I’m nearly two years into my departure from Hanoi, and it’s odd how regular Son La feels, especially given the extraordinary bareness of the city.

There is no supermarket here. It’s all mom-and-pop shops, markets, and a central grocery store that tries its best, but by all measures looks like a mix between a convenience store and a garage sale.

To stay sane, I order weekly shipments of ingredients from the foreigner-friendly delis in Hanoi. I don’t need to do this as often as I do. It’s a distraction from our savings, and we’re more than capable of growing most of what we consume or buying it from a neighbor.

City cinemas don’t exist, so my wife and I watch Netflix religiously. I let her pick the shows and only demand that no horror series enter our room.

Events and culture, in the shallowest sense of the concept, are few and far between. The occasional concert comes to town, but I’m past my mid-thirties now and comfortably set in my musical ways. Spotify helps. So do the Vietnamese festivals that invade our neighborhood at whatever times they please, because they can.

I have no friends in this city. None.

Outside of my wife, my mother-in-law, and the children we teach English to, social interactions that fulfill me are had through iMessage, FaceTime, Slack, Basecamp, Facebook, Twitter, Zoom, WhatsApp, Zalo, LINE, Viber, LinkedIn, GitHub, and email. I suspect that if I didn’t have this technology available to me, I’d still find ways to laugh, but the technology helps so much.

Exercise is a word I don’t use enough anymore. When I do, I walk. The street slopes here are quite steep, and mountains are forever in view. I know Trang wants us to walk more, both for my health and for our relationship. When we do get out together, we’re either wearing couple shirts or couple shoes because we’re like that. I pretend to hate it, but I’m into it; it reminds me of a mall-walking old couple I used to admire during my teen years in Longview.

I love her. I got lucky. Unfairly lucky.

We bicker over small, rarely big. When we fight over big, it’s usually diffused within a week, and life progresses. Nothing ever feels severe enough to go longer. The same issues pop up over and over again—she’s a hoarder, I’m a control freak, she’s unreasonably emotional, I’m irrationally cold—and in the big picture, they resemble blemishes that make us into us. Perfect is fake. I don’t need complete. I need genuine. I have that with her.

Our home is both a house and a karaoke cafe. We open at 8 AM and close at midnight, so there’s continuous noise. It’s hard to put into words how noisy it is around here. Imagine a low, deep rumble throughout the day that never ends; the sound of rickety vehicles passing by every few minutes; farm animals whose languages are noisy by default; and inebriated customers who can’t hear themselves yell. It’s like that until midnight.

My favorite days are when Mommy’s made enough money and closes shop early. During my first visit to Son La, she was deeply skeptical of me. She thought I would steal her daughter. She didn’t understand why I let my beard grow out or why I wore short exercise bottoms outside. She didn’t get me, and I didn’t care to appease her.

Slowly, very slowly, she’s turned into a different person. She laughs more. She dances. She jokes, sometimes better than I do. She loves me and cares for me when I’m tired. She’s given her daughter to me, and I’ve given myself as a son to her. When we have friction it’s because of the karaoke shop being too loud or me being annoyed because I hate boiled chicken—small things all obscured by our larger respect for each other.

Star, our cat, is the boss who runs the show. She’s a diva. We spoil her. We can’t help it. Star has a particular way of breaking you down with her whimpers.

This vast chasm of unremarkable living is precisely what I need right now.

I’ve had the lowest anxiety of my life here, and panic attacks are almost non-existent. Money problems aren’t problems like they used to be. We have a home, land, and plan on building our own, separate house next door soon. Cost of living in Son La is low enough that when business is slow, we’re still able to breathe.

A baby will come but the pressure to make it happen sooner than the stars will it into happening is gone; we’re past worrying about it, and our relationship without a child for this many years has only strengthened us. Babysitting and English teaching have been good practice for looking after children, but boy does it feel good to have a little alone time with my wife before our child comes into play.

I don’t miss Texas the way I used to because I’m already home.

I do miss family.

Things are as they should be right now. I want for nothing but the health and happiness of my family and an occasional moment of quiet. Outside of that I dare not ask for more.

I’ve been podcasting.

One of them is on SoundCloud and one of them is on Anchor.

They’re both on iTunes. (We Cobble HQ / PAM)

We Cobble HQ is almost exclusively about running my new business. I love making it on Anchor and it takes me around five minutes a day to make and publish.

PAM is around 10 minutes a week and it covers a wide range of topics. It’s my personal outlet to decompress from a tough seven days.

Give either a listen or one. They’re fun.

We are nothing more than wind chasers.

It’s getting a lot more comfortable being silent. I used to think that I needed to write often; share every single expensive meal; check in at every single airport that I visited.

And then something happened.

One of the things that you learn in the countryside is that at any moment, with no notice, the electricity may go out from morning until sunset. 

There is no warning. There is no heads up. It just happens and we adapt to it because it’s the new normal for us. I used to hate when this happened, and while I cannot pretend that I enjoy it at all, I’m a lot more comfortable with the fact that it happens now. It’s not something that I can control. It is out of my hands.

Life has been a lot like that lately. I wake up, I care for my wife, feed my cat, bond with my mother-in-law, and I work as hard as I possibly can to provide for my family as both a husband and a son-in-law.

I don’t have much time to pontificate and I don’t have any time for negativity. I only have time to either make stuff or take care of others, including the farm animals next door. I only have time to run my business and take care of my staff or to rest. I have no time for shallow thought. I have no time for idle hands. And it feels good.

I just wrote “my business”.

Around six weeks ago I took over the position of CEO at Professional Themes. I bought my partner out because I felt like there was no longer any traction in the relationship. Partnerships are like marriages. Do not ever believe anyone who says otherwise.

Our focus on WordPress was falling to the wayside and our efficacy with client services was abysmal. A change needed to happen and that meant either leaving or taking over.

I’m too old and too tired to leave again. So there was only one viable option. To take over the company, gain 100% ownership, and press on and push on to build cool things for the Internet. That’s always been my life’s mission. That will never change.

The last six weeks have been among the hardest of my life. And that includes the time that my father died in 2009. 

These last six weeks have been incredibly difficult. I cannot begin to put the level of strain and pressure that they have put on my mind into adequate words. 

But the good news is that it’s almost over and I can slowly and confidently get back into the business of making things that I love instead of dealing with lawyers, accountants, and paperwork. My life during the last seven months was literally lawyers, accountants, and paperwork. It was awful but it is over as all things are if enough time is given to them.

There’s also some other cool news. 

I bought my wife an iPad, an Apple Pencil, and begged her to use her imagination to make things that she would love to see in the iOS native messaging app.

She has already made three sticker packs that I am preparing for submission to the App Store and I could not be more excited about it. 

My wife is the Alpha creative in the family. She’s a wonderful singer and does not give herself enough credit for how creative she can be with nothing more than a tablet and an electronic pencil. She owns a fashion shop. She dreams in color.

I have also started a relationship with an F&B company that makes absolutely stunning photography for restaurants and also in-house jobs. 

We will be selling those as stock photos soon. There are literally thousands of shots that I have been going through and every single one makes me go Wow.

I feel free.

I lost a friend in the process, which is something that they always tell you will happen if you go into partnership with a friend, but I feel free.

I feel like I can breathe. I feel like I can do things at my own pace and at my own sense of urgency and importance. I feel like I can take care of my staff in the way that I need to. My stress levels have dropped precipitously.

And I could not have asked for a better number two on my team. His loyalty is unshakable. I hit the jackpot with him. Had it not been for his email more than a year or two ago, I would have never put my trust in him to take over much of the work that I have been doing for the last 10 years. He is as loyal to me as a family member. My number two is everything.

Not to mention my wife. She is literally working for free, building the most amazing stickers and iOS application ideas that I have seen in a while, and taking direction and advice from me as any other intern or staff would. She is the ideal companion when it comes to work.

I love her so much for that.

Sacrifice. Everyone on my team now is giving a little now to get back a lot later. This is what I have always wanted so badly. And now we have it.

A team of people dedicated to making amazing work no matter the outcome, no matter the risk, and no matter the sacrifice involved. It feels good. We never talk about money, sales, deadlines, or any of that nonsense. All we talk about is making cool stuff. We follow our mission and we ignore the noise.

My wife and I continue to try to have a child and if we are unable to successfully make it happen naturally we will just do it by science, and soon. IUI. Soon. Super-soon.

I got fat again and I am losing weight again or at least trying to. It’s amazing what business stress can do to the body.

My energy levels are low but they are getting better and I feel peace inside of my heart. That is all I can ask for really. Peace. 

My sleep habits are terrible but I made a promise to my wife that I would change them and I made a promise to my confidant and best friend, the one who I lean on whenever I have problems, that I would make a change in how I sleep. That’s two levels of accountability that I cannot ignore.

My cat is cute.

The mountains are fresh.

I love my mother-in-law as a mother. I do not even call her mother-in-law. I call her Mommy. I love my wife. I love my life.

The last six weeks have been so hard and I have never been more satisfied. I don’t know what will happen with our themes, I don’t know what will happen with our sticker packs, I don’t know what will happen with the applications that we are building, and I don’t know how well the stock photos that I am preparing will do, but none of that really matters at this point.

All that matters is that things are going well, I lead a wonderful team, I partner with amazing people across the globe from Poland to Bangladesh to Vietnam to America, and I work on things that I love every single day. And I do mean every single day.

I trust that whatever outcome happens from the work that we do will be exactly the outcomes that we deserve. I will take all of the losses and I will give my team all of the wins. That is what leaders should do.

I take no days off because I don’t deserve that yet. I don’t deserve anything yet. I haven’t won anything. I deserve to shut up and work. That’s it.

A lot has changed in the last four or five years. The one thing that I have realized has stayed the same is my steadfast commitment to staying true to my feelings and my sense of right and wrong. When it feels wrong I turn the light off and when it feels right I stick with it.

Everything feels so right. It’s been a while since I felt this way. I am a very fortunate man who lives a very lucky life and I have absolutely no room or moral authority to complain about a single shred of my day, even on the hard days.

2017: Personal

This is the side I usually share but once a year. 2016 was transitional. That’s another way of saying awfully hard and sometimes outright cruel. Here’s a look back, so that I may enter Twenty Seventeen having closed this year snugly and with no more desire to reflect.

The Professional will come soon. 40 minutes of 1-take me me me is enough for a Monday in the mountains.

(Previously: 20162015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011)

Mid-Year Update, and WordPress Thoughts

As I age my tolerance for sitting for hours and typing is diminishing. So I’ll try something new. All of these were done in 1 take, with the exception of one due to my wife’s giggle-fits, and I haven’t reviewed them.

Unfiltered and honest. That’s all I can promise.


Life post-Automattic

My diminished role with _s now

What’s my role at Professional Themes?

Thoughts on “commercial” shops and how we communicate licensing to our customers

Advice for anyone applying to or working at a remote company