The Blog

“We need recreation from work the same way we need to breathe out after we breathe in,” a career consultant once told me. “Not as a reward. It’s just part of the deal.”

Darrell and I celebrated a big anniversary recently by taking four hours off work to celebrate. On a weekday!

It felt like we’d been to a spa.

People who work for themselves have demanding bosses, except in one respect. Even demanding bosses will sometimes encourage their employees to take a few hours off. We don’t have that in ourselves. Saturdays and especially Sundays are our two busiest days of the week, for one thing. Sundays are killers. I always feel like I’m out of breath from trying to get it all in before bedtime.

But the fun we had taking that somewhat modest break made me think we should work more of it into our schedule.

Where the time will come from, I don’t know yet.

But I’m determined to find out!

131213Of anything I thought I knew how to do, peeling a banana is right up there.

The other day I stumbled on something that made me think I was doing it wrong. It’s probably good I can’t point you to the link. I don’t remember it and I didn’t save it. Maybe it would’ve screamed, “Untrustworthy! Untrustworthy!” For whatever reason it had screamed nothing of the sort to me, and I decided to test it. If it didn’t work, I’d just go back to the old way. No big.

I fetched a banana for Darrell. I turned it upside down, pinched the end that wasn’t the stem, and broke that end apart.

I presented Darrell my handiwork as I told him what I’d learned: “From the Internet!” It was a little bit of a sell, though, because the end of the banana I’d pinched was mush. Not only that, but the peel wasn’t coming off in two neat, clean strips the way it looked like it would in the photo. There were three, maybe four strips -- and given we aren't sure, you probably have a better idea of how not neat, not clean those strips were.

Darrell was laughing by now but when I told him this was supposedly how monkeys do it he started laughing so hard I thought he was going to hurt himself. He couldn’t speak. It looked like he was having trouble breathing.

After a while he calmed down enough to say, “Monkeys also…” Which was quickly followed by quite the list of things monkeys do that humans don’t -- nor would humans want to.
My little experiment was worth it -- if only from the standpoint of what remains besides the peel. Laughter's the currency by which we measure our days around here, and in that respect -- the most important, I think -- we are wealthy beyond measure.


photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

Katie’s in college, and I got an early report card.

The only one that really matters, I think.

Do you love your work?
December 15, 2013

If you’d rather eat sushi than steak and if you’d rather watch a documentary than anything else, I think you’ll be enchanted by Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Jiro reminded me how many jobs look easy from the outside -- but aren't -- and how many people take great pride in their work.

Most importantly? If you’re lucky enough to find work you love, do it.

DC for the HP"Make lots of memories."

That was the entirety of a friend's advice about being a parent.

Lucky for Darrell and Katie and me, I took it.

What memories are you making?

You know those people at parties who always seem to be looking over your shoulder to see if anyone more interesting has walked into the room?

I avoid them. Those kinds of people, and parties in general.

I used to be that kind of person, figuratively speaking, when it came to sunrises and sunsets and starry skies and sunlight or moonlight on the water and sunlit or moonlit diamonds on the snow.

My attention was always focused on the next thing on my to-do list, and the thing after that.

These days when I look out the window -- thankfully, no shortage of big picture windows in our house -- I always find something to delight in. The look on the neighbor’s cat’s face, for example, as he or she plots the next move to keep our block free of those evil, evil chipmunks.

Now I measure the success of a day in large part by how many times I pause to take a breath -- and to give thanks for the privilege of doing it.

“Why am I always so exhausted when I finish a session with Alan?” I asked Darrell recently. Alan’s the man I talked about in the last post, who’s helping us with this web site.

Before Darrell could answer, I knew. It happened when I was writing Left for Dead: A Second Life after Vietnam. I had to transcribe every word of the interviews immediately after doing them or risk losing whatever I’d pretended to understand during.

Every time I finished transcribing, Darrell went over my notes with me. One night we came across a reference to an “M-1 Car Beam.” He looked at me. “Car beam?” he asked. “Car beam?” And then, “It’s carbine.” Oh. “Did you really think it was car beam?” he asked. “It may as well have been lasagna,” I fired back. It was like trying to write a book in Spanish. I can tell you my name, how I’m feeling, and what time it is in Spanish. I can even count to twenty in that language. But that’s it. I can’t write a book in Spanish, and that’s how this task felt.

Writing Left for Dead taxed me. It also changed how I felt about myself when I did such a great job on it. I can prove that by calling your attention to the phrase, “I did such a great job on it.” It isn’t cool to sing your own praises, but it also isn’t cool to refuse to give yourself credit for a job well done. Winning a Minnesota Book Award sealed the feeling I had when I finished: “Now I’m a real writer.”

Recreating our web site from what feels like scratch is costing more money and taking way, way, way more time than I thought it would. Doesn’t everything? Keeping it updated is more work than I saw coming, either. But once in a while I remember how much I’ve learned -- and the better I get at skills I never planned on acquiring, the better I feel about myself.

It reminds me of waking up from still another dream of working on the new site the weekend we launched. Putting an image somewhere after changing it in Paint, then making it a link to a video.

Like a badass!

Who are you becoming?
December 8, 2013

When I was working with a baker on the design of a wedding cake she said I was the only bride-to-be who evaluated that design based on whether the lower layers looked like they’d support the upper layers. When she found out I had an engineering degree she said, “Well, now it makes sense.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that was only a coincidence. No one before and no one since had gleaned anything logical about me and engineering in the same sentence.

When my mom saw the bedroom in my condo in Kansas City once upon she wondered where the bureau was. She’d never seen a bedroom without one. I had a cool closet, though -- which held everything -- long before companies like California Closets came into vogue.

When Alan, who’s helping us with the design of our new web site, started working with me he’d try to talk me out of wanting what I wanted. Between him, and Darrell -- who often wonders why I want what I do -- I felt outnumbered. I know very little about the under the hood aspect of a web site. But I know what I like, and I hung in.

It was worth it. Darrell thinks so, and so does Alan -- who calls the site “clean and elegant” as he shows it off to other clients.

The other night I was feeling so good about the evolution of Alan and me I worked up the nerve to ask him, “Do you respect my attention to detail or does it drive you crazy?” He paused just long enough for me to guess: “Both, right?” Another pause. Then he said, “I have come to not just respect it but to internalize it.” I made sure I’d heard him right. I had. I asked his permission to quote him in the blog. He gave it to me. Then I started laughing at what he’d said, harder as it sunk in.

We’re a ways from being finished with the site, not that you ever are. If you’ve subscribed to the blog or the podcast, the first one has yet to arrive in your inbox. If you go back in the blog very far and click on a link, keep your expectations low. But the process has taught me to be more patient -- I hope -- and to be less apologetic for wanting what I want.