When Steve resigned as CEO of Apple six weeks ago, people in the Apple community warned each other, “He has resigned, but he hasn’t died. If you talk about it, don’t sound like you’re writing a eulogy.” And yet, the night I heard of his resignation, I hesitantly tweeted “The thing I keep thinking about, no matter how hard I try not to, is the day I heard that Jim Henson had died.” Jim’s death affected me pretty strongly. I didn’t want to admit it when I heard of Steve’s resignation, but it was pretty clear that things with Steve’s health were quite serious if he was no longer able to be involved daily at Apple. But we weren’t going to talk about that. We would hope, instead. It seemed only right.
Steve Jobs died today. I got involved in technology because of him. I moved across the country thousands of miles from family to work for his company for six years. He changed my life. And tonight, it really makes me think.
I’m left contemplating the fact that two of the men I admire most are dead. Initially, I was confused about what to do about this. Despair? No. Apathy? Absolutely not. But it seems clearer now after some thought. What we’re witnessing is a changing of the guard. As the man said himself, death “clears out the old to make way for the new.” The older generation is passing away.
But what are they making way for?
Even without the answer to that question, here we are, walking forward. Those who went ahead of us are passing beyond the veil. And it should strike us now that we’re standing at the front of the line. Here we are. We’re standing right where they were only a little while ago. There’s no need to get scared. That’s pointless. We just got here, we’re not done.
And now the spotlight swings back from the veil and onto our faces. No one is in our way now.
It’s our turn to create. It’s our turn to inspire. It’s our turn to push the human race forward.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m passionate about creating things that are beautiful and useful. Things people love. In my time creating, one of the catalysts of creativity that I’ve seen over and over is the act of enjoying someone else’s creations. Artists look at lots of art. Musicians listen to a lot of music. Writers read a lot.
But why? It’s not just that everything is a remix (although that’s true). It’s that when a creator catches a glimpse of beauty, despair, passion, joy, it makes the labor of their next creation a little easier for them. We learn how to create by taking in the creations of others. We learn how to shape an experience for someone else by having experiences of our own. So, you want to know how to make someone weep for joy? Have someone make you weep for joy. Even if you can’t quite grasp the whole picture having wept for joy just once, you’re a little closer to understanding how it might work than you were before it became a personal experience.
To that end, I take in a lot of created things, and it’s my goal to try to be an appreciator. And not just an appreciator of created things, but also of the people who created them. When I think about my heroes, they’re all people who create things. Jim Henson, Steve Jobs, Jason Fried. These guys are some of my heroes. And they all know how to deeply study and appreciate the things they see. Things regular people routinely look past.
Take Jim, for instance. He once wrote this:
“I find that it’s very important for me to stop every now and then and get recharged and reinspired. The beauty of nature has been one of the great inspirations in my life. Growing up as an artist, I’ve always been in awe of the incredible beauty of every last bit of design in nature. The wonderful color schemes of nature, which always work harmoniously, are particularly dazzling to me… Working as I do with the movement of puppet creatures, I’m always struck by the feebleness of our efforts to achieve naturalistic movement. Just looking at the incredible movement of a lizard or bird, or even the smallest insect, can be a very humbling experience.”
There are several categories of things that often inspire me, and several companies that regularly create things I deeply appreciate. I’m lucky enough to have worked for Apple on the Mac OS X team for about six years, and Apple is easily at the top of my list. But in addition to Apple, I’m constantly inspired by the guys at Penny Arcade, by Valve Software, by Nintendo, and as cliché as it sounds, by Pixar.
This weekend, I was really struck by the ending of Portal 2 (a game made by the aforementioned Valve Software). It’s an amazing game, but something surprised me about the end because it contained an echo of all the other companies in my list. It was a hint, if you will, about one of the ingredients in a masterful creation.
In a nutshell, it’s this: love your creation.
I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but the ending of Portal 2 brings shocking clarity to Valve’s passion for the universe and characters they’ve created. Put another way, if the folks at Valve weren’t deeply in love with (dare we say obsessed with?) these characters, the bittersweet elements of the ending they created would never have occurred to them. Because something lesser would’ve been acceptable. Still, through the final sequences in the game, I could see the expression on their faces as they looked into mine: “We are so proud of this. We hope you love this deeply, because we love it so, so much that we can hardly bear to say goodbye to it.”
It was like watching a father walk his daughter down the aisle.
To say it was emotionally resonant would be an understatement. And that’s what we’re after, isn’t it? Portal 2 was a fantastic puzzle game, sure, but it was more than that. The thing you remember when you walk away is how it felt to be in that universe, to meet those characters and interact with them, and get to know them and love them within their reality. And that’s the thing that will make you come back next time, not the enticement of more surfaces onto which you can place portals. (Though that’s certainly attractive.)
Then I thought of Pixar. Toy Story 3. Could it have been any clearer how much Pixar loves Woody and Buzz than what we saw at the end of Toy Story 3? It’s not possible to take your characters any more seriously than that. To respect them any more deeply. They went out with unprecedented sweetness, and it was sad and perfectly beautiful.
Apple? Wow. They’re obsessed in a way the rest of their industry can barely tolerate, let alone understand. Exhibit A, the phrase “There’s not a straight piece of glass on this building.” They take what they do seriously and they love it deeply, down to a level of detail others can’t even fathom. In some ways, it almost works against them. People think of buying an Apple device like it’s tantamount to joining a cult. Why? Because the use of something Apple has made contains the emotion of those who made it, and you feel that when you use it. That is, unless you realize you’d prefer to resist it.
But back to creation.
Something interesting happens when you really love the thing you’re creating. When you love it deeply enough, it teaches you how to improve it and make it better. More useful, more beautiful, more resonant. And when you learn those lessons and apply them, you love the creation even more, which then leads you to even more lessons. It’s a spiral that continues upward, and I have no idea where it stops.
Listen, I know we don’t talk as often as we used to, and I regret that. I’m sorry. But I want to introduce you to the reason I’ve been so quiet. It’s something beautiful. Something graceful and seamless. Something with massive potential. Something that has taken most of my energy for the last two years of my life. Something I’ve been actively prepared for by much more than the last two years.
Tomorrow, it’s no longer a test. It becomes real. Tomorrow is a day so many have prayed for, maybe without even realizing it.
Have you ever wanted a place where you could be real? Where you could drop the mask, drop your personal brand for a second, stop talking about skin-deep topics and show the fractures in your skeleton? We’re in pain, right? Some days are bad, some are better. And yet we know we can’t get away with much more than hinting about our pain when we’re broadcasting to the world. So many people don’t get it. So many don’t want to.
I’ve always thought the place to do that stuff was at my church. These are the people who are there to walk with you through the slime, the fear, the hurt, the ugliness. These are the people who are humble enough to serve you when you’re down, and tough enough to not wimp out on you when you’re defiant and running for the cliff. And you don’t just receive that. You give it, too.
I want to be honest with you: if your church hasn’t done that for you, maybe you haven’t been to church.
Ask your church to sign up (don’t go alone) and start loving and serving each other in a way you may have never done.
What I’m going to say in this entry is very challenging for me to verbalize. Stick with me, here.
I have a deep desire to be a person who makes real things that are useful and delightful. I’ve been working really hard at The Table Project for many months, and I’ve been learning a lot about hard work and how to sustain it. I’ve also learned that the work affects me just as I affect the work. I’ve changed because of my work.
One of the main things that has changed within me is the heightened value I place on silence. Silence of many kinds.
When I’m making something, I’m deeply motivated by the anticipation of discovery on the part of the person that will receive my creation. Will it help them? Will it make them smile? Have I thought through all the ways they’ll use it and considered everything from their perspective? I can’t see their reaction if I don’t finish what I’m making. They won’t benefit unless I do a great job. I create with those thoughts in my mind. But it’s not as simple as that. You may not agree with what I’m about to say, but stick with me.
I’m learning about the demotivational power of talking.
There is a vast, gaping difference between talking about doing a thing and really doing it. I have been the crowned and reigning king of “talking about doing a thing” in the past, and this blog stands as a testament to that.
On the simplest level, talking is demotivational because great creation comes from a quiet, solitary place, not from meetings and committees. On a deeper level, talking about what you’re doing and giving people a preview of the future is demotivational because you may be receiving praise which you haven’t yet earned. That’s extremely dangerous. When you go back to your quiet, solitary place to finish that cool thing you just told your friend about, their praise is still ringing in your ears, reducing the reward that is still beyond your reach, and slowing you down. You can’t afford that tradeoff. It would’ve been better to not tell them what you had done until it was ready. And at that point, there’s less need to tell, because you can show.
This newfound belief affects me in a few ways. You’ll notice, for instance, that this is only the 6th blog entry I’ve posted this year, and the year is half over. Last year, I had written 15 entries in the same amount of time.
And it’s not due to Twitter. This graph of my tweets per month, particularly since last July, will tell you a strange little story as well.
I’m not doing this on purpose. It’s a habit that has naturally evolved. I’m no longer the guy who tweets 500+ times each month because I now realize I don’t have 500+ worthwhile things to say to that audience each month. It’s not censorship, it’s editorial and it’s filtering. It’s respect for the listener, I hope.
Speaking of listeners, they’re also at risk in this problem. I’m growing tired of bloggers and content producers of all kinds that don’t know when to shut up and reflect. My apologies if that seems rude, but if you’re publishing to meet a weekly quota, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t game the crowd; make something of quality. If you have a lot to say, that’s fine (look at the length of this entry), but please don’t assume you can take our attention 9 times a week because your analytics tell you that’s your ideal posting frequency to generate higher traffic and ad revenue.
But if you happen to make 9 quality things that week, by all means, share them all. Show me what you’ve done. My favorite blog, Daring Fireball, is quite noisy, and I’ve never regretted reading it. The content is good. It earns its place.
This all relates to the reason that I rarely if ever go to the Social Media Breakfasts anymore (although I really like many of the people), but I participated in the Overnight Website Challenge this year and found it very rewarding. I hope to do it again.
Less talk, more rock. Fewer conferences and meetings, more product and creativity.
There are downsides for me and others in this change, too. In the midst of focusing constantly on creating The Table, it’s become harder for me to carry on conversations in general, and it’s nearly impossible now for me to be in the moment completely. My mind has become so focused that I’ve caught myself thinking things like, “How can this conversation/situation benefit The Table?” even while spending time with family and friends. It’s pretty weird, and it’s something I’m trying to address. Focus shouldn’t have to lead to workaholism or personal narrowness.
Because of all these thoughts and some conversations I’ve seen on the web lately, I’ve decided it would make sense to disable comments on this blog for the foreseeable future. I want it to be really clear that I still deeply treasure all your past comments, and I haven’t removed the ones that have been made. They are a part of a permanent record and a precious heirloom to me. Many of you have corrected me and changed my mind on various topics, or made me laugh, or warmed my heart, and the evidence is right there in the thread.
I still want to hear from you in almost any way you’d like to have a conversation with me. If you want to contact me, you can do so in any number of ways, including directly from this blog. If you want to just say you liked what I wrote, there’s a little Facebook “Like” button at the bottom of each post, even in the RSS feed. I’d love a click. If you want to respond publicly to what I’ve said, making your own blog entry and linking back to this one would be the best way to do that for many reasons. Creating a blog has become so wonderfully, deliciously simple that there’s no reason anymore not to have one if you want one. Go for it! I might even write a public response if you’re making good stuff.
I hope that the lack of comments here allows you to focus a little more on your own work, say what you wanted to say a little more quickly (perhaps with a single button click) and even consider whether certain things need to be said at all.
Now, go to your quiet, solitary place and make something.
It’s really a never-ending journey. I imagine I could do another one of these retrospectives in 2019, and track another ten years of progression. The secret is to hate yourself and the work you produce. If everything you make is trash, then you’ll continually push yourself to produce something that won’t fill you with shame. If you’re lucky, after a lifetime of self-doubt, maybe you’ll produce something you can be proud of before you fall over dead.
It may be hilarious, but it’s not a joke. That right there is pure gold creative wisdom. And a little close-to-home for me, personally.
I recently used LastGraph to visually graph my music listening habits over the last year. The result is a visually stunning display that is fun to comb over and try to interpret. Click the image to see the full-size version.
I’m still trying to figure out what the pinch point between my love affair with The Cardigans and Anamanaguchi a month ago (yes, those are Amazon Affiliate links) and the explosion of a mostly new set of artists means. My theory: I’ve been extremely heavy on one particular (mostly unchanging) playlist in February 2010.
If you use last.fm to track your music listening habits, you can use LastGraph too.
This entry is several weeks late. I can blame Twitter and Facebook for that delay, right? OK.
On December 9th, 2009 at 9:09pm, my dear son Jack Edward Lewis came into the world. Some of the official paperwork says 9:10pm, but I was watching the clock. Also, 9:10pm has one less “9” in it. C’mon.
We took his first name from his great-grandfather Jack Hastings, who passed away in the Spring of 2009 and is greatly missed. Grandpa’s first name was actually John, but everyone called him Jack. (The fact that C.S. Lewis’s nickname was “Jack” is a coincidence. We like C.S. Lewis, but maybe not that much.)
Jack Edward’s middle name is from my dearest friend Eddie Oroyan, whose passion for Christ and totally unbridled energy through creativity are an inspiration to me. I am lucky to call him my friend.
I’d like to tell you a bit about Jack’s labor story, and also about his personality, now that we’ve had the chance to get to know him a little.
Our labor story starts late at night on December 7th. I didn’t tweet about this at the time. (See? You guys don’t just get all the same information later and longer than Twitter. This is new stuff.) Steph began having very regular contractions 5 or 6 minutes apart, and we did the classic drive-85-down-the-highway rush to the hospital at 10pm. But the contractions slowed down and stopped after about an hour, so by 2:30am on the 8th, we were sent back home. No baby.
Early on the 9th, Steph started having more contractions and pains of other sorts, and we thought it would be wise to go in again, so we did. The doctors decided that because Steph was already dilated to 5 or 6 centimeters (!) she was already technically in labor, and since we were in the midst of a blizzard, they would rather start a pitocin drip and get the boy out than send us home. So that’s what we did. And there was much rejoicing.
The pitocin started at 2pm, and things were actually quite calm and pleasant until around 7pm. We watched most of Live Free or Die Hard, which happened to be on TV at the moment. We chatted casually on the phone with family. At around 8:30pm, labor became intensely painful for Steph, for about 25 minutes. Half way through that time, one of the less-experienced delivery nurses made the silly mistake of thinking she would encourage Steph by saying, “Oh, don’t worry sweetie, we think we can have him out by 11 ‘o clock!” Meanwhile, Steph was thinking she could handle 10 or 15 more minutes of that kind of pain before losing it. Note to nurses: when you’re making crazy, baseless guesses within earshot of your patient, make them encouraging guesses, or don’t make them at all.
At about 9pm, everything calmed down, the pain dropped significantly, and Steph knew it was time for Jack to enter our world. I remember the doctor who was to deliver Jack getting to our room only moments before delivery, frantically stretching her blue nitrile gloves over her fingers while the nurses scurried around the bed. She was the voice of calm wisdom Steph needed at the end of the bed, and she performed perfectly. Jack arrived without issue, almost easily. Steph described it later as “peaceful,” which is mind-blowing if you consider what was actually happening.
During the last few minutes of birth, I had my iPhone start recording audio, and I set it on a table beside the birthing bed. I’ve trimmed the recording a bit for time, and Steph has very graciously given me permission to share this audio with you. These are the actual moments leading up to Jack’s birth, and you’ll hear his very first cry here. I like to think of this as a little gift of a magical moment that we can share with friends and readers.
I want to describe Jack’s personality and my and Steph’s experience of Jack to you, but I’ve found it’s difficult to describe a person without describing them in relative terms. So I hope you’ll forgive me if, at least in this entry, I describe Jack as a series of contrasts with Caleb.
Steph’s recovery from Jack’s birth was extremely easy compared to her recovery from Caleb’s birth. After Caleb’s birth, we were in the hospital for 5 days, the first two of which Steph was a little incoherent and extremely physically weakened due to a magnesium sulfate IV. (You do not want to have magnesium sulfate running through your veins unless the other option is likely death.) Steph was hooked up to cables and wires and tubes for several days, and she required constant supervision. It was honestly scary, and we were without family, living in California. With Jack, Steph’s minimal IVs were removed almost immediately after birth, and she was able to get up, walk around, talk to people, whatever. Pretty simple! We used to think nice births were the exception and Caleb’s was more normal. It turns out Caleb’s was a rare exception, and many births are as simple as Jack’s was. Whadda ya know!
That parallel continues in their early personalities, too. Caleb was a screamer, and an incredibly loud one at that. Jack, on the other hand, is really quiet. He cries a little, but not loudly. He quiets down quickly when you give him what he needs. He is generally very calm. We haven’t gotten him to smile very often yet, but I’m sure that will change.
There is just one funny little way in which Jack’s noise exceeds that of Caleb. When Jack is asleep, he often has little bouts of all kinds of noise. He’ll grunt and squeak and strain, perhaps even cry a little. But he doesn’t wake up during the whole thing. Well, heck, we’ve already gone crazy with audio in this entry. What’s a little more going to hurt? OK. Here.
We hear sounds like this throughout the night. Thankfully, it’s become less frequent as he has gained a few weeks of age, but he’s not a silent sleeper by any means. Sometimes, as I lay there in the dark, I imagine him with a tiny weight set, benching iron the size of a drinking straw piercing bagel halves, doing reps in the quiet of the morning. Feel the burn, little one!
The passage from the Bible we chose for Jack’s “life verse” is Jeremiah 17:5-8. It reads like this in the ESV:
Thus says the Lord: Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.
Jack, in your life there will be many things competing for your ultimate trust and reliance. For the affections of your heart. You could choose to trust yourself. You could trust money. You could put your trust in other people. But you’ll notice the Bible doesn’t say “if heat comes,” it says “when heat comes.” It’s a guarantee. But there’s another guarantee to match it. Drink deeply of the Water of Life. His streams will never run out, and you will prosper from root to fruit. Trust Him!