Success, failure, and whatever that all means

I'm a failure.

I'm not being hard on myself when I say that, I just mean to say that sometimes, I fail. It's not a judgment, merely a fact.

I'm also a success.

I'm not saying that to pump my ego, I just mean to say that sometimes, I succeed. It's not a judgment, merely a fact.

I read something this week from Joshua Fields Millburn about letting go of sentimental things. It's not something I do often, or well. My Moment helped a little bit last week. I did shed some books and some kitchen items (seriously, we had multiple pots and pans that we haven't used in at least two years), but I certainly kept books that people had written in, even if I don't plan to read them again.

Also: I have a boatload of photos. I'm going to put in the hours to digitize those.

Yeah, digression. Success, failure. Right. That's where we're going.

I'm reworking my priorities, what I understand success and failure to be, and how I approach stuff.

And by stuff, I mean stuff. Physical things.

Memories are stored inside us, not in attics, basements, airtight boxes or vacuum-sealed bags. Not even in pages or picture frames or newspaper clippings or boxes with motivational sayings on them.

The more I reflect on my life, the more successful I see I've been.


Thinking about our upcoming election

As we head toward U.S. elections this fall, remember a few things:

Language is important. It's how we write laws, so it's also how we enforce and interpret those laws. How lawmakers (or potential lawmakers) say things does mean something.
Don't vote on a single issue. You could get your way and lose all your other rights in the process.
Policy should be written for the future of the nation, and for the U.S.'s role in the world going forward, not for what your bank account is going to look like in the next reelection year.
Parties don't mean anything. There are idiots on both sides of the aisle. There are people fighting for great causes on both sides of the aisle.
Two parties are not enough. We do not all neatly fit into column A or column B on every issue. Neither should the people who represent us.
What will you have to explain to your kids? If an inquisitive six-year-old were to ask you why something exists, what would you say? Income disparity, drug abuse, unemployment, health care gaps and more are very real things; how would you explain to a child why Jimmy can get a cast for his broken leg but Johnny has to limp around for the rest of his life? And why is that man crying? How will your choices at the poll affect your answers?
There's no such thing as a "side issue." While we all have our priorities, government is not going to tackle one issue over two, or four, or six years. Government still has to handle everything we have going on, however they're going to handle it.

When you're going to the polls, don't look for the D or the R or the (i). Do your research on the people running. It's important.

What do you have? What do you need?

I had a moment on Wednesday night.

Maybe it was more of a Moment.

I don't know where it came from. I'm sure it has a little to do with the stuff I've been reading lately, but not a lot. I'm learning important things from some of it, but I haven't acted on a lot of that stuff; it's really just been information in at this point.

I was walking north on suburban dead-end street I live on, wearing comfortable shoes, shorts, a jacket and a baseball cap. My right arm was around the shoulders of the woman I love. My left hand held a leash attached to the black lab we rescued in January, who was alternately sniffing and urinating (you know, dog things). The sky was dimming, the air a little heavy with humidity but cool enough, by way of apology, to be comfortable.

And that was everything I needed. And I think it's everything I'm going to need. Ever.

That was it. My Moment. What was yours?

Book Review: Days After the Crash by Joshua Fields Millburn

Sometimes you have to hit both walls before you find the middle.

Joshua Fields Millburn's novella "Days After the Crash" is a look at life, post-passion and post-tragedy.

Our protagonist, Jody, had some success in music and some success in love and now, divorced and trying to remember what being passionate about music feels like, he gets a call from his estranged, recovering alcoholic mother, who is back on the bottle and, it turns out, sick.

We often talk about needing to hit bottom to start working your way back to the top. I'm a big fan of Millburn's horizontal metaphor instead: find the middle. There you have balance, and wider perspective. And it's scary in the middle – you can move far in any direction and things can come at you from any direction, but if you hang out at the edge, all you can really do is observe.

Millburn is one of the authors of The Minimalists, a blog by a couple of guys who quit high-paying corporate jobs to throw out their crap and really work on the important stuff.

I'm sitting here at my desk looking around, and I see I've cleared off the space in the middle, where the action is happening.

What's all this other crap on my desk? I feel a project coming on.

The new Natur-Tyme

There's a grand opening celebration at the newly relocated Natur-Tyme this weekend.

The food and supplement store moved from their location on a dead-end stretch off Bridge Street (technically, I think it was on Bridge Street, but not really) to a much bigger space on Erie Boulevard East, in the former Goldberg's Furniture space.

The new space has a community meeting room, a salon, and a cafe that serves coffee, espresso drinks and smoothies.

I like the new location – it's very spacious (customers can actually walk up and down the aisle without numerous apologies), and they have a great commitment to New York State foods; there are featured spaces on shelves and in refrigerators for New York-produced foods.

The coffee is, as is usual for anything with an organic label, way overpriced – I paid $2 and some change for a small cup – but better than other cafes in the area (cafes really is a misnomer, since those area "cafes" are Denny's, Friendlys, Dunkin Donuts, IHOP, Barnes & Noble and Panera). Prices throughout the rest of the store are, like in the prior location, a mixed bag (some fancy New York cheeses for under $5, but some natural peanut butter for near $9).

It's definitely worth a look, but if you're in it for things like the supplements, do some comparison shopping because I'm betting a lot of the stuff can be found elsewhere for comparable or cheaper prices.

How Apple isn’t doing it for me right now

Update 3, 9/13: So, it's been a month, and still no follow-up. Apple released a new iPhone yesterday. Yeah, I'm an Android fan anyway, but I can't even consider getting another Apple device, since I don't know when I'll be able to use the iTunes store for anything but free apps again. I followed up on the email thread with Apple support, and I told them I was just doing it for laughs, since, as a manager of a service department, I collect these experiences. Which is true. I'd like to know what the worst of the worst is like so that I don't have to deal with it again.

Update 2, 8/16: I just downloaded Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and When You Are Engulfed in Flames from Barnes & Noble's website. It required a new software install and I had to create new playlists on my iPod because the device didn't recognize the books as audiobooks, but it was worth the extra half hour or so.

Update 1, 8/15: I did email and ask for follow-up. The customer service rep's answer was, at it's essence, "We don't have a resolution yet. We'll let you know when we do.

I've been an on-and-off Apple guy most of my life. Right now I'm so very far off, I can only vent here about it; talking to the company isn't doing any good.

Here's the story.

I went to buy an audiobook on the iTunes store on my netbook. It's a device I've owned for a little over two years, and I've never bought anything on the iTunes store with it. But my 7-year-old laptop is dying, and it won't connect to the iTunes store anymore. The iPod Nano I want to listen to the audiobook on can't connect to the store except through a computer, and my iPad doesn't have a way to connect to the Nano, so through the netbook it had to be.

I went to the iTunes store, selected my audiobook, clicked "Buy Now," and, when prompted, entered my iTunes Store/Apple Store user name and password.

And then I was prompted to answer two security questions that (a) I don't remember setting up and (b) don't make any sense long-term. One of them was "What was your worst job?" Now, I've been in the work force for about 20 years, and I've probably had an iTunes store account since it first opened a decade ago or however long it was.


OK, I understand that if I'd both known my username and password (which is typically all you need to know to log into an account) and been able to answer the security questions, we'd be good.

But there has to be a way for me to make a purchase anyway, right? Or at least reset the security questions?

So I emailed support.

I got a message back (at 9:04pm, by the way, from someone whose shift ended at 9pm and was off the next day – way to queue that one up for quick resolution, Apple) that requested the following information to reset my security questions:

If you can't remember the answers to these questions, I can reset the questions for you. For your security, please reply to this email and provide the following information:

At least one of the following:
- The order number of one of your purchases
- The last four digits of the credit card used for your iTunes Store account

And two of the following:
- Your birth date
- The billing address on your account
- The phone number on your account

Now, since app purchases apparently don't count, I didn't have any purchases in my 18-month order history. Instead, I provided the rep with the last four digits of the credit card on my iTunes Store account, my birth date, the address and phone number on the account (so, more information than she really needed).

Let me preface this next bit, in which I get really frustrated, with the fact that I know Apple's had a very recent high-profile security problem.

Here comes the quote from the email. Ready?

Thank you so much for replying with the requested information.

Josh, although I was able to verify the information that you have provided, I apologize because I am not able to reset the security questions at this time. Apple is currently working toward a resolution for the issue you have reported. You will receive an email after the matter has been investigated and further information is available.

Seriously? I answered the questions you asked correctly, you were able to verify that, but you're not able to reset the security questions with no explanation, no next steps and no timeline for resolution? That's a joke, right?

My response was civil, but pointed. I'd logged on for an impulse purchase. Without a quick resolution, I wouldn't make that purchase anyway (even if we'd resolved it with that next email, they would have lost the purchase). But now I'm unlikely to use the iTunes store if I can find a competitor with even a near-equivalent price for the same product. And if I can't find such a competitor, is anything I might buy from the iTunes store in the future really a necessity?

Probably not.

And if I wind up not wanting to use the iTunes store in the future, am I likely to want to use Apple devices in the future?

Probably not.

That's just lousy customer service through and through.

Publishing on a schedule

I've blogged every weekday for the past month. It's definitely a way to get the juices flowing, but to be honest, it's hard to do great work every single day. Especially when I'm working a day job, enjoying my family, getting some rec sports in, pummeling two to three workouts a week, and doing whatever else it is I do.

So, in an effort to maintain a writing schedule but vastly improve the quality of these posts, I'm going to publish new entries on Tuesday and Friday every week, beginning next week.

This is a common practice among some of my favorite bloggers – people like Chris Guillebeau and Marc Ensign and Steven Pressfield and, if I'm kind, Julien Smith, whose work I love but he doesn't exactly write regularly (in fact, his regularly scheduled Friday post is coming on four weeks late).

Anywho, I hope you'll find the work engaging as we go forward. I'm excited to be able to dig down a little deeper, put a lot more effort in, and grow with you.

Have a great weekend.

9 rules for taking a day off

We are a culture of busy. One thing we don't do well is stop.

Here are the rules for taking a day off (and to be clear, you need to do that sometimes):

1. No email. If you have to turn off notifications on your phone or (gasp!) turn your phone off and stick it in a drawer for the day, do so, but you may not check your email. Most people can manage to not call into the office and can hit the "Ignore" or "Decline" button when they get a call from the office, but a lot of us will check our email as a way to stay informed as to what we're going into when we return. Don't.

2. No alarm. One of the reasons you're taking the day off is because you need to rest. If that means sleeping an extra two, three or six hours, let it happen. If the dog or smoke detector or a meteor crashing into your house wakes you up, deal with it, but don't feel bad about getting some zees.

3. Move naturally. Get some walking in. If you enjoy running and it doesn't make you feel like you got hit by a bulldozer, go ahead and do it. Listen to some music while you do it. Listen to an audiobook. Listen to the air. Tune out. Notice your neighborhood. Stop the go go go.

4. Learn something unrelated to your job. Read about someone you find interesting (this, for example, is something I'm working on here and there). Learn how a snowblower works. Take something apart. Build something, even if it comes out badly.

5. Break an eating habit. It doesn't matter what your eating habits are, change them up for a day. That might have something to do with the timing of your food or the type of foods you eat. Try something you've never had before. I've been cooking a lot with Belgian endive lately. I like it a lot. Have you had it?

6. Indulge. This doesn't have to be food-related. If Mumford & Sons is a guilty pleasure, listen all you want. If you love baseball diamonds, go to a Little League park and run the bases.

7. Challenge yourself. This should be a personal challenge. Take a cold shower. Do a crossword puzzle. Hug a porcupine. Catch a frog. Climb a wall. Break a glass. Whatever it is, do something that's personal growth.

8. Breathe. Take at least a few minutes to listen to yourself breathe. No radios, no TV, no outside distractions. Just sit down and breathe deeply, just to remember what it feels like.

9. Love. Use your day off as a day to remember what love feels like. It doesn't matter if that love is for another human, an animal, yourself or an antique car. Use that love to help with the recovery part of your day off.

Add yours.

In defense of misery

There are an astonishing number of people in the U.S. on anti-depressant medication. There are a lot of positivity blogs out there. We've covered choosing your attitude here. There are even whole businesses dedicated to making you feel better through smiling.

Often, that positive face we put is just that – putting on a face. We sell it to ourselves as much as we sell it to others.

But we're not always happy. In fact, I think we're typically not happy: I'm betting our default feelings are somewhere between bored and content with a bit of annoyed thrown in.

Happy is further up on the spectrum, and it's the end of the spectrum we prefer to interact with people on.

There's that other end of the spectrum, though, and I think it's really useful. Let's talk about that other end for a moment.

Misery. Heartbreak. Devastation. These are really useful feelings.

They are feelings that spur people to action. They drive creativity. They drive motivation. They drive an attitude of TURN IT AROUND. Happiness just drives an attitude of maintenance. If you're there, you want to stay that way. If you're miserable, you want to get out of it.

The next time you're miserable, feed off of it. Rather than getting out of it as quickly as you can and maybe faking your way to happy – when, inevitably, you're going to just crash back down – figure out what you need to shake the misery. Put a plan together. Grow out of it. Understand it may not happen overnight. In fact, it may happen so slowly you didn't notice stops along the way. But it's a sustainable way to shake it.

Embrace where you are, not where you wish you could be. You'll get there. Just know it'll take work.

4 tips for hanging doors

JB and I put up a couple of doors today.

As a human services and English major, respectively, we're not the most mechanically inclined people.

Because we already had door frames in, we didn't get pre-hung doors (also, that saved us something on the order of $150 a door).

Our doors were not standard sizes, so we had to have them ordered. Here are some tips we picked up along the way.

1. How to measure. Measure the interior of the door frame, then subtract an inch horizontally and two inches vertically. You need room for the door to hang, open and close.

2. Know which direction the door opens. I can't stress this enough. Whoever put in the previous door had it wrong at our place, and the latch for the doorknob sits too low on one of the doors.

3. Order the door with the hole for the doorknob drilled. It was so worth the $5 extra to have them punch that hole for me. It would have taken me hours.

4. Study your other doors first. Understand how you're going to have to hang it first; I put the first hinge on incorrectly three times before I got it right.

What else would you like to know about how we got the doors up?

[photo credit]