Finding My Bearings

Dear Will:

Let’s say you and your buddies start a company, and before long you’re generating pretty good revenue. You hire some people, schmooze it up at trade shows, maybe even have a suck-up salesman buy you lunch from time to time. Then after three years, let’s say some European hotshots buy your company (woohoo!), give you all raises and stock options and cool new titles . . . only to fire you all and most of your staff eight months later.

What would you do? As you wobble out of your office with a box full of personal items, how would you regain your equilibrium? Where would you go to find your bearings? Well, here’s where you might start:

On the Field

You watch him struggle to drag everything out in one trip, but it’s all there: soccer goal and ball; basketball; baseball bat, glove, ball, and home plate; football and tee; tennis racquet and ball; and, of course, pommel horse (not really). He picks up the mitt and you see him transported to Angel Stadium, and immediately you know the Yankees are in trouble again today. As always, he plays every position for every team while also doing the play-by-play. You watch as once again he throws the pitch, hits the ball, fields the grounder, runs to first, and tags himself out (somehow)—all while describing it for the fans. He is alternately Chone Figgins, Bartolo Colon, the prodigiously talented “Watkins Guerrero,” and his best friend Cameron. It is a formidable line-up to say the least.

When his team wins each game (as assuredly they do), you see him move into another season and assume the MVP position for each team. He nails three-pointers for the Lakers, scores touchdowns for UCLA, and pounds tennis balls off of the stucco (and sometimes the family room window). As you watch the Olympics that continue to unfold before you, you consider how poorly the word “play” describes what is taking pace. When at last he comes inside for a glass of milk, he declares the score of each game and recounts the amazing sequence of plays that led to each victory. So of course when he wonders if you would like to see an instant replay of the winning touchdown, you can’t resist. Fortunately, the announcer will be in the backyard with you to provide analysis as the play unfolds.

The athlete’s name is Seth.

At the Studio

There are 15, maybe 16, girls standing at the barre, each in matching leotards, hair pulled back tightly in a bun. They range in age from 11 to 15, with little difference in their apparent abilities. The teacher calls out instructions, sounding increasingly like he’s doing a dramatic reading of a French menu: “chassé, piqué, sauté, flambé, pommes frittes.” The girls respond in unison, and you think to yourself: “Clearly they’ve eaten here before.”

Even if you don’t speak the language, when you marry a dancer eventually you will find yourself staring ignorantly at a stage full of ballerinas. And in a sometimes futile quest to stay awake, you’ll begin to notice that certain dancers just stand out. You’ll discover that your eye returns again and again to the same one even though it’s a regular tutu-palooza up there. Later you’ll be informed that the one you noticed is even famous, but you’ll get points anyway for having stayed alert long enough to figure out which one was the star.

It works the same way even in a class of divas-in-training. You try to survey the entire room, but you can’t help yourself: your eyes want to watch the youngest one, the 60-pounder with freckles, the one with the flexibility of a contortionist and the grace of a swan. There’s something about the way she tilts her chin or moves her hands or points her foot. You may not be sure what it is, but whatever it is she’s got it. Lots of it.

The dancer’s name is Bryn.

At the Black Box Theatre

There are chairs enough for perhaps 100 people, but they didn’t all show up. Most who are here are high-schoolers with quirky personalities and equally quirky taste in clothing. Someone has made sure that there are eccentricities sufficient to go around, and it occurs to you that by wearing standard issue Levi’s you’re perhaps the only one who doesn’t fit in. At the front of the room is a solitary microphone, encircled by a single light from overhead. You think to yourself that there should be roasting coffee and a blissed-out bongo drummer as well. How can you have a poetry reading without a bongo drummer?

The evening is charged with hormones and nervousness and . . . something else. It’s not clear how you know it, but you can tell that this is a safe place where it’s OK to try something that may or may not work. The sense of acceptance makes the air lighter somehow. One by one the students come forward to read one of their recent compositions, to get briefly intimate with a few friends and a whole bunch of strangers. A few pieces are pretentious, several are incomprehensible, but most are thought-provoking and well-crafted. It occurs to you that you could never do this in a million years.

The tall kid with wire-frames strides forward. He’s wearing one of his signature hats—an olive green fedora—and mismatched socks. You glance quickly around the room because you know something the others in the audience do not: They’re about to be blown away.

The writer’s name is Luke.

In the Classroom

All the first-graders are crammed into one classroom: 60-some kids mooshed into the aisles and along the walls. The energy in the room is so intense that you anticipate an unscheduled brown-out in Pacoima. The mom at the front has worked the kids into a frenzy, with half of them shouting “Reader Leaders rule!” and the others responding with “Books are cool!” And the kids apparently believe it, because in just five weeks they’ve read almost 2,000 books.

Later that night, as you wander the neighborhood on Halloween, one of the neighbor kids grows so excited when he spots the Reader Leader Lady you begin looking around for paparazzi. His smile reveals both missing front teeth and genuine affection. “Wouldn’t it be cool,” he says, “if instead of candy each house gave out books?” Cool indeed.

The Reader Leader Lady’s name is Dana.

You never have to go very far to remind yourself that you have been blessed far beyond what you deserve. At this time of year, I am above all most grateful for the ones I love.

PW

A Gratitude List

Dear Will:

Two or three weeks ago, my wife and I invited the kids to help us make a list of the things we’re thankful for. After writing down 100 or so, we left the pad of paper out and invited everyone in the family to add to the list as we counted down the days until Thanksgiving. I thought it might be fun to share with you some of the items on the final list we came up with:

Luke, Bryn, and Seth (our kids)
Dana (my wife)
Barnum (the dog)
Gordon B. Hinckley (the Prophet)
Animals
Grass
Saturday soccer games
Cookies—especially warm ones
Gaynor Mindens (ballet shoes)
Memories
Swings
A good bed
Shelter
Chip & Pounce (stuffed animals)
Ballet
Books and stories
Health
Insects
Trees
Computers
The Book of Mormon
The beach
Electric lights
The Temple
Sports
Good music
Mountain lakes
Friends
The Olympics
Good theater
Sunrises & sunsets
The USA
Colors
Colorado
Scriptures
Toys
Hot showers
Thomas Jefferson
Money
Grandparents
Photographs
The UCLA Bruins
The rumba (don’t ask)
The Armed Forces
Rainforests
Rainstorms
Family time
Eyes
The stars & moon
School
Good food in abundance
Swimming pools
Games
Water
Laughter
Flush toilets
Abraham Lincoln
Libraries
Paper
Candy
Taking walks with Bryn
Thanksgiving
Good movies
Doctors
A peaceful neighborhood
Down comforters
Hot chocolate
Puffy clouds
Markers
Grateful kids
Tumbleweeds
Flapjacks
Vacation
Words
Playing ball with Seth
Best friends
Really cool rocks

As you might guess, the full list also includes a lot of our favorite people, including neighbors, teachers, and friends.

Isn’t it great to be reminded each November to take time to notice the things we are most grateful for? Hope you enjoyed a terrific Thanksgiving.

PW

Stepping Away from the Curb

Dear Will:

As many of my friends know, about 3 ½ years ago a couple of buddies and I started a company called Thumbworks. In January, we sold our firm to a company in France. In the months that followed the acquisition, I hired several very capable people as we braced for a major expansion here in North America. It was all very exciting and promising. I may have mentioned it to you.

So imagine my surprise when I found out that my new bosses had decided to get rid of each of the very capable people I had hired along with all three of us who started Thumbworks in the first place. It was a stunning development considering the stated intention of our new bosses to grow our business here in the States. I couldn’t help wondering why they bothered to acquire us in the first place—or what, for that matter, they had ultimately acquired. I’m puzzled to this day.

But none of that changes the fact that as of Tuesday I will no longer be on the payroll of a company I watched grow from a blank piece of paper into a thriving firm with 20+ employees and product distribution in countries all over the world. I feel a little like the guy who just had his sandcastle kicked over by someone bigger—“just because.”

And so I am faced with a couple of important decisions. The first and most obvious is to figure out how to make a living and feed my family (still working on that, by the way). But assuming that works itself out—and I have every confidence that it will soon—I will be left with some memories of a great run destroyed. Had I gotten rich off of the acquisition, I’m sure that I could face the future philosophically; but since I have little more to show for my hard effort than the accumulated experiences of 3 ½ years, I admit that magnanimity is proving hard to muster. So as this chapter of my life comes to a close, the other decision I face is this: What will I choose to hold onto? The memories of the great run? Or the bitterness left by the destruction of what we worked so hard to build?

Eventually—and I’m not there yet—I hope to simply leave the disappointment behind me and get on with life. I know that harboring resentment or bitterness or regret can only canker my soul, so no possible good can come from obsessively replaying what happened or whining about what might have been. It will be better for me—not just in the long run, but in the short run as well—to simply move on. In fact, I have this image in my mind of bending down and placing “Thumbworks” on the curb and then walking away—never looking back or returning again to that spot. And when that phase of my life comes up in conversation, I’ll smile about all I learned instead of complaining about broken promises and dreams.

That’s my goal, anyway, and I’m working hard to get there. When I catch the bitter feelings starting to show, the Apostle Paul gives me this gentle reminder: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). As I consider that good counsel, I smile and take another, stronger step away from the curb.

Check in with me in a month and I’ll tell you how I am doing. Or better yet, check in with my wife. . . .

PW