Author Archives: garrick

Quiet Days are the Second Hardest

TL;DR: Over the past year, I’ve been trying to increase the routine and rhythm in my day for one primary reason – increase and improve creative energy. Essentially, reduce my daily cognitive load for daily tasks thereby increasing the chances of ‘shower thinking’ throughout the day.

Everyday, immediately after I step out of the shower, I floss my teeth. Perhaps it’s not the most logical place in the day for dental hygene. But this is the place in my day where it stuck. For the past six months reaching for the floss at that point in my day has become so natural and routine that I’ve been able to build another behavior atop it – cleaning my glasses. With these small changes in my routine established, I’ve decided to implement some additional changes elsewhere in my day.

The first – wake up before 6:30am each day. As you might expect, this is significantly easier if you retire earlier. I’m sure that’s quite obvious to you. It was a small epiphany to me. Waking up earlier (usually between 5:30 and 6am depending on my Zeo) has reminded me how much I enjoy sunrises. The slowly brightening glow of morning – the chirp of the birds. Even in winter. Arising earlier has also confirmed that I’m a better father once I’ve had an hour to prepare myself for the day. Rather feeling the days have jerky, jarring stops and starts – my days now flow together. I know decisions I make in the evening have a direct impact my morning. Every minute past 10pm means another minute past 6am. Every minute past 6am is another minute I don’t have before the kids want breakfast. Means another minute I don’t have for preparing myself for the day.

Since last October, preparing myself for the day has meant Morning Pages. Three handwritten pages, stream of conscious. Each page takes about 15 minutes. Timed right, the morning sun starts to come through the kitchen window about half way down the third page – the same point the themes in my writing start to come together. There are usually a couple of small To Dos lurking in those pages. Without Morning Pages, I’m sure they’d just haunt me. Instead, they’re completed immediately after putting the notebook away.

Right now, I’m in the midst of training for the Get In Gear Half Marathon. Now, every other day commit to a short (3-5 mile) run before starting any client work. I tried evening runs and afternoon runs. Morning runs have been the most successful. By a long shot.

To track all this I picked up a giant all year calendar from NeuYear.net and a handful of thin whiteboard markers.

garrick-neuyear

Then I went at it all Giles Bowkett-style.

All habits that are yet to stabilize are up there. The index card clipped to the top declares 8 habits and 8 colors. Lines marked across days I complete them.

Things that have been easy to instill that I’m still tracking:

  • going to be earlier
  • waking up earlier
  • writing morning pages
  • inbox zero (yes, suprisingly easy sustain inbox zero. More on that later)

“Quiet Days” – defined as not ever, never, directing attention to audio or video media created by someone else. It’s one of the more difficult challenges. Hell, I haven’t marked it off once yet – that’s how difficult I’m finding it. My theory is that every time I turn on the radio (or Pandora, or watch a TED video, or or or or) I’m choosing to not let my ‘shower brain’ offer a clever solution to a problem it’s been working on. Small meditations while driving are amazingly helpful, and so much more peaceful than the fall of civilization presented on broadcast radio. The challenge is in breaking my long-term habit of listening to punk rock and drum-n-bass while working on my hardest problems. The music hurts as much as it once helped. Once I get the first success, I’ll know how to get the second and the third. Yet, even without having a single day crossed off, “Quiet Days” are still the second hardest.

The hardest habit is writing daily for the book project. The mark is 1000 words a day. A humble goal. There are very few marks on the calendar. Fewer than a dozen across 10 weeks. That’s not progress. Writers know this. This isn’t news. Writing is hard work. This is exactly why I’m building routines into my day. The book project is why I’m changing everything else around my. To increase the creative energy I can commit to writing.

Late last year, I read ‘The Power of Full Engagment’, I’ve probably mentioned it to you in a very impassioned tone. It’s good. Here’s what I took away from it: “you’re probably spending your creative energies on things you can do without thinking. Work those things into a routine – and you’ll have the creative energies to do meaningful work.”

The promise is so compelling. Results?

While it’s only 10 weeks into the new year, I’m seeing significant increases in my creative energies. I’m procrastinating far less, I’m feeling more calm, and I’ve sketched out some fresh ideas for projects that have been collecting dust for years. It feels good to move those project forward. And I’m starting to sense the early stages of new projects, new directions, new challenges. Ones that I knew I wouldn’t have noticed with all the cognitive load of determining when I should floss my teeth or clean my glasses.

There. One thousand words.

Best Buy Should Partner with Jiffy Lube Next

My last engagement with Best Buy concluded 4 years ago – and even then it was an organization under a radical transformation. These challenges have only increased in the past year. Additionally, many of digital savvy members of Best Buy’s leadership have left. Yet, I’m still quite optimistic for BBY’s future. I still think Best Buy has a unique opportunity to be an inspiring, forward-looking company – much as Microsoft and Google.

The most interesting move in this direction is the partnership between Best Buy and Target – where Best Buy’s Geek Squad staff Target’s electronics desk. They’ll be at 29 Targets – including the one down the street from me (curiously – not T1). This is a chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter partnership that makes you wonder what it didn’t happen sooner. For Best Buy – it exposes the GeekSquad brand and core expertise to a broader customer-base in a venue not know for it’s electronics expertise. Huge win.

Additionally, two other smaller, focused Best Buy stores seem very interesting. The first is the Best Buy Express kiosks in airports and malls (a partnership with Zoom Systems). All the most popular, in demand, portable electronics in a bookcase sized format. My last business trip, I picked up replacement noise-cancelling headphones from a BBY Express on my way to the gate. Easily my fondest Best Buy experience. The second is the Best Buy Mobile stores – focusing on primarily on mobile phones. In my neighborhood, there’s one just across the highway from a Best Buy big box stores. The smaller footprint and focus on portable devices makes them very attractive for strip malls with tight storefronts and likely foot traffic.

Best Buy has extended the Geek Squad brand, portable electronics segment, and mobile phone segment beyond the big box store. What’s next? What would be inspiring and forward looking?

In 1956, Frank Lloyd Wright built a gas station in Cloquet, MN. The architecture was based off his Broadacre City project – his vision of a modern urban landscape. Of the gas station he said:

“Watch the little gas station – In our present gasoline service station you may see a crude beginning to such important advance decentralization” – Frank Lloyd Wright

Today, our cars are mostly gasoline-powered mobile computers with wheels. Some of them are even electric mobile computers on wheels with gasoline backup. Whether it’s the electronics with the cars going on the fritz, the additional electronics we put in them not working right, or the two not talking to each other in the way we want our vehicles are now need computer support. Our GeekSquad needs have moved from the home office to the living room to our cars.

For years Best Buy has sold and installed car stereos. Though, it’s never felt like they really cared about that part of the store (same for home appliances). So, I say, send the car stereo section out into the world – just as they have with the GeekSquad and the portable electronics. Partner with someone that knows automotive, with a number of convenient, small footprint locations, and a well-known brand. Someone like JiffyLube. Use the partnership to promote the next generation of automobile technologies: self-driving cars, electric charging stations, natural gas refueling stations, replacement batteries, new interfaces between driver and machine, new passenger entertainment options, the next generation wayfinding systems.

Do something no one else can do – create a place that makes the future of the American car a reality.

Update 2 Apr 2013
Best Buy Co. and Target Corp. have ended their experimental Geek Squad partnership, the Star Tribune has confirmed. Blah. Thanks to MJK for the pointer.

[UPDATED] The Business-to-Business Sales Tax Discourages Investment in Minnesota

Update 8 March: Victory! – Dayton drop b2b sales tax proposal

This morning at the MHTA legislative action briefing, I heard many stories of Minnesota based companies planning out-of-state moves and employment changes ahead of Governor Dayton’s proposed business to business sales tax.

Here is the message I sent the Governor, my state senator, and my state representative.

“For the last 10 year my small business has helped Minnesota companies make strategic investments in innovative technologies. The B2B sales tax discourages my clients from engaging my services and therefore discourages investing in Minnesota’s future.”

I encourage you to send a similar message to your representatives.

Client Launches: ExperienceLife.com Now Responsive

From the official press release on my recent work with the ExperienceLife.com team

“‘Our goal is to provide readers with a positive, consistent experience and easy access no matter where they are and regardless of their chosen device, be it a desktop computer, laptop, e-reader, tablet or smartphone’, says Jamie Martin, Experience Life’s digital initiatives manager. ‘Mobile traffic to our site has increased significantly over the past two years, with more than a third of our traffic coming from smartphones and tablets. Our new responsively designed site allows for the flexibility readers want and deserve.’”

Also includes this quote from me:

“One of the most cost-effective ways for web publishers to make sure their sites offer real functionality no matter their users’ choice of platform or screen size is through responsive design.”

Fine, I’ll admit that email is scheumorphic.

  • ‘Forward’
  • ‘CC’
  • ‘BCC’
  • ‘Signature’

All of these elements are carry-overs from, not only an archaic communication model, but an extremely bureaucratic one. One where high value is placed on traceability and formality. I suspect those two concepts by themselves result in higher communicatations costs, reduced message volume, and higher default priority.

Do we have a communication interface that reflects our current world? One where communication is casual, informal, cheap, and 99.9% of it is unwanted, unactionable, and otherwise unnecessary?

Email’s IMAP protocol could still support this, it’s the interface on the client side that requires the most significant updating.

And I don’t mean echoing the interoffice envelope.

Taking Stock

“So if you are in the position to have somebody else handle your flow while you tend to your stock: awesome. But that’s true for almost no one, and will (I think?) be true for even fewer over time, so you need to have your own plan for this stuff.” – Robin Sloan

A continuous stream can so quickly turns into background static. Just turn on any radio station or cable news station for proof. So much inane, meaningless, chatter between overly dramatic transitions to maintain attention and distract people from taking stock.

Infrequency has the benefit of being a novelty. Additionally, from what I see in this new publishing world – there’s an inverse relationship between frequency of publishing and positive impact on reputation.

I predict that if these real-time marketing channels (tumblr, twitter, facebook, et al) stick around another 5 years we’ll see a thriving industry of part-time, entry-level people dealing with it. Hell, I predict that these hired hands will handle most internet interactions for their clients. The role somewhere between personal assistant and PR agency. Especially those clients who feel the potential disruption of their own psychological flow is too significant to risk.

Perhaps, this is even something true fans will do out of their love. This final scenario may be the only saving grace for social media as we know it.

P.S. Proving my point, I was just pointed to Robin’s post this morning and it’s more than 3 years old. Significance continues to trump timeliness.

Outsides

Everything has a price.

At the one of the last jobs where I was an employee – my immediate manager was always busy and happy to work long hours. Then, I observed that he didn’t really enjoy spending time with his family. Then and now, I see people commuting 45+ minutes each way, for decades, to live where they want to live. But they’re commuting, and spending more time in an office and on the road then in their dream house with their life partners. Any time I feel a pang of envy, I remind myself, I don’t know what price they paying. But, it’s likely much higher than I’m comfortable with.

“Years later, I find out that the person, the one I modeled my creative habits after, was going through a bit of a cocaine addiction at the time.” – Ze Frank

13. Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside. –
The more you practice your craft, the less you confuse worldly rewards with spiritual rewards, and vice versa.

“You are your own problem, and you always will be. Also worth noting: you’re the biggest problem you’ll ever have. Better figure out how to deal with yourself.” – Jason Zabel

Dayton’s Sales Tax Proposal is Bad for Minnesota’s Creative Economy

For the past 10 years I’ve owned and managed a small business selling consulting services to larger businesses. I’ve been fortunate that Minnesota’s business climate has allowed me to support my growing family and work with some great Minnesota businesses. While many of my clients have been based in Minnesota, many others have been based throughout the United States: California, Colorado, and Florida.

Under the Governor Dayton’s proposed tax plan my small business would be required to collect a 5.5% sales tax on our services. This will immediately make my business 5.5% less competitive in Minnesota and around the US. But it’s more than just 5.5%, it a adds a layer of complexity to my day-to-day operations, eating into my overall profitability, and discouraging me from engaging other businesses to support my clients. Taxing professional services will mean not just lower profitability but decreased business activity for many of the great creative service firms Minnesota is known for: design, advertising, architecture.

The past couple years have been some of the most challenging for my business – it’s been a slow and arduous recovery and I’m just now starting to see some of the profitability I once enjoyed. The addition of a sales tax burden on my business will significantly impair my ability to grow my business in Minnesota.

I’m a small business owner, I’d rather not be a smaller business owner. I’m against Governor Dayton’s Sales Tax proposal – I encourage you to vote against it as well.

Kubbchuck’s 2013 Loppet Tournament Recap

Over on the Kubbchucks blog I wrote up our 2013 Loppet tournament experience. Here’s a quick snippet:

“Jim and Jamie readily cleaned up the 5 kubbs in the corner leaving the that lone sixth kubb for me and two batons. I took a deep breath, focused on the sixth kubb and threw – striking the sixth kubb and knocking it into the baseline behind it. With my final baton I took out the remaining baseline. This pulled us ahead, made it our game to lose, and a few short turns later we did.”

3 Principles of Success for Independent Professionals

Garrick,
Hi! I’ve heard about you for a few years now (originally from Richard Fink), and have enjoyed reading your blog posts. As a web designer who’s striking out on his own to learn programming and build his own business, do you have any advice? Cheers! – Josh

For the past decade, I’ve been working for myself. Over that time, I’ve had good fortune and made significant missteps. The services I offer my clients today are purposefully and dramatically different from those I offered my first day in business. Across all those challenges – I’ve found 3 constants:

  1. Define what success is for you. Eliminate everything else.
    You can’t have someone else’s success. It’s theirs. It doesn’t fit you in the same way their clothes don’t fit you. The longer you chase after someone else’s success – the further you’ll drift from the success that is uniquely yours. And the longer you’ll be uncomfortable. The world obey’s Sturgeon’s Law. Your success lay somewhere within the remaining 10%. Each day, pursue something that matches your definition of success while eliminating something that doesn’t. This means saying ‘no’. You must do it deliberately. The world doesn’t believe you want to be successful. Stop proving it right.
  2. Force work to fit into your life. It’s the only way you’ll have one.
    In your preferred calendar, enter regular fixed appointments for exercise, steps toward personal life goals, time with loved ones, time away from technology. Always, always keep them. Work is insidious and will tempt you to blow them off. Don’t let the bastard. It’ll kill you. I’m serious – the Japanese even have a word for it – karōshi.
  3. Find a good accountant specializing in independent professionals. Treat them like a partner.
    Good accountants are worth every dollar you pay them. Ones that expertly handle both your personal and professional finances – doubly so. They will force you to be honest with yourself and your business. This honesty brings out who you really are – see #1.

Big Beer Year #2: Flanders Brown from Brewing Classic Styles

The second beer of the Big Beer Year is Jamil Zainascheff’s Flanders Brown in as described in his book Brewing Classic Styles.

Well mostly. I made a couple malt substitutions based on availability and quantity tweaks to get closer to the numbers he specifies in the book.

On the process side, inspired by my torn bag mishap, I decided to do an overnight mash in the cooler. Last night, after I crushed the grain, I heated 7 gallons of water to in my boil pot. As that heated, I put the crushed grain in the bag and put the bag in the cooler. When the water got to temp 162°F (I estimate ~10°F loss once the water hits the grain) I poured it into the cooler. Once all the water was in, I jostled the bag around to make sure all the grain was sufficiently wet, folded the end of the bag outside the cooler and closed the lid. And ignored it until morning.

After I made a starter from 2 packages of Wyeast 1056, I went to bed. Easy.

This morning, I pulled 6 gallons off the still warm mash, boiled for 60 minutes, cooled the wort, and pitched the starter all by 10am. Brilliant.

Recipe:
8# Dingemens Pilsner Malt
4# Belgian Munich
12oz Belgian CaraMunich
8oz Belgian Aromatic
8oz American White Wheat
5oz Belgian Special B
1oz Belgian Debittered Black Malt

1oz Kent Goldings 5.8AA @ 60min
BU:GU: 0.24

Wyeast 1056 American Ale in the primary
Wyeast Roeselare Belgian Blend in the secondary

1.083 OG (Hopville says this is 82% efficiency – WOOT!)
1.015 FG (estimated)
18.5 IBU
9.1 ABV (estimate. perhaps this is an Imperial Oud Bruin?)

Flanders Brown from BSC @ Hopville

I need to keep an eye out for the DMS levels in this beer. If they’re at all noticeable then next time mash with 7.5-8 gallons of water so there’s at least 1.5 gallons to accommodate a 90 minute boil.

Update 6 Feb 2013

On Sunday, February 3rd, I pitched a starter of Roeselare right atop the finishing American Ale. Tonight, as I was checking what the gravity was (1.011) and what it should be according to BSC (1.012) I re-read the brewing instructions. It clearly says, move the beer to the secondary before pitching the Roeselare. Heck – my notes just a few lines above here say the same thing. Oh boy. Well, maybe I cut my losses and bottle this once the Roeselare completely falls – independent of sourness. Drat.

Update 5 Apr 2013

Arg, this batch turned out thin, grainy, and fusel-y with only the slightest background hint of the full rich, red-wine-iness I love in Oud Bruins. I’m pretty sure there are 3 culprits: inept sparge technique, weak yeast starter, and pitching the Roselare before removing the 1056. I don’t expect it to get better with age. Learning experience for sure. Level up! I’m interested to see what the judges at the NHC this weekend suggest.

Update 18 Apr 2013

This beer received a 27 & 30 @ NCH Round 1. Higher than I anticipated. Primary fault identified by the judges: diacetyl (caused by weak yeast & too warm storage) and lack of complexity (I’m blaming the sparge & yeast)

714PH4X5FRL._SS500_.gif

Renewing My Faith in the Promise of the Internet

Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: How to Avoid Huge Ships

I’m dating myself when I say this but…

to me, the promise of the internet is a joke that everyone writes the punchline for.

All the reviews on here – admit this.

Even the pricing arbitrage bots get into the jokes – 3rd party pricing goes from $173.63 – $1020.34 + shipping.

Notice, the book was originally published in 1993. While Amazon says March, I suspect September is truthier.

Your Minimum Viable Product is Processing Credit Cards

If you’re building any sort of web service or mobile app and you can’t yet receive money from people – stop. Right now. Stop. For all that is right in the world – stop.

If you can’t process credit cards right now – you don’t have a product and you barely have a business. Your minimum viable product isn’t _would_ someone pay for it at some price, it’s _can_ someone pay for it at any price. You could be selling nothing right now – I don’t care. You need to figure out how to process credit cards. So, the exact moment you have anything to sell – you’re ready to make that first sale.

Sure, there’s still something of a taboo around asking people to pay for software especially browser-based software – and other text work. Something about a culture of free, marginal cost is $0, economies of scale, SEO-findability, marketshare, blah, blah, blah. It’s bullshit. Part of it’s a remnant from a time when processing credit cards was hard, required merchant accounts, and more security than a $90 HTTPS certificate. The other part is people whose business is to turn interesting software companies into massively awkward advertising companies (MAAC) before selling their interest for a huge profit.

Neither of these things really a problem – the high of making your first sale will quickly evaporate both these notions. There’s a reason restaurants frame their first dollar received. That first sale is a vote of confidence, a recognition of value received, and most of all a ‘Thank you’.

Unlike even 5 years ago, there are plenty of services that will happily process credit card transaction for you – from the ubiquitous PayPal, to Stripe.com, Amazon Payments, and Google Checkout, the list goes on and on. For mobile apps – all the app storefronts will handle payments for you. One caveat – you need to price your app above $0.

Not asking for money guarantees you’ll never receive it. Asking for something only improves your chances that you’ll receive something. Based on my experience, for small services 1% of the people will give you an average of $1. This conversion rate can easily cover hosting costs for a year. It only goes up from there.

Though, the primary benefit of being able to take money isn’t really about being able to take money.

It’s about seeing your product through your potential customers’ eyes. Who they are? Which aspects of what you’re building are most valuable to them? What’s the most valuable thing you could build that they’d open their wallet for? Build that atop your payment processing system. Done. With enough customers, we can talk about bundling features into different payment tiers. Even completely different products. That’s down the road. But now that mindset exists, the technical capability exists, more paths to success open up. All in this small shift from $0 to >$0.

This isn’t even specific to building software – this is for anyone that creates something and distributes it online. Late last year I paid $250 for a weekly 5 minute video series. Announcements of new videos are distributed via email (one of the few emails I look forward to each week). The videos themselves live on Youtube. Last I heard, 160 others had paid as well. That’s $40,000 gross – atop an email with a YouTube link – from the sheer audacity of asking for real money for a year of creative work.

Brew Day for the 2012 Hop Clearance

Today was brew day for the 2012 Hop Clearance and it could have gone much better. I forgot to put the false bottom in the brew pot (that’s step 1, even before turning on the burner).

So, the weight of 19 pounds of grain and the heat from the bottom of the brew pot burned a hole in my BIAB grain bag. Spilling out all 19 pounds of grain loose into the mash water. Thankfully, I had a leisurely 90 minutes before I needed to separate the soon-to-be spent grain from the soon-to-be hot liquor. In an effort to maximize my ‘it came to me in the shower’ chances – I grabbed my gym bag and headed out for a quick 30 minutes on the spin bike. Once on the bike, the answer was clear:

  1. grab the spare grain bag
  2. binder clip it into the unused large, rectangular, Igloo cooler
  3. dump the contents of the brew pot into the grain bag in the cooler
  4. put cooler on bar stool and drain back into freshly-cleaned brew pot

It worked slick and the walls of the cooler provide excellent resistance in squeezing every last drop out of the grains and into the brew pot. This process showed me the value of a separate mash/lauter tun and spigots – even for BIAB (admittedly this does mostly defeat the purpose of BIAB).

With the hot liquor ready for boil, I turned back on the outdoor burners and tidied up. Fifteen minutes later the temp was still reading 140°F. Oh sure, it’s only 16°F outside and the heat of mash has melted the snow off by back patio – but push through little turkey fryer – we gotta reach 212. I dove into the depths of the summer storage side of the garage, extracted the propane tank from the grill, and tagged it in. Fifteen minutes later – still 140°F. With both tanks giving up, it was time to take 6 hot and sticky gallons of grain juice into the kitchen to boil.

The Power Burner on the range quickly brought on a boil, and I prepped my first hop addition and an impromptu recipe tweak. Turns out my 4oz bag of Northern Brewer was hiding .8oz of Saaz. Fine. This is Hop Clearance – throw it in. It does mean, I don’t have as many IBUs as I planned, so while we’re here, let’s move the 10AA Centennial from flame-out to 45min. That’ll give us 10 IBUs back.

Then, I remember it’s January – which means the outside water’s been turned off for 2 months. Which means it’ll need to get turned back on, and hoses attached, to chill the wort. Now I have something to do between dropping the Irish Moss and flame-out. Perfect.

Through all of this, the starter of Headwaters waited patiently. I pitched them around 4pm and by 7:30 there was a nice solid krausen across the entire fermenter. Win.

With all the gear, the kitchen, the back patio clean, and Hopville’s calculators giving me a 73% efficiency on the mash (hitting 1.108 rather than the estimated 1.114) I’m tentatively optimistic on this one.

BTW – the fermenter smells fantastic.

Update 7 January 2013:

It’s been so long since I’ve brewed that I’d forgotten how wonderful fermentation smells.

Update 5 April 2013:

Turned out ok. Hops seem to be quickly fading. Overall, grainy/husky and less body than I’d like. I’m finding the strong finishing bitterness quite enjoyable. Barely any carbonation came through. The 12.8% ABV is quite prominent. I’m interested to see what the judges at the NHC think this weekend.

Update 18 Apr 2013

Received a 21 & 25 @ NCH Round 1. Higher than I anticipated. Primary fault identified by the judges: acetaldehyde (caused by weak yeast). Both judges describe the hops as low – glad I put so many in.

Big Beer Year: #1 The Hop Clearance American Barleywine

One thing that beer class confirmed for me – I have a strong preference for the rich, full, maltiness of big beers. Hops I’m ambivalent about, but if a beer doesn’t have a prominent malt presence – it won’t make my Ongoing Beer List.

With this in mind, I’m planning 8 beers for 2013, each a different style with common thread: big and malty. The first of these is The Hop Clearance, a big American Barleywine that will eat the unused hops I acquired in 2012. Recipe below:

17.5 # American Two-row Pale
1.0 # Table Sugar
1.0 # American Crystal 80L
0.25# Belgian Special B
0.25# American Chocolate

2.75 oz German Northern Brewer @ 60
1.0 oz Sterling @ 60
1.0 oz US Golding @ 60

0.5 oz Centennial @ 45

0.8 oz Saaz @ 0
1.0 oz Styrian Goldings @ 0
1.0 oz Willamette @ 0

Headwaters Yeast

1.108 SG
1.014 FG (25 Jan 2013)
99 IBU
0.87 BU:GU

The Hop Clearance @ Hopville

How Kubb Saved My Life

In the summer of 2011, my third child had just turned a year old. I was just beginning to feel reconnected with the world and something approximating normal. My business was having one of its best years, in no small part to my part-time assistant. Yet, despite the optimistic signs all around me – I was still selling and working as if the world would end tomorrow. Projects I wanted to forget for clients I wanted to ignore. My regular exercise routine was pacing between my 30″ monitor and the coffee pot. I wouldn’t leave my house for days at a time. I couldn’t hide it behind my computer any more – I had lost count of Days Since I Last Shaved. My temper was getting short. The slightest inconvenience would set me off. I was making my life and my family’s life worse. Not better. I didn’t know how to stop. I was convinced that if I just worked a little harder, a little faster, held my breath just a little bit longer…everything would magically stabilize and I could exhale.

In early August, two of my favorite people in the world came to visit and set up this strange game in my backyard. A simple game of 11 square wooden blocks and 6 wooden sticks. They were a little unsure of the rules – though they knew that 5 of the wooden blocks were placed on opposing sides, the larger king – placed in middle, and each side took turns throwing the sticks at the opposing sides blocks. The other parts of game play weren’t as clear. – It didn’t matter, we played game after game for was seemed like hours. The futility of throwing wooden sticks at wooden blocks 20 feet away was rewarded by the timeless, satisfying ‘thwak’ when they met.

Kubb – they called it.

Days later, my friends continued on their journey and took their Kubb with them. Kubbless, I returned to my unhealthy downward spiral. Yet, Kubb kept whispering in my ear. A few weeks later I purchased my first Kubb set. It sat mostly unplayed, whispering to me, until my 37th birthday. Where in the middle of a mild, Minnesota winter, I invited a bunch of friends over to play. And we did.

We joked about taking this silly wooden game seriously.
We joked about playing competitively.
We joked about making team shirts.

Then, I found out City of Lakes Loppets hosts a Kubb winter tournament that’s considered the start of the competitive Kubb season. Outside in February – in Minnesota. I pulled together two friends and we entered. Walking into the tournament I remember saying to Jim, “there’s this one part of the gameplay I don’t quite understand.” He shrugged and we waited for our first game.

That first game lasted no more than 5 minutes. Same as the second. In those 2 short games – Jim, Jamie and I got just a faint whiff of the strategy permeating the game and the bowling-esque short game it can create. We tried to apply what we were learning as quickly as we could, clawing our way into the championship bracket.

After that tournament, I set up that pitch in my backyard and practiced. The long game, the short game, everything. The 3 of us would play at lunchtime downtown. It quickly became clear that we needed to hone our game for the U.S. Nationals in July. And we did.

This past summer, when I had a hard problem on a client project – I’d step outside and throw some wood. Sometimes I’d play against myself, other times I’d practice one or two aspects of the game. I found that, in pure Buddhist tradition, a successful practice required no thoughts in my head. A clear, focused mind brought a hit every time. Any single thought guaranteed a miss. It would feel like hours melted away. Yet the clock would say only 30 minutes. Sometimes 45. I was always refreshed.

I started sleeping better. I stopped drinking 2 pounds of coffee a week. My inlaws started commenting on how much color was in my complexion.

At U.S. Nationals – we thought we were ready. We weren’t. We were ice cold. Couldn’t hit anything. But we could hold on. If we didn’t lose immediately, we could drag the game on for a hour. A slow painful slog only relieved by the tournament organizer calling time. Again we clawed our way into the Championship bracket. Again we lost immediately. Two long days in the heat of the midwestern sun. I felt we should have done better. I went home – and didn’t touch my set for a week.

When I set it back up, I found a comfortable throwing style and some new delightful aspects of the game I overlooked before; there’s no technology in Kubb, no internet, no inbox, but it does have lots of friends.

But most importantly – it’s just throwing wood across the lawn. A simple game. A simple game that saved my life.

Link

A century ago, Suck.com defined good writing on the web: short sentences, self-deprecating humor via self-referential links, and the biting humor of a playful wolf pup.

Thankfully someone’s brought that to 2012:

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