I managed another day sans complaints. Most days it’s actually pretty easy to do. The likeliest place to slip up is talking about the weather but I’ve just switched my brain over to the logical position of “there is nothing I can do about it unless I win the lottery and buy a private jet and always fly to where it’s sunny so stop grousing about how it’s raining again and also I live in Vancouver, of course it’s raining. Do people in the Sahara complain about sand?”
I don’t actually know if people in the Sahara complain about sand. Some of them probably do.
Today is the 10th anniversary of the MacBook Air, so it is perhaps appropriate to take stock of Apple’s product line as we look back at the debut of the laptop that ushered in many of the design choices (thin, light, etc.) Apple still follows today.
In recent times Apple has faced criticism from a couple of fronts: neglecting certain devices, abandoning standard ports, raising prices to new extremes, introducing “gimmicky” tech and so on. Are the criticisms fair? In some cases yes, in others it’s more complicated.
Here’s a breakdown of where every Apple product is at.
Disclaimer: I am not an industry insider, Apple evangelist, tech guru or even a love guru. I’m just someone who has long been fascinated by Apple and its products, decisions and impact on the world of consumer technology.
I’ve gone from owning a single Apple device–an iPod Classic–to the following (I’m excluding obsolete devices like my iPod nano, may it rest in peace):
Phone 8 (just acquired)
iPad Pro 10.5″
MacBook Pro without Touch Bar (2016 model)
Apple Watch Series 2
Apple TV 4K
Basically I own nearly everything Apple currently sells. I don’t have a Mac Pro, but I do have a 2011 iMac 27″ from work I use for PD.
On to the products:
As expected, Apple killed off the iPod nano and Shuffle last year, leaving the iPod Touch as the only iPod (which got its last significant hardware update in July 2015). I will boldly predict the Touch will get the axe in the next year or so, finally ending the iPod line.
The bulk of Apple’s revenue continues to come from the iPhone, now over a decade old. I remember when we had fuzzy 3.5″ screens–and we liked it!
Last year Apple made the controversial move to eliminate the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, even as the rest of the phone was just an iterative design on the previous 6s, which was an iterative design on the 6. Some phone manufacturers have followed suit with the jack removal, notably Google with the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. It remains to be seen if the rest of the industry follows through. My prediction is the headphone jack will be a scarce thing on most smartphones within two years.
Meanwhile, Apple released three new phones last September. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are again iterative designs, with some tweaks, like glass backs to allow for wireless charging, along with the usual processor and camera improvements. More attention was given to the iPhone X, a near bezel-free design that forsakes the home button and Touch ID for Face ID, introduces an OLED display and, of course, adds animated poop in text messages. The most controversial part was probably the price–$1,000 (over $1300 in Canada with exchange rate).
Scuttlebutt suggests the X sold very well in the first month, with sales falling off notably after, mirroring what happened with the original iPhone in 2007. Back then Apple responded with a price cut. Would they do it again? There’s certainly enough of a gap between the 8 and X to allow for one. Apple hasn’t been cutting prices much lately, though.
Also, the iPhone line-up is a bit bonkers right now. Apple is selling:
iPhone 6s and 6s Plus
iPhone 7 and 7 Plus
iPhone 8 and 8 Plus
No iPhone SEX yet, though.
That’s still eight models to choose from. I expect the 6s and 7 to be culled when the next phones come out in September. There are rumors the SE will be updated, which seems entirely plausible.
I think Apple will forge ahead with its iPhone plans regardless of sales for the next year or two. Price cuts are possible, but I think they’ll only happen if sales begin to fall off significantly.
Last year Apple made the difference between the regular and pro versions of the iPad more distinct, by introducing an iPad (called…iPad) that was in some ways better than the iPad Air 2 (faster processor) but in some ways worse (the screen, size and weight are closer to the original Air). The big change, though, was the price. Instead of the usual $499, it now sells for $329. Apple refreshed the iPad Pro 12.9″ and ditched the 9.7″ Pro, replacing it with a 10.5″ model that is only slightly bigger, thanks to slimmer bezels. The Pro iPads can in some cases equal the performance of decent laptops. The refreshed 2017 line-up saw the first increase in revenue and sales in years, though the difference between revenue and sales gains suggests more people were buying the $329 model.
The overall line-up has been simplified, too, down to four:
iPad mini 4
iPad Pro 10.5″
iPad Pro 12.9″
For the first time, each iPad offers a different size.
I don’t anticipate any dramatic developments for iPads this year, though Apple will continue to push the Pro models as replacements for laptops. I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance the mini will get killed, It hasn’t been updated since 2015.
Apple introduced a 4K version of the Apple TV last year, alongside the current model. It costs a little more and is the priciest Apple TV to date. Unless you’re deep into the Apple ecosystem and have a lot of media purchased through iTunes, there remains little reason to pay the premium when other streaming devices can do what the Apple TV can at much lower prices.
The app store is somnolent. Not dead, exactly, but not particularly alive, either, but it is Apple TV’s biggest differentiating factor compared to other streaming boxes.
The watch went from an ill-conceived fashion accessory to a fitness-focused device and in the process has claimed most of the smartwatch market, setting companies like Fitbit back on its heels. Last year Apple introduced the Series 3, which includes LTE, making the watch more independent of the iPhone. Overall, the Apple Watch has found its niche and is doing well after a slow start.
I don’t expect any big changes this year, but a redesign is a small possibility. Additional sensors may be added, but I’d expect those to come in 2019 or later.
Originally scheduled for December 2017, it’s been bumped to early this year. Many are already declaring it a failure in the making, overpriced ($349) compared to the competition and saddled with inferior voice recognition (Siri vs. Amazon’s Alex or Google’s Assistant). I tend to favor this view. I think the demand for a premium speaker with voice activation is even more niche than something like the watch. It’s kind of like Apple TV–you’ll pay more but if you’re deeply invested in Apple products, the high price might be worth it.
I’m hedging on a prediction here, but leaning toward flop, with a retooling within the year or quiet exit from the market. Then Apple will buy Amazon. :P
And the Macs:
First, my one BOLD Mac prediction: Laptop Macs will support touch no later than 2021.
Nothing has changed since my last overview in August 2016. These aging machines are still selling at the same prices as they did when they were actually new, an embarrassing low light in a line-up that has mostly seen updates over the past year. Apple’s made vague comments indicating support, but nothing more.
I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance the Mac mini will be killed off in the next year. If not, I’d wager on a radical redesign (even smaller and completely sealed).
Last year Apple admitted the “trashcan” Mac Pro was a mistake–a cool-looking design that was self-defeating because it couldn’t properly dissipate heat. So not so cool after all. They have promised a new modular Mac Pro, but so far no specs or release dates have been forthcoming. The current Pro has seen price reductions but it still isn’t exactly cheap.
Apple made a few improvements to the iMac line last year, updating processors, displays and including new options in some standard configurations, such as a dedicated graphics option for the 21″ model and fusion drives as standard for the entire 27″ line. The core design remains unchanged and was last updated in 2012.
I’m not expecting any big changes this year, but I am reasonably confident that sometime before the end of 2019 the iMac will get a full redesign–and be even less user-accessible as a result.
Who wants a $5000 all-in-one? Apple thinks professionals will, so they’ve stuffed professional-grade components into the standard iMac case. It’s only been out for a month, but one retailer has already offered a $1,000 discount, which seems a bit ominous for a new product. Also, unlike other iMacs, users can’t upgrade the ram themselves, it now has to be done by a dealer.
This seems very much like a stop-gap until the revised Mac Pro debuts. I predict the iMac Pro will never see any updates and will be killed off sometime after the new Mac Pro debuts (in Apple time this could still be years).
MacBook Pro (non-Retina)
This was finally killed off, long after it had become outdated. This was the last Apple laptop to ship with an optical drive.
(Old) MacBook Pro (Retina display)
Only the 15″ model survives, the last Pro with a non-butterfly keyboard. I expect it to be axed from the line-up within the year, joining its 13.3″ brethren in the Mac graveyard.
Still the only Mac available in four colors. Get your Rose Gold fix on here. Not much has changed with the MacBook, though it got an improved version of the butterfly keyboard. A processor update and optimizations added another hour of battery life.
I don’t expect any changes in design, though processor updates seem to be happening on a yearly basis, provided there is an appropriate CPU available. This will be the eventual MacBook Air successor (see below).
MacBook Pro (2016/2017)
In October 2016 Apple introduced an all-new design for the 13.3 and 15″ MacBook Pro. The changes:
dropped all legacy ports in favor of USB-C
added an OLED Touch Bar to replace the function keys on all but the base 13.3″ model
changed the keyboard, using an updated version of the butterfly mechanism featured in the MacBook, with firmer keys and very little travel
the usual display and processor updates
thinner and lighter
touch pads the size of the landing deck of an aircraft carrier. In the case of the 15″ model, two aircraft carriers.
Both models were refreshed less than a year later with newer processors, but no other notable changes.
The revamped models have been controversial. The Touch Bar has its advocates, but seems underwhelming 15 months after its introduction. The new keyboard mostly inspires love or hate (I find it strangely unsatisfying to type on–not bad, just kind of joyless).
Apple is unlikely to retreat from any of the design choices made (USB-C, for example, is now on nearly all notable PC laptops, albeit often with a legacy port or two still included), though dissatisfaction with the revised keyboard, as well as production problems plaguing both the 2016 and 2017 models may lead Apple to further revise the butterfly mechanism.
The Touch Bar may live on, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets quietly dropped in a few years.
Today, the MacBook Air is 10 years old and it’s been almost that long since its last update, ho ho. It did get a minor speed bump last year (some believe this only happened because the slower CPU Apple was using was no longer available), but has seen no significant updates since 2012. Most assume it lives on in the line-up as the “affordable” MacBook.
It will likely linger on until Apple is willing to drop the price of the MacBook. The difference is currently $999 vs. $1299. It seems unlikely Apple will reduce the gap soon. Maybe by the end of 2019? There’s also the possibility Apple will just kill off the Air and force people to move to the $1299 MacBook (or $1299 base MacBook Pro).
There are no strong rumors regarding other new Apple products, though they continue to work on Augmented Reality and the retooled car project (shrunk down from an entire Apple car to merely making other cars more Apple-ish).
Summary Apple updated a lot of their devices through 2016 and 2017, to the relief of the faithful, but many of the updates came with controversy and some products still linger around as reminders of the bad old days (hello Mac mini).
Apple’s next quarterly call is coming in a few weeks and while they should report record revenue and profits, it seems likely it will come in the shadow of slowing iPhone X sales. Apple has raised the prices of almost all of its devices–the iPad Pros cost more, the phones cost more, the new MacBooks cost more, the iMac Pro requires you to sell body organs–leaving me to wonder how sustainable it all is, especially when there are indicators that people will scoop up more affordable Apple offerings (the new iPad) while largely staying away from ones that offer poor value vs. the competition (Apple TV).
My hunch is that Apple is poised for a downturn. Nothing like the near-bankruptcy that preceded Steve Jobs’ return in 1997, but something significant enough to prompt the company to react. How it will do so–or if such a downturn even happens–remains to be seen.
I had multiple complaint vectors open up to me today (though not the weather–it was nice and rather mild), but I resisted. I paused when I wanted to say something and let each moment pass. I muttered silently to myself from time to time, but made it through.
Maybe I’ll read up on meditation next or just make up something that seems meditation-like. Meditation is bound to make me even less likely to complain. Unless the meditation goes horribly wrong. I have no idea if that’s even possible, but you never know.
For now, I bask in the modest success of Day 2 (again).
My first thought is: I’m too young for dementia, followed quickly by: But I’m not too young to be hearing things. I grab the phone and shove it into the same pocket with my glove. I leave the glove there because I know if I try to take it out and put it on, it’s going to just plop into the snow, guaranteed.
I stand upright and turn around toward South Street to face who or whatever is walking toward me, even though I know there is no way someone could have come from that direction without me seeing or hearing them.
There is, of course, no one there. The footsteps stopped as I turned.
My mind is playing tricks on me. I don’t like this. It’s happened before and it will happen again, but it’s annoying and also I know my great-grandmother actually had dementia, so there’s a history of it in the family and every time something like this happens it terrifies me a little, because it reminds me that the same fate could await me in my later years.
It’s too cold to be thinking about such things. I put the glove on and resume the trudge up to South Street and, hopefully, a firmer entry back into the world where phantom footsteps do not occur.
You know what happens next.
The footsteps resume behind me, coming from the original direction. For a moment this is oddly reassuring. The reassurance is tossed aide quickly and replaced with annoyance. No fear, no terror, just plain annoyance. I’m moving through the five stages of something. I don’t stop. I don’t look back. I just walk. South Street is only a minute away, less if I continue my imitation of The Little Snow Plow That Could.
The wind abruptly picks up and whips in from the east, blasting my face. It’s cold enough to take my breath away. I pull my chin in and adjust the collar of my jacket up. The wind almost sounds like it’s chuckling. Mocking me. And freezing my ass off.
The gust dies down as suddenly as it started and the air is so still and quiet I realize I have stopped moving.
The footsteps have stopped. Not just mine, all of them. Good.
The collar of my jacket flutters. The wind is picking up again. Probably a fresh storm moving in. I seem to recall hearing that on a radio playing somewhere. Time to get moving and get out of here. I resume my seemingly eternal trek to South Street, ignoring the creepy chuckling sound the wind makes. That’s not true, actually, part of my mind is wondering how the acoustics can produce something that sounds so near to a human voice. Maybe the same thing that makes phantom footsteps.
Stupid access road. Next time I’m sticking to the nicely shoveled sidewalks, even if it adds another kilometer or two to my walk. At least I won’t get home sopping wet from the knees down and wondering if my senior years will feature my mind turning into pudding.
I reach the small hill leading up to South Street and begin my ascent, imagining I’m scaling the peak of some mighty mountain. Not Everest, I’d die about ten times on the way up. But still, a mountain of some sort.
I slip and nearly fall. I shoot out my hands for balance and stop to adjust my grip in the snow. I look up and around, flakes are starting to fall again. Even though the rest of the way is plowed and shoveled, home and hot chocolate feel a long way off.
I take another step and this time my foot lands on an ivisible, ice-covered banana peel. My arms pinwheel fruitlessly, though no doubt it would look hilarious to a passerby, then I land hard on my back. Because I’m on a slope the effect is enhanced and I feel that sick whump as the air is knocked out of me. I lay there on my back, flakes gently landing on my cheeks and melting, then make my first attempt to get back up and slide a bit back down the hill. This would still prove hilarious to a passerby, I’m certain.
I’m not hurt, but the disorientation is making it difficult to focus. The wind switches back to roaring and the gentle snowflakes turn on me, pelting into my face.
This is when the chuckling I hear in the wind starts sounding more like a person and less like a byproduct of acoustics. It sounds like it’s coming from behind my head, which is currently smushed down in the crumpled snow made by my footsteps. I see a shadow fall over me. I’m not sure what to think. It’s too cold to pee my pants, so I hold my bladder tight.
Today I’m back to Day 1 of my 21-day challenge to go complaint-free after all the complaining and whatnot yesterday.
I ran, found my inner Zen (I’m not sure what an outer Zen is, actually) and despite encountering multiple dogs off-leash I said nothing, continued on my way, had a good run, enjoyed the sun and ended the day feeling relaxed and rested.
Considering I woke up with a headache, this is even more impressive. The headache was remedied by both Advil and a bubble bath. It’s hard to feel negative when you are reclining in warm water and surrounded by pleasant-smelling bubbles.
I’m stocking up on bubble bath.
On to Day 2 (a Monday–dun dun dun!)
And a digression: Is my Bad Design category on this blog just another way to complain? Yes, it is! Will I be removing it? No, I won’t! But why? Am I making crazy and arbitrary exceptions? No. Instead, when I highlight something that I feel is a bad design, I’ll point out why and suggest ways in which it could be improved. My point in these posts was never to just rant about things, but to examine why certain design decisions end up being poor or sub-optimal and pointing out better ways. Also, I do point out good design, too, especially when it notably stands in contrasts to similar but poorer designs.
Location: Burnaby Lake (CCW)
Start: 12:51 pm
Distance: 10.02 km
Weather: Sun and fog
Weight: 162.4 pounds
Total distance to date: 4405 km
Devices: Apple Watch, iPhone 8
I got off to a late start today, waking with a headache and unsure whether I would run at all. I took some Advil, had a bath and by noon had changed into shorts and a dual layer up top. I thought I’d do a 5K at the river but on the way changed my mind and instead did a full 10K at the lake.
In hindsight I probably would have been okay with a single layer, possibly even just a regular t-shirt, but certainly a long-sleeved one. Having two layers did not leave me excessively warm, though. I did sweat more than I normally would given the cooler temperature.
Conditions were interesting. The temperature hovered around 6-7ºC, but with little breeze I was fine wearing shorts. The first three km it was quite foggy, with everything in the distance obscured by mist. Kind of cool. Also literally kind of cool. Beyond that the sun burned through and it remained sunny for the remainder of the run. Puddles were minimal. The occasional goose honked.
This was the first run with my new iPhone 8 and while I assumed the GPS would be pretty close to that on the 6, it seemed off, as I had to run well past my usual stopping point and didn’t hit 10 km until I was at the dam–nearly a full loop around the lake. A full loop is officially 10.3 km and I run three side trails that extend it even more, so it seems the phone was still calibrating or some such. We’ll see how it compares over the next few runs.
Because of the extra length my run extended to 59 minutes and my pace was 5:53/km. I don’t think it would have been blazing fast otherwise, as I was trying to keep to a more moderate pace, but it would have been a bit speedier.
The run went fine, with the left knee feeling mysteriously untroubled. Perhaps the Advil worked its dark magic on it. Regardless, it was nice. The left butt muscle got a little stiff well into the run, but proved only a mild issue at best.
Due to the later start the trail was fairly busy, with lots of walkers, joggers, dogs, kids and flitting birds, but there were no problems with navigation at all, even when on the boardwalks with multiple people.
One saucy young guy did run past me early on. I stuck my tongue out at him as he went by, my way of wishing him well in his jog.
The more moderate pace did have a notable effect on my BPM, which dropped to a downright calm 156. Other than wondering briefly if I’d have to complete more than a full loop to hit 10K, the run went well. I am pleased.
On the sixth day of my 21 day complaint-free quest I complained. I started the day in a negative frame of mind and it just took over until the complaining started.
Tomorrow I reset to Day 1.
Briefly, what happened was this:
I had to stay home for a dryer ventilation inspection. It’s one of those things that only takes a minute but you never know when they’re going to arrive. I did laundry and ran a load of dishes, but was mildly annoyed at having to stay put.
Part of this annoyance was due to my watch not connecting to the phone. It apparently stopped doing so shortly after noon yesterday for reasons unknown. I spent a lot of time fruitlessly troubleshooting this.
After the ventilation guy left (testing vents involves a rubber hose and jet-loud suction) I decided to go out and maybe get a new phone as a way to brute-force a solution (I had concluded the watch was fine and the phone, now 3+ years old, was acting hinky)
I walked to Lougheed on my usual route and a couple with a pair of dogs entered the Brunette River trail just ahead of me. The dogs were off-leash and running around in a hyperactive “what was in their kibble?” kind of way. This was a huge red flag to me. I growled to myself and the guy corralled his dogs and hustled them off the trail to the river. I’m not sure if this was his plan or if he didn’t like the look on my face, but it did little to appease me.
Further up the trail a woman with another dog off-leash. The dog approaches me, getting up close and personal. The owner calls the dog back. I turn to her and say, “They’ll fine you for having your dog off-leash.” Technically it’s a statement, so I’m still good, but my mood is not. My doom is approaching.
I cross a foot bridge near Lougheed and on the other side is another woman with a yellow lab. Normally a cute dog, but this one, off-leash, ran up and proceeded to poke me with its snout. I growled again, loudly and in a somewhat sustained manner. I said in a curt tone, “Leash your dog.” The woman and dog crossed the bridge, the dog remaining off-leash. I called back again, “Leash your dog!” It occurred to me later that she may not have even had a leash. At the far end of the bridge I could see the woman beckoning to her dog. The dog was off exploring nearby bushes. The dog was doing what it wanted to do. It was a happy dog. I ended my interaction by shouting, “I hope your dog bites someone!”
Now, telling someone to leash their dog is not of itself a complaint. It’s a request. But as the author of A Complaint Free World notes, it’s often how you say something and the way I, er, barked out my words, it was clear I was complaining, not just offering some kindly advice. And so my blue rubber band made its first journey to my left wrist.
I’ll put it back on the right wrist tomorrow and try to do better. I wonder how the whole sequence of events would have ended if I’d had a 10 or 15-day streak going instead.
I’m disappointed, but at the same time a little relieved. I’ve gotten my warning and with a lot of potential complaint points coming up, I will have to be even more vigilant in what I say and how I feel.
Also, I got the new phone and my watch is happy again, so yay.
I did a lot more talking today than earlier this week, particularly with co-workers and I have a nebulous feeling I may have complained, but it’s very vague–I can’t point to anything specific, even as I recall a conversation in which I expressed concerns about certain things. These weren’t complaints because I readily admitted to the benefits of said things, while also pointing out that certain aspects were left unaddressed. I thought aloud about possible solutions, trying to remain positive.
And that was as close to complaining as I got, so I think I got through Day 5 intact. I did hear others complaint, but in response I either grunted noncommittally (I should practice this in the mirror to get it just right) or I’d find some positive aspect to highlight instead.
Grumpy person: Oh look, it’s raining again. What a surprise! Me: Umbrella vendors must be making record profits. Grumpy person: …
I’m going to chalk this up as Day 5 with no complaints. If the weather is better next week, I’ll be cautiously optimistic that I’ll keep my streak going.
Here’s Part 3 of this writing exercise. I have no idea how many parts there will be or how it will end. Or if it will end. Like real exercise, you never know until you get to the gym and start sweating. Okay, that was a terrible analogy.
I am not surprised, but neither am I especially pleased, because I was certain there was someone behind me and the acoustics in the area are not likely to lead me to mistake my own footsteps for those of someone else.
But even as I think this the whole experience begins to muddy in my mind. I am cold and a little tired and in no mood to play games with my own brain. I give in, give up. Yes, I imagined the entire thing. No one was following me. No one was there.
Instead of trudging forward and that much closer to the delicious steaming mug of hot chocolate that would be mine, I pivot around and face the way I came from. I retrace my steps, peering down into the trodden snow, examining my shoe prints and looking for others. There’s not enough light and given that letting my imagination fill in the blanks is quite possibly the reason I am now walking opposite my destination, I stop, pull out my phone and turn on its flashlight function (I wonder if it’s called Torch mode in the UK). I crouch down, my knees creaking unhappily from the cold and the damp, and wave the phone across the path I’ve made. I can see my prints clearly. I don’t see any others.
My imagination, that’s all. Time for hot chocolate and some apparently well-needed rest.
I continue to backtrack just a little more, having not quite reached the point of total satisfaction. It’s kind of like art–I’ll know it when I see it. Or in this case, when I get there.
The not-terribly-impressive beam of light sweeps back and forth from the phone and suddenly it slips through my gloved hand, landing in the snow with a soft plop. It sinks a little. I mutter a choice epitaph, then reach down to scoop it out, but the glove endows my hand with the gift of clumsiness and I instead push it further into the snow.
More cursing ensues. I pull the glove off and stuff it into a coat pocket. I begin fishing with my bare fingers, already numbing from the cold.
It is then that I hear the footsteps coming from behind me.
Back at work it was more challenging but ultimately not that difficult to go without complaining and I’ve discovered that I can still make wisecracks that are legitimately not complaints in disguise. Yay.
I keep telling people that I’m doing this because I think there’s a reasonable chance that when I slip up I may not even notice it, so independent verification will be handy.
While I won’t say it’s been easy so far, I really do think that recognizing “complaint mode” has helped a lot. A couple of times I would think about saying something but silently ask myself first (as you tend to look a bit loco when you ask yourself questions out loud), “Is this actually a complaint?” and realize it was and then I’d just let it go. I wouldn’t think of another way to rephrase the statement, I’d just move on.
For example, the queue at work is very big right now, probably the largest it’s ever been. I could easily complain about it, but instead I don’t. I think about it, but when it comes to actually speaking, I’ll make suggestions on how to address it, propose solutions. You know, the opposite of complaining. It seems very Pollyanna-ish, but to heck with it. Who didn’t like Pollyanna? (Note: I’ve never seen the movie, so I have no idea if a major plot point turned on everyone secretly hating her or something.)
There’s 17 more days to go. It seems improbable that I will get there without interruption, but much like my quest to make 2018 donut-free, sometimes you just gotta believe (2018 has so far been donut-free).
Today was kind of a gimme for not complaining because I was at home sick and had pretty much zero interaction with any sort of sentient human. Or non-sentient, for that matter.
There was a golden opportunity to break my streak when I asked Jeff how his day was when he got home, but after an initial complaint he made a conscious effort to switch over to something positive instead. This was both thoughtful and practical, because up to that point I was largely just standing there like a statue, mute and unable to respond. I didn’t want to affirm his complaint, but neither did I want to just stand there like a lump staring at him (one of my favorite examples from the book A Complaint Free World is the family that went in on the challenge and found themselves sitting around the dinner table as if they all had Cones of Silence on them because they were unable to speak to each other. This changed, eventually, of course, but the early days were a vivid illustration of how dinner time was also venting time).
So far I haven’t missed complaining much. I already feel my brain trying to switch over more to problem-solving mode. Fortunately I have a lot of problems to solve to keep it occupied.
Part 1 can be found here or if you hate clicking and being whisked away by the internet, it’s also available in the spoiler tag below.
A Walk in the Snow, Part 1 (click the expand)
A Walk in the Snow, Part 1
It is very quiet in the snow.
That’s how I hear the person walking behind me. I stop and a moment later the person stops. It is silent again.
I am walking down a service road that’s about two kilometers long. Its main function is to provide access to railway workers and park staff, but there’s little vehicle traffic on it most days. Tonight it’s covered in virgin snow and I’m up to my knees in the stuff after an early winter blast. My breath frosts in front of me, a steamy cloud that drifts up into a clear, dark sky and disappears.
I’m about halfway down the road, heading toward South Street, the main road that runs through my neighborhood. I live a few blocks east of South. I like telling people that, then watch their faces as they try to process it.
It’s bright enough to make my way without a flashlight. There is no artificial light here, just the stars dotting the black above and the snow shimmering around me.
I became aware of the footsteps–more the sound of someone pushing their way through the snow, really–a few minutes earlier. Twice I’ve tested by stopping and the person following has also stopped. It’s hard to escape the sensation that I am prey being stalked. The snow is just deep enough to make a quick escape impossible. The closest things to weapons I carry are my house keys and smartphone. I keep my breathing calm, knowing this person is probably close enough to see the puffs. Don’t show signs of panic. I gaze up at the sky, as if I’m looking for a constellation. Casual. Curious. Inconspicuous.
I resume walking and count one thousand one, one thousand two. The footsteps resume behind me, shushing through the snow. It will take at least fifteen minutes to reach South Street, where the road is plowed, the sidewalks shoveled and regular traffic passes by. It seems very far away. I strain to hear cars but it’s late and all I hear are my steps and the ones mirrored behind me.
A Walk in the Snow, Part 2
It’s nothing, I tell myself. Well, obviously it’s something, but it’s just someone who happened to hit the service road shortly after I did, probably using it as a shortcut in the same way, and the only reason they stop every time I stop is they don’t want to close the gap between us and get awkwardly close, which would be even creepier than simply walking a respectable distance behind.
This is logical enough that my mind clicks over from “stalker with knife will paint the snow with my blood” to “thinking about inane activities to engage in once home and the kettle of water is boiling for a big mug of hot chocolate.” I feel tension is my shoulders and neck ease up, the knots loosening. There’s a long lazy S in the road up ahead and once I’m into the second curve of it I’ll be able to see South Street. If it turns out I’m wrong I can start screaming like a little girl and plunge ahead in the snow, waving my arms frantically to catch the attention of drivers. I can hope the brushed aluminum casing of my phone is more solid than the drop test videos on YouTube suggest if I must brandish it as a weapon.
I enter the midway point of the S and realize my heart is racing and the shoulder and neck muscles have turned taut, but not from fear–from excitement, the excitement of having made it through whatever it was that has been happening on this snow-covered service road. I am likely excited because of an overactive imagination and that produces an actual giggle, one I stifle almost immediately. He might hear it. Or she. Or it.
I pick the pace up a bit, fancying myself an inefficient but determined snow plow. I’m in the bottom of the S now and there it is ahead, the light standard at the entrance of the service road, casting its alien yellow light over the gate that is locked and piled on with snow, looking like a Christmas diorama. Beyond it is South Street. The angle means I can’t quite see it yet, as the service road climbs a short hill where it connects to the main road, but I hear a vehicle go by.
Feeling brave, if not totally victorious, I lurch ahead a little more than stop and dare to turn around and see who has been following me.