The Phillip G. Dickerson Sr. Memorial Scholarship

I wrote about my dad’s passing last week. While we’re missing him and adjusting to life without him, my brother and I have been spending time at my dad’s house getting his affairs in order and reminiscing about his life. One of the constants in all of our lives has been NC State. My dad really believed in the power of education and talked about it constantly when we were growing up. He graduated from NC State with a B.S. in civil engineering in 1968. He grew up with little money and kept having to quit school to work to make more money to go back to school again. It took him seven years to get that degree, so it meant a lot to him. He loved NC State and his house is covered in NC State paraphernalia.

My brother and I decided that the ultimate tribute to our dad would be to endow a memorial scholarship at NC State in his name to make it easier for others like him to build the kind of rich life that he did through education.

If you are interested in contributing to honor my dad’s legacy, gifts may be made to the Phillip G. Dickerson Sr. Memorial Scholarship Endowment. Checks should be written to the NC State Engineering Foundation and can be mailed to: NC State Engineering Foundation, Campus Box 7901, Raleigh, NC 27695, Attn: Lindsay Smith. Or contribute online here. Click “Choose a fund,” select “other,” and write in Phillip G. Dickerson Sr. Memorial Scholarship Endowment. All gifts are considered tax-deductible.

I know my dad would be thrilled to have an Engineering scholarship at NC State named after him. The image below is of a letter I found just yesterday that my dad wrote to my mom in December 1961 when he was a first year student at NC State and they were still dating. He had gotten three test scores back, all miserable: 35, 33, and 31. He wrote to his girlfriend (my future mom), “I’m going to change to Agriculture Education next semester I think. This Engineering is just too much math and technical stuff for me.” But he didn’t quit and powered through with the sheer force of will we saw him apply over and over in his life when he had a goal in mind. And now one of his legacies will be to help other NC State engineering students do the same.

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Phillip G. Dickerson: 1943-2020

My father Phillip G. Dickerson Sr. passed away at age 77 around 5am Thursday, May 21 in my hometown of Greenville, NC. The obituary is here. I was with him at his bedside in his final days and I know he knows how much I loved him. The family has established the Phillip G. Dickerson Sr. Memorial Scholarship in the School of Engineering at NC State to honor his memory (more on that and how to contribute here).

I don’t feel like I need to write a tribute to my dad today because I did it while he was dad_headshot_smalive. I wrote one for Father’s Day in 2012 and I shared it with him (and the world) then. If you want to know what a great man my dad was, I encourage you to read it. I only feel what I said about him then more deeply now that he is gone. I’ve been talking with friends and family non-stop since he passed away and the themes from that post are only magnified in this moment. He was a good man. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye on everything but we adored each other and there was never any question about that. I am grateful that I shared that tribute with him when he was alive. He lived very modestly and didn’t seek the limelight but I know he enjoyed the attention when we did special things for him.

Since I wrote that living tribute, I also had the opportunity to fund basketball and pickleball courts in a county park he helped bring into existence as the County Engineer of Pitt County, NC (a job he had for 30+ years). We named it the Phillip G. Dickerson Sr. Courts in his honor and had a ceremony for his family and friends. We gave speeches while he sat in the front row. You can hear my brother and me talk about my dad in this YouTube video (starting at 10:34), including some playful digs at the UNC Tarheels, a team my dad loved to hate as an NC State graduate. My dad and I bonded regularly over basketball so it was more special than you can imagine to name a basketball court after him. I’m glad we did that while he was still alive and every time a father and son shoot around there like we did when I was a kid, they will see my dad’s name on the sign.

Even though I’m at peace with how I expressed love and appreciation to my dad, the finality of death is startling. In life, we often say “this isn’t life or death” about situations and being in a situation that is actually life or death is wrenching. In a series of excruciating decisions made even more excruciating from all of the considerations of the coronavirus epidemic, we decided to put my father in hospice care at home the prior weekend. After being safe and healthy with my family in Brooklyn, I made the decision to leave my two-month-long quarantine in Brooklyn Monday morning and was able to be with him starting Monday evening. A generous lifelong friend drove me all the way from Brooklyn to my dad’s doorstep in Greenville, NC and I’m not sure I will ever be more grateful for any gesture in my life.

(Warning: if discussions of death and dying are difficult for you, I encourage you not to read further.) 

I really hesitated to put in words what I’m about to write about the most difficult parts of the experience but after speaking with friends and family, I found that my experience is common and there is even a term for some of what I experienced: “terminal restlessness.” No one seems to talk about it, though, until after you’ve been through it. I wish I had known what I was about to deal with when I came down on Monday, so I’m writing about this in the hopes that someone going through a similarly grueling experience will find this post and feel comforted that they are not alone. Writing this also helps me process my own experience.

If you’ve never been through having a loved one in hospice, it’s difficult to describe the experience. On the most basic level, being in hospice means that the family cares for the loved one at home making sure the person is as comfortable as possible in the final days of life, with the generous support of a team of nurses, social workers, and clergy (and they are incredibly generous). They visit, advise, support, and train but the care is nearly completely administered by the family. One of my main jobs was giving my dad the medicine he needed to have a peaceful transition. I’ve had what some would consider “important” jobs in my life but none was as important as my job as nurse for my dad in his final days (along with my dear brother). Nothing comes close.

On his second to last night with us, my father talked all night. He was normally a quiet man who spoke in simple language. That night he was having visions, mentioning names of his brothers who had passed before him, talking about going places. I sat by the bed with one of the caregivers we had brought on to help, trying to make sense of what my father was saying. Everything was in the present tense as if it was happening right then, not 2:30am in the morning. He talked about shingles and roofs and nails. He told me to go get the nails from the truck. I said, “Daddy, are you talking about the summer when we put shingles on the roof?” He said, “Yes” and seemed to calm a bit. He started talking about pigs and goats and the barn and I said, “Daddy, are you talking about when you were a boy growing up on the farm?” and again he calmed a bit and nodded weakly. I felt like portals were opening and closing, then opening again and closing again. I couldn’t see what he was seeing myself but I was sure he was seeing these things.

The most persistent image was a train. “Get on the train!” he said emphatically, raising his voice as much as his weak body would allow. “The train is leaving! Hurry, hurry, hurry!” He said he was on the train with his brother Fred, who had passed away in 2009. He said, “You can lay me down by the tracks on the ground if you have to, I have to go!” I struggled to make sense of what he was saying. I will never know for sure what he was seeing in those moments but after a few minutes of puzzling over his vision, I felt a force channel a song through my body. I began singing quietly to myself through tears:

This train is bound for glory, this train,

This train is bound for glory, this train,

This train is bound for glory,

Don’t ride nothin’ but the righteous and holy

This train is bound for glory, this train.

I will never hear that song the same way again.** It has been on a continuous loop in my head ever since as I have been trying to process the essentially unknowable that he was expressing in simple words, thinking about how insufficient our earthly language is to express such a profound transition. Looking back, I think he was starting his final journey in those moments.

(** there are many versions of this song with varying lyrics but this version by Sister Rosetta Tharpe is probably my favorite)

The rest of the night and next morning into the afternoon, it felt like we were wrestling with Death. No one tells you how physical this experience is. Much of it I would rather keep private but the reality of “terminal restlessness” is more intense than any experience I’ve had in my life, by orders of magnitude. I thought my Apple Watch was broken. I had only been the few dozen feet between the kitchen, the couch in the living room, and my father’s bedroom but it said I had walked 2.5 miles.

The talk of trains stopped and he became less coherent and stopped talking altogether by afternoon the next day. His breathing became increasingly labored. In his final 36 hours, working under guidance of the hospice nurses (who we called at all hours), we switched to a new course of medications to maximize his comfort and minimize his suffering. Every two hours I would go to the kitchen to mix morphine and Ativan in a measuring spoon from his cupboard. Once the Ativan pill fully dissolved into the morphine, I drew the mixture into a syringe and went into my dad’s bedroom.

At his bedside, I would hold his hand and gently kiss his forehead as I gently dripped the mixture of medicines into his mouth. I would say, “It’s me, Daddy. It’s Chad. I’m here to give you some medicine to make you feel better.” Sometimes he would squeeze my hand in recognition and other times I could feel him relax a little when he knew I was there. I rubbed his back, hugged him, and stroked his hair. I wondered aloud after he passed if he actually knew it was me there but then learned that hearing is likely the last sense to go when someone is dying, so I’m more certain he knew I was there. I felt calm in those moments of helping him but wept every time when I left the room.

My brother and I had been setting our alarms to alternately check on him every two hours and administer his medicine throughout the night and when my turn to check on him came that morning, he was no longer breathing. I was alone with him in that moment. I felt a strange sense of calm as I embraced his now-lifeless body, kissed him on the forehead once more, stroked his hair, and stepped out of the room to wake my brother and let him know. My father’s suffering was over. Losing a father is difficult under any circumstances and this was also my first close encounter with death. I am still processing it, and will be for some time. I know I will never be the same.


I had set a daily alarm for 6:58pm in the early days of my quarantine in New York City so that we would be ready to open our windows at 7pm to cheer for the health care workers every night with the rest of the city until the coronavirus crisis was over. On Thursday night — the first night after my father left us — I was on the phone with my family back in Brooklyn when the alarm went off. I missed New York but was where I needed to be. I asked them to cheer this time for the people who took care of my dad. I can’t express my gratitude enough to them but I like to think that on that one night, the greatest city in the world was cheering for them, too.

Making the perfect Southern biscuits

I grew up in the South and although I haven’t lived there in 22 years now, it remains a core part of my identity. My grandparents were farmers and my grandmother made biscuits every day for breakfast using lard from the hogs they raised, often with sausage that also came from the farm. There was no Martha Stewart / Food Network / “foodie” fuss or oohing and aahing about the process. Biscuits were just part of the landscape, as normal as toast. (My grandparents would have had a good laugh about concepts like “farm to table” — how else was it supposed to work?**) When I visit the South, high on my list is finding a good biscuit.

In the early days of quarantine, I found out that Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill delivers via Goldbelly, so I ordered 10 chicken biscuits. For three Saturdays in a row, each person in my three-person family had one of the biscuits for breakfast (they were amazing — highly recommended). After we ran out, my mind shifted into DIY mode. While everyone else seemed to be chasing their sourdough dreams, I had visions of making biscuits. I’ve tried to make biscuits for many years of my post-Southern life and was never satisfied with the results.

To cut to the chase, I found a simple recipe that really works from Alton Brown. There are some important notes and modifications, though, and here they are:

  • Make double the recipe. These biscuits go fast. They also store well so you can have them for days afterwards.
  • Cut up the butter and shortening the night before and freeze the bits. Why? You’ll notice this in the recipe: “Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don’t want the fats to melt.)” This is very important. If the chunks of fat in the dough melt in the oven, they will sizzle and pop in the dough, creating the fluffy air pockets that make the biscuits good. If the fats melt while you’re working them into the dough, they get blended in and you don’t get that fluffy pop in the dough. Freezing the night before helps prevent premature melting.
  • The instructions tell you to fold the dough a number of times. You should do that but consider trading one or two of the folds for rolling the dough with a rolling pin into a relatively uniform slab of dough with consistent thickness. Using a rolling pin in this way creates a nice flat-top biscuit with more consistent browning.
  • The recipe says to cut the biscuits using a 2-inch cutter. Use a 4-inch cutter instead. The 2-inch cutter produces dainty little biscuits. The 4-inch cutter creates the size biscuits my grandma used to make and a biscuit that can hold any toppings you want to add (bacon, sausage, egg, cheese, etc) — though these are perfectly fine standalone.

I’m looking forward to the post-quarantine world so I can invite friends over for these biscuits. Until then, if you’re into biscuits, I encourage you to give these a try.

** Funny side story: I bought a vegetarian friend to my grandparent’s house once in the early 90s. My friend said to my grandmother, “I’m vegetarian.” My grandmother looked quizzically at her so she elaborated: “I only eat vegetables.” My grandmother smiled and said, “don’t worry, honey, we got vegetables!” and pushed a dish of green beans towards her, with the green beans sitting on a steaming slab of fatback. In my grandma’s mind, a vegetable just wasn’t a vegetable without pork.

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One year of piano lessons: what I’ve learned

Six months ago, I wrote a long post about my first six months of piano lessons (“What I’ve learned about life from six months learning piano.”) It was a bit on the philosophical side and focused on embracing vulnerability, the importance of practice, learning as hard work, focusing on fundamentals, and why intrinsic motivation has been necessary to make progress. I’ve run into people who read the post and we’ve had some fun discussions. I’ve continued to take lessons and practice and it has become without a doubt one of the most fulfilling projects of my life.

This post is an update to that post but more focused on what I’ve been learning and how the process has unfolded over the next six months leading into my one-year anniversary of starting lessons, which I hit just last week. My main goal in writing this is to encourage people who might think they are too old to start lessons (I’m 47 now) to cast aside that thinking and give it a shot.

The one year mark was a key milestone for me from the beginning. As I wrote six months ago:

I made a deal with myself when I started lessons that I was going to do the lessons for a year and practice diligently regardless of how I thought I was doing. I told myself that learning piano was a lifelong process and I hoped to stick with it and slowly improve for the rest of my life. I didn’t set any artificial goals for myself other than sticking with it for a year and practicing consistently. I did better some weeks than others but I kept to my commitment to just keep doing it. I don’t know how quickly I’ll get better and I don’t pay attention to it on a week-to-week basis. I just keep going, knowing that doing the work will make me better.

That said, when I started last year I still wondered where I would be performance-wise after a year. I recorded what I was playing at six months and posted my best playing at the time to Soundcloud (see “500 Year Old Melody“) as a marker for where I was then (last October) and I just posted a playlist of three selections that I recorded this week (April 2020): “Aria (Figaro),” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and “Sleeping Beauty Waltz.” (Note that I’ve been using the Adult Piano Adventures series and am reaching the end of book #1 right now. I’m supplementing it with this book on scales, chords, arpeggios, and cadences).

What you hear in the recordings is what I’ve been able to learn in a year taking one 45 minute lesson as week and practicing maybe 3-4 hours a week. I’ve definitely gotten better. I’m not sure if it’s “good” or if it’s where I “should” be, but it’s where I am and I’m really happy with the progress. Most importantly, I feel like I’ve gained the momentum to stick with it and look forward to many more years of learning.

I mentioned in the prior post that I had been a hacky guitar player for many years and contemplated how my piano playing might compare to my guitar playing after a year:

By the end of my first year really focusing on piano, I’m pretty sure I will be objectively better on piano than I ever was at guitar (and when I go back to guitar, I already feel like I’m better from the work with piano).

An unexpected thing happened relative to guitar since my last post: my 8-year-old son (who has continued to learn piano and has been progressing at lightning speed) has been learning some jazz and blues and has started to give me “lead sheets” so I can jam along with him on guitar while he plays piano. The focus on fundamentals in my piano lessons that I mentioned in my last post means that I have learned how to read music. Since my last post, I’ve learned how to read key signatures and know many more scales (I only knew C major before). In simple terms, this means that if my son says, “I’m going to play a blues progression in C,” I know what chords work and what notes make sense so I can play along without thinking too hard.

I had mostly ignored music theory when I learned the limited guitar I knew. I memorized chord shapes and chord progressions, but I didn’t think of them within the larger underlying framework of music theory. I’m still not spending too much time on guitar but when I pick it up now, the instrument has come alive in an entirely new way from the music theory studies that come for “free” when you’re taking piano lessons. I now know music as a language and vocabulary unto itself and it’s made it possible to use that common vocabulary to collaborate with my son. It’s making guitar a lot more fun, too.

Understanding music more generally delivers other unexpected collaborative dividends, too. I’ve recently been trading tracks with friends using Logic X on the Mac. One of us will lay down a guitar or piano track and the other will add something and send it back. My friend Tarikh recently sent me some really nice finger-picking tracks he recorded of the song “Sea of Love” (listen to the raw track here). He told me the chords he was playing and that told me what key he was playing in. I’ve got my digital piano hooked into an audio interface with MIDI so I decided to try to record some supporting piano tracks. Note that I have jammed (often sloppily) with friends but had never attempted to collaborate in this way. I had recorded some simple one-take in-your-bedroom guitar-and-vocals stuff (like this cover of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” that I did long ago) but I had never tried to really record stuff. I was going into this new collaboration thinking it would be a good way to test some of what I had been learning.

I started by accenting Tarikh’s beautiful guitar-playing by putting down some piano chords to add some depth. Nice. After I got that down, I recorded an additional piano track with more melodic improvisation (again, using the music theory I had learned). I tried a few different things and played it back but didn’t quite like it. The melody was fine but a piano melody with piano accents in the background was just too much piano. But I liked the overall feel of what I had played. I started thinking that a horn might sound nice and after some experimenting in Logic and leveraging the magic of MIDI, I settled on a trombone line using the melody I composed on piano.

You can hear the result with the added piano and trombone here (again, this is the original track that I added to). I really like how it sounds and couldn’t be happier that my exploration of piano over the last year led me to coming up with a trombone piece that seems to actually work. This simple collaboration with a friend has given me a lot of motivation to do (and learn) more. It’s simple stuff, but I wouldn’t have even been able to collaborate in this way six months ago.

If I could describe the difference between where I was six months ago and now it would be this: I’m starting to move from thinking simply about the mechanics of piano to thinking more about music itself, and that’s pretty thrilling. I’m excited to see what I’ll learn over the next year now that I’m fully hooked.

(And I hope anyone out there who thinks they’re too old to learn to play reads this and is inspired to learn, too.)


Note: I didn’t want to make this post too focused on COVID-19 or being in quarantine, but two quick notes that are relevant:

  • being able to focus attention on music-making has been an extraordinary source of comfort and a nice break from spending evenings watching TV
  • I recently started taking my lessons via FaceTime after having in-person lessons for 11 months. I was initially very skeptical but it really works! I feel like my playing is actually progressing more quickly due to more practice time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I built a radio station I expect almost no one to listen to

During this strange time for all of us, I’ve noticed that many people I know are rediscovering old hobbies and rekindling interests from the past. For me, so many of my interests revolve around music. One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is the shared experience that live radio provides. Artists have been filling the live show gap with some amazing livestreams (cataloged dutifully each day by Brooklyn Vegan) and Questlove and DJ D-Nice have been doing quarantine DJ sets. While I’m hoping the situation we’re all in clears up soon, I’m inspired by the outpouring of creativity and connection we’re all experiencing in this new way.

We’ve experienced an explosion of audio content with the incredible diversity of podcasts, but a key ingredient is missing in the “what you want when you want it” culture we’ve built: shared real-time experience. I think we’ve almost imperceptibly lost something in a world where we can all be individually and separately listening to an inexhaustible menu of audio content in our headphones. I’ve found that in the current situation, I miss the serendipity and diversity of live “freeform” radio. When I was a kid, there were dozens of small stations where I lived in eastern NC, with music done by a real DJ, call-in shows, live reporting, farm reports, and general community banter. There are still community stalwarts like the amazing WFMU but they are becoming more and more rare by the day.

Obscure radio stations of all kinds used to be an important part of our culture. In David Byrne’s excellent book How Music Works, he writes about how he came up with the lyrics for “Once in a Lifetime” (“you may ask yourself. . .same as it ever was. . . .”):

I was. . .drawing lyrical inspiration from the radio preachers I’d been listening to and that we’d used on the Bush of Ghosts record. At that time, American radio was a cauldron of impassioned voices—live preachers, talk-show hosts, and salesmen. The radio was shouting at you, pleading with you, and seducing you. You could also hear great salsa singers, as well as gospel being broadcast straight from the churches.

David Byrne goes on: “I don’t listen to the radio much anymore, though. There is still variety on some stations, but it’s mostly been homogenized, like so many other parts of our culture.”

This is the kind of radio I miss. So I decided to launch an Internet radio station that I’m calling Lockdown Radio. It’s a sporadic live-only “station” you can only listen to via the web at http://www.lockdownradio.net/ supported by a Twitter account (@lockdownradioBK) and a Google doc that I update with live show notes:

I did radio for a short period in my life and it was one of my all-time favorite experiences. Way back in ~1994, I had a Monday morning 2-5am radio show on WXDU, the Duke radio station in Durham, NC. I got my slot immediately *after* I graduated so I already had a “real job” in Raleigh. My shift was just after the hip-hop show (yes, there was a single show that focused on the genre) and when I arrived at the studio at 1:45am, I always felt like I was breaking up a fun party (which I kind of was). I would settle into my chair, open the windows to clear the smoke from the party, and put on some 90s indie rock. “Hello, this is Chad and I’m here from 2 to 5am. Here’s “Big Day Coming” off of Yo La Tengo’s latest album Painful” . . . said in the hushed tone one uses on Monday at 2am.)

The signal was so weak and the equipment so dated that I wasn’t completely sure when I was on the air (I certainly didn’t have enough listeners to validate) so sometimes I would put on a long song and go out to my decrepit 1976 Buick Regal to put the key in the ignition and find 88.7 on the dial. If I heard the music, we were good and I would go back up to finish my show. I would occasionally get a call in the station and, while they were extremely rare, every one of them was extremely weird.

This is the spirit behind Lockdown Radio. It will be:

  • kind of a hassle to listen to, like a small local AM station in the mountains (seriously lacking in sleek integrations with modern apps)
  • sporadic (maybe you’ll get the “signal,” maybe you won’t)
  • unpredictable (no algorithms, no defined schedule)
  • listened to by very few and at times no one (a difficult concept to grasp in the current attention economy)
  • eclectic. See the show notes for what I’ve done so far. I’m trying to do either original content or pull interesting material from the Internet Archive’s audio collection (which has some SERIOUS gems, like a bootleg of the Sex Pistols’ first US show, which I featured in my first broadcast)

I hope all three of you who listen to it enjoy it. In a world obsessed with likes, hearts, and scale, it’s freeing to ignore all of that and just see what happens. I’ve only been fooling around with it for a few days and it’s a lot of fun. Apologies in advance for any difficulties.

Passive house: the future (and present!) of green building

Climate change seems like such a huge challenge that addressing it can feel overwhelming. How do you make a dent in such a huge, intractable problem? If you look at energy consumption and carbon emissions around the world, buildings are a great place to start. According to the International Energy Agency, the buildings and buildings construction sectors combined are responsible for 36% of global final energy consumption and nearly 40% of total direct and indirect carbon emissions. In a city like NYC, buildings account for 67% of carbon emissions (NYT story and source of data). If we can reduce the carbon footprint of buildings, we can make a big dent. Most of these emissions come from activities related to heating and cooling.

What if I told you that there is a simple way of designing and constructing buildings that would reduce energy consumption of buildings by ~80%? It sounds too good to be true. That’s what I thought until I first learned about passive house building. My curiosity in passive house construction was first piqued when I noticed that the House at Cornell Tech was a certified passive house. I read more about the concept and, long story short, I am now involved in a passive house project myself and have learned even more seeing the process up close. There are very few things in life that appear too good to be true but actually real and practical. Passive house building is one of those things. I’ve learned that there is no “catch.” During this year’s polar vortex when temps dipped to -24F in Chicago, a passive house there maintained a comfortable 71F interior temperature and used 90% less energy in doing that than conventional homes. It just plain works.

My friend Michael Ingui of Baxt Ingui Architects recently launched a one-stop-shop site for all things passive house called Passive House Accelerator (disclosure: I am an advisor). It is the place to go to find out anything you want to know about the concept, from the basics to details on specific implementation issues. To learn more, start with the “what is a passive house?” post or watch a 3-minute video that recently aired on CNN. On a simple level, it’s building a house that is much like a thermos that keeps your coffee hot or your beverage cold for many days, but with a built-in fresh air system so that occupants of a passive house breath clean, fresh, filtered air at all times. Passive houses are healthier for both people and the planet. A thermal image of a row of brownstones in the CNN video shows how passive houses don’t leak (and conventional houses leak like crazy). The passive house is the dark blue one that is fourth from the left:

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Building costs are 2-4% more on a typical passive house than conventional building and decrease as a building scales because the mechanicals and heating/cooling systems go farther in such an environment. Of course, when you are reducing energy usage ~80%, the slight premium on building gets paid back pretty quickly with substantially reduced operating costs. With modest solar installations, many passive houses can achieve net zero energy usage, or close to it.

Passive houses aren’t just for people and organizations with lots of money and resources. The positive long-term economics mean that passive house building is increasingly being used for affordable housing projects. In May, an affordable housing development for seniors in Corona, Queens was unveiled that was built to passive house standards. The Rural Studio at Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction has an exciting 20K Initiative where they are experimenting with passive house design to provide affordable homes in rural Alabama, recognizing that the initial cost of a home is only the beginning of the equation when it comes to affordability. Operating the home is key, and lowering energy usage is the clearest path to ongoing affordability. Sustainability and affordability go hand-in-hand (read this in-depth Dwell piece for more info on this program).

I have never been more excited about anything as I am about passive house building. It’s rare that you see something that successfully combines human comfort and massive gains in energy efficiency. If you’re building a home or involved in a building project anywhere in the world, make sure you ask your architect and general contractor about passive house (and point them to Passive House Accelerator to learn more). This is not science fiction or a “wave of the future.” We don’t need new investments in research for this to work. It’s possible right now and happening all around us. Spread the word.

Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up

Jerry Colonna is a Trojan horse of the best kind. Back when I became CEO of Etsy in 2011, I was introduced to Jerry as the best CEO coach around. He had been Fred Wilson’s venture partner. He knew business. I thought of him as an advisor who was going to help me build my management team, raise money, crush it as a CEO. And that’s the Trojan horse aspect — who knew that inside this container of business excellence that some kind of spiritual transformation was in the offing? I certainly didn’t. But in the six years I worked with Jerry as a CEO, I learned how to live a better life, love more fully, and be the man I had been trying to be — so much more than being a chief executive.

Jerry’s book, Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up, comes out today and I couldn’t be more thrilled for my friend. The book is also very personal to me. Chapter 2, “The Crucible and the Warrior,” leads off with the story of Jerry and me sitting on the rooftop at Etsy after I knew I had been fired** but hadn’t yet told the company. Lots of things got written about me and Etsy through that period — some true, some shaped to better fit the corporate narrative that was needed at the moment — but what Jerry writes in Chapter 2 of his book is the most real and true thing ever written about me. It’s because Jerry was there for me and he listened and he witnessed. He previewed the chapter with me and I didn’t ask him to change anything. Jerry is a truth-teller.

A story of a private moment between Jerry and me that isn’t in the book tells you a bit more about how Jerry thinks and what working with him meant to me. In one of our sessions, I was a little worked up because I had taken a personality test and the results had shown that my personality type was a strong fit for the occupations of “poet” or “priest.” I couldn’t reconcile this with being a CEO. Jerry smiled and said, “Why can’t you be a poet and a CEO?” Good question. I was reminded of my studies and how Wallace Stevens, one of our greatest American poets, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1955 while serving as a vice president at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he spent this days evaluating surety insurance claims. Jerry has a way of reminding you of these things.

And that is really the point. The proportions are different for everyone, but we all have a little poet and priest in us because we are human. To live a full life, you have to embrace all parts of yourself. Selectively suppressing parts can have a high cost. (Jerry also told me I should read Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, which I did read and highly recommend).

Leaving Etsy started a very difficult time for me but also a new beginning, and the beginnings of that beginning are captured beautifully in Chapter 2 of the book. Today I’m working on a project that very few people know about that has absolutely nothing to do with tech. I text Jerry about it regularly and he sends back words of encouragement. I think it’s fair to say that this project calls equally on the poet, priest, and CEO within me. I’m not sure exactly where it will go, but it’s important to me regardless of the outcome.

The book is important because it captures Jerry as truth-teller so perfectly. When I read the book, I hear Jerry’s voice in my head and it sounds exactly like the hundreds of hours of conversations we had. It is a gift to the world and I believe will touch many lives in the way I’ve been touched. I’m glad to see it out in the world.

Thank you for helping keep the poet and priest alive in me, Jerry.

**the fact that I publicly said I had gotten fired versus some “decided to pursue other opportunities” corporate bullshit is largely due to the sense of truth I gained from working with Jerry. Life is full of pain — lean into it. If you got fired, speak the truth. It always catches up to you anyway.