A Slice of Life

Current status: I received an interesting email from a reader recently. She wrote, “It’s easy to assume things about someone else’s life based upon what you see or hear about on the internet. But we obviously don’t see the real life underneath. What’s your life like? Can you tell me about your day? I always find it helpful to hear about other peoples’ routines and try some of what they do for myself.” Same here. I must admit to being a constant optimizer, and I am particularly prone to go down the Setup rabbit hole. And since I was asked an almost identical question in a recent Office Hours session, I’m happy to oblige here. So what follows is a day in the life of yours truly. But be warned. I’m not a bulleted list kind of guy; there will be reveries. But unless you’re a brand new reader (hi!) you already knew that. So if you want to skip through this, be my guest. There’s some good stuff in the “On Screen” and “Recent Tabs” sections.

CB, June 19, 2016

I awake to the sound of our dog sighing. I’m a light sleeper and she doesn’t ordinarily get to sleep upstairs, but we let her when there’s a thunderstorm. If we didn’t, she would pace and cry and scratch at the doors downstairs and wake me up anyway. There was a thunderstorm last night. Her name is Lexie.

I sit up and look at the clock. It’s 5:45. I take a deep breath and my chest rattles and so I reach for the inhaler I was recently prescribed and take an annoyed but necessary couple of hits from the canister. I won’t spend much time on this, but after 8 years of not setting foot in the doctor’s office once and being sick — I mean really sick, not like I have a bit of a sniffle sick — twice, somehow I now have asthma. It might be temporary and just an allergy gone wild, or it might be my new normal. Too early to tell, my doctor says, which I think is kind of funny because it’s been a couple of months now and I’ve gone through two inhalers already, been prescribed some kind of steroid that I haven’t tried yet and am seriously considering not using ever because THRUSH is a common side effect, had chest X-rays the results of which they’ve decided are a state secret (seriously no one will call me back so I am now left to imagine tumors space caterpillar crysalises bulging in my chest), and meanwhile I’m getting up and going to work like normal and doing house cleaning like normal (except for the mask I’ve been wearing like I’m a bird-flu paranoiac because I’ve had more than one terrible post-vacuuming day and have learned the pattern) and going to the gym like normal, where I push through my daily workouts because dammit I don’t accept limitations (to me) even though doing so leaves me wobbly and nauseated and feeling like my chest is in a vice and yet strangely euphoric in that I-could-die-right-now-and-it-would-be-like-totally-fine kind of way, which I told my wife one day after returning home and let’s just say she was not amused… where was I? Oh yeah. Too early to tell. Fine, but does that even have any meaning? Is there such a thing as too late to tell? I wonder. In any event, I’ve never thought so much about breathing in my life. Imagine that; the most important thing my body does — the thing it’s done non-stop for thirty-six years — and I don’t think about it. Well, I do now. Now that I rarely get a full, satisfying breath. If you haven’t thought about breathing much lately, consider this: A healthy baby will take 30-40 breaths per minute in the first 6 weeks of her life. That’s around 2,116,800 breaths. All those millions of breaths happen automatically. Isn’t it amazing that if you want to pick up a glass of water, you have to think pick up that glass of water, but if you want to supply your body with air you don’t have to do anything? I suppose that’s for the best, as is the fact that you can’t just stop breathing. You have to do some other violence to make that happen. Autonomic systems: can’t live without ’em! Oh, and a healthy adult will take 12-18 breaths per minute. That means that I’ve taken somewhere around 113,529,600 breaths in my adult life so far. Hundreds of millions total. Wow. What other machine do you know of that runs for the better part of a century without stopping once? None, except for one made of cells. Incredible! So, are you thinking about breathing now?

Lexie is thumping her tail on my wife’s grandmother’s rug, which, if she were also awake, would produce my wife’s cross face, as represented by the following emoji (:$). I get that it means “I am unhappy with this turn of events” but I find it cute and so I don’t think it has the intended effect. But she is still sleeping soundly, so no :$. I get up, lean down to pat Lexie, and she beams the following message psychically from her mind to mine: “hey Dad good morning I’ve been up for a while chewing my paws and thinking about life and stuff hey did you know there’s a spider under your bureau I saw it but I left it alone cuz it has no smell hey what are we doing today are we eating what are we eating actually let’s go for a walk first that’s what we do right yeah let’s go for a walk Mom’s asleep are you taking me?” I walk past her to the bathroom.

Sorry, this is the way I think first thing in the morning. No coffee needed. I promise, I’m getting to the stuff you want now.

Once I’ve showered and dressed, I go downstairs, feed the cat (her name is Calypso), pack a bag for lunch, and then hit the road. It’s about a 25-minute drive to the office, so I usually get some good podcast time in on my commute. Today I listen to last night’s episode of the FiveThirtyEight Elections podcast.

About 10 minutes from work, I stop at the market and pick up a bag of apples to share with the office. I used to bring things like donuts, but people started to blame me for their decision to eat them, so now I bring apples. Everyone is happy with the apples. I pull in to our garage and park in my spot, #56. It’s 7:15.

I walk up a couple flights of stairs and open the door into our office kitchen. I put some music on the Sonos, make some avocado toast and espresso, pour a glass of water, and carry it all back to my office. I eat while I do three things I try to do every single morning: write a journal entry for the day before, review my end-of-day notes from yesterday and convert it into a to-do list for today, and then check my calendar and email. I’ve discovered that it’s pretty important to do those things in that particular order. Otherwise, my inbox becomes my to-do list, which means I am working on someone else’s to-do list.

This is a special day because I have only two meetings scheduled before lunch. So I spend the next hour or so reviewing a document that I and several colleagues are creating to support a client audit program we’ve just launched. This document allows us to collect structured observations and recommendations from four different analysts on the team and track the client’s progress from one year to the next, which means it contains a ton of information and needs a lot of attention and editing to ensure that it is a useful thing and not a data-dump.

After that, I spend an hour writing a blog post that will go into our publishing queue and probably end up on our site in a few weeks. I always do my writing in either TextEdit or iA Writer and then copy and paste it into GatherContent, which we use to manage our editorial process. My deadline is today.

At 9:30, I join our team of strategist for our weekly “All Hands” meeting. Because we often have three or four different people working on different consulting engagements with the same client, we use these meetings to make sure we’re all aware of who is doing what and when, and most importantly, what that means for the client’s experience. If just one engagement veers even slightly off-schedule, it can make for meeting-overload. Our Production Manager runs this meeting, and directs each person to share their status as she makes her way through the active client roster.

At about 9:50, I make my way back to my office. I have about an hour before my next meeting, which is with a new agency client. I check in with our Marketing Director, Lauren, who will be joining this meeting, too, and we quickly get on the same page about how we want to use the time.

I spend the next few minutes sending emails, refilling my water, and answering a few stray questions. Then, I dial in to the meeting. Five people from the agency join, and we have a pretty productive conversation. I take a lot of notes as we talk. After an hour, we wrap up.

I’m ready for lunch. Lunch is sacred. It is my goal to never schedule meetings between Noon and 1pm. I walk out to the kitchen, pull my lunch bag out from the fridge, unpack my ingredients, and make a salad while chatting with some colleagues. We kind of have a salad club going on.

I sit and eat with the rest of our team at the very large, hand-crafted table that one of Mark’s friends, Eamonn, made for us. It’s a beautiful thing. I think of it as our Game of Thrones table, because it’s enormous and made of thick planks of reclaimed wood that Eamonn stained black. There are nicks and gouges in it, which I imagine were caused by some guy in chainmail slamming his family blade tip down to show he means business. I’m telling you, this table has gravitas. It’s a pretty odd juxtaposition, actually, what with ten or twelve hipsters sitting at it and all, not one with a armor or a cape or a dragon or anything.

After lunch, I make an espresso and check my email.

I always schedule my weekly one-on-ones with staff for after lunch, and today I have two, back-to-back. These check-ins are opportunities for me to hear what’s going on in their worlds and give feedback where it makes sense.

I spend a bit more time this afternoon working on a few stray projects. I’ve got decks to work on for three upcoming design audits I’ll be presenting to new agency clients in the coming weeks and I have some actual designs to work on for a really exciting analytics tool we’re creating and hoping to release soon. I get an hour or so in on each and spend probably an additional half hour answering miscellaneous questions and making notes for meetings I have tomorrow. I wrap all that up at about 4pm and grab my notebook, in which I jot down anything undone and what I need to do next to finish it. That’s my shutdown procedure, and it clears my mind so I don’t lie awake at night fussing over details. Then, I head out to the gym for a session with my trainer.

I’ve been a regular exerciser for the majority of my adult life, and I only recently decided to meet with a trainer. It’s been pretty great. Except for the whole asthma thing, of course. But would you believe that since I first started working out when I was twenty-one — almost fifteen years ago — the longest stretch of time I’ve gone without exercising is four days? Four days! I’m as religious about my workout time as I am lunch. No matter what, it’s going to happen. Once, I needed to drive up the East Coast to Boston and I was planning to leave at 4 AM. So, I went to the gym at 3 AM so that I wouldn’t disrupt my routine. I know. Nuts.

On my way home from the gym, I take a call in the car from one of the execs at the agency I met with this morning. He wants to follow up on the meeting and share some feedback from his team about some things they felt hadn’t been properly communicated in our discussion, as well as to request a bit more structure for next time. It’s always interesting to see how meetings draw out cultural differences between us and our clients — something always comes up — and especially how each of us react to it. We tend toward beginning loosely and tightening up as our engagements progress. But in this case, they found the looseness to be a little too loose. No problem; we can work with that. I really appreciated that he was so honest with me, because it gave us a chance to adjust and make the time we spend with them more productive. It’s a little thing right now, but it will have a huge impact over the long-term. When I arrive home, I quickly dash of an email to his team recapping our discussion and providing a detailed agenda for our next call.

After that, well, the day ain’t over. Before I give you a rapid-fire play-by-play of my next two hours, I need to explain something. In our house, I’m the housekeeper and my wife is the groundskeeper. This is a good pairing. It’s not that I’m tidy and she’s not. It’s just that I like to clean the house more than she does, and she likes to do yard work more than I do. Now after you read the next few sentences, you may wonder if this is an equal distribution of labor. But I assure you, it is. We have chickens, a lot of land, and she has planted somewhere around nine fruit or nut-bearing trees and a bunch of other productive plants out there in the last year alone. I help her with heavy lifting and hole-digging and such, but otherwise, she does it all. So, I shut my laptop after sending that email and then, in manic-robot fashion…

I walk Lexie, feed her, feed the cat, deploy Norby (our Roomba, named after Asimov’s mixed-up robot, obviously), take the compost and chicken-friendly food scraps outside, let the chickens out, collect their eggs, bring them back inside, go upstairs and take down the shower curtains in our bathroom, gather them and the bathmat and the sheets of our bed and go back downstairs and put them all in the wash, go back upstairs and scrub the shower and tub, then plunge the tub (we live in an old house with very old, shallow plumbing that drains poorly and so plunging the tub every two weeks is what we must do unless we either accept standing in an inch of water while showering or rip our our plumbing), go back downstairs and clear the kitchen counters and wash them, empty the dishwasher, clean the stove-top (during which I notice that the exhaust fan and the kettle both need to be cleaned so I clean them, too), get the upright vacuum out and clean the stairs, the downstairs furniture, and all the places that Norby can’t reach (including the Sonos player in our den, which the cat has suddenly decided is a lovely place to sit and deposit her fur), replace the towels in our guest bathroom because I have a friend who is using our shower every morning until his bathroom is finished being renovated, put the wash in the dryer, load the washer with kitchen linens, take out the recycling, collect trash throughout the house and take that out, and finally, take the bathroom and bedroom linens out of the dryer and replace them upstairs. This is a very normal Tuesday.

My wife is out at a meet-up this evening (she’s a Librarian and Information Architect), so I shower, change, make a quick dinner, and then head a few doors down for a beer and chat with a neighbor.

When I get home at 9:30, my wife is back and her sister — who lives a few doors down on our street — is visiting. We watch the updates come in from the primaries happening across the country tonight. We watch Hillary Clinton speak from New York City as it becomes clear that she will be the Democratic Party’s nominee for President, and the first woman to ever be nominated for President by a major party. I look at my wife and her sister and I see their joy and I share it. I see women in the audience of Hillary’s rally whom I do not know and I see their joy. I think of my grandmothers, neither of whom lived to see this but would have liked to. I think of my mother and my sisters and how this redefines their futures — how, though I might have said that they are capable of anything, the world in which they live said otherwise, until tonight. I think about what this means to me and my wife and the child we dream of having, whomever she may be, and how when we say she can do anything or be anyone — even President of the United States — she won’t have to take our word for it. She’ll grow up in a world where that is as normal as it should be. For the moment, I’m in awe of our world. Our culture is playing catch up; finally expanding its leadership beyond the limits of its long-term homogeny. It took us far too long to elect a black President. But we did it. And to think that we might follow that belated first with another is something to celebrate. It’s progress. And it gives me hope that within my lifetime, I might see all variety of Americans included in the ranks of those whom we deem fit to lead America.

Suddenly, this is no normal Tuesday.

On Screen: This commercial for Samsung’s future foldable phone is a mess. Its tone is just bonkers. It’s got the slow, stilted, lack-of-all-that-is-naturally-flowing-about-the-world, uncanny valley thing going on, which seems to be a pitfall of every corporate here’s-what-the-future-will-look-like video ever made. I don’t know why companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon — and now Samsung — don’t understand that these things they’re trying to make have more in common with cinema than they do commercials or product demos or anything filed under “design fiction.” In other words, they need to get a clue and shell out for a really good story-teller to bring these visions to life. Ideally, someone who gets how people work. This Samsung commercial — in theory — could be not terrible. The basic story is this: Obnoxious tech guy/poor-man’s Marc Maron thinks he’s all that with his huge tablet but gets out-mac’ed by younger, prettier, chiller bro, who, oh yeah, also has a pretty sweet phone. Ok, so right, this is a terrible message that says nothing true about the world. First, it is not true that women find men with cool phones more attractive than men with less cool phones. Second, even if this happens once in a while this is not a story we should be telling about the world. Why is it always the lady who is clueless/placidly unaware/laughing with salad about technology? Why is the only way to tell this dumb story to victimize yet another woman by stripping her of all human characteristics and stuffing her into a bro-sandwich? That being said, if you’re going to tell that story, then at least do so by realizing it’s stupid and make it funny. I can’t quite tell if Samsung is trying to do this, but I can say that Samsung does not do this. Actually, it’s almost as if there are two directors working on this thing at the same time: One telling Poor-Man’s Marc Maron what to do, and another for the Lady and the Bro. Both robots, evidently. I can prove that, you know, just by pointing out the title of this thing: “2014 Samsung Flexible OLED Display Phone and Tab Concept.” BLEEP BLORP. Here’s how a human would title this: “AI Observes the Sadness of Human Interactions, Validating It’s Plan to Exterminate People As Soon As They Are Done Mining Titanium.” Also, further evidence that this thing was not only made by an AI, but by a sexist AI (aka an AI programmed by a dude): In an ad about how tech can get you dates (AI/Dude, check!) the man has a foldable phone (AI/Dude/Future, check!) and the woman who finds this so hot (AI/Dude, check!) hands him a BUSINESS CARD to express interest (AI/Dude, check!). My_God. Also, the phone is stupid shape. Look at how dumb it looks when chillbro puts it in his shirt pocket.

Recent Tabs: “Think about the movie 2001—we’re several years past that but we’re still wearing jeans.” If Heinlein were still alive, I think he’d deserve royalties on the existences of Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and Elon Musk. (By the way, that the words “crash” and “safety” appear in the article about Larry Page’s secret flying cars only once — and the word “accident” never — is flat out crazy.) The mystery of how some things make it past editorial meetings continues. “2029 - the United Nations bombs advertising back into the stone age. Every town and village in the world holds its own local Olympics. Even then, the UK does not do well. Marketing is outlawed. Peace and prosperity settle on the face of the earth. Envy is dead.” There was a time when you could sell the correct time. This man and a team of eight make globes for a living. A more decentralized web. If you modeled your design process after Too Many Cooks. (Oh, and here, if — somehow — you don’t know what Too Many Cooks is.) Really great writers talk to each other about unclassifiable literature. “Rather than humanoid bots, we should design mechanomorphs.” I’m like.

Written by Christopher Butler on June 9, 2016,   In Essays

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