misc

Return to Route 66

Route 66 - wallpaper

This last trip out west brought me back to a turning point in my life. More specifically, a simple pavement-and-paint road: Route 66.

Leaving the Kaibab Plateau on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and crossing the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona, I entered New Mexico by way of I-40 and Gallup. The last time I was in Gallup was four years ago on a life-changing trip across country – the first of my great big adventures.

But I didn’t enter Gallup by Interstate; that was just the destination. Instead, I drove into Gallup like I did last time – by a smaller two-lane highway coming out of Arizona. Driving down Main Street, seeing the old Sante Fe Line railroad cars, being in Gallup brought back a lot of good memories.

So I thought, “What the heck? Why not?” I decided to hit the route again for old time’s sake. The only problem was that I came unprepared. No maps, no directions, no idea where, exactly, to jump on and start driving.

That’s the thing about Route 66: there are parts that remain in a straight line, but out west the road remains broken and jumps around in fits and starts. You don’t hop on and keep riding. You have to navigate the Mother Road, crossing the interstate, zipping down frontage roads, and then watch as the “Road Ends” sign signals a change of plans.

Doing the best I could, I tried it anyway. And let me tell you, it was great.

I flicked through my iPod playlists and hit “Play” on my Route 66 Mix. U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere,” Boston’s “Foreplay Long Time,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” The Eagle’s “Take It Easy,” Chuck Berry’s version of “Route 66” – it’s hard not to get emotional when those songs start playing while I’m driving on the road they were organized for.

There was only one wrong turn the whole way from Gallup to Albuquerque. It’s like my brain snapped into place and my hands become automatic sextants, guiding the rental car down a defunct highway.

Even though, for many miles, the route runs alongside the Interstate, I found (then, as now) that the mind occupies a totally different space when driving on Route 66. On the highway, you pay attention to your destination and the car around you, speeding and passing and watching for exits. On the Route, you pay attention to the Route: the scenery, the little towns you pass, the way the road meanders around rock formations and railroad tracks. You think differently driving at 55 miles per hour.

Of course, for me, there was a lot to think about. I couldn’t help but remember what was going on with my life four years ago, and how it mirrored today. Same stress, same heartache, same need to hit the road. It was only appropriate that I returned to the road that had given me so much comfort and respite back then.

For some parts, it was like waking up out of the slumber I’ve been in – both sobering and exciting to realize that, here I was, back in the desert, on my own again. I looked out at the landscape and thought, “I’m back.”

And it was good to see sections of the Route I missed in 2006. For that section of western New Mexico, I had traveled a lot of path in the dark. I remember pulling out of Albuquerque at sunset, sneaking into the Acoma Pueblo at twighlight (long past closing hours), and crawling into Gallup at night to sleep in my car. When it’s dark in the desert, it’s dark. So I missed large sections of the Route.

This time, it was pretty cool to see the parts I did remember again. There’s a little section an hour or two west of Albuquerque that winds through sandstone cliffs, and “Route 66” is painted on the asphalt along the way. I’d forgotten about that section of road through the years, but driving through those formations brought everything back. It could be that last time I didn’t grab a picture. This time I did:

Route 66 - Main St. of America

Most of all, it was tons of fun to drive. Changes in altitude, taking corners at 15 or 25 miles per hour – it makes steering the car along the road a true joy.

On returning to Albuquerque, I made a special point to take a snapshot of the sign I saw when I left town in 2006. It felt like Gen. MacArthur’s vow to return to the Philippines: I came into town the same way I left it:

Route 66 - A Return to Albuquerque

On the way back home, during my shotgun trip across Arizona back to Las Vegas, I picked up bits and pieces of the Route – mostly because that’s all that’s left in Arizona. There’s a long section, between Seligman and Kingman, that was my favorite driving experience the last time I was out there. Past Kingman, the Route heads toward the Black Mountains, on the border with California, and snakes through Sitgreaves Pass – practically a religious experience for a young man from mid Michigan.

So I went back to that place. It’s a 10 minute drive outside of Kingman to the entrance of the Pass, and last time those mountains loomed at me. I remember my palms sweating, getting nervous, for no good reason except I felt something ominous about those mountains. Turns out I was right, because a winding, narrow, sheer-cliffed road facing the setting sun in a desolate landscape will put the fear of God into you. That road changes things. It broadens your horizons, and teaches you a bit about the unpredictable nature of the world. Plus it’s a pretty fun drive.

Last time, I came down the other side of those mountains – changed, sweating – and pulled over in Oatman just to get my bearings. A pair of the locals, probably feeling sorry for me, invited me to dinner and told me about guys who sat at the entrance of the pass and got paid to drive out-of-towners through Sitgreaves. Many who didn’t have help died falling down those rocky cliffs.

Route 66 - Sitgraves Pass

This time, it was nice just to see it again, and remember the dread I felt approaching that mountain pass as the sun was setting in May 2006. I only went part-way up because I had a plane to catch, but I came back down with some new resolutions and fond memories of my younger self. It was worth the return trip.

Plus, while in Albuquerque, I took a day’s drive up to Sante Fe and caught an old section of the Route, dating from 1938, that I didn’t catch last time. The Route changed, and straightened, to include Albuquerque after 1939. What I did see in Sante Fe wasn’t all that impressive, though – mainly a long commercial section with three lanes each way and many, many stoplights. Really, I was glad to be done with it when I hopped back on south-bound I-25.

But no matter where I was, the world changed on Route 66. It could be part sentimentality and part psychological need, but my heart needed a little trip down one of the best memories of my life. A return voyage to a great adventure, if only in small sections.


On starting a blog for fun and (hopefully) profit

A friend, Britt, wants to start a blog after getting laid off at her teaching job.

She wrote:

So, I have some questions about blogging. You seem to know what you’re doing in this arena and I like what I’ve seen from your work. I outlined my Blog Plan below the questions so you can get an idea of what I am going for.

Some questions:

1. Preferred blog host? Blogger vs. WordPress vs. TypePad? Most book blogs use Blogger, but I don’t like the look of most of them. I think that I’ll go with Typepad because Andrew said that it was the best (but what does he know anyway?)

2. Do you have an editorial calendar? How far in advance do you plan blog postings?

3. Do you have any advice for community building?

4. Any advice on a good name?

5. Any advice in general?

How fun. And I must say, it’s great that you’ve put a lot of thought into this.

To answer your questions:

1.) I’m more adept at WordPress, and I love its flexibility. Chances are there’s a theme you’ll like and they’re all hackable, so you can tweak it to your exact liking. But something like Tumblr is worth looking at. It depends on how much upkeep you want to do. If you’re geeky and want to dig into some HTML, then WordPress or Typepad will be good. If you want a no-frills, just-let-me-write-and-post blogging tool, something like Tumblr, or Posterous, will work well. There’s also a question of cost: Tumblr/Posterous are free, but WordPress/Typepad may cost you – even if you only buy the domain name (like www.loblawlaw.com or something).

2.) My editorial calendar depends on the blog. For Newton Poetry, I try to do two or three posts a week, and at least one longer one every few weeks – posts where I really get down, dirty, and detailed. My personal blog is whenever I get an idea or see something I think it worth commenting on. But I do type up posts ahead of time, sometimes weeks in advance, and just sit on them until I have a slow idea week, and then I can reach in the grab bag and fill in a pre-made post. But two to three a week is good, with maybe little “here’s something interesting” posts as you find them.

3.) Your community building starts with the people you know, so this could be as easy as posting your blog on Facebook, e-mailing all your friends and family (this is no time to be shy), maybe starting a Twitter account – that kind of thing. My community was built from classic Mac nerds, so I went to where they were, delved into the culture, made posts on other’s blogs, and made myself known. Most importantly? Write good stuff. When someone finds it, your audience will build itself.

4.) Short and sweet – so loblawlawblog.com or something. Head to 1and1.com, type in some domain name ideas into their little input box, and see if someone has it already.

5.) Yes. Before anything, you need to listen to John Gruber (of Daring Fireball) and Merlin Mann’s (of 43 Folders) podcast/talk from South by Southwest on finding your voice, and finding the point of your blog. It’s a must-listen for anyone who wants to bootstrap a blog.

Also, just start writing – even though you don’t have the darned thing set up yet. Get a few draft posts in the hopper, ready to go. Show them to Andrew. Then kick him in the pants.

You’re right about those book blogs being too cluttered. You want a unique style without all the crap. If, hey, you get popular enough that advertisers want to put ads on your site – that’s gravy. But you don’t have to make it look like crap with ads and links and little “POST TO DELICIOUS!” boxes everywhere. Again, my philosophy is minimalism. Let the content speak for itself.

The cost thing again: It’s about $10/year to buy a domain name. A lot of the blogging platforms have free hosting and setup, and then you buy the domain name and point it at yourblogname.wordpress.com or whatever, but to the reader it’ll appear as yourblogname.com – so that’ll be the minimal cost, the $10. From there, if you want to do your own hosting (read: super geeky and technical), then the cost goes up.

Most of my blogs, with the exception of Newton Poetry, I let the blogging platform host, and I point my purchased domain name at it and no one knows the difference.

You’ve thought a lot about what kinds of posts to write, who your audience is, and what you want to focus on – that’s the tough part, really. Now you just need to write, find a voice, and make it all look pretty.

Easy enough, right?


On scratching the itch

Route 66 - A glimpse over the top.

So here’s the plan: fly into Vegas on Friday, Sept. 10 around 9:30 at night, grab my compact rental car, and start driving. Leave the Sin City behind and hit the road.

Next, make it to Springdale, Utah, just south of Zion National Park, check into a room at some low-rate motel, and hit the park. Hiking and picture taking. A day, maybe two, then hit the road again, southeast this time, toward the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Find a spot to sleep, maybe with the rental car as my tent, build a fire in the desert, and wake up to do some more hiking – to the bottom of the Earth.

Last time I was in the neighborhood, I passed up on the Grand Canyon only because of time constraints. By the time Route 66 wound through Arizona, there was too much left to see along the actual route – and when I got to California, I had to turn around and drive all the way back home.

But I always knew I’d be back, and it only took four years. So it’s time to do the largest gorge on Earth justice and explore it righteously.

My only concern is gear: since I’ll be flying and not driving West, it’s not like I can fill the car with tents and pots and backpacks. In fact, I want to travel as lightly as possible. One option is to pick up everything I’ll need there, use it, and ship it home. I’m still working this one out.

After all the parks, it’s on to New Mexico, and to Albuquerque to see Cowboy and Sarah and Kita, their nice, skittish dog. The last time I was in town I had a burger and malt at a ‘50s-style diner, and became a member of the Albuquerque Public Library System to use the Internet. That was only an hour or two, but this time I’ll have days to explore: visit the Route again, maybe do some hiking, definitely go swimming in the Myers’s apartment complex pool.

That’s until Friday night. Saturday morning has me hauling ass across the desert to make it back to Vegas and take a red eye flight back home.

It’s an adventure like the old days, when time and money were no object. My last big trip was New England, and that seems so long ago that I get experiences from that trip mixed with the others. Which trip had my knee hurting? (New England) Which trip had fears of car trouble? (Route 66 and Pennsylvania/Columbus) Which trip was I hit on by a gay guy? (All of them)

This is how I get my head straightened out. Me, sitting in a car, blaring the radio, windows down (yes, even – and especially – in the desert), seeing things I’ve never seen before. It’s cathartic and therapeutic and fun all at once. It’s the “me” that I’ve gotten to know so well, and it’s time to revisit that feeling.

There was a story in Ken Burns’s “The National Parks” documentary about the head of the national parks, Stephen Mather, going bat-shit insane if he didn’t get out and explore the country on a periodic basis. He spent so much time in Washington that he would up in a mental ward for 18 months until his family took him out West and – lo and behold – his soul and sanity were restored. I can relate.

After a certain amount of time, I get The Itch – the feeling that there’s adventure out there somewhere. Really, it’s because there’s not much room to sit and think around these parts. Sitting and doing nothing but thinking, with some hiking and picture-taking mixed in, allows for time and space totally dedicated to reflection. What have I done? Where am I going next? Why didn’t I stop at that last rest area? These are questions that need to be answered.

So I’ll answer them at the bottom of the Earth, and in between tunnels of rock and dirt, and in the middle of nowhere – amongst my best friends.


30 And Under – ‘Don’t Settle’

[I gave a shorter, punchier version of this essay at Jackson Magazine’s 30 And Under banquet, as a way to warn these ambitious young professionals what was in store for them. They probably already knew the second part, but the first part was 30 And Under wisdom after I was honored last year.]

There’s not much tackier than unasked for advice, so we’ll call these next two tid-bits “tips” instead of advice.

Tip one: whether anyone who is honored as a 30 And Under winner likes it or not, you’re going to become a celebrity in Jackson. The picture and profile will show up in the magazine and you’ll have strangers on the street saying “congratulations!” It happens. And grandma and grandpa and that guy you owe money to will all call and say they saw you in Jackson Magazine.

It’s a heavy burden, those first few months after winning. You’ll be famous to a group of people who have a very local sense of fame. You’re now in a select group of people that will probably make appearances on JTV or United Way billboards.

And in case you weren’t busy enough now, you’ll have community groups and committees asking for your help for their next big project. Jackson needs help, so being an up-and-coming hotshot means groups are pointing their volunteer laser beam right at you. Be prepared.

Tip two: listen for what people say about Jackson, especially when they pipe up about an idea, project, or event being “too good” for this town.

I heard it even before I was honored, but now I pay more attention. Too often, someone will claim an idea will never go over, never be attended, never be supported – because Jackson just isn’t that classy of a town.

Don’t think about that wild project you want to tackle, because it’s too good of an idea. And don’t even attempt to tackle some barrier in town, because they’ve been there and tried that and it doesn’t work around here.

Jackson has a crisis of confidence – a low self-esteem that rates somewhere between Chelsea and Hillsdale. Maybe it’s too much bad news in the past generation, or maybe it’s something in the water. Whatever. It’s very real.

It’s also true that good ideas have died on the vine in this town. But I’d rather have too many good ideas than a hum-drum philosophy that accept mediocrity and doesn’t break a sweat.

So don’t settle. Don’t let “good enough” be good enough, or think that something exciting is too exciting for Jackson.

I often think about AKA Sushi, the little boutique eatery up by Starbucks on West Ave. A business owner could have played it safe and threw in another McDonald’s, or Tim Horton’s, and offer another chain restaurant. Those are good enough for Jackson. Anything fancier would never make it, right?

Instead, there’s a hip sushi joint that draws a crowd on a Friday night. Not settling has been good for business.

Jackson’s chapter of the American Red Cross took a chance on a pop-up art gallery. With real art! And people had to pay to get in! The result was a smash success. The RED committee didn’t settle.

But many of my 30 And Under compatriots understand this already. They don’t go to work and go home and flip on the TV, day in and day out. They don’t settle for a life lived as usual – if they did, they wouldn’t be honored by Jackson Magazine.

The way we make Jackson raise its chin is by doing what we’re doing: not settling. Experimenting. Taking chances.

It’s tough, and it draws attention to your efforts, but the payoffs are pretty cool.


Literally

This post took me literally 15 minutes to write.

“Literally,” it seems, has become a word used in just about everyone’s vocabulary these days. Literally. We don’t just say, “I’m five minutes away.” We say “I’m literally five minutes away.”

The use of “literally” has spread so fast and so aggressively that even smart, well-intentioned people are prone to literalize everything.

Here’s what bothers me about the overuse of “literally”: it adds emphasis that doesn’t need to be there. It’s okay to say, “I jumped out of my seat,” or “There were two people in the theater.” You don’t need the exclamation point “literally” provides.

Is the overuse of “literally” a reaction against metaphor? When I say, “The dog had three legs,” what else could I be saying that would necessitate a “literally” in between “had” and “three?”

Now, if you want to clarify a point and make it clear that you’re not using a metaphor, saying “literally” notifies the listener that you are, indeed, speaking in a literal sense. So you can say “all hell broke loose” if a situation gets hairy, but it’s not appropriate to say “all hell, literally, broke loose” unless a hole in the earth swallows your house and little imps and demons carry away your pet llama, while in the background some maniacal laughter signals your doom.

Because unless that happens, hell does not literally break loose. There’s a difference.

Metaphor is a powerful agent in the English language, and we use it – along with similes – every day. I’m as high as a kite, fit as a fiddle, sharp as a tack, happier than a pig in shit, and as rabid as a dog. Also, we are all snowflakes.

But often metaphor isn’t needed, like when we say we’re driving 90 down the highway. The silliness with “literally” is that saying we’re driving 90 down the highway implies meaning and conjures up a visual automatically. There’s no metaphor involved. You’re really driving 90 miles per hour. We get it.

So why the hell would you ever say, “Honey, I’ll be there in a minute; I’m literally going 90 down the highway.”

Was there any confusion? Would your honey not believe you? Was speeding and driving recklessly enough of a stretch in behavior (there’s a metaphor!) for you to qualify your statement with a “literally?”

No. There’s no qualification needed.

Using “literally” goes along with the overuse of “to be honest” or “honestly” (replacing “basically” as the overused phrase of the decade): am I to assume you haven’t spoken to me truthfully before? Why add “honestly?” Are you being super grownup serious when you say, “To be honest?”

Same with “literally.” If you’re implying that you’re using a metaphor in a denotative instead of connotative way, then by all means use “literally.”

You’re literally a pig in a poke? Great. Can’t wait to see you in a dead cat costume, climbing out of a bag, yelling “fooled you!” You literally flew down the road? Super. Can’t wait to see your supersonic hovercraft.

Otherwise, leave the “literally” behind. Because, to be honest, I’m so sick of it I could puke. Literally.


We were watching TV

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan’s Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don’t? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn’t posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it’s not, and that’s the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it’s worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

Something is better than nothing, says Clay Shirkey, especially when “in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads.”

I don’t hate TV. In fact, there’s a lot about it I love. “The Office,” “Mad Men,” football – I don’t get much done when these programs are on TV. Sometimes that’s great. My mind can stand to have a few minutes of down-time each week. So can yours.

But more and more, I find myself using that leisure time (the “social surplus” of time, Shirkey calls it) to do something productive: write a blog entry, or make a web site, or help out my recycling group, or just goof off on something creative. It’s all entertainment.

Sometimes, my heart aches at the silly YouTube videos people gobble up, or the hours spent managing a fake farm. But then I think about what’s going to come out of all this – how we’re all just goofing off and creating a new and vibrant culture.

Before, TV execs told us what to watch, and when, and we voted with our remotes. Now you and I and all of our friends make all this stuff and tune in to what we want, and vote with our mouse clicks and encouragement. My roommate can star in a video, and I can share an article that I read, and we’re having just as much fun. Plus, we’re using our brains way more.


On being an advanced beginner

There was a time when I could hear a song on the radio, pick up my guitar, and strum it out until I got the hang of the song’s chord progression or riff.

In high school, after I picked up my first guitar for $100, I could sit for hours and learn my favorite songs. Over time, I built up a competency for guitar playing. No, I couldn’t hammer out solos like my friends. I didn’t have a knack for songcraft, either. But I had enough skill to play what I wanted to play, and to learn something I heard and liked.

I like to think I still have that skill set. Like riding the proverbial bike, from time to time I pick up my acoustic guitar and everything comes back to me. The time I spent in high school was an investment that pays off every time I play.

My guitar playing came to mind during Merlin Mann’s 37-minute-long video on expertise and fake self-help. Mr. Mann learned that there are several levels of expertise, ranging from novice to expert, and your placement on the gradient is proportional to the time and attention you place on whatever it is you’re studying.

A novice, the thinking goes, starts out knowing nothing, and learns by doing exactly what they’re told. Learn the basics. Simple enough.

My journalism professor, Dr. Dennis Renner, said that “rules are made for smart people to break.” That little maxim always stuck with me because it makes so much sense. Learn the basics before you go sprinting off to change to world. You have to know something before you can’t start messing around. You don’t get smart until you move past the novice level.

So the expert and the master, as Mann labels a sixth level, are free to break the rules because they know the rules inside and out. They know the rules so deeply and personally that the rules fade into habit.

It’s the step above novice, what Dreyfus calls “advanced beginner,” that has me thinking.

For years now, I’ve dabbled in many things and have become an expert of none. It’s the Renaissance Man Syndrome: know a little about a bunch of stuff, enough to talk intelligently during dinner hour conversations, but not enough to go out and change the world. Or get anything practical done. Just knowing is different from actually doing.

Take graphic design. I’ve been doing design work for almost seven years now, from my first design class in college, yet I wouldn’t call myself anything next to an expert. I know enough to get my job done, to dabble in freelance projects, and that’s it. Mostly, I think it’s because I never developed a strong enough foundation. No art training and little design sense handicap me, and prevent me from developing my craft to an expert level.

Writing, however, is something I know deep and well. My whole life, I’ve studied grammar and story telling and expository writing. It made English an obvious bachelor’s degree choice, and helped journalism come naturally to me. Writing isn’t easy. But I know enough to do well, help others, and critique bad writing when I see it. This comes from years of doing writing.

As Merlin says, every writing book on Earth has one shared piece of advice: sit in a chair and write. That’s the only way to get better.

Well, that and pick up a goddamn book now and again.

But besides writing, I don’t have a particular skill I can call my own. Sure, I can fix a computer – but I get the knowledge to do that from online searches and a bit of history. And yeah, I can take a decent photograph – but that comes from seeing how others have done it, not from any particular depth of knowledge.

I respect men and women who can work on cars so much. They have to know a vehicle deep and well or it doesn’t get fixed. It’s a skill I’d love to pick up (and it has me researching some ways to do just that).

Mann argues that so much of our knowledge about a particular subject doesn’t get much deeper than a Wikipedia search and a few how-to articles. We become beginners at something and never really advance beyond that. It’d be like Michaelangelo putting tracing paper over a painting he saw and transferring it the Sistine Chapel. From afar, it might look nice, but up close – well, anyone could do that.

That little bit of knowledge makes us arrogant. We end up thinking we know more than we actually know.

Renaissance Men and Women of old, especially some of our founders like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, knew a great deal about many things. They were deep and wide. Their lives were dedicated to learning and thinking, and – in all fairness – few of us have time for that today.

Instead, we take up hobbies and learn a lot about one or two subjects. But knowing something deeply doesn’t simply affect what we do in our free time. It also affects our prospects for employment and advancement.

And shucks, it makes us interesting people. Deeply interesting. Like, magazines-or-NPR-will-interview-you-for-your-expertise interesting.

That’s not for everyone. Some people (and you know them well) are comfortable with a mile wide and an inch deep. I respect that, and it’s naive to think that everyone will become an expert in something.

But man, wouldn’t it be great if we had more people who knew what the hell they were talking about when they open their mouth?

Wouldn’t it be cool if more of us moved past the “advanced beginner” stage?


The One True Way

Which brings us, finally, to the One True Way to get a lot of traffic on the web. It’s pretty simple, and I’m going to give it to you here, for free:

Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again.

That’s it. Make something you believe in. Make it beautiful, confident, and real. Sweat every detail. If it’s not getting traffic, maybe it wasn’t good enough. Try again.

Then tell people about it. Start with your friends. Send them a personal note – not an automated blast from a spam cannon. Post it to your Twitter feed, email list, personal blog. (Don’t have those things? Start them.) Tell people who give a shit – not strangers. Tell them why it matters to you. Find the places where your community congregates online and participate. Connect with them like a person, not a corporation. Engage. Be real.

Then do it again. And again. You’ll build a reputation for doing good work, meaning what you say, and building trust.

It’ll take time. A lot of time. But it works. And it’s the only thing that does.

Via Derek Powazek, courtesy of Merlin Mann.

Again and again and again, marketers (or people that do things similar to what I do) ruin a good thing because they want to make more money.

When you job is to make web sites appear higher in Google rankings, you’re abandoning effort on the actual content of that site in favor of snake-oil tricks in the form of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Sure, it’s fun to have your page creep near the top of Google’s rankings. But it’s way more fun to have it happen organically.


The Facebook Divorce

The Facebook Divorce


Will Work for Macs

MacBook Pro - glowing keyboard

For the third time in my life now, I’ve been directly involved in the purchase of a new Macintosh computer.

The first was my first, an iBook G4 that still serves as my home base computer. The other was helping Katie buy an iMac.

But this one, a 15" MacBook Pro, is strictly professional. It’s the result of our credit union’s umbrella organization, the Jackson Co-Op, taking a chance on my design skills and hiring me as a contract freelancer.

The deal goes something like this: my design skills will be available to non-profits as a Jackson Co-Op service. I’ll make whatever they need, like newsletters, web sites, and – our specialty – giant paper banners. I’ll work on my own, away from work, and the entire thing will be run from the new Mac.

Sure, the extra money will help. And I’ll get a chance to stretch my marketing muscles beyond the credit union. But the new Mac is really what sealed the deal.

And man, it’s a beauty. Fifteen inches of enclosed aluminum, a complete Adobe Create Suite 4 package, the world’s most advanced and gorgeous operating system, and something to do with all that free time I have.

Right?

I’ll be the sole employee of the Jackson Co-Op unless my workload becomes too great for me to handle. If we get super busy, they’ll hire someone to work with me.

My freelance work, in the past, has come in fits and spurts. I won’t get any jobs (which I get strictly from word of mouth and referrals) for a long time, and then a bunch of people will be looking to get projects done. Just last week I had two going at the same time – one big, and one fairly simple.

The solo freelance work I’ve done has been more to keep my skills sharp and to help out local non-profits with their marketing. All too often, I’ve come across a brochure or flyer and though, “Jeez, they need some help.” Some organizations are smart enough to realize this themselves, so they give me a ring.

And that’s not to say I’m some super local talent. There are tons of way more talented designers in Jackson. You just get what you pay for. I purposefully charge a bare-bones rate just to help the non-profits out. I asked for double from for-profit companies because, hey, they can afford it.

Now, I’ll still be doing freelance work, but under the guise of another not-for-profit organization. It’ll no longer be Dave Lawrence, for hire. It’ll be the Jackson Co-Op, and this fella Dave Lawrence, for hire.

But golly. A new MacBook Pro serving as the base of operations? In this case, it can hardly be called “work.”

I’m a bit nervous about the workload. I know I’ll have to give up a few things, (Newton Poetry may have a few fewer articles each week, for instance) but the deal works out on a bunch of different fronts. I’ll be stashing away extra money, helping out local groups, and…oh yes…the Mac thing.

Here I had planned on grabbing a new iMac after the latest operating system, OS X 10.6, comes out. I’ll probably still do that, but now I’ll have an easier time paying for it, and I’ll familiarize myself with OS X 10.5 Leopard (I’ve been running OS X 10.4 Tiger on all my Macs).

So things should get interesting. In the meantime, I’ll be working on infrastructure projects, like the co-op’s web site and mailing lists and so on, while reaching out to local organizations and offering my/our services.

All I need is a “Now Open” sign for my window.