Thousands of Days

What would you do today if tomorrow was the first of thousands of days to come?

Engage!

“Oh, you don’t need a carat!”

02/04/2014

A rather unfortunate sentence that escaped my mouth when Sarah and I first broke the topic of engagement rings, and she innocently admitted she didn’t know much about diamonds, but suggested 1 carat would probably be enough. One of us knew what a 1-carat diamond can cost, the other didn’t. Sarah has been rightly giving me shit about it ever since.

Soon after this conversation we started casually walking into jewelry shops, where Sarah would explain in great detail her likes and dislikes of each ring style. I was mostly there to observe, but did have a question about one of the larger diamonds I found at the San Francisco Tiffany’s.

“Oh yes, you’ve correctly identified our higher end diamond rings” the sales woman said as she pulled one out of the cabinet. “This particular one retails for $630,000.”

Engagement rings are funny little things. They’re so small, but we attach such enormous value to them, emotionally and financially. It’s a social and status signal, a token of commitment, and a decorative accessory all rolled into one. It makes choosing the right one a challenging task.

Intel gathered, I went silent on the ring issue, but plans were in the works. I looked through hundreds of ring options, scouring for the right one. Something simple, elegant, understated, but not too modest. Something that didn’t cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Something you could wear walking around the sketchy parts of Oakland. It took a couple of weeks, but I finally came across one that stuck with me.

I went and looked at it again the next day to make sure I still liked it. Round solitaire diamond, with a simple but unique setting. Medium shoulder, not set too high. Great stats on the stone, certified conflict free, with a platinum band, and within a reasonable budget. I checked the private Pinterest board of rings Sarah had made. It was on her list too. Clearly we had a winner.

I had the ring shipped to her parents house. I was greeted by her father when I went to pick it up.

“So what is it? It doesn’t weigh hardly anything” he explained.

I opened the box for him. I don’t think he was expecting to see a ring. Sarah’s father is not a sentimental man, but gave his approval in his own way. “Text a picture to [Sarah’s mom], she’ll want to see.”

My phone dinged back shortly after I left: “Holy S—! WHOOHOO!”

Blessing in hand, I wiped my phone of the evidence and went to work planning a proposal. A special place, not too public, at the right time, without giving too many hints of what was coming. It wasn’t going to be unexpected, obviously, but I did want the moment to be a surprise.

I casually proposed we take a hike out to the Point Bonita light house the next Sunday, a scenic bay area spot that Sarah had worked at many years ago, and which we hadn’t been to together yet. I invited my friend Scott to tag along as well to reduce suspicion, and also to document the occasion with his excellent photography skills. The light house is in the Marin Headlands by the Golden Gate Bridge, and it’s a beautiful area, and meaningful to Sarah. Seemed like a great location, and being Super Bowl Sunday, it would likely be devoid of tourists. Perfect.

Unfortunately, we woke up Sunday morning to the first proper rain storm the Bay Area has had in at least 6 months. It was raining across practically the whole state, and forecast to continue raining all day.

“Looks like we need a backup plan” I texted Scott.

I scanned all around Northern California on the weather map. Precipitation was everywhere, but it wasn’t all rain. I went into the bedroom where Sarah was still dozing. “There’s a little problem with our light house plan” I said. “How do you feel about going to play in some snow?”

Plans were hastily changed. We settled on Lake Tahoe, a 3+ hour drive away. Scott agreed to come over early. We arranged dog sitting with Sarah’s parents. Then I remembered that my Subaru, our go-to vehicle for snowy mountain adventures was still in the shop, and my rental car was rear-wheel-drive and without chains or proper tires. So we also traded cars with Sarah’s mom, who has a 4WD SUV, and set off to the East.

I had only been to Tahoe once before, last year with Sarah and a few other friends. I had no idea where to go, but figured we would find a scenic spot somewhere with snow, and I’d just have to wing it. It was snowing in Tahoe alright, so much so that you really couldn’t see the lake! No matter, we stopped at a vista along the west side of the lake where we had taken pictures the year before to check out the snow and take pictures.

Sarah is a bit of a crier, and had suggested a couple months ago that a proposal should be accompanied by a tissue. After taking a few hits from her snow-balls, I handed her a Kleenex and explained that I had ulterior motives for our trip. I didn’t have a grand speech, but asked her if she’d marry me, and she said yes. At least, I think there was a yes in there somewhere. She put the ring on, so it may have just been implied. I’ll chalk it up to shock. Seems I did a good job of keeping everything discreet, she was caught totally by surprise.

So now it’s official.

A few years ago when I started this blog I had just ended a marriage, and was reflecting a lot on what to do with the “thousands of days” I had left in life. At the time it was hard to imagine getting married again. But now I can’t imagine spending those days without Sarah. We compliment each other in so many ways, and while we both have our independent spirits, we have a friendship, partnership, and love that I want to celebrate. I am still not sure what all I will do with my thousands of days, but I do know who I want to do it with.

And for anyone wondering, the ring is .6 carats.

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730 days in San Francisco (video)

09/02/2013

Just about two years ago I packed up everything I hadn’t been able to sell into a trailer behind my station wagon and drove from Dallas out to San Francisco. I didn’t have a ‘real’ job, but was hoping I’d be able to quickly raise money for a startup I had been working on in Dallas. Beyond that, I wasn’t exactly sure where this move would take me.

Well, the startup folded soon thereafter. My freelance work mostly dried up due to my change in focus. And at one point shortly after moving to SF, my bank account went into the red. My rent check bounced. It was pretty stressful. But thanks to the fact that this is the tech capital of the world, and tech-focused designers are in high demand, I was able to find work pretty quickly and rebound.

Since then you may have noticed I’ve written very little here. The last couple of years have flown by incredibly fast, and I’ve not been sitting still. But I’m taking some time over a slow holiday weekend to look back, and as part of that reflection I’ve assembled this video chronicling my days in San Francisco.

I’ve taken over 4800 photos since moving here, and most of them (over 4000) are in the video above. I’ve been taking advantage of everything Northern California has to offer on weekends, making trips all over the state. Point Reyes, The Lost Coast, Yosemite, Tahoe, Santa Cruz, Monterrey, Big Sur, Mendocino, not to mention exploring all the nooks and crannies of San Francisco itself. I’ve also included some trips outside of California, to Seattle and Texas. The final photos of the video were taken just yesterday.

I have to say these have been the best two years of my life. I count myself very lucky to have made some amazing friends here with some talented and caring people. San Francisco is one of those places that have inspired many people, and I now understand why. It’s hard to complain about the high cost of rent and everything else when you’re surrounded by such amazing relationships.

One of those amazing relationships is with a girl I met last October. She shows up about half way into the video, and you may notice she’s pretty prominent the rest of the way through. If there’s one thing I’ve come to love more than this city, it’s her, and so in a couple of weeks I’ll be moving again – this time just across the bay to her house in Oakland. I wrote a couple of years ago that my plan was never to settle, but to build a life for myself that was so awesome only a really amazing woman would be able to pull me away. Well, she found me.

So since my time in San Francisco is coming to an end, I wanted to offer a big giant thanks to everyone who has made it so amazing, and I hope you guys won’t mind driving over a bridge every now and then to visit.

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Exercise your empathy

10/10/2012

Think about what happens when you see an old friend you haven’t spoken to in years. This happened several times to me last year at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, running into old friends from college, high school, and even elementary school, who I hadn’t seen in many years. You want to catch up, but of course you don’t have time to relay every minutia of your life like you do with friends you see every week. The last decade gets compressed into something like “I’m a designer, doing such and such. Got married, got divorced, moved here or there. What are *you* up to these days?”

We simplify and create bullet points, leaving out any emotional components, and sum up years in a matter of sentences. I think this is why it’s often difficult to reconnect with those we haven’t seen in a long time, as relationships require a lot of information exchange to be maintained. With a 10 year gap, you may as well be meeting a stranger, and starting over.

We compress information in a similar way when we view groups of people, such as cities. What kind of person comes to mind when you think of New York? Atlanta? Chicago? Seattle? San Francisco? I think most people have a stereotype in their head for each of those places. We can’t possibly cope with hundreds of thousands of people, so we reduce them to a handful of archetypes, often having never been there to see for ourselves.

If you’re a politician who spends all of his or her time in Washington, and instead of spending your time getting to know the people you represent, you’re in a bubble of similar people who study polls and data, you’re not likely to make decisions that really reflect what’s going on in the rest of the country. You may dismiss parts of the country as “a bunch of hippy liberals” or “a bunch of bible thumpers”, but you would be dismissing a lot of good people, whose values and problems are valid. No group of people can really be reduced to a single trait.

A similar pattern emerges when we zoom out further. What comes to mind when you think of countries like Mexico, France, Japan, Russia? Or Iraq, Iran, Afganistan? I think we often simplify those places to single ideas and stereotypes as well. The reality is that those places are just as diverse as the United States is. Within every community there are differences of opinions, and debates about how to solve problems, and cultural and value differences between generations, and a myriad of other problems. Even countries we consider largely homogenous, like Japan, are actually not all that different from our own.

But with distance comes compression. The result is that we dehumanize millions of people, reducing them to a small number of character traits. Shock and awe in Bagdad looks a lot different on CNN than it does from the inside of a building that just got bombed, and the suffering of AIDS babies in Africa is hardly captured by a Unicef ad. Empathy, it would seem, has a bandwidth problem, which decays with distance.

Take one more step back, one that very few people have ever actually made. Stand on the moon, and stare back at our pale blue dot of a planet. From such a distance, every country looks small, every person insignificant, every problem unimportant.

Apollo 8 astronaught Frank Borman summed up his experience this way: “The view of the Earth from the Moon fascinated me—a small disk, 240,000 miles away. It was hard to think that that little thing held so many problems, so many frustrations. Raging nationalistic interests, famines, wars, pestilence don’t show from that distance.”

The next step back is difficult to conceptualize. It was recently estimated that our galaxy contains at least 100 billion planets. And it’s estimated that there are over 100 billion galaxies. If the chance of life developing on a planet was 1 in 1 billion, our galaxy alone would have at least 100 other Earths. Assuming the makeup of other galaxies is similar, that would put the number of planets in the universe that have life at 10,000 billion (10,000,000,000,000,000)! Despite this, the distance between these worlds is so vast, it’s unlikely that one habitable planet would ever be able to find or communicate with another.

From such a distance this planet registers as an unnoticed speck of dust, not to mention everything that rests on it. I wonder how other worlds might judge ours; what is the stereotype for Earth?

With the perspective of the greatest distance imaginable, lets zoom back in real quick. Imagine your home, and your friends and neighbors. There are two ways we can look at them – in an existential way that ascribes little value to anyone or anything given the scope of existance; or in a more humanist way, that ascribes great value to each life. I have a hard time accepting the idea that everything is meaningless, so let us assume that they are valuable. Are they more valuable than any of the other 9 billion people on this planet though? Obviously they are to me, but I imagine everyone is valuable to someone else. Thus, we must conclude that everyone is roughly equal in value, as everyone is valuable to someone else.

I find this to be a valuable thought exercise, and a good way to expand the empathy bandwidth pipe. For everyone we pass on the street every day, each person is hugely important to someone else out there. The same goes not just for those around us locally, but globally. It’s too easy for us to forget that, to generalize and marginalize billions of people. It is in all of our best interests to remember that, and keep our empathy bandwidth as high as possible.

avalentine

A Valentine

02/14/2012

I’m generally a bit cynical about Valentines day, and not because I’m single (never celebrated it when I was married either), but because it’s contrived. Invented. Exploited. But you know, we have holidays celebrating less, perhaps it’s a good idea to have a day of reflection for Love, along Thanks, Parents, Veterans, and imperial conquerers of continents.

I read this poem earlier this week in one of my more interesting books, and thought it was appropriate for today. Enjoy, and cheers to love, wherever you find it.

So through the eyes love attains the heart:
for the eyes are the scouts of the heart,
and the eyes go reconnoitering
for what it would please the heart to possess.

And when they are in full accord and firm,
all three, in the one resolve,
at that time, perfect love is born
from what the eyes have made welcome to the heart,
not otherwise can love either be born
or have commencement
than by this birth and
commencement moved by inclination.

By the grace and by command
of these three, and from their pleasure,
Love is born,
who its fair hope
goes comforting her friends.

For as all true lovers know,
Love is perfect kindness
which is born—there is no doubt—
from the heart and eyes.

The eyes make it blossom;
the heart matures it:

Love, is the fruit of their very seed.

Guiraut De Borneilh (ca 1138-1200?)

imnotarock

I’m not a rock, but I might be an island.

09/28/2011

There was something unsettling that occurred after my divorce. My confidence took a major blow. Not my confidence in myself as a person of value, but in my confidence to know what I wanted in a relationship. I wouldn’t have gotten married in the first place unless I thought I knew what I wanted, but then when it didn’t work out it forced me to question whether I really knew what I wanted, or whether I really knew what will make me happy. I certainly don’t want to make the same mistake twice, but how best to avoid it?

My nineness makes this especially difficult. I’m very accommodating, I can get along with almost anyone if I have to, and I’m good at recognizing their needs and meeting them. But what about mine? I’m not as good at standing up for my own needs, or even knowing what they are.

So given all that, I’m in no rush to get married again. I decided somewhere in the aftermath that I should instead focus on building my own life, alone. I missed that stage of life when I was younger. I got married while I was still in college, and hadn’t really defined myself as an individual at that point. Part of my identity was wrapped up in my relationship with my girlfriend-fiance-wife.

After that part of my identity was gone, I felt like there were some gaps to fill. It was tempting to immediately fill them with other relationships, and I have dated several people. But I think there’s huge value in shifting focus away from pursuing relationships to pursuing ourselves. In fact, I think it will ultimately solve the riddle of what relationship is right for me.

There’s a line of thinking in our culture that those who are single are missing something. That we can’t really be whole or happy without being attached to someone else. That to have a happy ending to the movie, the boy must ultimately get the girl. While I do believe that we are social creatures and, if nothing else, there’s an instinctual drive toward mating in us, I don’t buy this idea that single people are to be pitied, or that their lives are fundamentally incomplete without a mate.

So I’ve got a bit of a hypothesis, and my thinking goes something like this: I get to build whatever life I want for myself, so I’m going to make it awesome. I’m going to set up my own living space how I want it, where I want it, travel where I want to travel, eat what I want to eat, hang out with whoever I want to hang out with. I’m going to take advantage of the fact that there’s only one opinion I have to consider when making decisions.

My recent trip to Japan was the first major trip I’ve done solo, and I had been putting it off for a while because I felt like that was the type of experience that was better shared. But what I discovered when I decided to go alone was that I liked being alone. There were no debates about what to do, no complaints about this or that, and the pace was mine to set. I’m sure that many of the locals I met probably wouldn’t have engaged with me if I was there with someone else. I could sit in a Buddhist temple for over an hour in silence and nobody was there saying “I’m bored, lets do something!” The beauty of being single and independent is that there is no compromise. It was liberating.

So the better I can build this life, and the stronger my own identity is, the less important a relationship becomes. It means I don’t have to settle for whoever comes along, because I don’t need them to be happy.

It means that whoever comes along and is worth giving up my independence will have to be someone really special.

That, I believe, is the answer to the confidence problem. If you really are happy on your own, the person who makes you want to give it up is probably a good bet. Forget liking the same TV shows or matching up on eHarmony quizzes, this is the ultimate test.

There is, of course, a chance that person never comes along, but I think that’s ok too. I’m building a life that I can be proud of, which suits me, so if the movie ends without a weeping widow, there’s no shame in that.

Time will be the test of my hypothesis, but I’m optimistic about the results.

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Travel to Japan, Part 5: Tokyo

09/18/2011

Day 10

Today I left Kyoto and returned to Tokyo for the final leg of my trip. I was pleasantly surprised upon arriving to find the weather much cooler than Kyoto. Fog rolled in, and I was grateful that my last-mile walk to the hotel didn’t require a change of clothes.

At the recommendation of a few friends, I booked a hotel in the Shinjuku neighborhood in West Tokyo. The city is really a lot of smaller cities all mashed together, with a main train station terminal as the central hub of each one. Shinjuku is one of the most crowded areas, full of young people, shopping, dining, entertainment, and sky scrapers. It’s where Lost in Translation was set, and at night is largely indistinguishable from Bladerunner.

I set about exploring the neighborhood after getting settled at the hotel. Osaka was crowded and dense, but Shinjuku was like Osaka on steroids. After getting a feel for the busy shopping/dining areas, I set out to the business parks where many of the larger skyscrapers are concentrated. Among them are the twin towers of the Tokyo government building, at the top of which is a public observation level. From the 43rd floor, you can see in almost every direction, and the sea of skyscrapers surrounding you is a real marvel. Similar to Osaka, the city seems to extend forever.

It was in the Tokyo government building that I encountered some of the effects of the earthquake and tsunami from earlier in the year. Tokyo runs on a different electricity grid than the rest of the country, and the nuclear power plants that were now offline as a result greatly reduced the  available electricity in Tokyo. The government was encouraging everyone to conserve as much electricity as possible, and were setting the example in their own facilities. Most of the lights were turned off, the air conditioning was off, the vending machines were unplugged. The observation floor was uncomfortably warm as a result, so I didn’t stay long.

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Travel to Japan, Part 4: Kyoto

08/17/2011

Day 8

Kyoto is almost a suburb of Osaka. Kind of like Fort Worth is to Dallas, it’s far enough away to have it’s own identity, but close enough that the subways connect. Someone described Kobe (think Osaka’s Denton) as the Beverly Hills of Japan, due to all the high end shopping and stuff. Granted I didn’t get very far from the train station in Kobe to really know, but Kyoto could certainly hold that title I think. Very clean, lots of high end cars, lots of parks and shrines and temples and all of that. The buildings are mostly modern, there’s a freaking grid system (!!) for the streets, and you can easily find any high end shopping you want. Dallas has nothing on the shopping in Japan. After arriving in Kyoto and speaking with some locals I realized that Osaka was really a bit of an outlier in Japanese cities. I’d compare it to Houston – big, but dirty and without much culture.

I spent the first day in Kyoto doing laundry. Exciting I know! I decided it would make more sense to pack a week worth of clothes and do laundry at some point than to try and cram 2 weeks into my bag. The hotel I booked in Kyoto said it had laundry facilities on site, but it turns out that what they mean by that is they’ll give you a small plastic bag and a menu of articles that they can clean for you. Socks were the cheapest on the menu at about $4/pair. I explained to the woman at the front desk that I had a lot of clothes, and really just needed to find a place to do it myself, so she gave me directions to a coin operated laundry place down the road. So I packed my clothes into the plastic shopping bags I had acquired and set off!

As you’d expect, the japanese laundry machine is a model of efficiency. Put clothes in, it auto-dispenses soap, washes them, then drys them, all with a countdown clock. 50 minutes later, ding and done. It’s like a microwave for laundry, and it cost about the same as 2 pairs of socks at the hotel.

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