The Lean Relationship

My friend Brendan (hi Brendan) once half joked that he’d like to have a couple kids, “I think they’d make good side projects, you know?” (maybe he wasn’t joking at all, it’s hard to tell with that Aussie deadpan accent). I laughed out loud, and played along, “Oh yeah, totally, I can see that. But first you need to find a willing and able cofounder. ‘Cause it’d be pretty hard doing those side projects solo.”

Then we stared into space, each chasing our own thoughts. I’m not sure what Brendan was thinking, but maybe he, like I, was thinking about the design specs for a cofounder, personas, scenarios, and storyboarding how the sign-up workflow would go.

(You think I’m joking.)

(Ok, maybe I’m joking. Except for the sign-up workflow.)

But lately, this idea has been sitting in my head, what if we ran our relationships like a lean startup a la Eric Ries? After all, those of us in this tiny corner of the world who are obsessed with making Good Things are perpetually seeking, and iterating, on ways to build a better company, a better product, a better user experience.

Why couldn’t we do that with finding a romantic partner, a co-founder, who’s essential to the product development process? I mean, you don’t even have to want to procreate. A great relationship could be the source of happiness, contentment, inspiration, crying shoulder, etc. It could be *the* Good Thing springpad from which you build other Good Things.

Also, and this is an important point (imho), startups fail, a lot, often. Same with relationships. Everywhere I look, it’s almost like people are getting fries with a side of divorce.

“The goal of a startup is to figure out the right thing to build–the thing customers want and will pay for–as quickly as possible. In other words, the Lean Startup is a new way of looking at the development of innovative new products that emphasizes fast iteration and customer insight, a huge vision, and great ambition, all at the same time.”

In his book, Eric talks about the feedback loop process of driving a car, which happens so quickly that we don’t even register the fact that we’re constantly adjusting the steering wheel. He contrasted this with launching a rocket ship, which requires precise calibration from the get-go and leaves no room for error adjustment.

When I read about the steering wheel and the driver, I immediately thought about an exercise I did in my yoga training with Judith Hanson Lasater. You can do this too. Stand up, and close your eyes. You’ll notice that your body is constantly swaying, shifting back and forth and side to side. After having us observe and confirm this in our own bodies, Judith declared, “Standing is the constant adjustment of falling forward and backward.”

“Instead of making complex plans that are based on a lot of assumptions, you can make constant adjustments with a steering wheel called the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop.”

Can BML be applied to relationships, or is my analogy totally perverse and asinine?

Fight Club – 12 Years Later

When I was 17, I heard this. I don’t remember exactly what I thought of it. I have this nagging feeling that, without the demand of corporate communiqué, I was spending more time with… something else, maybe confirming Hunter S: “I have a theory that the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours,” or maybe dreaming of Brad Pitt.

In any case, now I’m 29, it rings bitingly true.

“I think there’s a self defense mechanism that keeps my generation from having any real honest connection or commitment with our true feelings. We’re rooting for ball teams, but we’re not getting in there to play. We’re so concerned with failure and success like these two things are all that’s going to sum you up at the end”

Happy Hungry Hungry Hippos, I mean, Ghost Day

This morning, my mom told me that it’s Vu Lan day, the day where Vietnamese pay respect to their parents and ancestors. It’s also the day where “we feed the souls of the dead condemned in hell”.

“It’s the festival your friend Hieu told you about that’s happening at his temple, she said.” “Do you want to go? I asked.” She took a short second to think, and said, “No, the temple is inside you, pointing to herself and placing her palm on her sternum.”

This is the kind of thing that, when I was younger, I would have immediately dismissed as “old people wives’ tales”. People who are dead are dead. There’s no heaven, no hell. Just good ol’ natural process of decomposition with some friendly bacteria. “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

What’s up with all this “tortured soul” returning to earth business, then? How silly is it to put food out to offer for these supposed wandering souls? Even if I suspend my rational mind and entertained the thought that they exist, they still can’t technically eat it. What is the point?

I want to know the point. I want to know where all this came from, and more importantly, what it’s for. How does this help me, an undead wandering soul? And so, relieved that I got out of going to temple, I jumped on Wikipedia to read more.

It turns out that the festival is called The Ghost Festival, or the Hungry Ghost Festival. You guys can read the Wikipedia entry for the full gory details, but this festival essentially boils down to this:

On the fourteenth day the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is ancestor worship, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths.

Are we Buddhists? I asked my parents. “70%”, said my dad. I smiled, because of this semi-random number my dad came up with, and because “being Buddhist” is not a binary thing in his mind. It’s a liberating thing for me, because what it means is I don’t have to be Buddhist to celebrate, or not to celebrate this festival.

“Is it to celebrate mothers or fathers?” I continued my inquiry. “Well, mothers and fathers are both Mothers.”, said my mom. Whaa? This is the kind of koan that I get from talking to my parents sometimes. I don’t know what that really means, but I wonder if the reference to “mother” goes beyond gender, instead referring to the archetype of mother, like Mother Earth.

I still don’t know what to make of the intertwined rituals and myths and traditions behind all this. But I’m willing to accept the gesture of Remembrance for those that have gone before me, and all those suffering, living or dead. If you feel the same, wherever you are and whomever you may be, have a good Vu Lan day, or Ghost Festival day, and if you don’t care for any of this, may you enjoy the full moon.


Moonrise over Richmond Beach, Washington.

“Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really.

How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.” — Paul Bowles (The Sheltering Sky)

The Clock is Tickin’

I’ve been playing Brandon Flowers’ CD Flamingo over and over and over, and then over again, every day for the past… however many days it’s been since it came out.

I like a lot of the songs on the album, and I go through phases with my favorite. My current one is “The Clock Was Tickin'” (it was Magdalena for two weeks before that). The beat’s not bad, but what I really dig is the lyrics.

And the weeks fly by and the years roll on
They say patience is a virtue but the doctor says she don’t have long
You stood up and tried your damndest not to listen
But that clock up on the wall was tickin’

When they told you to clear the room, that’s when it hit you
You watched as the caravan took your sweetheart away
The arguments and fights and money troubles seem so worthless
As the kids throw yellow roses on her grave

And the weeks fly by and the years roll on
The house is quiet now and everything inside it seems to know she’s gone
There’s a picture of you both sixteen years old just kissing
And that clock up on the wall was tickin’ – Brandon Flowers

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the time I have, specifically the time I have with my parents. Some time last week I had the thought that I need to record down everything about my parents, who they are, what they did, and what their dreams were before they had me. What were they like? When my parents are gone, how will I keep the link with my roots? I wonder if that’s the question children of immigrants face at some point?

Mike Hawley once commented to me, “You’re as American as apple pie.” That may be so, but a part of me is still as Vietnamese as… um… pho bo vien? Anyway, as I get older, I want to get to know my parents more, not as the archetype of father and mother, but for who they are.

I’ve also had a lot of thoughts about the pace of my life and the time that I spend with my parents. I would say that I’m a recovering type A, but I haven’t recovered enough. I don’t know if I would call myself “overworked”, per se. I love what I do, and I’ve got an obsessive personality type to throw myself at things, sometimes to my own demise, like staying up too late, waking up too early, and overcommitting. I want to do it all.

I read somewhere about “the rocker test”, where, when making a decision, think about when you’re 80 and sitting on your rocker on your porch, what will you regret the most? I liked the rocker test concept when I read about it, but I admit, I liked it as a mere intellectual concept to entertain.

I suspect if I were to put it to the test, I would have to give up a couple (a lot) of things I’ve already built up the habit for, and maybe I just don’t have the guts to admit it to myself yet, because I would have to come clean with myself. Being honest with oneself is the hardest.

Anyway, I’ve gotten off track. The point is, today, I spent a good chunk of it with my parents, and I’m grateful that they’re still healthy and able to enjoy a gorgeous Autumn day with me.

My parents and me, October 2010.

Facebook Survival Guide for Awkward Adults, and Best Xmas Decoration Evar

These two really, literally, made me el oh el’ed this week.

Facebook Survival Guide for Awkward Adults – What you need to know to avoid embarrassing your kids (and yourself) by Daniel Harrison

First Daniel started out by explaining what Facebook is:

Anyway, it’s fun! The two tricks to getting along well on Facebook are, don’t trust anything, and if you want to remain hip, don’t try so hard. Preserve that hard-won dignity you earned by surviving puberty, the prom, and possibly parenthood.

The rules for profile picture:

For instance, if you’re not an actor or model, use a glamour shot at your own peril. You don’t look reflective, brooding or perky. You look like a narcissistic jerk. Sincerity is (always) hipper than hair gel, you smug peacock.

How to manage friends

Besides, you don’t have to accept or reject “friend requests” as soon as you get them. Wait until the requester does something useful like hit the lotto.

How to update your status

Your sainted Grandma never threw wide the shutters and bellowed, “What up haters? I’m pregnant!” to the assembled townfolk, now did she? Use some judgment — it’s the Internet, not a barnyard.

How to deal with applications

To recap: Applications are irritating; you get them from your friends. And they’re easy to spread inadvertently. This is how venereal diseases roll, too. So there’s that.

And groups

Don’t presume just because a digital Teddy bear was enough to get you interested in curing malaria that we’re equally shallow.

And the best advice of all: Nothing stays in Vegas – nothing!

Best Xmas Decoration Ever

Okay, it’s December, and surely you’ve seen all the typical Christmas decoration going up in your neighborhood, and you’ve probably even seen the house with the Ditto Christmas lights.

But I’m gonna say this one took the cake for making me laugh until I rolled around holding my stomach crying: The Fallen Ladder Decoration (thanks to my friend Brett McCully’s tweet.)

Don't worry, it's a Christmas Decoration!

Don’t worry, it’s a Christmas Decoration!

Hello world!

Perhaps not so different from the fickle life of a twentysomething, moving often and much, running around exploring, and eventually settling down somewhere, after multiple blogs, here, and here, and here. I’m ready to put some roots down here (I think).

The plan for this blog is to write about one of my favorite topics: twentysomethingism. (The *other* favorite topic of yoga and meditation will continued to be blogged at Yoga with Nikki Chau.) In addition, I’ll write about entrepreneurship and user experience design, books, music, movies, marketing, technology and something really important: relationships.

I’ll continue to upload pictures to my Flickr and my picture blog (which I know has been sorely neglected.) I’ve got a brand spankin’ new Flip HD camcorder for my birthday (after I dropped these really subtle hints to my bf, like “It would be sooo awesome to have a Flip camcorder”, and “Wow, I could make really cool yoga videos with one of those cool Flip camcorders”). So, expect vblogs (vlogs?) as well as LOLcats.

I kept the “Hello World!” WordPress default title for this post because it takes me back to my very first exercise in Intro to Programming. I wrote it in C. It was a short and brief shining moment when hit the “Compile” button, and then “Run”, and then, “Hello World!” was written across the screen. I still remember the joy of having made something from nothing, of being able to create and communicate.

And so, this blog is just that, a “hello world”, a communication line. I’m not sure who will come by and actually read yet “just another weblog”, but you know, I’m not sure that that matters much to me at this moment. When I go back to my first blog, the pre-livejournal blog, the one that I wrote during my year of living in Europe in pure HTML because no blogging software had existed yet, I find myself laughing, and crying, and laughing again.

Most of all, I’m glad that there’s something that helps me answer: “What is it that I cared about when I was 17? 27?”, “What was I willing to share publicly with strangers?”, “Why did I stay up all night writing that?”. Just like those seemingly inconsequential and silly tweets and Facebook statuses, sometimes they reveal much more about ourselves in the long run than we really think (or want to).

Well, here I go. But first, I got lots of fixin’ to do around here. CSS gods, please be kind as I rearrange the furniture.

Just unpackin' my moving boxes!

Just unpackin’ my moving boxes!