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<jokes and their relationship to the unconscious>

You know you've been working too hard when the room starts spinning. There were spots before my eyes. My head and hands throbbed. I was lucky enough to make it to bed before passing out cold.

I was halfway through Chapter 13 of my book when the dizziness hit me. I wondered if something serious was happening. Stroke, MS, brain tumor. I had the usual thoughts: "It was a good chapter. I wanted to finish it. Now no one will read it."

I got up for a glass of water and felt like someone had slipped me too much morphine. I returned to the monitor and could not finish writing a simple sentence. The spots before my eyes had become full-blown Rick Giffin patterns, throbbing and flashing. Something told me to lie down before I fell down.


Maybe it was the caffeine. I'd run out of coffee and was too busy to shop for more. Maybe it's working 18 hours a day for weeks on end, getting no more than four hours' sleep a night. Last night I got all of two hours before the phone rang and another day started.

Maybe it is a recurrence of the flu. On my second visit to the dentist this week, his assistant told me that she's had the flu for days. A really bad case of it, she said. You should go home, I said, remembering how my last case of the flu lasted six weeks. I hoped she was not infecting me.

During the week, Joan and I had gone out with a friend who's visiting from San Francisco. After dinner he came to our place. I fell asleep on the couch in the middle of one of his best stories. When I woke, an hour later, he was gone. I said, "Maybe I need to rest." Then I stayed up all night finishing Chapter 11.


Today in the mail I received Jeff Veen's book and Richard Saul Wurman's book. I don't know what I am doing in the company of such brilliant authors. They are visionaries. I am a hack with a slight ability to teach. Finishing this book is killing me, that I do know. Six months after launching my business, I pretty much shut it down so I could write the book.

I am the queen of contact and the king of the non-billable hour. When I am not working on the book, I'm toiling on A List Apart or the WaSP. When I'm not doing those things, I'm answering reader mail, notes from old friends and old co-workers, requests from acquaintances and people I don't know yet. Who want me to tell them why their CSS or JavaScript don't work. Or who who want permission to reprint something I've written. Or permission to use my code and markup on their site. Or who want to debate the latest ALA article or WaSP editorial.

I co-founded the ALA mailing list so web designers with questions could get answers from the community instead of from me. But a third-party's carelessness killed the mailing list, and, anyway, it seems people would rather write to me. With help from Webcore Labs, I just launched an ALA discussion forum so people can debate the latest articles in a place where it will do some good. But most people write to me anyway.

And every day there are phone calls and letters from the incredibly gifted people who are changing the way the web looks, reads, and functions. People I can't name without seeming to brag. My in-box and answering machine are a who's who in web design and publishing.

These are not chatty one-liners. They are conversations that go on for days. About web standards, web structures, and web design. They are collaborations, magazine and book interviews, beta-testing requests, business proposals, lengthy and brilliant submissions to ALA. They are secrets and confidences, sneak previews of new sites and new technologies.

Above all they are friendship. A friendship unlike all others. Because all of us in this life, however much we love our "normal" friends, have a special relationship with people who do what we do. Like Mafia members, we love our families, but long for the company of other wiseguys. Finding them, we write and phone, conspire and collaborate, from the sheer joy of exchanging ideas with someone who understands.

And I cannot keep up with it all.


As far as I know, this is the only body I'm going to get, and if I keep using it up this way I will either go out or burn out. I'll be one of those guys on the streets of New York City, mumbling to himself about Network Solutions and DHTML. Or I won't be around at all.

So today, because I was too foolish to rest, a power greater than myself knocked me out cold and forced me to. Today I slept while others worked and lived. And soon I will go back to sleep. Lest I trade nightly rest for eternal.

I would not exchange my glamorous life for Brad Pitt's or anyone's. But I must find balance. I must allow myself to let some email rot in my in-box like unrefrigerated cabbage. I must say no to some of the non-profit, collaborative projects my friends are constantly proposing. (After all, I say no to plenty of paid work.) I must learn to reply at less than novella length. Take breaks and remember to eat. On 12 January I had a birthday—not my 18th. By anyone's definition, I am a full-fledged adult. It's time to start acting like one.

But first I have to finish the book.

The author and his opinions.
Copyright © 1995–2002 Jeffrey Zeldman Presents
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