It’s an evening of clear skies, big hearts, and extremely good Internet. I’m listening to Cabin and working on a project that is suspiciously shaped like a book. As I type, my good friend Trent Reznor is playing the piano in my apartment and soft clouds are rolling behind the tree that happens to be perched in front of my bedroom window.
The maybe-book? Well, it’s a list of every mistake I’ve made during the past three years of my work: Systems, Mistakes, and the Sea, or that’s the working title for now at least.
The book is not for anyone else. It’s entirely for me, it’s something to pour all my anger and vitriol into in the hope that something lovely might grow. The only time I’ve written something to be half proud of is when I’m pacing around my room, furious at something, or, in this case, someone.
In college I didn’t measure projects in hours but in how many cups of tea they would require to complete. I would hurl myself into my work and I learned how to break an impossible and overwhelming project up into a million pieces. I discovered that everything could be accomplished if you sat in front of your computer for 14 hours straight.
I was so angry and alone. But the work was always there, waiting for me.
The big tree outside my apartment is in the top three when it comes to San Francisco’s Loveliest And Most Beautiful Trees. There’s the orange blossom just a few blocks away in Noe Valley. And then there’s the tree with bright purple flowers outside Piccino, a quiet cafe in the Dogpatch. The purple is striking and fights for every fraction of attention with the blistering yellow of the building next to it. I imagine that the two are perfect for each other and yet they’re constantly fighting, locked in deadly combat forever.
I try to focus on the colors as I sit across the street in the tiny park, but I’m angry now. I crush my cup, hurl it into the trash, and hop on my bike. Motorcycles help with the anger, somehow. There’s a dance you must play, a song that starts the moment the key is in the ignition. All that anger is put on hold for a few moments whilst you listen to the roar of it.
The truth is that I’m in love with someone who is inconsistently in love with me, if they’re in love with me at all. The pain and longing for her is so overwhelming, and our relationship so fractured and abusive, that I must throw myself into a project in order to completely avoid her.
Because I see her everywhere, and in all things; the menu of this cafe, where everything is in French; a stranger’s ponytail bouncing down the street and illuminated in the sunlight like a tree of gold leaf; a white background, a wall of pure white, like the dazzling brightness of her bedroom in the Mission; a woman jogging down the street and her sculpted muscles tightening on her back as if she could break a skull between her shoulder blades; a data scientist that sits next to me, the one with a howling, world-giving laugh.
I must work harder to forget. I must work harder to forgive myself. And I need more tea.
For the last three months there has been a pattern to each day; wake up, remember her, get mad, go write, remember her again, go to the gym, go home, go write, and think of her one more time before sleep.
And now I’m typing this as if the typing will help.
In every dimly lit bar between San Francisco and Los Angeles my friends have rolled their eyes as I describe the situation. And each time my friends say the same thing: run away and don’t ever look back. Block her. Throw your phone into the ocean. She’s toxic, abusive, radioactive. And you’re so much better than this.
But am I? I ask myself over and over again. Relentlessly.
As I leave the gym I immediately fantasize about returning tomorrow, what my work out will be, and how for a blissful sixty minutes there will be nothing but music and my body arguing with itself.
Every joint is screaming and each and every time it makes me smile.
Whilst researching a project I come across a picture of Michelangelo’s David and for some reason find myself angry at him, remembering something that she had said about the statue. “Fuck you, buddy,” I think. “In a year I will look better than even you.”
It is midnight and I am arguing with a statue of a naked dude on the Internet.
For some reason I’m thinking of what Carrie Fisher once said in an interview: “Take your broken heart, and turn it into art.” I suppose that the equivalent for me would be “take your broken heart, and turn it into a book about design systems.” Or better yet: “take your broken heart and blog.”
That’s not so catchy I guess. I’ll workshop it.
It certainly needs a lot more tea.