Work & Nothingness

People kinda tease me because I keep my desk at work fairly clear. I actively remove everything from it. I’ve removed my lamp. I’ve put all my old desk toys in a box under the desk. I put my phone under the desk and forwarded my calls to my cell. I’m considering drilling a hole or two in the desk so that most of the cords can be invisible and just come out where they’re needed. And it goes even deeper: I don’t have much in my backpack. My car is usually empty.

But these are just surface-level symptoms of a larger mindset. The real question is why. It’s given me so much joy, I want to share it. So, why do I do this?

What I’ve found is that as you approach nothingness, the only thing left you have is the work you’re doing. You’re there to do the work. So do the work. If there’s something else for you to do, something else to look at, something to be distracted by instead of doing the work, get rid of it. Do the work.

The more work I do, the more I find that this principle of ruthlessly removing the extraneous is really central to excellent creation. It echoes what I wrote years ago here and I’m shocked to find I don’t back away from that nothingness these days. I go forward, closer and closer to it. It’s beautiful.

I should say that I understand there are plenty of people who can focus without any distractions, even if their desks and their lives are crowded with all kinds of junk. I’m not one of those people. So if you find that you aren’t one of those people either, try nothingness. You’ll acclimate and you’ll love it.

Thank You

Almost four weeks ago, Steph and I boarded a plane in San Jose, California, bound for Minnesota. A lot has transpired since then, but rather than going into all that yet, I think it’s even more important that I take a minute and thank the folks who are responsible for us getting on that plane on time. Note this isn’t an exhaustive list, and doesn’t include all the wonderful time we spent with dear friends and coworkers, reminiscing and saying goodbyes. These are just the people who really broke a sweat to make this move happen for us.

Torrey and Shirley came to our house on the last day of packing and cleaning to help in any way they could. Torrey helped me to pack the final few boxes of our stuff, including the precious “nursing glider,” and gave me some sorely-needed friendship. When all your stuff is in a big white box and you’ve been living out of a suitcase for several days, it’s refreshing to have a friend who knows the proper response to, “I haff tvelve metchsteek.” Shirley, having never been to our place before that day, was happily cleaning kitchen drawers and a disgusting ceiling fan within 10 minutes of stepping through the front door. That’s some solid character. Where can one find more excellent people like these? I don’t know what I did to even make their acquaintance, but it must’ve been done very well and entirely by mistake. I have never earned such things.

Thank you, Torrey and Shirley.

Jenny and Kristin flew all the way from Minnesota just to help us out, and were absolutely instrumental in every phase of the operation. They helped pack. They helped organize. They kept us sane. They took us out to dinner. They put us up in a hotel! (This is a big deal when all your stuff is in boxes and your life is in chaos.) When it came time to give the house its final scrub-down before inspection, they worked miracles, taking on all the back-breaking tasks I knew had to be done but hesitated to start doing. I wish I had before-and-after photos of the laundry room. What a job!

Thank you, Jenny and Kristin.

Bob and Val brought their beautiful little newborn over to our house during a heavy and pivotal time of “PODS unit tetris.” Val and Steph kept each other company while they took care of the little ones, swapping stories and having what seemed to be much-needed downtime for Steph. Val also put a big dent in our kitchen packing to-do list. Meanwhile, it turned out Bob is some kind of packing prodigy, able to shift and twist objects in his head, combining them in unexpected ways to put large things into small spaces with no wiggle room left over. I learned quickly that if Bob said, “Maybe we should turn this on its side and put it up there…” that was exactly what we should do. Only those who want their stuff packed inefficiently question Bob. I did not. The PODS unit barely fit all the things we needed it to fit, and without Bob’s efforts, our impromptu Everything! Must! Go! yard sale would have been a lot more heartbreaking.

Thank you, Bob and Val.

Jason P. came over several times to help pack, and did a lot of the heaviest lifting along with Bob. But he also spent a little time with me, speaking to my soul, telling me what Steph and I have meant to him and others he had recently spoken to, and admitting that he hoped to find a way to sabotage our move so that we wouldn’t be able to leave. To the best of my knowledge, the closest he came to such sabotage was replacing the real box content lists on some of our packed boxes with lists containing items like “Death Star” and “lasers.” It didn’t slow us down, but like Jason himself, it was grade-A material.

Thank you, Jason.

Brian D. caravanned behind me for a 90 minute drive to Tracy, California, the first half of which was during rush hour. He has a newborn baby at home and barely had an hour’s notice to do this, and he volunteered. All so I could ship my Hyundai Elantra to Minnesota on time. Take special note that Brian loves politics like I love Apple, and he did this on Super Tuesday in the evening when he could’ve been at home, comfortably enjoying CNN. That’s like me missing a Stevenote. Heavy.

Thank you, Brian.

Ted and Scott came over more than anyone else to help pack and shift things around. They were both instrumental in the early planning phases of our PODS unit’s internal layout. Ted even came a couple times late at night. But he did far more than that. I was having difficulty selling my Honda Element with only just over a week-long window in which to do so, and I couldn’t afford to ship it. Ted’s response? He has some folks he’d like to see in Denver and Minneapolis, so if I can pick up the bill for gas (less than half the cost of shipping), of course he’s willing to drive my Honda from Cupertino to Mineapolis for me. Oh, and he’ll take only two days to do it. Is that OK?

Thank you, Scott. And thank you, Ted, times 2000 miles.

Let it be known: these people are amazing, and I am very lucky to count them as friends.

HeartBreakers: Yum!

Heartbreakers: Yum!

HeartBreakers have been my favorite candy for the last few years. I’m a bit worried that they seem to have become seasonal like Cadbury Eggs, and thus much harder to buy. Still, when I saw them in Target’s Valentine’s Day super-candyliscious-yummy-blowout-sale aisle, I grabbed more bags than I’m willing to publicly admit and made a beeline for the checkout.

Yum. Seriously, so very yum.

(This photo and the other, worse ones that I took in the series have also taught me how hard it is to photograph food. And I can only imagine this is the easiest type of all food photos.)

Comment Extravaganza 2008!

Three years ago I got tired of only publicly mocking blog spam and took the relatively extreme preventative measure of shutting off comments on all entries that were more than a month old. I even wrote a script called No Comment that would help you to shut off the comments on all your old posts if you so desired. By my logic at the time, if you arrived at my entry more than a month after I wrote it, whatever you had to say was useless to me, and the probability that you were a spam bot was simply too high.

Well, I’m feeling risky in 2008.

I’ve decided that for at least a few days, and perhaps weeks or months depending on the outcome of my experiment, I’m going to open all comments back up again. I’ll be very interested to see what kind of non-spam comments I get, if any, and where they’re located. In the mean time, expect that blocked-spam counter at the bottom of the page to rocket past 25,000 in short order.

Hedgehog in the Fog

My friend Eddie just posted a link to a film called “Hedgehog in the Fog” on YouTube. I watched it, enjoyed pieces of it, didn’t enjoy several others, and now I’m feeling quite shallow. Let me explain. (Warning, some spoilers ahead. I recommend watching the film before reading further.)

For the first minute or so of the film, I really enjoyed it. The style is very playful, disarming, and unique. The folks who worked on the film are obviously very talented designers and animators.

Then I got further into the story and my feelings shifted. I started wanting a concrete plot. As the story progressed, it began making less and less sense. I understand that the hedgehog is disoriented and scared, and that the world is a beautiful, mysterious, frightful, wonderful place. I also understand that sometimes it’s nice to see new things, and sometimes it’s nice to be in a familiar place with familiar friends. Outside of that, though, the whole film felt like 95% style and 5% story to me. Heck, even 99% style and 1% story.

The thing that I’m calling “shallow” in myself is that I don’t enjoy those ratios, at least not in film. Or in books, for that matter. In music, dance, and visual art those ratios are fine. I don’t really need a concrete story in those art forms. (I suppose I’ve proven that by my love of Beck; you’d be hard-pressed to come back with anything very concrete from any of his songs.)

For some reason I hold film and books to a different standard than music, dance, and visual art. I’m not sure why exactly. I think it may be because film and books are highly capable of telling a deep, intricate story with lots of detail and dance, music, and visual art would have a very hard time matching film and books in that way. So I let them off the hook, so to speak, and expect something different from them. When I think of the movies and books that I tend to prefer, they’re all fairly plot-driven (e.g. Harry Potter) and not as deeply metaphorical or stylistic as some of their counterparts. I’m struggling to come up with a “counterpart” here because I tend not to read those kinds of books. Let’s say Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. But that’s exactly my point. It took me two minutes to come up with that book and two seconds to come up with Harry Potter.

So, is that shallow? I do occasionally enjoy an artistic film. 2001: A Space Odyssey is actually one of my all-time favorites, and we can all agree the plot breaks down quite completely near the end of the film. But films like that are certainly an exception for my favorites list.

Has anyone else felt the way I do on this issue? What are the pitfalls of this perspective on art, and should a person strive to move beyond it? If so, how can that leap be made?