Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's Worth Looking Back to See How Far You've Come


Where were you at 1 AM on August 15th, 1994?
I'll give you a minute to recall...

While you're thinking, let me tell you my story.

1AM, August 15th, 1994. I am lying on the floor of Suzanna's bedroom in her parents' house, her childhood bedroom. Suzanna is next to me. There is no bed in the room. But we've made a place to sleep by spreading a blanket across the carpet and pulling over us a comforter Suzanna borrowed from her mom. It's the summer between my first and second years in graduate school at Western Washington University and we're less than a month away from our wedding day. I've moved back to Kirkland from Bellingham to help with the wedding planning. After we're married, we'll both move back to Bellingham, into an apartment we found one week earlier.

In preparation for the shift in our lives, Suzanna has quit her job at the Eddie Bauer customer service call center. She did that on August 14th. And this is the night following that. The first night of the rest of her life.

When we get to Bellingham, Suzanna will have no job. I will resume my part-time job as a graduate teaching assistant teaching one section of English 101 each quarter. The small amount I make from that work will be our family income until Suzanna finds work.

1 AM. Dark.

"Are you awake?" Suzanna asks into the quiet room.
I am awake. But I'm surprised to find that she is, she usually sleeps long before I do.
"Yes. Are you?"
"I don't know how we're going to make this work." Suzanna says.
"Make what work?" Statements like that at 1 AM in a dark room always sound heavy. This sounds heavy. I think we're about to have a long conversation.
"Money. Our money. Are we going to be able to do this?" She says.
"Do what?" I ask. Sleep? Move? Get married?
"That apartment. I don't see how we can afford that apartment. If I don't find work, we don't have enough."
"You will find work."
"But if I don't."
"But you will. We can make it work." The truth is, in that moment I'm just saying that. I don't know how it will work, I just think it will. So I say so.

We talked a long time into the darkness, going around and around. Finally we got the idea to sketch it out on paper and see what our situation really looked like.

I turned on the light and got out my journal. I found that journal last weekend when I was cleaning out the garage. My accounting of our finances is still there. Here's what I wrote:

650.00 = My monthly salary
400.00 = Your monthly salary (we hope)
1050.00 = Total monthly salary

1050.00
-500.00 = Rent
550.00
-25.00 = Phone
525.00
-25.00 = Electricity
500.00
-35.00 = Cable
465.00
-65.00 = Car Insurance
400.00
-150.00 = Groceries
250.00
-40.00 = Gas
210.00
-50.00 = Entertainment
160.00
-83.00 = Visas
87.00

My tuition was paid for by the Veteran's Administration, so that wasn't a concern. And if everything went according to this plan, we'd have $87.00 at the end of the month. Not bad! $87.00 left over at the end of the month. Every month.

In reality, we ended up with less than $87.00 at the end of most months. Our accounting was a too-rosey scenario. I remember one month in particular when we found ourselves with about $7. I talked Suzanna into spending that $7 with me at the Starbucks in the grocery store down the street. It felt right to live like we had enough. It felt like if we believed we'd get by, we would get by. If we acted like we were successful, we would become successful. If we stayed stronger than the circumstances of our lives, we would overcome the circumstances of our lives.

And I can tell you it worked.

That night penciling out our best-case financial picture was one month from our wedding. It was 2 years from our decision to start our own business with two friends. It was only 4 years from the day we bought our first house. It was 7 years from our second house. It was 9 years from our first child. 11 from our second. It was not that long ago, really. And we have more than $87.00 at the end of the month now.

That night was before those accomplishments but one thing was already there that night for me and Suzanna: our partnership. Without ever talking about it, without ever planning it we each took on the right roles to make us successful together: I bring audacity and an exuberant belief that we can do anything, she brings belief in me and a pragmatic mind that is ready to come along for the ride as long as I can pencil out the barest bit of proof that there's a way to make it work. She keeps me honest that way.

There's a song by Tim Finn that I like to listen to sometimes.  It's called "Couldn't Be Done." Here's the chorus:

"We had no idea that it couldn't be done.
And we needed to find a like-minded someone
Who had no idea that it couldn't be done."

I have no idea that what I want cannot be done. And Suzanna is my like-minded someone.

That night on the floor of my future in-law's house was the first night of the rest of both of our lives. Mine and Suzanna's. Our life together. Working on that life together, we've really gotten somewhere. And as long as we stay focused on what we want and don't waste time on fear that it cannot be done, I have no doubt that every day can be the first day of the next great thing we're going to accomplish together.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I'm Rich! Thank You Nigerian -- I Mean Swiss -- Lotto

I just won 750,000 pounds!! Totally unexpected.

Turns out I won a Swiss Lottery that randomly picks an email address as a winner and associates that address with a global region and...oh, screw it; I don't know how it works. It's explained in the email they sent me. All I have to do is provide a bunch of personally identifying information and the money is mine!

What nice people!

Here's the email:

SWISS-LOTTOwww. swisslotto. ch NATIONAL LOTTERY E-MAIL BALLOT AWARD 2010

You have been awarded the sum of £750,000.00 GBP in the SWISS-LOTTOSatellite Software email lottery in which E-mail addresses are selectedrandomly by Software powered by the internet through the worldwidewebsite as categorized below:
"A" Asia
"B" Europe
"C" North America
"D" South America
"E" Africa
"F" Australian

Your email address was amongst those chosen this year for theSWISS-LOTTO Satellite lottery. And this promotional program is proudlysponsored by the SWISS-LOTTO organization.Your email address attachedto Ref number 5, 7, 14, 17, 18, 43 with Serial 10, and consequently wonthe lottery in the "E" Category.

You have therefore been approved the lump sum pay out of £750,000.00GBP.

Please note that your lucky winning number falls within our African Booklet representative as categorized above. In View of this, The African Fiduciary Bank will have your won prize of £750,000.00 GBP processed and then effect payment to you by approval of Financial Service Authority FSA. To file for your claim by simply contacting the below address:

STERLING BANK NIGERIA
E-mail: sterlingbank@stargatesg1.com

PLEASE INDICATE BELOW INFORMATIONS TO THE ABOVE ADDRESS.
1. FULL NAMES:
2. NATIONALITY:
3. DATE OF BIRTH:
4. SEX:
5. MARITAL STATUS:
6. CONTACT ADDRESS:
7. TELEPHONE NUMBER:
8. OCCUPATION:
9. PRESENT COUNTRY:
10.Draw Number above:

These details will facilitate processing of your of won prize to avoid unnecessary delays and complications. All Reply should be directed to the paying bank (sterlingbank@stargatesg1.com ) failure to send your info to the bank leads to disqualification

Van Norris
Online Games Director
SWISS-LOTTO


Man, what a stroke of luck this is! I could really use 750,000 pounds right about now.

Hey, but I noticed they asked for my name and address, but they didn't ask for my social security number. Good thing I caught that. I'll go ahead and include that too, just to avoid "unnecessary delays and complications." Nothing bad will happen, I'm sure.

Those Swiss Africans. Always surprising me.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

This Wonderful Summer

Dear Me-in-years-to-come,

Remember this time.

School starts on Wednesday.

C will be entering the first grade, R will move from his preschool to C's school and into Kindergarten.


My emotions are mixed as I think about that. I am proud of them, I am excited for them. But I have the sense of a page turning, of a time in our lives passing into memory. And so I feel a poignancy about this transition too.

What a summer we have had, my family and me. I don't remember us being closer. It was a period of such love, and fun and appreciation for one another. I will always remember it as a summer of accomplishment for my sons.

When did C learn to ride his bike on two wheels? In the summer of 2010. July 5th, to be exact. We were in Kingston, at the beach house. C was playing with A.L. on the pickle ball court. A.L. had brought his two-wheeled bike and C decided to try it. He got on, and he peddled around that court again and again on two wheels, no training wheels. A huge smile on his face. "Daddy, look at me!" When we got home, he asked me to take his training wheels off his bike and he got on and went. So proud and amazed that he could do that any time he wanted.

When did R learn to ride his bike on two wheels? In the summer of 2010. July 25th, to be exact. We took C to Gregg's Cycle to buy him his birthday present, a new bike. He test rode three of them in the parking lot while we watched. R stood beside me and Suzanna and studied his brother intently. When C finished his first ride, jumped onto the second bike and rode off without hesitation, R said aloud but fully to himself: "He can get on any two-wheeled bike and ride it whenever he wants!" C picked the bike he liked, we loaded it into the van and headed home. From the back of the car, R proclaimed: "When we get home I'm going to ride on two wheels." And when we got home, I took his training wheels off and that's exactly what he did. So proud of himself. That night, when I tucked him into his bed, he looked at me with a smile infusing his face, his whole spirit: "It's so cool I can ride on two wheels now," he said. Yes, so cool, buddy. You'll never look back.

The way they both learned to ride on two wheels has become a motivational tool for the boys. I simply need to remind them now whenever they're faced with something they can't do: "remember how once you couldn't ride your bike on two wheels and now you can? What does that show you?"

"That there's nothing we can't learn!"

Right answer. That's true for all of us. There's nothing we can't learn. No thing. We just have to remember it and it's helpful to have reminders to prove it to us. Like our bikes.

The other big focal point of the summer was fishing. The boys and I spent a lot of time together doing that. I won't tell the whole story here right now. But I do want to remember that this was the summer they really stopped being our babies and became boys in the fullest sense. Digging in the dirt, finding worms for the fishing trips, casting into the lake and yanking blue gills, perch, pike and bull heads from the water with a whoop of triumph.

This was the summer they both showed me they are able. Capable of anything they truly want to do. Capable of more than I would have given them credit for. They can lead me to new experiences, they can teach me as much as I can teach them.

This was the summer they showed me a glimpse of them growing up. I am grateful to see that they are poised to be remarkable people. I am proud to see them growing. And also a little sad. I want to see them grow, but "nothing's sadder, I know, than the passing of time."

Can't change time, though. Can only make the most of the time we have.

Thanks for listening. I hope you'll remember the days of this wonderful summer. I hope you'll see these days as the beginning of better and better things.

Signed,
The-Me-of-my-distant-past

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why I Don't Want to Be Seth Godin

Seth Godin is an innovative guy. He's out in front on trends; he's a disruptive thinker; his blog is one of the most consistently inspiring things I have the pleasure of reading.

I like Seth Godin (at least Seth Godin the brand), but I wouldn't want to be Seth Godin.

Why? Precisely because now that Seth Godin the guy is Seth Godin the brand, Seth Godin always has to be Seth Godin. The guy always has to be the brand.

There's a bunch of buzz today because Seth Godin has decided he will no longer publish books in the traditional way -- no more publisher. As some of the tweets put it: "Seth Godin believes in his brand and he's betting everything on it."

Cool. I'm sure he'll succeed.

But how exhausting to be him. What if he did want to do something in the traditional way? Could he? Or is the expectation that he'll always be The Innovator?

"Dude, Seth. You eat Skippy peanut butter?"
"I do," says Seth, putting the finishing touches on his PB&J. A final swipe of the knife, then he presses the slices of white bread together, takes a bite and smiles a sticky smile.
"I would have thought you'd get yours hand pressed or flown in or something."
"I don't".
"But tell me you eat Amazon basin palm nut spread!"
"I like peanut butter."
And then the fan boy bursts into flame.

If you're Seth Godin the brand, do you ever get to relax and just be Seth Godin the guy?