2019: A Year of Investment and Divestment

As themes go, 2019 presented a big one: Purposeful investment in new things and thoughtful divestment of old things. We’ll explore that idea in more detail after a quick wrap-up of the year gone by.

2019 in Review

January started on the right foot — literally and metaphorically — with a brisk hike with the FBET team at Yankee Springs on the morning of New Year’s Day, followed a few days later by a cigar contest at Grand River Cigar. I taught a “get fit to print” course at the office, I attended an arctic-medicine course at Metro Health, and — highlight of the month — I took my nephew Kyler by Amtrak for a day at the Adler Planetarium and the Chicago Field Museum (on the coldest day of Chicago’s winter, as it happened).

February brought the Chicagoland Casino Trip, wherein a dozen or so people gathered to visit Horseshoe Hammond, Harrah’s Joliet, Hollywood Joliet, Ameristar, Majestic Star, etc. A good weekend trip with my “casino/podcast” friends from around the country. That month also brought An Evening of Literary Luminescence to completion — a major fundraiser for Write616, with special guest Linda Nemec Foster.

In March, I offered my final round of intensive on-site interviews for our Caffeinated Press interns that year before handing over the keys to the internship program to Brittany. Then, off to the New Orleans Bourbon Festival. A dozen folks from across the country met for bourbon, cigars, food and frivolity in the Crescent City. My trip was (slightly) hamstrung by taking the Amtrak to Chicago and flying out of O’Hare; our train engineer had a “cardiac incident,” delaying us three hours and forcing me to rebook my flight. (He was fine, according to a conductor at the end of the trip.) But otherwise, it was a fabulous experience with wonderful people.

In April, I spent like a drunken fish: I paid off my car and my credit cards, booked some travel, knocked some items off my “to acquire” list, and re-geared myself for scuba. I also began flight lessons through Tulip City Air Service and enjoyed a 30-minute interview on WYCE radio about Write616 and the local literary community.

In May, we booked our package for this coming February’s diving trip to Bonaire. I attended the NAHQ Summit in Chicago — a good experience with good speakers. I taught an Author Platform course, too. At the end of the month, Tony and I flew first class to Las Vegas for 360 Vegas Vacation VII, which was a ton of fun … and profitable, in that I hit a royal flush at 50-cent video poker, good for a $2,000 hand pay.

In June, I hoofed it to Washington, D.C. to speak at the District of Columbia Hospital Association annual meeting. Plus, I completed a day-long river rescue course through FBET, followed by a desert-medicine course. I also began the first-wave expansion of the Grand River Writing Tribe, which entailed a new server and a new forum system. Toward the end of the month, I led a panel discussion (that I sponsored, through Gillikin & Associates) at the annual meeting of the Small Business Association of Michigan, which was keynoted by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The month ended on a high note with the wedding of Brice and AmyJo.

July started with an Independence Day Weekend trip to Louisville, with Tony. We spent a few days at the Horseshoe Southern Indiana (and one night at the Seelbach) and explored many different distilleries. Mid-month, I hosted a table at the Books Alive! event in Ludington. The peak of summer coincided with a long weekend in Denton, Texas, where I had the chance to meet with many of my North Texas friends and attend a meeting of the D.I.C.K.S.; as usual, Roux proved a gracious host.

August proved a bit more quiet, at least at the beginning. I attended the MiFiWriters annual writing retreat in Dowling, Michigan, for three nights. Always the highlight of my writing year. I also did a bit of diving, on one occasion supporting a dive instructor in the water at Lake Versluis as he conducted an open-water certification course for a student. On the 31st, I hopped aboard a jet plane with Tony to attend 360 Vegas Vacation VIII. I ended up getting a suite at the Linq from which I hosted the ticketed 360 Whiskey Lounge event.

In September, I began my updated diet-and-exercise routine, and at the end of the month my friend Scott and I kayaked the Grand River from Grandville to Eastmanville Bayou. The month was otherwise sedate. I had canceled a few things (my planned attendance at the NAHQ conference in Phoenix, my planned trip to Rome) because I really, really needed to begin that updated diet-and-exercise routine.

In October, I helped lead an NCTA day hike in northern Kent County. This month also started (a) regular Mass attendance at Sacred Heart, and (b) my “reading Sabbath” on Sundays, where I do nothing except go to church and otherwise spend the day reading.

November started with a speaking gig at the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality conference, conveniently held in Grand Rapids this year. As in keeping with prior-year commitments, I cut down on extracurricular activities to focus on National Novel Writing Month. I didn’t work on a novel; instead, I added nearly 40,000 words to my writing textbook-in-progress, From Pencil to Print: Practical Advice for Emerging Authors. I continued my tradition of hosting a Saturday-morning write-in at Spectrum Health. Plus, Thanksgiving featured the Indiana Relatives as well as my mom, grandmother and brother with his fam.

December offered a lovely wrap-up to the year. My dining-room ceiling (of which, 15 square feet of plaster fell from the ceiling in late September) finally got patched. Our WriteOn! annual Christmas potluck at AmyJo’s was a ton of fun, as was the GRWT potluck I hosted. I helped lead another NCTA hike, this time on the NCT through Seidman Park. The annual family Christmas parties (at my grandmother’s, and my mother’s) were both a ton of fun. I hosted a “Snacky Day” of games and booze and finger foods, attended by my mom, my brother and his wife, and my nephew. Tony came to town for a weekend so we could launch his Michigan Constitution podcast. And I finished the month — just this morning — with a first phone interview for a potentially fascinating local analytics-leadership job.


On the whole, 2019 was a good year. But early on, I experienced a serious cash crunch — exacerbated by some at-the-time spottiness with my major contract client — that hit home the value of re-thinking everything on my plate. So beginning in late winter, I began thinking of ways to extricate myself from things that offered a low return on my investments of time and treasure:

  • Write616 — Although I loved the mission of this non-profit organization, Write616 featured too few hands trying to do too much work. In particular, our major fundraiser in February was hosted and executed by just Lisa and I. The experience itself was lovely; Linda Nemec Foster and W. Todd Kaneko delivered excellent readings, Robin Connell Trio offered beautiful live music and the food from Grand Valley State University was a delight. But it was a lot, for a relatively little reward. Ultimately, I had to conclude that the mission of the group was not aligned to the community’s willingness to engage. So after donating several thousand dollars and hundreds of hours of uncompensated time as board treasurer, I called it quits in September. So did Lisa, who resigned as executive director. The organization no longer exists.
  • Caffeinated Press — Five of us founded CP in 2014, and later that year we released Brewed Awakenings, an anthology of stories written and edited by the WriteOn! group. We grew. We published a lot, relatively speaking, and enjoyed great success with The 3288 Review, which John spearheaded. We supported nearly a dozen interns for academic credit over the years. Yet our unwieldy management structure and our not-for-profit activities in a for-profit business shell meant that the price of each victory came at a dear cost opaque to our authors and the larger community. In 2019 alone, I contributed nearly $15,000. That level of investment isn’t sustainable, and the price I paid in my physical and emotional health (it’s not easy being the guy everyone yells at when things outside of his control aren’t being done, on top of getting yelled at for things that are) didn’t mesh with my need to radically alter my health trajectory. So in early autumn, we agreed to shut the company down. Effective today, actually.
  • BMI — This year I hit a high point of weight I hadn’t experienced since 2004, just before I reset myself in 2005 and lost 110 pounds that year. I end 2019 down 25 or so pounds, which puts me on a 2014-level footing. And the trajectory moves in the right direction. A massive, painful heartburn attack in Denton (the first I ever had) proved to be an early indicator, but the real kick in the butt came in August, with that lake-dive excursion. I learned the hard way that my cardiopulmonary function was so weak that I needed to breathe “more” than what the regulator delivers, and that was for an easy certification dive where all I did was hold the buoy. I then weighed myself and took my blood pressure and checked my resting O2 sats, and recognized that derailment was imminent. On top of it, my old nemesis of dysphagia came back for a visit, the result of esophageal strictures arising from GERD, leading to me being extra careful about what I could eat, and how quickly, lest things get messy. (It only takes one nosebleed from regurgitating raw carrots to remind you of the value of not having this trouble to begin with.) So I went on a 30-day-no-alchohol regimen and ramped up diet compliance. All those red warning lights from mid-year are starting to flicker off, or change to yellow. My 2020 goal is to get them all fully green again.

In addition, in December, Grand River Cigar closed unexpectedly, arising from disputes among the business owners. I wasn’t there all the time, but I was there enough (and smoking enough cigars and drinking enough beer) that although I’ll miss the place, it’s probably a good idea for my health status that it’s not such a convenient and welcoming establishment any longer.


Wrapping up my roles with Caffeinated Press and Write616 opens a wide door for 2020, when those cost-and-time gains will be most clearly realized. A lot of my November and December have been focused on wind-down activities, but it’s time with a purpose, so that’s good.

And some things are changing, like Vice Lounge, which sees Tony depart, but me keeping a modified form of the show going into the new year.

The question, though, is — what comes next?

A handful of things, actually.

  1. Writing. I’ve always fit my own writing into bits and spurts where I could, but I must prioritize this effort. My professional work (the healthcare quality consulting and the publishing work) both depend on the prompt completion of my two major projects — From Pencil to Print and Delivering MIRACLES: Staffing a High-Performing Healthcare Quality Team. So more formal, protected, planned writing time already is interweaving into my weekly routine. And, of course, upping the game for the Grand River Writing Tribe helps on that front.
  2. Reading. It turns out, taking one day each week to read lets you … get books read. Who’d have thunk it? So the “Sunday Reading Sabbath” will continue beyond the October-December experiment, now baked into my weekly routine.
  3. Outside. I got some hiking/diving/kayaking/flying time in this year, but I fit it in where I could, and when “other things” got in the way, my time for those activities was the first to be slashed. With fewer “other things,” I hope to get my 100 NCT miles in 2020 as well as some more time doing FBET courses, overnight loop hikes and diving. When revenue permits, I intend to finish my pilot’s license, as well.
  4. Inside. The return to church goes hand-in-hand with a greater willingness engage in deliberate self-care, both of my emotional health and of my physical health. The trajectory since September has been awesome; it must continue, and with significantly fewer stressors in the post-CafPress era, that goal becomes easier.
  5. Consulting. I’m setting a revenue target of $10k per month. Not unreasonable, but it means I have to get crackin’ on finishing this $%&#@ book. The book itself won’t make me money, but the fact of its existence is a professional legitimizer in an industry where either books or MD licenses are the key to respectability.
  6. Publishing. CafPress is going away, but with 20 years’ experience in the editing-publishing space, I’m not calling it quits. I’m launching (probably in late winter, when I think From Pencil to Print will be ready) two new initiatives: Diction Dude, an author-consulting group focused on education (in-person paid trainings, a paid newsletter, a podcast), and Lakeshore Literary, a publishing-and-distribution company that will continue the distro aspect it already has, but it’ll also add three publishing imprints. One focuses on traditional micro-press releases, one on hybrid releases and one on issuing a branded series of public-domain classics with brief intro essays. Significantly, these initiatives will not feature business partners, and they’ll be more revenue-first instead of mission-first. I cannot continue to invest in non-revenue-generating goodwill projects anymore.
  7. Connecting. I did a decent job over 2019 of maintaining personal and professional relationships through lunches, cigar nights and various group activities. For example, I enjoyed lunch with Patrick and cigars with Scott usually once a month or so, and lunches with my old Priority Health colleagues quarterly-ish. But I can do more — in particular, with my family.

I suspect 2020 will not look much like 2019. I spent a lot of money in the year now closing, but much of it was an investment in my future success. Now, I need to get these books done and better protect my self-care time. I’ve always planned big and delivered medium, because a lot of my time was spent on high-resource, low-return activities that often got in the way of other parts of my life plan. With the biggest of these now off the table, I have fewer excuses to not deliver as big as I plan.

My stretch goal? To relocate my domicile. I’ve been in the same place for nine years. I’ve long resisted buying a house, but at this point I’m paying a very large amount of money for an increasingly dilapidated living space. Moving will be disruptive, but it’ll also likely prove necessary to bring my costs down and my sanity up.

An exciting time. Happy new year!

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