Common Craft and Camping on Tuesdays

Common Craft and Camping on Tuesdays

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

Maybe and Sachi in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Maybe and Sachi in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Camping on Tuesdays is a kind of philosophy for Sachi and me that came from running our company Common Craft. It represents how we look at our time, our lifestyle and the sources of our happiness. It’s a recognition that we can choose to live by slightly different rules and expectations.

The idea that became Camping on Tuesdays started around a campfire on a busy Saturday night many years ago. As we settled in for an evening of car camping, we surveyed our surroundings. We were enjoying the great outdoors, but we had little in the way of privacy. With kids out of school for the weekend, whole families were out walking dogs, riding bicycles, and peering into our campsite. At night, we heard waves of laughter and music from sites near and far. It was camping in public, and for a while, we never thought it could be very different.

Eventually, we started backpacking and found that miles of hiking tended to weed out most campers and allow us a bit of the privacy and quiet we so desired. But even long, steep trails could get crowded on weekends in the Seattle area. We knew our perfect camping scenario must be out there, somewhere.

Alongside this search for camping nirvana, we were running Common Craft. To our surprise, videos we started making in 2007 became viral hits and made us, to a small and fleeting degree, internet famous. The attention from these videos led us to opportunities we could never have imagined. We were hired to make custom videos for companies like LEGO, Google, Intel, Dropbox, and Ford. Our original videos were viewed tens of millions of times. I wrote a book and became a keynote speaker. It was a stroke of luck that changed our lives and we’ve been working to build onto that luck ever since.

And through it all, Common Craft always felt like an experiment. It was our laboratory and we were testing what was possible. We decided Common Craft would not grow in traditional terms or pursue traditional opportunities. Despite a lot of demand, we wouldn’t hire a team, find conventional office space and take on more custom projects. Instead, the company would remain intentionally small, home-based, and with low overhead.

At heart, we decided to design Common Craft around our time and independence. We hoped for two things: (1) enough income to support us and (2) a lifestyle that promoted our long term happiness. This decision meant we’d never have employees, investors or an HR department. We’d also never sell the company for a life-changing sum. Whatever Common Craft could become, it would be fit for two people.

Over time, we started selling video files from our website so educators could use them in presentations. This kind of licensing meant we could earn a living, however small, in our sleep. And it was small. But over time, we put everything into making this part of the business grow because it fit so perfectly with what we dreamed Common Craft could become. It took many years and a lot of doubt, but the plan started to work.

As the company changed, so did our perception of time. The 9-to-5 schedule, five days a week, seemed to no longer apply. We worked as much or more than anyone, but that work could happen on a schedule of our choosing. We could take off Wednesday and work on Saturday. We could play in the morning and work at night. We could optimize errands for avoiding traffic or long lines at Costco.

Honestly, I didn’t take to this new schedule as easily as I thought I would. As much as I wanted to live unconcerned about conventional workday schedules, I found myself drawn to it. I discovered a part of me that wants that structure. Sachi was the opposite and became our lifestyle champion. She would say, “We worked so hard to get here, why would we waste it?”

She was right and I slowly transitioned to seeing the beauty in living outside of normal workday hours.

One of the sure-fire ways we could celebrate this new independence was camping. We could camp on Tuesdays, instead of weekends. We could arrive at virtually any campground and find it nearly empty, as if we were lone survivors of a plague. For us, camping on Tuesdays became a symbol of choosing the unconventional route and making our lifestyle a priority.

Today, we’re still camping on Tuesdays and Common Craft is operating in a similar fashion. In fact, it feels like our lives and Common Craft are intertwined more than ever before. It’s the motor that runs in the background, creating space for us to continue experimenting with the business and our personal lives. One day, we’ll get it right.

Dreaming of Orcas Island – As The Salmon Sizzled 🐟⛺️🔥

Dreaming of Orcas Island – As The Salmon Sizzled 🐟⛺️🔥

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

As The Salmon Sizzled

In June of 2017, Sachi and I left Seattle for a camping trip and came home with an idea we assumed would blow over. Surely, time and debate would see it whither. Surely.

We started the trip with expectations of a few days of camping at Moran State Park on Orcas Island, which is about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, BC in the Salish Sea. We boarded a ferry around midday on a Tuesday, which made highway and ferry traffic bearable. Sachi and I, along with our Bernedoodle, named Maybe, and a car packed to the gills with camping supplies, rolled onto the ferry with thoughts of campfires, hikes, and a few days of carefree outdoor living.

Our decision to leave early in the day came with a nice side effect: we would arrive on the island before our campsite was available. Knowing we had time to kill I made an off-hand suggestion that I expected Sachi to wave away. I mentioned the potential to visit a real estate office, just to see what was happening on the island. She thought for a bit, nodded affirmatively and we decided it would be fun to look. We could dream.

Orcas Island had always been a part of our story. The first time Sachi and I spent a weekend away in 2000, we went to Orcas Island and stayed at West Beach Resort. In the following years, we came back to West Beach to stay in its tiny, sparsely-appointed seaside cabins with friends and built fires in makeshift rings overlooking the beach.

Westbeach Resort in ~2002 (Me and Sachi on the left)
Westbeach Resort in ~2002 (Me and Sachi on the left)

In 2011, Sachi and I spent about a month at Orcas as a kind of writing retreat. Most of my book, The Art of Explanation, was written there. We visited multiple times in between and always left shaking our heads in wonder. What a place.

After the hour long ferry ride, we arrived on the island and walked into the real estate office that helped us on the month-long trip years before. We told them we were dreaming and curious. The kind woman listened, printed out a dozen listings and sent us in a few directions. At the very least, we had paper for starting a fire.

That afternoon we arrived at the campsite, set up the tent and arranged the prodigious car camping supplies we had accumulated over the years. After a short hike, we settled in with a box of red wine and a roaring fire as we prepared dinner. As salmon skin sizzled over the fire, we studied the listings. We discussed, we debated, we proposed. Tiny sparks of a different fire started to fly.

As the light grew dim and the box of wine emptied, we let ourselves dream about what was possible. We both went to sleep that night on our queen-sized inflatable mattress with Maybe keeping us warm and possibilities spinning in our minds.

The next morning we awoke expecting the light of day to have washed away our drunken dreams. Rarely do late night ideas survive the morning. But these did and it was all we wanted to talk about. Over breakfast, the listings were filtered and organized by potential. We traded a morning hike for a few hours of driving around the island, trying to find the vacant land and modest houses we had idealized by the fire.

Our night of dreaming eventually came face-to-face with the realities of our lives and the availability of properties that we could afford. It felt like we were forty years too late and left to sift through scraps of land that were left after generations built out the island. Our dream seemed to be realized by someone else in 1979.

We were still living firmly in dreamland, so our disappointment was simply a return to reality; a reality that came with financial and lifestyle commitments. Did we really want another place, hours away, to manage and maintain? We tempered our excitement with visions of leaky roofs, aging septic systems and debt.

Returning to the campsite that second evening, we talked not about property, real estate listings or the market, but about our lives. Aside from Orcas Island, were we looking for a change? Were we prepared to shake things up?

We weren’t entirely sure, but the possibility created new space in our lives for endless speculation. These are the ideas that spin in the background and come to the surface when work is over or there is a break in the conversation. What if? How would it work? When could it happen? We began to start discussions with a disclaimer, “Sorry to bring up Orcas again, but…” If we were honest, we weren’t sorry at all.

Being animated by a big idea like Orcas Island has a way of lifting our entire outlook by prompting us to think seriously about the future, near and far. The mere possibility of owning property forced us to ask big, philosophical questions about what we want from life and what will truly make us happy. For us, happiness lives in anticipation and in this case we saw an opportunity, however faint, that we could decide to change our lives. If we wanted it bad enough, we could take the risk and deal with the consequences.

On the ferry trip back to Seattle, we looked out the window at all the homes along the shoreline and in the hills of the San Juan Islands. Rustic cabins, glass-and-steel moderns, moss-covered cottages. They all had stories. Many of them represented, at some point, a dream that started on a visit, not unlike our own. What would those dreamers say to us? Would they tell tales of dreams realized, or perhaps, regret?