Every morning you get up that big boulder is just sitting still and you have a choice, it really is a choice – am I going to put it to my shoulder, am I going to exert the blood and the sweat that it takes to move it, to get it going again?
Some days the boulder gets the best of you. And some days, you get a moment of exhilaration or whatever and it’s enough to push you to move, to choose to do something. -Peter Guinta
It’s 1:30 in the morning, and Amelia (our unborn daughter) is squirming, keeping me awake. This seems to happen on days of significance, when I’m not totally sure what that significance is, like a few weeks ago when I got up at 4:30 for apparently no reason but turns out it was the anniversary of my dad’s death. It seems today is like that too, except I really hope to go back to bed after this.
I guess I’ll start here, since I’m thinking about my dad.
On May 22, 2011, Dad and I were chatting about an interview we did that was scheduled to go up soon on the Kickstarter blog.
Tom: They have lots of blog, would we go at top or bottom?
me: at the top
Tom: Good! What you up to today?
me: work work working as usual
Tom: Work your fingers to the bone, whadya get?
Tom: ...Bony fingers. (lol it's from a song)
I was a total workaholic back then. Obsessed with work, with getting my name out there. After a long hiatus from this, I finally wrote a new article recently and it reminded me of how absorbing digital culture is. You can get completely lost in words and pictures and twitter accounts, following one great thing after another. It’s hard to disconnect once you’re in it, barely bothering to look up.
But it’s important to look up. To remember why we work.
This is one of my favorite mini-docs. It’s by Eliot Rausch. It’s about work.
Yesterday my Dad, if he was still alive, would have turned 60. Thirteen months after his passing, I have mixed feelings about his death.
On the one hand, I miss him a lot. He was a character. Funny, sweet. He never did very much in the time that we were close… he stayed home, DJed an online radio show with friends, farted around in the same white t-shirt and grey sweatpants all day, collected veterans checks from the government. He read every single one of my blog posts, though, and would ask me about them on our Sunday calls. I remember him telling me about some website he was an “expert” contributor to - answer.com or wikihow or answerwiki – who knows. He was good at that sort of niche knowledge, whether it was literature, oil rigs, chemistry or pop culture. He was so proud when they sent him an embroidered bag to say thanks for being such a badass contributor.
I think he would have been really excited about me working at Mozilla, and he definitely would have made some pull requests and fiddled with things, or maybe he would have volunteered to localize Webmaker into Spanish. He was a weird man, absent in lots of ways, but very present in others.
Grief is funny. I miss my dad, and I’m sad for all the things he’s missed this past year. It’s been a big one. I had a wedding, started working at Mozilla, got pregnant. He would have enjoyed hearing about and being a part of all these things.
But I’m also glad he’s dead. Boy, did he suffer. Nearly his whole life was a battle against a disease that people are still so far from understanding. He was happy when he died, too, happy with his life. This has actually confused me for a long time – he died too young from what a lot of people consider a self-inflicted disease, and he was estranged with most of his family, but I think I get it now.
I went to see him a few months before he died. He knew the end was coming. We were watching Star Trek on Netflix on his bed because he didn’t have the energy to get up anymore. It was hard to get him to talk about his health, and I had no idea what his actual diagnosis and prognosis was because he was always quick to change the subject, but TNG had put him in a good mood and this loosened his tongue. We talked about end-stage liver disease, whether or not he was on the liver transplant list, his cataracts, the ascites that kept him from eating much and having even less fluids.
He told me he never understood his drinking would kill him, not at 58.
I remember his eyes when he said this, wide, wet, yellow. Looking back I know this was a confession of fear. I wish I had been more compassionate in my answer. All I’d said was, “Life is short.” I kick myself now. I know I could have done better than that. But that was what the moment gave me.
I’m also glad he’s dead for selfish reasons. Life feels simpler for me; I don’t have to worry about him anymore. I’ve been feeling guilty about this, but when I think about it I’m sure it’s not uncommon of people who’ve had to care for others who are at the end of their lives, or with people with whom you’ve had complex relationships with. Death is a release.
And death is finite. This is all I have of him anymore: my memories, and whatever I can dig up from my digital time capsules. All I have are the times I did try, the times I said something (be they right or wrong), the times I did remember to call.
All of this is to say, really, that I think Dad’s death gave me invaluable perspective. Just like, I’m sure, having Amelia will change my perspective again.
It has taken awhile for everything to sink in, but I see it very clearly now: so few things in life are really worth getting upset over, and so much of our time spent living is wasted on things that really don’t matter. Money, possessions, misunderstandings or miscommunications, making ourselves miserable because of assumptions, protecting our egos… I definitely still do and worry about these things, but I realize I shouldn’t. Neither should you.
Isn’t it so much more worthwhile to spend our finite time being grateful for what we have?
In here, somewhere, is also the discovery of why I care so much about getting things done, about finishing things. In the end, no one is going to look at your half-finished work. No one is going to assess what kind of person you were by how much money you made. No one is going to remember your particular troubles, the things that kept you up at night, they will just remember you – how you treated people, and (I think) the things you finished.
Let’s work on things that matter. Let’s assess our success by the same measures we put on a human life. Let’s put the important things at the top of our to-do lists. Let’s finish things. Let’s use the moments we’re given.
And with that, I’ll leave you with a couple videos from what is still my favorite thing I’ve finished. So much I could have done differently, especially aesthetically, but not a thing I’d change.
If you would like a book, you can order one here. I still have a couple hundred left, but these babies won’t last forever.