The Insufficient Language of Boredom

In these times of sheltering in place from COVID-19, the insufficiency of the word “bored” is especially pressing. It carries a connotation of indolence. Laziness. Consider: Children complain, “I’m bored.” Parents respond with a list of chores. The children’s problem is not solved, simply transformed into a less indolent flavor of boredom.

But also consider: A middle manager’s day is booked with back-to-back Zoom meetings, where she re-hashes the same talking points among multiple stakeholders. So boring. She hopes the next day will be different, and it is: she spends it approving expenses, vacation requests, and system entitlements; she fills out status reports and tailors the language to each audience to which she’s beholden. Bored bored bored.

Indeed, these are times that call for greater precision. The experience of boredom is multifaceted. Though any number of dimensions could be argued, I propose three:

  1. Unstimulated / Stimulated is mental engagement: intellectual, emotional, aesthetic.
  2. Unoccupied / Busy is the engagement of one’s time and effort.
  3. Discomfort / Pleasure is the basic component of emotional experience. Pain or pleasure. Aversive or attractive. Boredom is discomfort, of course, but let’s include pleasure for contrast.

The combinations of these dimensions yield emotional states that deserve their own vacabulary. These are some proposals. They certainly invite improvement.

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I’m feeling bored if I’m experiencing unstimulated, unoccupied discomfort, like when I’m sitting on the sofa, with no motivation to attack anything on the to-do list, and feeling miserable about it.

I’m feeling relaxed if I’m experiencing unstimulated, unoccupied pleasure, like when I wake up with the alarm but realize it’s a weekend with no commitments but to listen to the wind howl outside while snug in my bed.

I’m feeling burdened if I’m experiencing unstimulated, busy discomfort, like when my day is full of pointless bullshit, the completion of which is a precondition for getting paid.

I’m feeling meditative if I’m experiencing unstimulated, busy pleasure, like when I’m driving, or stuffing dumplings, or doing something easily productive, and getting into the flow of it.

I’m feeling restless if I’m experiencing stimulated, unoccupied discomfort, like when my brain is bursting with ideas, I don’t have the means to act on them, and I’m frustrated by it.

I’m feeling imaginative if I’m experiencing stimulated, unoccupied pleasure, like when I’m caught up in daydreaming.

I’m feeling stressed if I’m experiencing stimulated, busy discomfort, like when I have engaging work, but way too much of it.

I’m feeling engaged if I’m experiencing stimulated, busy pleasure, like when I’m in the zone, doing something I want to do.

Any better adjectives? Any additional dimensions? Chime in. It’s not like you have anything better to do…

 

The Chicago Pedway: Descent and Return

The GPS guided me into the dim, twisting tunnels of Lower Wacker Drive, where its signal promptly cut out. Lower Wacker is a realm of eternal night. The walls block the lake-sense that tells Chicagoans which direction is east, and there is no skyline or architecture to orient them. The street signs, where they exist, are easy to miss. The only landmarks — small placards indicating which building is above a stretch of concrete ceiling — whiz by before they register. (You don’t slow down, lest you anger the dark racers always on your rear bumper.) There’s an economy of sorts, down here. Homeless men are the rangers and guards in this urban cavern. They sit at intersections, and for a couple of bucks, will point lost drivers to a ramp ascending back into daylight. They’ll also watch your car if you park in one of the sunless lots. Keeping calm, I watched for light at the intersections, where I could turn and exit to the familiar, sunlit surface.

IMG_20171230_103129847Lower Wacker Drive is an unchecked box on my list of Chicagoan credentials. Coincidentally, I was driving downtown to meet my friend Sam at the Fairmont Hotel for a tour of another open item on my list: the Chicago Loop Pedway. The Pedway is a system of covered passages downtown, through which the savvy adventurer can navigate much of the Loop, protected from the rain or cold. But the Pedway can be as twisty a maze as Lower Wacker, and both are rightly feared. No few unwitting wanderers have lost their way, down below. But Sam’s old improv friend, Margaret Hicks (who operates as Chicago Elevated Tours), would play Virgil to our Dante. At last I would face my fear, and inch closer to being an Expert Chicagoan.

We began our descent from the lower level of the Fairmont Hotel. Other cities with extreme weather have pedways, but Chicago’s is different because it isn’t a centrally planned or managed entity. It’s a network of basements, voluntarily connected by their respective owners. It’s an organic hodgepodge, more grown than constructed, more evolved than designed. You can tell when you’re moving from the territory of one hotel or office to the next. The carpets, lighting, decor, and smells all change. Even the signage and wayfinder markers are inconsistent. The connections are sometimes ad-hoc. It brings to mind analogous concepts in computers, from the architecture of the internet, to the “Cathedral and Bazaar” model of open source software. Loosely coupled components. The User Experience is all over the place. It’s part of what makes it confusing, but also your greatest ally when navigating. There exists a map, but it’s not particularly helpful.

IMG_20171230_113107325Margaret cited an improv maxim: “If it feels wrong, do it more.” Follow that unlikely path, even if you’re certain it’s not “official.” Embrace the chaos. It will give you what you need, if not always what you want. Open yourself to the Pedway, and the Pedway will open itself to you. She clearly loves this place. She once spent a week, never going outside, just to see if she could. She had access to dining, movies, bars, and all sorts of professional services. And, of course, a hotel room to stay in. We walked past a random gallery of stained glass, an exact replica of the front door of the Chicago Cultural Center, a swimming pool behind glass. We walked the length of an underground train platform. We climbed up into the middle of Macy’s (formerly Marshall Field’s) to view a priceless mosaic ceiling dome. The Pedway had its seedy stretches too, where homeless people slept and the smell of urine was unavoidable. Margaret calls the Pedway Chicago’s “78th neighborhood.” At the end of the tour, she gave us all cards with her number, in case we ever get lost. Others have used the number.
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Margaret left us under Block 37, where a passage connects the Blue and Red Line trains. Sam and I decided to find our way back to the Fairmont on our own. We made it, with only a few false turns. Our return journey awakened the memory of how I used to navigate unfamiliar terrain in the Before Times, when there was no GPS lady to tell me where to turn. My brain was engaged. Active. I used my visual memory to recreate the angles from which I viewed landmarks on the first trip. I was in the moment, processing my surroundings in a way I usually don’t. It was exciting. I had switched off autopilot. There were plenty of areas I already knew well — you can’t work in the Loop for more than a decade without some familiarity. But I was building the connections in my mind, the big picture. When Sam and I emerged from the Fairmont, it was with an understanding and a boldness that digital gadgets couldn’t provide. Those covert passages hold no fears for me now. When the zombie apocalypse breaks out, I have my secret escape routes. This city is a little more mine.

Next stop: Lower Wacker Drive.

Sucker Punch

The first truly cold day in Chicago is a sucker punch. Every summer you forget it’s coming, and in the fall, when it shows up, you smirk at it like a schoolyard runt with a chip on his shoulder, brushing him aside until he grabs you by the coat, turns you around, and socks you in the gut like he’s been practicing that move all summer on a punching bag his parents got him in a last ditch effort to vent his bottled-up rage. But he was training. He puts his hips into that punch. And you’re on your ass, the wind knocked out of you, staring up at him with your mouth a silent O, more shocked than angry or afraid. Every day of fall flashes through your mind at once: short sleeves yielding to sweatshirts, coats dragged out of the basement, the chill bedroom air when you climb out from the covers, driving you back under like the groundhog seeing his shadow. The signs were all there. But you just threw on a coat this morning without buttoning it — no hat, gloves, or scarf — because you know Chicago, and you know cold, and you’ve survived it every year and this year will be no different. But the cold knows you too. And he keeps coming back, harder and fiercer, every year, because he’s persistent and he knows that one day when he knocks you down, you won’t get up.

Might As Well Jump

 

 

 

In Frank Herbert’s Dune, the mystical Bene Gesserit sisterhood had a litany against fear.

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

To the Bene Gesserit, what separated a human from an animal was the ability to withstand and endure terror, suborning it to one’s will. The animal reacted. The human planned.

I’ve always been a planner. I got afraid if I didn’t have a plan. So when people ask why I left my job without another in hand, I tell them “I was about to turn 46, with more years behind than ahead, and my ‘maybe someday’ list was running out of somedays.” When it’s more than a passing conversation, I quote Annie Dillard in The Writing Life: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.” They commend me for having the courage to pursue my dreams, which embarrasses me because it had nothing to do with courage, or even dreams. I’m privileged to have resources to get by while I figure things out. My family is in no real danger. All I did was react to my calculus of competing fears.

They weren’t even interesting fears. On one side was the mid-life crisis of a plateaued career, mounting frustration, and a nebulous sense of being trapped. On the other were the worst-case scenarios of starting over. The boredom I knew, versus all the worse ways I could fail. Endurance versus action. I flipped the Bene Gesserit’s script, building up a fear-driven resilience to the daily grind that paid the bills and gave me a respectable job title. I could detach my emotions, do the work, and set my brain on autopilot. “The examined life is not worth living,” I’d joke. Because once examined, I’d have to respond to what I saw. And that meant I’d have to leap off the edge of that plateau, into the unknown.

Jumping was on my mind when my supervisor took me to task for not being enthusiastic and inspiring enough for my team.

In my sophomore year of college, I joined some dorm mates and went skydiving. It was a half day process of getting familiar with the equipment, practicing the sequence of actions that would get me to the ground intact, and drilling on the safety contingencies. That done, we went up in a tiny Cessna. A static line was attached from the plane to our parachutes; they would open automatically when we fell a certain distance, provided we arched our bodies in the way that kept our backs up and bellies down. One by one, we followed the steps we’d practiced.

When my turn came, our instructor called ONE, and I stood in the open door frame in the side of the plane.

TWO. I stepped out between a pair of bars under the wing; one that I could grip in my hands, and the other that supported my feet.

THREE. While holding on to the upper bar, I stepped off the lower, and hung from my hands under the wing.

FOUR. There was no getting back into the plane now, even if the shame of doing so was endurable. The only things I could do were continue to hang there, or do what I’d come to do, and just. let. go.

Confusion. The roar of wind in my ears through my helmet. A jumble of images and no idea which way was up. Then the parachute opened, and it all went quiet. Peaceful. Free. I hung in the sky supported by air, and drifted over green and brown rectangles of land. I saw a barn. A house. A Christmas tree. It was a sublime, singular experience. Only later did it hit me that I’d jumped out of an airplane. It seemed insane. They key was that I hadn’t approached it as a single action. Even at the very end, it was four steps, which I concentrated on executing as well as I could, my mind focused on that specific task and not the entire chain of events that would put me in freefall, 12,000 feet up.

Of course, underneath it all was a huge amount of faith in the entire support system. I had faith in the instructors, the pilot, the equipment handlers, the equipment itself. I had faith in the invulnerability that came with being 19 years old. More than two decades later, I had forgotten that faith, especially in myself. As my responsibilities expanded beyond myself, so did my caution. I allowed my roles to define me, and as they did, my life became less about me and more about my obligations. That’s even considered virtuous to some. They call it a work ethic. I suspect that’s what a mid-life crisis is: after years of paying dues and being responsible, the sidelined self roars back into focus, demanding satisfaction. It wants, selfishly, unapologetically. In my case, it wanted, once again, to jump.

ONE. I told my supervisor that if my attitude was such a concern, but there was nothing to do about what caused that attitude, I really had to think about why I was here.

TWO. I asked my wife how concerned she’d be if I outright quit. This week. Tomorrow. She had once quit in frustration. She said we could make it work.

THREE. I backed up and cleared away everything personal on my laptop and desk, and took a final inventory of what I’d be leaving behind. Surprisingly little, all told.

FOUR. I looked forward to the follow-up meeting with my supervisor. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had power. I was no longer beholden, no longer obligated. A feeling of magnanimity swelled up in me. I didn’t need to vent my grievances, I simply thanked him for his candor and give my two weeks notice.

I was light, free, floating and smiling all those two weeks. My relationship to people and objects in and around the office had shifted. I moved among them, but untethered. All the weight was lifted. Ironically, I could focus better, and the magnanimous attitude buoyed me through the remaining work days. I did ask myself if I could have somehow manufactured this way of being while keeping my job, but it was a passing thought. The feeling of release, of hope for the future, couldn’t be faked. It could only come from facing down my fear, letting go, and tumbling into open air.

CODA. The following week after my last day, my phone buzzed with texts, emails, and instant messages. Several people, including my supervisor, his supervisor, and half my peers, had their jobs terminated. A part of me wished I had held out three days, for a severance package. But the better part was happy to have my instincts validated. It’s better to jump than to be pushed.

 

“Easy Death”

Euthanasia. From the Greek eu– meaning “well,” and thanatos, meaning “death.” The word translates to “easy death.” Painless. A liberation. One might wish it for one’s self under certain circumstances. But choosing it for another is a terrible power to have, no less terrible for being necessary.

We set a date to euthanize our dog Remy, a month before his 13th birthday. My wife asked me if it was for my sake or for his, that I wanted to prolong it until after his birthday. She had a point. Sentiment around birthdays is a human thing, not a dog thing. Or so we guess.

Knowing the date, the hour, of Remy’s death has put me in a liminal state. Every morning I wake up knowing that we’re a day closer. In some theories of spacetime, time is just another dimensional axis, and it’s our perceptual limitations that lead us to believe that moments exist only one at a time. Sitting on the floor, stroking Remy’s fur, with his head in my lap, I think about moments like this preceding this one, when the affection wasn’t shadowed by a sense of impending loss. I think about the moment, soon, when I’ll be sitting with him like this on the veterinarian’s floor, feeding him peanut butter as the first injection puts him to sleep, and then stroking his head as the second one takes his life. And all those moments in between, knowing, anticipating. I inhabit all those points in spacetime. I see them backward and forward.

The night before, my 5-year-old started to feel what was going to happen beyond just the knowing of it. “I want Remy to stay!” she cried, the tears coming at last. I do too. I second guess the decision constantly. He’s blind, diabetic, arthritic, and on pain pills. His hip dysplasia is bad enough that he can barely stand or walk. His body has wasted down to rib contours visible through his fur no matter how much he eats. His tumors are growing. He can’t manage stairs, so his toilet is a patch of fake grass on the back yard deck, which I have to hose down every couple of days to keep down the stench and the flies.

And yet. When I get back from work, he’s excited enough to stand and come to me. He loves belly rubs, treats, and chewing cardboard as much as ever. He went crazy for the baby back ribs I brought him from Smoque. His tail wags as strong as ever. Is he suffering? I don’t know. He’ll only continue to decline. And taking care of him is already hard. But he can still experience joy, and that’s what eats at me. I return to the question, who am I doing this for? Sometimes, the answer feels ugly. He can’t tell us. We have to choose.

We cherish life, we ascribe innate value to it, but why? For its potential? For how a life entwines and enriches our own? Or is it empathy, knowing that we want to live, and positing and honoring the same desire in others? How should the life of a dying dog be weighed with these criteria? This is my intellect trying to let go, now. I’m trying to bludgeon emotion into submission with reductive logic. That trick never works, but it’s the only one I know.

My daughter wants him to stay, and I do too. Not so much for me, and not even for my daughter. For him. So he can have the small pleasures that he greets with such consistent enthusiasm. Maybe we sanctify life for its capacity to bring the experience of joy into the world. Ours, his, another’s, it doesn’t matter. And dogs are masters of small joys. But now the cost is high, and getting higher. Who am I doing this for? If he were to go to sleep in our laps, basking in our affection until he breathed his last… There are worse ways to go. And then we can move on from this liminal state.

Eddard Stark, in A Game of Thrones, shouldered the burden of sliding a blade into the heart of his daughter’s direwolf pup. It had to die, and the best he could make of the situation was to do the deed himself, with compassion and honor. I tend to take my emotional cues from stories, and this one’s as good as any. I’ll walk into this with Ned’s sad, quiet resolve. I could do worse.

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A Memory Of Jim’s Charbroil

A question came up on Quora asking for favorite Northwestern/Evanston places that no longer exist. Never missing an opportunity to wax flowery and nostalgic, I posted my response:

Jim’s Char Broil. When we’d had our fill (for a time) of Buffalo Joe’s, or just really wanted some gyros, it was Jim we turned to. When we despaired during midterms or finals, Jim’s gave us recourse. We always thought Jim would marry off one of his daughters (we assumed he had daughters) to our buddy Chad, who would then inherit the Char-Broil when Jim decided it was time to retire. Chad would keep the name Jim’s, of course, out of respect. In fact, it wasn’t off the table that he’d BECOME Jim. Chad would hire the rest of us, and we’d live simple but full lives, telling tales, frying fries, and using too much tzatziki. But it wasn’t meant to be. We all graduated, found jobs in our fields, and Jim… disappeared. We never got to meet his daughters.

Today, more than two decades after those days at Jim’s, a woman sent me a lovely note through LinkedIn.

I saw your comment on Quora. My dad is Jim from Jim’s Char Broil. I just wanted to reach out to you and say thank you for your kind words. You’re right, he does have two daughters 🙂 He is enjoying retired life. I will pass along your quote, I’m sure it will put a smile on his face.

What is the German word for delighted, embarrassed, and astonished, all at once?

Absence

We grow up commemorating the birthdays of those we love, the number of years they’ve been a presence in the world. At some point, we start counting, deliberately or not, the number of years they’ve been absent from the world and our lives. This absence has a form. It’s discernible around the edges where our loved ones intersected with us, the momentary vertigo of space where you expected a step. Arundhati Roy’s person-shaped holes in the universe. These absences acquire age as well as form, and they live with us for a time. Or maybe the rest of our lives. Dad’s absence is two years old.

My mother and I talk about the last day, about how it could have been different had we known, and concluding, as we have many times before, that it was the best it could have been. Just a few days after his son and daughter-in-law spent a long weekend with him, his granddaughter doing somersaults in front of his chair to keep him entertained, even the dog resting by his side, knowing, in the way that dogs do. And then, sitting beside my mother in a quiet house, he drifted to sleep, and then into something deeper. Free at last from ALS. Spared from submitting to strangers under home hospice care. We had been saying our goodbyes for months. It was okay to let go.

Mom and I, and those who loved him, will continue to celebrate his entry stamp on February 23, and mourn his exit stamp on September 5. And we’ll do our best to cherish the memory of his presence.

Post-Layoff Lessons From a Digital Ad Agency

My software engineering team and I were recently laid off from the digital advertising firm where I worked for the last 3+ years. It was not a surprise. Custom software was never the agency’s value proposition. After the first year and a half, when our initial projects were complete and stable, the signs were clear that we didn’t have much future support within the organization, which was focused on redefining itself even as it coped with hemorrhaging revenue. The layoff was a positive thing for me, fishing me out of the proverbial gradually-heating frog-pot. And it allowed me to distill some lessons from the decline and fall of in-house engineering at the agency.

 

Software engineers are expensive. If the software they build doesn’t earn or save at least as much money as their combined salaries, they’re in trouble — especially if their product is not at the core of the company’s real value proposition. The first of my team’s projects was to resurrect and improve a custom portal that served one unique segment of the business. The finished project was celebrated (exaggeratedly, in my opinion) as saving the client team one business analyst head count, and was presented to the rest of the company as a success. In truth, the new portal’s reporting required a full time Business Intelligence analyst (so the head we had “saved” just shifted to another department), and it took a team of three programmers, one QA analyst, one DevOps engineer and their management overhead (all of whom were far costlier than the business analyst role) almost a year to complete. The software boasted some interesting features and integrations into the agency’s technical ecosystem, but numerically, by any fair measure, the project was a colossal waste of money. The business group’s needs were too unique within the agency for us to use the technology to benefit other groups. And the most ironic thing was, over the course of three years, the business segment replaced one piece of unsupported custom software (the portal’s original developers were lost through an acquisition deal) with another (once my in-house engineering team was laid off). For the cost of a couple of entry-level or offshore analysts, the team could have used a combination of off-the-shelf software and manual effort to achieve much the same, for far less money.

 

So why did they start developing software in-house? My agency knew that technology could help them automate processes and “scale the business,” but it didn’t have a clear understanding of what it means to scale. To software engineers, scalability has a precise meaning: the ability to increase the volume of well-defined, repeatable work that a system handles within a period of time, at a lower cost per unit of work. My agency tried, as many non-technical folks do, to hand-wave around the need for “well-defined, repeatable work.” In fact, each client group had its own way of categorizing data, managing it, reporting on it, and so on. There were no standard practices or agreed-upon best-in-class solutions. If two clients were handled in any way identically, it was more coincidence than design. Technology couldn’t help the business scale, because there were no non-trivial scalable processes across client groups. Technologists can assist by holding company practices to the kind of scrutiny and rigor required by software requirements, but they are not the ones to design the business solution. It falls on the shoulders of business domain experts to define the best practices. Once the agency realized this, the effort to define these practices outlived the engineering team that could automate them.

 

A lot of the reasons in-house software engineering failed at the agency can be laid at the feet of fragmentation, siloing, and a culture of firefighting. The agency was aware that it needed to overhaul its identity and unify its vision. But it had to do this amid the reality of largely independent client and business groups struggling to maintain client satisfaction in the face of employee attrition, tightening budget, and aggressive, externally-imposed revenue goals. In this climate, the agency’s key players were focused on immediate-term tactics. Software development, even “agile” development, relies on business sponsorship that has a consistent, long-term, agreed-upon strategy. Software is an investment, and the chances of it paying off are proportional to the business understanding that goes into its design. My team had both annual and quarterly delivery roadmaps. We had a visible, prioritized backlog of work that we executed on two-week cycles. We gave presentations to other business groups to promote ourselves. It was telling that few outside of engineering knew of our planning artifacts, and fewer still cared to accept our invitation to contribute. Whether or not the house was truly on fire while we were planning renovations, I lacked the perspective to know. But it’s likely that the agency had adopted a firefighting habit — no, culture — and the time to breathe and take stock would never come, for the business groups and the agency as a whole. Investing in software development was extraneous to the way the agency operated.

 

My employment at the agency was the first time where my work was an expense, not revenue. I knew that would make it more crucial to align with the organizational vision, but I was unprepared for how much that would require me to assume the role of an educator and business strategist. My team enjoyed an unusual amount of autonomy (we defined our own processes, set up our own infrastructure using Amazon Web Services, and chose our own technology stack), and we even set our own priorities when our internal clients seemed ambivalent. But rather than being a perk, these were symptoms of an organization that wasn’t sure what to do with us over the long term. What I haven’t described (and should probably describe, in a separate post), is how grateful I am for the opportunity to build a software engineering practice from the ground up. We got several things right, either at first or through iteration and improvement. But it’s an expensive proposition. And there’s a significant common understanding required before business can successfully partner with technology.

Birthday Symbolism

Much like that Counting Crows guy, I felt so symbolic yesterday. I get that way on birthdays, making meaning out of the meaningless. Last year, at age 42, my self-rallying cry was a Douglas Adams riff, with results as predictable as any New Year’s Resolution. I stretched a bit as a writer, but my sinking ship sank deeper. What was most remarkable about 42 was how it flew by without fanfare. It feels like mere weeks since I wrote that “42” post, and not much has changed since then.

I kicked off age 43 with an act of defiance. Sure, I got up at the usual time, got my kid ready for school, and commuted downtown. But then I hurled my defiance at my routine by having a leisurely breakfast at a place that was a tad too out-of-the-way to visit during a work day. I spat in the face of the ticking clock (not literally) by strolling along the river walk and watching the boats. And I thumbed my nose at obligation by ducking into the office, getting something to drink, and browsing the web until it was time for my Chicago Architectural Society river cruise. And from the top deck of that tour boat, I turned up my head, the sun warming my face, and gazed up the side of Illinois Center One into the window of the conference room where many an afternoon I longingly stared at the boats below. And I laughed the laugh of a man who had escaped.

But that damn symbolism. As we cruised up the Chicago River, I saluted the one-time IBM Building. My dad built that. He was the lead structural engineer. It doesn’t stand as tall as it did before its new neighbor, the Trump Tower, sprouted from the rubble of the old Sun-Times offices. But it’s still standing proud, and I started doing the math of what age my dad had been when he did the engineering to make it stand up at all. He was younger than I am now. I had scattered his ashes around this and his other buildings, because I think it’s fitting that a man make his own monuments. But then I started brooding, thinking about how, at work, I’ve had to spend the last few months dismantling the things I built over the last three years. Was the IBM Building throwing a shadow over me as I drifted beneath? Damn symbolism.

But no. I’m 43, and wiser than that. Even though such thoughts fit this narrative, I’ve never had Daddy Issues, nor any cause for them. I enjoyed an indulgent day in the city, followed by an indulgent evening with my family. The sun today is reflecting off the IBM Building and sparkling on the water, much as sunlight, glass, and water often interact to do. And life goes on, much as it always does. Another trip around the sun.

Chasing Coffee

You can chase that perfect cup of coffee your entire adult life. It exists in your mind like a Platonic Form. It takes you back to that café, the one where you stopped because you had time to kill, and you managed to snag a table outside in the morning sun. You had that cup, and then another, not because you were trying to wake up, but to bolster your claim on the city’s best outdoor seat. You imagined writers finding inspiration and putting pen to paper in a seat like this, but the sun made you lazy, and you settled for reading the inspired words of others.

An impulsive swagger made you order your coffee black, but after a couple of sips you added just enough milk and sweetener to enjoy as though no one was watching because of course, no one was. The adjustment made you pay attention to the coffee’s flavor and the aroma, and the warmth spreading through your chest from within. That’s when you ordered your second cup and slowed yourself down.

Over the years you’ve tried different shops, different blends. You’ve had cups that are, if you’re being fair, superior on every measurable dimension than the one you’re chasing. But they remain your fall-back, your second-best. Sometimes you fear that if you ever found that original cup, it wouldn’t hold up to your romanticized memory. Your tastes have changed. You’ve changed, and as the saying goes, you can’t go home again. And that’s when it hits you. It’s not about the coffee. All this time, you’ve been chasing a moment.