.

This too is neither good nor bad, not happy nor sad. It just is. Life is not forever and there is a finite amount that I can make in my life. You are not defined by what you leave behind, but I do like the idea that I will have something to leave behind when I’m gone.

The one thing I do hope is that when I am gone, Beth, Alexis or Connor (or all of them) will finish my unfinished project. Maybe my grandkids can help too. Having my family finish my last project for me strikes me as the best way to end a career spent making things. Whatever it is, I hope it will mean as much to them as it already means to me.

The perfect cornerstone in a bridge I spend my entire life building. The thought makes me smile.

No Phone Home

Two weeks ago, I sacrificed my loyal smartphone. Well, technically, I dropped it while catching my daughter as she fell on a rough, rocky surface. She was unfazed but my phone was destroyed.

2015-05-09 14.41.35

Unfortunately, replacing that phone with the same model (which I love) would take over a week. I was unwilling to compromise by spending hundreds of dollars on a phone I would only use for a week waiting for the replacement to arrive, so I made a daring decision. I would be mobile phone-free for a week.

While that might not sound revolutionary, realize that I have not been mobile phone-free for over 10 years. The company I started in 2005, Flurry, was a trailblazer in the world of mobile applications and I was Mr. Mobile, checking my email on my phone 10 years ago. So going without a phone was a strange feeling, the feeling of being disconnected.

Over the course of that week, I realized that I didn’t actually miss my mobile phone very much. It was inconvenient to meet people and coordinate travel, since I couldn’t call or text them from the road, but I managed to make it work. Just like we used to make it work in the days before mobile phones. I didn’t miss the always-on connectivity and I have a long-standing policy against installing games on my phone lest I find myself unable to put it down. Without my phone to entertain me on the train or bus, I carried a good book.

I did start to remember what it was like in the days before phones. I got lost for the first time I can remember, without GPS maps to help me find my way. I responded to emails in hours instead of minutes. I wasn’t able to take photos of some events because I no longer had a camera with me everywhere I went. But, because of all those things, I was present in a way I haven’t been for years.

I have my new phone now, and things are back to the way they were. I don’t get lost, I respond to emails quickly and I take tons of photos of my daughter all the time. So my brief vacation from being always on is now over.

Still, I find myself checking my phone less often and sometimes forgetting where I left it. I think I may leave it in a drawer on the weekends when we go to the playground to play. Surprisingly, I won’t miss it as much as I thought.

Never Leave the House

This week we signed up for Instacart, based download on the recommendation of the eminent seafarer @kivestu. If you’re not familiar with it, Instacart is a grocery delivery service where you select items from nearby grocery stores and have them delivered a few hours later.

Instacart completes a cycle that we started many years ago when we started buying things on Amazon not because they were cheaper, but because delivery was more convenient. Today, almost everything we need is delivered:

  • Amazon delivers our diapers, tissues, et al.
  • Instacart delivers our groceries.
  • Postmates delivers our dinner.
  • StitchFix/Trunk Club deliver our clothes (and do our shopping for us).
  • Birchbox/Dollar Shave Club deliver our personal care.

This doesn’t even include that 1800 Contacts delivers our contacts (or did), we order our books on Amazon and Netflix delivers our movies. In fact, we deposit checks and pay our bills using mobile apps, print and scan documents at home and sync all our photos digitally. These were all tasks that would have taken a trip to a store only 7 years ago. While I do miss the social atmosphere of shopping malls and small local stores, I do not miss the lines or parking lots or fruitless searches for products that are out of stock.

Do I miss interacting with strangers? I’m not sure, to be honest. I want to believe in the power of Main St or Town Square to bring communities together, but communities today are so different than they were before telecommunications and rapid transportation. These days I speak to my parents, who live 3,000 miles away, more than I speak to my neighbors.

I can easily forsee a day, in the near future, where we never need to leave the house on an errand. It makes me wonder if the “on-demand economy” is a result of our cultural laziness or if it’s a natural evolution of the density of urban life. Or perhaps it’s just a side effect of the relentless march of technology. In a economy where many retail stores are replaced by technology driven delivery services, does it not make sense that those retail jobs will be replaced with delivery jobs? Put another way, if technological advancement is freeing labor from one pursuit does it not make sense it would employ it in another?

Eventually, I have no doubt that many of these delivery services will employ drones to deliver my food/toilet paper/books. Drone technology is evolving so quickly and the price dropping so fast that it will become cost prohibitive to pay a person to deliver something instead of a drone. When that happens, we will once again hear about how technology is destroying delivery jobs even though technology enabled them to grow in the first place.

The good news is then we’ll need people to staff the drone hangars, since there will be thousands of drones hovering over our cities. I wonder how well those jobs will pay.

 

 Image made available via Creative Commons on Wikipedia.

Being Happy

As Alexis grows up, I find myself wondering how I will measure myself as a parent. How do I decide if I’ve been a good parent? How does anyone decide that they are a good parent? What even makes a good parent?

I’ve pondered this for a while and gone back and forth. Do I want her to be successful? To become a parent herself? Healthy? Can I even affect those things? In the end I don’t think any of these is a way to judge a good parent. In fact, I don’t know if you can judge a parent at all. I find myself settling instead on a simple hope.

I hope she’s happy.

If nothing else, I hope that Alexis is happy. Maybe not all the time, that’s impossible. But happy more than not.

I also hope she understands that happiness is not the same as feeling good. I’ve known too many people waste their lives on alcohol and drugs confusing the two. Happiness might require struggle. It might require hard work. It might not feel good at all. Personally, I love building things even though it is very hard and very frustrating. It is that struggle, that difficulty, in creating something new that makes me happy.

Happiness takes many forms. Sometimes it is being loved. Sometimes it is being alone. Sometimes it is doing what you know and sometimes it is the thrill of the unknown. Always you need to find it for yourself.

Alexis will need to find her happiness and there is only so much I can do to help her. I can love her unconditionally. I can support her when she takes risks, celebrate with her when she succeeds and comfort her when she fails. I can tell her the stories of my life and hope that maybe they help a little. I will do all these things and in the end, there is only one thing I can hope for as a parent.

I hope she’s happy.

I might never know if she is truly happy. Sometimes you can see it in people, at a wedding or a graduation. Sometimes people wear their happiness for the world to see. But, for most of us it is impossible to tell from the outside. Most of us never tell our parents what they want to hear, that we are really, truly happy. We greet each other at the holidays, call each other on the weekends. We talk about sports and kids and politics, but we never think to share that one thing that matter so much.

But that’s okay.

Even if she told me she was happy, I would worry it would change. I would worry that she would lose it somewhere along the way. Maybe while I was with her, or after I am gone. I’m a parent so I worry, and I worry most about this. That’s my job and its one I welcome because I am comforted by my hope. That hope which will keep me doing whatever I can to help her live her life to the fullest.

I hope she’s happy.

As for me, Mom and Dad you can rest easy. I am really, truly happy. I’m sorry I don’t say so more often.

Smiley_Face

 

Image made available via Creative Commons by Wikipedia user flyingtigersite.

Activity Roulette

Photo available as part of the Public Domain.

Now that I’m on sabbatical, people assume that I’m either working on some kind of top secret project or I am doing absolutely nothing. As with many things in life neither extreme is true. I do wonder sometimes what it says about me when someone guesses one or the other, and which one I think is more flattering.

So, what exactly am I doing with my time? In short, decompressing from the start up pressure cooker by relaxing and expanding my horizons.

It’s rare in life to get a chance to take a step back from the working world and recharge your batteries. It affords me the chance to learn new things, work on fun projects and think about new problems that would normally be so far down my to-do list that they would never get done. Many people wait until they are retired to take this kind of break and I feel lucky to do it now.

As a creative person, the number of things I would like to do is very, very long. So long, in fact, that in the first few weeks of my sabbatical I felt a lot of stress about finding the time to do them all. That defeats the purpose of being on sabbatical so I decided I needed a solution. The good news is that the solution I found is both fun and extremely effective. I call it activity roulette.

How I play Activity Roulette:

Step 1. I write down all of the things I want to do on index cards.

Step 2. Every night my wife shuffles the deck. My daughter then chooses a card at random and that is what I do the next day.

Step 3. Repeat

The great part about this game is that it keeps my days exciting as I never know what I’ll do tomorrow, but I also know that I will eventually get to everything on the list. By giving the responsibility of choosing how to spend my time to chance I am free to enjoy what I’m doing.

Some of the things I have done off my list since starting to play activity roulette:

That might seem like an eclectic list to you, but to me it feels very productive.

If you find yourself with a big chunk of free time and a list of things you’d like to get done, I highly recommend giving activity roulette a try.

Photo available as part of the Public Domain.