Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

What the hell - Essay from Newsletter 160

Once again contemplating getting things done

Coupled dates

There are dates that are linked in my mind.

My sister’s birthday is Bastille day. I don’t know if that connection helps me remember one or the other because they’re linked.

We launched the site on my mom’s birthday so June 10 always takes me back to that project and the people involved.

April 15th, in the US is traditionally tax day. Traditionally, it’s the day by which an individual’s federal tax return must be postmarked. When I was younger I would be in line at the post office to drop my return off in time for the special midnight collection.

Confusingly, this year taxes are due today, April 18. I associate the 18th of April with Patriots’ Day from my time in New England and also from my mother reciting the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” to me when I was a child.

The traditional tax day is also the day, four years ago, of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire.

That same day, my father died.

Months later I gave a keynote address at the final NSNorth and said that the fire had pushed news of my dad’s death off the front pages.

Of course that wasn’t true, but it made me smile. Dad wasn’t himself anymore and hadn’t been. I couldn’t imagine him wanting to live that way.

The way we live

I have a vague memory of a story my mom once told me of a couple she knew in the town where I grew up.

The man had rules. The wife couldn’t talk to him in the morning while he was getting ready for work.

When he came home, she couldn’t talk to him until he’d read the afternoon newspaper.

And then he had a stroke or something and he couldn’t speak and he was confined to a wheel chair.

She wheeled him around all day chatting to him.

My dad was very specific in his request that once he no longer had his mind, he didn’t see the point in living.

It made it easier to let him go.

As Maggie said on our way out to see him towards the end, “he’s just not Papa anymore.”

Bracketed events

Kim’s grandfather lived to be 97 and then died quite quickly.

He was an Italian immigrant who spoke with a heavily accented English. I loved my conversations with him away from his family. He was always much more liberal when his kids couldn’t hear him.

He was a religious Catholic who had strong opinions on abortion but he didn’t feel that it was his right to tell someone else what they should do or believe.

We need more people like him.

I still hear him saying his favorite phrase, “what the hell.”

Now and then, it’s exactly what I need to hear.

The date of his death isn’t coupled in my mind but it is bracketed.

He was hospitalized just before Kim’s sister got married in our backyard and couldn’t attend. And he died before 9/11. I remember the family agreeing that he wouldn’t have been able to make sense of a world in which those attacks came.

It made it easier to let him go.


I’ve talked before about the process of writing this weekly essay. I sit down with a topic I want to address. This week I was going to talk about a new video channel I’ve launched.

But last week Tim Mitra interviewed me for his podcast and one of the questions he asked me, in between what is my motto and what is my favorite sandwich, was what do I want to do with the rest of my life.

And it made me think of how little time that is compared to all the things I want to do.

On the one hand, it’s been a very productive few months. I’ve said this before but this year I’ve presented public and private training, written this newsletter every week, shipped my latest book, launched a podcast, and quietly launched a video series.

The video series was the most challenging.

I’ve talked about doing video training for ten years. I’ve subscribed to platforms and gotten overwhelmed by the details.

Should I sell a course? Should it be a subscription? What if not enough people want it but I’ve taken their money so I have to keep doing it?

What should the format be? What platform should I use?

And then a month ago I decided, “what the hell.”

I put up a test video that was a proof of concept that showed what they might look like. My goal was to make short two to three minute videos and post them to YouTube.

So far they’re coming in at eight to nine minutes but that’s ok.

At this point I’m producing technical videos on programming topics but I may branch out.

I’m finding it hard and time consuming and hope that I figure out a better way. It’s taking me a long time to produce eight minutes.

In putting together my channel I found some non-technical presentations as well, including the talk I gave at NSNorth after my dad died.

It’s a talk that starts with the game of Go and talks about making the biggest move on the board.

It’s a talk about using your time deliberately.

It’s a talk about noticing the things you’ve been meaning to do and saying, “what the hell” and doing them.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 160. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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