Response Crafting


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“Big Magic” is a better “startup book” than most startup books

Even though she’s a writer and it’s largely a book about writing, Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear” is a better “startup book” than most startup books. Here’s why:

Ideas are everywhere and they’re dime a dozen. Just because you “have” one doesn’t mean it’s “yours.” An idea is meaningless without execution. 

Gilbert talks about readers approaching her at Eat, Pray, Love book signings to growl at her from across the table: “that was supposed to be my book! I had that idea!”

This happens to a lot of people. “One morning you open up the newspaper and discover that somebody else has written your book, or directed your play, or released your record, or produced your movie, or founded your business, or launched your restaurant, or patented your invention – or in any way whatsoever manifested some spark of inspiration that you’d had years ago, but had never entirely cultivated, or had never gotten around to finishing. This may vex you, but it really shouldn’t, because you didn’t deliver!”

“People convince themselves that they have been robbed when they have not, in fact, been robbed… There is no theft; there is no ownership; there is no tragedy; there is no problem.”

“The best you can hope for in such a situation is to let your old idea go and catch the next idea that comes around. And the best way for that to happen is to move on swiftly, with humility and grace. Don’t fall into a funk about the one that got away. Don’t beat yourself up… Better to just say good-bye to the lost idea with dignity and continue onward. Find something else to work on – anything, immediately.”

You have to actually work.

Gilbert’s is probably my favorite TED talk, and my favorite line is how she describes her creative process as, quite simply, “working like a mule.”

“Most of my writing life consists of nothing more than unglamorous, disciplined labor. I sit at my desk and I work like a farmer, and that’s how it gets done. Most of it is not fairy dust.”

“I don’t sit around waiting for passion to strike me.”

You don’t need permission. 

It “never occurred to me to go ask an authority figure for permission to become a writer… I decided to just go make stuff.”

“You must possess a fierce sense of personal entitlement.” Not acting like a prima donna, or as though the world owes you something. Just recognizing your right to be creative.

Solve a problem you have. Don’t do it just to help others. 

An old adage in writing is “write about what you know.” Do the work that you know how to do.

“If what I’ve written here ends up helping you, that’s great, and I will be glad. That would be a wonderful side effect. But at the end of the day, I do what I do because I like doing it.”

“It’s very kind of you to want to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive, because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.”

Experience is the best education.

Gilbert never got an advanced degree in writing. “I was suspicious of the idea that the best place for me to find my voice would be in a room filled with fifteen other young writers trying to find their voices.”

“I wasn’t exactly sure what an advanced degree in creative writing would afford me. Going to an arts school is not like going to dentistry school, for instance, where you can be pretty certain of finding a job in your chosen field once your studies are over… I worry that what students of the arts are often seeking in higher education is nothing more than proof of their own legitimacy – proof that they are for real as creative people, because their degree says so.”

So, too, should we be careful with similar environments for startups, including incubators and accelerators.

“If you’re working on your craft every day on your own, with steady discipline and love, then you are already for real as a creator… let the world educate you.”

Anguish and angst is unbecoming. 

Creators have this tendency to romanticize anguish. We approach our work with toxic mindsets, making ourselves slaves to the craft. It doesn’t have to be this way and, in fact, most great work isn’t.

Success not guaranteed. 

There’s no guarantee that people will like your work. It’s not the world’s problem that you wanted to do something. It’s not the world’s jobs to enjoy your work.

“Stop complaining. It’s annoying.”

Of course it’s difficult. If it was easy to succeed at creating something new, everyone would be.

Quit it with the perfectionism and preciousness. 

“When people talk about their creative work, they often call it their ‘baby’ – which is the exact opposite of taking things lightly.”

“I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant.”

“At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is – if only so you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart.”

Done is better than good. Just ship it. Let it go.

What you produce is not sacred just because you think it is. “What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”

“Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness.”


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To all of the great managers I’ve ever had

Dear Every Great Manager I’ve Ever Had (specifically: SM, EK, and SP)

Thank you.

I am so fortunate to have worked with you. Thank you for teaching me so much about how to run a team.

You were all so different – some tough, some tender; some technical, some functional – and that’s awesome. You all did something great, and I still hold on to you and what you did.

I was all the better for having worked with you. You serve as a guidepost when I manage others.

More specifically (and I am thinking specifically):

And to the managers who trusted the team and who gave us space as long as we delivered on what you wanted…

To those who let us be a little messy and looked the other way or even spotted us from time to time and as long as we got the job done…

To the managers who received new ideas with respect, even if the suggestion couldn’t be used. Or was outright bad…

To the managers who were honest with the team, even if painfully so…

To the managers who tough-loved on us, but made sure the “love” came with the “tough” (even if we didn’t always see it)…

To the managers who demanded a lot of the team but made sure we understood why…

To the managers who demanded a lot of the team but, when it came down to it, rolled up their sleeves and helped get it done, too…

To the managers who rolled up their sleeves either way, demands or not…

To the managers who responded to problems and crises with “okay,” followed by an urgent “what do you need?” or “how can I help?”…

To the managers who took ownership of team failures and doubled down on their investment to make it right…

To the managers who were at least consistent, even when their own preferences or priorities didn’t align with – or even contrasted with – the rest of the team’s…

To the managers who never compensated for their own insecurities by breaking down their team…

To the managers who mentored…

And to the managers who also accepted great team members’ resignations with grace…

To the managers who managed with integrity…

To those who managed with reason and rationale…

To those who managed with love…

To those who managed with courage…

And, above all else, to the managers who mama-bear’d over us in any way. To those who protected us, fought back on our behalf, or stood guard while we carried on, and to those who defended us in any capacity, but especially for things that mattered most to any of us as individuals…

Thank you.

And on behalf of anyone who had the privilege of working with you: you are appreciated.


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To all of the bad managers I’ve ever had

Dear Every Bad Manager I’ve Ever Had,

Thank you.

I am so grateful to have worked with you. Thank you for teaching me so much. About how not to run a team.

You are horrible – outright deplorable, some of you – at your job. (Seriously.) And I thank you for it. Because I was all the better for having worked with you.

Because of you, I won’t have to make those mistakes myself.

Specifically:

To the managers who publicly shamed or criticized the team…

To the managers who got off on instilling a sense of fear in their team…

And to those in either group who interpreted anxiety or fear as allegiance…

To all of the managers who took zero responsibility for their team’s shortfalls on deliverables… and to those who actively – even aggressively – threw their own people under the bus (willfully unseeing how either was a poor reflection on them as managers)…

To the managers whose first words to me were to say I didn’t care enough about my team – a (laughably incorrect) accusation that, turns out, was really more about them not caring about me…

Incidentally, to every manager who doesn’t care about their team…

And to every manager who’s managed by “feelings” instead of rationale and made emotion-rooted rather than logic-driven decisions…

To the managers who played the hierarchy card… to those who actually and really said “because I said so” as explanation and the others who shut down conversations with “I want it my way or not at all”…

To the managers who talked about the importance of “communication” but only defined it as the “talking” half…

To the managers who forgot which of their team members were also managers and talked shit about someone (me) with one too many people (me) on the company-wide management conference call…

To the managers who fail to absorb that, manager or not, others are worthy of being treated with respect and addressed as peers, not inferiors…

To all of the managers who compensated for their own insecurities by employing double standards across the team or by trying to instill insecurity in me on basis of things like my hair…

And to all of the managers who cared more about their bonus and saving their own skin than they did about watching over their team or their workstreams…

Thank you.

Sincerely. And on behalf of everyone else who had the disguised fortune of toiling under your reign. And on behalf of all of those who will work under those of us who worked under you, now that we’ve made for better managers as a result.

May you someday never have to manage anymore, and finally be able to live in peace with your title and bonus.


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Place, white space, and how we make meaning.

“No two people live in the same city.”

– Rebecca Solnit, Infinite City.

“A city is many worlds in the same place.”

“Many worlds” because in the same way that every experience is remembered in a different way by each person who was there, every place is an infinite number of places, folded by its layers of infinite, individual stories.

“A city is a particular kind of place, perhaps best described as many worlds in one place; it compounds many versions without quite reconciling them, though some cross over to live in multiple worlds.”

We come to a place already with our own experiences and expectations. We make our own experiences while we’re there – over time we paint, in faint layers of watercolor, our own version of a place. And we come to places with the outlines of paintings already in mind.

“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours…. We select, and a map is a selection of relevant data that arises from relevant desires and questions.”

Here is “my” San Francisco. This is why I came:

I wouldn’t want to live in any era but my own. But when I’m pressed to choose another, I say that I would pick the western US, during the late 19th Century. During the excitement and enterprising and risk-enduring pioneering of the gold rush era.

I would’ve wanted to run the railroad, of course. Offer infrastructure to those doing the mining. This would be my first choice. If it couldn’t be the railroad, maybe I would have run a hotel where the mining men would have stayed when they came to town once a month to get paid and then spend their paychecks – i.e., the sort of hotel that was more a bar and mostly a brothel. (I would be a madam, just to be clear.) Business as best a woman could in those days. The keeper and protector of the underbelly as well as the purveyor – even exploiter – of indulgence.

I would have lived against the land – against it. This, a preposition and relationship of both intimacy and tension. This is the way I would have regarded the earth – because this is the way I regard my playgrounds.

Where doing anything worthwhile requires both touch and tension.

Movement requires friction – pushing against and away from a surface – and, likewise, to build something, you have to have something to push against: rock yields to an ax, flesh yields to a touch, markets accommodate an offering.

The making of something from something, against something, in relation to something.

And this sort of thing is what brought me to San Francisco.

Meaning, more importantly: this is what I brought to it with me. This was my “question.” Regardless of era.

Solnit sees the timelessness too, naming the modern day tech professional transplant the “latecomer brother to the gold miner.” She calls out quintessential San Franciscans as: “these people who were self-made men and women, and sometimes self-invented, or just made up.”

They – we – are all people who are something out of nothing. And that endeavor itself is one of the most pure and honest ones we can undertake.

Because everything, even nothing, is something. The endeavor only gives it a name. We create ourselves. We map our own ideas of “place.”

Things exist in “white space” or “emptiness” – the cut of a valley or ravine has a significance – a word, a mental picture – that is the thing itself rather than the absence of another thing (in this case, perhaps the earth.) Zero is a number – a quantity. Before we had the idea of zero, there were things we couldn’t do. Nil – meaning “nothing” both informally in jargon and formally in software – stands for something. And sometimes “never” can have just as much significance, maybe more, as “forever.” Maps are rendered meaningless without white space.

And all of these things exist whether we acknowledge them or not. Zero means something. Zero Zero does, too.

We can claim a thing means nothing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still there.

Solnit’s atlas of San Francisco is titled “Infinite City,” which she claims, without explanation, is for Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities,” effectively asserting with saying: “infinite” and “invisible” are complementary, if not one and the same.

“Nothing” and “everything” are similar, if not synonymous, in their significance and potential.

I tell you why I came here. And that the questions that brought me are shared by others. And I can also tell you that it’s personal – that my atlas has already diverged from others’, including Solnit’s – that I live in a neighborhood I almost spastically adore but she wrote off (saying that she almost never goes there.) That I work in and walk through SOMA every day, and that it inspires mixed feelings in me: opportunity and yet recognition of the blandness; rejection and embracing and a feeling of disorientation. Uncertainty. Inspiration. That the city is not yet and yet already mine.

To capture a place and its meaning onto paper is both a wholly personal and yet still impossible task: “an atlas is a collection of versions of a place, a compendium of perspectives, a snatching out of the infinite ether of potential versions a few that will be made concrete and visible.”

Each of us “possesses his or her own map of the place, a world of amities, amours, transit routes, resources, and perils, radiating out from home. But even to say this is to vastly underestimate. San Francisco contains many more than eight hundred thousand living maps, because each of these citizens contains multiple maps: areas of knowledge, rumors, fears, friendships, remembered histories and facts, alternate versions, desires, the map of everyday activity versus the map of occasional discovery, the past versus the present, the map of this place in relation to others that could be confined to a few neighborhoods or could include multiple continents of ancestral origin.”

In creating our own histories, we may call things out or we may suppress them, layer over them with new paint, make something into nothing; pretend that something else is all there is. But there is never a true nothing. The invisible is infinite.

Everything, even nothing, is something. And if that’s true, then nothing is everything, too.

Rebecca Solnit, Infinite City


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Project vs. Program vs. Product Management from someone who’s done all three

Apparently there’s some confusion around what each of these three roles are from some people – mostly those who are looking to move into one of them.

Having held each of them at different times over the last few years of my career, I want to offer my insight.

One disclaimer: The titles – and roles – can mean different things at different companies, so even my having held all three should be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, from talking to others, these definitions are pretty consistent across most companies and should give you give you enough to get started.

First, the similarities:

It should be obvious enough to go unsaid, but in case it isn’t: all three roles are involved with the product. And all three are involved with the product’s “program.” They all deal in and touch feature releases.

All three heavily rely on communication. All of them also demand mitigation of risk, responding to challenge, and navigating adversity. (In other words, all of them have “manager” in their title for a reason…) 😐

The difference, however, is that:

(Ready for some 1998-looking html?? Git ready for all its glory…)

PRODUCT Managers are responsible for definitionwhat will be done. 

PROJECT and PROGRAM Managers are responsible for delivery: making that happen. 

PRODUCT Managers are the CEOs of a product and project.

PROJECT and PROGRAM Managers are the COOs of a product and project.

Metaphor!

If the product is a restaurant…

waiting-kitchen-scene-o

Those are the devs. Obviously.

The Product Manager decides what’s on the menu.

The Project and Program Managers work with the kitchen to make sure it’s plated on time.

The product is the restaurant. A dish might also be a product, or a dish might be a feature.

A project is the delivery of a single dish. A program might be plating The Whole Entire Menu. Plus drinks. (’cause you know you want those diners nice n sloshy. You know you do.)

Aiight. And here’s more:

Project/Program Managers vs. Product Managers

Here’s a chart that Product Managers love. I’m pretty sure Product Managers love it because it represents the product manager as being The Center Of The Universe, which makes sense, because that’s a bit how we see ourselves. (Joking.)

(Kind of.)

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 6.50.30 PM

(OMG look! There we are! Right smack dab in the middle, right where we [do not] belong.)

Anyway. Product Managers interact with Marketing, Engineering, and Executives. They use customer insights (from Marketing) and company objectives (from Executives) to give Engineering the What’s What on What to Build. (And they also listen to feedback from each group. The good ones might listen to feedback even from Engineering. Whoanow.)

Here’s how that might look:

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 7.53.40 PM

Again, that chart is common.

But, you might ask, but where is Project and Program Management?! Wasn’t that what we were discussing?

Yeah, Pacha. Calm down. I’ll tell you where the Project and Program Managers go.

When I do, know that there are Project and Program Managers (no, really more Directors Of The Project Management Organization) out there who would fight me on where I put their titles, nestled so humbly… but this is the reality, guys.

Here is where the Project and Program Managers go. (I also added UX. Just for freebies.)

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 6.48.36 PM

Project and Program Managers are a supporting function, usually to Engineering, sometimes to other groupsYou may not realize this, talking to most Project or Program Managers, but that’s the reality of the state. They don’t just live with the Engineering team. They exist beneath them – a supporting role. Admin, even.

They do also take on a lot of the communication responsibility, talking to both Product Managers (or Product Owners, in Agile projects) and Executives. But at the end of the day, they’re doing this to make sure the project keeps moving.

Project and Program together here because both are much closer to one another than either is to Product. And frankly, at this high of a level and in this context (compared to Product), they are pretty similar…

That’s not to say that Project or Program Managers are lesser than Product Managers. That’s just the graphic speaking. To make them feel better, here’s another take with Project or Program in the middle:

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 8.22.29 PM

In a service model, many would swap out the client’s executives in preference for their own internal reporting structure (because, hey, they’re the ones in charge of promotions, amirite?!) But that’s none of my business anymore.

But now let’s do a deep dive on differences:

Project vs. Program Managers

Recall that if this is a restaurant, Project Managers would oversee a single dish. Program Managers would oversee them all – plus drinks.

Project Managers manage one release (“project”) on a product at a time, but usually oversee releases on many different products (or clients, for those in service.) Program Managers manage many releases at a time, usually all on one product (and client.)

In other words, while they may each have five or ten “projects” (feature set deliveries) on their plate at once, a Project Manager’s are largely unrelated to one another, whereas the Program Manager’s are usually all related to one product (or product family), with many releases, sometimes overlapping, on a road-map.

This means the Program Manager involves increased inter-dependencies and demands richer understanding of the overall product and higher strategical oversight.

In bad scenarios, Program Managers are a bit like glorified Project Managers. (And both, at their worst, are little more than glorified admins.)

Summary!

(Can’t even tell you the last time I wrote an actual “Summary!” on something…)

They’re all managers. They all touch software.

But they differ with regard to responsibility / authority. Project Managers have the lowest (and their heads aren’t typically on the chopping block.) Program Managers are in the middle. And Product Managers have the highest responsibility of the three – and also the highest risk. They decide what’s shipped to production. If it doesn’t perform, they may be cut.

If you are decisive and can stand behind your decisions (and comfortable with your job being on the line for them), Product. If you are a Guardian and just want to see other decisions executed, Project or Program. If you want to handle a bunch of little ones, Project. If you want the responsibility of executing across an entire Product, go Program.

And just being honest: if the words “product,” “program,” and “project” are entirely foreign to you, probably don’t pursue any.


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Chicago, San Francisco and New York: why we love one and don’t like the other two

Chicago:

Chicago is happy and happy to be happy. Easy-going and easily eager (fair-weather fans and lovable losers, anyone??) and if you express any other emotions, Chicago fields it by fetching you beer. Or bacon. Or burgers. Or boats. Or sports.

Let’s be honest: Chicago is pretty much a golden retriever.

I liked Chicago. I was never crazy for it – never got gaga over it – but I could never bring myself to hate Chicago in the same way you can’t really hate a golden retriever. Even if you could, his simple-minded pleasantness would make him immune to it.

Don’t get me wrong, Chicago is smart enough. Hard-working, too, and plenty trainable. It’s just that at the end of the day, he’s no more complex than a roll in the park and a belly rub. (And what kind of person are you, really, if you don’t like those?)

People always say that the best part about Chicago is that it’s “right in between west coast and east coast – not just geographically, but politically, personality… pace.” They’re right. It is a little bit of everything.

But that also means it’s also not too much of any one thing. i.e., anything. 

You throw the ball and go on walks and all of this is fine and well… until one day you realize maybe you aren’t getting enough out of a city that stares at you, tongue out and tail wagging, for absolutely no reason. For four years straight.

And it occurs to you to go elsewhere.

(And it ain’t you, Chicago. It ain’t you. Don’t you worry your pretty little head – you were good to me. And before you know it, you’ll have brand new friends and have forgotten all about that one girl you once knew who, crazy enough, didn’t eat bacon.)

San Francisco:

San Francisco is definitely not a golden retriever. San Francisco may be available but never even pretends to know you, let alone try to be your friend.

What I like about San Francisco – what anybody likes about it (and it seems that it’s the tourists who are especially vocal) –  is what I see as its “intoxicating subtle roughness.” It’s like a hand-woven rug or the first sip of whiskey.

San Francisco is feminine; San Francisco is cool to the touch. San Francisco is, perhaps, a bit reptilian – beautiful without the easy answer of softness or gloss. And we like it.

It’s the creativity; it’s the promise of creation. It’s existing with one foot on the edges of subculture and the other immersed in true markets (finance, tech.) Nobody likes grit and grossness, per say, in and of itself. Rather, we like that grittiness is white space; a reprieve from the Play-Doh casting of other places.

And because it’s more than Play-Doh – or golden retrievers – San Francisco inspires much stronger feelings all around.

People who hate San Francisco:

If you Google “I hate Chicago” you get little more than a Bro Bible article wherein a Chicago native writes, in a self-deprecating but-still Chicago bro way, about the “worst” ways Chicago is annoying… like – get this – how Chicagoans actually eat at Grand Luxe Cafe and restaurant row and “try to fill emptiness by proclaiming FOOD as their passion.” (Ugh, I totally hear you. So annoying!) #goldenretriever.

Google “I hate San Francisco,” though, and you’ll get 600+ word rants on how truly deplorable this city is. A real cesspool of human depravity. The lowest of low. Worst of the worst. (It is, one person even threatened, “my least favorite big city”! Whoa, Pacha. Stand back. Anything but that!)

All the SF critics kinda cite the same reasons: dirtiness; poor transportation (public transit, parking, walking the hills.) They say that “people” (read: “girls”) are “flaky;” that people are “entitled elitists.” It’s too cold, it’s too expensive; not kid-friendly and nobody dresses up. It’s not only dirty, but also “filthy” (I found several people who cited both.) And on top of that, it’s full of lib’rals.

One person told me that what they hate about San Francisco is that “everyone has ideas.” Hearing this I was like “wuht? How are ideas a threat?” But others agree: tech bros “think they’re saving the world with their crackpot schemes aka ‘start-ups.'” Some people use the cop out: “it’s the hipsters.”

But if you take the opposites of that criticism, you can begin to shape an understanding of what the SF critics do like and look for in a city. You get things like: “Clean. Easy and reliable parking. Friendly, dependable people. Clean. Low cost of living. Republicans. Clean. Conventionality rather than new ideas or world change. Kid-friendly… Clean.”

Guys. That’s a suburb. You’ve pretty much gotchoself a golden retriever.

New York

I’ve never lived in New York and have only visited like two or three times. I liked it – though what do I know, being a tourist? But I liked it enough to feel I can say so. It’s got the economic (read: fissscal) diversity without any of that “social” shit: the idealistic or socialist or burning-man-istic bullshit. You either make money – in the ordinary ways – or you don’t. And you either work hard, or you don’t. End of story.

You don’t just work hard, play hard. You go hard. You get ready when you go out and you stay out until the early hours. Even dating is a competitive sport. Hell, even walking around is a competitive sport.

New York’s got the polish, but it’s also got a bit of the pretentiousness – and the impatience. They can be pretty and put-together when they like you, but they’re also not afraid to tell it like it is if you’re in their way.

Aren’t there sharks that eat their own siblings as embryos? That might be what New York is. Or maybe a swan – pretty, but then goes around killing people for seemingly no reason.

Don’t get me wrong – I like winning. And I like NY plenty. And maybe I could move there; I’d just have to prepare myself for zero-sum games first.

What it all means

I have heard that you either love San Francisco or you love New York. And when you love one, you hate the other.

And I started thinking about this in the context of Chicago, too – sweet kid brother Chicago (if New York is the hard-knocks older brother and San Francisco is the free-wheeling sister.)

And, more importantly, what it meant for personalities, because if cities are reflections of ourselves, then what sort of “self” does each city have?

Studies have been done on the personality spread of the United States, and they have found that there are three dominant types.

Americans living in the north-central Great Plains and the South tend to be “conventional and friendly;” those who reside in the Western and Eastern seaboards can be described as “relaxed and creative,” while New England and Mid-Atlantic dwellers are prone to being “temperamental and uninhibited.”

Mood_map_update

The study broke the states down by the big five personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

The Midwest is more extroverted, more agreeable and less neurotic, but also more conscientious and less open. Both of the coasts are more introverted and less agreeable than the Midwest; less conscientious and with above average to high openness (west cost being the higher of the two.) Also, east coast is a lot more neurotic.

All of us as individuals fall somewhere on the spectrum of each of those. And it just might stand to reason that the cities we like – even love – mirror our preferences.

You can take a test to help you decide here. Doing so might explain why you hate the cities you do. It might even save you a move to a city you subsequently deem “too dirty.” Or, rather, one that seems more “idealistic” than “ideal.”