No instructions included

This is one of those blog posts that are for me – not so much for you…whoever you are someday. A friend…my kids after I’m gone…a stranger. Peek over my shoulder, no worries. But ultimately, this wasn’t about you.

This morning, I’ve been spending a little time with myself. The kind of myself time where you peer down into yourself, like you dropped your keys in a storm drain and are staring through the grate down into the murky depths pondering just what the hell is down there. I’m frustrated…lion pacing in a zoo cage frustrated. Do stupid things lose your keys bang your knee on the table corner restless. Something worth parking in the mental garage and peering under the hood for.

Carl Sandburg once said,

A man must find time for himself. Time is what we spend our lives with. If we are not careful we find others spending it for us. . . . It is necessary now and then for a man to go away by himself and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and to ask of himself, ‘Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?’ . . . If one is not careful, one allows diversions to take up one’s time—the stuff of life.

Okay, Carl.

Today I realized – I keep doing this to myself. I take on projects (going in knowing) that have no “instructions”. No tidily wrapped brown box arrives at my front door with a “do-A-do-B-do-C” instruction list inside of it, when I take on a new project. These projects inevitably lead to the, “why the hello did I do this again?” question.


I was one of the first people to own a consumer  grade 3D printer. A heartache that was so not-finished relative to what you can buy now, people were erasing the original operating system away, and writing their own to make it run right. 1 year…365 days to make peace with it…spending hours online in obscure chat forums divining what others had crafted to make theirs work. 12 maddening months later – something just shy of perfection would materialize on the printer’s build plate – a plastic thing of beauty.  But between the book ends of that first idea, (“Let’s get one!’ ) and the first great print  (“Oooh – did you make that?“) I was not a pleasant person to be around. (more on that).


I have 18 solar panels at my house, powering all sorts of things. I used to have 1 five watt panel when I was living on Long Island. Between 5 watts and 1800 watts, were a few more of those unpleasant ‘How the bloddy (*@(#*$@(# does this work?” moments. The kind of learning experiences that had my arms and hands covered in acid, or the permanent ringing in my right ear – both resulting from an unfortunate exploding golf cart battery ‘incident’. As of right now though – everything is working. Now, years later – when you can hire a guy to come to your house with a van loaded with instruction booklets.


I have jogged around this exact same track of insanity with consumer drones. (another year of insanity).


Done this to myself with the hydroponics greenhouse that I am writing this blog post from. (another year).


Jumped headfirst into yet again building a wood-pellet-rocket-stove that now heats to 865 degrees burning recycled little hardwood dust pieces. I can feel it on my back as I type from where it sits 10 feet away, keeping the tomatoes from freezing at night. (another year).


The rocket stove sits 25 feet from a home built wind turbine (nearly 8 feet wide tip to tip, almost 40 feet in the air) that also celebrated a one year anniversary of “WTF’s” with me. It’s on it’s 3rd revision, and is finally charging batteries that power stuff I use.


Then there was that, “Hey, I think we can make a portable gold dredge” project using designs found on YouTube…..another year….and yes, we found gold.

All these things without a formal education in said things. All the projects – the same cycle of “this-sounds-fun-can’t-wait-to-try-it-wait-why-is-it-doing-that-why-did-I-do-this-in-the-first-place-what-if-I-just-change-this-oh-look-it’s-working-now”. Lots of patient eye rolling from my wife between “A” and “Z” and the thousands of YouTube videos searching for salvation.


I’m getting a motor powered bicycle. What used to be called a “moped”.  It gets over 100 miles to the gallon. AND it has pedals. I ordered one, and the all too familiar, “this project is all I can think about-mental-brute-force-it-into-reality” is back. There are several thousand of them in existence…which isn’t many considering there are 330 million Americans. Maybe 1 for every 5,000 actual “scooter” mopeds in my state. It’s so weird and new that people at the DMV when asked how to register it, actually had a conference to figure out what it was – and they’re still not sure.

And yet again….I pace. I grind my teeth. I chew the insides of my cheeks and lips (a habit that goes all the way back to High School). My mind goes into a ‘brute force’ pattern of problem solving and internet surfing. I obsess. I research. And research. And research. Until I’m saturated with the knowledge of the thing…seeing the problem from all angles, simultaneously. Most of the time – without a smile. I get quiet. On edge. My brain gets tender, and protective of the singular thought pattern. I send emails out to people who are helping me that are short….direct….rude, I think. Most every one of these ideas and projects are “complicated births” that never go smoothly though. There’s weeks and months of pushing the idea out into reality.

But I forget. It always finishes well. There’s always an end….a moment of success. Sure, it comes with a cost – but as my wife Karen told me once, “You’re you…..You always figure it out eventually”. It has to be hard being married to me, I’m thinking. but yes. This crazy bike project too, will pass.

And then I want to dig my own off grid well.

I want to double my greenhouse floor space, and learn to use geo-thermal heating and cooling from the ground beneath it.

I want to fly an ultralight powered parachute. Land it, and camp somewhere.

I want to convert one of my cars to drive autonomously. And drive to California.

More pacing. More cheek biting. More forgetting I always do this, and that it always ends the same.

But maybe starting now, appreciating the in-between stuff. Not being so intense…replacing the anxiety with curiosity and gratitude for a clear mind.  Be a litte easier to live with and be around between the beginning and end parts.



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