Ho! Ho! Ho! &c.

Christmas tree fairy lights it

Merry Christmas! Apparently I owe you distinguished readers an update covering the last six months. A lot has happened, so pray thee cinch thy pantaloons and let’s get jiggy with it, or something.

We’ll proceed in chronological order.

Summer of, Uh, Stuff

Holy Moses, the summer of ’23 was something else. As spring gave way to summer, I expected a relatively sedate mid-year that didn’t pick up again until mid-October. Hoo-boy, was I ever wrong. Instead, the summer was filled with ALL THE THINGS — mostly stuff I didn’t see coming, for better or for worse. My schedule was incredibly volatile; some days, I started with a lengthy to-do list and I thought, “wow, it’ll be quiet today and I’ll get a lot done” and then by the end of the day circumstances had derailed that plan entirely.

Case in point: I was scheduled to attend the Vegas Vacation but work obligations intruded.

Case in point: I was supposed to do a weekend backpacking trip but I couldn’t clear my plate to justify the extended absence.

Case in point: I had blocked time to work on my writing but I couldn’t keep that time block open consistently — it kept filling with meetings.

Case in point: I wanted to reserve Sundays for an offline reading day, but I literally haven’t had one since last winter.

About the only fun, planned thing this past summer was a beach day with the office gang, at Olive Shores park along Lake Michigan, in Ottawa County.

MiPA

In July I started a term as board secretary of the Midwest Independent Publisher’s Association. MiPA is a regional affiliate of the Independent Book Publishers Association. It’s been a fun group so far, and I’ve learned quite a bit about the real state of small-press publishing and how pretty much everyone’s struggling in this business climate.

Apollo d’Snek

Apollo and I, chillin’.

In June, Allison and I welcomed a zero-legged critter into the office. We connected with a local exotic reptile rescue to bring in Apollo — or more formally, Apollo d’Snek Jones PhD.

Apollo was billed as a Texas rat snake but we think he is a Grey rat snake, instead. He’s a bit over five feet long. When he’s out of his enclosure, he’s remarkably relaxed — he’s never been aggressive and he’s never struck at anyone. If anything, he’s very curious, and he’s been interesting insofar as he watches me and has come to recognize me, specifically.

His enclosure is in the conference room. As a colubrid (a type of snake), he likes to spend a lot of time either burrowed in his substrate or curled up in one of his two hides. He’s been super-easy to care for and his herp vet gave him a clear bill of health. We had to bulk him up a bit, given that he came to us a bit under-nourished, but after a series of quick sheds he’s settled into a quiet, comfortable life with us.

Nidan!

From L: Sensei Jay (1st degree), Sensei Allison (3rd degree), Sensei Jason (2nd degree) after our test.

In my last post I suggested I was slated for black-belt testing again. True enough, I tested again, and was awarded the rank of nidan (second-degree black belt). I continue to teach my morning classes, although the Monday classes have become a bit more formal now that we have a new student there.

I’m presently working on fine-tuning konchin kata and what we call “new 10 point.” My ability to get to evening classes was a bit constrained given my recent schedule, but I’m looking forward to getting back into the evening mix with the new year.

Of general interest: I think “we” (the team is TBD, I think) will be collaborating on a new book about our style, Uechi-ryu karate. And our master instructor, shihan Don Joyner, who issued my testing certificates, is scheduled to test for 9th-degree black belt in 2024. That’s exciting stuff; in our style, which is very much still led by the Okinawans, it’s rare for non-Japanese to rank that high. When Don tests, it’ll clear the way for our on-site lead instructor, Chris, to test for 7th degree.

Hot Wheels

Every year, on Independence Day and Christmas Day, I set aside an hour or so to review my personal Roadmap document. This one-page document has been around since 2009. And in July, it dawned on me that I really, really, really needed to replace my car. So I tentatively planned to start perhaps maybe possibly thinking about doing so in 2024.

You see, in 2016, I purchased a blue 2013 Chevy Cruze LT. The car was in excellent condition when I got it and until 2022 I barely put a dime into it beyond regular oil changes and new tires. But those small sedans have a shelf life, and 10 years is about it. In 2022 I put a few thousand into repairs but the shop said it was just a matter of time until the turbocharger went (a known problem with that model of Cruze), and over the late summer, all the hallmarks of a cracked turbo manifested. Plus I needed new tires. Plus I had an intermittent coolant leak.

In early September, whilst sitting on a conference call, I got an email from Carvana telling me I was approved for an absurd amount of money for an auto loan. So I was like, “Oh rly? Hold my beer.”

Long story short: I traded the Cruze for a mint-condition 2018 Chevy Silverado 1500, double cab. It’s white, with some interesting aftermarket stuff (like a different trailer brake controller and a really nice LED light strip below the tailgate). I installed my own running boards, and this week my brother and I are installing a mobile ham radio. My brother has literally the same make, model, year, and color of truck — just the trim is different — so I benefitted from the gift of his hard, foldable bed cover.

Carvana was a really good experience. Everything was straightforward and low-drama, and all the steps in the process were clearly communicated.

Rotation 47

Mid-September marked my 47th turn on this big blue marble. It was a good year. Celebrations were nice and low-key. Mostly some lunches with friends and family.

Introducing Cade

Me, Cade, and Chloe the Elderly Chihuahua

Another one of those really-big-deal things from the last few months: Cade.

He started working at the bookstore in the early summer, doing one or two half-days each week, helping me with inventory and with the sorting and labeling of used books for resale.

He’s a fascinating person — custodian of more than 50 animals, including more than two dozen snakes plus a horse, a dog, two cats, a chicken, a quail, fish, some pet mice, two pet rats, a frog, a gecko, a scorpion, a bunch of isopods. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Maybe a tarantula? Moral of the story: he loves animals, and it’s been his expert hand that brought Apollo into the office.

He’s smart, a bit shy, deeply empathetic, humble, and utterly without guile. He’s exceptionally artistic and a natural caregiver. And in late summer, we became a couple, and it’s become serious.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting most of his family (his grandparents even gave me Christmas gifts!) and received the ultimate seal of approval in that his very aged dog, Chloe, seems to love me, as does his horse, Oliver. In fact, we went to see Oliver on Christmas afternoon, to give him presents and candy canes.

Family Wedding

In late September one of my cousins got married at a beautiful Catholic church in northern Indiana. My mother and I drove down for the ceremony and reception. It was nice to see that branch of the family; I hadn’t seen much of them since the pandemic.

Bookstore Gets Real

Chalk one up to the “well, I didn’t see that coming” file — Jason’s Books & Coffee has become popular enough to have a regular stable of repeat customers.

I started the bookstore as a hobby business. It’s grown into a full-time retail outlet with roughly 2,500 books (mostly used) in stock, which puts us out of the “tiny store” category and into the smaller side of a “normal store” classification.

In October I changed the hours. We opened at 7 a.m. because a coffee shop should be open in either the morning or the evening, right? Turns out, I only had one customer in three months show up before 9:30 a.m. We’re closed the week of Christmas, to re-open on January 3, and when we do, I’m adjusting the hours yet again. We’ll open at 10 a.m. weekdays and close at 4 p.m. except on Wednesday, when we’ll close at 8 p.m. Wednesdays will start a weekly literary salon.

I’m heartened to see the community reaction to this store, despite that I’ve literally never advertised it. I’m finding that people are quietly pleased to have recourse to a bookstore-slash-coffeeshop that welcomes literally everyone and not just placard-carrying members of the #Resistance.

Athena d’Snek

Athena

In early October, Cade and Allison and I went to the massive reptile expo at Tinley Park, Illinois. Cade was super interested in a rare palmetto corn snake, and while he was contemplating, I noticed that a female juvenile ball python kept staring at me. So I asked to hold her. And then I brought her home with me.

She has already grown a ton and shed last week. Her enclosure is in my office, atop the filing cabinet, so I make a point of interacting with her daily. For a juvenile, she’s rather chill; she’s only bit me once, and it was kinda my fault for not noticing her feeding response to my fingers in her space, especially given that my fingers look a lot like the pinky rats she’s been eating lately. But also, snake bites aren’t scary. She’s not venomous, and I barely felt it. If I hadn’t seen her do it, I might not have even realized she struck.

As a female ball, she’ll get big — maybe 5 feet long or a bit bigger, but unlike Apollo she will be much thicker around. She’s such a sweetie, with a clear personality and an obvious sense of her environment and the humans around her.

I Moved to Paris!

Paris Avenue, I mean. In Grand Rapids. Not that Paris. What, do I look as if I were made of baguettes?

In December 2010 I moved into the main-floor apartment in an old Victorian mansion in the South Hill neighborhood, on Prospect Avenue. I didn’t intend to stay long, but I liked the place and the landlord and the cats loved their home.

In December 2018 the original landlord sold the place. The new guy was a definite downgrade; he obsessed about money and half-assed repairs and avoided maintenance altogether. The place was falling apart, and I had decided a couple of years ago that it was time to move on. But intertia is a powerful thing.

In late July I received notice from the new, shitty landlord that he was terminating my month-to-month lease because he needed to make repairs so substantial the unit couldn’t be occupied while he did it. So moving was no longer optional — it was mandatory. So move I did, into a lovely townhouse six blocks away, near the intersection of Paris and Wealthy and a short walk to Wealthy Street Bakery and the businesses along that corridor.

The new house is, well, newer, having been built in 1910 and always as a townhome. The oh-so-rectangular main floor consists of a small foyer, a large living room, a large dining room, a pantry, a spacious kitchen with a half-bath and utility room next to it, and a mud room in the back. The basement is unfinished but clean, with signs it had been formerly used as a workshop. The second floor has three bedrooms; one is a bedroom, one is an “adventure room” for my hobbies and exercise equipment, and one is the office-slash-library. The upstairs full bath has a wall of built-in shelving and a “back door” that opens into a bonus three-season porch.

The downstairs is either hardwood or, in the kitchen, linoleum. The upstairs is carpeted. Carpet is new to the cats. I have a very large, private front porch, an actual front door, and off-street parking. I recently added a smart lock to the front door, a smart thermostat, surveillance cameras, and a video doorbell. The neighborhood is very much gentrified; every five minutes you see someone walking a dog, and 80 percent of houses are festooned with Pride flags.

Huge increase in price, but also a huge increase in satisfaction. And the plus side — not only did I get a lot of de-junking done with the move, but I finally found the time to frame nearly 60 pictures and hang them on the walls around the joint. I’ve been meaning to do something like that for ages.

Kali d’Cat

When I left Prospect for Paris, my biggest conundrum was Kali, the back-porch cat. Kali has been coming around for three years and became pretty much dependent on me for food and water, as well as a heated house in the winter.

I was not going to leave her behind, but with Murphy and Fiona being old and the property having a two-cat max, the new house wasn’t an option, so I successfully appealed to Allison to let me bring her into the office.

So I did! And she is doing quite well. For a feral who’s never been inside before (she has the telltale CSNIP ear), she took to the indoors like a champ and has no desire to go outside again. She has demonstrated perfect litterbox etiquette and gets along with Theon d’Cat just fine — although he is a bit more skeptical of her than vice-versa.

She’s still terrified of humans who aren’t me, but if you’re careful (and both Brittany and Allison have had some success with her), you can pet her a little bit.

G. R. Comic-Con

Cosplaying as Loki and Mobius.

In early November I registered a booth at Grand Rapids Comic-Con. I only had a 10-foot-by-10-foot booth, which wasn’t nearly large enough, but I achieved fairly brisk sales. One interesting thing is that I didn’t bring coffee because I figured, “This is DeVos Place; coffee will be omnipresent.” But nope. I had a bunch of people come to my booth asking for coffee. So lesson learned for next year.

The booth ran from Friday to Sunday. Mostly Cade and I staffed it, with a big assist from Allison. We were able to network with friends like Bob and John and prestigious author Jean Davis dropped by with Kay-Kay the chicken.

Cade and I, on Saturday, cosplayed as Loki and Mobius. Funny thing was, I didn’t have Loki horns, and not a single vendor sold them. So I ultimately made horns out of rolled-up paper, colored them yellow with a highlighter, and used scotch tape to tape them to my head. Worked really well, actually, despite looking ridiculous. But as we walked around, we were apparently a featured couple on the convention’s Facebook site. So that was cute. He and I talked about other potential cosplaying combinations, so stay tuned for next year.

Non-Profit Recognition

In October, after a 14-month delay, the Internal Revenue Service finally officially recognized the non-profit status of the Lakeshore Literary Foundation. So now we’re officially a 501c3 and can do more about fundraising and launching relevant programs.

NaNoWriMo Implosion

For the third consecutive year, I co-led a region of National Novel Writing Month. With my friend Mel, we were co-municipal liaisons for the Grand Rapids region, which is basically Kent County plus some or all of 12 surrounding counties. On a local level, this year was really good; we witnessed new participants and a level of energy that we hadn’t seen since 2018.

On the international scale, though, NaNoWriMo as an organization is in utter meltdown. They ended up shutting their community forums in the first week of November owing to a scandal related to allegations that a high-profile moderator was “grooming” (their words, not mine) teens to participate in a story-driven website about the “adult baby diaper lover” fetish. But lots of stuff collapsed because the organization itself was astonishingly frail. The board of directors swooped in, screwed things up worse, and now they’ve hired consultants to fix the mess even as the forums remain on semi-permanent lockdown.

For an entertaining takedown of the primary drama, check out this podcast episode from Blocked & Reported.

To me, it’s an open question whether NaNoWriMo will endure, and if it does, whether I’ll continue to be associated with it. That said, our region is strong and can exist apart from HQ. So, huh. The future could be interesting, indeed.

And oh! Yes, I did participate as well, and got a ton of important scaffolding work done for A Confluence of Trinkets, the second installment of my Jordan Sanders mystery series.

A Bittersweet Sunset

My grandmother, St. Dorothy the Matriarch, has been on a fairly steady decline from dementia. She turned 90 in May. When we visited her last Christmas, she seemed a bit more frail but also “with it” mentally. According to my mother, at this point she mostly doesn’t recognize people and forgets very basic things. In early November, she was placed in an assisted-living facility, which she seems to like.

This is a sad twilight for my grandmother. She meant the world to me when I was younger. She won’t be long for this world, but I hope she finds peace and reunification with my late grandfather in the next.

Attack of the Phantom Boob

Early in December, Cade was diagnosed with breast cancer. We’ve known something was wonky for a while but it took a failed course of antibiotics to prompt the diagnostic imaging that led to more tests and an eventual diagnosis. I’ve been doing my best to support him over multiple appointments and the care he’s receiving from the multidisciplinary clinic at Corewell Health has been phenomenal. So far, all indications suggest that he’s on a “treat to cure” pathway, with a surgery in January and some radiation in the late winter that should fully resolve the cancer. I’ve been very much impressed by his determination to “kick cancer in the nuts” and by the emotional level-headedness he’s demonstrated throughout this process. I’m so very proud of him!

What’s odd is that Cade, as a transman, already had a double mastectomy a few years ago. There’s a lot about trans health care that’s still being worked out. Although Cade is not an activist — he doesn’t shove flags in your face or scream about pronouns; he just wants to live in peace — his clinical situation has definitely raised my interest as a healthcare quality professional.

We were joking after one of his appointments that it’d make an interesting body-horror story to posit that the ghost of the “murdered” GirlCade is trying to get revenge by using phantom female body parts to kill the real Cade. I just might add that concept to my short-story tickler list.

For the record: Cade’s been public about his diagnosis and I received his consent to share this info after sending him a screenshot of the draft post.

A Technical Regression

Remember in that last post where I said I migrated to Proton Mail and to Logseq?

Yeah, this month, I migrated away from them. Proton Mail was fine; Proton Calendar was awful — it wouldn’t sync with anything but itself, so scheduling became a nightmare. And Logseq is brilliant in principle but it’s not yet robust enough so its sync occasionally doesn’t work correctly. Several times I’ve experienced regression loops where version collisions between files open on two different devices led to as many as 7,000 duplicate versions of the same file filling the tree. I’ve also had files vanish or text literally disappear from the screen after I typed it. Not yet ready for prime time, alas.

So I returned whence I came. I moved my email back to fully self-hosted but with Postmark for SMTP delivery, and the calendars follow standard protocols thanks to SoGo groupware. I moved Logseq back to Bear App; Bear allows for backlinks that are good enough for what I use, and smart folders based on tags let me replicate a familiar hierarchy of notes. My to-dos are back in Todoist, which has seen some nice enhancements around scheduling and duration of tasks that then overlay nicely on my calendar.

One upside? I now use Cal.com for coordinated scheduling. I loaded all of my calendars there, and then when anyone wants to book time with me in one context (e.g., consulting or publishing or non-profit stuff) the Cal.com tool only shows specific working hours with appointments on other calendars blocking scheduling on the target calendar. Very slick.

Texts and Social

I subscribed to Texts, the service now owned by Auttomatic (the company behind WordPress). It’s basically a unified inbox for messaging services, including iMessage if you’re on a Mac. So my iMessage, Discord DMs, LinkedIn DMs, Instagram DMs, Signal, Telegram, Messenger, and multiple Twitter DMs are all in one application. Very slick. It’s the reason I’m actually getting more active on social media again; I don’t have to worry about checking 873 different inboxes for messages anymore. Just one.

Thoughts for the New Year

Whew. Long post. What are the TL;DRs?

First, that a lot of change has happened quickly for me. It’s mostly been good! So yay, that. But so much change, coupled with the fact that I care very deeply for someone with a new cancer diagnosis, has really affected my thinking about what’s important. I find myself pondering more and more the tee-up for my own twilight years. I care more about my retirement plan, and my housing situation, and the status of my bank account, than I ever have before.

Eisenhower Matrix

Second, that despite my incessant technical tweaking, I still haven’t grokked efficiency. In the context of an Eisenhower Matrix, a lot of my stuff falls into the Urgent-Not Important box. It’s urgent because someone’s screaming, or a customer walked in the door, but it’s not important because whatever it is, isn’t materially related to a core strategic aim. In other words, a lot of fire drills. Some of these are a function of my approach to comms: I compartmentalize what I do, so if someone is (for example) waiting for an email on a project not currently front-burnered, they get mad and assume I’m ignoring them instead of recognizing that other priorities have bubbled up. But some of this is also a function of how I structure my week.

Opening the bookstore at 7 a.m. seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. I could jumpstart the day, get some stuff done before people showed up, pack up early, and reserve the evening for my big-rock priorities. But in practice, I have spent the last three months so bloody exhausted that my normal, natural “prime time hours” of 7p to 1a turned into an incoherent mush.

Third, I’ve been thinking more and more about my faith life and my relationship web. On the faith side, it’s really a question about diligent attention to the inner forum through more regular, structured prayer and spiritual reading. On the relationship side, it’s about growing new connections while nurturing old ones — of making the effort to initiate emails or phone calls or dinner invitations. Of sending cards or being supportive on social media. I haven’t been good about that. But I’m working on it.


Anyway, as ya’ll can see, it’s been a busy six months. Thanks for reading this far; I commend your rubbernecking and award you zero points.

But I do very much wish you all the best for a happy, healthy, and fulfilling new year.

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