Saddle-Breaking the Whirlwind

Well, the last few weeks have certainly been eventful. Where to begin?

New Orleans

I co-presented a session about the emerging professional competencies for health data analytics at this year’s RLPalooza, the annual vendor conference hosted by RL Solutions. I had been invited by the leadership of the National Association for Healthcare Quality to attend, given that I had co-led the rapid-cycle performance-improvement team that developed the HDA competency framework. Great professional experience, and I really enjoyed returning to The Big Easy. Haven’t been there since before Hurricane Katrina.

I give RL Solutions a ton of credit: They know how to throw a party. Not only did they bring in some really engaging speakers, but the food was excellent and the open bars served top-shelf spirits. The “Secret Dinner” — an annual tradition whereby they transport the entire group of conference attendees to an undisclosed location for an evening of revelry — was at the Superdome. RL bought out the Superdome, erected a sound stage and a dozen food and drink stations … then brought in Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, for a brief talk and then photos. Plus a local band, plus the hilarious 610 Stompers performers. Each of us had our picture taken; the photos were edited by RL staff and then displayed, in rotating alpha order, on the jumbotron. Rather fun, especially as the vodka tonics flowed freely. The alligator sausages were extra tasty.

The scene as we entered the Superdome. A sound stage and food/alcohol stations circled the screened seating area.
The scene as we entered the Superdome. A sound stage and food/alcohol stations circled the screened seating area.
My photo card, as it appeared on the Jumbotron display.
My photo card, as it appeared on the Jumbotron display.

My flights connected through Dallas. Although I did text Roux with a good-natured “complaint” that DFW needed to mow the lawn around the runway, I was saddened to see the flood devastation in north Texas — even now, the carnage is obvious, with entire structures still just poking their heads above engorged lakes and scenes like golf courses where half or more of the landscape remains underwater. Surreal, and a reminder to be grateful for what you have, while you have it.


The week before Memorial Day, I flew to Chicago for a NAHQ focus group dedicated to optimizing the relationship between the national group and the various state-level affiliates across the country. As president-elect of the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality, and as NAHQ’s co-lead for its State Leaders Team, I enjoyed the opportunity to review and then suggest improvements to the current legal murkiness of affiliation agreements, 501(c)(6) requirements and transference of liability to the folks with the deepest pockets. The day-long meeting was quite useful and utterly fascinating.

Other Travel Plans

The rest of the year looks calmer. I believe I’m going to the Joint Statistical Meetings in Seattle in early August. I am also aiming for a Vegas trip in late August, to see my friend Jared who’ll be back from overseas. I opted at the 11th hour to skip the Bonaire diving trip because the conference in New Orleans presented an intriguing professional opportunity, and because flights to and from the island, on the weekdays, connect through Amsterdam. So, yeah. Plus a Middle East trip is still on the table, and I have toyed with the idea of doing VIMFP in Sin City in October, but October abuts, at present, several scheduled release events for Caffeinated Press as well as a CafPress-related speaking engagement. Speaking of which ….

Caffeinated Press Update

The house anthology for Caffeinated Press, Brewed Awakenings, passed its May 31 deadline for new submissions. We’ve received 67 unique contributions from about 60 authors. Fun stuff. Now the review work begins! Progress continues for The 3288 Review; our submission deadline is June 30 and we’ve got design work underway plus we’ve already received our ISSN from the Library of Congress.

Speaking of the LoC: Inasmuch as it’s easy to mock the relative incompetence and/or inefficiency of government, I’ve had to work with the LoC twice this year, and both times, they delivered early and gave me everything I needed to know in one comprehensive and accessible package. Perhaps librarians (or archivists) ought to run the world?

Oh, and the big news: We’ve leased an office. Later this month we move into 1,150 square feet located off Ken-O-Sha park, at the intersection of Kalamazoo Avenue and 32nd Street. The walls and carpet are being redone. We’ll have space reserved for the board of directors plus a few of our more high-volume editors, then open collaboration space for other editors and for any local authors who want a place to decamp for a writing session. We’ll have a coffee station, snacks, a microwave and refrigerator, some futons, etc. We can use the space for small writer gatherings and for getting work done. I’m excited.

If you’re in the mood for an additional read, I’ve posted to the CafPress blog our “Editor’s Toolkit for Assessing Fiction” and “Vanquishing Vexing Verbosity.” I wrote them, so you know they’ll be good.

And if you support our mission, consider a financial investment. We’re currently accepting short-term funding from our allies in the community. Write us a check, we’ll pay you back quarterly — plus 10 percent. Better than a savings account!

Quick Hits

Other thingies:

  • Enjoyed a tasty breakfast last Sunday at Wolfgang’s in Eastown, with Steve, Brittany and April. Mmm, breakfast.
  • Took my first Uber ride. My flight from New Orleans landed well after midnight, so I fired up the app and off I went. Much cheaper than a taxi. Plus, the driver was already at the airport, so I literally walked non-stop from the jetbridge to his Escalade. Driver was a semi-retiree who liked to keep busy. Charming fellow. I fully expect that future G.R. trips will feature me getting to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport by municipal bus, then home by Uber, to avoid parking fees.
  • Tony has lately managed our podcast edits, and he’s done a good job with them.
  • Planning for the October conference of the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality continues apace. Looks like a solid program is shaping up.
  • The Jimmy is down, and perhaps for good this time. The search for a replacement vehicle begins again. *sigh*
  • I think I have a cold. If I do, it’s one of the mildest I’ve ever had.

A Reflective Postscript

You know the old saying: You can’t shove 10 lbs. of manure into a 5-lb. sack. As far as conventional wisdom goes, this slogan is fairly conventionally wise. But when you have 10 lbs. of “stuff” and just a 5-lb. sack to put it in, whatcha gonna do? Because shrugging your shoulders and quoting homespun maxims really isn’t a viable long-term solution.

I cast my mind’s eye back a full decade. I was about four months into life after grad school and the newspaper, and five months into a spartan diet-and-exercise regime. My existence at that point consisted mostly of a 40-hour day job at the hospital and nothing else. So I’d come home, exercise for an hour, then retreat to my desk to mindlessly surf the Web or tinker with the online political simulations I had joined. I’m astonished, in retrospect, at just how little of my time was occupied with meaningful, strategic pursuits in the period of roughly 2005 through 2012.  In 2006/07, I did karate and ran a lot. In 2008 I got my dive certification but the only diving I did was into the dating pool, with sitcom-like results. From 2009 to 2011, I went through a rough patch and foundered on the shoals of self-inflicted helplessness dotting the Sea of Ennui, bouncing from domicile to domicile and going nearly two years without a car after the disaster of totaling my Grand Cherokee.

It wasn’t until 2013, when I got more involved with professional groups and got more serious about writing, that things picked up. By Thanksgiving of that year, I had reached capacity. I thought the tide of busyness would recede, but it never did; November 2013 was an inflection point of sorts. By focusing on a “win” for National Novel Writing Month — and succeeding! — I threw many of my long-established habits to the wayside, and my old way of doing things never really recovered. Instead, more task-generating opportunities came into the mix: Additional contract writing. NAHQ and MAHQ and the ASA. The WriteOn! writing group. Podcasting. Caffeinated Press. Cigar nights. &c.

For a while, particularly last year, my stress levels remained fairly high. Too much to do, not enough time to do it. Then I’d get people asking me to do social activities on short or no notice, and my default response was irritation: Don’t they know how busy I am? Those rare days when I had a “night off” with no fire drills usually translated into me ordering pizza and crashing with Netflix for hours on end, just to recharge. There’s an upper limit to how long, and how intensely, you can burn the candle from both ends, until all you have left is ash.

But being busy is a choice, not a condition. The solution to the 5-lb. sack problem is to downsize or otherwise reconfigure your 10 lbs. of stuff. As Lady Thatcher said: “There. Is. No. Alternative.” We must always cultivate the serenity to accept the world as it is and to adapt our response to it in light of our natural capacities. Trying to be all things to all people, or over-committing and under-delivering, marks an untenable strategy that inevitably leads to failure, depression and curmudgeonhood.

Life is a lot like the weather. One day, you have fair skies and favorable winds. The next day, the skies darken and the gentle breeze transform into a whirlwind. An immature person gets caught in the whirlwind, letting circumstance control his destiny, until he’s been so bruised and battered that he cannot endure. A mature person, by contrast, throws a saddle on the whirlwind, trying to direct it as best he can but knowing that his real goal is to avoid being bucked off and then trampled underneath.

We can only do what we can do, and we either need to surrender those other things that don’t fit into the 5-lb. sack, or delegate them. I think I have been slow to accept that I’m not really omnipotent. So now, as I look at my Roadmap and think about the second half of 2015, I have to think about what’s important, what’s an optional good and what’s an unnecessary distraction.

I’ve been busy, but I’ve let myself become busy for no good reason, such that important but not time-sensitive goals keep getting kicked down the road in service to the tyranny of the urgent.

But like I said: “Busy” is a choice. Time to saddle-break that whirlwind.

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