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April 24, 2011 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Cranking. "She couldn't really help my Dad. My Dad couldn't really help her. But they sure tried. She cranked and cranked. I was seven. I didn't know how to help anyone." - A brief essay on life, happiness and work by Merlin Mann.
posted by Memo (50 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really want to say "Well if this is the best he can write, he better not quit his day jo... oh." But Merlin Mann is, like, one of the nicest people anywhere, and I don't really mean it, so I'm going to attempt to both make my joke and apologize for it in one post. Ready? Here goes:
posted by rusty at 8:56 AM on April 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


All I have to say is "Wow." I really like Merlin Mann's writing, and his views on productivity and living life (along with all the GTD stuff he preaches) have definitely impacted my development as a person and as a responsible adult in the early branch of my 20s. To have him come out and write so profoundly about the experiences that made him who he is, and to write so simply and honestly – that's pretty amazing and only cements my respect for him as a thoughful, honest and humble human being. Thanks for this.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 9:00 AM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, well, that's fine for Merlin...
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:03 AM on April 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


(btw, thanks for posting)
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:03 AM on April 24, 2011


It's a great story, and man, would I love to read the book he really wants to write. I wonder if his publisher will have the patience for it or really just cut him loose. Sounds like they signed him up for a email tips guide and he wants to go way deeper.
posted by mathowie at 9:11 AM on April 24, 2011


Thing is, she screams "DAD-dy!" like the most impossibly great thing in the world has just happened. Every single morning. Right by my bed. Without a crank in sight.

And, you know what? Something impossibly great has happened.

Because an annoying, rambling, disagreeable little man like me gets to have this alarm clock in piggy-patterned footie jammies run up to a regular, crank-less, healthy-Dad, non-hospital bed and make him feel like he's The Greatest Thing in the Universe.

Just like I think she's The Greatest Thing in the Universe.

Just like I thought my Dad was The Greatest Thing in the Universe.
Aw.

/sniffs
posted by Phire at 9:51 AM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a big Merlin Mann fan (and a huge You Look Nice Today fan), but not so big that I regularly read his blog. Not because I disagree with anything, just because it's not always relevant to me. Time management being what it is.

But this is a great, inspiring piece. Good on him for taking his own advice, one of the hardest things there is. Go get it, man. Go fucking get it.
posted by penduluum at 10:03 AM on April 24, 2011


Oh, hey, he went to New College. Cool!

(It was down the road from the art school I went to in the early 80's. Great place for selfdirected students who wanted to design their own studies. And they had a great pool that they let Ringling students use! At the time, anyway.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:12 AM on April 24, 2011


This was just outstanding.

I've been reading Merlin's stuff since he used to be the Hipster PDA guy, then when he became (through no fault of his own, really) everyone's go-to guy for their narcissistic navel-gazey questions about personal organization and Moleskine notebooks and blah blah blah.

He's much more interesting since he shucked off all that junk, and frankly, I find him a hundred times more compelling now that his writing helps encourage people to concentrate on what really matters more than making sure your binder clips and sharpies are organized personally.

Maybe I just read this at the right time of my life, but yeah...totally inspirational.
posted by AngerBoy at 10:16 AM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hope it goes well for you, Merlin. Thanks for what you do. What you do matters. To me and my family, certainly.
posted by middleclasstool at 10:30 AM on April 24, 2011


It's such a great piece because unlike his essay "Better," it isn't fine for Merlin. "Better" to a degree is hard to relate to. If you have to file your TPS reports or go to a meeting and can't find another job, it's hard to "turn off" in the way Merlin suggests.

And if you listened to the 40 minutes of ranting in the most recent After Dark, about the publishing process, and covers, and how Merlin doesn't know why he accepted this book deal, you're expecting something completely different at the end than the acknowledgement of "I'm probably going to be sued." So there's almost a big twist at the end.

If you have a first world job, knowledge work, work in the service industry, etc. it's a reminder that there's real consequences to some of this stuff. It's easy to say Merlin has it made until you realize he's working unpaid overtime, missing his family, and possibly going to get fired, just like everyone else.
posted by Taco John at 10:44 AM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


St. Alia, I was there some of the same years he was. Didn't know him super well, but he was a friend of friends. Anyway, one of my favorite memories of NC was his unbelievably awesome rendition of Billy Bragg's "A New England" at a coffee shop. Late 80s, I suppose that would be.

Funny enough, I was unaware of his work and website until it was mentioned in an AskMe thread a while back. This was a great piece.
posted by Glinn at 10:56 AM on April 24, 2011


(On preview: Taco John pointed out) some good Merlin Mann stuff: the "Better" essay and a pair of podcasts he appears on, Back to Work and After Dark (as far as I know, the origin of "Well, that's fine for Merlin..."). He's also MetaFilter's own merlinmann.
posted by ddbeck at 10:57 AM on April 24, 2011


as far as I know, the origin of "Well, that's fine for Merlin..."

Back to Work and 5by5 popularized it as a meme, but it comes from the Q&A of his talks, especially his Inbox Zero talks, where someone essentially asks him "Well that's fine for you, as a professional blogger, but how do I, a person with a real job, put this into practice?"
posted by Taco John at 11:12 AM on April 24, 2011


The article is lovely because it's so sweet and personal. I read it a couple days back and it's been on my mind since. It's good stuff.

That said, the article much like his podcast is so damn rambling. I enjoyed what he was doing before not because it was GTD Wankery but because it was very to the point. I think a lot of his recent writing is way too stream of consciousness. Or something.
posted by chunking express at 11:14 AM on April 24, 2011


"actually, i'm an actress. i just do this waitressing thing to keep it real."
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 11:28 AM on April 24, 2011


the article much like his podcast is so damn rambling.

The thing is, though, even in his rambling, he's sharper than almost any writer addressing issues of attention management, focusing on good work, and making things that matter. I love that he derides Top __ List bloggers and lifepreneurs and other charlatans who wank around talking about issues like what kind of tea you should drink or what kind of secret silver bullet is going to imbue your work with meaning and deliver a neatly-packaged set of followers.

I love his work, and his thinking, and hope that dramatic actions like this can help him do what he needs to do. I'm looking forward to whatever comes out of this time, even if that's simply a stronger relationship between him and his daughter.
posted by Alt F4 at 11:45 AM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I was a professional writer I could probably make quitting my job sound profound, too.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:50 AM on April 24, 2011


If I was a professional writer I could probably make quitting my job sound profound, too.

Canonical that's-fine-for-Merlinism.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:41 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's great for him, that he's taking hold of the rudder of his life and jerking back on course to a place that's better. That's great.

You know what I don't have? A daughter. Also? No wife. There's no face that lights up in my presence, and definitely no joyous "DADdy DADdy!" in the morning to give me a moment to pause and reflect on the ephemeral yet profound nature of such joys.

I also don't have an audience of thousands of nerds who will pay enough attention to everything I say and write such that I can more or less make a living off of my blog and my speaking gigs.

So while I love Merlin, and I do, Merlin is a nice name and he's such a nice, funny, honest guy that it's pretty much impossible not to love him, the implicit subtext here—the "you need to quit doing shit that distracts you from what's important in life"—doesn't really apply to people like me, who command an audience of zero, who are important to no one, and who thus cannot focus on what really matters, since nothing does.

And so this piece—this very beautiful piece—just makes me sad, since it reminds me what a terrible failure I am.

I wish I could quit my job to spend more time with my daughter, to focus on what's important in life. But to do that, I would need a daughter. And a job. And a life.
posted by pts at 1:20 PM on April 24, 2011 [13 favorites]


that's-fine-for-Merlinism

The definition of this term is: "being dismissive of a course of action that only works for a tiny minority of people who can pay their bills regardless of whether they have a regular job or not, because you do not belong to said group." Right?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:40 PM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


The definition of this term is: "being dismissive of a course of action that only works for a tiny minority of people who can pay their bills regardless of whether they have a regular job or not, because you do not belong to said group." Right?

Actually, you nailed it pretty much 100%. The only difference is the tone in which it is expressed.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:45 PM on April 24, 2011


I'm really disappointed that a)this isn't about meth and b)this wasn't a good essay about "about choosing a hard thing and then living with it because it's your thing and never letting your hard work fuck up the good things." I think there's a kernel of real wisdom somewhere between all the disconnected sentences but this essay is sub-livejournal writing. It reads like someone's notes for a first draft of an essay.

Also, what pts saidX2. Seems like heteronormativity is fine for Merlin.
posted by fuq at 1:46 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know what I don't have? A daughter. Also? No wife.

Do I really need to say this? At no point has Merlin ever said that his priorities should be your priorities. The subtext under everything he writes / says is that you need to find the things in your life that matter to you, and then ask yourself: "How many things do I need to shed, cancel, defer, drop, shank, or shit-can with extreme prejudice in order to singlemindedly focus on this one thing that I love?" If there's nothing in your life that you love — whether that's the work itself or the people for whom you do that work — nothing Merlin says can help you. He'd be the first to tell you that.
posted by Alt F4 at 2:34 PM on April 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


I like how he takes the long road to say what he says. Saw him a little while back at Webstock and it was about the most perfect capper: Scared Shitless: How I (Mostly) Learned to Love Being Afraid of Pretty Much Everything
posted by roobot at 2:35 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nice roobot.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 2:57 PM on April 24, 2011


It took a professional writer to finally put the last nail in the small, cheap coffin in which I'll personally bury the word "awesome."
posted by paulsc at 3:10 PM on April 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


Even literalists have daughters, she's just not human. Think about it.
posted by rhizome at 3:44 PM on April 24, 2011


This thing made my ovaries hurt.
posted by DigDoug at 4:04 PM on April 24, 2011


Pandora playing Gary Jule's cover of Mad World right as I begin reading this article was quite serendipitous.
posted by lyam at 5:31 PM on April 24, 2011


don't know this guy's work & don't really know what the story is about because i can't get beyond the crank. my father's bed didn't have a crank or at least not that i remember, but it was in the living room. i wasn't 9 & it wasn't his death bed--i was only 4 or 5, but the death bed would come when i was 9. my father had polio, and had some sort of operation that included a toe-to-hip cast. they did it in the summer when he was off work he was a teacher, high school, business, and to the best of my recollection he spent a long, hot summer mostly confined to the living room. so no crank, but i remember the urinal just like they have in hospitals for bedridden patients and i remember that the cast made his leg itch. so he'd give us a pencil & have us put it at the foot end of the cast eraser side, i imagine & scratch his leg with the pencil. i also remember and this is gross but it's what i remember picking dead skin off of his foot.

so yeah. hospital bed in the living room, lots of visitors, but no sobbing outdoorsy men; that would come when i was 9, and the outdoorsy men weren't outdoorsy men at all, but stada babbas--big, ancient slavic women with a rosary in one hand and a handkerchief in the other, wailing--keening--mikey, mikey, mikey, and then they'd grab one of us & press us to their ample bosoms and say, your father! your father! you be good girl!, and then go back to their wailing. the outdoorsy men equivalents were more of the hardworking, blue collar sort, a few white collars, and they would stand stiffly and clench their jaws. no pressing us to their bosom equivalents, a pat on the head or in my brother's case, a handshake.

so what was this story even about? because i don't know. all i know is that it's been 45 years this month and right up until my mother died a few years ago, we never talked about his death, either. maybe that was a product of the times or maybe it's because the whole damn prolonged death thing is so exhausting that it kind of leaves you numb. and what is there, really, to say? besides, well, that sucks.

i suppose it sounds naive, but i didn't know anyone else grew up that way. i don't know whether i should be grateful or angry at mr. merlin mann, but i can tell you this: the part of the story that i read that stuck with me? it *really* is sticking with me.

thanks for indulging me.
posted by msconduct at 5:37 PM on April 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


I had to stop at "cattywampus."
posted by thorny at 5:52 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


35 years this June when the cancer finished eating my dad, except I was the one at 17 cranking...and injecting him with morphine in a vain attempt to lessen his pain. Damn water still leaks from my eyes...
posted by IslandTrust at 9:10 PM on April 24, 2011


Wait, how many New College / Ringling people are there in this thread? Geez. (I liked this essay.)
posted by feckless at 9:22 PM on April 24, 2011


oh god fuck you merlin i just broke up with my fucking husbands for the third time in four months (it's messy) the day after i decided i wasn't going to cancel a shared project of ours that meant a lot to me, damnit, and not ten minutes ago i was putting all the notes for said project on a shelf in lieu of putting it in a box labeled "my broken heart". and now here you are going on about how much you love your awesome daughter and your awesome wife and how you're going to write the book you want to write and it will also be awesome.

i guess that's good for you, merlin, more power to you, good luck. me, i'm sitting here all alone on a bed that normally holds three. as i take a break from moving the contents of my studio into the bedroom. i'm gonna be living in this house of pain for at least a few more weeks, because i got a phone call from the owners of the lovely apartment i looked at last week telling me i was too late. and i've got a bunch of copies of one awesome chapter of the great american furry graphic novel that i'm probably never going to finish sitting on the bottom shelf in my closet.

you wanna talk sacrifice for what matters to you? yeah, here i am putting my crazy fictional daughter in storage, quite possibly forever, while the back of my head insists that i'm going to be back to working on this thing like it or not pretty soon.

sometimes i wish i didn't have any dreams of producing great art. at all. sometimes i wish i was just content to sit on my ass and have a kid and work for someone else to make enough to raise them in relative comfort and have my collection of consumer junk to make the emptiness tolerable.

ps. sudden death leaves you numb too. it's just a different numbness. it'll be twenty-eight years this july since we found my father dead on the kitchen floor on the morning of my twelfth birthday. took me about twenty of those years to even begin to recover and think about trying to have any kind of emotional connection to anyone again.

life sucks and then you die, i guess. if you're lucky you can manage to do a few cool things before then. if you're really lucky some of those cool things will survive for a few generations. or maybe if you're really unlucky you'll be driven to try and make some cool things that will do that, i dunno.

anyway, please pardon me spilling bitterness all over here.
posted by egypturnash at 11:35 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I couldn't make it through this, it was so repetitive and twee. "Sub-livejournal" writing indeed. If he's a professional writer, why the flurk doesn't he know the difference between lie and lay and laid? And why does he imagine banalities like "She won't always run to my bed in footie jammies" to be profound?

I generally have a high opinion of the intelligence and taste of mefites, but the fact that so many of you guys aren't pinching your nostrils shut and walking away quickly from this pile of shit gives me pause.
posted by parrot_person at 4:28 AM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's reasonable to expect anyone to read this piece in isolation. Without the context of at least the last 2.5 years of Merlin-generated content (the short-lived daily Vimeo pieces, Back to Work, the Webstock talk, among much more), this piece won't make any sense, will seem to come out of nowhere.

Context, as always, matters. Within that context, however, this piece is powerful.
posted by gsh at 6:29 AM on April 25, 2011


I generally have a high opinion of the intelligence and taste of mefites, but the fact that so many of you guys aren't pinching your nostrils shut and walking away quickly from this pile of shit gives me pause.

Lighten up? Of course you are welcome to dismiss any writing that doesn't appeal to you, for whatever reason. But to question the intelligence or taste of a buncha folks who like something that isn't grammatically perfect... isn't that a bit over the top snobby?

I didn't love some of the repetitive factor of the piece either, but I found a lot to dig in there.
./shrug
posted by Glinn at 8:23 AM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


So a real live human being writes something incredibly honest and most likely really tough and risky and you think it's OK to knock him for some grammar mistakes or 'repetitiveness'? Give me a huge fucking break here people (I use that term loosely).

Merlin, keep going man. Write the book you want. And keep sharing this kind of stuff.
posted by thepalephantom at 8:30 AM on April 25, 2011


I was seriously confused and thought this was about a 7-year-old kid on crank.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:21 AM on April 25, 2011


This took some guts for Merlin to publish. I think a lot of us make decisions like this in our lives but we rarely articulate it to ourselves and others for fear of being judged. It's especially revealing because he's associated with the GTD camp. The assumption among his readers being that he's figured "it" out – navigating work and life and everything else with the greatest of ease. But this exposes him as someone who is trying to figure out the right balance in his life just as you and I.

Two tangential thoughts: 1) I do wish he would tone down the stream of consciousness stuff on the podcasts. It might be appropriate for some formats, but it's really difficult to follow and whatever point he's trying to make, and 2) For you mefites who get hung up on style/grammer stuff, please stop. You end up looking pedantic and don't really contribute to the substance of the conversation here.
posted by quadog at 10:26 AM on April 25, 2011


I generally have a high opinion of the intelligence and taste of mefites, but the fact that so many of you guys aren't pinching your nostrils shut and walking away quickly from this pile of shit gives me pause.

Not to call you out personally, but you people know that it's OK for other people to be happy, right? I mean, this isn't nearly as "twee" as mentioned and it's not maudlin. I don't think Merlin needs me to defend him and I'm certainly not an expert on his writing, but he just doesn't strike me as a "professional writer." He's a "hey thanks, man" dotcommer who got some luck and was in the right place at the right time with the right attitude and maybe a couple of ideas, too. He's one of the most disgustingly self-actualized people I know of, his heart seems to be in the right place, and I really appreciated this essay. Anything on topics like this is going to sound "personalzine," and LJish, big whoop. I don't see AskMe'ers critiquing self-help books, which I think take the opposite approach, to that standard: "It's so generalized!"
posted by rhizome at 11:20 AM on April 25, 2011


I've found the Back to Work podcast to be pretty consistently interesting, & I hope he's in better shape in the morning.

Listening to last week's After Dark really really made me want to see the publisher's suggested covers. The "wtf?!" responses might have built up my expectations.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:38 AM on April 26, 2011


Oh, hey, Merlin Mann! That's that guy who once linked to something I said on his blog. Cool, cool.

*reads*

Aww. Awwwwwwww... I have something in my eye. Esp. the parts about him and his dad. That's the relationship my dad and I had for the first part of my life, and that we were working to rebuild when The Cancer cancered him.

Way to go, man. Mann. Whatevs. The world needs more people who aren't afraid to do the hard things, to share the sorrows and the joys, to remind us what it is to be human. These are the things that unite us all, and they're far stronger than any of the bullshit justifications we invent to divide ourselves.
posted by Eideteker at 5:38 AM on April 26, 2011


Back to Work is going now - streaming the live taping for the podcast.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:22 AM on April 26, 2011


I listend to the show. It's basically him talking about the post and it's response. Sadly, like all the previous ones, it's also super rambling. I wish the editing was as slick as Radiolab's.
posted by chunking express at 7:13 AM on April 27, 2011


Merlin makes a lot of things that I enjoy for free, so criticism seems like poor form. Still, I do struggle a little bit with the problem that completing projects can sometimes be a real slog, that you can grow to hate the project, but actually completing projects despite those feelings is an important part of being productive/employed. When you are deep down the well of hating the project, it's hard to know the difference between "I hate this project because it isn't what I really want to do with my life" versus "I hate this project because the project isn't new anymore, work is hard, and completing something can be really hard."
posted by Mid at 8:22 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The world needs more people who aren't afraid to do the hard things, to share the sorrows and the joys, to remind us what it is to be human.

Yeah, but I think I rambling blogger writing about how he's having trouble writing a book isn't that. Flaking out on one's responsibility to a contract and spinning it into aw-shucks banalities is not a Hard Thing. To describe this essay as "remind[ing] us what it is to be human" is offensive because it is a reminder that humans are monogamous, heterosexual, and child-bearing, which actually doesn't describe all humanity and implies that some people are not human. This is not an essay about being human at all. It is an essay about being a privileged white man with the resources to be able to publicly flake on an under-considered book contract.

If it was edited it would have been much much better because I still think there is a good point about handling business vs. personal stuff in there, but it's obscured by rambling shmoop. The good point does not apply to all humanity though.
posted by fuq at 9:00 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


On reflection on my own comment - I don't pretend to know which side of the "this is hard because it is the wrong project" versus "this is hard because work is hard" line Merlin is experiencing -- only that I wondered about that when reading his essay and was sort of curious if he had struggled with that, as he writes/thinks about work a lot.

The whole "privileged white hetero man" thing is pretty rough and kind of a caricature. He's basically saying that some personal stuff, which includes X Y and Z for him, is more important than work drudgery. People are going to have different X Y and Z in their own "personal stuff" categories, but the overall point is not dependent on those variables.
posted by Mid at 9:09 AM on April 27, 2011


To describe this essay as "remind[ing] us what it is to be human" is offensive because it is a reminder that humans are monogamous, heterosexual, and child-bearing, which actually doesn't describe all humanity and implies that some people are not human.

No, I don't think it's about that at all and I'm pretty sure you don't really think Merlin is saying that some people aren't human. I do think that there are several people here who do recognize it as a good essay (not the best writing, but good to-have-been-done), but that it just isn't expansive enough. That is it's good, but it doesn't account for enough snowflakes, which makes it bad.
posted by rhizome at 12:44 PM on April 27, 2011


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