Slow thinking

I’m a slow-thinker. It took me a long time to realize this. That’s partially because I am a slow-thinker, but mostly because I assumed that some of my other innate traits were dichotomies. For example, I’m quick-witted; if you want a zinger, I’m here for it. I can lead and shape conversations. One-liners, puns, quick recall from five minutes ago — all of that is stuff I’m pretty adept at. And yet, I think fairly slowly.

For years, it’s driven my husband a little bit bonkers that I won’t respond right away when we start discussing weighty subjects. Sometimes not even the same day. And I get it; that’s really a frustrating trait. I’ve gotten marginally better at engaging and talking through my stilted thought process. But I’m still really bad at it.

I’ve also spent a lot of time alternating with struggling with impostor syndrome or outright ignoring my impostor syndrome because sometimes I see a wall of text (say a P2 post at work) and I just think “What.” I cannot cognitively absorb it. I keep posts open for several days and re-read them (often in different order, like going over a particular section more often one day, vs top-to-bottom reading). But once I’ve absorbed it, I’ve got it. And, counterintuitively, big concepts I grasp right away. I see the big concept, I get the reasoning, the direction, the expected effects, etc. I can extrapolate a lot of that from a high-level concept, even if it’s just a couple of lines long.

I think my slow thinking ways have prepared me to engage in high-touch but brief sessions. The length of a conversation. A townhall lasting 60 minutes. A presentation, a workshop. I can be 100% there and contribute to a particular depth. And then I need to shut down for a little bit and do rote work or sit silently so I can recharge my brain. The depth of understanding that I think I am able to reach by slow thinking, routinely, enables these much shorter flashes of wit. Also, once I have adequately prepared, I can merge more effectively the quick-witted and slow-thinking parts of my brain. So in a presentation, I can speak off the cuff with substance and in a meaningful way, because it’s not actually off the cuff; it’s just that I’ve aligned all the thinking I’ve done on a particular topic temporarily.

I think my impostor syndrome at not being able to cognitively recognize and begin analyzing a post or longer, more detail-studded store of knowledge is misplaced. I’m not geared to shallow understanding, and I’m not incapable of insight. I can think critically and I can do it well. It just takes me time. I used to feel sheepish if I commented on an important P2 post long after most other people, especially when others said much, much faster the things I wish I had thought of. But I’d still take the effort to comment, to help break myself out of that cycle. My peers’ quick thinking is wonderful, we’re lucky to have it as a company, and I don’t resent it. I also no longer envy it. I’m a slow-thinker, and dredging through a long, weighty post is useful for me, in the long run. Perhaps it’s related to having a different brain wiring due to dyslexia, but maybe it’s not. Likely that would be impossible to determine categorically, so we won’t worry about it, but I think it a little bit.

I recently changed my Twitter follows to be mostly animals, paintings, and literary accounts. The slow-thinking taxation of being confronted by incredibly complex, multi-faceted world problems in a daily tidal wave got damaging. It’s not just that there are big problems out there that I think we have to confront and fix, it’s that I couldn’t stop the slow molasses wheels in my brain from puzzling over all these various problems, with little useful effect. I care deeply about these problems. But via Twitter isn’t how I’ll contribute, so I deliberately moderated that information input. Now it’s a mostly joyful place for me to visit, though I still follow enough other accounts to be aware of the trajectory of some of these problems, but without the unceasing echos.

I’ve long been in the habit of saying “I don’t know, let me get back to you.” And sometimes I actually do know, but I haven’t finished thinking about it yet. That’s something that has taken me a long time to realize as well. I don’t always need fresh input to come to a conclusion, just because I don’t have an answer in the moment. Of course, the reverse is true: sometimes I do need additional input, but until I’ve had a chance to wade to a certain depth, I can’t tell if I’m going to need a boat or can swim on through. If I haven’t had adequate pre-thinking time, I can get flustered in the moment (I’m sure this is true of many people), and I’ve allowed myself to give poor answers in the past because an instant answer is demanded; or so it seemed. Now, though, I’m ostensibly a grown-up. I can ask for more time, and more time is available. This is different from knowing that something is required of you and under-preparing. I’ve also done that, and I do not recommend. The best offense is a good defense; my mantra is “if being asked something makes me nervous, know that thing better.”

All this to say, slow-thinking is a fine way to exist. It’s not bad; it’s just the way that I cognitively, systematically address my ignorance and figure out my own alignment on any given concept. Just… gimme a minute.

Grant W. Ring v5

Five years ago yesterday, Grant charged into the world. It hasn’t been quite what he’s expected at each step, but he faces each moment with enthusiasm and his own agenda.

Grant, moments after birth.

The last couple years, we’ve been in the Adirondacks for his birthday. In the morning of his birthday, we gather around and tell stories about the day he was born, then about the day the twins were born. We talk about the surprising things about his birth (like how fast he came, and how he was born in caul), and about funny things he would do as a baby, then toddler.

Grant a few days old

He loves these stories about him as a baby, and he’s fascinated by the whole pregnancy/birth thing. In fact, he’s deeply jealous of the fact that he won’t have a period, and he’s slowly letting go of his resentment that he can’t have a baby in his belly. He very sweetly asked me if I would have another baby so he “could see” when it was born. When I said no, he got mad. He asked if Eleanor would kindly have a baby and he could watch it being born. Very unsurprisingly, he got an immediate rejection. While he melted down, Henry tried to console him by telling him that he might want to have a wife someday, and then she could have babies and he could be there for that. So then Grant asked Eleanor if she would be his wife, so it’s very clear there’s a lot he does not understand. I have the feeling he’s still thinking about this.

Grant celebrating his first birthday

Grant was a very easy baby. He was fun and smiley, and if he’d been my first, I would have had 10 more immediately.

Grant at 2

When he first started crawling, he was too impatient to actually crawl, so he pulled himself by his arms. He got really adept at it, and he looked like he was swimming across the ground. We’d set him down wherever we were and he’d swim all over the place. He also would waggle his legs whenever he was being held and saw the big kids running around. He’s definitely a mobile first baby.

Grant v3

Once he got going, he has thus far proven impossible to stop. He is busy. He’s constantly simultaneously out of sight and underfoot. He causes trouble with a winning grin. The boy has charisma.

Four for Grant

We’ve made it a tradition to climb Mt Jo in the Adirondacks on his birthday (so everyone can feel the struggle I felt on the day of his birth, I like to tell him, but he does not believe me). He summited last year on his fourth birthday, and he did so again this year.

As good as it gets when wrangling five sweaty humans for a fifth birthday mountain climbing selfie.

This year, we gave him presents over the course of our trip, so he had something new to occupy him most days. He loved his archery set (suction cups), and used his explorer kit non-stop. But he also read the two new books he got first over and over (or had Eleanor read them to him). He asked for “the rest of the books” so much I started to get worried (but I did have two more books for him, and I’m not sure how he knew).

Grant is someone with a lot of attitude. He knows what he wants, and reality is not an acceptable blocker. For example, the day before his birthday, we were driving up Whiteface and he was VERY UPSET that we “weren’t letting” him hike it. Hike up Whiteface. By himself. Mad at us about that.

The panorama from the castle on Whiteface

Grant saw the stairs leading from the castle to the summit (very dangerous, exposed stairs, a lot of open rock), and charged right up them. I hared after him, and about 20 yards from the summit, I stopped him. We took some photos, but we absolutely had to go back down at that point — it was very windy and I was sure he would be blown off the ridge. He was pleased enough with his little adventure, and I aged 20 years in 20 minutes!

Grant and Henry “climbing Whiteface” — they are about 5 feet off the ground.

Most nights on our trip, we wrapped up the same way. Grant cuddled with one of us for stories, and then we’d lie down with him until he drifted off — usually very quickly. He’s always been a pretty insistent sleeper. “Put me to bed!” he’ll march up to us and demand; at that point, it is usually only about 15 minutes until he’s snoring gently.

Reading Mighty Mighty Construction Site

Grant and I spent an afternoon playing together while Bob was running. We went for a walk and found a giant rock and a throne. So he decided the rock was a castle and we played kings and princesses.

It’s the Henry Van Hoevenberg rock.

As an aside, the chipmunks and squirrels at the ADK Loj are not shy at all. I doubt that they were so brazen because of my innate Disney Princessness, even though Grant believes I am a princess.

We spent days lounging and hanging out in Heart Lake. We also spent a great morning at Mirror Lake (which is actually the lake in downtown Lake Placid — fun fact, the lake in downtown Saranac Lake is … Flower Lake). The water was cold, but not as icy as the water higher up, which Henry discovered when he fell in a mountain stream while he and Bob hiked Phelps. We met a group of ladies in their 60s who were having a girls weekend together. The eight of them had booked the top floor of the Loj (it’s bunk style) and they were practicing swimming in cold water. They’ve known each other for 40 years, and they get together often. Several of them had climbed all 46, and some had “only” climbed 20 or so. Makes my four seem a little paltry (Marcy, Algonquin, Cascade, and Jo, not that anyone has asked).

We packed up from the Adirondacks a day early. Thunderstorms kept rolling through (indeed, Eleanor and I descended Jo in a downpour), and we were told we couldn’t have a tent on site (?), so we decided it was as good a time as any to make a change in plans. Bob booked us a hotel in Syracuse as a waypoint, and we met up with the kids’ former nanny, Naomi, for a really fun day the today at the Museum of Play in Rochester. Grant just cannonballed around, and thank goodness we did meet up with Naomi, because we had to play man-to-man with these three. Zone defense doesn’t work at the funnest museum in the world.

Grant has launched into being 5 with his usual recklessness and style. It’s hard not to root for him. He got a long birthday trip where he took center stage for much of it (as is right and good), and while he might be several bug bites richer tonight, he also has a full charge on his adventure meter. Look out world, he’s five!

11 years with WordPress

This weekend marked my 11th year blogging on WordPress. It doesn’t feel like more than a decade of tapping the keys about my stuff, but here we are.

There have been a lot of changes to WordPress.com in the past eleven years, and that’s a great thing. It’s constantly evolving to be better, faster, smarter, and more useful. Not every incremental change has done all of those things (and indeed, sometimes there are some steps backwards in order to move forward). Working in Happiness for much of that time has given me a front-row seat to the changes that draw the most confusion and/or ire from customers, as well as how hard and rapidly our developers work to overcome those setbacks.

In those eleven years, I’ve published 2,202 posts (this will be 2,203), earning 61,903 views, and a hair over 32,000 visitors. Kindly readers have left nearly 1,000 comments (though some of those are my own replies; maybe as many as half?) Using my handy dandy built-in Jetpack stats, I can review my annual stats, which I will now bore you all with:

2010: 53 posts; 2011: 9 posts (a tragedy; the year the twins were born); 2012: 71 (the year I joined Automattic); 2013: 13 posts; 2014: 141 posts (getting better); 2015: 424 posts (now we’re talking); 2016: 338 posts (the year Grant was born); 2017: 437 posts; 2018: 379 posts; 2019: 212 posts (uh-oh, significant decline); 2020: 73 posts (oh shit); 2021: 33 posts so far.

I used to post every single day, sometimes more often. I found that a really fun and useful exercise for a few years, but when I felt I was not adding any kind of value I readjusted that pace. In 2020 everything fell apart, and I couldn’t muster up the energy or a modicum of creativity. As May snowfall turns to June heat, I’m finding more creativity again, and my latest stream of posts seems to agree with that. Blogging feels natural, and the barrier is low as far as the tool (WordPress) goes. I’ve used it so long, the friction is gone. But my own internal friction is far harder to overcome.

In these eleven years, I’ve spread just over 252,000 words across 2,203 posts; or just over 114 words a post. Many of my daily posts are just a title and a photo. In fact, 2011 (the year of 9 posts) is also my year of the highest average word count per post: 655. Frequency doesn’t necessarily beget depth. Perhaps it is telling that 2020 (73 posts) has a higher average word count than the previous 6 years per post, at 230. Like ink drops scattered across a page; few, but significant. My year of the lowest average word count is 2015 (424 posts), with an average word count of 53. Just fifty-three words on average that entire year. I suppose WordPress doesn’t count each image as a thousand words 😛

I’m very excited by the prospect of a further 11 years pecking away at the keyboard using WordPress. We recently brought Day One into the Automattic family, and I’m very intrigued by the idea of not just… spewing at the world. I know I can’t predict the next 11 years of growth and change within Automattic and with WordPress.com, but I’m confident that this space on the web that I’ve carved out will continue to grow and change with me. Thank you to my loyal readers, my inconstant readers, and my one time visitors. You are all very, very, ridiculously good looking.

Thanks! It has pockets!

Three times today, I’ve been able to say “thanks! it has pockets!” which is a real gift. The first time, I was meeting Bob for lunch at the Old Library, and our hostess said “ooh, I love your dress!” And we talked about how valuable pockets are in a dress.

The second time, I was walking home from lunch and a woman leaned out of her car to yell “I like your dress!” and when I told her about the pockets, both her and the fella in the car with her said “yessss!” which was gratifying, as if I had invented pockets in dresses myself.

The third time was on a work call, when the person I was talking with said “I like your shirt” and I explained how it was a pocketed dress. Again, I felt as if I had originated the entire idea of pockets for dress-wearers.

I should remind us all (for my ego’s sake) that of course I did not. But I was savvy enough to see a dress covered in wiener dogs, some wearing collars, some wearing pearl necklaces, some wearing NOTHING LIKE HEATHENS, discover that it had pockets, and then purchase it. And of course, wear it proudly.

Stone-faced

I don’t know how they managed to keep such straight faces.

They were really back there saying “cheese!”

My dad made these low-relief carvings of all three kids. He started with Grant, then Henry, then Eleanor. They’re all wonderful pieces that I’ll cherish, but I can’t get over the depth that he achieved around Ele’s neck.

Tactile

Yesterday I unexpectedly smelled a book. I was holding up a book for Eleanor to take a photo of (for school), and to be a little silly I held it right under my nose so my nose might be in the picture, too. It wasn’t in the picture. But I smelled cheap paperback for the first time in a very, very long time. It smelled divine. It instantly took me a million places: elementary school; the Scholastic book fair; days spent loitering on a couch reading dusty, worn out paperbacks from the library; packing and unpacking boxes of books for various moves; dropping books into the bath; dropping books onto my face when I fall asleep reading. I have so many memories of books, because I always like a book close by. It’s comforting to have a book available, and the unspoiled potential of a new book is right up there with life’s top pleasures. I haven’t been able to read as much as I’d like during the last year or so; deep dread and anxiety have wrecked my focus and made it really hard to read in a sustained manner. But I’ve always kept books at hand, just in case.

Current nightstand collection

It hit me hard yesterday how much I actually do miss holding a book and touching it (two different things). Who among us hasn’t gently trailed a few fingers across the page to feel the tooth of the paper? To see if the ink feels raised or not? How exciting to feel those little tactile clues! Who here hasn’t stroked a cover to feel the matte of the paper, or the tug of a sueded cover against your fingertips? I, for one, am happily guilty. The fact that a book can also delight, confuzzle, excite, enlight, enrage, and lead us on adventures is an additional gift. How many non-harmful things can we experience on an emotional, mental, and tactile level, like we can a book?

This post isn’t just about books, though. It’s about all the things in our (specifically my) life that are better for being fully experienced. Art ranks highly here for me. Food as well. I know you’re not supposed to touch art in museums and such (most of the time), but being able to touch impasto paint or the brittle of a varnished oil painting is beautiful and rare each time. Taking a bite of flaky pastry or seeing the sagging ephemeral dome of a perfectly poached egg the moment before devouring is single moment of luxury.

I don’t know about you, but I ruin nearly every manicure I get, because I cannot resist touching the varnish before it’s dry. It looks so tempting. And once it’s fully dry it’s so delightfully slick, like polished glass. If you have never painted your nails and engaged in the secret joy of sliding your fingers over your nails, you are missing out on tiny, achievable euphoria.

I have flowers on my desk that are well and truly dead, but I can’t bring myself to throw them away because even in decay they still smell like roses and catching that scent at random is a balm. We have a tomato plant on our back deck, and I love moving it to water it each day. The sharp, aggressive scent of the plant takes no prisoners and slays me anew each time. I love it.

Have you ever felt the soft teaspoons of air that a small animal puffs out with each breath? Or, for that matter, a small child? Especially while asleep? A very dainty magic.

Being aimlessly adrift for the last year while also highly frantic has had a lot of profound effects on all our lives, some absolutely devastating. A micro loss that I didn’t notice I had lost until I had it again were these near-nugatory tactile sensations. They were so close to unimportant as to be vital, as it turns out. How do you rate a trifling touch, especially if you don’t even notice when it vanishes? I suppose one measure is by the volume of delight when you notice it anew. Go out and feel something and remember.