The Big Short

When people say life is short, I used to think… not really. It’s finite, which might produce the same implications and feelings. But when I considered all that could fit into an hour or day, life did not feel short.

At age 34, it does feel pretty short now. One natural way to frame the passage of time is in four-year increments. High school. College. Presidential terms. Olympics. These have tidy start and end dates and are maybe formative periods or distinct chapters.

Well I’ve been out of college for over three colleges now. I try to picture freshman year, being in a dorm for the first time, learning to drink and making friends who never heard of Plano, Texas. Sophomore year, figuring out majors and career path because clearly that won’t change. Junior year, living by cornfields in Illinois fall semester and castles in Prague spring semester. Senior year, still a virgin until May, which my wife loves to bring up for no reason as if I should be embarrassed about saving myself for the right time to get drunk with the right girl.

Freshman to senior year — I’ve lived that three times since already. And it’s picking up speed. Days or weeks might feel slow here and there, but larger increments are flying. Everyone I talk to agrees. How is it March already?

A big reason for the perceived acceleration is the workweek-weekend pendulum. Toss a few trips on the calendar, and the pages flip like crazy.

Moreover, each passing unit of time is a smaller percentage of your total life span. Kindergarten must have felt like a beast, increasing my life experience 20 percent. This year, that percentage is down to 3.

It makes sense to extend the four-year benchmark as you get older. If I instead measured life in eight-year segments, there’s really not that much left. My parents turn 65 this year; this is the home stretch for them.

I’ve said our 30s are a good age to work on accepting our parents are going to die. More than a few friends recently have needed to stare down this reality during close calls. My own dad statistically should be dead instead of group-texting pictures of him drinking IPAs in his Blink 182 shirt.

Our 50s seem like a solid time to come to terms with our own expiration. It’s really not all that far off for me now. A couple of eight-year flashes, and I’m there. There’s just not that much time to begin with after all.

My closest friend from college and I got to reconnect in Chicago over the weekend and realized we only really knew each other for two years. We flip-flopped study abroad semesters, and he graduated a year early. So two years, then different cities, and we catch each other what, maybe 20 more times? Twenty time-lapse snapshots showing unrelenting age, and that’s a wrap? Life truly is short if you want a decent amount out of it.

We were together this time for the funeral of an amazing person, husband of a dear friend from freshman year. It’s not my story to tell, so I’ll share what’s in public domain along with a light suggestion. Even for someone like me, for whom empathy doesn’t naturally sink in past a few outer layers, it’s not hard to picture yourself in this situation:

https://www.gofundme.com/support-hillary-and-her-future-beautiful-baby

I propose the next time you’re about to go out to eat with your partner, stay in instead and just mindfully enjoy the company. Donate the bill to my friend, whether it would have been Steak ’n Shake or steak and lobster. Maybe make some PB&J’s and wash them down with reflection and appreciation. It might be worth the trade one time.

Because humans are so remarkably adaptable, we can’t sustain that level of gratitude on a daily basis without incredible meditative skills or hard drugs. We will always go back to taking things for granted, so check-ins and resets are fantastic.

The goal doesn’t have to be hug what you have, carpe diem every waking minute. On the bad days, remembering life is short should in theory take the edge off stress or depression. You can find comfort that in the big picture, this stuff isn’t going to last forever or even very long.

I hope that doesn’t come across as morbid. I mean it in a pragmatic, productive, self-therapy-hack kind of way. We’re all in this together and should help each other make sense of the time we have.

 
 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.

Embryo

I have procured permission to write about both the current pregnancy and previous miscarriage. Rather than staging the ornate gender reveal I always dreamed about (boy), I would rather focus on the dead one.

It’s more interesting and instructive than the never-ending feed of indistinguishable babies and eight-month birthday celebrations. Wait, did I miss Month 7? Can you please repost because I am riveted by this comprehensive journey through time?

Of course everyone wants to feel like a good person and wish health and happiness for all. But it’s OK to admit you also love to hear about breakups and divorces, drama and infidelity, struggle and conflict and loss. It lights up the dinner table conversation in a way that first-day-of-kindergarten pictures cannot. You skip the long articles about Amazon with substantive news and teachings, but can’t click fast enough when Jeff Bezos gets divorced.

Miscarriage announcements — if there were such a thing — undoubtedly would be more stimulating fodder than pregnancy announcements. And productive. I had no idea these biological misfires were so common because people don’t really talk about them. To me, that makes them a bigger deal than they need to be.

But I understand people feel different things in the same situation. The way I perceive my world, and the way I write about it, might not be the best fit for the overly sensitive subject of miscarriages. If you experienced one or more and don’t want to hear the sporadically tactful perspective of a guy who will never know what it feels like to carry a baby, maybe sit this blog post out. I do appreciate your reading in general though.

A year ago this month, we removed the goalie and I happened to have a monster load saved up from being away for the holidays. This was like a Ronaldo penalty kick against Stephen Hawking in goal. Ring that up and keep the change.

So we got a positive test that first month, the day after my wife’s 33rd birthday. I remember curling up in an apt fetal position after looking at the pee stick. The Tim McGraw song “Live Like You Were Dying” popped into mind.

It was a little scary and reminiscent of signing the lease when she and I first moved in together as my hand was uncontrollably shaking. My mind tends to race with overzealous prognostication.

Every night for about a week straight, I woke up in the vicinity of 4 a.m. and just lay there in bed. I wasn’t really thinking about the baby and didn’t feel all that stressed, but I do recall a weak sensation that rendered me unable to clench my hands.

Did you know the number of weeks of a pregnancy starts counting from the last period? That is rudely misleading for first-timers and should be integrated into common knowledge. I thought we were six days in when it was already six weeks.

Gradually, I started getting a better handle on this ticking bomb deployed to eradicate my life as I knew it. I even left a Super Bowl party overrun with frolicking children feeling confident and excited about the challenge.

Four days later my wife called me at work, emotional but calm. I remember it was 10:59 because I had an 11 a.m. meeting about content optimization. I know it was Feb. 8 because the Cavs had just traded away half of their team before the deadline.

The spotting my wife noticed earlier that week had turned into an all-out flood, and she found what looked like a membrane thingy in the toilet. Her breasts almost instantly went from intensely painful to completely normal, as if a faucet of hormones had been shut off.

I got through the meeting and the rest of the workday only mildly distracted. At home, my wife was rattled but in good spirits overall. We took a walk to Trader Joe’s and didn’t need much time before cracking jokes about our embryo hanging out in the sewer, the waiting period before I could go down on her, and not having to waste the second pregnancy test that came in the box. (I might have been the only one doing the joking, but she was totally cool with it.)

My wife even brought our baby home, wrapped in toilet paper instead of a fuzzy blanket. By then it had dried into something not as striking as the picture she took while fresh. She showed me on her phone but refused to text it out of justified concern I might share too liberally.

I can’t really remember what it looked like, something vaguely resembling peanut butter and jelly with a grayish Tootsie Roll center, or maybe I’m completely off. It made me a little queasy while putting down chicken and broccoli for dinner. She still has the picture if you want to reach out directly; this would be a perfect use case for Snapchat.

I should send it to my mom, who continues to baffle me by referring to the first pregnancy as not real. The positive test and doctor would indicate otherwise, crazy Asian woman. If she keeps this up, I am going to frame an enlarged picture of the dead embryo for her.

On the subject of callous immigrant parents, I try to speak only in Chinese to mine for practice. When I don’t know a word, which is pretty much every sentence, I refuse to give in and instead describe or talk around it.

My vocabulary is like a third-grader’s and certainly doesn’t include “miscarriage.” So I use words to the effect of “the kid died.” After hearing this repeatedly over multiple conversations, even my mom couldn’t take it anymore and told me to stop phrasing it that way.

Evidently I felt no connection with neither the picture nor embryo my wife later unceremoniously flushed away. A miscarriage at seven weeks isn’t materially different than if I had worn a condom that month. I wonder what point that feeling changes, which obviously depends on the person. I wonder what my hypothetical graph of sorrow would look like from seven weeks to nine months.

Surely the potential disappointment would grow with more time invested, like anything. But it’s not like we’re interacting with the fetus during pregnancy and would know the person we lost. I felt a surprising exhilaration when hearing the heartbeat of the current one, but I wouldn’t be mourning a being with any semblance of identity if we lost it too.

For me, the pain of this compassionately early miscarriage resided not in loss, but rather in one of my OCD personality traits. I have a lot of trouble accepting outcomes without the feeling of maximum effort given. I will torture myself with second-guessing and futile analysis to no end.

In this case, our lackadaisical approach after the positive test perturbed me in hindsight. We didn’t even bother to google hot yoga, which is a no-no during pregnancy. My wife felt extremely faint during her last session, and the next day she started spotting.

She also lugged equipment for work halfway across downtown Santa Monica. The doctor assured us these things did not cause the miscarriage, but my advice to anyone with neurotic tendencies is to leave no room for doubt.

To be unequivocally clear, I share these thoughts with zero-point-zero intention of creating guilt. Nature and the human body are so sublimely skilled, it’s a good bet most miscarriages happen for good reason… the optimal outcome for suboptimal pregnancies, part of our infinite biological safeguards.

It could happen again with this one. We’re 16 weeks in and feel more stable being out of the first trimester. I joke about this one dying, which usually draws a pinch from my wife.

I don’t believe in jinxes or superstitions or karma. If I have the power to cause a miscarriage by joking about one, then help me brainstorm some material on winning the lottery and we’ll split it 60-40.

I do believe in the value of talking honestly, for the talker and listener. Check out this pregnancy announcement my wife showed me, my favorite of all time even though I’m not familiar with the celebrity:
 

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As some of you know, @jeffreydeanmorgan is off in Europe getting ready to do some big conventions. And he's self aware enough to know his track record for "spilling the beans" isn't so great (bless his heart!). So before he starts tripping up in an attempt to maintain our privacy, he asked that I go ahead and post something about our little girl's birth. But before I do that, there's something I really want to say to all the women out there who are trying….. It took a long time for Jeffrey and I to have this baby. The first time I got pregnant, it took a year and a half. I surprised him on Christmas with baby Seahawk booties. We cried. We celebrated. We picked out names. And we lost that baby. More losses followed, and as so many couples know, it was heartbreaking. It still is heartbreaking. And every morning of the five years it took us, I'd open my computer at the kitchen table and see the news and I'd grow bitter over the endless parade of celebrities showing off their bumps and babies. I'd weep out of jealousy for how easy it was for them. Didn't they know something could go wrong? Didn't they know that there were other women out there struggling? It pained me to see the corporate sponsored baby showers and magazine covers capitalizing on this human miracle that wasn't happening for us. So when this pregnancy started, we were cautious. I didn't want to celebrate for fear of jinxing it. I didn't want a baby shower. I checked her heartbeat every day, up until the day she was born. And now that she is here, I just stare at her in wonder all day. I see her in her daddy's arms and I don't take any of it for granted. She screams bloody murder and I smile because she is so wildly alive. So now that folks know she's here, I don't want her birth to cause any other woman to weep at her kitchen table. If anything, my wish is that she would restore hope for others. Fertility is a fickle thing. And for the other couples out there who have had dark days, we want to introduce our miracle baby to you and send you our love and support in finding yours. Please meet George Virginia Morgan. She was born February 16th. Her daddy delivered her. We love her very much.

A post shared by Hilarie Burton (@hilarieburton) on

 
Well that really takes the air out of my 1,500 words on a seven-week miscarriage. But I will think of it, and appreciate it, should the time come again.

For now, a beautiful silver lining from losing the first one is I am so excited for this one. I got some bonus time to mature and make my peace. A dirty little trick Mother Nature played, taking something away so I would realize I want it. Phoebe did the same thing with Rachel’s pregnancy test if you recall.

The morning after the miscarriage, I lifted weights and played tennis. With endorphins running and the sun shining, I felt like I had a new lease on life because there was no baby. Now I feel like I have a new lease on life because of this baby.

Good luck little fella! I have a feeling you’re going to be the second-best thing to ever happen to me, behind your mother. And if you don’t make it, we’ll get the next one.
 

 
 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.

To Orange County

We moved to the L.A. version of the suburbs this month. I lived the previous decade walking distance to a cluster of bro-so-hard bars and the Pacific Ocean. Nine of those years were in Hermosa Beach, safely tucked away from the oppressive swell of humanity on the Westside but still in Los Angeles County.

Snobby city folks think of Orange County as the land where homely people go to die. I won’t object to that viewpoint, but keep in mind you won’t be beautiful forever and you’re dying wherever you live.

I prefer to die in comfort. With wide, smooth roads and modern buildings. A strong public school system and less homeless people to make you feel bad for them, but not bad enough to give them money, which subsequently makes you feel bad about yourself.

My wife is one of those pretty rare snobby city folks who actually grew up in L.A. She likes places to be “dirty” (her word) and have “character” (her word), as opposed to the cookie-cutter neighborhoods of my suburban Plano, Texas upbringing.

I’m not so quick to equate physical space with character. Put five of my bros in an Applebee’s, and I think we can run up a bar tab with more personality than some 24-year-old associate nondescripts at The Bungalow trying to get laid with their button-down shirts.

To be clear, I love The Bungalow. The confluence of douchey energy and Hollywood looks is pure gold. But the fact that the lounge is decorated like a house is immaterial. No one is going there to look at furniture.

My previous employer went all Johnny Depp for its holiday party and rented out SHOREbar, a Rihanna favorite. Again, the nautical-themed interior was nowhere near my mind while inhaling whiskey and loving on my old coworkers. Most open-bar events converge to similar outcomes with each passing hour, regardless of the venue.

The character or fun of a place is all about you, what you bring, how you interact with circumstances. People who overemphasize ambience and decor probably don’t have anything interesting to say. People who can’t imagine being happy in a place as big as Orange County probably don’t have big imaginations.

That’s not to say I didn’t feel acute separation anxiety when we shut the door of Apt. 2 for the last time and left the keys on the counter like in the final episode of Friends. And then moved into a cavernous townhouse that gets so cold downstairs I wear fuzzy red slippers.

But it’s a good deal for a Newport Beach zip code at $2600 a month. The same place could easily cost double in popular parts of L.A.

My 37-mile commute from Hermosa to the new job was stretching to 90 minutes one way during peak traffic, while my wife had to drive an hour-plus the opposite direction. Now it takes me six minutes to get to the office, and she works from home four days a week.

Between the time and money savings, there would have to be some seriously compelling reasons to stay in L.A. Yet the reality is we got married and succumbed to the lull of lazy comfort. Very few people get married and then decide they need to put more effort into being fun.

We are suburban. The mere thought of going out on any night except maybe Saturday makes me anxious and exhausted. It is an ironic reversal of the days when I would throw a tantrum anytime my ex tried to make me leave the bar early. I literally stomped my feet like a child at Toys “R” Us. Now anytime my wife commits me to a social event requiring unnatural energy, I go through a full progression of denial-anger-bargaining-depression-acceptance.

A big-box grocery store with the scale to pass on lower prices to consumers sounds more appealing at this point than a comedy club or hipster bar. My wife doesn’t even pretend to like those character-laden coffee shops on those dirty streets of L.A. She goes to Starbucks. Don’t kid yourself — you were born for the O.C. baby.

It’s an area with the infrastructure and open space to support easy living and kid-raising. I didn’t realize in-unit laundry was such an amenity until we moved into the townhouse. I left my clothes in the dryer and just went to bed. It felt so forbidden in a good way, like discovering my first porn.

There will be much more to discover as we settle in behind the “Orange Curtain” and find our favorite strip malls. It will be an adjustment and new chapter for sure, but we’re still the ones writing our book no matter how the buildings look.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.

Seven-Year Switch

Had I stayed at my job two more months, just two more months after seven-plus years, I would have been eligible Jan. 1 for a four-week paid sabbatical. This was announced as a new policy to reward four years of service.

So technically — although this almost certainly would not have worked in practice — I could have timed my sabbatical with my eight-year mark and taken two in a row. Bridge in some holidays and stockpiled PTO, and I would be paid to travel for a quarter of 2019.

That’s the dream, right? I don’t know. I was talking about traveling with a friend who recently started his own company, and he had a refreshing counter perspective. Of course it’s fun to see new places and eat and drink, but he gets more out of being productive.

Traveling after winning the lottery is indeed the dream. Traveling when there’s work to do afterwards is not even close to the same. Take for example my five-month employment gap at age 26. I went to China, tried out for a game show, got to be an extra in a Disney pilot because they were looking for ethnic or “ethnically ambiguous” looks, and read a few random books. But for the most part, I hit the gym in the morning and library all afternoon to find my next job.

With a solid savings account buoyed by steady unemployment checks, I could have just chilled at the beach all day. I was relatively young and relatively unattached, with the time to do whatever I wanted. Maybe spending it at the library showed just how dreadfully unimaginative and conservative I am at my core, but it’s what I gravitated toward without any outside pressure or personal resolutions.

It’s just kind of hard for me to relax when there’s something that needs to be done in the near future. This blog post, as another example, added an antsiness to all my fun time during Thanksgiving break because I force myself to write one per month and the clock was ticking.

So yeah, although a sabbatical or two next year would have been amazing on various levels, the notion didn’t appeal to me as much as figuring out my next career move. I had been thinking about exit routes from the ad agency world for a while, and the timetable was about to be involuntarily accelerated after a conversation with my new boss back in May.

It ended up not happening, but determining a new path for me elevated in my mind from nice-to-have to think-about-at-night. I started by simply browsing a wide swath of companies and positions, figuring there are so many out there I’ve never even heard of that could be a great fit.

Not so much. I am comfortable making the sweeping statement that most jobs suck relative to what you could be doing with the free time. This must be why they have to compensate you to show up. I am highly skeptical when people say they would do their job even after winning the lottery.

It does pose a constructive question though. Are there jobs out there so fulfilling, I would do them for free? Follow your passion. Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.

Hmmm. I don’t know what that means. I love chicken and broccoli because it’s the surest way to get shredded. But I don’t want to be a farmer or bodybuilder.

I love basketball and tennis. But any league willing to take me will require that I’m the one paying them, which doesn’t seem like a financially viable career. I was a sportswriter for a bit, but chasing quotes wasn’t as fun as chasing balls.

I love sex, but again, I think I would have to pay the people I really want to do it with. Besides my wife of course. And the only people who would pay for our sex tape would be unconditionally supportive family and friends, and we would just give it to them for free anyway.

Maybe going down the list of hobbies and interests isn’t the way to approach it. Maybe the purpose of a job is to enable you to have the life you want, which could mean a tolerable workday 9 to 5 while living in a city you love, supporting the family you love, and doing the things you love 5 to 9.

My mom has worked in sales at the same computer wholesaler for a quarter century. In her words, does she like her job? No. Does she like shoes? Yes. And her job lets her buy shoes.

I get it. However, it’s a little too linear even for my pragmatic mindset. There are lots of ways to buy shoes.

Here’s where I netted out. I’m 34 and have a lot of work hours left ahead of me. It is a finite amount though. And the uneasy yet guiding question for me turned out to be: What do I want to spend my next seven years working on?

Like I said, contenders were hard to come by, especially when I couldn’t really define what I was looking for. My suggestion for anyone in the same boat is to avoid the mental treadmill of trying to figure out a career through analysis and reflection, and just keep looking through what’s actually out there. Instead of seeking answers to nebulous questions about meaning and purpose and making top-down decisions from there, put real work into exploring concrete options and draw your conclusions from the bottom up.

I didn’t know I was looking for fintech and an ability to help everyday people. Econ classes in college made me feel as dumb as IKEA instructions do, and I haven’t volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in five years.

Yet I found a company that I believe will occupy an entirely different tier on my Maslow hierarchy. I told my wife about it and declared I was going to keep pursuing a job there, whether it took weeks or years.

The name of the company is Acorns, such a good name for a micro-investing app. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.

 

 

Acorns is best known for rounding up your purchases and putting the spare change into a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds. Ashton Kutcher, who has crushed early-staging investing with a bunch of startups including Airbnb and Uber, was asked by Stephen Colbert what his next hit might be:

 

 

The round-up feature is one small part of the big picture. Acorns just launched a retirement product and sold out preorders of an innovative debit card made of tungsten, the heaviest non-radioactive element. The mission is to build an entire financial wellness system for up-and-coming folks to save and invest.

This is a staggering problem. Seven out of 10 Americans don’t have $1,000 saved up for an emergency, yet their bank will ding them $35 for an overdraft fee. It’s a f___ joke with a sorry punchline.

For those of you lamenting the political times, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink traces the anxiety and polarization around the world directly to a lack of secure retirement prospects and financial tools. In terms of social impact, I don’t know how you can get more fundamental than empowering people to have the future they want. Plus I find personal finance inherently stimulating. I could explain Acorns to a stranger in a bar with genuine energy, which I think is a solid litmus test for job fit.

So that’s what I want to work on for the next seven years. I started this month as director of business development, tasked with brand partnerships.

Brands on our platform reward people for shopping with them by depositing cash forward, instead of cash back, into their Acorns account. This is a unique way to reach new and lapsed customers and build a relationship with a millennial audience adept at tuning out traditional advertising. Acorns charges the brand, and our shared customers get their investment frictionlessly. Everybody wins.

My role at Acorns is comfortingly familiar in some ways and refreshingly new in others. I feel hokey calling it the proverbial dream job, but it does feel like all the experience and work over the last decade led me to this happy opportunity. I can’t think of another company in the world I would rather join.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.

Before and After Piper

Sometimes I saunter through the office and announce to no one in particular, “God I love the Pipe.” There is usually no response, not even a lifted eyebrow from HR, because it’s common knowledge what I’m talking about.

The dog’s name is Piper. My coworker brings her into the office twice a week. We have a connection that people find borderline weird. It really doesn’t make much sense at first glance.

Piper is not the type to go out of her way to bond with humans. Most coworkers get the impression she doesn’t like them, and I think they’re probably right. She has this wonderful aloofness about her, tinged with a subtle arrogance. It’s hilarious and endearing and makes me love her even more.

Somehow, she loves me back. Out of all people in this puppy-crazy world, I have to be among the unlikeliest candidates for this reciprocation. Before Piper, I found dog obsession to be a reflection of emotional weakness, underdeveloped social skills, and low standards of stimulation and fulfillment.

When my aunt had to put the longtime family dog to sleep, she told my mom the story of how the poor thing couldn’t let go and close his eyes until my uncle said goodbye. My mom cried hearing it, then cried telling it to her coworker, who in turn started crying.

When I heard the story, I said, “Wait… I thought Buddy’s been dead for like 10 years.”

Dogs just didn’t really register in my consciousness. I didn’t understand the whole pet worship thing, and most owners seemed to fall somewhere between silly and annoying.

Now Piper occupies about 90 percent of my consciousness, or at least my iCloud storage. She’s my best friend. I am obsessed with her.

I don’t know precisely how or when this odd couple thing started. Probably the key contributing factor was that I used to sit across from Piper’s owner. This created a familiarity and association with their loving relationship. (She’s the best dog owner I’ve ever seen.) Piper quickly found a comfort level sprawling her big body out under my desk.

 

 

Other dogs I more or less tuned out, but Piper’s presence was hard to ignore. She doesn’t exactly blend in. She has linebacker size and safety speed at full gallop. With long, flowing, Pantene-soft hair the color of snow, I always think of the white wolves in Game of Thrones. Except trade the snarls for a beauty pageant face.

So I had this near-mythical creature loitering under my desk, yet I didn’t have much experience interacting with even normal canines. My wife once was so embarrassed when I waved to a stranger’s dog.

I guess I just talked to Piper like a human and refrained from invading her personal space. When people treat her like a dumb puppy starving for attention, she generally responds with some combination of haughty indifference, stoic dignity and go f yourself.

I have a habit of asking coworkers how much they love Piper, and usually the response is some version of “She doesn’t give a s___ about me.” It’s not an unfair assessment.

Maybe Piper sensed I was different and felt at ease. Certainly at ease enough to share my leg room.

 

 

And if her interpretation of sharing was not allowing me to pivot, so be it.

 

 

If she felt like napping, the onus was on me to work around her space and schedule.

 

 

People got accustomed to seeing the two of us hanging at my desk and stepping over this beautiful fire hazard of a dog in the aisle.

 

Photo credit: either the Frenchman or the Texan

 

One fine day I was eating a hard-boiled egg, and Piper seemed particularly interested. Her owner enlightened me with the knowledge that eggs are not only OK for dogs, they’re healthy.

So I gave Piper half. And then I started giving her a whole one just about every visit. I can’t remember for sure whether this was when she started following me around everywhere, but that would be a reasonable assumption.

Every time I get up from my chair, Piper bolts to my side and shadows me so closely I can feel her breath on my hand. If I go to the bathroom, she waits by the door and her giant dinosaur head is already poking in as soon as I start to open it.

 

Photo credit: Mr. Newlywed

 

If I go to a conference room or someone’s office, she camps out by the glass and alternates between resting and staring at me intently. One time in Conference Room E, there was a gap between the sliding door and wall that couldn’t have been more than an inch, and Piper kept trying to squeeze her entire face through it.

 

 

If I leave the office before her, I try to sneak out because every goodbye hurts my soul.

 

 

Now that I’ve moved desks around the corner, Piper likes to set up shop equidistant from her owner and me with clean lines of sight. But she still considers my vicinity her territory.

 

 

And seems to take satisfaction in making people step around or over her.

 

 

This dog has both the beauty and the brains. She is highly perceptive and knows she has me wrapped around her pretty little paw. When she strolls over to me with that surly countenance, I don’t know if she’s trying to elicit affection or shake me down for the three bags of treats I keep in the bottom drawer.

 

 

Weird, huh? I always take science over spirituality, but Piper actually makes me think twice about reincarnation. She often just sits there and locks eyes with me, as if we knew each other from a different time and space. We can go on in this staring contest forever until I look away first.

 

 

Her side-eye, by the way, is legendary in the Silicon Beach community.

 

 

We do have a connection, and it makes more sense at second glance. We both hate children and scooters and will celebrate when they are proven to be meaningless fads.

We both love food in a visceral, drug-addict-type way. My wife googled Piper’s breed, aptly named with grandeur — The Great Pyrenees — and learned these types of dogs are known to be more serious than playful.

That is totally my style. This blog is the most playful thing I do. Ask my wife and she’ll tell you I am a pure square who seeks rational routine.

Currently I’m trying to get her to accept the idea of having a written roommate agreement like Sheldon’s in The Big Bang Theory. It’s supposed to be a joke in the show about a social freak’s absurdities, but it seems sensible to me to formalize best practices such as prohibiting cell phones at the dinner table and giving 24-hour notice of visitors so I can mentally prepare.

Piper and I are even converging a bit in our preferences. She goes berserk barking at skateboarders, and rather than reprimand her, I think I hate skateboarders too now. They make so much noise relative to the amount of work being done and distance covered. Sorry bro, JNCO went out of business this year and out of style, like, 2 years ago.

I know about the skateboarding thing because twice Piper has come home with me to Hermosa Beach for the weekend. Six months ago, I would have found it incomprehensible to ever volunteer to dog-sit. Now I make sure the owner knows I’m available 24/7 and encourage her to travel more.

Picking up Piper from her home the first time created a lot of anxiety for me. I was convinced she wouldn’t recognize me outside of the office. But that fear evaporated when she charged at full gallop and greeted me on hind legs. It was breathtaking because she has the aura of a unicorn.

When I transport her in my Honda Pilot, I feel like an Uber driver because again, I talk to her like a human, and she’s as tall as anyone when sitting up straight.

 

 

A moving vehicle also doesn’t disrupt her tendency to get up in my grill. Sometimes when I swivel my head to check my blind spot, I end up nose-to-nose with Piper like a UFC weigh-in.

 

 

The first night she slept over, I checked so many times to make sure she was still breathing. Isn’t that what you do with a newborn baby?

Piper starts each day at our apartment before dawn, standing next to our bed motionless and expressionless. It’s what possessed children in horror movies do, but there is nothing else I would rather see when I first open my eyes. Through my sleepy fog, I ask her, “Are you ready to party?”

She then sits in the same spot to watch me put on my shoes, resembling a gargoyle statue in the dark.

 

 

And then we party so hard. I have a strong aversion to holding any tension on the leash because I want her to feel free. Any time I have to pull her back, I get irritated with everything and everybody in the surrounding area.

Piper chases birds with reckless aggression, and I am willing to risk sprained ankles lunging down narrow steps and jumping over ledges in that pursuit. This video might make you nauseated, but understand the shaking is because I am flailing while trying to keep up with her 4.4 speed.

 

 

You wouldn’t think Piper with her aristocratic mannerisms gets down like that. There are so many layers to her. People are mesmerized by her beautiful white fur, but her rebellious streak dictates she find the most efficient ways to sully it.

 

 

How awesome is Piper, right? Walking side-by-side with her as she collects endless compliments and admiring looks, I haven’t felt this cool in Hermosa Beach since my old roommate was bringing home one out of every four single girls west of PCH.

 

 

At home I like to tell Piper she’s my best friend and then make a lip-smacking sound an inch above her big head. (I don’t actually kiss her because she doesn’t shower every day.)

 

 

Fortunately, Piper and my wife get along like cookies and cream. I think part of it is they each sense how special the other is to me.

 

 

Whenever someone visits, we’ve learned to coordinate the initial meeting with Piper outside. Because if you step into our space, her protective instincts go wild. She growls and barks with startling ferocity, and to be honest we’re not supposed to have pets in our apartment.

This might be wishful interpretation on my part, but I get the feeling Piper does consider me in her inner circle to protect. She was so well-behaved at the barber shop, yet watching me closely the whole time as if to make sure this guy with the scissors wasn’t a threat.

 

 

I am obviously putting words in her drooly mouth and probably displacing my own feelings. I would die for Piper if needed. I’ve pictured various scenarios with a bear, out-of-control car, mass shooter, and I’m comfortable making the sacrifice.

It doesn’t hold much logic given Piper is not even my dog, and the expected value math breaks down with the huge discrepancy in our species’ life spans.

But kind of like I didn’t understand the big deal about marriage until I met my wife, I didn’t understand the big deal about dogs until I met Piper. Feeling loved by this creature brings me so much joy.

I was musing the other day during the lottery craze that if I were offered the $1.5 billion winning ticket with the stipulation of never getting to see Piper again… I would still have to take the ticket. But I would hire a celebrity photographer to put together a sick montage of Piper and watch it every day on my yacht.

Guess what I would name the yacht.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.

Crazy Rich Ab-omination

While watching two white buddies on the couch like zoo animals, I was perplexed how a video game could compel men in their 30s to wear headsets and interact through avatars. It was a bit of a racial role reversal, given how seriously some Asians take their gaming.

Role reversal no. 2 came when they gushed about the movie Crazy Rich Asians and were perplexed how I found it to be horrendous. Perhaps the movements and rhetoric and hashtags have created an overcompensatory environment in Hollywood, and people are afraid to speak poorly of a minority-driven movie.

If I need to step up here as an Asian and vocalize what you white devils are thinking, I will be your yellow knight.

Crazy Rich Asians was a fundamentally bad movie. I appreciated it because I got to see people who look like me dominate the screen for once. That only happens in my parents’ living room when they Chromecast Chinese talk shows with set lighting gaudy enough to cause a seizure through the TV.

Certainly I am excited this important film was made and happy about $165 million at the box office. But it was so bad. People talk about it like it’s Shawshank or something. Am I the crazy one here?

Objectively, if it were the same movie but with a white cast — let’s say Eastern European to keep the premise of an overseas culture — everyone would have walked out before the credits.

I know romantic comedies, and this one goes on the bottom shelf. It’s not even in the same library as 10 Things I Hate About You, Serendipity, You’ve Got Mail, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Friends with Benefits, Crazy Stupid Love, Hitch, America’s Sweethearts, Valentine’s Day

Here are my three main complaints in descending order of severity.

Casting (abs). Honestly, abs (casting).

This particular objection admittedly is less about the movie and more about the psyche of Asian men marginalized in American culture. This was our shot to be sexy.

The shirtless scene in any given rom-com essentially functions as the thumbnail in the brain’s vast memory drive. Or maybe that’s just me.

In any case, we needed to crush this scene for the billion of us around the world and millions swiped left without a fighting chance in favor of nerdy Jewish guys. But when it was finally our turn to introduce to the mainstream a strapping, shirtless Asian male lead… I saw a midsection that resembled a misshapen alien head. We would have been better off with yet another hack small penis joke.

Don’t get me wrong — I liked the guy too. He was charming and handsome, dashing even.

But bro, you have the unenviable task of going up against Gosling, Tatum, Reynolds, Kutcher and the legend himself McConaughey… and you can’t knock out a few planks?

It’s the one thing you can control. Would you show up to a game of 21 with LeBron and Westbrook wearing flip-flops? Why make the impossible even harder? It was like when Sandra Bullock got exasperated with Keanu in Speed after he punctured the gas tank:

What, you thought you needed another challenge or something?

Unless you’re Leo or Johnny Depp, there is a professional obligation to put the requisite work into your body if it’s going to be showcased on a 60-foot screen. Even someone as pretty as Zac Efron went nine zero-carb days eating only organic protein and leafy greens in preparation for Baywatch. And he wasn’t representing an entire gene pool.

It’s not that hard to mess around at the gym for a bit and swallow bland food. I get ridiculed for my stretching-to-lifting ratio and how I seem to reduce weight every session. But I exercise consistently and string together some chicken-and-broccoli meals during the week, so most Saturdays I wake up admiring noticeable definition:

 

 

Plus I work at a desk. You’re a movie star. You can hire a trainer and a chef. You can be one of those mysterious well-dressed creatures somehow going to the gym at 10:30 in the morning. What am I missing here? Why wasn’t more effort made or better yet, Daniel Henney called?

I am still furious.

Dialogue

The script was as thin, flat and cheesy as Cheez-Its and this simile. Everyone knows that discomfort when a stand-up comic is struggling, and you want to laugh but can’t seem to force out even a fake one. I felt that way the whole movie, and I didn’t hear much giggling from the rest of the audience.

Compare that to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Granted, a rom-com doesn’t have to be laugh-out-loud funny to be entertaining. But the words being said have to at least be not annoying.

Half of the movie sounded like Family Matters in terms of corny jokes and awkward heart-to-hearts. When the best man and groom left that rager of a bachelor party and found a little island to talk about their feelings, I was looking around the theater like what is happening.

It was unbearably cheesy. He actually called him his best friend. No guy past elementary school calls another guy his best friend to his face. There are no circumstances when this is necessary.

And it was a bachelor party, my god. After Nashville 2016, I’m not sure a bachelor party even really begins until someone gets a black eye. Before mine, my wife felt the need to reach out to select attendees and specifically instruct them not to mess up my face before the wedding.

This script needed a laugh track and would have killed on TBS in the 90s.

Chemistry

The acting and talent were good, but it was more Minnesota Timberwolves than Golden State Warriors. Solid individual performers didn’t make each other better or the team greater than the sum of the parts.

They played their roles capably but had weak chemistry together — the main couple, the gorgeous cousin and cheating husband, daughter-mom, son-mom. Everything felt stuck in low gear.

I didn’t feel the connection I did while getting misty-eyed three times during Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Sure I was pulling for the all-around happy ending, but if the last scene had turned out to be like the Red Wedding… eh, you can’t win ’em all.

Crazy Rich Asians held attention well but was neither romantic nor comedic. From my racially biased perspective, it was a missed opportunity that hopefully still opened the door for more opportunity.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Acorns and Hamsters

I was well on my way to being a crazy rich Asian with my one-stock portfolio on the cusp of hitting $63,000 back in June. I entered the game in February with $51,000 and simply kept moving in and out of safe stocks such as Amazon and Google, playing the swings and staying patient enough to never sell at a loss.

This amounted to a return of more than 23 percent in four months, and I was routinely telling my parents they needed to reach a higher net worth to join my burgeoning hedge fund.

Then I bought 301 shares of Alibaba after a 1-percent drop, planning to sell when it went back up a dollar. But it hasn’t in two months. The “Amazon of China” is acting like a cheap knockoff, and now I’m hovering in the $53K range after dipping near break-even. Over six months, it’s still much better than a savings account and almost certainly will rise again.

 

 

That’s how it goes when playing the market. As a prerequisite, your life should not be affected if you lose 20 percent – or ideally, all of it. Really all you need is a long time horizon and discipline not to panic.

Most people who know what they’re talking about will tell me to stop trying to be Warren Buffett and just put money into low-cost index funds. Warren Buffett would tell me that, too. Contribute consistently and pay no attention to market fluctuations.

So in parallel, I invest virtual spare change into a diversified portfolio through an app called Acorns. If I buy groceries for $27.83, it rounds up to $28 and 17 cents goes into a broad mix of stocks and bonds based on my profile.

I would love a guilt tax feature that “fined” me a dollar for every fast food or beer purchase. Maybe $100 because of the low volume. As someone who once modeled the same shirt as Reggie Bush for an athletic apparel brand in consecutive Instagram posts and defeated him in heart taps, 257-234, I don’t put that garbage in my body very often.

 

 

I don’t know how I beat Reggie Bush. At first glance, the challenge would seem so daunting I wouldn’t know how to begin. That’s the problem with first-time investors trying to make sense of ETFs and IRAs and EPS’s. One step at a time. The key is to just get started.

Acorns works because it reduces barriers to entry and makes complicated things feel effortless. The premise applies to a lot of businesses. We just launched a platform at work that simplifies local social advertising for national brands with scattered franchises. If that’s the kind of thing you like to talk about in the bedroom, you know whom to call.

During my sexy time between the sheets, I like to whisper to my wife about 401(k)s and time value of money. It’s become a bit of a calling for me, to encourage younger people (not that we’re young) to get past the inertia when it comes to saving and investing.

Trying to outwork a bad diet is like being the hamster in the wheel. The same thing goes for trying to outwork a lack of savings. There are only so many hours you have left to work in your life. Your money needs to work for you.

There was a story in The New York Times this month about bankruptcy among senior citizens tripling since the 90s. I’m known as a robot who doesn’t cry at weddings, including my own. But talk to me about old people in poverty, and you can find me locked in the bathroom ugly-crying like my wife would at a wedding between two one-legged dogs.

It’s so sad. Behavioral economists are winning Nobel Prizes trying to figure out why people are so irrational when it comes to saving for retirement.

My wife’s attitude before she met me was basically no f’s given, presumably paycheck to paycheck until the hamster dropped dead. She’s gotten better, and I recently asked her for the first time in our five years together how much she had saved up.

When she told me, I said something like “Oh, that’s nothing” and she burst into tears. I wasn’t trying to be derisive. I meant it more literally, that relative to her age and amount of working years, this was a nominal amount essentially rounding to zero. The second-grade students she used to teach are doing about as well with their piggy banks, when adjusting for differences in disposable income.

Am I a monster? Sometimes I feel like a jerk the way I express logic. I love my wife, and she writes off most of what I say to my being “special needs.” The label doesn’t offend me at all. It actually makes me feel special indeed, even though I’m fully aware of the intent.

I am right about this one, though. We can’t count on social security, pensions or incomes that keep pace with inflation and healthcare costs. Even some mindless investing of spare change right now changes that scary picture. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, hopefully tall enough for hamsters to earn some rest in the shade.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Single and Interchangeable

I hope this doesn’t warrant a #MeToo, but I have a habit of forcing my wife to the edge of the bed so she has to back her body into mine unless she wants to fall several feet to the hard floor and risk concussion.

If she tries to wriggle for some breathing room, I immediately advance into the empty space and she loses even more territory. Inevitably, her myopic escape attempts lead to multiple limbs hanging over the edge, and I retreat just enough to accommodate the compact spooning we should have skipped to in the first place rather than play this tired charade. We end up falling asleep occupying about one-fifth of the bed.

I just can’t get enough of that sensation of a human being consensually pressing against me. It makes me feel loved.

My favorite non-human creature in the universe is a coworker’s dog who visits the office once or twice a week. I figured out if I reach over her body and pet underneath the far hind leg, she’ll press her haunches against me. Again, it’s a feeling that floats near the top of my Maslow hierarchy.

I bring up all this cuddle talk to acknowledge my appreciation for companionship before telling you my wife was gone for 12 straight days this month, and I didn’t really notice much of a difference, let alone miss her.

I’m not trying to be mean or tough, just observant. It’s kind of interesting, right? Twelve days isn’t long, especially with a known end date. But it’s long enough to miss things that don’t have a perfect or close substitute: toothbrush, internet, exercise, car in L.A.

So what substituted for my wife? I abhor strip clubs, and I made it until the last day without so much as a sideways glance at adult material. I didn’t want to cave but felt I had to honor the circumstances, like being given an In-N-Out Double-Double when you’re not really hungry. What are you supposed to do, live with the missed opportunity because you didn’t feel like it at the time?

I suppose some combination of work, family, friends and leisure outlets elevated while my wife was on the other side of the Atlantic. These elements aren’t necessarily neglected because of marriage, but naturally they get more attention in the absence of it. They didn’t substitute for my wife, but they absorbed the extra time and kept my quality of life from dipping.

My life partner undoubtedly adds so much value. However, this value is not immune to opportunity cost. This is what I like to impart when single friends lament their dating struggles.

You should celebrate and enjoy the aspects of being single that you won’t get on the other side. It sounds lame coming from a happily married guy, like a millionaire pontificating about how money isn’t everything. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

I think being single and being married offer the same ceiling of satisfaction. They simply get there in different ways.

If I’m getting 20 units of utility from having someone to talk to at the end of the day, maybe if I were single I would get 5 from FaceTiming my mom more, 5 from more bro time, 5 from reading for pleasure, and 5 from that deep peace of shutting down with no one else around.

If I’m getting 50 units from cuddling, maybe I would get 5 from more REM sleep, 5 from answering to a single alarm schedule, and the balance would be made up over the medium term with the occasional steamy casual hookup.

If I’m getting 100 units from companionship, maybe 20 would be offset by discovery and adventure, 20 by independence, 20 by personal growth without a social crutch, 20 by pouring time into a passion project, and 20 by the drive to meet new people.

It seems to me living a good single life is a more diversified approach to investing in your limited time on Earth. Single friends are distinct in my mind, each with a story and personality. Most of my married friends kind of blend into one heuristic, especially the white ones who go to brunch together. There is a clear regression to a very boring, unremarkable mean shortly after “I do.”

Yet when I talk to single folks in their 30s, I hear a singular fixation on finding a spouse. It makes me worried they will settle for a mediocre relationship rather than a fulfilling single life.

There should be no rush as long as you’re being mindful enough to enjoy the present. Yes the clock is ticking on everyone, which is why you shouldn’t waste it on people not worth the time.

Are you worried about being old, sick and ugly and dying utterly alone? I truly cannot think of a better way to die at that point. I don’t want anyone to see me like that. I like being married while I’m still rocking a six-pack. When it comes time to roll around in my own diarrhea, I actually would rather not have any company.

Two weeks shy of 2 years married, I fully plan on getting to the diarrhea stage with my wife. For whatever reason (and by whatever reason, I mean children), most people gravitate toward marriage. If that’s the goal, I would just encourage the right frame of mind, one that allows you to be happily single until happily married.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Deep in the Heart of North Texans

My dad almost — and “almost” is even a bit of an understatement — died on a Thursday this month. I didn’t find out until the ensuing Monday afternoon after picking up on a curious context clue in a text from my brother:

… in the wake of Dad almost dying the other day…

Fortunately I didn’t need to dwell in suspense and conjecture because I saw the text at the same time as the one that followed 10 minutes later:

 

 

So I called my mom in a bit of a daze, just as she was helping load my dad into the car after checking out of the hospital. This was four-and-a-half days after he flirted so hard with Death they had to use a condom.

He really should have died. Lest you think I’m being a dramatic child of a nuclear family from the suburbs, here’s how close it was:

  • My 64-year-old dad goes on long bike rides in north Texas with a cycling club. He has a ritual of competing against other riders to the top of steep hills. This time, circa mile 42, his vision went brown to black in 2 seconds, and his heart stopped working. Now I know the reason why I feel compelled before softball every Wednesday to announce I’m putting my heart on the line and willing to die for a victory. This was inherited.

  • By some measures, cardiac arrest is the No. 3 killer in America, with an out-of-hospital survival rate of 6 percent. Stats vary of course. The fire chief said his team gets five or six patients who die a week, and about one a month survives. So yeah, right around 6 percent or worse in stretches.

  • An angelic bystander called 911 a minute or two after my dad crashed. Allen Fire Rescue was dispatched in 22 seconds and arrived in 7 minutes flat. This could not have happened earlier, when the cyclists were traversing remote, wooded areas not easily accessible by ambulance.

  • Meanwhile my dad’s heart wasn’t beating, which seems to me a challenging way to go about living life. Without an oxygen supply to the brain, we’re talking minutes before irreversible damage and death. The paramedics would have been too late, except…

  • Two cyclists in the group traded off giving CPR. This was like a Curry-Thompson backcourt. Playing on a Pop-A-Shot. They pumped with such incredible volume and effectiveness, my dad was showing signs of gaining consciousness. This is rare. They’re getting the City of Allen’s Mayor Award.

The heroes gave my dad a fighting chance until the professional heroes got there. One shock from the defibrillator restarted his life and kept my family from having to reboot ours. I am still processing that I really should be burying my dad this month rather than talking to him about the stock market.

If he were going into an operation with a 94-percent chance of dying, I would be googling how to plan a funeral. But I found about it all after the fact and didn’t have a chance to feel or think anything in real time.

My parents didn’t see any utility in telling me what happened right away. I was headed to a bachelor party in New Orleans that Thursday, so why worry me. I couldn’t really help, given I’m not the Asian doctor son they still see in their daydreams. My dad seemed fine in the hospital, and emotional support isn’t really a thing in our household.

Do you see why I am the way I am? Check out how my dad technically broke the news before I stumbled on it.

It was Saturday, two days after near death, and my brother sent a pic of a steak he cooked. His unfortunate face is in there because he knows I hate all pictures without people in them. Who cares? I can google your stupid sunsets and foods and skylines and get better images in less than a second.

Anyway, here’s the text thread:

 

 

I was flirting with my own kind of blackout at this point, on my way to shirtless chest-bumping up and down Bourbon Street while screaming “Let’s Goooo” ad nauseam. Yet my brother was sober and didn’t pick up on it either.

This might be retrofitting vague memory, but I remember brushing off the cardiac arrest text as a reference to the red meat. Plus my mom followed it up with another comment on the steak.

Who cares about the mother effing steak? Are you guys sociopaths? It’s such a bizarre way to communicate. I had no idea what was going on and responded with my own dinner pic. My dad’s phonetic Chinese response roughly translates to “Gerald is being a class clown,” and that was the end of the conversation.

For those who wonder why I seem emotionally detached and robotic at times, this is your glimpse into nature versus nurture. As my dad recovers, I don’t have to cringe at the next phone call potentially bringing news of a relapse. I can rest easy knowing if he dies, I will be notified via email.

Even before this episode, I thought of my 30s as the age to find peace with losing a parent. The actual death happens much earlier or later for many, but I think it’s a good time to mature and mentally if not logistically prepare.

Here was my terrifying, rude, beautiful, sublime wake-up call. My dad is not going to live forever, and he certainly won’t be threatening any longevity records with that heart.

It’s a reality I accept in increments. For now, my heart is overcome with appreciation for nonsensical texts, no overt emotion, English-Mandarin conversations, memories, lessons, security, presence, cyclists who ride or die together, faceless heroes who put their hearts on the line every day, medical technology, and whatever it is that makes strangers go to bat for each other.

You might notice I dance around using names and curse words in this blog, but let me just say I am so fucking grateful for Joe Falkner and Jim Sanders.

Ron Wallach, Jackie Miller and the rest of Fred Badenhop’s ride group. The neighborhood man and his daughter who called 911.

Daniel Williams, Allen Fire Rescue Division Chief. Jonathan Boyd, Allen Fire Department Assistant Chief. Their teams. Texas Health Allen.

All heart.

 

 
 
 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Facebook’s Man-Child-Sized Problem

The fundamental challenge for Facebook is not personalization versus privacy, but the platform’s uncanny ability to either empower annoying people to rise or somehow turn normal people annoying.

That will be the preeminent social network’s downfall should the day ever come. No one cares about data handling. You got 1 million emails last week about privacy policy updates and read zero of them. It’s just not interesting enough to disrupt the comforts of daily routine.

Facebook could have told you it launched a new feature called Cambridge Analytica, and you would object, then forget. Because there’s macro stuff people like to scream about; there’s the micro day-to-day they live in; and often not much of a connection is maintained between the two.

By the way, I know it’s unsettling to think about Facebook being manipulated to influence election results. Zuckerberg should and did take some ownership. But if your vote was decided by the dubious techniques of Cambridge Analytica, then you should consider the rigor with which you consume information and construct your reality and opinions.

The salient question in my mind is not whether Facebook has become too powerful, but the opposite – so boring that it’s moving toward irrelevance.

Here’s the root of the problem, very simple to describe. The people I want to post content rarely do. The people I don’t want to post content range from steady nuisances to horrific power users, like some sort of digital opioid addicts.

Maybe it’s just my news feed, but I doubt it. Facebook saw enough need to create a snooze button. I use it at least once per browsing session in hopes of making the next one slightly better.

But good content scarcely bubbles to the top, only a hodgepodge of no-value-added links, stupid commentary, dull updates and infinite iterations of the same photo. I glanced over some Facebook posting guidelines I wrote 4 years ago and still agree with them for the most part.

Leading the pack are these parents who must not have developed much of a personality or identity before their nondescript children entered their world and thus everybody else’s digital world.

They are relentless with post after post built on the erroneous assumption their kids are special or interesting to others. That would be like using the wrong value for pi. All your output is wrong.

I’ll tell you about one special child, but I have to do it delicately because I don’t want to be mean. Normally I scroll through baby pictures quickly enough to avoid the images registering in my brain.

If you’re one of my baby-posting Facebook friends, know that I couldn’t pick your kid out of a lineup. I’m hitting the Like or heart button because of your name. What’s underneath is a blur of nothingness.

Recently though, a pic of a toddler almost floored me. We talk about thumb-stopping creative at the ad agency I work for, and this eclipsed anything our designers could ever do in Photoshop.

The genderless thing was just so strange-looking. Not hideous or ugly, but deeply unappealing to the point of making the viewer uncomfortable. So yeah, kind of ugly.

I showed my baby-and-puppy-fawning, former schoolteacher wife expecting a reprimand, but instead she asked me to screenshot and send to her. She wanted to pass it on to her sister so they could gawk together at this child with fully grown adult features. A Tyrion Lannister costume for Halloween is a no-brainer for the next 10 years.

Again, I am not trying to be mean. The child’s looks surely will improve over time, provided it has the same condition Benjamin Button did.

And don’t worry, it’s not your baby. The mom and I are the most distant of acquaintances, and it’s a virtual certainty she does not read this blog.

This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about though. The people with interesting things to say and share probably are too thoughtful and self-aware to post a full photobiography of their awkward, unconsenting child.

Meanwhile, the people without anything compelling to offer lack that level of thought and creativity and operate in rapid-fire mode. I tried being super strict and unfollowing anyone mediocre or worse, but then I was left with no content.

Once again, there’s the intrinsic problem. Professionals aside, charismatic and stimulating people use Facebook sparingly.

Here’s my solution. I think it’s such a solid idea for Facebook or a rival new platform, but the few people I told seemed lukewarm about it.

The intent is to coerce more users to participate and contribute, instead of relying on this dreadful cross section to dominate conversation. Creating a little content should be the ante for consuming a lot of it.

Let’s call it a Level 2 news feed. In order to access this feed, you have to post something once every 14 days. If it’s been more than 14 days, you’re locked out until you post.

Does anyone else think this is a sensible concept? Facebook would actually be worth the time spent on it with a diversity of content drowning out the staple annoyances.

Most people think they have nothing good to share. But when forced, they would be surprised. I go through the same process every month with this blog.

There is always something on your mind, and I would like to hear it. This is the connection and community Facebook ostensibly wants to build along with its staggering base of ad revenue.

The money will keep flowing as long as the people don’t leave. Whether that will ever happen really comes down to not what Facebook shares, but what is shared on Facebook.

 

 

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