May 2023 — all the anniversaries, it seems. Where to begin?
This month marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of my beloved grandmother, St. Dorothy the Matriarch. The 20th anniversary of my bachelor’s degree. The 10th anniversary of the arrival of Murphy and Fiona d’Cat into my home. The 5th anniversary of my departure from Priority Health/Spectrum Health System and my trip to Quebec.
Time waits for no one, although apparently I’ve made y’all wait 8.5 months for another blog update. So, with apologies, allow me to quote Sophia Petrillo: “Buckle up, slut puppies!”
Time to walk the plank.
When last we spoke, I had been volunteering at a cat shelter. Long story short — I eventually spent two months as a very-part-time employee of the shelter (the Cat Care Manager) and then we went our separate ways at the end of January. I love the mission of that place; I do not love the culture there. Most of my work related to the clinical care of the cats — administering meds and certain vaccinations, assessing overall health, giving fluids when needed, alerting the veterinarian about emerging clinical concerns, overseeing medically supervised feedings, and such. I really loved those cats, including my dear friends One-Eyed Jack and Isa. Alas, Jack died shortly after Christmas, but Dr. Jen surprised me with his ashes, collar tag, and a paw print.
Closer to home, Murphy and Fiona are doing great. Hard to believe they’re sauntering up, at the end of this year, to their 15th birthday. Similarly, Kali d’Cat has been living her best kitty life on the back porch. All three are thriving.
But now there’s a New Cat on the Block. Allison and I took in a stray at the office. His name is Theon, because he’s a joyful grey who came to us already snipped. He had been wandering around the buildings for more than a week, nesting beneath an overhang along our east wall. I brought him food and he loved it. Then, in early November, we had our first real cold snap of the season, so we decided to escort him indoors permanently. Didn’t take him long to decide he owns the joint. Dr. Jen gave him a clean bill of health in December.
Theon has been well-nigh purrfect. He doesn’t scratch anything. He demonstrates perfect litterbox etiquette. He has never been aggressive with humans, including those of the 7-year-old variety who instill a sense of terror in him. He’s really bonded with me, specifically. Lately he’s seemed bored, so Allison and I are considering another cat back here to keep him company.
The upside to our office building is that, because the back half was an addition, the front area and the back area are on completely separate HVAC systems. We keep the kitchen door closed, so folks who come for karate or to shop the bookstore haven’t demonstrated any signs of allergies, including Sensei Bill, who is very much allergic to cats.
Stacking the Tech
Slowly but surely, I’ve been moving to an all-Apple environment. I use an M1 iMac in the office and a beefed-up M2 Mac mini, with Studio Display, at home. I have two M1 iPad Airs (one each for home and office), an iPhone 14 Pro, an Apple Watch Ultra, two sets of iPods Max (home and office), iPods Pro 2, a few HomePods, and now an Apple TV 4K. Although I very much appreciate my Surface Laptop Studio (and my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra), and very much am intrigued by the Phone Link app, the Microsoft/Android direct-to-consumer game just isn’t where Apple’s is, and I find I’d rather do other things than continuously tweak my hardware ecosystem.
And speaking of “4K,” a while back my friend Jason R. invited me over to watch a couple of episodes of Star Trek: Picard (season 3). ‘Twas a glorious experience, except I noticed that his TV was an order-of-magnitude clearer and nicer than mine. I was perplexed, so I looked at mine and realized it was “just” an HDTV. So I bought a new 4K TV, a 4K Blu-ray player, and a new sound bar. And a bunch of Blu-ray discs. All of a sudden, watching TV is fun again, although apparently it’s an expensive hobby.
On the software front, I’ve consolidated almost all of my email through a paid ProtonMail account. There are things about ProtonMail I don’t really like, but overall, One Email Service To Gather Them In And In The Darkness Bind Them has been well worth the tradeoff relative to certain forms of functionality.
Long-time readers know that I’ve been kvetching about personal productivity software since the dawn of time. For a long while, I used a mix of Microsoft OneNote and Todoist. Then I did everything in plain-text Markdown using Visual Studio Code; VS Code became my gateway to everything, all synced to my private GitLab server. Then for a hot second, I went back to Todoist, with Bear App. But then in late December I discovered an entire online niche for “personal knowledge management” and after some thoughtful deliberation, I migrated my notes and tasks to Logseq. It’s a logical outliner with built-in support for backlinking and (because it’s based in large part on Emacs Org-Mode) robust task management. Think of it like a personal wiki and to-do tool in one package.
The biggest reason for the migration is The Graph. Put differently, my previous approach depended on folder hierarchies. Although I could tag pages, I always struggled about the “where” in the tree any given bit of information belonged. With Logseq’s backlinks, everything connects to everything else, visualized as a giant graph that I can navigate with ease. These days, I don’t put things on pages; I rely on a daily journal and simply tag bullet points (i.e., blocks, which can be individually addressed!) as appropriate. If I need visibility into a given tag, I can click it and it turns into a page with every one of those tags listed. Clean and efficient, although a bit of a learning curve. Probably only recommended for folks who are already tech-savvy.
At this point, Logseq is my one-stop solution for notes, calendars, and tasks. I’m still fine-tuning my setup, but I’m digging the locally housed Markdown files that are encrypted but accessible across all my devices. Anything I’m doing longer-form, like a book, I’m still writing in LaTeX using VS Code.
For the most part, my social life has been fairly sedate since last September. I’ve been so focused on work that apart from a few one-off events (dinner and a show with Tony and Jen; cigars with Scott; a Gilbert & Sullivan performance with Allison) I’ve kept on truckin’ that daily grind.
The biggest exception was mid-December, when I welcomed The Bot Wranger into my home for a week. Dawn, from Melbourne, visited the U.S. for an extended stay; thus, I enjoyed the privilege of playing host for a while. We made the most of it, including a quiet night writing by the fire as well as a winter trek to Frederik Meijer Gardens.
Oh, and I can’t forget February, when the members of the OG Tribe writing group (me, Allison, Andrew, and Theresa) enjoyed a three-day writing retreat at a rustic cabin well north of Cadillac. Highly productive, and also a reminder of how much fun group food preparation can be.
Late December through early February was miserable. I managed, in quick succession, to get RSV, a sinus infection, and acute sinusitis — that last one, thanks (I later learned) to a pharmacy compounding error. So for about six or seven straight weeks, my sinuses felt like they’d been packed with pancake batter. This situation adversely affected a bunch of stuff, most significantly my sleep schedule, because the symptoms were most acute at night when I tried to lay down to catch some Zs. The week between Christmas and New Year’s was probably the worst of it, and I missed out on a trip to Las Vegas with Roux over that gunk.
One bit of interesting insight came from Zoe. Zoe is a UK-based health startup. I read a profile of them one day and decided to sign up. The TL;DR is that you provide them with a blood sample and a stool sample, and then you wear a continuous glucose monitor for two full weeks. During that CGM period, you embark upon various nutrition challenges. The upshot is that they crunch your gut-flora, blood lipid, and blood glucose data to provide a fine-tuned explanation of what foods are more-or-less good for you based on your own biochemical response to them. Every food is given a score between zero and 100, and scores vary between people. For example, a person with poor glycemic control might find that a banana scores a 47 while someone with good glycemic control scores a 73. Your goal with Zoe is to maintain a long-run composite average of 75 or higher. It doesn’t count calories or macros, just the composite food scores. Plus, you get an individualized report about your body’s reaction to fats and sugars in food and what those will do to your intestinal ecosystem.
Zoe also sends you a report detailing your precise composition of various bacteria (good and bad) in your gut. This information is super-useful in understanding why certain foods affect you in certain ways, and also, how to find foods that pair well for good overall gastrointestinal health.
Wax On; Wax Off
In other news — since January I’ve been teaching the Monday/Wednesday 9 a.m. karate classes. Those have been going well; I treat Mondays as overall curriculum review and Wednesdays as open floor. I believe I’ll be testing for nidan (second-degree black belt) in August.
In our style, Uechi-ryu Karate, it takes 18 to 36 months to prepare for shodan (first-degree black belt). After that, you must wait 12 months to test for nidan, 24 months to test for sandan (3rd), 36 months to test for yondan (4th), and then five years between belts for 5th and higher. Part of this is because the yondan test is the last “physical” test where you’re assessed based on specific curricular material. At godan (5th) and higher, the nature of assessment changes from physical competency to leadership, teaching effectiveness, and attitude. It’s not an accident that shihan (master instructor) is awarded no earlier than godan rank, and usually at rokudan (6th degree).
Funny thing — our dojo, given the long history of Uechi-ryu in Grand Rapids, is unusually top-heavy. Our “spiritual head,” so to speak, is Don Joyner (8th degree, working toward 9th). The on-site master instructor, Chris, is 6th working toward 7th. We have five 6th-degree black belts, a bunch of 4th and 5th degrees. After the August test, we will have three times more black belts at or above 4th degree than we do 1st to 3rd. Which is crazy, but great from my perspective.
Mel and I led a successful 2022 NaNoWriMo season in November. With in-person events back on the table, we held Kickoff at a county park and the Day of Knockout Noveling at my office. The group is much smaller, but it demonstrated a remarkable esprit d’corps. So there’s that.
In terms of my own writing:
- My Bear book is stalled. I really want to write it, but I know I need to tweak a few structural things and I have no real appetite for that at the moment.
- I recently came back to Sanctuary, a short detective novel I wrote in 2013. I had actually forgotten all about it, but now I’m having a blast doing rewrites based on ten additional years of writing experience.
- I spent the writing retreat focused on The 40 Strategies. This is a big project I love, but it’s so complex, content-wise, that I can only work it in small bites.
Right now, I’m really digging the Sanctuary revisions and may well turn the concept into a freestanding series of detective novels.
The work front has seen some significant evolution.
First, Gillikin & Associates has a new client — a direct-sales wine company. I’ve been performing virtual CIO duties for them for a few months now, in addition to my contract with the jewelry company. For the latter client, the bulk of my time has shifted to compliance management, and I’m functioning as the compliance officer for the company. It’s been a fascinating experience, all around. For the wine company, my initial portfolio has focused on implementing a complete corporate-analytics program, which I’m standing up with a mix of open-source tools and new negotiated features with the company’s back-end tech vendor platforms.
On top of all that, I recently joined the advisory board of a National Science Foundation grant regarding the incorporation of ethical reasoning into math pedagogy at the undergraduate and graduate levels. This is fascinating work that follows from my service on the working committee to revise the Guidelines for Ethical Statistical Practice for the American Statistical Association.
The real news, however, is on the literary front. I’ve had to break some things apart to better position different value propositions with various audiences.
Diction Dude has been quiet, by design. Diction Dude is the LLC I founded specifically for author consulting. It’s also the brand identity under which my publishing-focused books have been launched, and I’ve reserved a podcast for it. DD has been mostly on hold for the last few years; it’s the final link in the editorial food chain but also the one that I’d prefer to wait until the end to address.
On the publishing front, Lakeshore Literary has been going gangbusters. We held a well-attended launch event in late October for our anthology, Surface Reflections, and the first two issues of our literary journal, The Lakeshore Review. Issue No. 3 just came out; we’re in production for Issue No. 4 and the reading period for Issue No. 5 ends July 31. In January, we released What I Can Do, the memoir of Mary K. Hoodhood, who is the founder of Kid’s Food Basket. And we’re about to open the reading window for the next edition of the anthology.
And while I’m at it, I launched Lakeshore Literary Foundation. This non-profit organization is recognized by the State of Michigan, with 501c3 paperwork inbound to the Internal Revenue Service. The primary goal of LLF is to support readers and writers along all facets of their creative journeys. As such, we are (or will soon) offer nearly a dozen distinct programs. Of note, the Grand River Writing Tribe will be a Foundation program, under the leadership of my friend and colleague Andrew. A pair of us are starting a weekly podcast, to debut this summer, which will (in the autumn) also air on WYCE FM. My friend and colleague Lisa is going to spearhead an annual literary-awards festival. A lot’s on the docket, and I’m eager to begin recruiting for a board of directors that can help with funding. And so on, et cetera.
Last but not least, Jason’s Books and Coffee. This company is the result of people not wanting to buy books directly from a publisher. As of today, we’ve shelved nearly 1,000 volumes, mostly used books. (We sell all used books for $5 and we buy books for $2.50.) The goal is to build JBC into a regional destination for small-press and self-published books as well as high-quality but low-circulation literary journals. We’re also opening the doors as an events space. And don’t forget the coffee and snacks; I now make a mean latte, and we’ve had repeat customers off-the-street thanks to nothing more than our address being visible in Google, Bing, and Apple Maps.
I’ve joined the American Booksellers Association and hired a part-time office administrator, Cade. He’s been helping with inventory, shipping, and social media — we’re on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. He’s such a delight to work with.
The bookstore is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. These are sparse hours, particularly for a coffee shop, but for now, it’s a start. I’m usually the one working, although when I’m out of the building, Allison covers for me.
So that’s the update for now. I hope you are all doing well.