Thirteen Years

Thirteen years is a long time. When I first came to New York, I never imagined that I would still be there, thirteen years later, married to a beautiful, amazing soul who is inexorably changing the world in her own quiet, loving way.

Thirteen years ago, I met you. I didn’t know then that we’d have thirteen years together. I just knew that I wanted to be with you. You made me see life differently, and you taught me to see the best in people, instead of only the worst. You taught me to give people a chance. You taught me how live with kindness and love in my heart in a world that often feels cruel and harsh and unforgiving.

Thirteen years is a lot of time for two people to grow up together, to build a home together, and to find a place in this world together. Thirteen years adds up to a lot of days learning from each other and loving each other. Each day is a treasure - and thirteen years is so much time that sometimes it’s easy to forget that.

Thirteen years is enough time for two people to walk the same path together and learn who they each really are. When you both want the same things - especially if they're big things like justice and peace and love - it feels easy to walk the same path. But a day comes when you realize that those big things aren’t everything, and maybe they're not enough. And maybe this scary truth was always in our hearts, but love was enough to carry us down the path together for thirteen years. Until one day we looked down and realized that we're no longer walking the same path.

Now, our thirteen years are over. We're travelling separate paths now, because sometimes love isn’t enough anymore. But thirteen years is a lot of time - more than many ever have. Thirteen years is a lot of happy memories and challenges endured; it's a lifetime full of love, with no regrets.

In thirteen years, we’ll look back on this moment and know that this was right. All of it - even this ending and new beginning. And we’ll know that we started down our separate paths with our hearts still brimming with love for each other, and that we were blessed to have walked together, hand-in-hand, for thirteen years.

How to Transform a Conservative Brick-and-Mortar Service Delivery Industry

How to Transform a Brick-and-Mortar Service Delivery Industry

  1. Get a license to practice
  2. Move to Wiliamsburg, become hipster (in that order)
  3. Turn nose up at traditional career, wallow in ennui
  4. Start a Tumblr blog, post cheeky picture of self, offer services online, in bars and in coffee shops
  5. Get mocked on Gawker
  6. Get book/TV deals
  7. Start consultancy, let license lapse, throw parties
  8. Rent loft space, start start-up.
  9. Cater to technocrati.
  10. Success.

The Doctor is In (Well, Logged In)

The Dark Side of ADD Meds

My three weeks of travel (Dallas to Jacksonville to Miami to Houston to NYC to Syracuse to Poughkeepsie) which included climate changes from balmy and humid to driving through a snowstorm in frigid 20-degree temperatures in a car with no working heat has finally caught up with me. I lost my voice completely after my last training on Friday, have been in bed since Friday evening, and I don't think I'll be able to write my planned reflection this week.

The NY Times published a heart-breaking piece on the tragic suicide of a young man who became addicted to ADD meds. The article suggests - and his poor parents believe - that he was misdiagnosed after he faked his way through the diagnostic test, and the doctors failed to conduct the full life-history evaluation that many practitioners recommend. He, like an alarming number of college students, started abusing ADD meds in college to boost concentration to enhance school performance.

The article paints a really tragic picture of a bright, promising life that went off the rails because of a drug that's meant to help those with who struggle with distraction and inability to control their attention. What the article doesn't do is question why people who actually don't have the kind if brain chemistry the meds were intended for feel the need to use them. What is it about our society, our education system, and our modern world that would cause someone who is "normal" to turn to drugs to be successful? More importantly, what does it say about the way our society has evolved that a significant percentage of our child and adult population are now being prescribed medications so they can be "normal"?

I've been planning to write something on an alternative way of framing ADD - not as a disorder, but rather as identification of individuals who have traits that were important and useful to society historically, but who increasingly have a hard time fitting into the fast-paced, regimented and demanding modern world we now live in.

Until I get to writing that piece, I really think anyone who has any interest in ADD, medication, and mental healthcare issues should read the Times article. And if you're someone who uses stimulants to boost performance in school or work, whether you have a diagnosis or not, think for a minute about what it says about our world that some people are medicating - and in some cases abusing medication - just to do what they think is expected of them.

Sticking Together

While on this last business trip, I had the opportunity to meet up with an old family friend. His fourteen year-old son was also recently diagnosed with ADHD, and he and his wife have really been struggling with how to support him. Their son - let's call him Jeff - has had a rough time the last couple of years in school. The diagnosis, instead of being a relief and a moment of rebirth as it was for me, hit him pretty hard. I offered to hang out with Jeff to see if maybe I could help. At the very least, he'd finally have a chance to talk to someone else with the same kind of brain wiring.

I can't imagine how hard it must be to be fourteen, just starting high school and just wanting to fit in, and be told that you have a "disorder". Freshman year of high school was tough enough as it is. Jeff has focused a lot of his energy on football - not surprising, considering exercise and sports are a common form of self-treatment that undiagnosed ADDers gravitate towards. He has insomnia, which causes a lot of stress, because he's tired a lot of the time, is late to school a lot, and because - in his quest to get bigger and stronger for football - Jeff has done the research and knows that he needs a lot of sleep at this stage in is life as he goes through puberty. He's worried that his inability to sleep (also a common trait) is going to doom him to being too scrawny to be a good football player.

Over huge Texas-sized steaks, I told Jeff about my own experience in high school (it may surprise you to know that I played football my Freshman year. I wasn't any good - not aggressive enough, apparently.) I talked about a bunch of the tricks I had developed over the years to deal with life, both pre- and post-diagnosis. When I told him I often feel at the end of the day thay I didn't accomplish anything, or how I have a lot of trouble remembering how I spent my time or how long it took me to do something, he told me he feels that way all the time, too. I talked to him about my lifelong struggle with procrastination, and I knew immediately that he understood what it was like. And while I only occasionally have trouble falling asleep, I've gone through pretty intense insomnia before, and I know how debilitating it can be.

I'd like to think that steak dinner was a turning point for Jeff as he grapples with this new reality. Only time will tell, I guess. If someone had sat me down at fourteen and started to rattle off a list of things that almost perfectly described things that were causing me a lot of inner turmoil, and then told me that it wasn't my fault, and that there were things I could do to make dealing with school and life a little more manageable, I'd probably be a very different person today. I think I'd at least be a little less insecure and experience less anxiety.

During our conversation, I suggested to Jeff that he try a white noise generator or some other kind of sleep sound device or app. In addition to masking the annoying random sounds that can really tug at an overactive brain, I've found that those kooky new-age nature soundtracks can often help relax my mind (I'm partial to waves crashing on the beach). The next day, Jeff texted me to say that he had tried a white noise app and that it had really helped him to fall asleep. It was pretty gratifying. As I told Jeff, we ADDers are a speciai tribe (about fifteen per cent of the population) and we gotta stick together of we're going to make it in this crazy world.

Flying with Focus

One of the more interesting and destabilizing parts of the past six months is that I'm learning a lot about myself since I was diagnosed with ADD. I have read a lot of the books out there on adult ADD, and it's extremely disconcerting to pick up a book and have a complete stranger identify in print so many of the fears, uncertainties, and traits I've struggled with all of my life.

I've learned enough about myself by now that I better understand why I find air travel to be so challenging. I'm in the middle of a four-city, two-week road trip for work, so now is as good a time as any to write about what it's like for me to travel with ADD.

Booking Air Travel

Trying to book an itinerary feels like walking into an open bazaar, with vendors everywhere shouting different prices at me for goods that are all slightly different. If it weren’t for travel search sites like Travelocity, Orbitz, Kayak and Hipmunk, I'd be a complete wreck trying to figure out timing for connections, finding the best prices, comparing itineraries and focusing on one airline rewards program. As it is, even with all the powerful search sites at my disposal, I find it incredibly time consuming and exhausting to book anything but the simplest itinerary. It took me more than half a day to book my current trip - between the complexities of a 4-city flight itinerary, hotels, car rentals and airport shuttles, all of which had to be within the per-city travel budget. It's a good thing I'm such a geek and have gotten pretty good at using the filters built into those search sites, otherwise I'd never get anywhere.

Packing

I hate packing. I’ve developed a ridiculous ritual every time I travel: the night before any trip, I usually end up pulling an all-nighter to do laundry and pack my bags. I used to attribute it solely to trying to do too much with too little time (which is true, but more on that in a future post), leaving no time to pack during regular waking hours like a responsible grown-up. I now recognize that there’s another factor: packing for a trip is exactly the kind of activity that taxes my ability to stay focused simultaneously on a number of small sub-tasks.

The process usually starts out well enough. I grab the appropriate luggage, and start gathering my clothes and other stuff. Then, I'll be unable to find a shirt I want to bring, and when I find it in the hamper, I think, "I'll just put in a load of laundry while I pack." That's usually the beginning of the end for my good start. What follows is... well, remember those Benny Hill cutaway scenes that were played back at high speed with crazy saxophone music, showing Benny and a whole gang of characters running around, bumping into one another helter-skelter? It's kind of like a one-man version of that, without any of Benny's scantily clad co-stars. I usually end up with things I didn't really need, like the book I've been meaning to read for four years, and missing things that I do need, like the charger for my phone.

The real problem is, because I'm at home with all of my stuff, I have a lot of trouble filtering out the universe of things I might need (umbrella, poncho, first aid kit, emergency zombie apocalypse supply bag) from all the things I actually do need (socks, toothbrush, glasses).

You might ask why, knowing full-well now that I'm not good at holding so many unrelated small tasks in my active working memory, I don't just create a list of things to pack. I've tried. Maybe I need to work on my list-making, but I start packing using the list, and inevitably I start thinking of things that aren't on my list and my trust in my past-self disappears because I see how unreliable I was in creating the list.

Anyway, I've gotten a little better at this. At least now I'm better at forgiving myself for forgetting things, and reminding myself that buying a tube of toothpaste or a bottle of contact lens solution at my destination is not the end of the world.

Flight

I'm blessed with the ability to sleep on planes. I sleep through takeoff, through landings, and often through most of the flight. If I couldn't do this, I'd probably go crazy. Flights are full of the kinds of distractions that rip my attention away from anything I try to do that requires focus, such as reading or writing. Put me anywhere within seven rows of a loud talker, and I want to rip my hair out in frustration (if I had hair to rip out), because I can't tune out the conversation, and I'm trapped for several hours. The constant drone of jet engines also, for some reason, pulls at me in a way that random noise in an office or in a car does not. And when the flight crew uses the overly-loud PA to sell their special credit card program, it takes a great deal of willpower not to scream in rage, especially if I've just barely managed to get into a groove and actually read my book.

I started using ear plugs recently, and it has completely changed my relationship to flying. I haven't found any that can block out as much sound as I would like, but the ear plugs I use now dampen noise so much that it really helps quiet my mind. I also use headphones - and I'm thinking very seriously about investing in a pair of good noise-canceling headphones - but I also worry about trying to block out noise with other noise and what that might do to my hearing. When I don't have ear plugs with me, I use in-ear earbuds with an app on my phone that generates white noise.

I'm happy to say that using ear-plugs and headphones, combined with better mindfulness about, well, my mind, have drastically improved my ability to concentrate while flying. I used to shift from reading a few sentences of a book, to flipping through a magazine, to glaring at the obnoxiously loud person three rows away to perusing the Sky Mall catalog, to playing a game on my phone, all within about three minutes, on a repeating cycle for the entire flight. I used to also try to actually do something productive on flights, but inevitably, I would take out my laptop and just stare at it in quiet frustration, unable to muster enough concentration to do more than write a few sentences.

Things haven't completely changed. I'm still very likely to wish a bad case of laryngitis upon fellow travelers who, like Austin Powers coming out of his cryogenic state, can't CONTROL THE VOLUME OF THEIR VOICE. But I'm a much happier and productive traveller now. I know this, because this post was written entirely in-flight, within earshot of two people who must be related to Sam Kinison.

Trail-Running Through the Fog

I Don't Understand Why You Can't...

In June of 2012, I was diagnosed with ADD. My path to diagnosis was pretty common for someone who was never diagnosed as a child. The stress and anxiety that has always simmered under the surface boiled over. Again. This time it was particularly bad, and I realized if I didn't finally do something about it, I was likely going to find out what rock-bottom really felt like.

I received the diagnosis, and started learning about brain chemistry and neurotransmitters. And for the first time in my life, at the age of 36, I felt there was a possibility that I wasn’t actually a complete mess who had somehow fooled everyone through dumb luck and because of a surprising ability to do well on standardized tests.

Undiagnosed ADD in adults can be extremely pernicious because the traits that many ADD'ers have are usually perceived as moral failings. For example, our working memory (being able to hold multiple pieces of information in our heads while working on a task) and our prospective memory (being able to remember to remember to do something like "Put that bill payment in the mailbox when you get to work.") - these functions don't work particularly well for an ADD'er. It's hard for people who don't have ADD to understand why the ADD'er can't just take care of simple tasks - and it's impossible for the undiagnosed to know that it's not their fault that they can't remember, or that they can't control their focus. But trust me, we know that we’re not taking care of things well, and that we’re not getting things done. We know when we’re falling short and falling behind. We're acutely aware that things are slipping through the cracks. We find names for ourselves, because this is the only way we can make any sense of it. Lazy. Stupid. Spaz. Irresponsible. Flake. Undisciplined. Procrastinator. Unreliable.

And that's just the inner dialogue. Imagine what it must be like to go through life - through school, through work, through relationships - having those labels placed on us by others as well. It doesn’t even have to be a vitriolic verbal assault to be devastating. Hearing “I don’t understand why you can’t...” can feel like a cold, quiet dagger of dissapointment in the gut.

Just Try Harder

Telling someone with ADD to just try harder to concentrate doesn't work. You might as well tell someone who is nearsighted to try harder to focus their eyes. Or why not tell someone who is colorblind that if they would just apply themselves and appreciate the value of hard work, they could distinguish between red and green? We don't question the colorblind, because we accept that they're not pretending that they can't distinguish between red and green. We believe them. But for some reason it's hard to accept that someone with ADD can't easily distinguish between something they really should be doing and something that happens to have their attention at the moment.

And so what do ADD'ers do? Well for one thing, we constantly tell ourselves to stop being so stupid, so lazy, so unorganized, so forgetful, so irresponsible. We tell ourselves to grow the-fuck up. We don't need anyone with a whip to drive us forward, because no one can come close to inflicting the kind of punishment that we visit upon on ourselves every day.

Some of us self-medicate. Addiction is common. I was fortunate that my addiction (video games) was relatively benign. Addiction to drugs, gambling, adrenaline and anything else highly stimulating are common. Chasing a high can sometimes be the only time our dopamine- and seratonin-deprived brains allow us to feel “normal”.

We also develop coping mechanisms. We rely on procrastination, because the stress of an impending deadline (and fear of the consequences of failing) is often the only thing that allows us to focus our attention. We try to find jobs where our paradoxical ability to hyper-focus is actually useful. We (try to) live obsessively by calendars and to do lists, because we know we’ll forget what it is we're supposed to be doing the moment the next shiny object (or email, or tweet, or phone call) appears. We develop hundreds of little tricks, like our dyslexic brethren who often unconsciously develop tricks to read well enough to get by.

But at the end of the day, these are just tricks. They're just coping strategies to help us in a modern world that demands skills that we don't naturally have. Sometimes, all of these tricks combined still aren't enough, or some of the tricks stop working, and suddenly the whole rickety scaffolding holding us together collapses.

Keep Up

We're not victims, though. This article might seem like a self-indulgent pity piece, but it's not. It's an attempt to describe why some of the people in your life might always seem to be one small crisis away from a complete meltdown. It's also reminder to myself to show more forgiveness - to myself and others. And it's a call for greater understanding of the entire range of neuro-chemical differences that causes a lot of people in this world to feel out of place. It's easy to dismiss ADD and a range of other conditions as paltry excuses for moral failings. It doesn't matter, though. Those of us with "deficiencies" in our brain chemistry - whether it's ADD, dyslexia, anxiety, or depression - have had to work pretty hard every day just to seem normal. We're so good at it, a lot of us don't even realize that we're doing it. We’ve been dealing with disappointment - from ourselves and others - our entire lives. A little disbelief isn’t going to make a difference.

But if you think there might be something to it, and if you want to know what it feels like to have ADD, imagine your're running through thick fog along a hilly trail covered with large rocks and tree roots. You have to keep running, because everyone else is running, and they don’t seem to have any trouble seeing the trail at all. But you can only see a few feet in front of you. You have two choices: slow down and pay attention to every blurry shape on the trail and get left behind; or charge blindly ahead, make what adjustments you can, hope that you won’t miss something, and pray that somehow you'll make it through in one piece. Imagine yourself in this position, and then tell me that you woudn’t be exhausted by the constant fear and anxiety. Or that you wouldn’t ever just fall flat on your face.

Think about that the next time you're wondering why someone always seems to be falling behind, because there are probably a lot of things you can say that are much more constructive than, "Keep up."


"One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not. We who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all costs or seem to seek them, who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic and, above all, survivors; we’re not that way from perversity and cannot just let it go. We’ve learned to cope in ways you never had to."

Piers Anthony - Author's Note from Fractal Mode

New Year, New Blog

One of my goals this year is to get back to writing. A writer I met recently suggested I just start blogging again, and set a goal of posting something every week, even if it's not a perfect, polished essay.

I've been wanting to write about my experience adjusting to the discovery that I have ADHD, so I've decided to give it a shot. This year, there will be at least 52 new posts about a wide range of topics, including ADHD strategies, procrastination, project management, taking on too much, exercise, cooking, dogs, learning guitar, technology, shiny things, squirrels...

But mostly about ADHD.

I'm looking forward to this exercise, if only because it will reacquaint me with something I loved to do when I was younger - write.

I had intended to set up a fancy new blog design and write a comprehensive first post describing what it's like to have ADHD and finally know what that means, but I didn't get around to it.

This post will have to do.

Happy New Year, everyone, and that's 1 of 52 down.

Hurricane Sandy Relief - NYC Marathon

As the death toll grows in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and as devastated communities try to dig out the rubble without power, heat or running water, a very public and heated debate is going on about whether the New York City Marathon should go on as scheduled on Sunday, November 4. Emotional calls to postpone and cancel the race are hard to argue with - people are grieving and suffering. And then there are concerns about diversion of personnel and resources to support the race on Sunday.

I debated whether to withdraw and spend the day volunteering, delivering water, batteries and other essentials to people still without some of the most basic essentials. It’s difficult to think about running in this marathon while they’re still searching for survivors and discovering bodies. People have lost their homes and loved ones. Rain is in the forecast and temperatures are dropping.

I’ve decided that I am going to run in the race, as planned. It wasn’t an easy decision.

I don’t have a good response to people who think putting on the marathon is unconscionable, other than to say that I’m not going to toss out any platitudes about how life must go on, and that we need to show that we will overcome.

What I am going to do is volunteer tomorrow with CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, whose staff and members have been providing relief and information to low-income residents of Chinatown, many of whom are elderly and live in high-rise buildings with no power, heat or running water. Since Tuesday, CAAAV has been providing critical supplies to residents in the Chinatown area, distributing flashlights, water, and using their generator to allow people to charge their cell phones. They even had to face down the NYPD, which wanted to shut down their relief efforts, but ultimately relented.

I’m also running the marathon to raise money for CAAAV.* I was deeply involved in CAAAV for many years - I owe a lot to CAAAV for opening my eyes to the injustices that low-income immigrant communities face, and for showing me the power of community organizing. CAAAV’s response in the wake of Sandy has provided a lifeline for hundreds of low-income Chinatown residents who have been cut off, and if you can, please visit my donation page and give what you can to ensure that they’re able to continue the critical work they’re doing.  The race is only two days away, but you'll be able to keep donating even after the event on Sunday.

Once again, here's the link to the donation page: Sandy Relief - Chinatown NYC

Thanks, everyone.  Stay safe, and please help, however you can.

*To those who have already contributed to my fundraising drive to raise money for Team for Kids, thank you - from the bottom of my heart - thank you.  I’m still running the marathon for Team for Kids - I still care very deeply about the health and well-being of youth in low-income communities who don’t have access to athletic programs or healthy food.  I know that the Team, and the New York Road Runners, who organize the marathon, are supporting all efforts to raise money for Sandy relief efforts.

Tony - Version 2.0 Release Notes

Thirty-six years in the making, the new version of Tony has now been released to the public. All prior versions of Tony will no longer be supported. This upgrade is free to everyone.

Detailed release notes below:

Fixes

  • Trimmer, slimmer and Paleo. Twenty-five pounds lighter, and healthier than ever. We’ve adopted the Paleo/Primal diet and tried to keep up with exercise. No more grains and sugars. Lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts and meat. And bacon. Mmm... bacon.
  • Bug-fix: Undiagnosed Adult ADHD, now diagnosed. Somehow we managed to make it through thirty-six years with a condition called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. No hyperactivity has been detected, but we've discovered that our underlying code is riddled with attention deficit issues. This year, with the help of of some very supportive people, we’ve identified this critical bug and have fixed it. Well, maybe not “fixed”. “Addressed” is probably a better word for it. But we’ve implemented measures that should improve basic functionality and dramatically increase productivity.

New Features

  • Now with improved energy, focus, and a positive outlook! Most of the time at least.

Changes

  • New Job - CitizenshipWorks Project Coordinator at the Immigration Advocates Network. Not actually brand new, but since July, full time. Working to create resources for immigrants who want to learn about naturalization, and partnering with some great organizations all over the country to change the way naturalization services are delivered. We’ve got some big plans. Huge. We’re going to change the world. You’ll see.

To Jerry Brown: Please Clean Up Your Act

California Friends,

Many of you know that this past Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown unconscionably vetoed AB889, a bill that would have provided overtime protection and guaranteed a rest period of 8 hours for live-in domestic workers in California.

It wasn't much, but he vetoed it anyway.

I know that I've been flooding my social media feeds with news about this - and to those of you who aren't interested in this issue, I apologize.

To those of you who haven't turned my posts off in your news feeds, I hope you'll take the time to let Governor Brown know how inconceivable it is that he thinks it proper to deny a worker overtime protection and a minimum rest period of eight hours per day. Eight hours. For a live-in worker.

Let me say that again: eight hours. Out of 24.

(He also vetoed a bill that would help ensure that farm workers would get appropriate shade and water to prevent heat-related injury and death.)

The National Domestic Workers Alliance has set up a page to make it easy to send Gov. Brown a message to clean up his act. For $5 - about the cost of a fancy Starbucks drink - you can send him a message and sponge with your name on it. I'd like to flood his office with this symbol of the work that he so casually devalued with the stroke of a pen on Sunday.

If you don't live in California, your message (and sponge) is still very much welcome. He needs to know that all those that care about justice are watching.

Here's what I wrote in my message:


Governor Brown:

I grew up in California. I've lived in New York for the last 13 years, but I've always proudly identified as a Californian. Your veto of AB889 made me ashamed of my home state for the first time since Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected. Unsurprisingly, he also vetoed the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights.

The history of exclusion of domestic workers and farm workers from the most basic of labor protections is rooted in the legacy of slavery and racism. The history of the labor laws of the New Deal era, which protected millions of working people from exploitation by unscrupulous employers, is marred by the exclusion of domestic workers and farm workers, who were excluded because they were predominantly African American.

You had a chance with AB889 to stand on the side of justice and right this historical blemish. I really hope that when that chance comes again - and it will - you will choose to do the right thing and bring California out of the shadows of racism and sexism.

Please click the link below and send a message to Governor Brown that justice will be served.

Send Governor Brown a Message About His Veto of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

I Hear You

Last week I learned that a friend from high school and college had passed away.  It affected me pretty deeply.  Not because we were best friends - but because the reason we weren't close friends likely had more to do with the challenges I've always had forging and maintaining friendships. It's a testament to his unwillingness to give up on building a friendship with anyone and everyone that we were able to be in touch over the years.

In any event, this horribly sad loss affects everyone who knew Patrick Wang, who was always cheerful and positive, and who always made friends everywhere he went. I debated whether to post this, but in the off chance that there are others whose lives were touched by Patrick haven't found out yet, I thought I'd try to get the word out.

Some context for the note below:  This is something I wrote for a group of us who spent an amazing year in China with Patrick during college. Patrick was always hard to miss. You couldn't help but hear him if he was speaking anywhere nearby, because he had a very distinctive, enthusiastic voice that he projected unconsciously.  In my more uncharitable moments (and there were way more than I care to admit) I would find myself mildly annoyed by how much his voice carried down the halls at the Peking University foreign student dorms.


I didn't know Patrick the best of all of us - many of you came to be much closer to him, and were better friends to him than I have been. But I think maybe I’ve known him the longest. And I know many of you know him as PJ... but that never really stuck for me.

When I started my freshman year of high school, there was this goofy sophomore that everyone called “Wanger”. I’m pretty sure he never liked the name, but it never stopped him from cheerfully greeting everyone who called him that. He was on the water polo and swim team. He wasn’t that good. But he always practiced, and he never complained. And when the jocks called him Wanger, he kept right on smiling. Because the thing about Patrick is he never let the smallness and petiness of those around him bring him down.

Everyone in high school knew Patrick. He was always making people laugh, and you could always hear his loud, contagiously enthusiastic voice out on the quad. He was always showing up in school assembly skits, being his goofy self. It always made me angry to think that sometimes the laughter was at him, and not with him. But the thing about Patrick is that it didn’t matter. What was important is that he was up there leading and being unafraid - at an age when most of us were doing everything to prove we fit in, Patrick was undeniably himself.

I got to China, and there he was. Patrick. Wanger. It was great to see a familiar face, though we weren’t particularly close in high school. But when we saw each other, Patrick greeted me like I was his oldest friend. I remember him introducing me to a lot of you guys at the airport, with more energy and enthusiasm than anyone on the back-end of a pan-Pacific flight has any right to have. And I remember thinking, “Did Patrick already know all these people before this trip?” even though I knew that it wasn’t the case. For those of you who flew over to Beijing with him, by the time you landed he proabably made you feel like he was one of your oldest friends. Because the thing about Patrick is, there was no other way.

When I found out that he was going to work for the DNC four years ago, I thought, “Of course.” Because, how could Patrick NOT work on a campaign whose one-word slogan was “Hope”?

I don’t think, in the 22 years I knew him, I ever heard him say a negative word about anyone. Ever. The thing about Patrick is, kindness wasn’t just a virtue. Kindness was his way of being.

I don’t know any of the details of what happened. I’m not sure if I ever really want to know. All I know is that he’s gone, and I’ll never have the chance to live up to the potential he saw in me as a friend. I’m thankful for each and every one of you who was a good friend to him. Thank you, all.

The thing about Patrick is, he taught me about friendship. He taught me that friendship is never to be taken for granted, and if you wake up each morning knowing that you have friends in this world, it’s really not that hard to greet each day with a smile. I promise that I won’t forget this lesson - which has taken me half my life and the loss of a beautiful soul to learn.

One final thing about Patrick: he’s impossible to forget. We’re never going to hear his incorrigible, cheerfully brash voice again. But I promise you, if you stop for a moment and remember him, you’ll hear him. Maybe you won’t understand what crazy, crackpot thing he’s saying, and maybe you won’t be able to make out the words, but if you close your eyes and try, I promise that each and every one of you will see that huge grin that was always on his face, you’ll hear his voice again.

I hear you Patrick.


The Best Analysis of the Mike Daisey Story

My favorite analysis of the recent Mike Daisey brouhaha is The Jimmy McNulty Gambit by Aaron Brady in The New Inquiry:


Mike Daisey wasn’t the first person to make up a false personal story as a way of raising the kind of “awareness” that will necessitate change, nor was #StopKony the first hyper-successful campaign to take a massively complicated political-economic-military problem and reduce it to the narrative of a great white savior.

Great article. Draws on analysis by Slavoj Žižek, points out the systemic issues ignored by almost all of the Daisey and #StopKony coverage, looks at it through the lens of race AND ties it together with The Wire. Beautiful. Brady tells it all much better than I ever could. I'm just mad I didn't think of the McNulty angle first.

Gaming Fitness

My dad used to joke to my piano teacher that if they made practicing piano into a video game, I would have been a concert pianist.  Alas, Rock Band was invented a few decades too late.  But, a few geeks after my own heart have created an iOS app and a social-network/game that might just help me with my goal of running a sub-3:45 marathon.

I've been trying out an iOS app on my iPhone called Zombies, Run! that turns every run into an interactive story. I can't think of a better use of augmented reality in a running app, the writing and the voice acting are pretty good, and it turns the act of running into an immersive game.

Today a friend introduced me to fitocracy.com - a social network for fitness enthusiasts that has multiplayer gaming elements reminiscent of World of Warcraft or Farmville.  So far it seems to be hitting the right balance of reward and advancement that makes those games so addicting popular. I'd like to believe that fitness and good health are their own reward, but if gaining experience points and advancing in levels will help me maintain my exercise habit, then I'm all for it.

UPDATE: March 27, 2012

I've been using Zombies, Run! for a little while now and, while I still enjoy it immensely, I have to warn anyone who reads this that it should not be used as a stand-alone distance tracker. In the past 3 days, I ran twice, for 10 miles and for 5 miles, and Zombies, Run! recorded those distances as 3.23 miles and 1.99 miles respectively. I can't blame it entirely on the app - I've tried other iPhone GPS run trackers, and none of them are close to as accurate as my Garmin GPS watch, but the margin of error of Zombies, Run! makes it completely unusable if you're trying to record your mileage.  I still recommend it as a way to make running more engaging and interesting.

Going Primal in 2012

This isn't a New Year's resolution.  Really it isn't.  I've decided to start trying to follow the Primal Blueprint, a book written by former marthoner and triathlete, Mark Sisson.  The very short version of the blueprint: don't eat grains/sugars/unhealthy fats and exercise intensely 2-3 times a week.

While on vacation, I saw a copy of Primal Blueprint in a random clothing boutique.  As a CrossFit dropout, I'd been exposed to the Paleo Diet (a.k.a. "Caveman Diet"), and even briefly considered giving it a try, but never I never got serious about giving up grains, starches and sugar in my diet.  I don't know what it was about seeing that book in that store - it was totally out of place among the home-made Christmas ornaments made of recycled materials and faux-hippie throwback clothing - but I decided starting that night, I was going to give the book a try.

The book is a revelation.  Sisson challenges so much that we take for granted about eating healthy and exercising properly, in a well-researched, well-reasoned manner that it's hard not to concede that he may have a point.  I'm a chronic skeptic - when people I knew were going Paleo, I scoffed at the notion that forgoing grains, starch and sugar was the "appropriate" way humans were meant to eat.  (I also have a economics/politics based criticism - which is that grain production is the way the vast majority of the developing world derives enough calories to survive, but that's a different issue).  But after reading Sisson's book and giving it a try, I'm more convinced that there may be something to this.

Since giving up grains, starches and sugars, I never feel bloated or over-full after eating.  I don't get food coma.  My energy levels are steady - no energy spikes or crashes.  The one time I did eat some carbs in the last week (rice noodles at a chinese restaurant) I felt pretty bloated and gassy afterwards, and my body was making weird noises.  Granted, I've only been eating primally for a week, but I have to believe this is more than just a placebo effect.

The exercise regimen proscribed in the Primal Blueprint is eye-opening as well.  Thirty minutes of strength exercises only twice a week, one weekly sprint workout, and 2-5 hours of just moving slowly (walking, hiking, light jogging, etc.) a week.  Having dabbled in CrossFit, I see this as "CrossFit lite", and I think it will be relatively easy for me to ease into incorporating this into my lifestyle (and thankfully not feeling pressure to workout all the time).

I think the most appealling aspect of all of this to me is that this isn't just a program, it's a lifestyle change, and one that isn't too disruptive to everything else that's going on in my life.  I highly recommend people check out www.marksdailyapple.com and also give the book a try.

Necessity is the Mother of Innovation

Cross-posted from Pro Bono Net's 2011 Pro Bono Celebration Blog

Legal professionals are pretty good at making do with the tools at hand. The practice of law is, after all, "knowledge work" through and through. Outside of word-processing software and legal research databases, the tools we use haven't changed all that much - and even still there are lawyers out there who hand-write their drafts, dictate letters (and emails) for others to type, and prefer to flip through volumes and volumes of reported cases bound in books rather than learn what a Boolean search is. And yes, they're still effective lawyers.

Whatever our individual tastes and comfort zones, the tools and workflows we choose to adopt as individual attorneys are rarely the best tools to support an entire system of service delivery. And it's only natural that we in the legal profession, left to our own devices, individually and collectively tend to gravitate towards our comfort zones.

I submit to you that our models of service delivery in the poverty law world are broken. Sure, our methods are tried and true, and with them we've delivered services to countless individuals who couldn't afford a lawyer. But what about the countless individuals who never got to that clinic, or never got through the intake process, or whose pro bono case was never picked up?

When ninety-nine percent of the mostly low-income defendants facing consumer debt collection actions in New York State courts are unrepresented (In New York City alone that's 297,000 of the estimated 300,000 cases clogging the City's Civil Courts each year), something is broken. When The Legal Aid Society, the largest not-for-profit in the country providing free legal services - in a year which saw a 20% increase in the valuation of pro bono services provided to their clients - is still having to turn away 8 out of 9 eligible applicants for its services because the demand for services is simply too high, something is broken.

We as a profession need to figure out how get more out of the resources we are using, and we need to figure out how to do it fast. The answer isn't going to simply be to secure more funding, expand staffing, and find more pro bono volunteers. Those are all critical objectives, but if we don't also look at ways to change the way we deliver services to maximize the outcomes generated by those resources, we're always going to be looking at a negative number in the needs-versus-services-delivered ledger.

That's not to say there aren't innovators in the legal services or pro bono world. This past week, the ABA convened a gathering of some of the most engaged thinkers in the field of pro bono service delivery (including Pro Bono Net Executive Director Mark O'Brien) at a summit to discuss pro bono innovations and best practices. The emergence of medico-legal partnerships are a radical and exciting example of how lawyers can work with other service providers - in this case doctors - to serve those in need, and the benefit of the holistic services these partnerships provide is much greater than the sum of its parts. Law firms, legal services providers and corporate legal departments are partnering together to develop ways to effectively get in-house lawyers into the pro bono game. And many law firms have already taken up the challenge Tiela Chalmers put forth to have a greater impact in an area of poverty law by offering a focused pro bono program, rather than the smorgasbord of choices that many attorneys face when considering pro bono. All of these are welcome innovations.

There are also programs that are proving that technological innovations can provide new, more effective ways to deliver legal services and encourage pro bono. One such innovation Pro Bono Net has been supporting is a project of the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, the Volunteer Lawyers Network and the Council on Crime and Justice, which uses interactive interviews and document assembly technology to create a start-to-finish guide to assembling an expungement petition. This tool makes it possible for a lawyer with no prior experience to help a low-income Minnesotan expunge their criminal records. This project doesn't just make this type of pro bono work more accessible (and by extension more attractive), it also builds in quality control by providing structured templates developed by experts. More importantly, because the expertise and essential knowledge is captured in technology that is available at any time, anywhere, the project can scale to any size.

As the legal profession continues to grapple with the problem of providing access to justice for all, and as we continue to think up new projects to deliver services or engage pro bono attorneys, we need to start asking ourselves a threshold question: "Have we really explored all the possible ways to maximize the impact of these resources?" For us at Pro Bono Net, that means constantly challenging ourselves to explore all the possible ways technology can improve delivery of services. If we aren't asking this threshold question every time we address an emergent need or think about new programs, then can we really say that we're doing our best to ensure access to justice?

The good news is we're not alone. Organizations like Illinois Legal Aid Online and the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services lead by example with their innovative technology-driven pro bono programs. And we're fortunate to have thinkers and leaders like Richard Zorza in our community - if only we think to call on them.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then why haven't the needs of those denied access to justice given birth to more innovation in our world? Why aren't we innovating every step of the way? Surely it's not because the need isn't there. As Mike Monahan puts it, we pro bono folks have been left behind in the "technology rapture". It's not just a question of limited resources; we set priorities and decide how we're going to allocate those limited resources. We - collectively - share some of the responsibility for allowing ourselves to get left behind. Maybe we need Mike to create his Monahan Scale of Behindedness and apply it ruthlessly to all of us, to help point us in the right direction.

Tony Lu is Pro Bono Net's Pro Bono and Special Initiatives Coordinator. To learn more about Tony and the Rest of Pro Bono Net's staff, click here.

Back in the Saddle

So many false starts. My journey as a knowledge worker has been a roller-coaster of periods where I've felt like I was managing my projects and caseload with an acceptable level of operational competence, combined with periods of feeling like I was reacting to the nearest deadlines or the loudest email or voicemail in my inbox. Through it all, since I graduated from law school and was hit in the face with the reality of being a professional, I've had two regular companions on my quest to achieve a level of focus and tranquility in my work: David Allen and Merlin Mann.

Being in Northern California, where Allen and Mann both live, and having an opporutnity for a complete change of scenery professionaly as I work out of our San Francisco office for a month has triggered a impulse to get back in the saddle and try to regain a sense of equilibrium with my work. I started, on the recommendation of a friend, to listen to Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin's podcast Back to Work, which has been a welcome distraction from the perplexingly long commute from Berkeley to the Presidio.

I've also decided to repurpose an abandoned MacBook Pro as my primary machine for getting things done. It's not my "work" machine - we're a solidly Microsoft shop - but I'm molding it into the machine I'll use to do work. For the first year of working at Pro Bono Net I (usually) dutifully avoided bringing in my own tech, but one day I finally decided I'd had enough of the friction I experience trying to do work only on my work-issued Windows machine, and as long as I'm not violating any kind of corporate policies, it can only be a good thing if I can eliminate cognitive friction and be better at my work.

Work documents stay on on the organizational file server or in Google Apps. The part of my workflow that I've moved over to Mac is emailing (with all correspondence saved to the company server) and, most importantly, project and task management. I've spent the better part of 8 years obsessing over the best tech and tools to manage my GTD system, and in the end, I always find myself gravitating back to the Mac, for reasons that I'll delve into in future posts. The important realization that made me feel like I could give myself permission to make this workflow change is that, at the end of the day - and to be totally morbid about it - if I get mauled by a psychotic clown in the street, as long as my office will not be worse off for my having moved what is essentially my personal organizer to a Mac, then there's absolutely no reason not to use the tools that I like to use.

I liken my decision to cops who, instead of using a department-issue six-shooter, decide to bring their own (and often better) guns to work. At least, that's what I think I've seen them do in the movies.  You know the movies I mean - the ones where there's an old cop who's one day from retirement who has a department-issue revolver, and he gets paired up with a young hotshot detective who has a Glock or a SIG Sauer or somesuch.  And there's a shootout with bank robbers with machne guns and the old cop gets shot and then... well, you know where I'm going with this.  

In case you couldn't tell, I don't actually know any cops.

It remains to be seen how long this latest iteration of my GTD system lasts - but something feels different this time. I think knowing that I'm geographically near two people who have been a big part of my development as a knowledge worker, and whose thinking on knowledge work and creativity has been an inspiration may be just enough of a shove to keep this push-cart moving this time around.

Apologies to all for book-ending this post with horribly mixed metaphors.

Birthdays

On June 25th, we celebrated the birthdays of two one year-old Bonklets, and the birthday of Bill Prusoff. Bill would have been 91.  It was also my 35th birthday.

The day felt... complete.  It was good to celebrate the first year of two beautiful little miracles, while remembering one of the most generous and kind-hearted souls I've ever known.  It really reminded me of how blessed I am to have so many great people in my life.