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Beth Adele Long Posts

Waking Up

On February 23, 2015, I wrote this in a blog post draft:

It’s the end of February, and I slept with the windows open last night. A gorgeous Florida night: cool and humid, followed by an unusually gray morning filled with birdsong.

I sit here, preparing for the week, and wonder what it will be like to wake up in Portland.

It’s now May 0f 2016, over a year later. It feels like maybe 8 years later; the past year is a water-drenched sponge, expanding beyond its natural density. A gift of a year.

My blog posts, sparse as they are, have been consumed with processing my father’s death. One of the seeds that grew from the scorched earth of that grief has been this move to the Pacific Northwest. And now I can report on what it’s like to wake up each morning in Portland.

This morning I woke up, after being away for a couple of nights. I was worn out last night, so I zonked at about 9:00pm and woke shortly after 6:00am. It was quiet; my white noise machine was whirring. I hadn’t bothered with earplugs. It was quiet; the occasional sound of a truck on 21st, but otherwise quiet. No rain, no crowd at the stadium, no passersby.

Quiet.

My heart was not so quiet. Jumpy, worried. Concerned about work, about lovers, about friends. My brain turning over on itself.

But.

At my core, things are settling. My self-trust is growing. My capacity to process life is increasing. If you’re not a person who’s ever been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of life, this won’t make sense; but if you are, this probably resonates, this feeling that “I can handle this.” Either you’ve found it, or you’ve hoped to find it. And to you I say: it’s possible to live a big life with a quiet core. It’s possible to be bold and sensitive. To be brazen and hesitant. It’s possible to navigate life with joy even if your wounds tug at you daily. I want to broadcast this backwards, to my own self a year ago, five years ago, twenty years ago. To assure her that everything she hoped could be is in fact possible. Not assured, no; but possible.

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Just about two years ago, I wrote a blog post about pursuing an elegant life. I had this idea that I would blog about this process, and that by now I’d have a couple dozen blog posts about my experience.

Uh. That didn’t happen.

But what did happen was that the handful of posts I did write (about cultivating attention, releasing obstacles, and reducing debt) seemed to take root. And now here, two years along, I have a shit ton of work left to do, but the work I’ve already done is paying off.

Last night I sat on a panel about diversity in tech, and someone asked a heartfelt question: “How do you overcome the fear to do these things you’re talking about?” And I instantly ached, because I knew where this question was coming from, but I was also thrilled, because I knew that asking that question — “How?” — is the first step towards succeeding.

My answer was this: increase your window of tolerance. Find the thing you can do now, the thing that feels scary but is small enough that you can do it, and tackle that. Don’t set impossible goals. Don’t stretch so far that you collapse back in on yourself. “Easy does it, but do it.”

Because that’s what got me this far. When people told me I needed to move faster, I stopped listening. When people told me I needed to move slower, I stopped listening. I shut out everything but the still, small voice inside — the voice that I spent years learning how to hear — and I followed my own instincts into a crazy new life. I moved 3,000 miles across the country because the conviction grabbed me, when I was sitting in the Boise airport, that I was going to move to Portland, Oregon. I took a job at the most inconvenient possible time because I knew it would make my life better if I took the leap. Next week I move into a bigger apartment because getting bigger seems to be the thing to do.

And most importantly, every day I work on showing up honestly to the people I respect in my life. I work on being more transparent, kinder, funnier, gentler, bolder. I work on connecting better to my own wild, vulnerable self so that I can show up in the ways that matter to the people that matter to me.

A year ago, I wondered what it would be like to wake up in Portland. Well, here I am, and every moment of every day, I’m waking up. I’m waking up in Portland, and it’s just grand.

Hosanna In Excelsius

Today would have been my father’s 65th birthday.

On his last birthday, he was too sick to want to go into Baltimore to his favorite restaurant, the Helmand, so we went elsewhere. On my previous visit, a couple of months earlier, he’d wondered about going to the Helmand, but I had to get back to Florida. To work.

To work work work.

I remember: I was standing in the kitchen, and he was sitting in the living room. And he mentioned it, off-handedly, the way you do when you know it’s not going to happen but a part of you thinks just maybe it might. A casual mention, an equally casual negation. “How about going to the Helmand before you leave?” No of course not. It would be nice, though, wouldn’t it? A voice in my heart whispered: stay. Stay. Take him to the Helmand, while you still have the chance.

Of course I didn’t.

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Until February 23, 2014, I felt an obligatory compassion when someone talked about losing a parent. I knew it must be sad. I thought I could imagine it. Although when someone would wax eloquent about how terrible it was, how they still couldn’t believe it, I might tune out a little. Eventually you get over it, I thought.

I just didn’t know; because how could you?

If you know, you know; if you don’t, you don’t. Here’s what it is: it’s a cracked twig in your left ventricle. It’s a grain of sand in your eye, never to be flushed out. It’s a shadow in your vision; sudden turns in traffic will forever be tricky.

It’s a blade taped to your arm. Move carefully lest you slice skin from bone.

And here’s what it is: when you get that job, the one you can’t believe, the one where you’re excited to get up in the morning because you get to go to work, you’ll ache and ache and ache because you can’t tell him about it. He who taught you math, who gave you a book on BASIC programming when you were in elementary school, who taught you DOS, who gently guided your entire career path. He who would have been so delighted for you.

And here’s what it is: you sometimes think it’s just as well if you don’t find love, because they’ll never meet him.

And here’s what it is: you’ll always favor REI because he was a proud member since they were a little shop in Seattle.

And here’s what it is: nothing left unresolved will ever be resolved.

Oh so many words. Dad was more efficient; he’d have put on the right song, and none of this blathering would have been necessary.

Here you go, Dad. These are for you.

https://youtu.be/MUrhdIxTJSA

 

 

 

The Evil Fantasy of the Ten-Minute Task

I’ve been reading ReWork by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, and it reminded me of one of my favorite rants. I’m usually even-keel, but this topic will get me as fired up as a libertarian on Wall Street.

The short version is this: There is no such thing as a ten-minute task.

What reminded me of this was the short and on-point chapter titled “Your Estimates Suck”:

We think we can guess how long something will take, when we really have no idea.

Their focus in this chapter is on the futility of long-term estimate, but there’s a related trap, and that’s when a developer says, “That’s no big deal. Should take about ten minutes.”

Nein! Das ist nicht gut!

Ten minutes is a tempting timeframe. It feels like “enough time to get a small task done.” But unfortunately, it’s also just long enough that our brains can fuzz a task and fit it into this imaginary ten-minute time block. Now and again we really do accomplish a minor task in ten minutes, and that feeds the evil fantasy that we should ever, ever tell anyone in the universe that we can accomplish something useful in ten minutes.

In the Getting Things Done system, you have to do tasks immediately if they’ll take less than two minutes; that’s basically one action. Putting a paper in a file folder. Looking up a phone number online. Texting a friend. Getting your mail. (And if you live in a rural area, even getting your mail might be a major undertaking.) Not a project, with multiple tasks: a single, immediate task. Two minutes. That approach works. But ten minutes? Too fuzzy.

When it comes to code changes, I’m no longer tempted to say anything will take ten minutes, but I understand the impulse. Even the most thoughtful, well-intentioned 10-minute estimate has two key factors are at play:

  1. We count on a best-case scenario, and
  2. We forget or minimize the preparation and follow-up involved in fully completing a task.

It’s like estimating how long a trip will take, but without allowing for time to find your keys, load up the car, stop to get gas (because you didn’t realize how low the tank was), wait for a drawbridge, find parking, and walk to the door. The driving portion might take ten minutes, but the rest of it could easily double or triple the total time.

When it comes to code repairs, I have a minimum “time to fix” of one hour (more often two), because even the smallest change has multiple steps and there are potentials for delay at each step:

  • Open the project (I may be working on something else).
  • Create a hotfix branch (this will require stashing if I was working on another feature; the productivity penalties involved in task switching is a whole other topic).
  • Find the file (it might not be the one I’m thinking of).
  • Open the file (my IDE might churn, depending on what mood it’s in).
  • Make the change (it might not be as simple a change as I thought).
  • Test the change (I might discover this little modification has a wider effect than I thought, or that the repair isn’t all that simple).
  • Commit the change and do a pull request (the build manager will now be interrupted to approve the pull request).

That doesn’t even include deployment to the sandbox, quality assurance, documenting the change, and slating the change for deployment to production, among other tasks. Even if I’m not doing those tasks, someone is. Even the tasks that are handled by an automated process may still require time for completion, which I also have to consider.

To combat the two key factors identified above, I’ve found these tactics to be useful:

  1. Allow slack so you don’t depend on best-case scenarios. If you think something will take ten minutes, quote an hour; if you think something will take an hour, you should probably allow for at least two. If you get lucky and it really does take ten minutes, everyone will be happy.
  2. Analyze projects thoroughly before estimating time required. Remember, a project is anything that involves more than one task, so list out each task. The more granular your plan, the more accurate your estimates are likely to be.

Remember kids, Just say no to ten-minute estimates.

Hackathon Virgin

I’m doing my first hackathon on Sunday at the ACT-W Portland event, hosted by Girl Develop It Portland. And true to form, I’m jumping right in and leading a group.

I’ve never done a hackathon, but I’ve hacked together solutions for live websites between 10pm and 4am enough times; I figure that qualifies me for the gig.

Reasons I’m so excited:

  • I rarely get to code with other women, and this is an entire day of women cranking out cool stuff.
  • Usually when I code under pressure, the stakes are really high. Here, the worst case scenario is that you don’t get the coolest prize.
  • The folks running this hackathon are dynamic, smart, and open-hearted.
  • I’ll get to step forward and help other women get interested in tech, and (I hope) help them overcome the intimidation factor.

Watch our event unfold in real-time by following #gdiportlandhack15 on Twitter.

Get a Move On

I’m moving. Next week. To the opposite corner of the country.

So basically right now my mojo is like this:

Beaker Freaking Out

And so far, 2015 has not been the vessel of hope and sanity that I was counting on. Not that I’m complaining; I think there’s good stuff going on, but it’s “good stuff” of this variety:

Guardian Angel

“Good stuff” that involves feeling kicked in the head, gut, or groin, or some combination of the three. Where even the genuinely good stuff feels sorta awful because, “Hey! Look at all these wonderful friends and experiences! I’m going 3,000 miles away now kthxbai.”

Then there’s the fact that I turn 37 this week. Thirty-seven, folks. I’m never one to gripe about getting older; as my buddy Pitbull says, “Any day above ground is a great day.” I remember that. But also:

Age I Am Now

Yeah.

Still, one is always reminded of how fortunate one is, really, and so one squares one’s shoulders and repeats the immortal words of Mindy Kaling:

LipglossSo hey. I’m moving across the country next week and I am super. Psyched.

Pass the berry lipgloss.