A week ago today, I inaugurated my 43rd spin ’round the sun as a tiny fleshy dot upon this big blue marble. Using a process I call “math,” I discovered that such a number is smack-dab between the ages of 18 and 68. Which means I’m at the midpoint between the transition into adulthood from childhood, and the transition from adulthood into that second childhood known as retirement.
Casual readers of this award-winning, fan-favorite blog have no doubt noticed a general decline in posting frequency over 2019. Such relative quiescence isn’t accidental. In fact, it’s coupled with something else I did — banishing Facebook.
(Okay, banish is too strong a word. I deleted the app off my phone and today marked the first time in roughly six weeks that I logged in through a browser. I’m not deleting the app — I administer some business accounts — but for all practical purposes, I’m off FB. This situation will likely endure. So if you’ve got great news to share, please email me.)
Anyway, I’m overdue for an update, given that the last one was five months ago. I’m writing in the late evening, with the windows open an an early autumn rain pounding the driveway and the feline overlords unusually sedate. A perfect environment for writing, so to quote Sophia Petrillo: “Buckle up, slut puppy.” Here we go.
A Birthday Reflection
I don’t welcome my 43rd year with any bold new insight or special resolution. Instead, I merely observe that the horizon upon which I think and act seems to have lengthened, which has affected how I assess the relative value of any specific course of action. Once upon a time, I thought in terms of days and weeks. Later, I thought in terms of months. Now, I tend to think in years and decades.
What I mean is this: When I was in my 20s, I tended to consider what I was going to do “this week.” Maybe if money was tight, I’d have to think about how I’d pay the rent “next month.” It never occurred to me to think about “next year.” In my mid-to-late 30s, however, I pondered more about the goals I had for “next year” whereas “next week” was largely off-radar. That change of frame proved useful. I had advanced my career to the point where I didn’t need to think about how I was going to pay the rent or my car loan. I could therefore strategize, in the autumn, about a Vegas trip the following spring, for example.
In my early 40s, I find my life-strategy time focused more and more on how I’m going to tee myself up for retirement. Being single with no dependents, I have a lot of flexibility. But I also lose a bit of security because I can’t count on a spouse and maybe a few crumb-crunchers to circle around me when I’m wrinkled and grey. Planning for a transition from prime adulthood into old age means laying plans now. And although I don’t envision ever retiring per se, I do foresee a transition in stages from the burning-the-candle-at-both-ends life I’m now living, to a gradual stepdown in frenzy over many careful years of preparation. I aim to be the 85-year-old man brandishing a cane and a rapier wit, speaking at yet another book-launch party. Not the guy sitting on a rocking chair outside a by-the-month motel, sucking on an oxygen tank and worried about whether I’ll get a new power scooter to help with The Diabeetus.
I’ve been watching several of the YouTube lectures of Jordan B. Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist and faculty at the University of Toronto. He’s recently famous for some of his political controversies as well as his two major books, Maps of Meaning and The 12 Rules for Life. I read the latter book when it came out, and I’ve been reflecting on Peterson’s specific advice. Some of his ideas resonate, like the notion that life’s basically a bunch of suffering — don’t expect to be happy, but at least try to be less avoidably miserable. And that a life worth living takes a lifetime to build, “so get on with it, man.”
One does not become a wise, respected, less-miserable elder by default. So “get on with it,” indeed. More about that subject after we conduct a whirlwhind tour of the last few months.
My Summer in a Nutshell
Life since the tail-end of April has been, as they say, a box of chocolates:
Travel. I’ve gone to Las Vegas twice (May and August) with a bunch of friends from the Vegas-focused podcasting community. Tony and I trekked to Louisville for a long weekend over the Independence Day holiday, for distillery tours and gambling. I spoke at a conference in D.C. in June. I flew to Denton, Texas in late July to reconnect with my DDB/DICKS friends. I made a day trip to Chicago to meet with friends in May. I’ve been out of Michigan for at least part of each month, May through September.
Outdoors. Progress! I started flying lessons, although I’m pausing that initiative temporarily given how often I’ve been bounced among flight instructors (they need to get their $@%^ together). I’ve done a few day hikes, including along the North Country Trail. I’ll be kayaking this coming Saturday on the Grand River with my friend Scott. Went scuba diving a few times in inland Michigan, and gave my updated gear a nice shakedown. Completed some great courses through Fortune Bay Expedition Team, including a hot-weather medicine class and a day-long river-rescue course on the Rogue River.
Reading. My reading slowed a bit over the summer because I’ve been preoccupied with writing — an acceptable tradeoff. But I’ve managed to devour George F. Will’s The Conservative Sensibility and Kevin D. Williamson’s The Smallest Minority. That said, I’ve also purchased a ton of books that sit on my to-be-read shelf. Twenty-four titles await review, ranging from books about moral theory and literary editing standards, to Jim Harrison’s Off to the Side. I look forward to colder weather and its invitation to build roaring wood fires in my office fireplace while enjoying soft Bach, a fuzzy blanket, a good book and a purring lap cat.
Writing. I’ve been writing so much that my fingertips hurt. I’m closing in on the 100k-word mark for From Pencil to Print, my reference book for emerging writers. I recently closed the first draft of the infamous (to me) Chapter 4, which focuses on the most common structural and mechanical problems I’ve encountered over five years of vetting cold queries. That chapter, believe it or not, clocks in at 25,000 words. But they’re good words. (Please, Lord, make them be good words.) I’ve also plunged headfirst into Delivering MIRACLES, a book about the proper staffing and structuring of healthcare quality teams. I’ve really struggled with the organization of this latter book, but during prep for a presentation I’m delivering in October, inspiration struck and now I’m really excited for this book because I think I “cracked the code.” And on a personal front, I recently released one of my erotica novellas on Amazon — under pseudonym, of course. And I really enjoyed the three-night writers’ retreat I did in August as well as my semimonthly meetings of the Grand River Writing Tribe.
Working. Nearly a year and a half after I left Priority Health, I’ve long since found solid contract work that’s replaced my former W-2 income. My major client right now — a New York media corporation — brought me aboard to perform technical document review full-time, and as such, I get to be a temporary W-2 employee of a tiny Florida-based payroll firm instead of a pure 1099 contractor managing invoices. The upshot is that in addition to an easier long-run tax position, I now enjoy decent medical, dental and vision benefits at very nice rates through this payroll firm. It’s still contract work that I negotiate, but through an agency instead of through direct invoicing. In addition, I’ve joined groups like the Small Business Association of Michigan, the Grand Rapids Chamber and the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. In fact, I sponsored a session at SBAM’s annual conference this year and moderated a panel on work-life balance. Professionally, even though I’ve been quiet, I’ve been busy on these books and on earned business.
My Autumnal Re-Centering
So, a good summer. But the autumn? Horse of a different color.
Whilst recreating in the Lone Star State, I had a bit of a health scare in the form of a significant attack of heartburn. So far, so anodyne, right? Happens to everyone at some point — but not to me. Long story short, I’m at a pivot point where an immediate health detour is necessary while a delayed or avoided detour will prove not-okay. Much of what’s going now on re-creates the end of 2004, so it’s familiar territory. Back then, I needed an EGD because I had significant esophageal erosions and scarring arising from mostly asymptomatic GERD. Plus, obesity. Plus, exhaustion. Plus, pre-diabetes. Plus, plus, plus. So in January 2005, I was in a do-or-(eventually)-die moment. So I did — I left grad school, left the newspaper, lost 110 pounds in 2005 (and another 30 pounds in 2006), got a gym membership and used it five or six times per week, started karate, took up long-distance running, etc. And I maintained those gains until mid-2009, when the quadruple-whammy of a major auto accident, several rapid changes of domicile, a new high-drama boss at the hospital, and a significant Vitamin D deficiency brought back something like 60 pounds in six months. Since then, I’ve been on a fairly regular cycle of plateau, stress response, re-plateau.
So, yes. It’s 2004 all over again, but even more so. I now need to repeat 2005, or else.
The funny thing is that I really don’t consciously perceive overt stress. I don’t suffer from depression and anxiety. My stress is more biological than psychological — I do too much and am spread too thin, but I’ve always been loathe to say no to things and to stop doing things that ought to be stopped, so I end up burning the candle at both ends and then dropping a match in the middle. And because there’s so much to do in parallel, everything progresses glacially, frustrating some and creating a negative feedback loop for me, emotionally, that eventually manifests physically.
It takes a significant shock to upset that cycle. And now, for the first time since 2004, the shock has been delivered.
The practical upshot is that I’m clearing the plate of almost everything. Call it the Great Purge of 2019. On an immediate front, I canceled my travel to Phoenix and Rome (the former for practical reasons related to health management). And I’m unwinding practically everything else. I resigned last week from my role on the Write616 board of directors. I discontinued participation in a peer-networking group online. I’m not yet ready, in the context of this blog, to fully disclose everything that’s changing, given that some readers here will be affected by some things that haven’t yet been announced in their proper context. Let it suffice that a lot of stuff is moving from my must-do column to my stop-do column between now and New Years Eve, but details will emerge in the official channels where those details more properly belong, in the days and weeks to come.
In 2005, I hit the reset button and stopped everything but my day job. What filled the gap proved largely unplanned. Not bad, but not planned. In 2019, I’m hitting the reset button again — but at least this time, I’ve got a strategery.
The Road Ahead
So what’s next?
Well, mid-September through the end of January will be a period of hibernation. No out-of-state travel. A lot of big rocks in my jar will move to different gardens by the end of the calendar year. I’ll be spending my days working and my nights reading and writing. A lot of the stuff that’s clogged my calendar and my to-do list now glides toward the dustbin, with some things — being more significant — requiring several months of transition. My mornings will begin with reflection and exercise; my nights will end with journaling.
My diet’s changing. In fact, it’s already changed, and apart from a beer after an NCT hike last Saturday, I haven’t had alcohol or a cigar since I podcasted with Tony two weeks ago, a fact made glaringly obvious when I stepped on the scale this morning and saw a 5-lb. reduction in just one week. I’m getting back into aerobic exercise with a determination borne of necessity. I intend to take two days each week for myself, a pure sabbath on Sunday and a maintenance Monday for clean-up, errands and personal time.
You are unlikely to see me on social media, but you may come across me at church — I recently joined Sacred Heart. You may find me at a writers’ group or a one-off local cultural activity. You might find me on the trail. Otherwise, you’ll find me at home.
But yes. Autumn began yesterday. I’m taking the season to hunker down. To be quiet. To do and to be and to fix.
Because I’m really excited for what 2020 holds, and I aim to be maximally ready for it.