Kids, I’m going to tell you a story*. This is a story about how I ended up sitting in an office outside of Nuremberg in a tiny town called Erlangen, Germany, which happens to be less than an hour’s drive from where I was made. It’s a true story.
I get this question a lot lately, “What do you DO now, exactly,” and I can not answer in full. I work on demos for automotive software companies. I create websites, mostly front-end now, for larger companies that know more than I do. I help organize strategies for content management, marketing communications, branding and messaging. I travel to a lot of amazing places and I meet a lot of amazing people. My job does not suck. I can tell you that.
This particular story happens in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I was working with two automotive software companies. For one, I was finishing a demo on a mobile device, let’s call it the iPad, for their sales and marketing team to show Ford, Audi, VW and Toyota. And the other, let’s call it Big Awesome German Company, I was helping out with branding and messaging and content strategy. That is to say, I was at CES for work and I got to party with some really awesome companies.
Like Microsoft, for example.
I ended up, not so much on accident, at the Microsoft party at CES. I asked a co-worker there to watch my drink: A gray goose and diet. She promised to do so as I went to the toilets. However, since I ended up meeting four people on my return, when I arrived back to the bar I looked at her quizzically. “Um, where’s my drink?” She glanced over her shoulder, “I gave it to This Guy since you took so long to get back.” “Uh,” I stammered, “Who is This Guy? HE owes me a drink.”
This Guy smiled and said Hallo.
A German! Oh but I love the Germans!
“Hallo!I” I said. “You owe me a drink!” “Ah, sorry, yes, I will get you one. Gray Goose and Coke?” “Ya,” I replied using my third word in German. He ordered and turned back to me. “Who do you work for?” I asked. He told me EB. I said, “AH! I am going to work with EB! She” I pointed to the girl I worked with, “is going to hire me to do your website!” “Ah,” he said smiling, “I am her boss.”
I recounted this story the first night I was in town at dinner with my boss, her boss, and a few others of our team.
HIs response? “Did I get you a drink?” “Yes,” I laughed as the team went red on my behalf. “Would you like another?” he asked.
And so it is that I sit, right now, next door to This Guy. It’s funny, in a way, how life works. The more myself, the more awkward and ridiculously open I can be, the more in line with my destiny I feel I become.
Let me tell you about the time I met my ex-boss on the Internet. That’s a good story, too. But for now, I will say this: If everything happens for a reason, and god we have to hope it does, then even a gray goose and coke can seem trivial, but it’s not.
*Sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of “how I met your mother” lately.
** Updated photos from my day trip to Munich. More on this later.
Because this is exactly what I’d expect to see while looking for the train station in Munich. The Man In The Mirror.
I saw a guy get off his bike and head in to this “Thai Massage” place. Totally know what he’s getting in there.
The alarm went off at 7AM for the first day of fifth grade. My dad was in his suit walking out the door as he heard me grumble and get up. “Life sucks and then you die,” he greeted me.
This is the first of a thousand similar morning greetings he would say as he suited up and walked out the door to work.
I always thought this was just my Dad’s “thang.” Like he loved the Aggie’s football or playing war games on the computer. I thought it was sort of just something he muttered like when he sneezed “Jesus Christ on a commode.” It was one of his quirks, those parts of Dad that made him… well, Dad.
Years and years later, at thirty-five, I sit talking across an impossible valley. As it turns out, my dad is not the only one to say this as he went to work each morning. In fact, it’s something many dads said as they embarked on their early morning trek. It was not just dads in suits, or dads at mills, or dads with fancy cars or frequent flyer miles. It’s an attitude of a generation. The norm for our children’s grandparents is a rut-filled expectation of misery and eventually death. Our children’s parents, now in their mid-thirties or early forties, are just now rebelling against mid-life. We are just coming in to our own careers and now, as we walk out the door in the early morning dawn, we are asking why. WHY do we have to live our father’s mantra “life sucks and then you die.”
It is a rare prophet who challenges and pushes for change.
In Steve Job’s commencement speech at Stanford, a speech filled with not just inspiration but several challenges, he urges the students to Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. He shares, through his own experiences, the seemingly erratic life experiences that culminated in a respected, and revered, life of amazing.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Do not live our parent’s dogma. As Steve Job’s says, “Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” Life can suck and then you will die. Or life can be an amazing road, bumpy, rocky, long and winding. Death can loom like an escape, some future release. Or it can speak urgently to you: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.
I’m beginning to believe the words myself. I hope you will join me.
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
There is so much for me to tell you. There’s the conference I spoke at in Manchester with some pretty fantastic people last week. There is the amazing opportunity for work that I have right now pushing my own boundaries to places a sherpa is necessary. There are the stories from Japan, where I am now, working with a team of people who are brilliant and outspoken, winning clients and conducting business in which I am proud to be part of.
I’ve been on 8 planes in less than two weeks. I’ve touched three continents, four time zones. If I was to write down my perfect life, it would include these two weeks of chaos, exhaustion, work, people, sleeplessness. I am happier than I have been in a long time, finally actualizing dreams.
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)
So much of my twenties was spent reading travel books. I would camp out in the “Travel Essay” isle at Powells and read through books and essays of people living their lives in a variety of cultures. During insecure times, difficult decisions, uncertainty, I always open these books, my favorites, to read quotes of travel, searching, finding, learning.
Finally, I write my own chapter.
Finally, I go. I go. I go.
There is a misunderstanding surrounding people with a strong travel instinct. It is less about running than it is about being present. I fly, yes, I run, yes, but ultimately my flight, my path, is to something greater than that which I left. I am seeking to be here, in this space, in this strange country with new smells and people I can not understand or words I can not read. I am here at a shrine, I am here at this restaurant. I am here at this train station lost in a sea of people. I am talking to these people, I am experiencing their world. I am grateful to be here, right now, in this space. I am on the wrong side of the road again, I am lost in my life but I am here, presently, realizing my “lost.”
I will take this home with me, I will not forget what I learn while I am gone. I will remind myself to be present in my own country, surrounded by people I love, who are familiar, who know me. I will stand on the proper side of the street, I will understand the menus, the signs, the streets. I will be there, in full, knowing I will leave again. And I will leave again. I will repeat this pattern until I can no longer breathe the air of our world, until I can barely shuffle the lines at the airport. I will be this person, having shed my uncertainty, and when I wake up in my life after this one, I will hold not a single regret; for those I met in every country, those strangers who became friends, those cuisines that became familiar, will always be a part of who I am, who my children know, who my grandchildren will strive to be.
At least, that is what I hope for. Perhaps, even, one day my children’s children will stand in a travel isle at their book store reading a story of their Grandmother and maybe, I can dream as much, they, too, will go. They will go. They will go.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Last night I drove in to town for the SMC Seattle event my friend Maya put together. I say “Drove In To Town” because home-girl lives outside the city and in the past year has transformed from a Houston-size-city-girl to someone who can’t navigate anything bigger than Wichita Falls.
I put the address in to my GPS and my iPhone puts up a message, “Go toward the fucking Space Needle. Then ARRIVE IN SE-ATTLE.” No, I swear it said that. I’m pretty sure my phone called me a moron.
Forty minutes of sitting on a floating bridge head-bobbing to people in cars next to me as we do a dance of this-or-that-lane later, I fight, literally, to arrive at a parking spot that costs more than 5 half gallons of ultra organic milk flown in over night from France. Thankfully I wasn’t even late.
Walking in to the room now shaking and feeling the traffic sweat stains lining my shirt, I find exactly four people I know. No! Five! I met one other girl briefly a few years ago. That counts. There is a large crowd of faces. There are all types of people with vaginas and five - tops - people with the other parts. I find a group of three young men standing in a sea of women. “Uh, you know this is about connecting to MOMMY BLOGGERS,” I offer in case they didn’t realize we’d all have baggage and thought this was some sort of freak-awesome party. I sort of look out for people like that. Setting expectations and all.
The panel itself was lovely. All the panelist were genuinely fabulous and Maya couldn’t have found a more diverse group to speak. Sitting next to me was the most lovely, sincere, amazing new-blogger and local TV personality Jenni. She’s pretty much an angel. In our answers she’s talking about how to leverage her traffic to give things to charity or work with brands to benefit the homeless or solving world peace and helping all children get medical attention and I’m all, “OH! You know what? VEEV sent me a bottle of this amazing Acai Berry spirit and I LOVED IT…. IT WAS GOOD, Y’ALL. NO REALLY.” I lost brain cells just opening my mouth. Thankfully the audience laughed with me most of the night. There’s something comforting about hearing laughter. Not in the way that the cheerleaders and jocks did in Jr. High the time you had your skirt tucked in to your pantyhose walking down the hallway, but more in the sense that you feel like THEY GET YOU.
In fact, I felt that a lot last night.
As we talked, sharing our stories, our experiences, it wasn’t a social media discussion anymore: It was people connecting as people. It was all up in the “EYE ARE ELL” as I saw people smile or nod or laugh or start to doze off. These are the faces behind the computers. These are people tweeting shit that comes out of my mouth. Shit that actually turned out pretty decent since they made it so easy to be honest and real.
In a sea of perfect strangers, I connected with so many women and exactly two men. Sarcasm, geekhood, stories. It was a space where I could be myself, even if less than perfect, or self conscious, or regretting my shoe decision. In the end, Scott Berkun was right, a crowd of strangers is really just a group of future friends.
And nobody has to be pictured naked.
It’s been one of those weeks. The kind that I blame my parents for setting my expectations of life too high.
Why the hell did they tell me I could be anything I wanted?
That I could achieve! And that I was smart! And OH SO ABLE TO DO ANYTHING I WANT!
‘Cause that’s just a mid-life crisis waiting to happen. And here I am: mid-life. crisising.
I enjoy my work. I enjoy my children. I enjoy the sunshine. But I can’t figure out where I want to live. I still don’t know exactly what I want to be when I grow up. (A woman who codes! AWESOME CODE! But .. but.. I can also do marketing! MARKETING? Wait, write a book. I’m WRITING A BOOK IN ALL CAPS!)
So as a favor to my children I’ve decided to be very very realistic with them.
“Honey, you’re very pretty. You would make a great pole dancer. You won’t have to put out any money for education AND you’ll make three times what your father and I make in a year.”
“Sweetie, yes, you very funny. Not funny enough to be a comedian, say, but maybe funny enough to work as an accountant. You might lose all your hair and drink a lot of beer. I’m just sayin’, you might want to marry early…”
My children were playing “little fucker” at Home Depot?
Now, look, before you get all judgy, let me just preface this with a post I wrote two years ago to prove I have no idea what I’m doing as a parent. Ok? I had a plan. I had a theory. That theory sucked.
In retrospect, the “time and a place” mantra could work. Teaching your children that anyone can say anything as long as it is the appropriate time and place is rather discerning. I don’t want to shield my children from the world but would rather teach them how to navigate the gray areas of society including cussing, standing up for oneself and when an appropriate toilet joke is funny.
I guess at 5 and 3 they’re not discerning yet.
Case in point:
Mr. Flinger and I took the entire family to Home Depot. (Clue One: that’s best to do on a date because children lose their ever-loving-minds.) We have expectations that mimic parents of the 70’s. We tell you to sit in the cart and you will sit, wait, talk quietly among yourselves until we have thoroughly discussed the options of shiny silver and chrome for the new locks to the house AND YOU WILL LIKE IT.
The children looked at us with wide eye, “But we don’t have any toys,” LB gasped. “Use your hands. You know what makes a good toy? Your hands. And? You won’t lose them and you’ll never get them taken away,” Mr Flinger solves the problem. (Side note: This has been repeated to me half a dozen times so it did in fact make an impression.)
The children begin playing “where is thumpkin” and other hand gesture games appropriate for their age.
The discussions went forward about types of locks, shiny locks, keyed locks, locks of what size and shape and on and on and on until I hear, or I think I hear, one child say, “Hey.. Fucker!” and the other reply back, “Hey! Fucker!” I glance up at two men standing next to the cart where the children are sitting. Their expressions are both half laughing half shocked. I stride over, “Did they just say….” “I think so,” replied one man. “Oh, uh, I don’t know WHOS kids those are. No, I’m kidding, I’m the proud mother.” He looks me up and down and says, “Oh, you’re their mom?” “Yes, and .. uh.. I’m sorry… Uh.. lemme just move them…”
I lean forward as the children continue their “little fucker” play which involved a thumb telling the other thumb he’s a little fucker and then the other thumb quips, “hey! fucker!”
A proud mother indeed.
Since that time I’ve changed some things around here. I now say “Oh MOTHER OF PEARL” and “For PETES SAKE” and “HOLY MOSES.” I like to think I’m still a little badass. In fact, sometimes I know I’m in the company of other mothers when someone shouts out, “SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!” in exclamation.
Having children truly does change you in ways you never could anticipate. It’s true. Those little fuckers.
We’ve practiced this routine for years. Perhaps not exactly as performed, but we’ve spent years slowing building to this precipice. I know my partner is standing on the platform. I know my pole awaits. I am as prepared as I’ll ever be as I climb the steep set of narrow stairs one after another.
My feet dangle on the narrow step, my heels hanging off abrupt edges. If there was wind in the arena, I would feel it brushing the bottoms of my feet as I walk higher than air.
I dare not glance down. I dare not look up.
The lights dim and I take my place. My partner smiles on the other side of the wire, on his own platform. We lock eyes. It is time.
They hand me my pole, I steady myself as I’ve been taught. I find a balancing point, slide my foot forward and regroup. I re-balance. I hear a gasp from the audience as I waver, only a moment, only once. I am solid. I visualize all the times I made it across the tiny wire. I visualize my feet gripping to stabilize. I lock eyes with my partner as he is handed his own pole, his own weights, his own balance.
We begin to move together.
More weights are giving to us, one at a time, to one side and then another. We rebalance, we lock eyes, we smile. People are amazed, or I imagine them being so. We tune out the music, we tune out the lights. We focus, straining, to stay in tune. Balancing, wavering, steady.. steady…
It is at this point in the performance I reach my limit. I realize one more spec, one more twinge, one more slight breeze would knock me down. I dare not look down. I dare not think. Instead I repeat in a mantra, “I am grateful, I am steady, I am whole.” Forward I inch. Forward he moves. We near the middle and then…
One small expectation unmet, one tiny negative thought, the hug from a friend when my eyes began to mist. One tiny brush of wind and I’m down. I hear a collective gasp, I see the pole fall to the right as I tip to the left. It is only a moment but time slows and I fall, fall, out of my partners gaze out of my routine. I fool nobody as I grasp for my last location, reaching, scrambling, unable to go back.
The net, thank god for the net, bends under my weight magnified by gravity. It recoils twice and I’m back in a small bounce.
The show must go on.
I climb the narrow steps, my heels hanging off abrupt edges. If there was wind in the arena, I would feel it brushing the bottoms of my feet as I walk higher than air.
I dare not glance down. I dare not look up.
I recently posted a photo. The title was, “Such a thin, small window separates us. Literally and Figuratively.” I watched the homeless man wander on the sidewalk as I sipped a latte. I looked for him later to give him a few dollars but he had already left by the time I stepped out to find him.
It is in this spirit that several amazing people have entered our lives recently.
It’s been a rough year. It’s been a tough month. It’s been a really hard few weeks.
We’ve been discussing our life a lot lately. We both feel that the culmination of events of the past six years have brought us to this point. There’s a boiling point we’ve reached, a cliff, the end-of-a-sidewalk, if you will.
It’s a bit like it’s now or never. Change or fail.
The robbery was the last straw for us. At each turn we told each other things were looking up, we were going to be ok, everything was going to be fine. Every time we felt optimistic, life crashed on us. Hard.
The past week has been one of heart break. The finances, the insurance bills, the medical bills, changing locks and accounts and credit cards. But there’s more to being robbed than the actual act itself and the corresponding physical consequences. It brings on an entire line of questioning about humanity. Why do we try to be optimistic? What kind of person steals from others? From children? Before Christmas?
At this precipice we lingered. We teetered on hope, rocked on doubt. Our tiny community we love so much, the people we’ve gathered close both physically and emotionally, the schools we hand picked for our children: Each of these came in to question. Did we really settle in the best home possible? Would these be the type of teens our kids could interact with?
And then the unimaginable happens. You happen.
Sizzle offers us a Wii. “I have one to give away and it needs to go to you and your children.” She glows in an adorable knit hat the day we meet. She hugs the best type of “I’ve known you forever” hug. She smiles as waves away my thank yous.
Others come up and gift our holidays. Amanda, gifts us Amazon. (Yes, ALL OF AMAZON. Chick’s got connections.)
Friends gather together, scheming, planning. Secretly they raise money without us even knowing.
And, on her very birthday party, intended to celebrate her life, my own best friend gifts to ME something amazing.
More than money, she gifts love, surprise, and joy.
And she videos the whole thing.** (new! Now Rated Oma Approved: Less Cussing)
This Christmas is one I will never forget. Not because of the robbery or the water heater or the stitches or the condo foreclosing. I will remember it because you loved us. From way out there, beyond the physical, you loved us.
Thank you for restoring humanity for me. For reminding me there is love and joy.
Especially at Christmas.
I’ve been sleepy since I was 16 years old. The first doctor I saw, during cross country season my Junior Year of High School, dismissed my complaints. “Look,” he leaned forward, his hands resting on this thighs, smelling of soap, “You’re not tired. You can’t be tired. You run 5 miles a day and get straight A’s. You’re not tired.”
But I *WAS* tired.
I continued to be tired and get dismissed for the next 19 years. I slept through college. Literally. I fell asleep regularly on my books in the library, drooling between pages of my Physics book. I went to bed at 9PM every night and fell asleep during movies my roommates and I would rent. I took three hour naps regularly and barely made it through until evening.
After having our daughter, I was attempting sleep following the 24 hours of labor, emergency C-section, medicated debacle. My oxygen monitor kept rining and a nurse would have to run in and reset it. I was frustrated, tired, and not able to sleep after 30 hours of exhaustion. “Has anyone ever talked to you about Sleep Apnea?” one nurse finally asked. “No?”
In fact, nobody would talk to me about it again for years to come. Doctors explored yeast imbalance, gluten intolerance, PCOS, Chronic Fatigue and so on. I’ve taken hormones and pills. I’ve done diet after diet to increase energy.
Still, though, I was sleepy.
At the urging of a very dear friend, I signed up for a sleep study. She’s probably the seventeenth person to tell me to do it, but it stuck. She’s just sort of that influential. Or that good at nagging. Either way.
I went in, got hooked up to a thousand wires and went to sleep. I say “sleep” not in a traditional sense but in a “wow, this is a lot of crap hooked up to me and I CAN’T ROLL OVER WHERE AM I WHY IS THIS UP MY NOSE” sort of way. Apparently it was just enough, though, for them to get a read on my sleeping habits.
The next morning I was standing talking to some random dude checking me out (literal and figurative here) at the grocery store. As he scanned the items in to the cart, he was staring at my boobs. I got annoyed, made light small talk and walked away thinking what a perv he was.
I got in the car, looked in the mirror and found what one may think is a hicky but by some sort of big mouthed gorilla.
It was the remaining redness from the wires the previous night.
Later in the afternoon I headed in to get my final diagnoses. Apnea. I have Sleep Apnea. I stop breathing TWENTY-SIX times an hour. Idealy you stop breathing, oh you know, NEVER. But apparently anything less than 5 times an hour is acceptable.
No wonder I’ve been tired for 20 years. Twenty. Years.
“You’ll be wearing a what to bed?” Mr. Flinger asks when I tell him the diagnoses. “A CPAP machine” I say. He looks at me and I know what he’s thinking, “You mean, like the thing Baby O had hooked up to him when he was in the NICU?” “Ayup” I reply. “Wow.. um.. that’s.. uh.. sexy…”
I realize I’m going to look like something out of some sci-fi movie at night now. “Hey Baby, come on over here and.. wait, hangon.. let me move my mask, oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to hit you with that tube… oh hangon, the air is blowing on us, just a sec….” I get that I’m at my mid-thirty sexual peak and I’m royally screwed, not in the good way, of having any normal nights again.
But you know? Maybe I can use that. Something out of a sci-fi movie, eh?
Yea, that works.
Look, I get it. I was gone an entire 7 days. I’ve done Europe a total of three weeks in my life and I’ve only been in places where the water is drinkable and people mainly know English, even if they refuse to let on to that fact.
So when I say “World” here, I mean my very tiny portion of exploration. “World” is relative.
Traditionally I’ve enjoyed often moving locations, lands, homes. The year I spent back in Houston as an adult, taught me the value of community. My lesson that year showed me however much I hated living in the flat, humid land, I still met enough people to miss. I felt nearly grateful for this fact: A place is made up primarily of the people who occupy it.
It is in this vein I travel and recount my stories accordingly.
It’s been said a thousand times, but finding your tribe, your people, is critical. I believe there is a tribe for each of your personas. The people at EECI are my tribe. They are my geeky, hilarious, nerdly, drunk tribe. And I can not tell you how much I adore them all.
Brothers who buy you beer.
These people are giving, smart, and kind. They are funny, sarcastic, and punchy. These are my kind of people. We can talk families, code, business. We can laugh loudly and sing even more so. And the next day we can sit down and problem solve as a team.
If only we saw each other daily, what a productive team we would be. Or a very very drunk one, I’m not sure.
When asked “What do you want to be when you grow up, little lady?” I never would have said, “I’d like to market a small company and an amazing software product that enables people to publish on the web!”
I think I said I wanted to be a ballerina.
My what a long way I’ve come.
The magic, it is there. After hours, well in to the night, we find a space to share bits of ourselves the sunlight doesn’t see. We share stories of children and dreams and business and goals.
Maybe we even cry for a minute, just a minute, because we’re safe.
It’s not unlike other conferences people with similar interests attend. It’s just that this is our space, the unique space of code and logic and sarcastic joy. It’s un-commercialized, it’s raw, it’s pure. It’s real, still.
I love its realness.
Fans and Figures share notes of success. There is no clique one better than another. We help each other push forward in our careers.
I wish the mom community could do the same, asking nothing in return except the joy of knowing you were part of something bigger than yourself.
So, then, what did I learn while traveling? What did I come to think of about Holland?
It’s more than the realization that the world truly is smaller than we think. It is more than knowing the food is better, the culture is open, the bikes are abundant. No, it is much more than celebrating the 3 October with a motley crew of nerds.
It is a sense of home. That… that is what I learned this year in Leiden, a town I’ve spent a total of five days in. Because these nerds are my home, however cheesy that makes me.
**Totally related: I’m doing a liver cleanse as mandated by my Doc starting tomorrow. Care to witness the thrashing of teeth and gnawing of cuss words? Veggies and a protein shake only for ten days. The price I pay for good beer. Totally. Worth. It.
53 guests here now.