Why I Write

Chris Brogan writes Want to Know the Real Reason Why You Write on his copyblogger blog. He’s one of the best, and one of the best known, bloggers. He has hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

I got to thinking about it when a commenter on a previous post said that most people would love to write because there’s some kind of natural pull towards writing. I was also intrigued when I saw that established and well known bloggers Holly Hoffman and Jamie Harrop both started up brand new blogs last week, with subjects close to their hearts.

“Why?” He asks. Because what they were doing, the blogs they’d built, helped them discover their real voices. But they weren’t their real voices.

That’s a lot of what blogging could be about. Chris continues…

Think about it for a moment. What are you speaking with before you find your voice? What are you saying and what message are you delivering? And just who are you being before you find your voice?

Before that happens your writing will be more constructed, abstracted, intellectualized. It’ll probably feel more of a struggle to get the words onto the page for the simple reason that you’re missing something fundamental.


Both Holly and Jamie mentioned this very thing when explaining their need to start a new blog – that they needed to write about what they really wanted to write about, and to get a better fit by moving away from the constraints of their previous blog.

My main blogging is about business. I work to build traffic. This blog is for us. I wish we used it more.

Picturing Excess. Imagining Unimaginable Numbers.

Statistics. Picturing large numbers. Communicating numbers. Some of the numbers in this 11-minute talk are just amazing. He asks: "have we lost our sense of outrage?"

If the video here doesn’t show up — technical details — the link is Picturing Excess. Or, alternatively, here is the video, from Chris Jordan, speaking at TED.

What is this doing on this blog, you ask? We’re people who care, no? People who think too.

Reflections on Changing Dad Roles

The generally accepted dad style has changed a lot during my lifetime. I’ve witnessed a steady change, an evolution towards a different kind of fatherhood parenting. And I think the new way is a lot better, for reasons that might surprise you. Not just because dads that I see are sharing more of the load than dads (including me) used to, which seems better and fairer; but also because (hear me out on this one) I think it’s better for the dads and — of course — the kids.

And this post is going to be personal. Fair warning given.

Born in 1948, I grew up in the 1950s world that television stylized by inventing the "housewife," who could be made deliriously happy by clothes coming out of a washing machine whiter than white. She wore poodle skirts and high heels while cheerily doing dishes. She was there to meet the kids coming home from school.

My parents both respected the 1950s concept of the breadwinner. What that meant, to give you a specific example, was that when dinner ended the mom and (in our house) four kids stayed in the kitchen to clear the table and do the dishes. There were four of us kids, three boys and a girl, and our mom divided the chores among us as much as she could.

Our 1950s dad was an active dad, a loving dad, the best there was. He’s 88 now, still a man I admire very much, and a role model of the professional (he was an MD until he retired) who is also a father. He was involved in all the key decisions. He was home on weekends, and he pulled us into his favorite activities, including a lot of active sports, a lot of spectator sports and (we always hated it) long sunny weekends outside doing the garden. We planted trees. We watered. Dad was usually there, rarely just supervising; and he never supervised while staying inside watching TV. If he wasn’t there with the yard work, he was working. He took us to football games, basketball games, and baseball games. He even took us to the 1962 World Series. He taught us to play football and basketball and baseball too, and coached the little league baseball team.

But, even as  medical doctor, meaning he knew where things were and how things worked, my 1950s dad as I knew him was not a dad who would change diapers, or drive a kid to baseball practice during the work day, or attend a parent-teacher conference that wasn’t vital, like when one of us was in serious trouble and the school demanded both parents (happened rarely, but happened). I was the second, just 17 months younger than the oldest so maybe he did that in the beginning but not with the younger ones, who came six and 10 years after me. And he never cooked, and he never did the dishes, and he didn’t help with the housework.

He was the breadwinner. Our mom made that position clear.

Fast forward a generation, to dadding (daddom? fatherhood is so stilted) in the 1970s.

I was a foreign correspondent in Mexico City in my 20s when we had three kids quickly, from July of ’72 to October of ’75. I like to think (memories are deceptive, and my picture, frankly, is different from my wife’s) I was a pretty good 1970s dad. When we had three little ones running around, I remember giving people bottles and changing diapers. But my wife remembers doing that pretty much all by herself, maybe with a lot of help from her mother (one of my all-time favorite people).

And how do I reconcile my memory with hers (we are still married, by the way, all these years later)? I go to the facts: in those years I pretty much got up before dawn, ran, and drove to the office before 7 a.m. because traffic was so bad in Mexico City (or maybe because I like the early mornings, or perhaps to avoid the morning chaos of a house with three young kids, but I blamed it on traffic). And I rarely got home before 8 p.m. (traffic was really bad between 4 and 7 p.m.). And I worked a lot of weekends, doing freelance stories for different publications, even writing travel brochures for the Mexican government (we were always broke). So I guess my memories of being an active dad in Mexico City were for the two and maybe three weekends that I was with the family all day Saturday and Sunday. Which would make my wife’s memories (she uses the "I" word a lot in the context of raising kids) more accurate than mine.

But then let’s fast forward again — I think this makes it more interesting — but this time only half a generation. Our fourth was born in 1982, after we had moved back from Mexico to the United States, and after I’d gone back to school for two years to get the MBA degree. And our fifth was born in 1987. We had just cashed out on my founders equity in Borland International, so for once we weren’t broke (although that didn’t last long, as Palo Alto Software started to suck up our assets, but that’s a different post).

And then, in the 1980s, I discovered what I’d been missing. I was home a lot more. I ran my consulting business (which became Palo Alto Software later) out of a home office from 1983 to 1987. I took care of our toddler daughter (not by any means the primary — my wife would kill me — but way more than I had in the 1970s when the first group of three were little. My wife’s mother was in Mexico City, we were in the U.S., so she couldn’t take up the slack I left, the way she always had. And with four and then five kids, my wife had an enormous job, which meant that like it or not, custom or not, I became way more active than I’d been 10 years earlier.

And with that I discovered what I’d been missing. I gave the 2 a.m. bottle to our fourth almost every night for more than a year. I got involved with bathing and feeding and all of that. I was almost always back-up, my wife still did the real work, but I was a lot more there. And I discovered that when dads put in quantity time with kids, they get way more back than what they put in. Over time, it became clear to me that I had missed so much with the first three that I was grateful that I had a chance to catch on for the last two. Because it’s been my experience that the biggest winner in my sudden increase in dad involvement was me. The dad.

I think before I go on I should set the record straight. I wasn’t, even in my reformed dad self of the 1980s and 1990s, like the more involved dads of today. I was still pretty much focused on work — we raised those kids with my consulting income, I was nobody’s employee, so there was a lot of pressure. And my wife cooperated to make sure that when work was needed, I was free to stay focused on work. I traveled a lot in Latin America while consulting for Apple Latin America, and got over to the Far East for several computer companies. At one stretch of four years I spent one week per month in Tokyo. And my wife, rather than insisting on full half and half participation or anything like that, kept my world clear for the work that I had to do. She still gets to say "I" when she talks about raising kids.

Still, I also coached the kids’ soccer for about eight straight years, and I made a lot of parent teacher conferences, and I was there a lot more. And nobody gained as much as I did.

Fast forward again. To today.

I’m watching it today with another generation. Having three children born between ’72 and ’75, if you do the math, it’s not surprising that we now have grandchildren: five of them, the oldest is four years old. And their dads seem to be far more involved with them than I was even with those more recent ones. And I, meanwhile, am seeing again, with a new generation, that the more quantity time these dads get with these kids, the better off they are.

It’s not just a matter of sharing the work. The more they do of that work, the better off they are. Strange math — the more you give, the more you have — but I think that’s what I’ve seen in evolving dad styles over three generations.

Photo Problems

I’d like to see us get a better tool for blogging photos. I used Flickr earlier today because it seems to do the thumbnails semi-automatically, but it’s hardly optimal. It makes one post per picture. Shouldn’t there be a tool to do a post with a group of pictures, maybe as a table with the thumbnails on the right and the comments on the left? Does one exist? Paul? Noah? Sabrina?

And, on the other hand, there is the allure of Facebook, which seems to do pictures awfully well. Tempting.

Zen Habits on 7 Deadly Sins of a Relationship

The Seven Deadly Sins of a Relationship | Zen Habits.

I’m quoting a post by someone named Leo, directly:

If you can avoid these seven things, and focus instead on doing the four things above, you should have a strong relationship. I’m not going to guarantee anything, but I’d give you good odds. 🙂

  1. Resentment. This is a poison that starts as something small (”He didn’t get a new roll of toilet paper” or “She doesn’t wash her dishes after she eats”) and builds up into something big. Resentment is dangerous because it often flies under our radar, so that we don’t even notice we have the resentment, and our partner doesn’t realize that there’s anything wrong. If you ever notice yourself having resentment, you need to address this immediately, before it gets worse. Cut it off while it’s small. There are two good ways to deal with resentment: 1) breathe, and just let it go — accept your partner for who she/he is, faults and all; none of us is perfect; or 2) talk to your partner about it if you cannot accept it, and try to come up with a solution that works for both of you (not just for you); try to talk to them in a non-confrontational way, but in a way that expresses how you feel without being accusatory.
  2. Jealousy. It’s hard to control jealousy if you feel it, I know. It seems to happen by itself, out of our control, unbidden and unwanted. However, jealousy, like resentment, is relationship poison. A little jealousy is fine, but when it gets to a certain level it turns into a need to control your partner, and turns into unnecessary fights, and makes both parties unhappy. If you have problems with jealousy (like I once did), instead of trying to control them it’s important that you examine and deal with the root issue, which is usually insecurity. That insecurity might be tied to your childhood (abandonment by a parent, for example), in a past relationship where you got hurt, or in an incident or incidents in the past of your current relationship.
  3. Unrealistic expectations. Often we have an idea of what our partner should be like. We might expect them to clean up after themselves, to be considerate, to always think of us first, to surprise us, to support us, to always have a smile, to work hard and not be lazy. Not necessarily these expectations, but almost always we have expectations of our partner. Having some expectations is fine — we should expect our partner to be faithful, for example. But sometimes, without realizing it ourselves, we have expectations that are too high to meet. Our partner isn’t perfect — no one is. We can’t expect them to be cheerful and loving every minute of the day — everyone has their moods. We can’t expect them to always think of us, as they will obviously think of themselves or others sometimes too. We can’t expect them to be exactly as we are, as everyone is different. High expectations lead to disappointment and frustration, especially if we do not communicate these expectations. How can we expect our partner to meet these expectations if they don’t know about them? The remedy is to lower your expectations — allow your partner to be himself/herself, and accept and love them for that. What basic expectations we do have, we must communicate clearly.
  4. Not making time. This is a problem with couples who have kids, but also with other couples who get caught up in work or hobbies or friends and family or other passions. Couples who don’t spend time alone together will drift apart. And while spending time together when you’re with the kids or other friends and family is a good thing, it’s important that you have time alone together. Can’t find time with all the things you have going on — work and kids and all the other stuff? Make time. Seriously — make the time. It can be done. I do it — I just make sure that this time with my wife is a priority, and I’ll drop just about anything else to make the time. Get a babysitter, drop a couple commitments, put off work for a day, and go on a date. It doesn’t have to be an expensive date — some time in nature, or exercising together, or watching a DVD and having a home-cooked dinner, are all good options. And when you’re together, make an effort to connect, not just be together.
  5. Lack of communication. This sin affects all the others on this list — it’s been said many times before, but it’s true: good communication is the cornerstone of a good relationship. If you have resentment, you must talk it out rather than let the resentment grow. If you are jealous, you must communicate in an open and honest manner to address your insecurities. If you have expectations of your partner, you must communicate them. If there are any problems whatsoever, you must communicate them and work them out. Communication doesn’t just mean talking or arguing — good communication is honest without being attacking or blaming. Communicate your feelings — being hurt, frustrated, sorry, scared, sad, happy — rather than criticizing. Communicate a desire to work out a solution that works for you both, a compromise, rather than a need for the other person to change. And communicate more than just problems — communicate the good things too (see below for more).
  6. Not showing gratitude. Sometimes there are no real problems in a relationship, such as resentment or jealousy or unrealistic expectations — but there is also no expression of the good things about your partner either. This lack of gratitude and appreciation is just as bad as the problems, because without it your partner will feel like he or she is being taken for granted. Every person wants to be appreciated for all they do. And while you might have some problems with what your partner does (see above), you should also realize that your partner does good things too. Does she wash your dishes or cook you something you like? Does he clean up after you or support you in your job? Take the time to say thank you, and give a hug and kiss. This little expression can go a long way.
  7. Lack of affection. Similarly, everything else can be going right, including the expression of gratitude, but if there is no affection among partners then there is serious trouble. In effect, the relationship is drifting towards a platonic status. That might be better than many relationships that have serious problems, but it’s not a good thing. Affection is important –everyone needs some of it, especially from someone we love. Take the time, every single day, to give affection to your partner. Greet her when she comes home from work with a tight hug. Wake him up with a passionate kiss (who cares about morning breath!). Sneak up behind her and kiss her on the neck. Make out in the movie theater like teen-agers. Caress his back and neck while watching TV. Smile at her often.
  8. Bonus sin: Stubbornness. This wasn’t on my original list but I just thought about it before publishing this post, and had to add it in. Every relationship will have problems and arguments — but it’s important that you learn to work out these problems after cooling down a bit. Unfortunately, many of us are too stubborn to even talk about things. Perhaps we always want to be right. Perhaps we never want to admit that we made a mistake. Perhaps we don’t like to say we’re sorry. Perhaps we don’t like to compromise. I’ve done all of these things — but I’ve learned over the years that this is just childish. When I find myself being stubborn these days, I try to get over this childishness and suck it up and put away my ego and say I’m sorry. Talk about the problem and work it out. Don’t be afraid to be the first one to apologize. Then move past it to better things.

Clear Mountain Morning and a Beautiful Granddaughter

Fenruary 17, 2008

I woke up earlier than Vange or Cristin, much earlier in fact, dressed haphazardly, got onto the computer for a while …

Full of thoughts:

  • Yesterday was the best skiing I’ve done in 10 or 15 years. Exhilarating. Tast, smooth, rhythmic, the mountain was crystal clear, my physical condition made a huge difference. No burning thighs, no need for long pauses. Cristin was delightful company, the snow was ideal, the view was fabulous. We skied the Outback Express lift, which had really nice runs and very small lines. We repeated the Kangaroo run a lot.
  • Paul sent an email: your beautiful granddaughter. Beautiful pictures of Eva. That’s another warm, happy thought. 
  • The exhilaration tempered by reality. I’m 60 years old.
  • Walking to the coffee place two  blocks away at 7:30. The day is delightfully cold and crystal clear. I look up at the mountain. Vaguely toy with the idea of taking the bus up again today. Ski alone, iPhone music for company. Clear. Beautiful. But that’s just dumb.
  • My right hip has a dull ache from skiing yesterday.
  • Megan’s in Paris. Megan’s in Paris. That’s a warm, wonderful, happy thought.
  • The line in the song “Mothers don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys: “Cowboys like clear mountain mornings.”
  • Not just clear, but also cold. The cold increases the clarity. Walking to Nancy P’s for coffee, I could see Mt. Bachelor in the distance. The cold increases the clarity.

A Little Planning Can Mean More for Heirs Later – New York Times

Not exactly the most treasured memory or great family picture, but maybe useful information in this story on the New York Times. Here you go:

MANY business owners are so consumed with day-to-day operations that they dont think about estate planning. But the federal estate tax, with a top rate of 45 percent, can have a big effect on the business you leave behind, and planning while you are hearty is the best way to manage that.

Among the arrangements to make are leaving a source of cash to cover the tax bill and, as much as you can afford it, giving assets to younger family members while you are alive. These lifetime gifts, as they are called, have a dual benefit: they reduce the size of your taxable estate, and, if the assets increase in value after you have passed them on, the appreciation is tax free.

When Congress was considering a permanent repeal of the tax, which currently applies to estates worth more than $2 million, small-business owners lost interest in this kind of planning, said Dennis I. Belcher, a lawyer with McGuireWoods in Richmond, Va. But since the repeal efforts failed last year, more clients have asked about lifetime gifts, Mr. Belcher said.

Which methods work best depend on your liquidity needs, tolerance for complexity and whether you act before or after the business has increased in value. Here are some considerations:

Reducing business holdings could leave you strapped for cash. The simplest alternative is to buy life insurance that would cover the tax bill, Mr. Belcher said. Start by setting up an irrevocable life insurance trust, which can buy the policy and, when you die, hold the proceeds for whomever you have named as beneficiary. Without a trust, the policy would be considered part of your estate and the proceeds could be taxed.

Next, you need to funnel money into the trust so it can pay the premiums. There is no gift tax on your contributions as long as you stay within the annual limit of $12,000 per recipient, with no limit on the number of recipients. Spouses can pool their gifts to jointly give $24,000 to any person tax free, and each trust beneficiary counts as one person.

You dont want to give up control. First, divide the business into voting and nonvoting shares, even if you must recapitalize the company, said Richard L. Dees, a lawyer with McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago. Ideally, voting stock should make up no more than 10 percent of the total company shares, he said. After that, you can give away partial interests in the business. You can make these gifts to family members directly, but it is better to use an irrevocable trust, which protects the assets from creditors, said Steven B. Gorin, a lawyer with Thompson Coburn in St. Louis.

Since gift recipients lack control, and the shares are considered unmarketable, you can value both the gift and the interest you retain at a discount of 35 to 45 percent, lawyers said. The discount on what you give away enables you to pack more into your annual limit, or into the $1 million overall limit on what you can exclude over a lifetime. (A 45 percent levy kicks in on anything over $1 million.)

Giving away too much in business assets could incur the gift tax. In that case dont give them away sell them in exchange for a promissory note with interest, said John D. Dadakis, a lawyer with Schiff Hardin in New York. With this strategy, you can also apply discounts and avoid tax on future appreciation. Here, too, it is preferable to use a trust, rather than dealing with family members directly.

A liquidity event, like a sale or initial public offering, is on the horizon. You can transfer the appreciation at little or no gift-tax cost with a grantor retained annuity trust. Here you put company shares into a short-term irrevocable trust and retain the right to receive an annual income stream equal to the value of what you contribute plus interest at a rate set each month by the Internal Revenue Service (the Section 7520 rate). If you survive the trust term a condition for this tool to work any appreciation in the trust when the annual payments end passes to your family.

On the other hand, if the appreciation never occurs, the business owner is no worse off, said Charles A. Redd, a lawyer with Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal in St. Louis. In this case, the trust would satisfy its payout obligations by returning some of the stock to the owner.

As you near retirement, cash flow can be a concern. Consider a charitable cash bailout, said David T. Leibell, a lawyer with Wiggin and Dana in Stamford, Conn. Here, the owner, who has already transferred some shares to children, puts others into a charitable remainder trust, and the company buys them back for cash at fair market value. The trust uses the cash to supply an income stream to the owner, with the rest going to charity after the owner dies. Meanwhile, the company retires the shares it has bought back, increasing the value of what the children retain. This transaction avoids income tax, gift tax and estate tax, Mr. Leibell said.

Whether you choose just one of these strategies or use them in combination, it is best to start with the least complicated approach that will achieve your goals. Lawyers fees for these transactions can range from less than $10,000 to many multiples of that sum, depending on the details. And any time you give away shares of a business, you must get an appraisal, which can easily cost $5,000 or more. You will want to be sure that what you spend to use various estate-planning tools is less than your heirs would pay the tax man.

A Little Planning Can Mean More for Heirs Later – New York Times

Holiday of Stuff

From a Holiday of Stuff on MommyCEO:

Last year after the holiday at our house my husband drove a truck (yes a truck) load of garbage to the dump. Thank goodness a lot of it was able to be recycled, but nonetheless it was GARBAGE – wrapping paper, boxes, bags, packaging, etc. Really it was OBSCENE.

The other part of it that was obscene was the WASTE. More than half the gifts our kids got were already broken, lost, or forgotten by the time New Years arrived. Our house became strewn with small plastic toys.


I watched the 1987 movie Moonstruck, just a few days ago, in 2001. I was 39 when I first saw it, and I now think I missed something profoundly important, probably because I had to be 50-something to really see it.

In one scene, Raymond and Rita Cappomaggi — both in their 50s, married forever, they keep a store together — are arguing about something trivial, the standard bickering so typical of middle-aged couples, when he suddenly stops, and looks at her intently.

“What is it?” she asks.

“I just saw you looking exactly like you did when I first fell in love with you,” he answers (or something like that — I’m paraphrasing). She smiles the smile of a blushing 15-year-old girl.

And we the audience see it in her, the way she looked once thirty years older, and that it is still she. It’s magical how that moment, for Raymond and Rita, makes other moments come alive, dissolves the break between present and past. Love is still there, and it is a suddenly-morphed love that preserves the foundations of knock-down, drag-out youthful infatuation, but builds it on the solid foundation of time, reality, making it work.

This is not the typical starstruck young lovers. These people are middle aged. That’s unusual in movies.

The movie of course revolves around the blistering-hot love affair between Loretta (Cher) and Ronnie (Nicholas Cage). Movie romances need beautiful people. Even so, it still has its unusual angles: Loretta is supposed to marry Ronnie’s brother Johnny, but more out of 30-something fatigue than love, until she meets the brother, Ronnie. With Ronnie she has the kind of love we’re used to in movies, the young and the beautiful, but even with that subplot the movie has something special to say about love. Ronnie tells Loretta:

“Loretta, I love you,” he pleads. “Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess.

“We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.”

This movie, however, doesn’t settle for just that — which would be good enough — because it connects that kind of “beautiful young people in love” with the long-term love that (we hope, we assume) it creates. Near the conclusion, Raymond sits in the kitchen with his wife Rita, his sister Rose (Loretta’s mother), and his brother-in-law Cosmo, Loretta’s father, Rose’s husband. He remembers a moonlit scene 30 years earlier, when Cosmo stood outside the family home, bathed in moonlight and bathed in magic. The connection between then and now is made. Rose looks at her husband Cosmo, and as she does she sees both the bumpy and ill-shaped old fart in front of her plus the romantic suitor who was lit by moonlight many years earlier. She’s angry at him, struggling with him, struggling with life, but she pauses, looks him in the eye, and says “T’ Amo.” I love you. He’s caught off guard, focuses, and answers back: “T’ Amo.” They both mean it.

That’s true love. It’s solid, like granite, with magic sprinkled over it, like moonlight.

Quicksand Problems

Fall into quicksand, and, according to the common stories, you shouldn’t struggle. Just sit still while you sink slowly into the mud and die. Or maybe somebody will rescue you, and, if they’re trying, by not struggling you’ll give them more time to save you. If you struggle you sink faster.

Life has what I call Quicksand Problems. These are the situations that you can actually make worse, but not better. They happen. Have you ever found yourself in a bad situation — usually with family, friends, people you care about — that you can make worse, but you can’t make better. There are pieces of normal life that I call quicksand problems. Life is full of quicksand problems. There are problems you can make worse, but not better.