Sunday, March 29, 2009


I just found out that my former horse, Danny, was put down today. He had not been doing well for the past four or five days, and was found in his stall this morning, bloody and battered and so agitated that he very nearly kicked down his stall door. There was nothing that could be done to relieve his very evident discomfort, and so he was gently helped across the threshold.

. . .

Danny was always a teenage boy in a horse suit. Impetuous, opinionated, mischievious. He saw himself as the king of the barn and expected others to treat him that way, and, by and large, they did. He loved to be the center of attention—he'd nip my arm sometimes if I wasn't paying enough attention to him. People either loved him or wanted nothing to do with him. (My first vet didn’t like him very much. I can’t blame her: he bit her on the thigh the first time she treated him.)

He was always amped up when I rode him. His gaits were nothing to crow about, but he loved to jump, and would sail over oxers, getting more excited with every pass. He never strolled along quietly when we were out on the trails or at the beach. Everyone else would be having a quiet ride, and Danny would be jigging along, excited to be out, demanding to go first. Although he sometimes drove me crazy, he also made me laugh, and he gave me back my love of riding.

In his older years, Danny lived at my friend Ray's barn in Groton, where he became a lesson horse. It was the perfect job for him—he loved people and attention, and the kids loved him. Ray gave him a good home, and was right there with him in his final hours.

. . .

The sweetest memory I have of Danny is on a warm spring day several years ago when I was boarding him in Concord. We’d gone for a ride, and afterwards I turned him out in the paddock. He was standing by the fence, enjoying the warm sunshine, and I stroked his muzzle until he fell asleep.

About Passion

Spent a couple of days at Foo East, an invitation-only event in Cambridge, hosted by O'Reilly Media (my employer) and Microsoft. The companies provided the facilities and the food; the 140+ attendees created the schedule and the sessions, which ranged from discussions on the future of journalism to a compelling demo of a new online information resource to making bath bombs (bath fizzies, essentially), and lots, lots more.

Now, I am not fond of being in the midst of a large group of people. I find it hard to connect with anyone in that atmosphere. I imagine that if the attendees and topics had been more closely related to design, visual art, and literature, I would have found a toehold somewhere. Instead, while everyone else at Foo East was making new connections and talking animatedly about new technologies and potentialities, I found myself reduced to serial "Wow, that's great onion dip" moments. By the end of the second day, I was sitting alone at the edge of the crowd, exhausted, patting a very friendly dog someone had brought along. What a relief!

While I patted the dog, I listened to the conversations around me and watched people interact. What struck me about this group of Very Smart People was not their superior intelligence or some of their "look at me" personal styles. It was their passion, which illuminated everything they turned their attention to. It didn't matter what they were talking about—what was compelling was their absolute belief in and commitment to whatever it was they were championing. They leaned into their conversations, their voices full and confident as they spoke, their expressions rapt as they listened to each other. The huge space was bright with their energy.

Driving home, I thought about the things I'm passionate about. They tend to be private pursuits these days, although I'll argue the merits of the Oxford comma with great intensity, with anyone, anytime.

I was once immensely passionate about everything I did. The flame doesn't burn nearly as bright these days. Not sure if that's a phase or a permanent change. Time will tell.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Traveling Light(ly)

When packing for a trip, I always try to travel light. I hate to check bags when I fly, so I have perfected packing for a week-long trip in a carry-on bag. Someone once advised me to take half as many clothes and twice as much money as I think I’ll need. Good advice, if you can follow it (harder to do if you’re taking ski clothes and equipment, though).

On the plane last Tuesday, it occurred to me that traveling light is a great metaphor for how to live:

Don’t carry too much baggage. Dress in layers. Be prepared for both good and bad weather. Look ahead, but don’t try to nail down every single detail of your trip. Don’t carry what you don’t need. Be flexible. Bring an extra pair of socks. Take advantage of unexpected opportunities that come your way. Manage unfortunate events. Carry your own bags. Ask for help when you need it. Leave a place in the same (or better) condition than you found it. Sleep when you need to. Learn to read a map. Dance when you feel like it. Ask for directions when you feel hopelessly lost. Eat well. Keep your eyes and ears open. Wear comfortable shoes.

Take your time. Enjoy the journey.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


As they say, gravity isn't just a good idea, it's the law. This week, as I've been vacationing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I've been thinking a lot about gravity. Skiing is all about gravity. Until you learn to trust gravity, you will never ski well. You can't fight it, because you can't win.

Watching people learn to ski is essentially watching them learning to surrender to the physics of the activity. It's not easy to let go of your usual sense of control, especially when you're faced with a steep pitch and fast skis. But let go you must. After all, it's the law.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

There are many choices to make in this life. You can only control your part of those choices—sometimes your part is 50% (relationships), sometimes it’s closer to 100% (say, deciding what to do with your time, assuming you can afford to do what you want—if not, the percentage drops), and other times, it’s completely out of your control and you just have to ride it out (hurricanes, nuclear war).

In many cases, the choice is clear: you know what you should do, and you do it. The “should” comes from somewhere within, from the polestar that seems to live inside each of us. Sometimes the choice we make is not the one we want to make, but it feels like the one we must make.

My polestar may not always know what the right choice is, but it sure as hell knows when I’m headed off-track. At various times in my life, I’ve tried like crazy to resist that knowing, but in the end I have had to give in to it, because more often than not it has been dead-on accurate. I don’t know exactly what the force is, where it comes from, nor why it pulls me with such conviction this way or that at any given time. But pull it does, outlasting all of my resistance until I surrender. I literally trust it with my life.

Even when the right choice is not the one I would prefer, accepting the choice I must make feels solid, like I’m coming home.


Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the dream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a stream…