The Dread and Delight of Publishing Big Enough ? ➡️ ?

The Dread and Delight of Publishing Big Enough ? ➡️ ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

Of Dread and Delight

The date of August 15th was stuck in my mind. That was the day my pre-order campaign for Big Enough was scheduled to begin. Unlike finalizing the book website or changing my social media profiles, this date mattered because it marked a very personal phase of the project that would find me emailing virtually everyone I know.

This sort of campaign is practically a requirement for authors like me. Before the book comes out, my personal network is where it all begins and it’s my job to contact people and encourage them to pre-order the book, or share a link. With their help, the book can earn attention before it comes out.

I never look forward to self-promotion, or promotion of any kind, really. I wish there was a way to put something into the world and have people buy it on merits alone. But that doesn’t work for books that are not yet published. I must be involved.

In normal times, I would dread the process of promoting the book. I’d probably write one big email, add everyone I know to the BCC line, and send it. The process would be over in an afternoon and I could move on. I’d probably get moderate results from moderate effort.

These, as you know, are not normal times. COVID has changed everyone’s life in ways large and small. Millions of people are out of work and people are dying in unthinkable numbers every day. We’re on the cusp of an election and social unrest that sucks the air out of everything in the media. What an excellent time to launch a new book!

The dread I felt for self-promotion became magnified by the pandemic. Not only do I have to promote the book, but do it in a turbulent and unpredictable environment. I worried that I would come off as someone who was ignoring the reality of other people’s lives. I expected people to respond with messages like, “DUDE, read the room!”

I reviewed my list of friends and peers and tried to imagine what I could say that would encourage them to be involved. How could I approach them in a way that felt natural?

As this weighed on my mind, I thought about how I would want to be approached for something like a book in this environment. I’d want it to feel personal and authentic. I’d want to feel like it was sent to me, exclusively. I would want to feel like a relationship had been rekindled. This prompted an idea: Instead of blasting a single email to everyone, what if I took the time to email every person, individually?

The business person in me said this strategy was inefficient. And that’s probably true. A single email blast would work well enough. I’d get over the icky feeling and hope for the best.

But then something changed. It felt like I didn’t have a choice. The only way to promote the book, in my mind, was to send hundreds of personalized, individual emails. These weren’t just personalized by name, but actual messages to that person with the goal of making a real connection.

After five or six hours of research, I made a spreadsheet with every person, their email address and a place for notes about them. This was the foundation and it looked daunting. Over 300 emails, many to people I respect and admire. I felt pangs of dread.

One morning last week, I reserved a few hours on my calendar and dove in, starting on the first row. It didn’t take long to feel the first glimpse of delight. For each person, I tried to identify at least one thing I could mention that would show I’m thinking about them, exclusively. This might be something I saw on Instagram, a memory from the past, a funny anecdote. Inside jokes are often the best connectors. Going through each name on the list forced me to think back about our relationship, how I knew them, when we saw each other last.

If I needed inspiration, I’d find something by searching for them by name. I’d see that they switched jobs, moved to a new location, or got married. I’d learn about their lives and then show them, in email, that I was aware. I made the effort. This reflection time was delightful because it made me appreciate the people in my life. At a time when my physical contact was at a minimum, these reflections gave me a sense of community that’s long term and will last through the pandemic.

The project was taking hours each day, but it was more fulfilling than I could have imagined because it was personal. Sure, I was promoting a book and asking them to pre-order it, but I was also reaching out as a friend who knows them. I was showing them that they mattered. I didn’t compose every email as a soliloquy, but I did make it clear the email was exclusive to them. In more than one case, I learned a friend was recovering from an illness and was able to approach them with that in mind.

Of course, not everyone was engaged and I’m sure some didn’t have the time and had to ignore the message. I expect that. But I was also surprised by how many people chose to reply and keep the conversation going. Friends pre-ordered the book and posted messages on social media encouraging others to do the same. People I hadn’t seen since high school joined in and it filled me with delight. They were excited to read the book and help in any way they could. Some pre-ordered multiple copies. People wanted to help at a level that surprised me.

As much as I’d love to think this reaction was because of my carefully chosen words or nature of the book, I believe other factors are at work. We are all feeling the effects of the pandemic in ways large and small. Our physical distance may be highlighting new ways to feel generous and gracious. We still value helping and supporting one another, but now it’s using digital bits instead of atoms.

Publishing a book under these circumstances isn’t a best case scenario, but I now have a completely new perspective. What I’ve discovered is that we all want to be a part of one another’s lives. When that’s not possible physically, we can do it in other ways and with other goals. Today, it might be telling someone about the book, tomorrow it could be me congratulating a family with a new baby, or a graduation. I would love to know if a friend I haven’t seen in years is starting a new business or moving to a new town. These are the things that can connect us and now, they are just about the best we can do. I encourage you to reach out to your friends. Give them an update, ask a question, offer an idea. Reminisce.

You might end up feeling, like I do, that there is a support network on our side and helping us through. They’ve shown us that it’s OK to reach out and ask for support. It’s OK to be in touch after years of distance. We all need that and it’s a delight to feel connected again.

Learn more about Big Enough

Mindfulness and Just One Thing  ??

Mindfulness and Just One Thing ??

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

A few months ago I read an article about morning rituals that explained the idea of a tea meditation. I’m not Buddhist and know very little about it, but this idea seemed to stick in my mind. The author described his morning:

Admittedly, this is one of my favorite parts of my day. I call this tea meditation, but when you fully engage yourself in what you’re doing with mindfulness everything becomes meditation, so this is really just “drinking tea”, nothing more than that.

After reading this, I started to notice my morning rituals, which often involved a handful of things at once. At the very least, I’m reading the news while sipping hot coffee. I don’t think that’s bad or something I need to change. But the idea that I could just drink the coffee was fascinating. Why don’t I do that?

I don’t do it for the same reason I can’t watch TV without checking my phone. It’s a habit. I have grown used to letting intrusive thoughts into my consciousness and then acting on them without hesitation. It often goes like this: We’ll put on a movie and I’ll start to wonder about an actress. What’s her name? I’ll look her up on IMDB. She’s Australian. Interesting. She does an American accent really well. Oh look, she was in another movie I like. Who directed that I wonder? Meanwhile, the plot of the movie passes me by.

Lately, I’ve tried remediation techniques. Before the movie starts, I will put my phone in another room and promise myself not to get it until the movie finishes. It should be so easy. It’s in this situation that I can see my mind at work. It wants answers and is used to getting them. I will find myself reaching for the phone, only to find it’s not there. I tell myself, “Let it go, let it go” and try to move on. Knowing where a movie was filmed does not matter. “Just watch the damn movie” I say to myself in a scolding tone.

Before we moved to Orcas Island, I had a record player and we enjoyed listening to albums. It’s safely packed away for now, but once we move into the new house, it will be part of lives once again and I expect it to be a tool for doing just one thing. That’s part of the beauty of an album. It has a terminus that works like a timer. I hope to do one thing for at least one side of an album again soon.

Now that I’m thinking in this framework, I notice activities that are perfect for focusing. On our property, we’ve planted a number of trees that will serve as privacy screens and I want to do everything I can to make them grow. This summer, that means watering them often and I love watering those trees. It feels healthy and productive. The other day I was watering and thought to myself, “Watering is a great example of just one thing!” As I moved to the next tree, my mind wandered and I started to think about writing about watering a tree as an example. Then I thought that a photo would really round out the post. So, while watering, I got out my phone and took a photo.

And here it is, an unremarkable monument to my inability to do just one thing:

unremarkable monument

Story: Rolling Out the Roof

You’ve probably seen metal roofs on houses. They usually have “standing seams” like this:

standing seams

The roof on our house will be no different. In fact, it’s one of our only options because the slope of the roof is so flat. For us, it’s exactly what we need. A metal roof can last over 50 years, especially when it is installed with the panels extending the entire length of the roof. This is where we have a challenge. To have panels with no breaks in them, they will be 60 feet long on a large part of the house.

slope of the roof

The question becomes: how? How do you deliver and install metal panels that are 60 feet long?

I recently participated in this process and it’s fascinating. The metal is delivered in large, heavy spools and then formed and cut on-site in a process called “roll forming”. It’s like a giant mechanical tape dispenser. Photos and more below…

One of Three Spools
One of Three Spools
The Machine/Dispenser
A 60 Foot Panel
A 60 Foot Panel
Stacks of Panels, 10 at a Time

Watch the machine in action:

Machine that Forms Roof Panels

Now we just have to get the panels from the ground to on top of the roof. I’ll get to that a little later.

In an Instant, She Was Gone ???

In an Instant, She Was Gone ???

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

A little story about a dog.

A little story about a dog

The fear came in a flash. I was outside our guest house with our older dog, Maybe. As soon as we rounded the corner at the back of the house, I saw our other dog, Piper, dash into the woods from other side of the house without a leash. In an instant, Piper was gone.

I’ve never had a dog like her. At home, she is the most domesticated animal possible; a fifty pound stuffed animal who loves to lie upside down in your lap. But she has a wild streak when she steps outdoors, possibly the streak of a hunter. She trembles at the sight of deer that are constantly on the property. They must be chased and this instinct seems to override any kind of training we’ve tried. Our voices are clearly not enough to keep her close.

Even as a small puppy, she loved the game of staying just out of our reach when outside. She was prone to running out of sight and then coming back, just when we’d start to worry. Living in a place with no traffic or predators meant we didn’t have to worry too much. I figured she’d grow out of it. Maybe loves chasing deer too, but she usually gets to the edge of the yard and stops. That’s what I expect dogs to do. Not Piper.

She’s disappeared into the woods on a couple of occasions. The last time, she seemed to stay in the vicinity. She’d disappear for ten minutes, then you’d see her move through the trees at a radius that kept us from tracking her reliably. We’d stop and listen to leaves rustle and, often, hear very little. I’m sure the little jerk was standing still, watching us panic.

In one instance, she ran toward my outstretched arms and then veered off course at the last second to check another side of the property for deer. Not knowing what else to do, we remembered that Piper loves car rides. We moved the car down the driveway, opened the back hatch and she eventually jumped in, exhausted. The freedom she craved for months had finally been satisfied. Relieved, we vowed not to let it happen again.

Piper is not the kind of dog who wants to run away for days or end up miles from the pack. She seems to be oriented around home, but that doesn’t soothe our worry. Orcas Island is a rocky place with hills, valleys, and cliffs. We’ve heard multiple stories of dogs chasing deer off of cliffs and being seriously injured. That’s one of the biggest fears… in the rush of excitement, she injures herself and can’t move, or be found by us. In the past year, a neighbor’s dog chased a deer and came back with a knee that required surgery.

When we both saw Piper disappear into the woods, we knew that we had stepped into the unknown again and nothing would be okay until she returned safely. It’s a terrifying feeling. There are no houses within a fifteen-minute walk and over 100 acres of moss-covered forest.

Looking back, I know exactly what led to her finding this freedom. It was a very windy day, the kind that drowns out sound and causes small branches to litter the driveway. I intended to take Maybe outside and attached her leash as Piper watched by the door. I stepped out with Maybe and pulled the door closed behind me, I thought. Then, just before stepping off the porch, I looked back and saw the wind had blown the door open about 18 inches. I looked inside and there was no sign of Piper. I figured she had gone back to Sachi inside and I closed the door. I can now see that she, instead, sprang to action the moment the door blew open and I had no idea. Sneaky.

It’s an utterly powerless feeling to yell Piper’s name into the woods. She’s out there living her best life and seems to care little about our needs at the moment. With the wind blowing at thirty miles per hour, our voices were virtually camouflaged. What else could we do?

The property sits on the top of a hill and we both walked around all sides of the property, yelling for Piper. I grabbed Maybe and we walked deep into the woods on the side where she ventured out. I got Maybe excited so she would bark and possibly attract Piper. Sachi parked the car at the edge of the forest with the hatchback open. She slammed the car doors and honked the horn. Watching from afar, I could tell it was futile. The roar of the wind was too much. I checked my phone incessantly, hoping to see a text from Sachi with good news.

It was about 3:45 when Piper disappeared and as we searched, I started to do mental calculations. It gets dark at about 6pm, so we have a little over two hours to find her. She is used to having dinner at 5, so maybe that will bring her home. I looked at the weather and saw low temperatures in the upper thirties. These little calculations led to a series of questions I didn’t want to have to face. What if she’s not home when it gets dark? What if she’s not home when it’s time to go to bed? What about two days from now? A week? Is it too cold? Are we going to have to make signs? I imagined Sachi spending the night by the front door, waiting.

Unlike our previous experience, Piper never popped up to make an appearance once she entered the woods. It was like she vanished. We both took turns driving around the area. I texted a couple of friends to look out for her. After returning from a drive, I met Sachi in the driveway with a look on her face that seemed like deep concentration. Sachi doesn’t ever lose her cool. In a situation like this, she thinks her way through. About thirty minutes had passed and I wanted to comfort her.

“She’s going to be fine,” I said. “It’s dinner time soon and she’ll come back for that.”

“Not if she’s fallen off a cliff and broken her leg”, she replied. Point taken.

Not knowing what else to do, I put Maybe back inside and I drove down to a trailhead that leads by the property. If Piper had run straight downhill she would eventually hit the trail. About ten minutes down the trail, I met a neighbor whose property borders the woods of the property and showed him a photo of Piper. I got his number, just in case.

A bit further down the trail, I veered off into the thickness and tried to get a higher vantage point. After scrambling thirty yards uphill, I ended up on a small knob and surveyed the area. I called for Piper and looked for movement. Nothing. Then I checked my phone, expecting the disappointment of silence. But there in my text messages were two words from Sachi that made everything okay. “Have her!” I let out a big sigh and sat down for a moment to collect myself. It was over. I made my way down the trail toward the car. Just in case, I read Sachi’s text message again. What if it was a question instead of a statement? Nope. She’s home. It was 4:30.

I arrived at the guest house to find Sachi washing Piper in the tub. She was muddy and full of thorny sticks and branches. Being a doodle, with hair instead of fur, she collected tangles of the forest. It’s plausible that she could get permanently stuck in a bramble. But she didn’t.

Sachi said Piper simply appeared from the forest at the point where she entered. Once she saw Sachi, she ran at full speed to her, as if she was a little panicked herself. Who knows what she had been doing all that time? What was that little canine brain thinking while on the lam?

As Sachi washed Piper, she said to look at the kitchen table to see evidence of Maybe’s poor behavior. Confused, I looked around and there it was, a freshly baked loaf of bread, still warm, 80% gone. While we were chasing Piper, Maybe was feasting. Bad dog.

By the time it was all over, nothing really mattered but the pack being together again. We wish that Piper was better off-leash and that Maybe was less of a pilferer, but it goes with the territory. The positive role the beasts play in our lives far outweighs the moments of disappointment, worry, and exasperation. They may not be perfect dogs, but they are ours.

I was trying to get a photo of all three of us.
Phase Change ➡️

Phase Change ➡️

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

Phase Change

This morning, I woke up, served the dogs breakfast, set the coffee to brew and did something that I’ve done every day for the past three months: I poured my thoughts into a daily journal that I write via an app on my computer or phone. I write about anything that’s on my mind, which includes events happening around me and importantly, inside my head. It sometimes feels like thoughts and anxieties get trapped in there. Keeping the journal, for me, lets them out and gives me a chance to inspect them and evaluate what I can, or should, ignore. I ask myself, “What am I feeling right now?”

This journal is a new practice for me and one that I took on with intention. With so much change happening in leaving Seattle and moving to Orcas Island, I started to feel a bit unmoored and the journal helped, and is helping, me see it from a clearer perspective. It may sound a little woo-woo, but the science is pretty clear that journaling is helpful for most people.

My journal is one part of a bigger picture. Over many months, we anticipated the events involved in the move, but not how the move might change us. It shook up our lives and now I can see that moving has caused me to rethink a number of things. I call this a phase change because it feels like I’m in between phases in my life. In this gray area, change seems easier because almost everything is disrupted anyway. Why not try something new?

I take some motivation from one of my best friends, Tony. Last summer, his wife, Alex, died suddenly and it changed nearly everything in his life. These events can have consequences, both positive and negative, and Tony made up his mind to become a better, healthier person because of it. From what I’ve seen, he’s been successful in being healthier, more engaged and as happy as could be expected.  

Watching Tony go through this phase change inspired me and showed me that change, like so many other things, really comes down to making up one’s mind.

So, I started to notice parts of my life that could be reconsidered, improved or removed. One of the most obvious was my addiction to political news. Before I started journaling, I would wake up and immediately dive into news sites and especially Twitter, which I had used virtually every day since 2006. This set the table for my day, for better or for worse.

In the stream of Twitter political commentary, where people are emotional and provocative, it can start to feel like the news is happening to you; that you are somehow a part of it and feeling its effects. On the day that the Mueller Report was released by William Barr, I thought, “Enough is enough.”

Starting then, I stopped reading Twitter and have never looked back. As a result, I‘ve found that political news feels more distant. It’s important and momentous, but not happening to me, personally. It’s been a relief. Today, I no longer seek out political news. Instead, I notice that the newsworthy information tends to find me. This has been a positive change.

I’m realizing, as I write this, there is a connection between starting my day by journaling versus reading political news. When news was my focus each morning, I started each day absorbing information. I was filling my mind with news. Today, by journaling each morning, I’m releasing information instead. I’m getting my mind set by reminding myself of where I stand. You can probably guess what works better for me.

The phase change also extends to where I find satisfaction in daily life. A few years ago, we planned a long term road trip to Charleston, SC, where we would live and work for three months. 18 days before we left, our dog, Bosco, was diagnosed with lymphoma (a terminal cancer) and we left Seattle without knowing if he would make it to Charleston. He made it, but did not return to Seattle. It was a terribly stressful phase of our lives and I wrote each day. I wrote about Bosco and Charleston and what we were experiencing. It was during that time that I learned that I’m happiest when I’m writing consistently and especially if someone might read it.

My promise to write one newsletter issue per week in 2019 came from that experience in Charleston. It was the first time I saw the potential for writing to become a renewable source of satisfaction. I wish it was my full time job, because I want to work on it every day. Now that we’re 23 issues into this newsletter, I can’t imagine not doing it in the future.

Other phase changes have been more like adjustments. We no longer live in a neighborhood with friends we’ve known for years, and we miss them. We’ve made a choice to be relatively isolated and I expect that distance to become more obvious over time. For the people who truly matter, proximity is not an issue. We’re not gone, just further away. And with fewer events close by, my fear of missing out is kept at a minimum.

In meeting new people and making new friends, it’s been interesting to see myself reflected in their perceptions. They have very little backstory or preconceived notions. I am just a person from Seattle who moved to the island. If I chose, I could reinvent myself or try on a new persona. I think that’s part of why people move to new places.

For me, at 45 years old, that seems like a lot of work. Despite this phase change, I am who I am. But that doesn’t mean I am immune to adapting to island culture. Sachi and I both have become keen observers of the differences between the city and island perspective. We want to be a part of this community and that sometimes means being open to change or new ideas.

For example, we’ve always been responsible recyclers, but the island’s culture of reuse takes it to a new level. People consistently do more with less. In smaller ways, we’re getting used to everything being so casual in appearance and expectation. No one really cares how you dress or even if you showered recently. And a neighbor might just show up unannounced to say hello or to share a bottle of wine. While Orcas is an island, it’s also a small town.

We’re taking it all in stride. Change, to varying degrees, has been a near constant part of our relationship. As soon as we complete a project, we take a breath and say, “OK, we’re done, let’s just chill.”

But it doesn’t last. It’s part of how we’ve worked up until now. Perhaps the biggest phase change of all is for us to work toward a life with less change. That is the long term goal.

But that’s not going to happen for a while. In fact, as you’ll soon see, the change in our lives is going to accelerate. Soon, I’ll share our long term plans for Orcas Island and what we see as our next project. If it goes as planned, the next phase change for us will take time, but set up a long term transition to a slower, simpler, more consistent lifestyle. Maybe that change will stick.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night ??

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night ??

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

It happened on a Sunday night, just before midnight on Orcas Island. I was watching TV and about to fall asleep when I heard Sachi say, “Lee???” from the bedroom.

I replied, nonchalantly, “Yeah?”

Sachi then said words I didn’t expect to hear, “Someone’s backing up the driveway.”

At first, I was incredulous. Maybe she heard a tree branch fall or the door to the garage blowing in the wind. It didn’t make any sense that someone would be at the Yurt so late on a Sunday. I peered through the blinds in the bathroom to get a better look at the driveway and sure enough, a pickup truck was backing up to the garage. What the hell?

This wasn’t just any night. It was our first winter at the Yurt and on this night, the wind was howling as we’d never seen. It was like a movie scene where people are huddled in a cabin during a storm and when the door opens, the roar of the wind outside drowns out all other sounds until it is closed again. It was the kind of sound that overwhelms the senses.

My mind raced and my heart felt like it would beat out of my chest as I realized my neighbor to the north was out of town and that no one else should be on our driveway. We are one of a small group of homes on a gravel road with a clear “No Trespassing” sign.

I quickly ran through a few scenarios, none of them good. This person was surely backing the truck to make a quick getaway. What did they want? Would they steal something from the garage? Were they going to rob us? Why else would they be outside so late in such bad weather?

Not knowing what else to do, I made up my mind to venture outside to investigate. I would be the first line of defense and try to mitigate whatever they were planning. Before reaching for the door, the thought occurred to me that I might need to protect myself. Earlier that night, I had used a little hatchet to split wood to make kindling for a fire and the hatchet was beside the wood burning stove. I grabbed it, took a deep breath and stepped into the gale.

As I approached the driveway with the hatchet in my hand, I saw the truck door open from the driver’s side. This was the moment of truth. Who was this intruder? Was I about to go into combat?

The first thing that appeared was a long white beard and the wave of a hand. This was an older guy who was saying something I couldn’t hear enough to understand. Seeing him making friendly motions, I quickly stuck the hatchet in the small of my back so he wouldn’t see it and walked closer. We met at our deer fence and had a short conversation in the form of yelling short proclamations over the roar of the wind and rain.

It turned out that he was Arthur, someone we’ve come to know as a friend and fellow potlucker on the island. He was on our road to check on our neighbor’s house while they were out of town. He saw our light on and was coming to check on us, too. He wanted to be sure we had a chainsaw in case a tree fell on the road or our house, and wood for the fire if the power went out. I told him we had everything covered and that I appreciated him checking in.

Relieved, I went back inside and sheepishly put the hatchet back by the stove. Sachi and I laughed at what was clearly an overreaction.

I recently recounted this story to our friend, Boris, who grew up on Bowen Island near Vancouver, BC. Bowen has a lot in common with Orcas and he couldn’t help but give us a hard time. He said that on islands like Bowen and Orcas, the only reason someone would come to your house during a storm is to check on you. This is especially true for people known to be new to the island. It’s how the world works in small, more rural places.

Looking back, it’s obvious to me that we were, and still are, shaking off city life. We were on guard and prepared to assume the worst in a questionable situation. Though I’ve never had a problem or used a weapon of any sort in Seattle, we know people who have had incidents. Anything can happen in the city. You learn to expect the unexpected and think about security every day. After 20 years, I didn’t know any other way to react. So, I went outside with a weapon that now looks a little ridiculous in hindsight.

One day, I will muster the courage to ask Arthur if he saw the hatchet before I stealthily hid it that night. I’m sure he and everyone else on the island would get a big laugh out of that scene. Me assuming the worst, only to find it was Arthur, checking on us with the best possible intentions.

What can I say? We’re learning.

Breaking the Rules at the Westsound Potluck ?

Breaking the Rules at the Westsound Potluck ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

From the moment I walked into the kitchen of the Yurt, I could tell that something was wrong. Sachi moved around in a quiet sulk that told me she was crestfallen. This was not a tearful or sad kind of emotion, but a feeling of personal failure with a touch of confusion. After a brief discussion, I learned that a pan of cornbread, a favorite in our house, was showing signs of rebellion. Despite baking the normal length of time, it was not close to done, as evidenced by its liquidy center. When it comes to cooking, there is no room for failure in Sachi’s mind. It hits hard.

In isolation, a rebellious cornbread would be no cause for concern. It would be whipped into shape and eaten in due time. But the stakes for this cornbread were considerably higher.

Our neighbor, Grant, has lived on Orcas Island for 25 years and has become a sort of island guide for us. From the very first time we met him, he encouraged us to go to “the potluck” where we could meet neighbors. And we did. We’ve attended a handful and become well-versed in potluck activities on Orcas Island.

Our community is Deer Harbor and the potlucks are organized by the Deer Harbor Community Club, of which we are now members. What Grant calls a potluck is actually a community meeting with food. But I suppose all potlucks are, in one way or another.

Deer Harbor and the potlucks

This one has been gathering for decades and we learned there were some basic rules to follow. You bring a dish to share, plus your plates and utensils and a bottle (or two) of wine, if you’d like. Show up early.

Usually, the evening begins with a few words from the community club president that might include a fundraising update and news about the club’s projects, like fixing a bathroom door, or parking lot maintenance. This particular club has taken on bigger projects like purchasing and paying off the tiny building that houses the Deer Harbor Post Office. The club’s purchase in 2009 helped make the rent more affordable and prevented the USPS from closing it.

particular club

Just before the announcements end, the president asks about guests and new attendees. On our first potluck, Grant raised his hand and we all stood together to be introduced as Lee and Sachi, new part-time neighbors from Seattle. We waved, smiled and sat down. Being from Seattle isn’t remarkable, as most in attendance likely lived in the city at some point. But Seattle does bring with it a bit of baggage. I’m sure most were just happy to hear we’re not from California.

These introductions serve as a reason for community members to introduce themselves and ask what we do. For people like us who are not retired, it’s not easy to support yourself on a small and relatively expensive island. How people make it work is a constant source of discussion and speculation. We, as we tell people, own a business that operates through a website. All we need is an internet connection to manage it. They nod. It makes sense and they’ve heard it before. We are part of the new generation who has choices that weren’t possible until recently. We are those people, from Seattle.

Grant, as it turns out, also goes to the potluck of a neighboring community called West Sound and he kindly peer pressured us into going to this potluck, too. From the beginning, it felt a bit strange. This wasn’t our community or our club. Technically, anyone is welcome, but did it really feel right? We knew Grant would be a worthy ambassador and we looked forward to the evening. We would bring cornbread, a perfect potluck item.

It was this cornbread and this event that made Sachi so crestfallen. The cornbread had been in the oven 10 minutes longer than it ever had before and was still not close to done. We debated what to do as the potluck drew nearer. The edges were fine, but toothpick after toothpick showed an uncooked center. A few more minutes, we said. It was like the oven was losing temperature as the pressure grew in the kitchen.

We soon started to realize that we were facing a number of decisions with hard stops at about 5:45pm — when we had to leave to arrive on time. Do we arrive without food? Do we go at all? We paced and inspected the cornbread. We debated. The minutes ticked by with no good answers. Eventually, we cut out one piece and could see that the entire center was still uncooked. The idea of showing up at a new potluck without food seemed like a violation of potluck code and a terrible first impression to make in West Sound.

Grant texted that he had arrived and was saving our seats. It got to be 5:50 by the time we made the call. We would not attend the potluck. With that decision made, we had to tell Grant, who we knew would be disappointed. I texted him and sure enough, he insisted we come anyway. “Everything will be just fine — nobody cares”, he said.

In the end, we thought, “What the hell…” and left the Yurt just before 6pm with plates, utensils, wine, glasses and without a shared dish. We were about to break the rules.

We pulled into the gravel parking lot next door at the Orcas Island Yacht Club, which sounds a lot fancier than it is, to see the lot full. We quickly stepped out of the car and walked up the ramp to enter the building. I hoped we could slip in unnoticed.

I carefully reached for the handle and tried to open it as quietly as possible. Of course, stuck a little and rattled as I opened it, causing the entire room of thirty people to look our way. Our timing was perfect — we interrupted the community president’s announcements. Not only that, but we were new, from a different community, and arriving with plates and no food. Who shows up late to a potluck without food? People from Seattle, apparently.

We ducked our heads, and sheepishly found Grant and our saved seats just as the announcements wrapped up. On that night, the subject that engaged the club most was the potential to show the animated movie, Coco, on an upcoming Saturday evening near Halloween. The exact date and time for the showing was a source of confusion that lasted far longer than we expected. It was like watching aunts and uncles get through a disagreement over dinner. Is Saturday the 3rd or 4th? No one seemed to be sure.

After a bit of hunger-induced groaning, light heckling and introductions of new attendees, we all drank wine and enjoyed a fine meal of baked chicken, pasta salads and apple crumbles. It seemed that Grant was correct. No one seemed to notice or care that we arrived late to the potluck, from a different community, or without food to share.

In fact, in what would become a pivotal moment, the newcomer introductions shined a spotlight on a handful of attendees who were our age and new to Orcas Island as well. One of these new people, Erika, noticed that my wine glass was emblazoned with the logo of her employer, a small non-profit organization called the SeaDoc Society. We also met Tony and Zoe, who were in the process of moving from Seattle to the island. We talked for a bit, exchanged contact info and agreed to get together soon. It felt finding the start of our little community on Orcas Island.

We imagined, sometime in the future, hosting our own little newcomer potluck with a working oven, Sachi’s cornbread, and slightly less pressure.

Fear of Missing In ?

Fear of Missing In ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

Fear of Missing In

One of my all-time favorites tweets was shared by a user named Diego in the summer of 2018. It said:

“I used to sneak out of my house to go to parties. Now I sneak out of parties to go to my house.”

This simple tweet captures what I’ve been feeling over the last five years. Home seems to have more of a gravitational pull than ever before. It’s like turning 40 reduced my interest in taking advantage of events around me, or likewise, increased my interest in being at home.

This change stands in stark contrast to my approach to being social for most of my life. As Sachi will tell you, I have always been subject to F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out) when it comes to being out and about. In fact, this fear used to cause me real anxiety. As a weekend approached, stress would start to build. I worried that we didn’t have plans, or our plans were not enough. From my perspective, there was an entire city on offer and to spend a weekend not taking advantage seemed like a waste.

I imagined somewhere in Seattle, people were doing it “right”. They had figured out how to make the most of every moment and I wanted to feel confident that I was one of those people; that I cracked the code. Through attention and planning, I could squash the FOMO once and for all.

Of course, social media didn’t help. Facebook and Instagram only made my FOMO worse. The people who I suspected were doing it “right” were taking pictures and telling stories. They were showing me what I was missing. In fact, it felt like they were rubbing my face in it. “Don’t you wish you were here?” The messages said. “Your weekend is lame.”, I imagined them saying as they cruised by on a boat while simultaneously drinking a beer and catching a salmon in the sun.

Like most of the anxieties I feel, this was not rational and I knew it. But that realization didn’t help. The only thing that helped was learning to recognize and be grateful for the experiences I have.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And like any good quote, his words packed a punch. It helped me see that my FOMO came from thinking about my activities in the context of other peoples’ experiences, experiences carefully curated for my viewing pleasure. By paying attention to them, I was preventing myself from seeing the joy in my own life. Sachi, seeing me frustrated by FOMO, reminded me to look around and appreciate the life we lead and all the things for which we should feel fortunate.

Eventually, both Sachi and Teddy’s words began to sink in. I started to filter my social media consumption. I became aware of my own participation in social media and how my experiences may be perceived. I put real effort into taking a step back and feeling grateful for my reality, as unexciting as it may be to the outside world.

Perhaps it’s a combination of my age and these realizations that have contributed to my connection to home. Today, I know Seattle is full of things to do, but I don’t really care. There was a time when I did those things. I saw the sights and went to the festivals and ate at the restaurants. And I loved them all. But now, it’s different.

Today, Sachi and I usually have a couple of events a week. A dinner with friends, a movie, a soccer match. And I never regret them. I’m genuinely happy when we’re engaged. But home is always pulling me back. The prospect of a night at home, making dinner and watching a movie is a source of real happiness now and something that doesn’t feel like a consolation.

In fact, when our social calendar starts to fill, we become a bit protective. We both want to be sure that we have some evenings at home, just to ourselves. Perhaps this is the opposite of FOMO, where you fear that events will prevent you from enjoying home. Maybe, what I now feel is F.O.M.I. (Fear of Missing In). If we become too busy, I’ll miss quiet nights of listening to music and having a cocktail at home with Sachi and the dogs.

Now that changes may be coming in our lives, it helps to feel like home is the right place. I don’t have to rely on a city, event or an activity to be happy. I’ve learned to make my own contentment at home, wherever that is.