California Stars

I am sitting in Starbucks in Fullerton CA writing a report for work. How I came to be in Fullerton is a story in and of itself. It involved my family being down here and me being in Utah, a crushing case of burnout, and a song I couldn’t get out of my head. It ended in a spur-of-the-moment 90 mph drive to California.

I really enjoy my job, but it is mentally exhausting. A couple of quotes from websites describing being a usability specialist:

Observing well is hard and exhausting…

The tester’s job requires an intense and exhausting level of concentration…

I was exhausted.

A couple days ago I woke up at 4am replacing the back of my alarm clock. I had been dreaming that I had to evaluate its interface and make recommendations to improve it by morning. I later noticed that I had managed to move the time forward by four hours and 15 minutes.

I don’t know how to explain how burnt out I felt. It wasn’t like I was going to go postal, more like I was going to crawl under my desk and start sobbing.

Adrienne and I had planned to go to California, but I couldn’t go. There was too much work and too few workers. Two babies born to two of my team members within a week, and another team member was in Mexico, leaving just me and my boss.

I sent Adrienne and Reese off to play in California for eleven days while I focused on work. By Saturday morning, day nine, I was completely and totally fried. I was sitting on the couch writing a report for work and listening to music, when California Stars came on.

California Stars

I’d like to rest my heavy head tonight
On a bed of California stars
I’d like to lay my weary bones tonight
On a bed of California stars

I’d love to feel your hand touching mine
And tell me why I must keep working on
Yes, I’d give my life to lay my head tonight
On a bed of California stars

I’d like to dream my troubles all away
On a bed of California stars
Jump up from my starbed and make another day
Underneath my California stars

They hang like grapes on vines that shine
And warm the lovers glass like friendly wine
So, I’d give this world
just to dream a dream with you
On our bed of California stars

– Woody Guthrie

That was it. I was taking a break. I had to. I was going to lay my head on a bed of California stars, and I was going to do it that night. I IMed my boss and said, “I am going to California.” To his great credit, especially since it meant him holding down the fort at work all by himself, he just replied, “Have fun.” I quickly packed and jumped in the car. I only stopped to get gas.

As I got off the freeway in Fullerton the air was cool and moist and smelled like orange blossoms, and out of the 4,000 songs on my ipod, California Stars began to play.

Adrienne and Reese were rather surprised to see me 750 miles from home.

But vacation has to wait. Right now I am paying $10 for high speed wireless internet in Starbucks and hammering out a report for work. Even though I am still working, just being here is such a relief, I feel like my brain works again. I can think clearly again, and I feel physically lighter. I am going to finish this report tonight and not think about work at all for a few days.

I am done with the report now, and the California stars are calling.

7 responses for California Stars

  1. old prof says:

    Ok, I’ve read it and gone back to bed and can’t get two songs out of my mind. I guess I’m going to have to get up and dump them on you before I can sleep. It took looking up the first song and seeing the lyrics in their completeness to see all the references that kept it chasing itself in a hampster wheel after I read and empathasized with your post (which I love,by the way).

    California dreaming.

    I’d love to rest my weary head on somebody’s shoulder I hate to grow older all by myself

    all by myself, in the mornin’ all by myself in the night I sit alone with a table and a chair so unhappy there, playin’solitaire

    all by myself, I get lonely watchin’ the clock on the shelf (!) I’d love to rest my weary head on somebodys’s shoulder I hate to grow older all by myself.

    And …with apologies for the emendation:

    All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey I’ve been for a walk On a winters day I’d be safe and warm If I was in L.A California Dreaming On such a winters day

    …Stopped …[in for gas]… as I passed along the way …If I didn’t tell her I could leave today.”

    For antithetical reasons I’d love to leap into the car and drive to Provo but old profs have promises to keep, and a wife asleep [in the next room] and …. ah well….

    “I’m done with the report now and sleep is calling.”

  2. martin says:

    Hey we were at Sunny Hills High school on Saturday. When can we see you guys?

  3. dave says:

    Since I moved to B.C. from Texas I’ve been breathing fresh air ever since. I love getting out of my office. It’s the best thing. There is something about air that is close to the ocean, it’s better.

  4. Dan says:

    Thank you for the truly beautiful entry and slideshow. My wife and I are facing a decision that would potentially put us in different cities for a year, and, thanks in part to your words, I realized this weekend that we just can’t do it. Law school can wait; being together is what matters.

  5. jack says:

    this a great song isn’t it? i haven’t heard in a while… pulling the cd out right after this. you got to love wilco and mr.bragg.

  6. Jed Wood says:

    Since many folks out there will not be hearing the song in their head when they read the lyrics (which is too bad, because it’s a nice song), I think it’s important to give credit to their original author, Woody Guthrie (both the Mermaid Avenue albums are all his lyrics).

    I’m jealous. I don’t know how many times my friends and I threatened to just keep heading to Vegas as we drove back to Provo from Salt Lake. Even now in Chicago, my wife and I talk of spontaneous trips to some cozy spot along the lake in Wisconsin, but unfortunately the only short-notice trips we’ve managed are to the grocery store or PotBelly’s…

  7. josh says:

    That’s a good point Jed. I just used the amazon attribution to Billy Bragg and Wilco because I link to the amazon page for the album, but you are probably very right that most people won’t know that Woody Guthrie wrote it all.

    I believe I will change that.