Life hacks 501

published in the Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, February 1, 2015


I have a life hack of my own, something I will share with you in a moment.

For those of you who don’t know, a life hack is a solution to an everyday problem — a gizmo, a workaround, a MacGyver, a light bulb on the head of process. Something that makes your life easier, more ingenious and sometimes more sustainable and fun. Like, for instance, using an old CD spindle case to carry a loaded bagel. Or using a can opener to pierce through the bombproof plastic packaging you usually cut your fingers on. Those are life hacks.

The term, of course, was coined in the ‘80s when computer “hackers” needed sweet solutions and workarounds to improve, or skirt, workflow. Computer hacking turned into life hacking — and why not? We’re all efficiency experts, if we want to be. All it takes is that one moment of grace, the one wedged between frustration and daydreaming, to be open to the possibilities and allow solutions to present themselves.

My former father-in-law (Gary’s dad), who turns 90 on Feb. 2, and who is still very much a part of my life, recently sent an email full of these life hacks out to his posse, something that gave me a chance to think about him as I smiled my way through the use of spaghetti for lighting a low-wicked candle, toothpaste to clean car headlights, and using a dustpan to force the flow of water from a bathroom sink into a bucket.

What’s the life hack for turning 90? What’s the trick of staying alive, engaged, interested and able to relish things like funny moments — and life hacks?

I’ve admired Bob for lots of years. He managed to make it through the depression, father absent, and work his way through the business of paper boxes, collecting sports along the way (he and his wife Jane lived in Aspen as ski bums in the 1940s, and picked up windsurfing in their middle age). When they retired on Kaua’i in the late ‘80s, he put his hobby — photography — front and center and became one of the most successful landscape photographers on the island, fearlessly hauling product to craft shows, and picking up friends as he went.

When photography went digital, Bob, who knew nothing about computers, got rid of every single piece of the outmoded equipment and opted in to the new era, hiring a techie to help him wade through the mire. He learned Dragonspeak voice-recognition software to facilitate email writing, since he’d never really had to type that much. He learned the basics of Photoshop and then got help and took courses and workshops. He bought a large-scale printer and started printing and matting all his own photos. Then he started printing on canvas and experimenting with Photoshop painting effects. All in his 60s, 70s and 80s!

Recently, he went ahead and bought his first drone and started taking aerial photos of all the things he’d shot with his feet on the ground or on the deck of a boat. Since then, a few of the drones have crashed, but he’s replaced them and continues eagerly on, shooting the Napali coast, Hanalei Bay, the lighthouse and all the outrageous panoramas of the place he made his home.

Bob, on this the eve of your 90th, I just want to tell you how much I’ve benefitted from witnessing your engagement with new things and people in your life. How you’ve asked for help from those who have had it to give you and pursued your interests with faith in positive outcomes. How you’ve not been afraid to step into new territory.

I’m not saying it’s all been perfect or easy or without pain and sorrow, because I know it’s not been. I’m not saying you’re perfect or easy or that every relationship, especially those closest to you, has not presented challenges, some of them beyond your own life hacks. Most of us could say the same.

I’m just saying that for a guy who is 90, whose voice sounds as youthful as it did when we first met, who still enjoys his morning omelets and TV shows and holiday parties and the companionship of ultra-long-term wife Jane (who will get her own tribute when she turns 90), and who still has a zest for friendships and forays into unknown creative territory, I truly salute you. I wave my hand like an idiot and give you a big hug and squeeze. Wish I were there to gawk at a sunset with you all.

I thought of you the other day when I picked up a tin box of Altoids (peppermints), the one I keep in my car, because the ice was thick on my windshield and I was so utterly over (as they say) the plastic scrapers that have never worked and never will. And guess what? That box of Altoids worked — worked like a charm on the windshield ice, even at 18 degrees Farenheit. I smiled in delight at the simple beauty of it, the sweetness of the hack. Like I was getting away with something.

Well, every day, actually, we get away with something — we get away with another day under the light and warmth of the sun. Hope yours on Feb. 2 is especially sweet, soft and delicious!

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