This morning I donned a puffy jacket and took the dogs out to our little ramshackle dog run on the side of the guesthouse. Once we were outside, I noticed something odd. The little area of concrete where I stand and wait for the dogs was dry and lightly colored. There was no drip from the roof onto the top of my head. It was chilly and windy, but dry.
That sounds unremarkable. But for this time of year in the pacific northwest, dry concrete is hard to come by. I noticed the same thing when we lived in Seattle. We get so used to wet roads and sidewalks that we notice when they’re dry. They seem so fresh and clean.
I’ve always looked forward to the arrival of the rain in October of each year. After a long, sunny summer, I’m ready for a more interior lifestyle. I want to build fires and light candles and finish the evening with a thumb of whisky. It’s the season of hygge, the Danish tradition of coziness and togetherness in winter.
This winter is different for most people, but not because of the weather. Usually, the refuge from the rain is not only the warmth of home, but people. I have such fond memories of dinner parties and game nights that felt extra cozy with rain beating on the skylights and fire in the fireplace. We will surely return to those days, but for now, they seem far away.
We recently had a spontaneous evening beer on the porch of a local brewery. We hadn’t been there since the pandemic started and purchased beer from a walk-up window into what was formerly a small indoor bar. It was pleasantly dark and we sat on cold wooden benches, between puddles and drank a pint that remained cold and refreshing from top to bottom. It felt like a treat. Just doing something, even in the cold and without friends, felt like a step in the right direction. Look at us! We’re not at home!
When we returned, the dogs greeted us and we settled in, just like any other night, snug in our chairs. I’ve started to think about our little guest house as a den, where we wait out the winter, the pandemic, and the house project. 20 months in, it feels like home, but I’m sure we’ll look back on these days with a sense of wonder. It’s one thing to be quarantining. It’s yet another to be quarantining in a tiny apartment set on 18 isolated acres, on a rural island, during a PNW winter, while building a house.
We’ll hibernate for a bit longer and then emerge ready for spring, which can’t arrive soon enough. My only concern is emerging with thicker insulation than when it started. We won’t be alone.
For now, from our den, we can anticipate a spring spent living in the house we’ve thought about for so long. It’s hard not to imagine quarantining there instead of the guest house. Part of what’s missing today is a place to be outside that’s comfortable and dry. It would be the only way we could have had friends over this winter. Of course, that space exists just down the road, but it’s not quite ready.
Now is the season of anticipation for us all. No matter what happens with public health, the days will get longer, the temperature will slowly creep up and the flowers will bloom. We can always count on the change of seasons to change us, too. When we finally emerge from the winter, we’ll have lived through a dark period of history that will serve as a contrast to the light. This hibernation is one for the ages.
My hope is that there is still time to salvage the 2020’s. After a rough start, I’m hoping that all the uncertainty and fear will be replaced by a widespread sense of hope and optimism that’s been pent-up for too long. Once it’s released, the 20s may roar, just as they did a century ago. I, for one, will be ready.
I’m ready for spring. I’m ready to be done with 2020, done with the election, done with the pandemic. I’m ready to feel a sense of hope along with longer, warmer days, with friends. And those days will surely come. The arrival of spring is a certainty and in the context of 2020, I’ll take any certainties I can get.
I can’t help but feel a sense of momentum heading into the next year. It’s going to be a dark and frightening winter. The pandemic is out of control and millions of Americans are unemployed and stuck at home. But this isn’t the new normal. Vaccines look promising and by this time next year, our lives are likely to be back on track. It’s hard to imagine it now, but it may seem inevitable when spring arrives.
I am an optimist at heart. It’s a trait that I’m thankful to have, even if it makes me idealistic and perhaps naive at times. I find that it keeps my focus on the future and what can be learned from times of darkness. I tend to look at change and challenges as opportunities. The psychological term for this is “reframing” and I find myself doing it often; a secret weapon.
There was a moment in early 2020 when I started to feel the uncertainties mounting. It was early in the pandemic and nearly every aspect of life felt up in the air. My book, Big Enough, was sent to the printer, which meant it could not be changed. Then, the bottom fell out of the economy and the book industry took a hit. We decided to change the release date from May to September, with the hope that the environment would improve.
On top of all the normal anxiety that comes with a book’s release, I had to accept that I was publishing and promoting a book during a pandemic. All the time and effort I put into the book seemed like it could wash away in the flood of events. What if society changed to a degree that made Big Enough less relevant?
After the initial shock, I started to reframe. All things considered, the book was complete, still relevant and the core message seemed to fit. I read numerous articles about people who had discovered happiness in a more home-based lifestyle and were looking for opportunities to start a business that would support that happiness. Could the pandemic actually bolster the book’s message? Could this change in perspective, over time, be a net positive? This idea gave me hope.
Today the book is out in the world and doing fine. Above all, I believe that it’s a book people will find when the time is right. This winter may not be it, but by spring, we could be living in a different environment.
About two years ago, we moved out of our house in Seattle and filled a container with furniture, clothes, boxes and what felt like a million other things. Today, that container sits in a warehouse and I think of it like a time capsule. Our former lives and lifestyle are in that container, waiting to be released. A day will come, probably in January or February, when the container will be delivered to Orcas Island and we can reconnect with our past lives. This feeling of reconnecting and beginning again has become such a rich source of anticipation.
Perhaps we all have our own time capsules. Your belongings may not be sitting in a container, but your version of normal life may be on hold for a while longer. All the togetherness and freedom that we all miss is not gone, it’s just waiting to be opened again.
I, for one, want to believe that the spring of 2021 will be a time for us to open our time capsules and become reacquainted with our former lives. When we do, it won’t be exactly the same as before because we’ve changed. The optimist in me believes it could be better because we will have learned to appreciate what we formerly felt was normal.
That’s the core of this perspective. Bad things happen and change is inevitable, we can’t control it. It’s history. The best we can do is look ahead try to find the opportunity or hope within it, or use the change as a reason to push on something we can control and want to alter or improve.
If you find yourself feeling hopeful about spring, consider how you might use the transition to start on a different footing. There may be no better time than just after a shake-up.
I think about this from the perspective of our dogs, Maybe and Piper. They know nothing of pandemics or politics. They are unburdened by the economy. But they are about to experience a fundamental change in the new house and in that change is an opportunity to establish new behaviors and habits.
For example, the house will have a large fenced-in yard for keeping dogs in and deer out. It will wrap around two sides of the house, creating space for them to play without our supervision. My hope is to use this change in their environment to begin new practices that start on day one.
For example, I’ve been researching ultrasonic dog whistles that we can use to recall them without neighbors noticing. On the day we move in, the dogs will begin to learn that amazing treats are connected to the sound of that whistle. If it works, it becomes the new normal for us all.
My hope is that Spring 2021 will mark a point in time when we can all start to leave 2020 behind and begin to restart, rethink, and reframe. We’ve been through a lot. Don’t let that change go to waste. Instead, use it to consider what a new normal could look like to you in the next year.
In the spring of 2020, the publish date of BIG ENOUGH was pushed to the fall and I suddenly had unexpected time on my hands. COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and over 1,000 Americans were dying per day. I felt the need to do something.
Being a producer of explainer videos, I put a lot of effort into explaining the issues I thought were most important. For these videos, I chose to use a format I call “Readable” videos. They have no voice-over and use words on the screen to tell a quick story. They work without sound are accessible to people with hearing impairments.
When we made the videos, I didn’t think they’d be needed for too long. It almost seemed that the messages were coming late in the evolution of the pandemic. Sadly, I was wrong. Today, four months later, they are needed more than ever. The videos we produced are below. They are also provided for free in the form of a COVID Communication Kit.
One of the first big challenges of marketing a book is getting endorsements or “blurbs” from influential people. It’s stressful because you are not only asking favors of people you admire, but you’re sharing the book for the first time. It’s easy to feel nervous about their perceptions.
I made a list of about 15 people and contacted them via email. To my surprise, nearly everyone responded. Some didn’t have time, but the majority agreed to read an early version of the book and provide an endorsement that’s used in at the beginning of the book and in marketing on bookseller websites, my website, and more.
I took on this project in February of 2020, expecting the book to come out in May. With the blurbs approved, I asked for each endorser’s mailing address and planned to send them a thank you card. Then, the pandemic hit, and the book’s release got pushed to September. I wanted to send them something as a thank you, but a card didn’t seem as safe as it once was.
So I made an animated gif for each person, using Common Craft artwork, and included it an email. Along with the gif, I included a photo of their blurb in the book. Here’s how it went:
I hope you are well. Normally, I’d send a card to say thanks for endorsing Big Enough, but I think we’re all better off using bits instead of atoms these days. So, I made this as a thank you:
Closing the loop on the endorsements is one more thing off a very long list. So, hooray for that and the people who took time to work with me on the blurbs.
Over the last week, a roof appeared over the entirety of our house and this was reason for celebration. After eight months of construction, it is finally protected from the elements. For now, the house sits ready for the next phase, which may or not come for weeks. In our state, the quarantine has been extended until May 4th and construction projects are mostly on hold. It is what it is.
In the background, we’ve been working on the details of the windows and doors so they can be ordered. Now that the framing is finished, the house has a wide variety of “rough openings” where windows and doors will someday protect us from wind and weather. The rough openings, framed in wood, are built according to the plan, but don’t always match the exact measurements provided by our architect. The framers do their best to build what’s in the plan but there are always adjustments, and sometimes, improvements.
It’s easy to think that the architect specifies a window size, the framers build it, and the window fits perfectly. If only. What really happens is, after the framers have done their best, the contractor measures the rough opening in order to define the exact size of each window for the order. Then, the windows are manufactured to fit. In this process, the plans matter less than what is actually built and can be observed.
I’ve been thinking about the idea of rough openings and how we’re all suddenly forced to give up our plans and react to conditions on the ground. Like building plans, what we do this spring and summer is based less on executing a detailed plan and more on reactions to what we see at the moment. We are living in an age of rough openings that guide us more than best-laid plans.
This is certainly the case for our other big project: the publishing of my book, Big Enough. In the fall of 2019, we decided that the publish date would be May 5th of this year and created a detailed plan that led up to making a splash on that date. We had no idea what was coming.
By the end of February, it was becoming clear that the U.S. was heading into a crisis, but May 5th still seemed far away. After so much planning, it was hard to fathom not pushing through. Multiple processes, like having the book printed, were focused on that date. But it was still just a plan. What mattered was conditions on the ground. Our carefully crafted design for the book’s release was fading and being replaced by a rough opening.
In March, I started paying more attention to models that predicted the spread of COVID-19 and the potential death tolls. What I saw alarmed me as a person, but also as the author of a forthcoming book. May was projected to be a time of national tragedy, with hundreds if not thousands of deaths per day. Was I really going to promote and publish a new book during a global pandemic? I couldn’t imagine it.
I sent a note to my publishing partners at Page Two and asked about the lead time that was needed to change a publication date and they said a decision needed to be made about a month in advance. This created a deadline. I needed to decide the book’s publication date by April 5th. If I did nothing, Big Enough would be on a one-way street to arriving in stores and online according to our plan.
Part of me wanted to stick to the schedule. Big Enough is about designing a business to be small and resilient. It’s about being able to weather a storm. In my mind, there was some chance that it could land at just the right time and inspire people who were thinking differently about their careers. But was that time May 5th?
We had a call with Page Two and talked through the options. Going into the call, I was open to ideas but was increasingly convinced that the publish date had to move. Being the author and central promoter, I couldn’t get past the idea of marketing a book during a pandemic.
The plans were set, but our rough opening, the conditions on the ground, were telling us a different story. Page Two recommended moving the publish date to the fall of 2020 and that’s what we did. It felt like we’d found an escape hatch that meant our plan could still be executed, but at a different time.
My hope is that by September, people will be feeling more hopeful than today and Big Enough will land at just the right time. We’ll surely have windows and doors, by then, too. My hope is that, for everyone’s sake, 2020 ends better than it began.
Based on the way events are unfolding today, it’s impossible to know where we’ll be next month, much less five months from now. It almost seems fruitless to have a solid plan. The best we can do is stay safe, focus on what we can control and be ready to act when conditions on the ground change.
There will be a time to take measurements and focus on the details. For now, it’s all rough openings.
In publishing a book, timing matters. You’ve spent a year or more writing it and developing the final product. You have a system set up for pre-orders and help with promotions. All the arrows point to a single date on the calendar: your publishing date. If all goes well, the book creates a splash on that day and the ripples reach further than you ever could.
That’s the dream.
For the past six months, I’ve worked to arrange all the arrows to point to the day that Big Enough would be published. For me, that date was May 5th, 2020.
Living in Washington State, home of the first COVID-19 diagnosis and death in the U.S., I was well aware of the virus’ potential impact on public health and the economy. I didn’t worry about the book at first. As the virus swept across the country and states issued stay-at-home orders, I saw a renewed interest in reading. People asked for book recommendations on Twitter. Maybe being home could actually be good for book sales?
I also saw that the themes of Big Enough were well-suited for the current situation. It’s about designing a business that can weather a storm and be resilient. I discuss a kind of entrepreneurship that aspires to be small, home-based and diversified. A full chapter is devoted to a mode of living we call “The Monetorium” that’s focused on reducing expenses to help accomplish a goal or get through a crisis.
In some ways, the planned timing of Big Enough’s May release seemed quite good. It is perhaps more relevant than ever before and part of me felt that publishing it was a risk worth taking. It could help business-oriented people adjust to the new, post-COVID environment.
In a normal situation, April would have been a busy month. I’d be lining up podcast appearances, writing articles, and publishing videos. My goal would have been to introduce as many people as possible to the book and help them see why it matters. Momentum in April would go toward making a splash in May.
I soon realized, along with the rest of the world, that April and May were not shaping up to be normal months. In fact, they were looking increasingly like months of when COVID-19 would be at its peak. I had to ask myself: do I feel comfortable marketing a book during a pandemic? This led to a practical consideration: Could the publishing date change?
The clock was ticking. I asked my publishing partners at Page Two about the potential to move the date and they said it was possible and making the decision a month in advance would give the supply chain time to adjust. That created a deadline. I needed to decide by April 5th.
The potential to move the date felt like an escape hatch. As the news grew grimmer by the day, I became more pessimistic. Marketing and publishing a book during a tragedy didn’t seem right to me on a personal level. This feeling was bolstered by a number of practical considerations.
One concern was logistics. With so many businesses closed, the supply chains that reliably deliver books to stores and warehouses could be disrupted and become unpredictable. There’s a real possibility my publishing date could arrive without books on shelves.
Further, coronavirus news is dominating and will continue to dominate everyone’s attention. The potential to build awareness for a new book seemed like an overwhelming challenge, even with a pertinent message.
Lastly, there is the economy. The Federal Reserve recently said that unemployment could reach 32%. On the same day, the IMF announced that we were officially in a global recession. These are not good signs for selling anything in the short term.
My overall feeling was that the publish date had to change. There are too many unknowns and risks. The only certainty was that the coronavirus will still be with us in May. On a personal level, I worried about appearing tone-deaf.
In a recent meeting with Page Two, we decided to refocus our efforts on publishing Big Enough in the fall, probably in early September. I’m happy with this decision and hopeful that, by then, we’ll be recovering from the pandemic and starting to feel more positively about the future. If we’re right, the book will hit shelves at a time when it can help people who are reassessing their careers and lifestyles. If we’re right, it could make an even bigger splash.
Today this decision feels like a relief. In the rush to publish a book, it’s sometimes difficult to take a step back and reassess messaging and marketing. Deadlines must be met. With this change of date, I now have the luxury to look at Big Enough with fresh eyes and think long and hard about how it will land in what is hopefully a post-COVID environment.
If you would like to be notified about the release of Big Enough and download a sample chapter, you can do so at bigenough.life.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.