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our experience with things we encounter every day


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How to manage projects properly (hint: people > process)

So, here’s something that’s sort of off this blog’s beaten path, but something I (obviously) care a great deal about: there are a lot of bad Project Managers out there. And it sort of… baffles me. We, as a group, can sometimes be pretty grossly off base and/or misaligned in our line of sight and prioritization of the things.

It’s kind of amazing how many people call themselves a project manager and yet somehow fail catastrophically at actually, properly managing projects. It’s remarkable that we as a group haven’t made a worse name for ourselves by now (though maybe we have and I’m just willfully, woefully unaware.)

Either way, I would really like to speak on behalf of all PMs out there who suck slightly less – or perhaps, if we really nail it, don’t even suck at all – and share some thoughts on what I think are key differences: namely, the things that we care to prioritize.

Here’s how to not fail at PM:

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At one end of the scale (i.e., the top priorities):

Here’s what should be at the very top of your list, when it comes to what you actually, actively, aggressively manage:

>> your team.
Treat your team right. They are your everything. If you don’t understand this or don’t agree with it, then – quite frankly – you should not be managing one. You are not above your team; you are a member of it. Don’t mistreat them on personal or professional levels, and don’t ask them to do anything that you yourself are not willing to do. Your team members are not a collective unit at your arm’s-length disposal – they are an extension of you; your worth is what you, as a group, do, and you are only as good as you allow them to be. Trust their expertise. Go to bat for them. Carry their torch.

If they’re working sixteen-hour days at the office, you should be too. If they are going into the office on Saturdays, then you are as well. If they are making a very strong recommendation for something and aren’t getting traction, throw your weight behind it, too. Embody what they do. You’ll have a richer, deeper, more complex knowledge of the project’s status and health; you’ll be able to resolve blockers in real time; and you’ll share the experience of what’s actually being sacrificed and invested by your team – and if they’re being pushed too much. Because if they fail? So do you.

>> your client or customers.
Your second job, after taking care of your team, is doing right by your client or customers. Have face to face conversations. Spend time onsite, in their offices, and learn to speak their language. Treat their time and money as your own time and money, and learn to see them as friends. If they bug you four times to go get drinks – especially if it’s done at the peak of the project – go. get. drinks. The client is trying to tell you that you matter more than the project; do them a solid and grant them the same consideration. Recognize the privilege of rapport, and make investments in the relationship. These people – not their projects – are your company’s long-term lifeline, and their project is simply the result of a relationship well-managed. Care for them accordingly.

The middle of the scale:

>> your product.
Know what’s up. Intuitively understand what the product is and learn how to care about its success.  Your client has likely invested a lot of time, money and resources to get where they are bringing your team on board, and they are probably more invested in the product than you can ever be. Regardless, do the right thing and try to get partway there. If you know of a better solution, offer it. If you think they’d be better off with a different approach, say so. It’s not just a matter of not planting landmines – it’s also a matter of paving the way for their future growth, after you.

>> your timeline, budget, or milestones.
Too many project managers out there blindly manage to black and white metrics. And I argue that they’ve got it all wrong.

I don’t mean that timeline and budgets and milestones don’t matter – they absolutely do! But managing to them is only meaningful once the other things – your team, your client, your product – are taken care of. And if you forget this and you are destroying a team or producing a faulty product for the sake of getting it to market “on time;” if you are killing morale and mistreating people for the sake of hitting a deadline, you are failing and you have already lost. You may be able to check off a box – “under budget!” – but in the context of life, no checkbox is as “real” as the way you made your team members or customers feel if you ran them over in the process. Their feelings and the way they will perceive you will last far longer than your status report.

It’s fine and fun to play The Career Games and be ambitious and productive, but ultimately, when you consider the bigger picture of What’s Actually Important in Life, timelines and budgets don’t actually qualify. That milestone you were shooting for? It may matter a great deal to the project, the program, and the people with whom you work in the short term, but in The Grand Scheme of Life, it’s all “fake.” And if you lose sight of this context, you’re losing at the biggest game of them all – that being our shared short existence.

And at the low end of the scale:

>> your documents.
Success doesn’t happen in Microsoft Project or Powerpoint. Success is evidenced in them. Pull your head out of your artifacts and go sit in the trenches with your team. Go have a face to face, heart to heart conversation with your client. If you haven’t done right in the relationships and haven’t reached reasonable rapport, haven’t committed yourself to producing a good product and don’t internalize the metrics within which you’re doing so, then you done messed up and probably need to start over – do not pass “Go;” do not collect $200. It’s only after successfully doing all of these other things that a project manager can sit down to document what’s going on.

>> your process.
I am continually surprised by the number of managers out there who make it their job to preserve and protect a process; to serve as crusader of some convention, even though it may or may not be working for their current project. If you are a Project Manager, it’s your job to manage the heart of the project, not its paperwork or process.

Here’s the final word: if your prescribed process is pulling you away from any of these other things, the decision between which one to foster and which one to disregard should, I think, be self-evident: if you choose Process over People, you’re failing hard. If, on the other hand, there’s no conflict between following your process and taking care of everything else – if everything is working in perfect harmony – then chances are good that you probably didn’t need the process spelled out to begin with.

In the end, if you have your priorities straight, and you care for people, a lot of other things sort of work themselves out.


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and then I went a little west

Context: I rode west from Chicago til I hit the Mississippi. Then rode north along it for about 100 miles before cutting back.mississippi

I lay a wire out along the road; tack it down a little in places so that I can follow it, and then I do.

The wire existed in my mental mapping and now it exists along the edges of the road itself. It jig-jogs along the shoulder, tumbling sometimes into the gravel; scampering over the crests of hills; dancing and erratic just ahead of me.

I take a track that first goes a little south, then a little/lot more west.

I pass corn fields and fields of weeds and wildflowers, cows, siding houses, and pick-up trucks. The road is cut in places; broken apart at the edges and un-smooth across the lanes. I am sipping from a mason jar of Americana and running my thumb along the sweat as it gathers on the glass, watching it catch and fall in tiny streams. The air and the earth are patchwork amber.

I am riding through the middle of America. It is a quilt spread out in front of me – something a little worn; a little scratchy; a sweet subdued.

These sort of places have something to do with me. And they have nothing to do with me.

I left in the afternoon and so I ride directly into the sun as it sets. The sky is clear and cloudless, and as the sun shifts its weight to the right and sinks lower, the light starts to get snagged in the tree line along the highway, flashing too bright between the bodies of blackened branches.

I can’t see as I ride into it. I take snapshots of the road when I find it again in the shadows of the trees, memorizing the terrain ahead of me in these split-second moments and riding in blindness in between.

There is a body beneath me. And this body has much meaning for me. It has a heartiness. A heaving. A heat.

I reach a hand forward and press my palm against the broad surface of a neck, resting it along the long lines of muscle, where the fur has become matted, pressing each finger into its own groove in the coat. There is a coarseness to the mane; a thickness to each horsehair between fingertips.

I’ve got horsehair in my mouth and dirt beneath my nails. This is how I like to live. Where the sweat and the dust gather along the greatest planes and I can move with free range of motion against them. There is a fiber. A body. A mass. There is a heavy breath; an exertion and endurance to each expedition.

I luxuriate in the rough and tumble. I am drawn to what is rugged.

muscle

mane

Some like it “pretty” and I get that too. But it isn’t how I like to live. I like it in so many other ways – I like my things with grit. Mostly because I believe that our existences are meant to be a little messy; I think we are equipped to stare into the sun. It is still meant to be beautiful, absolutely, but perhaps not as simply as some define it. Sometimes what’s worthwhile runs in currents deeper. And sometimes it’s worth the work.

I know this way is rough and steep. 

But I have trust in this route, though I’ve never followed it. And I have trust in those who agree. 

The road slows as it moves through the small town, where heat rises off of cracked cement and there is signage on bricks and dirt-cheap cans of too-warm beer; it is like a man’s name that is both timeless and unnoteworthy – a thin, solid slab of meat. A Hank. An Earl. A Bill.

I am walking. Sometimes I walk alone like this, in spaces that are not my own but, in their isolation, might as well and somehow still belong to me. I’m alone out of choosing and I’m alone out of necessity and I’m alone out of causation.

Because I wander among the weeds instead of walking along the sidewalk, and sometimes people take this as an assault on their sense of structure, which they sometimes equate to their sense of being.

I am not the only one like this, though.

street

There are others who wander, too. Who play in the art of getting lost, just for getting’s and losing’s sake.

For people like us, there are different types of journeys and a certain sorts of place. Places we can go where we can get some space.

We’ll all race along the roads, chase down strands along the shoulders and find other ways that offer meaning. We’ll sketch our figures in black and white; we’ll paint ourselves in ink. We’ll run our fingertips along the fibers as we weave. We’ll pioneer the land looking for good places and where it’s right, we’ll find ourselves a little rooted there before we even realize. 

We may build out little spaces with a deliberate sweat; we’ll erect them with consideration and each will be a sort of home.

There will be dusty floorboards beneath our bare, flat-footed feet and we’ll drink our coffee from chipped mugs. We’ll build a veranda off the kitchen and paint our bedrooms walls with trees. We’ll bring the outside in and we’ll take the inside out and we’ll live like this, in all places at once, for some amount of all our days.

And when the thunderstorms and the snow and the heat come over the world and the sky wages war against us overhead, our sort of house will stay grounded – hold fast to this spot in the earth and endure the elements with steadfastness. And we will tuck ourselves inside away from it, come in when we’re dripping with weather and exhausted by it, and the house, it will hold true and simply be.

There is a give and take in situations such as this; sometimes we’ll make sacrifices; other times, we’ll make demands.

Sometimes we are the house. And sometimes we will be the weather.

And we will have to learn these moments from one another and avoid being the same at once. And these learnings will take time. Because sometimes, things, they are circumstantial. Something previously known as fixed becomes fluid when another moment contradicts it. We break down and rearrange our understanding of a thing; lose sight of the wire running rampant along a road until we rediscover it miles later and, seeing it hop back onto the asphalt, feel reassured once again that our route is right. We build and rebuild our sense of this existence and of being, by chasing the wire down on the road. 

There will be cold nights, when even crowding the beings beneath us won’t suffice and we’ll have to seclude ourselves away from them. There will be hot nights, when our spaces are too small; too contained and we’ll be shoved out and go searching for the refuge of the rain.

But on warm nights, we’ll sit on the worn, weathered wood of our built back porches, our feet rooted in the cooling grass, and we will drag our fingertips now along the horsehair of acoustic instruments and share the softness of their sounds.

And as one of us strums, another will have song.

“Come,” one will say. “I’ll tell you a little story. It won’t take long.”

We’ll tip our drinks in each other’s directions and we’ll laugh as we agree: “here’s to now.”

And we’ll go on unwinding our horsehair fibers, like wires, running along the road and into dawn.


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Enjoyment is beautiful. But attachment is tragic.

I just got up.

I woke up early but slept in late, and during this “in between” time, I was lying mostly awake with my face facedown, drinking in the sheets.

When I finally got up, I put my contacts in but did not brush my teeth, and then made myself some coffee.

And now I am braced at a balcony railing in the middle of this late morning air, holding a cup of coffee in one hand, standing with my weight set to one foot and the toes of the other resting on the top of it. I am looking out and into the white light paleness of the morning sky.

I am drenched in the sunshine. It wrings itself into my eyes.

It is saturating the edges of my skin that face it. And I can stand here, staring along the lines of sun by setting my line of sight away from it, feeling it beat down onto or into my being in indirect ways, for almost as long as I’d like.

Almost.

I take a sip of coffee. The first sips of the mug are always almost too hot – initially a little bit violent before it eases and gives way to something lukewarm. Eventually I will drink this whole cup of coffee, and then at that point it will be gone.

Eventually.

For now, though, there is heat from the coffee and heat from the sun, and I am standing and soaking in all of it. I am thinking of hot and think also of coolness, and I am thinking of bodies of water.

Water is an absolute. Things are either in the water or they are not. I can dive in and my whole being is, obviously, entirely in. But even if I am only sitting at the edge of a pool or a boat or a dock, with only my toes immersed, these parts, on their own, are either in the water or they are not. And when you see your self fragmented, you can also see that the act of submerging the parts is, on any level, an act of absolute.

I am submerged. Or I am not. And the minute I step away, I have taken myself away from it – and it from me – and when I do, I let it slip away.

And there is a rightness to both of these things – both the submersion and then the stepping away.

coffee

The sun rose a while ago. Some days, it rises just before I do, the light virginal when I meet it. Other days, it is boisterous by the time I come out to it, a young adolescent cocky while cruising in a parent’s car.

It will move across the sky as the day progresses. I can meet the light at twilight, when it is winding down and putting itself to sleep. And I let it. Of course I let it. We all let it. It would be lunacy to wail at a railing, to put our hands against a cooling surface and shout at a light to just… to just come back.

We cannot cling to the sunshine as it sinks away at the edge of sky.

But this loss of it each day doesn’t stop us from enjoying it. When we think of the sun and then sunshine, we think of the moments when it is overhead – or, perhaps more specifically, we think of any number of its various stages of being overhead, from barely a breath in the east to a soft sigh in the west.

We do not think of its absence and mourn for it. We think instead of the times when it’s richest.

I sometimes forget that my grandma died.

I saw her in the hospital and I sat by her side and I talked to her in the context of knowing. I went to her funeral and I bought her flowers – they were purple, because white was not right; white was too mundane.

And yet still she does not exist in the paste tense for me. She is an essence. She still exists in the present.

And yeah, sure, maybe there is something wrong with this. Maybe.

Or maybe, instead, that’s how things and people should be for us. Maybe that is how we should see them – as an essence; as a set of things that means something to us. Maybe they can stand for and instill some emotion or headspace and maybe that reaction succeeds them; maybe it can be something that goes on even when they are no longer there.

This is how our world works for us. Love and enjoy each thing as it comes at you. Love it fully and completely; soak in the sun and drown yourself in it. And when it comes time for night to take over, let it slip away.


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Endings – real vs. artificial; felt vs. missed

It is funny that we sometimes put arbitrary, artificial endings on things. And then get sad about something that hasn’t even stopped.

People ask me how my Labor Day weekend was.

And sure, I can talk about my weekend – mostly at a high level, because I’m like that, so I’ll say “it was great – I went for a ride” or “awesome – I read and/or wrote some words” and that’s enough for most people and an okay exchange, I think, for both parties.

But other people ask me how my summer was.

Past tense.

And I may play nice, but I bristle a little.

Because it’s odd enough that we see this holiday in this way – as a constructed “end” of summer. Because, you know, it’s… not. We’ve got the autumn equinox and when it comes to summer ending, that’s when it actually does. So when we talk about Labor Day in this way – as marking The End of Summer – it’s weird because we’re not actually discussing the real end – not the transition of celestial bodies – but are instead talking about the end of some connotation; some abstract – the end of… what? Of fun? Of sunshine? Of sangria?

And that’s the odder part about it – that there’s this element of sadness; an unnecessary mourning for something that doesn’t go like that. “Summer” – in all these “soft” senses – isn’t really clipped to an end at that date.

We’ve still got so much weather left to live after Labor Day.

In fact, in the three years I have lived in Chicago (which isn’t long, but it’s enough), I have found that by far my favorite time of the year is mid-August to mid-October, when the air is still heavy and the temperature eases, and the whole thing has this aura of… lovely; “forgiving.”

Because time, it is a continuum. And seasons cycle into each other a bit more gradually than we sometimes give them credit for.

On the other hand, some things really do come to an abrupt end. And sometimes we miss these endings entirely. 

Other things really do wrap up like that and wholly cease to be.

And it’s funny because sometimes, with these things, there is no milestone – no marker. Sometimes the moment itself is so tiny, we miss it altogether, deciphering it only in retrospection and “rediscovering” it in this way miles later down the road. And for all of the hoopla we make about the endings that scarcely matter, sometimes we miss the ones that actually mean something when we’re there.

You see a film together. This moment is next to nothing going in. This moment is forever a milestone looking back. You don’t even remember what film it was or if you got popcorn or who else was there, though you know that others were. You are pretty sure you watched the whole film – and maybe you even liked it; maybe it made you tear up a little; maybe it was that good – and at the end of the night, you are pretty sure that you say goodnight like countless times before, but despite all the things you aren’t sure of, you are absolutely positive that you never knew that that goodnight would be the last.

There is no holiday for that sort of thing; no notification on our calendars to alert us to what’s in store.

It’s sort of futile, then, to burden ourselves with our own idea of when we think something is ending.

We invite unnecessary sadness to something that didn’t even stop. We neglect to notice the moment when other things already have. 

So the resolution, then, is a sense of presence: an appreciation for a moment (and, perhaps more importantly, a continuum of moments) while committing ourselves to a.) not missing its meaning, while also b.) not making it out to be something its not, all while c.) not rendering ourselves too senseless to realize whether or not the one that follows it is nearly identical; to stay awake to whether or not the things carried out beyond that, and how. 

chicago-skyline-sunset


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“Orange juice [something]“

She’s got collarbones with definition.

They are not just lines, but contours. They are not just the essence of a collarbone where a collarbone ought to be, but the body of the collarbone – the bone itself – pressed up against the skin from the other side of it. Just moments ago, I touched her skin just beneath this place. I don’t even know her name.

I want to buy her a drink. She already has one. This doesn’t matter. 

And I’m calling to her, just as she turns to leave, getting one last moment’s attention: “what are you drinking?” 

And she turns back and says something to answer, but all I hear is “orange juice.” As in: “orange juice [something.]“

“What?” I ask, shouting a little, squinting, turning my head a little as though that’ll help me hear.

She repeats herself, a little louder. “Orange juice [something.]“

I still have absolutely no idea what she said. I nod. “Okay!”

Because screw it. There can only be so many things made with orange juice at this place.

So I turn to the bartender and I’ve got half a dozen things I’m ordering for a few different people in my own group, and somewhere in there I order hers, and when I get to hers I hope for the best because all I have for him is “orange juice… something?” I try to look him in the eye when I say it – I say it straight up, you know what I mean? – and hope that he believes me when I eye him and try to tell him without words that I’m really not trying to be difficult.

“Yeah,” he says when he hears it, and then repeats back to me: “orange juice [something].”

“Orange juice what?” I don’t really care, but maybe it might matter in some future version of me, where I run into someone else who drinks an “orange juice [whatever]” at a bar. 

He leans in a little, speaks a little louder. “Orange juice [something.]“

And I either can’t hear him or at this point I choose not to.

“Yeah.” I say, nodding. “That.”

Whatever.

He makes it along with the other however many drinks I’ve ordered, and I pay – maybe I tipped him; I certainly hope so – and I hand her her drink – it’s certainly orange – and then a friend and I walk away with that little triangle of cups in each of our hands.

make-mixed-drinks-tequila-800X800


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Possession is a construct.

Possession is a fruitless pursuit.
(e.g., you shouldn’t try to possess things, for your own good.)

We may put our hand on a thing, run our fingertips over it, or take it from place to place, but that does not mean it is really ours.

We may try to lay claim over a thing, but that does not make it our own.

Some people spend their whole lives busying themselves with these sorts of pursuits – the accumulation and possession of things. They waste themselves away in the frustration of trying to own – and then “losing” – what they can never really have. There is a paltriness to this sort of pursuit of pleasure – something always disappointing when we define this as our idea of how to live – because life itself is always in flux and things, fundamentally, are always fleeting. As such, the very idea of “ownership” is a root cause of a lot of conflict.

My motorcycle is by far my favorite thing. Ever. And the happiness I derive from it is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.

Having recognized this, it would be easy (instinctive) for me to try to cling to it a little bit; to try to lash it to myself in some way; to protect it from external forces in an effort, really, to protect myself from losing it. But the reality is that I have no control over that.

“Possession” is a construct.
(e.g., you can’t possess things, because they exist independent of you.)

I am better off not trying to control the bike because, in the grand scheme of the universe, I really can’t – it is not really even mine. I can use articles like “my” and “mine” when referencing it, but I still understand that it does not really belong to me.

I don’t “own” the motorcycle any more than I “own” a mountain.

Both existed before I came to know them; both came to be through forces independent of me. And, most importantly, both could change or cease to exist without my consent or permission.

motorcycle monk // "Just outside of Cody Wyoming... And Before the East Entrance of Yellowstone"

motorcycle monk // “Just outside of Cody Wyoming… And Before the East Entrance of Yellowstone”

The time that I spend with things is only in passing. It is something to be enjoyed only as I have it, without imposing expectation or control.

The bike could be destroyed, could break down, could disappear overnight – I could walk out tomorrow morning and find that it’s been stolen. The more accepting I am of this truth, the easier it is to foster a sense of happiness that is independent of it, so that my wellbeing remains more or less constant when these things inevitably change.

This concept does not belong to me, either. It existed already before I found it, and there are schools of thought and many people within them who already knew what I found out. Some of these people even ride motorcycles. They cherish the bikes and the experiences they yield, but still they agree:

I don’t really own [the motorcycle], I’m just using it until it’s taken away by theft, rust, accident, or my old age. It’s really more about not being attached to the stuff you use and think you own.” – Ven. Kusala Bhikshu (Thich Tam-Thien)

MC7

“South Dakota… That Long and Winding Road” // motorcycle monk

Our relationships with everything in our lives is fleeting; we only have each moment and we have our own reaction to it. And any attempt to tether or tie – any imposition; any dominion – is fabricated and false.

There’s nothing wrong, however, with having things and even cherishing them. In fact, they can yield a tremendous amount of happiness – if viewed fairly.

Possession and happiness are independent of one another.
(And, in fact, believing that you “own” something can prevent longterm happiness.)

Knowing I do not really have dominion over the bike does not inhibit me from cherishing it. On the contrary, approaching it as something fleeting – something impermanent – fosters a deeper appreciation for my experiences with it.

When I am honest about this and approach it in the right way, I am able to operate with more freedom, especially emotionally.

Believing that you can lay claim to something in its entirety is a delusion. Things will move away and out of your life regardless of your preferences, and unhappiness is rooted in the misunderstandings that (1) one’s own individual existence is more important than those of other individuals, and that (2) fulfillment can be achieved by acquiring and owning property.

Living a life of trying to contain these things set us up for an existence of unnecessary “loss.” One way to “life” appropriately is approach each element of your life as being independent of you. The point here is to understand the difference between sharing an existence with a thing and deluding yourself into thinking that simply because you have it, it will always be tethered to your side. That it cannot and will not cease to be there until you give it permission to leave – and that you somehow control that, when you don’t.

And not just with things – lamps and laptops and clothes and cars – but with all kinds of other things, too.

We cannot – and should not try to – possess anything. 

Possession of Place. Within the context of the universe’s truths, we can exist in places only through presence – not possession. We can draw connections and experiences from a space and the time we spend there, but that does not mean that place is ours. In the grand scheme of existence, nobody really owns a land. You may press your hand into it, cut into it and blow parts of it away, erect structures on its surface, and you may hold a paper stating your legal right to do so, but all of that is only true within the limited, constructed context of (human) social life. In reality, outside a law we create and our shared subscription to it, the land belongs to everyone as much as it belongs to anyone, and it cannot belong to everyone in their own disparate way. A place can never truly be “ours.”

Possession of People. Relationships give life such richness – they are the undercurrent of what gives our existence meaning. Rightfully so, we develop relationships with the people in our lives and make emotional investments in them and, in turn, enjoy an existence with compassion and love. But sometimes, we may start to lay claim over parts of people; feel entitled to things that are not ours. When this happens,we feel helpless and hurt when people choose to walk away. We are rendered devastated by divorce or death. Nobody owes you anything, and you are not entitled to any part of anybody that they do not freely offer – and only for the time it is offered. Your partner and your children do not belong to you – they are people that you offer support and compassion, but only for as long as they accept and embrace it.

Possession of Situations. Life is always in flux. This is a basic truth – something that will always be outside of our control. Those who try to commit their lives to preventing change are inherently framing it up for disappointment. Those, on the other hand, who accept this can absorb the shifts in stride. They understand that once the circumstances of a period of time shift and a transition is taking place, it is right to let it go; to “give it back to the universe.”

 


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Looking for place

The sort of things we might consider when thinking about where to live…

Street. 

I get off on tumbling out of a place and into the thick of things – into people and into vehicles and into storefronts full of all of the things I might want or need to go about my day to day life… a place to get a to-go coffee before work; a place to sit and linger over one; a place to get a beer; a place to buy a book; a place to get a good salad; a place to grab a bottle of wine. All within, say, a 4 minute walk. I like an almost overwhelming amount of street-level retail at my disposal.

And there is, of course, an actual overwhelming – a “too much.” This differs for everyone, but I bumped against my own “too much” on Chicago in Chicago, in a place where going about my day made me feel as though I had to walk pressed up against the building; pulled back from the street. The sidewalk did not feel like my own. I could not really touch these things.

Another time, I lived in a place that opened out into “nothing,” where leaving the building meant finding myself standing in a place that felt it was not yet ready to be inhabited. It was starved of energy; thirsting for feet.

At what vibration – what frequency – do you live?

Story.

I like to feel the earth. I like to stoop and press my fingertips into it, gauge the weight and texture of it in my hands.

I once heard a high-rise tenant describe the appeal of his 30-something-floor unit as “living against the sky.” Hearing this, I imagined that waking up to that each morning inspires lofty, grandiose ambitions and energy. And I get that.

Later weighing this within the context of my preferences, I suppose I could say that I like to “live against the trees.” I like the first few floors of a building — apart from the first. (Because while I like living against the trees and close to the earth, I do not, however, like living “against the ground.” Something about garden and ground-level units deeply unnerves me.) But apart from the first floor, I do like being low.

I can see the appeal of the high rise, sure. But part of it, for me, can feel too isolated; too far away from the vibration that I love. I like to reach out and run my fingertips along the leaves of trees; I want my palm pressed against their trunks; I want to pull the heat from concrete and brick.

Class.

There’s a richness in imperfection. There is a merit in the grit.

I do not like a place that feels “sterile.” Some people do, but they call these places “new” or “clean” or “Class A.” Granite countertops and oak cherry cabinetry. Stainless steel appliances. Whatever else. You get it.

I like my spaces rough around the edges and a little unkept. I like evidence of tenants past, their markings layered one over the another. I like hardwood floors – who doesn’t? – but I have found that I have a very high tolerance for their imperfections: I root my eye to discolored patches or water damage or grooves where the seams have come undone and the dirt accumulates in little lines. I’m into that.

Size.

I have lived in “too large” places.

The largest was a 1,100 sq. ft. open-concept loft. And every day for the year that I lived there, moving through that square footage and trying to accommodate it, I found that I was restless; wandering.

My conscious echoed against the corners, thrashing in the shadows.

watertower loftsThere was part of me that could never properly fill it; another part that realized it was never really meant to be filled.

After that place, I lived in a 3-bedroom apartment that had roughly the same square footage, and those proportions felt closer to being right, though my own room was still much larger than I ever needed, with empty, gaping corners I didn’t use.

I “roam” and become anxious in spaces that seem too big. This applies to all spaces, really (restaurants, office spaces, malls, lobbies, etc.) but it is particularly troubling when the space is the one that is supposed to serve as my personal own.

With small spaces, I instead feel as though I can reach out and touch the walls; that I have a footprint on the full floor. I don’t feel as though I am always staring down that behemoth bowl of white rice they deliver to the table at most Chinese restaurants or getting tangled in an unfurled bolt of fabric many yards longer than what I need. Instead, the proportions feel “tidy” and “appropriate.”

The smallest space I’ve lived in, outside of a dorm room, is probably this last one – a 226 sq. ft. studio (barely even a “studio,” really – it’s a room with a bathroom and a fridge just inside the door. No kitchen.) I loved this place. And it could’ve been smaller.

Feel.

I walk into a space and I either feel it or I don’t. If I feel it, it’s right away. I know before I even walk in if it’s going to work; if it does, I am ready to hand over a check before I’ve even seen the bathrooms or closet space. These things don’t matter nearly as much as that initial feel the space gives you when you walk in.

I walk into places and I either feel compelled to immediately throw a check at them or I feel okay walking away. And that latter part, which is most parts, is the opposite of wanting.

Not everyone knows that.

I try not to kid myself with any guise. I give others the polite pleasantries warranted by the moment, telling them that I’ll “think it over” or that I’m “still looking,” but there’s a big difference between telling them that and telling it to ourselves. Those lines, they are for them. They are not for you or me.

If I can walk away from a place, it isn’t meant to be. If it’s easy  for me to walk out of the unit, I try not to linger on the doorstep debating on whether I want to walk back in.

Hold out for delight.


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A boy

A boy walks across a yard.

The yard shoves the house back from the street, as yards are apt to do, but its grass is barely grass anymore, instead worn away to dirt in huge patches; overgrown with thistle in others.

The boy stops here and drops to sit in the dirt – might as well – and the seat of his pants is already dusty to match his dusty canvas shoes. He sits with his legs bent, the sharpness of each knee upright, feet planted wide and rooted in two sets of laces, worn and frayed at their dirty ends. His shorts are hollow around his child’s thighs, his skin deepened from the summer sun. He eyes the street, squinting in the sunlight. A car passes the street at the end of the block. In the distance, a dog barks – clipped, regular intervals. A dog barking at nothing.

The boy bought an ice cream sandwich from the convenience store across the street, and he is now tugging the package away from itself at the seams where it comes together and, fingertips pressing into the sandwich’s cool, soft sides, pulling it from the plastic. 

Less than thirty minutes earlier, he had been on his belly, jammed up to his shoulder reaching under the couch, feeling for the cool, flat promise of loose change. Once he gathered enough of it – and an extra penny, which of course had no use whatsoever but was collected anyway – in the scoop of one small hand, he tucked it all into the soft blue of pant pocket, pressed his palm against the tiny metal handle of the screen door and went out into the world.

And now, here he was, enjoying this tiny delight; this thing that meant next to nothing outside of this moment and almost everything to him within it.

He is only partway through when he hears the screen door swing open. And he knows without looking that she’s standing in the doorway, one arm outstretched against the aluminum frame, scanning the street beyond him. He knows this without looking but he looks anyway. And when he does, he watches as she stares straight ahead, first sweeping the street and then the yard. She sighs.

“I can’t stand this yard.”

He turns his attention from her to the yard, glancing across it, seeing what she sees.

“Your father needs to mow.”

He looks back at her. He watches her in silence. The ice cream is softening and threatening to work its way over his fingertips. He knows this, and yet he waits, watching her…

“Be in by dark. Okay?”

And then she glances at him.

She meets his eyes with hers. But he has scarcely nodded his reply before she’s retreated back into the doorway and let the aluminum close behind her – a hoarse-whisper shut, rushing to close, catching and bobbing before it hits the frame and then pausing. Before closing entirely.

The boy waits for a moment. Then looks back to his sandwich. And sets to finishing it.

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