Since You’ve Been Gone…


It’s a bit over two months now, away from The Great Machine, and I’m surprised at the number of friends, and even family, who still haven’t heard that I left Google. Well, I wrote it up on my blog, and posted to Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. You do read my blog, don’t you? I use the blog to tell people what I’m up to. I also use it to figure out who really loves me.

Just kidding.

Actually, I use the comments section of the blog to figure out who really loves me. (Those of you who know me well will realize that the pathologically “nice” side of me is cringing at the thought of causing anxiety by teasing people here. Fortunately, the more rational side is saying “Hey, those people aren’t reading your blog anyway – get over it!”)


What’s it been like being away? Very nice, and not at all as jarring as I’d expected. I was expecting to feel lost, adrift, spending each day looking for direction and purpose. I was expecting to suffer acute Google withdrawal, marked by ennui and recurring Phantom Benefit Syndrome (PBS): “Lemme just grab a snack from the microkitch… oh.”  “Maybe I’ll schedule a massage this afternoo….uh.” “Time to browse the online menus to see which cafe has the best lunch today…hmm.”

But you know? Not a trace. I really don’t want to encourage anyone to just walk away from anything, but honestly? It’s felt like one nice, long comfortable weekend stretching into another. Yeah, sorry.

It’s not going to last forever, of course, and I’m certainly not just sitting in front of the TV eating bon-bons. To be honest, one of my post-Google TODOs was “watch more TV” and I’ve pretty much failed on that front. But I’m writing a lot more (more on that later) and flying a lot more. I’m spending time exploring the city, just wandering. I’ve also been spending more time with the kids, in mutually-agreeable activities, at that. I appear to have accidentally started a small business on the side. And most importantly, I’ve been making time for the one thing I specifically said I wanted to do when I left: sitting on that hillside in my mind and letting the noise settle, so I could tune into whatever faint sounds have been getting drowned out for all these years.

And it’s working. For all the changes, the biggest difference in my life is that I’m noticing a certain stillness in the world around me. I mean, my life seems remarkably jam-packed for a guy who officially has nowhere he needs to be, but in between the meetings and commitments, I’m able to stop, right there in the parking lot, and just feel it. The closest I can come to describing it is like when you step out of a noisy bar or conference hall into the out of doors, and it feels like the crush of people, the crush of sound has suddenly been lifted away. Yeah, that’s what it’s like, but all the time, when I stop to notice it. Which is often. And yeah, it’s nice.

So – the writing thing. I have been writing a lot more, not that you’d notice. Most of it isn’t bloggy stuff. I’ve been trying some magazine-style writing; haven’t sent any of it anywhere, but I’ve worked up a piece I like on Ephemerisle, and am starting in on another one about election monitoring in Africa. Also been trying to get back into the habit of writing fiction. Seems like it shouldn’t be that hard, right? You get to just make stuff up! But it’s bafflingly, maddeningly difficult. And I keep finding myself wandering down to the kitchen and interrupting my family at random intervals:

“Hey Devon – I need some help.”


“Guy meets a girl. Where? They’re both twenty-somethings. Oh, also has to be somewhere he can get without a commercial airline. He doesn’t fly airlines.”

IMG_20130909_174535She throws me a bone, and I disappear back to my room, back to the comfort of the green rocking chair we bought when we Miranda was born. The green rocking chair that I love, but that I only let myself sit in When I’m Writing Fiction. It’s all about incentives and choice architecture, after all. (As I write this, by the way, I’m sitting on the floor of my office, leaning against the closet wall. The green rocking chair beckons, seductively, but I don’t get to sit there until I get back to the story where the guy meets the girl. In Liberia, by the way. I’ve decided that he’s got a temporary gig driving for USAID, and she seems to be a damsel in distress. With a secret. How and why he got to Liberia in the first place is another story, which I’ll be weaving in as well. See? I’m making stuff up!)

To further leverage the choice architecture, I’ve signed up for a fiction writing course at Stanford, starting in a couple of weeks. A real one, on campus. And November is coming – a couple of my more writerly friends have signed themselves up for NaNoWriMo and the peer pressure is on. Seriously.

But where was I? Oh yeah – keeping myself busy. Honestly, I don’t think this phase will last forever. A lot of my friends have left (“graduated” is a term I like) big companies and made it only a couple of months before they tired of traveling/gardening/watching TV and formed another startup. I think I’m going to last a bit longer than that – we’re two months out, and I’m still remembering all those things I wanted to spend more time doing. Sailing, for example – I completely forgot that I love sailing, and wanted to do more of that. Baking. Hiking. And we still haven’t even started in on painting the house.

Anyhow. That, as Mr. Keillor would say, is the news from Lake Wobegon. More adventures as they happen. In the meantime, stay tuned (if you really love me, that is).

15 responses to “Since You’ve Been Gone…

  1. It’s tempting to write a comment about how surprised I am that you left Google. But I already knew. And am enjoying it almost as much as you are. Someday I would like to find that hill of yours, but I’m not there yet. Well, now I’ve written a comment, so you can sort me into the category of people who love you.


  2. Hey David,
    Count me too. After all, you (eventually) took good care of my baby (Skyranger ‘395).
    I’m contemplating the big move myself. Shortly after the first of the year, I’ll be eligible for retirement, something Kris is encouraging me to do. I’ve talked with HR, but in doing so, I realized that after 33 years, I’ve spent more time with the people in my lab than I have with any of my immediate family, including my mother. In that time, I’ve gone home to four house/apartments, two wives, three dogs, and a now long deceased cat, but I have always gone to work to the same place every morning. Retirement is still a bit daunting. If the govt. will allow it, I may go part time after the New Year, to try to ease into it.



  3. Okay, I have never left a comment, but now feel a certain obligation as one of the folks out there who really love you. Done!


  4. “Also been trying to get back into the habit of writing fiction.”

    Bu-but you left Google for _that_? You coulda written design docs and then not changed them after stuff actually got implemented.


  5. I noticed exactly when you left! I win!

    I left Google for a short-lived startup, then have been happily having one long weekend after another for the past year. Oh wait, except for home-schooling my kid and packing up 20 years’ worth of household and moving it to Idaho. But other than that, I’ve been surprisingly busy yet relaxed without the Google Career. I don’t miss the lunches, the massages, “120% time,” or “perf” calibrations, but I do miss “who,” the GBikes, and many of my amazing friends and colleagues who are still trapped in the borg.

    My retired professor/dean Dad tells me there are a number of research and teaching positions at the University of Idaho (an easy bike ride away) and WSU (a long bike ride away), so maybe I’ll pursue one of those eventually.

    Best Wishes!


  6. I’ve left comments before, does that mean I win a prize? Kidding, kidding. I’m really glad to see that you’re flourishing away from Google, and I’m envious of your ability to write and explore and relax as much as you want. I’d love to see what you’re up to with your writing, someday! And I can’t wait to see what adventures you get up to!


  7. Pablo, I totally understand what you are saying about slowing down and just “being.”. One of the things my mentor told me when I retired was not to make anything up. My head can go crazy with “fun” things that I have always wanted to do, I.e., opening a bookstore/coffee shop, but I waited and have found/remembered a dream I have had for a long time – work with children and art. I have started a foundation, ArtReach Orlando . We are a year and a half old and have done some amazing projects which benefit all. I love hearing about your adventure!


  8. Pablo, saw your news when it first came up, and silently congratulated you on the move. I retired from gov’t service in Feb, moved back to my favorite town, Portland, and am now a part-time adjunct at PSU. Plus helping rehab a house with a friend of mine from back in the day. Just as busy as ever, but in a lot nicer place than DC. When the house gets done and the adjunct gig slows down, it’ll be time to get back to writing. So much to look forward to….


    • Congrats on the retirement, and the return to one of my favorite cities! I look forward crossing paths more, now that you’re on the left coast. And to reading some of your writing, when you’re ready to share…


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