It’s just been a little over a month since I walked away from Google, but only in this last week have I been staying put enough to start, as I said in my farewell, letting the noise settle and tuning into whatever faint sounds have been getting drowned out for all these years. It’s been a lovely week, puttering around the house, writing, flying a bit, seeing friends and indulging in whatever activity Brownian motion propels me into.
Yeah, the blog’s been quiet, but I’ve started a bunch of – and actually finished two – really really bad short stories. My last day at work coincided with when Neil Gaiman came and gave a talk. One of the audience questions (at 34:50, but watch the whole talk – it’s great fun) was “So – how do I become a good writer?” Neil’s response was this: “Assume you have a million words in you that are absolute rubbish. And you have to get them out before you get to the good ones.” In this spirit, I’m writing as much as I can, and not worrying if it’s any good. Somewhat reveling in the fact that it’s blissfully awful stuff. No, it’s not going on the blog – you don’t want to read this stuff. Maybe if someone starts a site for the prose equivalent of Vogon poetry, but really – trust me on this.
Aside from writing bad prose and baking pies, I’ve also been rediscovering my aptitude for tinkering, building little things and fixing larger ones. Years ago, someone exposed me to the observation that when we’re young, we say “Why should I pay someone to do that? I can do it myself.” And that at some point in our life though, the time/attention/money equation flips and we say “Why should I do that myself? I can pay someone to do that.” These past few weeks, I’ve been letting myself wade back into the long-forgotten stream of “I can do that myself.” Not because it’s cheaper, but because it’s fun. And because sometimes, I can do it better.
Here’s a case point: when I left Google, I turned in my corporate laptop. So I had to buy a new one – that was easy. But my old laptop had a lovely cherry wood veneer skin on the top that gave it a little bit of class, and made it easy to distinguish from the dozen other identical Mac laptops in a typical Google meeting.
I went ahead and ordered a replacement skin for the new laptop, but when it arrived, it looked kind of… cheap. More like lumber than furniture. So I called up the local Woodcraft store and discovered that for the cost of that one little skin ($40!!!) I could buy eight feet of mahogany veneer. Hmmm. I already had access to the Techshop laser cutter – so why should I pay someone to make a laptop skin for me? I can do that myself! And as long as I’m making one, why be boring? Why a plain veneer? Why not a map, a quotation from Herodotus, a dragon or a TARDIS? Why not all of those? I’ll admit that I blew most of the first roll of veneer experimenting, but now I’ve got half a dozen different designs, and not enough laptops to put them on.
Yes, the attentive will note that I said “first” roll” – it’s hard to stop when your friends and family say “Oh, can you make me one with…?”
Anyhow, the challenge right now, aside from increased “dad duty”, is give myself permission to dabble with little projects like this, but not let my life get too filled up with them. I spent yesterday afternoon under the dashboard of the Skyranger, chasing down an intercom problem that had been stymieing the fine folks at Calaveras County (found it, fixed it). Made it to yoga practice twice a week. Put an afternoon in helping a carpenter friend build a front walkway for his house. Baked a couple of pies – had I mentioned that already? Oh, and spent a couple of mornings fixing the Middle East peace process.
The group I was with came away with some very distinct opinions about what needed to be done to get the process unstuck. A big part of it was figuring out how we could support John Kerry in his efforts; the feelings we heard in the West Bank was that folks on the ground there have a faith in his gravitas and understanding of the issues that they’ve not had in anyone else in a long time. So Kerry’s sticking his neck out on this allegedly insoluble problem, and while there are plenty of devils in the details, it’s really not insoluble; we think Kerry can make it happen, if he gets the political cover to support him.
Political cover comes in the form of Congress signing on, saying they’ve got his back on this, so I’ve ended up as ringleader for a circle of Bay Area philanthropists and entrepreneurs, engaging our congresscritters and the State Department with letters and phone calls on the issue. And we’re seeing some motion. Now, I’m not going to flatter myself into thinking we had any hand in this, but Senator Dianne Feinstein just introduced Senate Resolution 203 (co-sponsored by Kaine and Heinrich) “regarding efforts by the United States to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a negotiated two-state solution.”
It’s a beautiful document, short and sweet, especially in comparison to most congressional tomes. It leaves out details and discussion on (what we think are) the subtle snags that endanger the process going forward – let me know offline if you’d like to hear more – but it’s a Senate resolution, and I don’t think I could have written one more to the point if I’d written it myself. After a two-page preamble of “Whereas”s, it simply states:
Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that—
a two-state solution is the only outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which can—
ensure the State of Israel’s survival as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people; and
fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own;
achievement of a two-state solution that would enhance stability and security in the Middle East is a fundamental United States security interest;
while only Israel and Palestine can make the difficult choices necessary to end their conflict, the United States remains indispensable to any viable effort to achieve that goal;
Secretary of State John Kerry is to be commended for his tireless efforts to urgently advance a negotiated two-state solution; and
the Senate pledges its support for a sustained United States diplomatic initiative to help Israel and Palestine conclude an agreement to end their conflict.
Now, we’ve been told that it takes calls from three constituents to get an issue on a Senator’s radar. Just three calls. So, faithful blog readers (yeah, you knew there was an ask coming), here’s what I’m asking:
If you’re not a Californian, you know who your senators are. Give ‘em a call – their phone numbers are here.
The script is pretty simple. You’ll get a friendly staffer on the phone, and you can just tell them this: “Hi, my name is [your name here]. I’m a [your state here] voter. I was wondering if Senator [your senator here] was aware of Senate Resolution 203. It supports Secretary Kerry’s efforts for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If the Senator isn’t aware of it, I’d like to bring it to his/her attention and ask him/her to co-sponsor it. This issue is very important to me, and I’d like Secretary Kerry to know that [your state here] voters have his back on this issue.”
That’s pretty much it. For extra credit, consider doing the same with your Representative, asking him/her to look at the resolution and consider sponsoring something like it in the House. I’ve got a meeting request in with my Rep (Anna Eshoo) to ask her this very thing in person – I’ll keep you posted how that goes.
So thanks for that.
And, as they say, that’s all the news from Lake Wobegon. We need to start ramping up to getting the kids ready for school in another couple of weeks, and I’m certainly not finding any time to get bored. But maybe if we solve the Mideast Peace thing; that would open up a lot of time. If we fixed that – if we really nailed it – I think I could see my way to allowing myself some boredom.