Stories of Things

Stories of Things - The ToDo Book

A bargain-bin blank journal that I've made my own, my ToDo book is nearing maximum capacity. As 2016 approaches, I've started thinking about its replacement and glancing through all the history this lil guy holds of the past year-and-a-half of my life. I've tried every conceivable form of digital todo list, and I can't seem to keep up with them. My brain seems to understand writing things down the old-fashioned way.

Lists, ideas, focus, gaps in time, distraction, failure, accomplishment, discovery, memory, growth. It's really cool to see how and where my methods of organization have fallen short or succeeded in such a relatively short expanse of time. The most apparent thing is the reinforcement these books provide, of the importance of writing down your goals, and breaking them down. I'll use the last few pages to capture a retrospective of learnings and set up the goals, hopes, ideas and general ToDos that will carry me into 2016.

How to you keep track of your goals and tasks? Do you do it all in one place? Do you do it digitally or manually? Any tips or tricks you love?


Stories of Things - The Dollar Store Bluebird

This little dollar store bluebird sits on a shelf in my 10-year-old daughter's room. She got it when she was 6 years old. One of those trinkets you don't think much of as an adult, but is so important to a child. When she first got this lil' guy, she was so in love with it, she'd carry it around the house with her. 

She left the little bluebird out on the kitchen bar while she was at her dad's house for the weekend. My dad had stopped by for a visit and accidentally knocked it off the counter about five minutes before I had to pick up the girls. A big chip broke out of the back of it, and the tail cracked. There was no time to repair it before she returned, I knew if she saw it she'd be devastated. So I hid it in the vacuum closet until I had time to buy super glue and repair it. She was distracted enough with other things that she never asked about the little bird, nor did she seem to notice it was missing. I forgot about it. A couple months later, my dad passed away.

Some time passed - maybe a year - and the little bluebird caught my eye up on his little shelf in the vacuum closet. I collected him and his little, broken bit and carried him into Sophia's room. I sat on the bed next to her and explained the story of what had happened to her little bird and how badly my dad felt that he'd broken it. I explained my intention to repair it, but how my intentions had become lost in all that had happened.

She smiled and said, "I'm glad you didn't fix it. Now that little broken piece is a really good memory."

Stories of Things - The Fuzzy Hat

Fuzzy hat morning, Nov 2015.

Fuzzy hat morning, Nov 2015.

The fuzzy hat was a completely unnecessary purchase when I spotted it at Target in 2011. While the hat itself is nothing terribly unique or special, it represents some pretty meaningful things for me.

I bought the hat three days after I quit my full-time job at Zappos in 2011. I left for a multitude of reasons, the most important being that I wanted to spend more time with my two daughters, ages 2 and 6 at the time. I wanted to own my time again. Run my own company again. 

Impractical as it was weather-wise, I would wear it when I needed to focus. I'd put my headphones in, put the hat on and go to work. The hat reminds me of when I made the decision to start working from home. It reminds me that I chose to own my time. It reminds me that choices can be worth the risk. Choices worthwhile are almost always risky. It became my very recognizable bio avatar for several years. People still ask about the hat. ;)

Silly, simple fuzzy hat. I don't wear it as much these days. I stopped wearing it regularly in 2013 or so, but I do still throw it on for cold mornings at the bus stop with my girls. When I see it sitting on my closet shelf it makes me smile. It reminds me of that feeling of freedom I felt in those first few months of working from home. It reminds me of those decisions I made, the focus I had, and it causes me to reflect on the journey since. What a fantastic journey it's been.

Some fuzzy hat highlights:

My dad in the fuzzy hat Dec. 2011.

Me with author Richard Bach in our fuzzy hats, Feb 2014.

The classic fuzzy hat avatar pic, July 2011.

Stories of Things - The Naked Guy Picture

Advanced Drawing class, 1997-ish. Jim Pink's class. Three 5-minute sketches from a live model. Paint, charcoal, conté crayon on butcher paper. The objective was to focus on the lighting. To really examine lights and darks and create the shapes using lights and darks, first. An exercise in seeing things differently than how we normally look at something. 

Every now and then, I think about that exercise as an application in day-to-day life. Looking beyond the first impression of something, taking the time to examine and think about it differently. To look at how light and dark define a shape almost better than the shape defines itself. It's a pretty cool exercise to apply to different things, and people. You should totally try it. :)

Stories of Things - The Atari 2600

I think the Atari 2600 was a quintessential component in the lives of many 80s kids. The one in the photo is the one I grew up with. It still works!

My memory tells me we got this Atari at the same time my parents were getting a new television at the Curtis Mathes store. While that is a bit fuzzy, I definitely remember the way my brother's eyes lit up when my parents got this for us. I remember tearing into it as soon as we got home, and my parents set it up for us in the family room on the old television set. We all gathered around while my dad and brother tested out Combat and Gunslinger. Then we got to take turns trying out the games. We spent hours playing. Video games became a pretty instrumental foundation in my personality.

The best memories the Atari holds for me are the ones of playing with my siblings. My older brother was the best at all the games. He would play them, beat them, then teach my sister and me how to play them. Game time was great bonding for the three of us. 

My sister and I still talk about some of the games we played on this thing. We laugh about the time we saved up all those Kool-Aid points to buy the Kool-Aid Man game and one of those awesome fanny packs from the points catalog. Yep, the game is still there in the stack of cartridges. Nope, it's not for sale. ;)

Games, for me, aren't just fun, they build some fantastic experiences and deeply happy memories. As time passed we moved on to more sophisticated game systems like Nintendo. I don't think my brother lived long enough to play Nintendo. I suppose that's all the more reason my memories with the Atari 2600 as rich and fond as they are. 



Stories of Things - The Pooh Bear

I never considered myself all that sentimental. As I've aged a bit, I've started thinking a lot more about the stories behind the things I've chosen to hang on to. The "Why" behind the stuff. 

Something that I've held on to for a really long time is my first Pooh Bear. I got him for Christmas when I was two years old. He lives in my youngest daughter's closet these days, on the top shelf out of reach from wear and tear. When I pulled him down for his little photo shoot today, I immediately hugged him and remembered a flood of our adventures together. I had other toys and things I liked over the years but few, if any, are still with me. Very few ever held a place in my heart like this lil' bear did. He was my very best friend from the moment I laid eyes on him. We played together, I taught him everything I learned at school. I read him stories and he slept with me every almost every single night until I was about twelve. When I was about four or five years old, my dad would play his guitar and sing these songs to me about Winnie getting lost in the woods. I would cry until my dad sang him back to safety. I believed the stories my dad sang. My dad would always have my older brother retrieve Winnie from my bedroom so I could hug him and see he was OK.

Winnie was my friend through rough school days, fair-weather friends, and lots of sad times. He was my friend through happy times, songs, and celebrations. I even bought a little plastic wedding cake and candles set with my allowance once, and I married him. I was, at least, eight years old then. After all these years my Pooh Bear still represents comfort, friendship and the magic of imagination. I'll keep him around in hopes that one day, one of my own kids will appreciate the memories he holds. 

I suppose I'm a bit sentimental after all. Love that ol' Pooh Bear. 


Stories of Things - The Big Wrench

The Big Wrench with a penny and Scrabble letters for scale. 

The Big Wrench with a penny and Scrabble letters for scale. 

I have this giant wrench on my mantle. My dad used to use this wrench. He used to own and repair a lot of heavy equipment with nuts and bolts requiring a wrench of this size. I think the most incredible thing about it was watching my dad use this wrench. He had these big, strong hands, creased and scarred from years of fixing cars and building things and surviving the Vietnam War. Hands that didn't wear gloves because gloves just got in the way of what he was trying to do. His hands told stories without him ever saying a word. 

This wrench reminds me of my dad's strength, not just from the literal amount of strength it takes to wield a wrench of this size, which he absolutely had, but what it represents symbolically about who my dad was. My dad was humble, hard working, strong in his beliefs, in love and in character. 

It's a beautiful wrench.




Stories of Things - The Roller Skate Necklace

I got this necklace for my seventh birthday. I loved roller skating and Wonder Woman and Olivia Newton John's song, Xanadu. My mom made the giving of the necklace a sort of special thing, separate from my birthday party at Sunset Park. My mom was great at gifts and general thoughtfulness. Even at age seven, I knew how much care she put into choosing this for me. She knew I would love it. I still love it thirty-three years later. It reminds me of my mom. It reminds me of being a kid. It reminds me of being young and free and feeling the wind whoosh through my hair as I skated in big circles around the rink to awesome music and disco lights. It reminds me of who I am and who I've always been. It's a bit worn and tarnished, but it still shines. I think my mom would be proud of me. I hope so. I know so. 

Thanks, mom, for this little gift of awesomeness. I miss you, and I think of you often. 


Stories of Things - The Ceramic Buddha

The little ceramic Buddha sits on the shelves above my fireplace. He’s about ten inches tall and is beautifully engineered to function as a sake pitcher, cup, and cup holder. It’s a tough one to do justice with via photo. He smiles and watches the life that happens in our household.

This lil guy was made by a classmate of mine in my ceramics mold-making class in 1996. Once people see that he’s more than a buddha figure, he triggers a lot of conversation and endures a lot of curious handling. This buddha’s creator’s name was Alisa, she made five of them as her course final. At the end of each school year, a bunch of us would exchange artwork. I’m pretty sure I made out with the sweeter end of the deal on this one. 

Stories of Things - The Suitcase Side Table

I did a self-portrait and daily journal series during my first-ever NaNoWriMo challenge in November. I received several questions about objects that were lightly blurred out in the background of some of the photos. 
One question I got was:

"What's in the suitcase side table?"

When my dad passed away in 2012, my sister, step-mom and I had to do that painful thing where you go through a passed-away person's belongings and sort out what to do with it all. Throughout my entire life, my dad played guitar. I kept his old Martin and this suitcase. I knew there was a bunch sheet music inside, but for this little "Stories of Things" project I opened it up again and dug through it a little.

There are some awesome sheet music books in here, all the classics like Bob Wills and Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings and a bunch more. What I hadn't realized is underneath all the music books were a bunch of handwritten and typed songs my dad had made. His attempts at pouring his soul out into verse. Songs about love and loss and war and pain. There were also a few letters my dad had received in the mail from people he'd done some act of kindness for. The letters weren't specific, but my dad did help a lot of people so it wasn't a surprise to find several thank you notes like this. It made me teary reading through the heartfelt gratitude expressed in some of these letters from people who'd only met my dad once or twice. Kindness is such beautiful mark to leave on the lives of strangers.

It's a pretty awesome looking suitcase side table. But it's definitely much, much more than that. It's a box of beautiful memories that capture the kind of life my dad lived.

Stories of Things - The Bra

When I was an art student, in my first metal sculpture class the teachers (we had two) would give us a word, and we were to interpret that through a metal sculpture.
The first word for my very first metal project was: Paradox.

I had never touched a welder before, but I immediately fell in love with it. While most students were buying sheets of shiny new sheet metal from Home Depot, I scavenged the metal yard for scraps and found these gnarly, rusted 12 gauge scrap metal pieces. I had to modify them a bit with a plasma cutter to create the cup triangles, then pound the triangles into a bra-cup shape using a 10lb hammer and an old Christmas tree stand that I'd found laying around. I felt strong. Creative. I wasn't a good welder at all when I started. I tried to make lacy designs from the weld. I remember how important to me it was that it be functional, actually something someone could wear (yes, many have tried it on.) I love hearing all the different meaning people pull from it when they see it. It's very "me" in a lot of ways.

The simplest story about it is that it was the first metal project I ever made. I went on to make a lot more things out of metal, but this is the only one I kept. The only evidence in existence that I made stuff from metal at one point in my life.