Holiday Willpower

I went the entirety of the holiday season, from the middle of December to present, without eating a single sugary snack. No cookies, no brownies, no fudge. No white chocolate covered Oreos, no candy canes, no truffles, no gingerbread, no candy. This doesn’t necessarily make for the most festive season, but this year I felt it necessary.

The list above wasn’t plucked from nowhere. I had plenty of access to each of those things, and it wasn’t my lack of desire for them that kept me away. I didn’t feel like losing a grip on what little progress I have made with my weight so I stuck to the plan. I stayed away from the sugar and largely minimized the damage. I’m right around where I was before we left town to visit family. I didn’t make any progress, but neither did I lose ground. For this time of year, I’ll take that as a big win.

Actual Conversation

This actually just happened.

KMart lady: “Well, your name isn’t on the order so I really shouldn’t let you get it. I will this one time though.”

Me: “You have my personal guarantee that if I defraud KMart, it will be for something more substantial than a $10 child’s leotard.”

Not sure if I helped or not, but it was fun.

Santa Faced Pancake

Santa Pancake

Around Halloween, IHOP had a promotion doing “scary face pancakes.” We never did go and get one, but that excited Punkin so we made some of them at home using chocolate chips, marshmallows and candy corn to make various features. Last night, we read the Curious George story where he cooks pancakes and she said she wanted them for breakfast. “Santa faced pancakes!” she specified.

I gave it my best shot. It certainly isn’t wonderful. I am learning that a single chocolate chip never works well for an eye so I either need a few for each eye or to get some oversized chips. Also, she insisted on using big flat sprinkles which is why Santa has random colored spots on his face. If I do this again, I also won’t use a whole cherry for the nose. It gives it too much height and makes the face cook funny. I’ll chop it in half so the whole thing has a lower profile when I flip it and cook it. The best part about it was the shape, which was pretty good considering I did the whole thing free pouring batter into approximately what I wanted.

On the upside, she basically ate the whole thing plus several strips of bacon so that is a new breakfast eating record or close to it. If we do it again, it should be a better likeness. Live and learn.

Thanksgiving Observation

Thanksgiving turkey - with recipe

For the second year in a row, we got a smoked turkey from Little Pigs, a BBQ joint in Socastee. It was so tender that trying to move it from the pan to the platter made it mostly fall apart into shards of turkey meat. I picked up a few bits and ate them and at one point realized “I totally am eating this turkey’s butthole. And it is delicious!”

Goodbye to Absent Friends

PG Holyfield and Thomas Peake

Last weekend I drove to Charlotte to attend the memorial service for the late great Patrick “PG” Holyfield. It was a nice time and I’m glad I went, as nice as it could be for an event I wish with all my heart didn’t exist. I saw friends and met Kimberly, PG’s “special lady friend” for the first time. I listened to the eulogies and sniffled. I played tickly banjo with Patrick McLean’s son and ate chips with pesto. Later I hanged out with the remaining friends and ate Vietnamese food and generally soaked in the presence of people I enjoy.

I freely admit that of everyone in that room, I had the loosest personal connection to PG. He was a guy I always liked, enjoyed talking to every time I saw him and never had a bad time in his presence. I know and could always have told you that my life would benefit from having more of him in it, but it didn’t and now it won’t. I drove to Charlotte primarily to say goodbye to a guy I wish I knew better and to support the people who helped him as he died. Goodbye, Patrick.

Right around the same time, we noted the sad occasion of five years since the passing of Thomas Peake. He died in 2009 while hiking in the Grand Canyon, just shy of his 40th birthday. After a several year hiatus, Chris Campbell and I began preparing new episodes of the Peakecast. We knew him from college radio and he left behind a lot of tapes of him doing that brilliantly, so we put those back out into the world. For all I see podcasters interested in gaining traction, I put a lot of time in a podcast primarily aimed at 50 to 100 people, his friends and family who want to hear a little more of him.

I miss both of these guys and wish like hell I could talk to them again. I wish I didn’t meet both of their significant others for the first time at their memorial services. I didn’t keep up with either as well as I should have. I will try going forward but I will fail. The next person I lose I will feel the same way. I am sorry if it is you. Give me a call sometime, okay?

Do What You Don’t Hate

I have mentioned on the blog and my podcast that I think the advice “follow your dreams” and “do what you love and the rest will follow” is unintentionally cruel. It makes anyone who has a regular day job into a failure unless that job is their dream. The market realities do not exist such that everyone could switch over to their dreams. It is privileged, elitist advice that lucky people give the masses who can never follow it en masse.

Library visitor

Lo and behold, here is Rachel Nabors saying much the same thing. She really nails the heart of it:

Don’t do something you hate for a living.

There is no glory in suffering. Because you can grow to hate something you love if it puts you in a bad position, this advice gives you permission to move on to greener pastures if what you love is making you cry at night. Whatever you love should love you back. And if it’s not working out, it’s ok to find something else to love.

I think this is a much more sensible approach. If your goal is to create artisanal free-range belt buckles, you should absolutely pursue that. What you shouldn’t do is be in a hurry to force that to bear the full weight of your living. As Hugh MacLeod says (I paraphrase from memory) “Don’t be in a hurry to quit your day job to pursue your hobby full-time. Then you still have a job but you are down one hobby.”

LetterMo 2012

LetterMo 2012

I was lucky enough to have made the acquaintance of Mary Robinette Kowal at Orycon 2006, when we were on several panels together. I’ve followed her ever since and noted with interest the project she began talking about a few weeks ago, The Month of Letters Challenge. It’s not unlike NaNoWriMo but the idea is to write and send a letter each mail day in the month of February. There are 24 mail days in the month, so 24 letters.

As it happens, for years I have had the idea of creating little collage postcards and mailing them to my friends. My idea was to do one each weekend and mail to a friend with whom I had fallen out of contact. The person I always thought should have been the first recipient was my friend Thomas Peake, who is now sadly the late great Thomas Peake. Thomas was always a guy for creating things, especially interesting physical artifacts. He taught me how to screen print t-shirts (some of which I still have and wear), he used to print up his own zines and the like. This idea appealed to me precisely because it was physical. Much of what I have done in the last decade is digital, electronic and ephemeral. I liked the idea of getting glue on my fingers and dropping in the post a little physical thing that will show up at someone’s house in their mailbox. It is old fashioned and nostalgic and the opposite of how we do things nowadays.

I had this idea maybe five years ago, but it wasn’t until Mary began posting her challenge to social networking sites that I began action. It was just enough of a shove to get me out of my inertial rut and moving. This is now underway. I mailed the first one today, to Mary herself. That seemed like a reasonable enough place to start. The next is going out tomorrow. I am tending to prepare them a day ahead, mainly because I want to keep a scan of them for myself. Part of the challenge is that you don’t write them ahead of time. You write one per day. I am, however, making the collages several days ahead of time and leaving them blank until time for the letter.

A wrinkle I decided to add is a QR code on each of them that points back to this post. If you were the recipient of one of these cards and reading this post, please leave me a quick comment below. It seems like a weird and interesting way to bridge the loop between the online and off, the slow deliberate postal system and the immediate global internet. I’m all for weird hybrids of interesting projects, especially the kind that helps keep me in touch with my friends.

Even if you don’t start on February 1st, if you want to join in either because you received a letter from someone (maybe me) or it just seems fun, please do. Start whenever you like, count off 24 mail days and get to it. Life is short, friends are too scarce and now is the only time we ever have. Off we go into the future, you and me and everyone. Let’s make it what we want of it.

Decision Fatigue

I’m still catching up on the unblogged items from throughout 2011, aka “The Year Lost to A Tiny Human.” Here is one from last August that I’ve been thinking about for months.

According to this article in the New York Times, there is a phenomenon called “Decision Fatigue.” I can’t attest directly to the science or the reportage of the science, but I do know in my life I feel like this is a big issue. In our modern first world lives, every single day I am asked to make dozens of decisions over and over that I don’t really care about. According to the article, each one of those whether profound or trivial is using up a bit of your store of “decision making mojo” (term coined by me, TM.)

A trivial example of this from the average lunchtime is this – compare going to Subway to Jimmy Johns. In either case, you walk out with a fairly similar sandwich. All told, you get more food for cheaper at Subway, but I prefer the experience of going to Jimmy Johns. Why? Because I walk in to Jimmy Johns and tell them I want a #6. I even make a substitution, deli mustard for mayonaiise but when I place that order, that is the end of it. I hand them money and shortly get a sandwich handed back to me. I can order three or seven, and the experience is the same. Contrast that to the Subway experience. Going to the head of the line at Subway is like being interrogated at the station house.
“What sandwich do you want?”
“What bread?”
“What size?”
“What cheese?”
“Do you want this toasted?”
“Which toppings?”
Even if you say ‘the works’, you still get asked “Do you want the jalapenos? How about the banana peppers?”
“What sauces?”
“Chips and a drink?”
“How about a cookie?”

By the time this experience is over, I’m exhausted from having to answer all of these frigging questions when truth be told, I don’t give much of a shit about any of it. You could hand me my sandwich on any bread, with any cheese, and with any permutation of toppings and I’d feel about the same about it. Scale this up to across your whole life all day, and it begins to get abrasive.

Recently we went to get photos of the baby taken at the mall, and we had not even thought about Santa being there. We’d already had a photo session when we saw the Santa stand and decided to do that one too. I didn’t even think hard about the options, I went straight for the top package with the most stuff. The reason was that the few dollars in savings mattered less to me than making an arbitrary decision I didn’t care about and trying to decide right there on the spot whether it was better to have 3 5X7 vs 4 5X7 and whether it was better to make a tradeoff on wallet sized. Further, the purchasing experience at JC Penney’s Photo Studio is such that they take photos and then 2 minutes later you have to make all decisions about which and how many to purchase, and if you don’t decide right that second the price skyrockets from $4 to $10 a sheet. It’s kind of a gross and unpleasant user experience but not at all atypical in modern American consumer driven society.

One of the things I do on a small scale is the invariant ordering at certain places. When I go to Starbucks, I get an Americano 99.5% of the time. I get the same sandwich at Jimmy Johns every time, and at most restaurants I frequent I have a small set of go-to options. For me personally, I’m happy to trade off variety for simplified decisions. In those places where I am a regular customer with invariant ordering, after a while they learn my choices. I’ve had my Jimmy Johns sandwich (with correct condiment substitution) waiting for me on the counter because they saw me parking my car and started making it. My regular Starbucks will often bring my drink to my table without us ever exchanging a word, which is fun because the beach tourists always look confused over how a guy who never ordered at all got a drink ahead of them.

I’m not telling anyone how to live their life, but if you are in the business of trying to shake money out of American consumers, you might want to consider the best ways to streamline decisions out of the process. Every one of them is a roadblock that might abort the transaction entirely. Think of the ways to reduce the whole transaction to “Yes, I want it” and then boom it is done. Amazon is particularly good at this. What is “one click ordering” if nothing but “decision free checkout process?” Brilliant.

Blog Fodder and Life

Our baby was born last January. It’s amazing how much came to a grinding halt then and has never come back. I have seen no television since then except for maybe 4 hours total of college football and a few hours of NASCAR races. I just looked at my Google Reader under my tag “Blog fodder.” I had been using that to tag entries I might later want to blog about here. The last entry in there was dated December 2010. I don’t know how far behind I am in reading my GR items but I’d guess three or four months.

None of this is a complaint. If anything it is the opposite. One of the many gifts the baby gave me is showing me that parts of my life that were major time sinks can completely disappear and I will barely miss them. I had already had the goal to jettison some of the fast twitch parts of my online life (Twitter being a prime one) before she was born, but after she was born it was no longer a choice or intention. Having a baby – especially at our ages – is the equivalent of on Star Trek when the captain says “Life support only!” It doesn’t matter what you want, you do what is physically possible for you.

I’m calmer and happier now, even with the exhaustion and stress of keeping this small being alive whose primary goal is to do dangerous activities. Life is good, even as far less of it occurs on the internet. It’s quite possible it is because far less of it is happening on the internet.

First Big Surprise of Being a Dad

So I had this idea of life with a baby that went like this: Baby is born and things are really tough. The first few weeks are insane, no one sleeps and life is completely hard. Then after this, things get easier and easier and we go on into our future.

Our reality went more like this: The first few weeks were hard. Then the second month was actually harder than the first because I started going back to work and we had to deal with that. Then the third month was harder still because the baby is still challenging but now we have a long term exhaustion setting in. I’m not sure how long this trend will continue but at this point we are wearing down pretty hard. It’s amazing the small things of life that just don’t happen. I have a stack of unread comic books growing slowly because I’m lucky if I can read one per week. I can’t even remember the last TV show I watched on our DVR. I imagine things are getting recorded and then deleted as it runs out of memory but I haven’t looked in weeks.

The other thing that happens is that for people like us in a town with no family, there is a lot more support in the early days. People recognize the emergency nature of the situation and bring food and run errands, etc. However you can’t run like that forever and draw on friend karma forever.

I would have thought life would be different but there you have it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything but the arc of how it is playing out is a big surprise to me.

Why I’m Not Blogging Lately

Lil' Genius

I’ve occasionally had blogging slowdowns here but never for as good a reason as the current one. Last month our daughter Lila was born. For the time being, what blogging does occur will be sporadically timed and probably disjointed and written as if composed by an exhausted and loopy individual.

We had a tremendous outpouring of support and congratulations before and after her birth. Our friends and family were generous to the point of embarrassment at the baby showers and in life in general. We are grateful to tears and deeply appreciate everything.

The last few weeks have thrummed to a rhythm not our making. We’re trying to get used to it and figure out how to get life accomplished while dealing with her needs. As time goes on we’ll meet in the middle.

We discussed our internet policy as regards our daughter, and in this instance it is actually a score for the walled gardens. We decided for the time being we don’t want pictures with her face posted to the open internet. We have posted those to Facebook where we can limit the scope to only friends. This is a work in progress, but for now that’s where we stand. If you see in the photo to the right, that is the “lil’ genius” onesie sent by Garrick Van Buren. He made it by snipping out the bomb from the EGC logo, which I find fantastic.

More blogging in the future, when we are able to be both parents and human at the same time. I know it is coming, I just don’t know when.

New Years Means Nothing

I’ve drifted away from the Merlin Mann hero worship, but today I saw a really good post from him about changing habits and making resolutions. This is one of the reasons I stopped making resolutions years ago. Creating a change you want to see in yourself and then tying it to a resolution is a kiss of death for it. It’s an admission that you will perform the puppet show of pretending you care and then forgetting all about it. Independently the other day I started assembling the list of projects large and small in my life that I want to make progress on. It was a shockingly long list which also explains why I don’t make progress. It occurred to me days after I started that I was leaving off projects for which I have web sites up and running. I registered domains for these things, set them up on my Hostgator account and even so it took a few days to remember I even had them. This signifies that I have too many projects in my life.

The sad thing is that I’d love to move on all of these projects. It’s true about me as about most people that I love starting projects and concluding them but I’m far less interested in executing on them. Although New Years and resolutions is not a triggering event for me to re-evaluate, the imminent birth of my daughter is. I can pretty much guarantee for the early part of 2011 we will barely be holding it together. We will be old parents dealing with a newborn at first, then trying to integrate working my day job with being the dad of a young baby. I know I will barely have any time, so I have to jealously guard whatever little bits of time come my way. This requires thinking through that list and making the hard decisions.

I want to work on all these projects. That’s why they are on the list. I just physically can’t work on them all so now it becomes the Sophie’s Choice model. If I could take one and only one project and work it all the way to successful completion this year, which one would it be? I think I know (although I’m keeping it to myself.) Now the question is how in the next week or three to do all the groundwork necessary so that I can decompose this into something I can achieve in bursts of 15 minutes of time stolen away from my life. It will be hard to put most of these things I care about into cryonic suspension as if they were going on an interstellar voyage. However, they will all still be there later if and when I ever get back to them.

I am already in the process of divesting myself of AmigoFish. Originally I was planning to shut it down but a white knight has emerged to keep it alive. The transition is under way and around the time my daughter arrives I should have only the minor role we specificied contractually in providing emergency system administration help. That’s painful because I’d loved to have made this more of a success but making the hard choice to no longer pursue it feels good. I can’t adequately time slice between 20 different things, so I’m keeping active the one or two that I care most about and everything else goes on hiatus. With luck 2012 will be a great time of refreshed enthusiasm and reinvigorated process. Possibly, it could also be a time of purging my metaphorical project pantry of the cans of beets I know I’ll never eat. Either way, I feel good about it.

May all of you have a successful year of making the hard choices and moving your individual ball down the field of your lives.

Peace on Earth Starts at Home

It’s true that my output on all internet fronts has slowed waaaay down. I’m blogging less, podcasting less, tweeting not at all. For a long stretch of time that bothered me greatly because it seemed like I was letting down the team in some way, or failing to correctly promote my “personal brand” or all sorts of other vague dreads of underplaying my hand. In truth, I feel better about life in general lately. I don’t know if this correlation is causation, but worrying less about doing things at the bogus pace of “internet time” means that I don’t have the constant heartbeat of the next refresh interval driving my attention. It’s peaceful. In a very real way, turning off a lot of those inputs and worrying less about my output feels like a long term vacation.

I never intend to close doors with any of these pronouncements because reality on the ground may change, but I sense this may become more like the long-term sustainable way I approach online life. I may blog every day for a week and then not for a day or week or month. I may do a few podcasts in a row and then drift off for a while. I may return to being a tweet machine, or I might never do it again. If the question is “Did you see that thing on Facebook”, regardless of the thing the answer has a greater than 99% chance of being “No.”

Of course, in less than a month you mix a newborn baby into this and life gets even shakier. I know plenty of people have kids and a digital life and the two mesh happily. I’m predicting that in our lives since we are older new parents that it will take a lot out of us. I might blip out for most of the late winter and early spring. If so, you can safely assume I’m happy as a clam and probably covered in some form of bodily fluid.

One of the upsides of pulling back from digital life is that it allows me to double down on corporeal life. In the last few months I’ve done more fun stuff in person than many years, and it keeps on going. You can trust that if I’m in the room with you, I’m not checking a smart phone. When I’m present, I’m trying to be actually present rather than this vaguely distracted weird attention that everyone pays nowadays.

So, that’s where I’m at this time, right before XMas 2010. I remain a ghost in the machine on the internet but I’m around. Give me a call, write me a letter, invite me to lunch, set up a play date. I’m 17 years into this internet thing and still working out how to do it correctly, but I feel like I’m getting there.

Happy holidays to all. May you find exactly the level of peace that you need.

This Blog is on Vacation

As the posting frequency gets slower and slower, it gets harder to tell when this blog is on vacation. But it is. For the next week we’ll be in a house on a lake without internet. At first that seemed like a problem but as we pack to leave, it feels more like an amenity. I’m taking a few paper books, a Kindle stocked to the gills, swimsuits and games and a few DVDs we never seem to find time to watch.

I’ll come back in a week, tanned and relaxed (just like Nixon) and ready to tackle a busy fall into a busy holiday season followed by an extremely busy 2011 for us. This might be the last good sleep I get in some time. Hold down the internet without me.

Summer Hiatus Coming to an End

I didn’t actually intend to take a summer hiatus from online stuff but de facto I did. Decision by decision for the last few months, I’ve opted away from creating and publishing things online and more towards relaxing. The exception is at Ebooks From TV where I’ve blogged more or less every day since early June. However, since that’s not personal and is done for a very specific single purpose, for some reason that has felt much easier.

Tomorrow I’m recording an episode of the EGC podcast and at some point I have to prepare episode 6 of the Peakecast. I still have work to do on the movie footage in the can, episodes of Reality Break that really need to be put together, an office that desperately needs cleaned, an air hockey table that needs to be sold on Craigslist. I’ll have to upshift my lazy ass from summer gear to productive gear, but I think it can be done. I’m just trying not to grind the gears too badly.