Picture It: Spring, 2024

Four-and-a-half months since my last update. The TL;DR: Life is good. This update will be lengthy, and organized in sections that appear in no specific order, so grab your favorite beverage and let’s get down to business.

The Winter That Wasn’t

So, uh, how about last winter, amirite?

In Grand Rapids, we had roughly two weeks of legitimate winter, which wasn’t terrible. But it wasn’t good, either. I was rather excited to drive a full-sized truck with new tires and four-wheel drive through many mountains of snow. But alas, most of the winter was snow-free and hovering within that awkward range of cold that’s too chilly for being coatless but not chilly enough to feel like winter.

That meant that a lot of green appeared unseasonably early — I saw trees budding in early April, when they shouldn’t have budded until the first week of May. Lucky for them, we didn’t experience a meaningful frost after that point, but still.

The view out of my home-office window, that one day we had snow this winter. 🙁

The upside? The Climate Prediction Center suggests that West Michigan will have a 40 percent to 50 percent chance of higher-than-normal temperatures through the November-through-January window, at which time (December-through-February) we’re back to equal probabilities of warmer or cooler weather through the second half of next winter. Also, equal probabilities or wetter or dryer than normal conditions through the summer, and a 40 to 50 percent probability of higher-than-normal precipitation from December through March.

I love Michigan’s climate. I love hot, humid, sunny summers and cold, snowy winters. And everything in between. It felt weird to not really have much of a winter this past season, but perhaps we’ll make up for lost time six months from now.

A Productive Lent and Easter

For several years now, it’s seemed as if I keep trying to have a spiritually enriching Lent or Easter or Advent or Christmas or whatever season. And then — poof. Nothing happens.

This year was different.

I decided to tackle Lent the down-and-dirty way: One day at a time, driven in large part by the gratitude I felt from Cade’s cancer being classified as Stage II instead of Stage IV. I started on Ash Wednesday, partaking of the noon service at St. Mary’s in downtown Grand Rapids. That Saturday, I attended Confession for the first time in a couple of years, at Sacred Heart. Then Mass at St. Anthony.

Holy Week split between St. Anthony for Good Friday and St. Isidore for Easter Sunday as well as for another stint in the penalty box confessional.

Given my weekend schedule as of late, I’ve settled on a routine of Sunday evening Mass at St. Isidore while also observing my normal First Friday Adoration schedule (midnight until 2 a.m., if anyone’s up for joining me!) at Sacred Heart. I’ve been reading the Bible cover-to-cover while in Adoration. I started in 2021 with Genesis and now I’m up to Micah, although I’m reading the RSV-2CE (the Didache Bible from Ignatius Press) so the Maccabees appear after the minor prophets instead of with the rest of the historical books. I figure in another couple of years, I’ll be through Revelation.

Oh, and I’ve been praying the Liturgy of the Hours much more frequently. I’m especially a fan of combining the Office of Readings with one of the major hours (morning or evening). The Psalms are growing on me, it seems.

I’ll probably be a three-parish Catholic going forward, depending on my schedule for any given weekend. I’m technically registered at Sacred Heart, but usually attend the Sunday evening Mass at St. Isidore. I love everything about Sacred Heart (the Extraordinary Form liturgies, the beauty and reverence, the preaching) but it isn’t an especially warm place; I don’t feel “home” there. I do feel at home at St. Anthony, but liturgical practice there is so trapped in the disco era that it’s rarely spiritually fulfilling. I also like the decor and the liturgical reverence at St. Isidore — and monsignor is a thoughtful homilist — but the evening Mass is very sparsely attended and their otherwise divine music director seems to favor the most kitschy folk tunes that the abysmal Gather hymnal can muster, set to organ and delivered operatically. Quite disorienting.

The Church of the Age of Aquarius

Oh! Speaking of the disco era, on a recent episode of The Pillar Podcast, Ed Condon made a point about the state of the Catholic Church in the English-speaking world that I think is profound.

He argues, in short, that a lot of the liturgy wars of the last 40 years have sprung not from disagreements about Vatican II but from “the spirit of the age” that infused the first round of implementation strategies for the Missal of Paul VI. That age was the early 1970s, and so it’s not a surprise that a lot of the trappings of “bad liturgy” are holdovers from that specific moment in time. It would be odd if it were otherwise! And now that the vanguard of that age are starting to die off, the fruits of Sacrosanctum Concilium may flower with the deeper authenticity that comes from its distance in time. Just as has happened after every major council of the Church from antiquity.

Consider all the cringeworthy guitar Masses, felt banners, hand-holding, and jokes from the pulpit. Or the “liturgical dance.” The absence of Latin and any ad orientem celebrations. Proliferating announcements in the middle of Mass. The vast, chaotic horde of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. The communal penance services and the whole “let’s let everyone wash everyone else’s feet” nonsense of Holy Thursday. And don’t get me started on the music, which in many parishes is stuck in ’60s- and ’70s-era folk tunes that are hard to sing but do a great job of either glorifying the congregation (Tom Conry’s atrocious Anthem) or audaciously acting in persona Christi (Toolan’s insipid I Am the Bread of Life).

None of the above was mandated by the Council. None of it. It flowered because a certain class of reformist-slash-hippie experts who surrounded the Council and the implementation immediately after it exercised a disproportionate influence on English-speaking Catholicism. They hard-coded a very “1972” ecclesiology and anthropology into their experimental new rites. It wasn’t for nothing that in November 1985 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops needed to explicitly ban the Clown Mass, after all. But the problem is that 1972 didn’t move forward in conjunction with the calendar. So now it’s 2024 and a large group of modern Catholics formed in the Ordinary Form of the Mass still worship as if it’s 1972. And when the Church moves on, they get mad; the Associated Press, in a much-heralded recent article, shows the resentment of these Age of Aquarius Catholics even as the more mature fruits of the Council — branded as “conservatism” or a “return to old ways” — begin to manifest among younger Catholics with no bone to pick about the Extraordinary Form. The Catholics who were active from the mid 1960s through the late 1990s and haven’t kept up with the times are being left behind even as they clutch their horrid Gather hymnals and natter on about female ordination and synodality and whatnot.

The problem with the “full and active participation of the Faithful” is that the word participation does a lot of quiet heavy lifting. In the 1960s and 1970s, a popular but hollow anthropology arose that equated doing something (speaking, singing, acting) with engagement. The idea that a person could engage quietly, through private prayer, to contribute to the Holy Sacrifice seemed like an outdated notion — an idea best left with the old babushkas toting their mantillas and their pocket missals and their rosaries. But that diversity of engagement is precisely what the Council mandated from the beginning.

Arts-and-crafts decorations and folk tunes and blessings by EMEs are not the authentic fruit of Vatican II. We’re only now starting to see the Council’s fruit blossom, after a transition period where the heralds of the new discover they’re fighting to sacralize the same pop-culture mentality that gave us bell bottoms and brutalist architecture. Parishes that close the door on the Age of Aquarius (e.g., Sacred Heart) will thrive; parishes that don’t will decline along with their Mainline Protestant brethren.

(Oops, sorry — I meant “along with their Mainline Protestant sisters and brothers.“)

Of Cats and Snakes

My four felines are a-purrin’ along. Team Orange (Murphy and Fiona d’Cat, at home) are aging but doing great. Team Grey (Theon and Kali d’Cat, at the office) have settled into a comfortable friendship.

Apollo d’Snek recently came out of brumation; he’s now hyperactive, looking for a mate, instead of burrowing in his substrate. We transferred him to a new, larger enclosure a few weeks ago and he seems to be digging it, although he needs some new branches to climb upon. And Athena d’Snek is growing rapidly. Despite being juvenile, she’s very chill and has responded well to being handled, including by children at the dojo.

Horsing Around

Joining me this month is Tyr d’Horse.

Tyr is a 4-year-old mustang from the Eagle HMA, which is just north of Las Vegas. He’s already 15.1 hands tall. He’s sorrel with a flaxen mane and tail as well as an elegant and controlled gait. He needs a bit more meat on his bones, but we can fix that. And somehow his tail and mane got chopped, but that’s also a solvable problem.

Photos really don’t do him justice, so here’s a video of him with the two-year-old that the trainer purchased in Cassopolis:

Tyr is curious and slightly cautious, but despite being an untouched feral gelding, he never freaked out and never showed signs of distress or anger. For the princely sum of $125 I obtained him through an Internet auction run by the Bureau of Land Management. He was shipped from Wyoming to Cassopolis, Mich., where my trainer and I signed for him. At the trainer’s facility, he got very close to me and Cade to munch a book of hay by our feet, and when the trainer entered the pen, he was alert but didn’t panic. All of this is a good sign that he’ll be calm and easy to work with.

He’ll be with the trainer in Big Rapids for two to six weeks for basic gentling (wearing a halter, allowing hoof inspections, allowing me to approach and touch, and being willing to trailer) before he goes to his “forever home” in Marne. From there, I’ll work with him (and also with a different trainer) to get him trail-ride ready. Of course, he needs to gain some weight and I need to lose some before you’ll see me on his back, but we have all the time in the world. He’ll have a mustang friend at the boarding facility in Marne — Cade’s gelding, Oliver, who followed the exact same path a year ago. (And now, Ollie is super chill and fun to work with. And incredibly smart: he knows which pocket contains the treats and he also knows when all the treats are gone.)

Oliver (L) and Kodiak, Cade’s horses. Ollie is a 5-year-old gelding from Divide Basin who arrived in Michigan last year, along the same trajectory as Tyr. Kodi is roughly 8, small, and dead broke — although he seems to have been a bit maltreated with his former owners, a problem that Cade is rectifying with some gentle care. And don’t let the photos fool you; Ollie is probably only around 14hh.

So stay tuned for equine updates, pardners.

Long Live the King of Statistical Improbabilities

Speaking of Cade — his chemo has been doing well. He underwent surgery in January to remove a large mass. After that, and after two (unnecessary and invasive) lung biopsies, he was cleared to begin chemo. He started on a potent fortnightly drug combo and recently stepped down to something more tolerable. He’s still on a treat-to-cure pathway, which we both see as a gift.

It’s been remarkable to watch his journey of “kicking cancer’s ass.” Since the new year, I’ve been with him through three surgeries, an E/R visit, a half-dozen imaging studies, and countless ambulatory appointments. Together, we’ve had fun (penguin feeding!) and experienced anxiety (a kidney crisis for Chloe the Elderly Leaky Chihuahua). We’ve worked with his horses, set life plans, visited a casino, taken road trips, cared for his mini-zoo, gone on picnics, and enjoyed date nights. Much of what’s happened to him and to Chloe has been highly improbable — which is why I want him to play the lottery! — but he’s kept up a good attitude. I’ve been impressed by his quiet courage, his determination, and his limitless empathy.

Adventures in Zookeeping

After Cade’s surgery, he enjoyed limited use of one arm for a while so I helped him with the maintenance and feeding of The Menagerie. He cares for a dog, two cats, two horses, a rabbit, a chicken, a quail, two rats, a half-dozen mice, a toad, several frogs, a scorpion, a tarantula, an anole, a crested gecko, a couple of bettas, a guppy tank, and a goldfish tank. And did I mention the 29 snakes, ranging in size from a baby palmetto corn to a full-grown female boa constrictor?

Helping him tend to these animals has been eye-opening and incredible, as has working with him to help Chloe the dog with some kidney problems — e.g., by giving her subcutaneous fluids and injectable meds on occasion.

I suspect that starting an animal rescue will be in our future.

Settling Into Paris

For the most part, I’m completely settled at The Chateaux, my new home in the Heritage Hill district of Grand Rapids. One of the last things I needed to do was to attend to the basement. A previous occupant had left some miscellaneous boxes in the basement hallway, so I’m dispensing with those. I’ve moved my storage stuff to the storage room (shocker!) and the big main space has now been fitted with a 12-foot-by-16-foot half-inch foam mat system so I can practice karate down there. I even put up a mini shomen on the north wall, with pictures of our founding masters as well as my own lineage and a copy of my nidan certificate.

I’ve also set up my exercise bike, additional LED lighting, a side table, and a fan. I’ll soon order a treadmill and a cable-driven weight bench, as well as some smaller hand weights to work with my multipurpose bench and its elastic-band system.

The movement of the recumbent bike has led to a cascade of minor changes on the second floor. My Yamaha keyboard has relocated from my office to the Adventure Room, for example. I replaced the bookshelves in my office and bought a new reading chair, so the older reading chair has also moved to the Adventure Room.

I also finished smarting-up the joint. I installed two interior surveillance cameras, both pointing at the exterior doors. I added a video doorbell, an outdoor weather station, a smart door lock for the front door, and a smart thermostat, in addition to a half-dozen smart light bulbs. All of these are controlled through Apple Home. I’ve set several handy automations to instantly transform the lighting depending on my mood and the time of day.

A few things remain to wrap up (seating in the three-season porch; seating on the front porch and planters for my seeds) but the big stuff has been done for a while now. It’s a significant improvement upon The Fortress.

Truck Camping, & Sundry Other Adventures

A few weeks ago, my brother and I camped at Mud Lake State Forest Campground. It was the first time I had set up the truck tent in the back of the Silverado. With his help, I erected the tent and the rain fly, set up my 10-foot-by-10-foot popup tent, and got everything into good order. I even used a cot with a mattress pad and slept reasonably comfortably that night.

Everything worked out well. I brought a two-burner Coleman stove, a couple coolers of food and beverage, a comfortable camp chair, a folding table, and all the other little necessities that made for a much more pleasant camping adventure. We planned to spend three days and two nights there, but a band of severe weather passed through with extraordinarily high winds, so we called it off by mid-day Saturday.

However, on Friday night, we enjoyed a roaring campfire, plenty of bourbon, and a couple of cigars, as well as good conversation. And the next morning, we chatted about his own rig — a utility trailer that he can also use as a more rustic camping trailer.

We definitely want to get out more often. I’ve already scheduled a couple of long-weekend camping trips this summer. Plus, I’m thinking long and hard about Brian’s trailer setup. Ideas, ideas.

Adventures in Analytics

Life on the work front has been interesting. My two biggest clients have both used me for a combination of revenue strategy, analytics, and business-process management. Since I started independently consulting in 2018, much of my time has been spent as a virtual CIO.

One recent takeaway: The SMB market doesn’t use advanced analytics, and I’m increasingly skeptical of the claims that Big Data or Big Analytics (or, I suppose, Big AI) will prove meaningful at anything lower than an enterprise level. And even then, it’s more about the culture of the C-suite than the skillset of the analytic corps.

Give a company a well-designed, well-documented SQL server with a robust, normalized data model and an open-source visualization tool (Metabase, Superset, Redash, &c.), and they’ll do 95 percent of what needs to be done. The real question is whether that extra 5 percent is worth the time and expense to achieve.

In some — many? — cases, I don’t think it is. At least, not for SMBs.

Bookstore Growth …

The bookstore is taking off. I think I’m up to more than 4,000 books in stock and I’m still on deck for my plan to start investing in new local-author titles later this summer.

It’s nice to have a series of regular customers who come in, browse, shop, and chat. We’ve done no advertising — it’s all been word-of-mouth, plus additions to mapping tools — but the reaction so far has been great. And, the weekly seminar program has been a lot of fun. We have a book group, a game night, a writing-craft night, and a big-idea discussion night.

At the end of the month (May 29, to be precise) we’re going to have a community potluck and grill-out for writers and their families. Should be a good time!

… and Publishing Shrinkage

I’ve formally closed Lakeshore Literary, Inc., and have decided to stop publishing long-form fiction. (Some publishing operations, like a reboot of The Lakeshore Review, will restart in a few months under the Foundation as a purely non-profit undertaking.) Some of the admin stuff is still unwinding, but the State of Michigan has endorsed the resolution to dissolve and so I’ve been slowly spinning the company down since January.

The biggest reason is financial. Lakeshore Literary has never made money; in fact, it’s lost me considerable money, in addition to the expense of uncompensated editorial and administrative time. The small amount of revenue we received for published books and journals paled in comparison to the cost of actually running and maintaining the business. I don’t have the bandwidth to manage projects that need hundreds of hours of time, especially when the terms of those projects shift unexpectedly and the cost-benefit ratio is on the wrong side of green.

Relatedly, I’m also closing Diction Dude LLC, my writing consultancy. I haven’t really done much writing consulting and having yet another business entity floating out there, consuming resources without contributing revenue, makes no sense.

I’m kinda-sorta-but-not-really sad about this turn of events. Of all the things on my plate, publishing was the thing that took a heck of a lot of time for no discernible ROI. It was a pricey hobby that must now yield to more productive pursuits.

An Author Alliance

From October 2023 through April 2024, the staff of National Novel Writing Month (which eventually dwindled to just one person) experienced a catastrophic implosion related to a series of scandals involving shady sponsors, incompetent staffers, and the failure to take seriously some complaints about forum moderators who may (or may not) have abused their authority — including, in one case, a moderator alleged to have groomed minors to join a fetish-story community dedicated to adult baby diaper lovers. Over the last few months, all of the staff but one seem to have quit. And the one remaining staffer decided to fire all 800-plus municipal liaisons worldwide who manage NaNoWriMo regionally, with no good plan in place to bring them back aboard.

You can’t make this [expletive deleted] up.

Anyway, our NaNoWriMo region has elected to go independent. As of last month, we formally separated ourselves from HQ and have become the West Michigan Author Alliance, a loose writing group under the aegis of the Lakeshore Literary Foundation. More to come!

Writing Projects

My personal writing has been largely on hold given time constraints, but when I get the chance, I do spend some time re-constituting From Pencil to Print, a book I started in 2017 but then blew up into several smaller books. It’s a book about the craft and business of writing. My revised plan takes the content of two of my manuscripts (one published, one at 85 percent completion) then adds a bit and subtracts a bit to arrive at a more coherent final output.

No sense yet of how long it’ll take to finish; I’m simply taking time where I can to work on it without being driven toward an artificial deadline.

The 17th, Yet Again

I’m running unopposed for the Republican nomination for Kent County Commission for District 17. Although I’m sure to lose the race in the general election (this district is something like D+50), it’s a good exercise in civic engagement to “fill the tree” to ensure that people have options as they cast their ballots.

This is, I believe, my fourth run at this office. We shall see if, this year, I crack my P.R. of 22 percent in the general election. 🙂

The Last Tech Tweak

In my last post, I noted that I had migrated from Logseq to Bear. I didn’t stay on Bear long before migrating (again), this time to Obsidian. So far, Obsidian is everything I wanted from Logseq but with none of the vexing sync errors.

Fingers crossed, this incarnation of a PKM will stick around a while. Using Obsidian and Todoist together, and being more thoughtful about which calendars and email accounts I provision to which devices, has certainly streamlined things for me.

The Discovery Era Ends

As I write this, two episodes remain in the fifth and final season of Star Trek: Discovery. Nerds — especially Trek nerds — will quibble, but the popular reception of Discovery hasn’t been all that hot. There’s a lot wrong with the series; several gifted actors (Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, David Cronenberg, Tig Notaro, Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh) did their best with uneven writing and myriad Mary Sue moments and a push from execs to boldly go (into trans and non-binary spaces) where Trek had never gone (so ham-fistedly) before. Basically, the same problem that Doctor Who experienced in the Jodi Whittaker years.

But I’ll admit: I really like Discovery. A part of it stems from its reboot of the franchise after so many years of dormancy. But another part is that the series brought me joy in a rough time. When Season 1 debuted in late 2017, I was going through a politically toxic patch at work. Weekly Disco drops gave me something to look forward to. Now that the show ends in just two weeks, I find I’m a very different person occupying a very different and much happier personal and professional place. But I will still miss the show, and I will miss Martin-Green’s Captain Burnham continuing to settle into her well-deserved center chair.

Making Time

Connecting over a campfire is more important than Inbox Zero. This picture captures the campfire at Mud Lake, where I enjoyed great companionship with my brother last month.

I’ll wrap up with an observation.

Longtime readers know I’ve had a running personal debate about time and communications. I tried an experiment in January and I’ve found it to be extraordinary helpful. To wit: Consolidating email accounts and calendars, limiting what accounts load on my phone, and suppressing notifications for most communications services (including email).

I’ve only been reading messages intermittently and on a per-account basis. This has been great for keeping me focused on what I planned to do instead of reacting to whatever came into the inbox. I’ve got a lot on my plate and compartmentalizing has been a solid success strategy.

Cade’s cancer diagnosis really whacked me over the head with the value of finding time for the things that are important and stopping things that aren’t. That process starts with getting control over a day. You can have all the insight into emails and task lists that you like; if your day is not yours to govern, then the odds you’ll make progress are greatly diminished.

I’ve found great comfort in having an up-to-date 50,000-foot view of what’s on my plate. But for a long time, other people could add whatever they wanted to that plate on any random day. It’s not visibility, but decisiveness, that frees up opportunities to do the important-but-not-firedrill things that make life worth living.

When I was a hospital chaplain, I often visited the elderly who were close to death. Not one of them — not one — ever lamented having less-than-perfect credit or wishing their car was cleaner. Instead, they felt loss about relationships and about dreams not pursued. They regretted all the time wasted on things that seemed important in the moment but offered no meaningful strategic value. They felt shame about pursuing vendettas or punishing slights instead of just moving on and opening their hearts to other opportunities.

Dreams are real. To live them, you must seize control of your day to ensure you can give the right resources at the right time to manifest them in the universe.

Thanks for reading. May you have a happy and productive summer!

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.


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.


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


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.


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.

Feline Fine

Isa (L) and One-Eyed Jack (R).

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.

Theon d’Cat, assistant office manager.

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.

A zoomed-out view of my current note graph.

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.

Socially Speaking

Dawn the Snow Angel.

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.

Healthy Living

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.

Working Stiff

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.

Annual Birthday Reflection, Part XLVI

By the time I posted this, I had clicked over the commemoration of yet one more successful orbit ’round this pale blue marble. And in the six months since my last posting, much has happened and much has been learned. Thus I offer my usual annual birthday reflection, all ~4000 words of it this year. (Buckle up and grab a cup of coffee; you’ll be here a hot second.)

My big take-away: Time is short. Be bold. And also, be grateful for a fruitful year of peace and prosperity.

I’ve grown to appreciate the specific timing of my birthday because it inaugurates a recurring period of generalized joy and contentment. From my birthday to Epiphany, we see a bunch of things unfold:

  • 9/15 to 10/31 — the magic of late summer and its gradual yield to the first hints of winter as exemplified by Halloween and All Saints Day
  • 11/1 to Thanksgiving — autumn gives way to winter and the joys of the harvest; for writers, it’s National Novel Writing Month
  • Thanksgiving to Christmas — the magical holiday time, largely consumed by Advent
  • Christmas to New Year’s Day — a floating time between holidays; the flowering of the liturgical Christmas season
  • New Year’s Day to Epiphany — the slow secular wind-down of holidays during the height of the liturgical Christmas season, which then yields to the dark heart of winter and the long slog until Memorial Day

This four-month cycle rinses and repeats each year. It’s my happy time. But there’s a kicker. Each repetition adds a year to the calendar. And it subtracts a year from the unknown pool of years we have ahead of us.

I’ve been guilty of being a bit cavalier with aging. Even when I knew better, I still behaved as if I were invulnerable to the slings and arrows of Father Time. I see this complacency in myself, in the maybe-I’ll-get-to-it-tomorrow approach to the work to remain healthy and vibrantand I see it in my family’s shifting hairlines. My grandmother is 89. She will turn 90 in May. I remember when she turned 50. For that matter, I remember when my mother turned 30. It seems like yesterday, but also a lifetime ago, when summer peaked at the joint celebration of my mother and my grandfather’s birthday in mid-August. But he died in 2005, and with him, a lot of the traditions that grounded my childhood departed with him.

I was too slow to replace those traditions with ones that felt natural, like an evolution rather than a sad foray into nostalgia. But I’m working on it.

Earlier this year I spontaneously quit picking my fingernails despite having done so all my life. Why did I stop? I have no idea; I was surprised one day to discover that I needed to trim my nails to remove my contacts. Similarly, although I had vague aspirations to start daily journaling for many years, this year I just started. And I’ve kept at it. And I realize that one benefit of logging the little things in my journal is that one day, hopefully far in the future, I won’t have to rely on memory to recall the happy times of my past. Instead, I can read my own reports.

My grandmother never seemed old to me, until just this year. And my mother is approaching 70. Which — wow. It’s not that it’s old, as much is that these numbers seemed to sneak out of nowhere. I don’t feel old, but I’m aware that I’m approaching the point where even if I live to be as old as Queen Elizabeth II, of happy memory, then I’m still sitting at the half-way point between birth and death. 

Have I made the best of it? That’s the question that keeps me up at night.

Updates, in no particular order:

The Daily Grind

The sign outside the office.

Work is — well, work. My primary client remains a direct-sales jewelry company, although I’m expanding my portfolio there to include corporate compliance in addition to strategic revenue analytics. I’ll be very soon hiring subcontractors for this stuff, but the journey to approval with them has taken a while. In addition, I’m back to doing some curriculum work for a university in the Mountain West, mostly QA on courses developed for virtual programs in healthcare quality and analytics.

I have been consistently pulling in five figures of revenue per month. That’s nice. But what’s nicer is that I’m being challenged, as an independent consultant, to expand my skillset in new and exciting ways. For example, I developed the financial modeling for a major field sales incentive that had a greater-than-8x multiplier on revenue relative to total program costs. Then I created the measurement framework for the program and audited post-program compliance.

I’ve functioned like an informal CIO for this jewelry company: In addition to my analytics SOW, I’ve performed a mix of in-person tech support and strategic IT and data-governance consulting. Plus, as of last month, I own the corporate email systems. So it’s a lot, but it’s a good client with good people, and I’m learning a lot about an interesting industry.

On a different front — today marks the one-year anniversary of Allison and I signing the commercial lease for our office building. When we took it over, it needed work. Investment. We put in the dollars and the sweat equity, and now our 3,000 square feet of floor space houses a dojo, a business consultancy, a small press, and a general events center. It’s a space that welcomes many people each week. I’m proud of what we’ve built, and I’m grateful to have a kick-ass partner in this endeavor.

Lakeshore Literary Shenanigans

Lakeshore Literary is evolving rapidly. We are in the reading window for Issue 3 of The Lakeshore Review and we’re in final production for the print versions of issues 1 and 2. I just wrapped up production of Surface Reflections, the inaugural volume of our house fiction anthology. I’m publishing What I Can Do, the memoir of Mary K., the founder of Kid’s Food Basket.

The bookstore is getting finalized. I had a great intern for much of the first half of the year, in the form of Faith from Ferris State University. I have started the process of standing up a non-profit entity, the Lakeshore Literary Foundation; the state paperwork is done and now I have to process the federal filing.

I’m hosting a launch party for the first two issues of the journal, plus the anthology, in late October. Should be a good time. We’re also sponsoring a writers’ Halloween party on the 31st of October, to coincide with the start of National Novel Writing Month. I’m one of the two municipal liaisons for NaNoWriMo for our region (Kent, Ottawa, and Ionia counties) this year, with my friend Mel, so November will certainly be busy.

The Long March to Cupertino

In news sure to delight the shriveled cockles of my friend Roux’s heart, I have been progressing more and more into an Apple-first tech ecosystem. I use an iPhone and an Apple Watch. I have an iPad Air and an M1 Macbook Air. At home, I have an M1 Mac Mini and in the office, a new iMac. I’ve given careful, covetous glances toward the Mac Studio.

What enabled this transition, oddly enough, was a mix of Windows-Mac software parity; the deep integration of iOS, macOS, and watchOS; and (most significantly) my move away from Microsoft services in the form of OneDrive and OneNote. I now rely on a Synology NAS for my file syncing (it has Mac and Windows desktop apps) and a Gitlab repository of Markdown files to replace OneNote.

The sticking point? I still enjoy a few games that are Windows-only. And the deeper integration between Windows and Android, approaching the level of iOS/macOS integration, is a new development that’s pausing a full transition. So I’m in the odd position of running Windows at home (on a brand-new Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio docked into a 4K monitor), running macOS at work, using an Android phone for work, and an iPhone for personal stuff. So there’s still some sorting to be done.

Yet for a guy who a few years ago thought Apple = Satan, it’s been quite a journey.

(And have you seen the new Apple Watch Ultra? Be still, this scuba diver’s heart.)


I pity da foo’.

In mid-August I was awarded the rank of shodan (first-degree black belt) in Uechi-ryu karate, at Fourth Form Martial Arts Center in Wyoming, Mich. Four of us were promoted that day; I was the only shodan and we had one promotion each to 3rd, 4th, and 5th degree.

My board, led by Sensei Chris, was comprised of three 6th degree black belts, a 4th degree, a 2nd degree, and a 1st degree. The pre-test was witnessed by Sensei Don, who is expected to earn his 9th degree later this year, in Okinawa.

I started karate at East West Karate in early 2007. I studied there through mid 2008, until I had a significant disagreement with the owner’s wife. In 2021, I started again, encouraged by my friend (and now business partner) Allison. So throughout 2021, under Sensei Chris’s leadership during a time of pandemic-related closures, we had weekly classes at a little gym in Dorr, Michigan. When we opened The L&G Center a year ago, Fourth Form launched. 

Allison inherited some of the equipment and many of the students from East West. Indeed, when I came back in early 2021, I recognized every single face in the karate class. The folks in our dojo have known each other for a long time and support each other. I felt that very strongly, with not only Sensei Chris, but also with Muhamet, Michelle, Allison, Tom, and MIke, who teach the regular classes.

I’m enjoying the opportunity that shodan provides. I can test for nidan — second degree — in one year. All I need to know is my new kata, seiryu, and the “new 10 point” kumite. The rest is pure refinement, which is freeing in its way.

I’d eventually like to teach, and I think Sensei Chris is preparing me with a theoretical framework for the why-and-how that I can communicate to the more conceptually minded students who come through after me. It’s a challenge that I eagerly accept.

Feline Overlords: Or, The Continuing Adventures of the Twin Teenaged Tangerine Terrors

Murphy and Fiona d’Cat, resident overlords.

It occurred to me a few months ago that Murphy d’Cat and Fiona d’Cat, the resident overlords here, are senior citizens. They were born in early 2009, which makes them nearly 14 years old. And you’d be hard-pressed to tell; they still scamper about as if they were three-year-olds, although lately I’ve taken to calling Murphy “Old Man Crabbypants” given his penchant for shepherding me to and from bed each morning and evening to the accompaniment of the songs of his people.

All things considered, these littermates have been a delight. No real adverse behavioral problems and excellent heath. Although, this summer I took them in for their triannual vet visit (for vaccinations; isn’t it odd how anti-vaxxers never give their pets “medical freedom?”) and a week later, poor lil Murph got really sick. Sick enough that I had to take him to the Animal Emergency Hospital. Of which, they’re a great institution that I highly recommend but you better have a fat wallet if the worst should happen — emergency veterinary care isn’t a low-budget endeavor.

Long story short, Murphy had an ingrown dew claw that got infected and his vet missed it on a routine physical inspection just one week prior.  AEH trimmed the claw, gave him some antibiotics, and sent him home at 2 a.m. He recovered just fine, but then a week later started limping. I decided to transfer his care from the “old” vet to the Feline Wellness Center, and Dr. Jen diagnosed him by emailed photos and didn’t even charge me for it. (Grains of litter had attached to the scab from where the claw had grown into his skin, so simply removing what looked like a giant wart provided instant relief).

Of course, the FWC transfer was not an accident, for I recently started volunteering at a no-kill cat rescue and placement center, for which Dr. Jen is the founder and medical director.

Feline Overlords II: Forty of the Little Buggers

Isa (sweet blind ginger) and Mayhem (naughty Siamese), at Big Sids.

In July I enjoyed my first orientation shift at Crash’s Landing and Big Sid’s Sanctuary, after years of prodding by my friend Brittany to take the plunge. These sister shelters manage two different cat populations. Crash’s Landing acts like a traditional cat adoption agency. The shelter only accepts strays and ferals — no owner surrenders — and after they’re medically cleared and judged to be eligible for placement, they go to Crash’s. The facility itself is a free-range affair; the only cages (or “catios”) are for new cats who are too scared to integrate with the other cats at first, and even then the doors usually remain open. 

The other side of the building is Big Sid’s Sanctuary. A majority of the cats are “Sid’s Kids,” and they’re there because they’re either permanent residents (unadoptable to normal families for some reason) or because they’re positive for FIV or FeLV or both.

Most of my cleaning shifts are on the Sid’s side, which is fine because all my favorite cats are there. I sponsor (i.e., pay a monthly donation in the name of a resident cat) two of the beasts, Isa and One-Eyed Jack. Isa is a tiny ginger senior kitty. She is super affectionate and downright fearless; she was found holding her own in the wild and adapted perfectly to life at the shelter. She is also totally blind, and seeing her resilience sometimes puts me to shame. So I trade with her — her inspiration for my cuddles. Judging by the ridiculously loud purring, she seems amenable to this arrangement. One-Eyed Jack, however, is a new resident. He has one eye (duh) and is still quite timid. He is at the opposite end of the fear spectrum from Isa. He let me touch him once, but the one time I was asked to brush him, I ended up bleeding.

I enjoy volunteering here so much that I’ve picked up more substitute shifts than I’ve had assigned shifts, and I’ve joined the adoptions team, helping visitors at semimonthly meet-and-greets to see whether one of the cats might be a good fit for their households.

Given the horror stories of some of these cats — tales of abuse and neglect that would make the very stones weep — I feel some small need to help atone for my fellow humans, some of whom are quite obviously fucking assholes. Plus, cuddles. Except when DMC bites you in the neck while you pet him, and then he has to go into bite quarantine, but that’s a story for a different day.

A Hell of a Drug

The biggest health news of the year is that a whole lot of stuff I’ve written about over the last several years came into crystal-clear focus with a single test my primary-care physician declined to order.

Readers of this blog with a good memory will surely recall me making comments about kinda-sorta struggles with something Covid related, plus yo-yo weight, plus a sense of malaise that dates back to probably late 2016 or early 2017.

When I established a new PCP relationship in mid 2020, I raised the normal conversations about my health history, goals, and family curses. And for the most part, I’m in great health, apart from the family history of hypertension and hypothyroid disorder (the latter of which does not affect me). Yet I had asked my new doctor for a specific test but she refused to order it because she was concerned about the implications for my blood pressure. 

I therefore let it go. I wish I hadn’t.

Not long after 2022 started, I lost a ton of energy. Much of it was mental: Concentration became excruciatingly hard and I lost a lot of physical stamina. It got to the point where I’d feel a brain cloud descend and I knew I had like 30 to 60 seconds before my ability to really think and concentrate would be gone for the rest of the day. So I’d routinely bow out of karate classes, often enough that there was real question about whether I was going to be ready for the August test.

Then in early June, frustrated with how little oomph I had, I ordered a testosterone spit test from Everlywell, through Amazon. And it came back with a troubling result: My free T levels were closer to zero than the lower end of the reference range!

I ended up working with a men’s endocrinology clinic in Florida. My assigned doctor there ordered a physical and lab work, then we had a 30-minute virtual visit. He prescribed testosterone, which I inject twice weekly, and a daily gonadorelin acetate nasal spray to preserve fertility and testicular function/volume. 

The TL;DR? Holy fucking shit, T is no joke. 

I felt a “power surge” 30 minutes after my very first injection — there’s no better way to say it. I waited 10 minutes after that injection to watch for potential anaphylaxis, and then I made breakfast. And while scrambling my eggs (hahahaha) I experienced a brief whole-body sensation like touching a live but weak electrical current.

Six weeks later, all the little things that had bedeviled me for years had mostly vanished. No more brain fog. No more lack of energy. Better sleep. Vastly better stamina. And, obviously, Mr. Happy down there was suddenly happy again, as if he remembered what being 15 felt like.

A big chunk of men over 40 experience depressed testosterone levels. This is an eminently treatable condition, but most guys don’t talk about it. And I get it. But I’m talking about it because the improvements to my life after beginning testosterone replacement therapy are so significant. There’s no shame in having low T levels; there’s plenty of shame in lacking the balls — so to speak — to fix the problem and live a manifestly better life.

Coolant, Coolant, Everywhere

In 2016 I purchased a 2013 Chevy Cruze. And in fairness, although I’m not a huge fan of sedans, the Cruze has been good to me. But the ol’ girl’s getting older and so twice in the last two weeks, I’ve needed to drop the beast off at a repair facility to address coolant leaks. 

The first leak has persisted a while; a hose connecting the coolant reservoir to the lower engine bloc has been weepy for like a year. The second leak, just this week, was “fun” in the most unexpected sense of the term. Suddenly a gusher of white smoke erupted from under the hood. A hose assembly had cracked and spayed coolant all over the manifold. Chaos! Disaster!

Everything got cleaned up and fixed, but at $2,100 invested so far, I’m hoping there’s not a third leak in my immediate future.

A Grave Undertaking

What better way to celebrate being half-way to 92 than by purchasing your final resting place? One day in July my mother texted me asking if I was busy. She doesn’t often do that, so I called her. Turned out, she heard there was a “special” running on graves at Catholic Cemeteries and wanted to know if I was interested.

It hadn’t been much on my mind, but I figured, why not? So we toured Holy Cross Cemetery in Grand Rapids. There’s an area near the back, adjacent to a new and mostly unused portion of the cemetery, that had plenty of availability. And, oddly enough, we looked around and saw dozens and dozens of people and families we recognized. It was as if the old Polish Catholics from the Upper West Side all chose to cluster in this one area of Holy Cross. 

We bought adjoining plots. The cemetery borders West Catholic High School — the same institution whence I matriculated in 1994. And standing literally atop my plot (you pick them out before you buy them), I stared at the high school and said, “You know, 30 years ago, I was inside of those windows, looking out.” It would never have occurred to me, as a high-school student, to even consider that I might die, and if I did, where my corpse would repose. 

It turns out, not far outside the windows of the south wing of the school.

It also turns out that standing atop your own grave is both deeply calming and deeply creepy.

Familial Perambulations

Starting last month, inspired by my brother’s long period off work recovering from shoulder surgery, he and my mother and I started walking on Wednesday evenings along the Kent Trails near Millennium Park. We’re starting at Secchia Meadows and doing two-to-three-mile circuits. It’s been a fun time to enough the fresh air, chat a bit, and chalk up some walkin’ miles.

My brother ended up hoofing up to 10 miles per day on his medical leave; he lost more than 50 pounds in just a few months. He re-caught the hiking bug; we’ve been talking about a weekend excursion, and also about starting a hike of the entire North Country National Scenic Trail in the state of Michigan — more than 1,100 miles from Ohio to Wisconsin. He planned the entire Michigan hike in a detailed spreadsheet, which is impressive work.

Domicile Disruptions

I moved into “The Fortress” in early December, 2010. I didn’t plan on staying long. But the landlord at the time, Rod, was a charming fellow whom I still account as a friend, and the rents were astonishingly reasonable.

A dozen years later, the guy to whom Rod sold the house in late 2018 is now listing it again. I’ll refrain from commenting on all of this, but it does prompt me to think about alternative homefronts. I have time to make a decision, but the thought of buying a plot of land and then slowly improving it sounds really appealing.

A Man of Letters

Wahl-Eversharp combo, ca. 1917-1919.

I’ve become something of a pen snob. And by “pen snob” I mean that I have become an aficionado of fine fountain pens and premium inks. My friend Dawn and I exchange handwritten letters showcasing our favorite pens and inks; the fact that Dawn lives in Melbourne, Vic., makes the passage of paper all the more fun. I recently won an eBay auction for a Wahl-Eversharp pen-and-pencil combo; the design dates the instruments from the period 1917 to 1919, and the pen had been lovingly restored. It writes beautifully (if a bit wet) with my Iroshizuku Asa-Gao (purplish blue) ink. And the pencil still, uh, pencils.

Did I mention I bought a ticket to the Detroit Pen Show in late October?

Smith-Corona Sterling, ca. 1946.

In the last few months I’ve also acquired a lovely, excellent-condition Smith-Corona Sterling manual typewriter, with the original travel case and a fresh ribbon and even the original instruction manual. I used it to type a letter to my aunt Mary. She and I used to trade letters when I was a kid and she lived in Oregon. The typewriter dates to 1946, according to the serial number (it’s the 4A series). 

I think I’m going to make a habit of using the postal service to communicate. The process of writing longhand or by typewriter forces oneself to be clear, concise, and thoughtful in a way that text messaging or emails don’t demand. It stretches one’s thinking in salutary ways, plus it communicates a sense that “you are important enough to justify this extra effort.”

So if you’d like to become a USPS pen pal, send me your address.

And with that — ciao!

Shake Yo’ Bootay Today — Or Soil Your Adult Diapers Tomorrow

I enjoy listening to podcasts. Some of the shows on my roster only get a listen when the topic seems especially intriguing — and one such feed is The Megyn Kelly Show. Episode 286 featured physician Dr. Peter Attia, an expert on longevity research. Kelly’s questions were good and his responses were better; even when the two of them could have “gone there” on politicizing the topic of health research, they didn’t. Attia evinced a lot of humility about what he did and didn’t know and about the state of solid science versus interesting research that has yet to be fully vetted. It’s a 97-minute show, and worth the listen, because it really got me thinking.

Attia made several claims that I already understood to be true and some that were new to me. Throughout the episode, he wove each strand of his argument into an intriguing tapestry and did a much better job than most health experts in emphasizing the “why should you care about this” angle. 

I think my biggest take-away was this: An outsized contributor to whether you’ll experience significant cognitive and physical decline in your “terminal decade” (the last 10 years of your life, whenever they happen to be) is your VO2 Max score. This metric quantifies your cardiopulmonary efficiency, i.e., how well you burn oxygen and fuel to produce the energy to do physically demanding things. The higher it is, the lower in general your all-cause mortality risk becomes. Most biometrics fall within a range (e.g., blood pressure should be neither too high nor too low) but VO2 Max is one of the few that’s unbounded — the higher the better with no upper limit.

We all think we know what constitute the building blocks of good health, but we rarely parse them into a deliberate “what kind of health do I want to be in when I’m in my terminal decade” action plan and then reverse-engineer those goals to determine where we need to be today. Everyone’s objectives are different; each can take a different pathway toward achieving his or her specific target. After reflecting on the podcast conversation and thinking about my own desires for my terminal decade, I’ve come to six conclusions.

  • Fitness: Attia says we should be solid in four areas — aerobic fitness, anerobic capacity, strength, and flexibility. All four, to some degree! Aerobic and anerobic exercise contribute to improving VO2 Max. Strength gives you bigger muscular “wells” for storing glucose as well as improves bone density. Flexibility decreases your risk of injury when you fall and your risk of falling in general. (You do not want to be an 85-year-old with a hip fracture. Hip fractures in the elderly are very often the beginning of the end.)
  • Diet: There’s no perfect diet, but the science is clear that calorie restriction is probably beneficial as long as it doesn’t lead to malnutrition, and intermittent fasting appears to be an effective mechanism for achieving this restriction. If you want a defined approach, the Mediterranean Diet is supported by the strongest clinical evidence. But the overriding rules are to limit calorie consumption, enjoy a good spread of macronutrients, and avoid excess sugar, salt, alcohol, and the “bad” fats. 
  • Sleep: The rule that everyone needs a good eight hours isn’t quite true. It’s better to say that we each need to consistently get quality sleep in an amount that matches what our individual bodies are calibrated to require. I, personally, do best in the 7.5 hour to 8.0 hour range. Good sleep gets you through your REM cycles and is correlated to better health outcomes; it’s best done in a place that’s cool, quiet, and dark. Avoid brain stimuli before sleep, like screens.
  • Hydration: Water is good; soda and especially alcohol are not. The verdict’s out on whether one standard drink per day is better than zero, but the science is abundantly clear that two or more standard drinks per day bring significant adverse health consequences. And in the short term, it screws up your sleep schedule, too. Limiting yourself to one standard serving, three or four times per week, is probably safest if you can’t give up the hootch altogether.
  • Stress Management: The stress hormone cortisol is not our friend when we’re continuously awash in it. Stress management is essential to improving the quality of sleep, reducing the temptation to over-indulge, and potentially reducing systemic inflammation. Plus, cortisol damages our brains in large doses. Yikes!
  • Relationships: It wasn’t mentioned on the podcast, but having a network of people you love surround you in your twilight years is critical to your mental and emotional health. Loneliness is a real killer.

It’s tempting to create independent goals for each of these categories, but the truth is, all of this stuff is so intertwined that looking at a longevity component in isolation is rather counterproductive. Rather, I’ve concluded that I need to think differently about how I’ve approached health and wellness at a high level.

I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t really want to “retire” but instead keep doing lots of interesting things for as long as I can. If we assume that for most people, the tipping point is around age 85, then the 80s can usefully be construed as most people’s terminal decade. It’s entirely possible to be that 80-year-old who looks and acts like a 65-year-old, though. I aspire to be that guy. 

In fact, my vision statement, which I developed in 2009, reads as follows: “I will be a contented and healthy man who, on his 70th birthday, can look himself in the mirror without feeling the sting of regret.” At that point, I may have roughly 15 more years to go, Deo volente. Because I don’t want to retire, I figure I’ll transition over time — from maximizing revenue to writing, teaching, volunteering, and mentoring. 

So my thinking has evolved today. I think a lifestyle tweak is in order that blends a lot of different behaviors. For example, I need to really focus on aerobic and anerobic fitness first, then when my weight is lower, begin strength training. Karate has been excellent for my coordination and balance, so I’ll keep doing that. In fact, I want to teach karate eventually, and that’s something I can do to keep active and socially engaged well into my senior years — along with being a dive master and a certified flight instructor. But I also realize that exercise alone doesn’t lose weight — I need to be more disciplined about eating and about choosing distilled water over martinis in the evening. It just so happens I really enjoy the Mediterranean Diet, and limiting intake to the noon-to-6p window might be a good calorie-restriction strategery. Similarly, I’ve been a bit less careful about sleeping well, so enforced bed times plus less before-bed computer and cocktail time will help, as might a deliberate end-of-day ritual that could include next-day planning or the thoughtful recitation of Compline in my printed copy of the Liturgy of the Hours. I’m naturally a low-stress kind of guy, but it never hurts to re-focus some discipline on journaling so I can better track my mental and emotional well-being. Plus, I should commit to more “Sabbath Sundays” than I currently do. Those weekly occurrences feature me doing nothing except (a) going to Mass and (b) reading [paper] books. No computers, no TV, no phone, no tablet. Just books. And I can (and should!) do a better job of maintaining old connections and nurturing new ones.

Longevity planning is a lot like investing for retirement: If you want to have “plenty” at the right time, it’s easier to start young and build gradually than to scramble like a hyena starting at age 55.

To the folks I love, I say this: If I do my part, will you do yours?

Eight all-purpose updates to round out this post:

  1. Gillikin & Associates: Work has been progressing well. I’m still in a space where I can provide myself a salary and benefits — including, as of last month, a 401k plan. I’ve had the opportunity to do some really interesting stuff related to statistical modeling and IT strategy lately, and this coming week I’ll be hoofin’ it to central Alabama for some on-site support.
  2. Lakeshore Literary: What a whirlwind! We’re in the last few days of the reading window for the inaugural issue of The Lakeshore Review, with plenty of submissions through both our internal submission tool as well as Submittable. Garrett and I have already issued a bunch of acceptances and rejections, with many more to review, and both Lisa and Allison have been thoughtfully engaged in their reading work. Yay! And yesterday, I oriented a new intern for academic credit — Faith, from Ferris State University. She’ll be in the office every Tuesday for the next few months, in addition to remote work within the slush piles. Our invite-only anthology, Surface Reflections, has a bunch of interest from the Grand River Writing Tribe. Beyond the editorial work, I’ve re-joined the Community of Literary Magazines and Small Presses, got a new lit journal to distribute through us, and finalized the retail and coffee/snack area for The L&G Center. Lots of progress!
  3. Karate: Things are still on track for me to test for first-degree black belt this summer. In the last few months I’ve learned Seichin (blue belt) and Seisan (purple belt) katas and Dan kumite, and I’m working on Seisan bunkai and Okikukai kumite. Apart from remembering WTF I’m doing for Okikukai 7 and 9, and that [insert expletive here] ankle-sweep takedown for Dan 6, I think I’m making progress. That’s what six to eight classes per week get you. That, and a better sense of one’s cardiopulmonary function.
  4. Writing: I wrapped up the second chapter of The Bear of Rosebriar Creek today. My planning document for this novel ran nearly 4500 words, with some character sketching, plot/conflict arcing, and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis that enjoyed a thorough treatment by both the OG Tribe and Group V teams within the GRWT. I’m excited for this project. At a high level, it explores the interplay of trauma and identity by means of trauma-driven archetype changes for four primary POV characters. Each undergoes a Kübler-Ross progression from a shadow Jungian archetype to a positive archetype (one each of the king, magician, warrior, and lover), all stemming from an opening death scene.
    Although the king/warrior/magician/lover construct is generally oriented toward masculine archetypes, nothing requires this framework to be male-only, and two of my POV characters are female (the warrior and the lover). 

  5. Auto Woes: Over the last month, I burned out the motor on my driver-side front window, developed a leaky coolant line, and needed an oil change. I took my car into a local repair facility last week and was quoted nearly $6,000 (yes, with an additional zero) for everything they said needed to be done. Which included $3,200 for a new turbocharging system and oil cooler, $1,200 for rear rotors, $600 for the window, $700 for a new oil pan, and $100 for an overall inspection. I paid for the inspection and window. They couldn’t do the oil change because “the bolt was cross-threaded” and they didn’t want to damage it, so they recommended a whole new pan. And instead of fixing the hose where I know the leak is, they said “98 percent of the time, those turbos need to be replaced.” And I just had the rotors done a year ago. Long story short, I got the window fixed and the rest, I’ll take elsewhere for a second opinion.
  6. Cats: And all of a sudden, Kali d’Cat has decided that she really loves to be picked up and snuggled, and even tries to climb on my lap when I lean down to pet her. She’s come a long way from a skittish stray on my back porch more than two years ago — a stray that, at first, wouldn’t get within a dozen feet of me.
  7. Star Trek: I’m a huge Trek fan and I’m loving the new crop of shows. One thing I’m noticing, though, is more ham-fistedness in the identity politics realm courtesy of the writers’ room. Not on race — e.g., the Capt. Burnham character is a black woman who earned The Chair the hard way, and her sex and race never were thrust in the viewers’ faces — but more on sexuality. The “I’m a they/them” and “you will truly be seen, trans person” stuff in S3/S4 of Discovery felt too on-the-nose, and now we’ve gone Full Woke in this second season of Picard. Complete with screeds against corporate greed overlaid with homeless people and evil government agents torturing, even murdering, innocent people. Star Trek is at its best when it advances its causes with subtlety. In the 1960s, for example, no one made a big deal about a black woman, Lt. Uhura, on the bridge, nor did they shy away from having both a Japanese and a Russian character on the bridge when the Cold War was underway and there was still lingering anti-Japanese sentiment from the end of WW2. Those were big deals back in the day, but they were done without calling attention to it. Modern Trek nailed it with Michael Burnham (and, I suppose, Carol Freeman) as well as the Paul Stamets/Hugh Culber marriage, but the writers missed an opportunity with the Adira and Grey characters and the unconcealed pointedness of Picard’s season-two plot.
  8. Computing: In a bit of news sure to delight Roux, I may replace my “normal” computer with a Mac — specifically, one of those spiffy new Mac Studios. They’re a bit pricey, but when I examine what I run on Windows, it occurs to me that nothing I use isn’t, by this point, fully cross-platform. Given how seamless the iPhone/iPad/Mac/AirPod ecosystem is, I’m left scratching my head for reasons to not go whole hog, especially given that my still very-high-powered Windows desktop is one arbitrary processor generation behind the ability to upgrade to Windows 11.

All for now. 

An Update, 18 Months Overdue

I used to maintain this blog with one to six posts per month, but my last post was September 2020 and I’d been flaky since late spring. There’s a reason for that, albeit not a super-compelling one. The pandemic and its associated drama affected me as much as anyone, and it’s only been in the last few months that I’ve been comfortable closing the door on one chapter of my life — running mid-2016 until late-2021 — and moving definitively into the next one. 

Oh, and a blessed Christmas to you and your family. I write this post on Christmas Day, with coffee at hand, classical Christmas music softly playing, the cats docile, and some myrrh incense burning near the window. My family routines were “mostly normal” this year and I hope they’re “fully normal” next year. May you each find some measure of joy this holiday season.

This’ll be a massive update, so buckle up and grab the extra-large-sized beverage of your choice. As usual, subjects aren’t presented in any particular order.

Health and Well-Being. After re-reading my recent posts, I think I was a bit inconsistent with how I characterized my run-in with the coronavirus — mostly to avoid in-the-moment questions or swoop-ins from readers. Here’s how it all ended up going down. First, I contracted Covid-19 (we think; tests weren’t available at the time) in early March 2020. I had come back from the lovely Bonaire diving trip with my friends Jen and Dave and then a few days later: wham. Much of March and April were pretty much lost; I was able to basically sit at my desk and do my contract editing job, but not much else. Exhaustion was pervasive and I had an entire week where my nights were interrupted by high nocturnal fevers and shortness of breath. I never experienced the loss of smell or taste, but virtually every other box was checked. From the beginning of May, when the worst of it has passed, until probably mid-to-late January 2021, I wasn’t quite right. Whether you call it Long Covid or just some lingering malaise, it came and went in fortnightly spurts. I’d enjoy roughly two weeks where everything was right as rain followed by a fortnight of exhaustion and mental fog. During this period, my weight yo-yoed like a sixth grader on the playground. But by late winter, I have consistently felt fine. I’ve been symptom-free since February, and now I sit comfortably in the “double vaxxed and boosted” category.

Ironically, despite the excellent “no sickness” theme of 2021, I’m writing this while battling a mid-grade sinus infection (thanks, dry winter!). I also had a bout of norovirus that first manifested itself on my return flight from Las Vegas this past summer. I am still apologetic to Delta Air Lines for not anticipating that gross liquid sludge would spew from my body from both ends simultaneously a mere 20 minutes out from landing. At least I managed to close the lav door one millisecond before the eruption.

Gillikin & Associates. Contract work over the last two years has been — well, inconsistent. I started 2020 with a full-time contract-but-W2 assignment performing content renovation for Dotdash. That contract expired in July. In that peak-of-pandemic period, the employment outlook was double-plus ungood. I acquired another contract gig, for blog-article writing in the tech sector, but it didn’t come within a country mile of paying all the bills. The enhanced unemployment benefits of that period saved me from an ignoble return to the metaphorical “mom’s basement.” By Memorial Day 2021, I landed an analytics-consulting contract thanks to my friend Patrick, and then a curriculum-development contract with a university thanks to my friend Andrew. What had been famine turned into feast, and the second half of 2021 has been one of the most financially well-performing periods of my entire life, with no signs of impending abatement. When you bring in enough revenue that you have to actually put yourself on payroll and provide yourself benefits, you know something is going well. May it persist!

Lakeshore Literary. When we shut down Caffeinated Press in December 2019, it was with some degree of both relief and disappointment. Relief, insofar as a business that didn’t grow quite right was finally allowed to slip gently into the night. Disappointment, insofar as part of the hope and promise of local literary excellence suffered because of the well-intended peculiarities of our business model. I launched a business structure for Lakeshore Literary — a successor company, but without the complexity of business partners — in early 2020 but apart from publishing my friend Lisa’s college-success textbook, it didn’t do anything. That is now changing. My colleague Garrett and I are co-editing a new triennial literary journal, The Lakeshore Review, and I’m re-doing the small press thing, as a part-time one-man shop. Significantly, it’s going to include retail: I’m planning for roughly 250 linear feet of shelf space to play with, to open a hyper niche bookstore focused on literary journals, small-press titles, and strictly curated self-published works. No general-catalog stuff. Plus, cafe seating, coffee and tea, and packaged snacks. Things get moving as of January 3. More about that in the next paragraph.

The L&G Center. The biggest news of Q4 is The L&G Center. It’s a 2,800-square-foot office space located near the intersection of 44th Street and Burlingame Avenue in Wyoming, Mich. My business partner Allison and I co-lease the building through an LLC formed solely to address our real-estate arrangement. I run G&A and Lakeshore Literary out of it; she runs her own business, Fourth Form Martial Arts Studio, out of it as well. The 1,200-square-foot front space is a mix of literary retail and cafe (15′ x 30′), plus an open studio that serves as the karate dojo or for special events (like poetry readings). We make the space available for rent if the situation feels right. The “dojo side” (which is roughly 25′ x 30′) when used as an events space can hold, we think, roughly 80 people auditorium-style or 48 people seated four to a six-foot table. With three generous storage rooms, funky cantilevered cabinetry, two ensuite restrooms, a kitchen, a skylight, a large conference room, and private offices for me and Allison, it’s a comfortable location that we rented for a steal. But it was a steal because we needed to replace the 30-year-old carpet, repaint everything, and perform non-trivial interior maintenance on our dime. We leased the space in mid-September and will enjoy our grand opening on January 3. It’s got a bit of an industrial/rustic feel to it, yet it’s a great multipurpose space with plenty of parking and easy access to US-131, M-6, and I-196.

Karate. So why, pray tell, did we start The L&G Center? Blame karate. 🙂 In November 2020, in the throes of National Novel Writing Month, I connected with a writer named Allison who, as fate would have it, I had met before — in karate class, ca. 2007-2008. She was a shy wisp of a blonde teenager at the time, but she ended up becoming a fierce, whipcrack-smart woman whose favorite word directed at me is a poorly considered “Veto.” When I studied karate in those days, it was at East West Karate Center. It turns out, East West persisted until the pandemic killed it off. One of the sixth-degree black belts rented space at a gym in Dorr, Mich., for twice-weekly informal karate and weapons classes. Allison encouraged me to go to those classes, and I did. I reconnected with so many folks I remembered from those long-ago days. In July, Allison and Muhamet tested for higher-degree black belts. Then in August we had a karate pool-slash-whiskey-sampling party and the subject of moving out of that tiny rented gym arose. I mentioned I was looking for office space, the group had convinced Allison to start a dojo again to replace East West — and six weeks later, we took possession of The L&G Center and she founded Fourth Form. I am the dojo’s most senior kyu student, anticipating black belt testing in the summer of 2022. We’ve welcomed back some of the old East West students and even a few new ones. It’s an exciting time, and my Kent County-based peeps should strongly consider coming to the dojo’s hard launch and karate demonstration at 6p on Monday, January 3. (We’re at 1590 44th St SW, Wyoming MI, 49509.)

Writing. I’ve made minor progress across several projects, but nothing to speak of. I’m focusing next week on my project list, to see if a bit of sorting and prioritizing will make things easier to execute. I think I’m leaning toward spending the entire year drafting The Bear of Rosebriar Creek, which is a literary novel featuring four broken main characters who each find a measure of healing during a community’s panic over a man-killing bear. I’ve been noodling over this story for years but haven’t had the cojones to tackle it. Until now, I guess. No promises.

Top: Round Lake, and the flooding of our campsite. Bottom: Clear skies along the Manistee River.

The Great Outdoors. I haven’t done any scuba diving since Bonaire, nor have I yet resumed flying lessons, but I have done some hiking. Twice this year — once with my brother, and once with my friend Scott — I trekked to the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula for overnight hiking adventures. Scott and I did a section of the North Country Trail between the Fife Lake Loop and Hodenpyl Dam; Brian and I did two nights at Round Lake State Forest Campground. Both trips were “car camping” with day hikes. Scott made delicious food near our campsite overlooking the Manistee River while Brian made delicious food while we hammocked in a hurricane. I also went on a few night walks at Millennium Park. Just me, my headlamp, the critters, and a few meth addicts scurrying through the underbrush.

Faith Formation. I’ve been more active at church lately. I’m a member of the Communications Apostolate, which is a fancy way of saying that I’m part of the volunteer team that prepared our parish’s annual report and helped pull off our “renewal of fidelity” annual commitment program. Sacred Heart is a parish where stewardship is a four-letter word — an approach I find most refreshing. We had a pastor transition this summer; the Rev. Robert Sirico was granted senior priest (i.e., retired) status and the Rev. Ron Floyd was appointed as canonical administrator. I moved to Sacred Heart for Sirico but I’m staying for Floyd. It’s a vibrant, intellectual, humble community with rich worship and a spirit of service. I miss my old friends at St. Anthony but spiritually, the trade was worth it. 

Intellectual Formation. This topic could be a blog post in its own right, but I’ll keep it brief-ish. I started 2020 working full-time as a contract editor for Dotdash, and all the while, I spent countless hundreds of hours background-watching lectures and podcasts on YouTube while I worked. I mostly stopped reading books and flipped to consuming videos over much of 2020. I absorbed such treasures as Jordan B. Peterson’s extended series about the book of Genesis, Joe Rogan’s shows, the Dark Horse Podcast livestreams with Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, and countless other bits of content from the center-right and the non-woke left. Early on, I became enamored with the “Intellectual Dark Web,” but eventually the luster dimmed. Stuff like Weinstein getting on the Ivermectin train and Peterson’s extended illness changed the nature of the beast. Toward the end of 2020 I eventually stopped watching YouTube videos and moved back to a beefier podcast roster, augmented by much more reading.

On the podcast front, I’ve found that tend to not miss many episodes of Sway, Pivot, and Your Undivided Attention (tech-focused); Blocked & Reported and Useful Idiots (media criticism); Left Right & Center, Checks and Balances, and The Argument (bipartisan/centrist issues-focused); Action Unwind, New Discourses, Three Martini Lunch, The Editors, and Mad Dogs & Englishmen (conservative-leaning politics); and FiveThirtyEight Politics, Slate Political Gabfest, The Ezra Klein Show, and The Weeds (left-leaning politics). Fitting imperfectly into the mix are The Glenn Show, Conversations with Coleman, and Honestly with Bari Weiss, each of which comes from an anti-woke center-left perspective. Atop that listening, I subscribe to National Review and have been working through a slush pile of books. Currently on the table: The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie, The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die by Niall Ferguson, and Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals by Tyler Cowen.

I’ve always positioned myself as something of a center-right thinker, although the Hidden Tribes report doesn’t really capture me very well. A lot of the strident, populist, more authoritarian streams of conservatism strike me as both silly and sinister, but the progressive left seems morally bankrupt and incapable of engaging the world outside its bubble. One of the take-aways from my podcasts is that when I disagree with the content of a particular episode, when the podcast hails from the right I tend to disagree on specifics of policy, whereas when I disagree with the content from a left-leaning episode, my frustration sources from the content presenting a caricature of the world. Too many straw men, too little understanding of countervailing arguments. I think that’s why I could never actually be a “man of the left” even if I’m sympathetic to some of the arguments and positions from that worldview.

If you ask where my head’s at and how it’s changed in the last 24 months, I’d distil it to this: I have less confidence in the integrity of the media and less confidence in political leaders to successfully navigate complex problems sourced from several unrelated input streams. I think the fringes of the left and the right are increasingly indistinguishable in their lunacy and their nihilism and that social platforms make this problem several orders of magnitude worse. Enlightenment liberalism (aka “David Frenchism“) is a noble framework worth protecting from integralists, socialists, and all the ne’er-do-wells in between. I’m paying more attention to disciplines like evolutionary biology and econometrics than I used to, and I appreciate how those disciplines help to undermine the superstructure of Critical Theory. And I see that in the absence of a real God to worship, people build destructive religion-like cults out of squishy nonsense like Q-Anon or antiracism. 

Political Engagement. I ran for office again in 2020, for county commission. For the second time, I was persuaded to run in this D+1,000,000 district in the heart of south-central Kent County. The upside was that I returned as a statutory member to the Kent County Republican Executive Committee.

For the 2020 election, I was the sole GOP challenger for the Absentee Voter Counting Board for the City of Kentwood, Mich. I spent 20 hours on-site at Kentwood City Hall, watching the opening and tabulation of countless thousands of absentee ballots. Kentwood even used Dominion machines! And you know what? I saw zero evidence of voter fraud. The loudest voices proclaiming The Big Lie come from people with literally no understanding of how votes are counted and audited — a fact that the shitshow of a “forensic audit” in Arizona proved beyond all reasonable doubt. As I look to candidates for state and local government in Michigan, the first thing I look for are two disqualifiers. Are they invoking the “America First” dog whistle? Are they in favor of a “full forensic audit?” If yes to either, they’re automatically disqualified as far as I’m concerned. As the debacle of the Senate elections in Georgia and the success of the Virigina gubernatorial elections attest, competent-and-sane Republicans will win while voices undermining the legitimacy of the election process will not.

Frankly, I’d rather win than fraternize with the liars and grifters who can’t get past their loss in 2020.

Social Media. Those of you with eyes to see and ears to hear will likely know that I’ve been off social media for most of the last two years. That’s not an accident, and it’s probably not going to be meaningfully changed. I am now convinced that Facebook is a force for evil in the world, and that Twitter has done more to pollute the body politic than any single other factor. I am not in a “delete my accounts” mode because I have businesses to run; I will probably occasionally throw things out there, but also never bother to check feeds or notifications. Increasingly, I’m turning to tools like blogs and Discord for communication and community. 

Winnie_Bot. I’m one of three “core” members of a project team for an open-source Discord bot called Winnie. Winnie_Bot tracks word sprints, goals, and related activities. In addition to serving as the project PM, I was also the translator of Winnie_Bot into Latin and I helped shape the core model for the bot’s database. Our product owner — Dawn, from Melbourne — and lead developer — Katie, from Ohio — have been a delight, and the community has been a big part of our success. That said, our go-live goal of October was sorely missed, at first by a little, and then by a lot. We’re making a lot of changes to the bot to conform to some Discord-specific changes that will take effect in April. We suspect that come 4/1, we might be the only bot left standing in this space. So we’re taking the time to get it right. It’s been a fair amount of work, especially in October and November, but it’s been fun.

National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo 2021 came and went. I spent it as a Municipal Liaison for the OCGR region (Ottawa County-Grand Rapids). I was co-ML with my friend Mel. It was a virtual-only year again, and it showed. Participation and interest were significantly lower. I wrote hardly anything, but then again, I was focused more on Winnie than writing. 

GRWT. The Grand River Writing Tribe diversified at the beginning of 2020. We split into three groups. One, the oh-so-cleverly named “OG Tribe,” contains most of the original cast of characters. The new in-person group, informally named “Bob’s Bitch Lasagna” for Reasons, is also doing well. Then “Group V” — the virtual group — consists of folks from across eastern North America. It’s great to be part of these groups; I’ve learned a lot.

Committee on Professional Ethics. I’m beginning my third year as a member of the Committee on Professional Ethics of the American Statistical Association. Over 2021, CoPE engaged what amounted to a 10-full-month exercise in rewriting our ethical guidelines for the practice of statistics. The process required weekly two-hour Zoom meetings, interspersed with periods of more intense work on a person-by-person basis. I was a member of the Working Group for the revision and was accountable for leading discussion around the revisions of two of the existing principles. We collectively wrapped that work by Halloween, and we’ve since learned that the ASA Board of Directors was satisfied with the work with very little requests for subsequent revision. I have been tasked with leading a similar workgroup in 2022 related to a framework for the application of these guidelines on an institutional basis. It’s gratifying to put my ethics degree to practical use.

Relationships. I think I’ve done mostly OK in maintaining relationships during the pandemic. In some ways, my immediate family got a bit closer, even as the extended family became more — well, extended. I saw my grandmother for the first time in 20 months on Thursday. I see Tony and Jen occasionally and we did enjoy an overnight karaoke party at Dimondale Manor with PPQ and The Good Doctor over the summer. I don’t feel as if I’ve lost friends, although I do think that I’ve lost a degree of connection to the folks from the extended podcasting community.

Roux and I, fleeing the Mounties.

Travel. Since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve traveled twice and received an out-of-town visitor once. In late June 2021, I attended the 360 Vegas Vacation in Las Vegas, in that sweet spot between lockdown periods: Apart from the airports, you’d have forgotten that it was a pandemic, in those pre-Delta days when all the infection lines were crashing and vaccination rates were shooting up. Then this autumn, Roux from Denton flew to Michigan. He and I spent one night at an Airbnb in Windsor, Ontario, then he spent two nights in Grand Rapids. It was good to see Roux as well as the ol’ standbys from the podcast community.

Podcasting. All my grand plans for Vice Lounge and Diction Dude were skewered by the hell that was 2020. I had a great talk with some folks in Las Vegas about VLO, including Tim of The Bettor Life, and I am planning on bringing VLO back in 2022. The format will be a bit different and I’m making changes to a bunch of stuff (no Patreon, less social media, but more stuff like livestreams and community on Discord). It’s on the docket for January, although I reserve the right to bump it as things settle down at The L&G Center after our grand opening.

Kali d’Cat, looking up at me, wondering why I’m taking her photo.

Cats. Murphy and Fiona d’Cat are both doing well. As is Kali d’Cat, the outdoors-dwelling sweetie. I have since discovered that Kali was a TNR kitty (trap, neuter, release). She is super affectionate, a bit skittish, and clever as hell. She also picks-and-chooses when she gets violent with the other larger mammals that approach her food dish. Most of the time, she lets the raccoons and opossums eat away, but every now and then holds her ground. She doesn’t like being picked up, but she does enjoy belly rubs — right up until the second she doesn’t. (He says, with a scratched right hand.) She lives on my back porch and has no real interest in coming inside. I have given her a cardboard box with a heating pad that’s on all winter long. The pad quickly heats to something like 95F when pressure is applied to it. She figured out the box/pad thing in a hurry and spends most of her time there when it’s cold.

OK, all for now. I’ll work on getting back on a regular schedule for 2022. Until then, I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy nude new year.

Mid-Year Updates, 2020 Edition

I haven’t posted any personal updates since March. The days blend together when we’re “social distancing.” So, behold, some highlights from the Life of Jason.

In no particular order:

Cats. The feline overlords who dwell indoors, Murphy and Fiona, are doing well. My outdoor domestic friend, Ziggy, is hit or miss; his weight goes up and down and up and down, and he’s scrawny to begin with. He’s been somewhat less people-friendly for the last few months. Whether it’s a function of him perhaps being ill (or old) or recognizing he’s in territory where he’s lost fights, I cannot say. I am convinced, however, that he’s recently gone fully or mostly deaf, based on changes of his behavior and the way that I interact with him. “My” two new outdoor cats — Kali and Orange, ferals who know each other in some way — went from full-on social distancing to acting like lifelong domestics. In fact, Kali basically lives on my back porch now and every time I go out there, she gets excited and purrs and demands petting. Even Orange (an intact male) occasionally seeks some attention, including occasional belly rubs, and he goes nuts over catnip.

Reading Books. I’m still (usually) doing a Reading Sabbath day on Sundays. I’ve recently completed The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class (Joel Kotkin), The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times (George Weigel), Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despite One Another (Matt Tiabbi), Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race and Class (Charles Murray), Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism and the Future of the West (R. R. Reno) and Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life (Nassim Nicholas Taleb).

Writing Books. Long-time readers of this beautiful, well-honed, sublimely reasoned blog know I’ve been writing several books. One of those projects — From Pencil to Print — has undergone a significant transition. When it slithered up to the 200,000-word mark with several chapters still outstanding, I took a page from my friend Ken’s playbook and opted to split the project into several smaller volumes. Three of them are in a mostly done state … and as of yesterday, one of them is finished. Yes, The Diction Dude Essential Guide to Getting Started as a Professional Writer is complete and available as an advance review copy, should any of you wish to review it. I’ll be out for purchase in print and ebook form in mid-to-late August. This volume is the first in a series of 10 planned volumes in The Diction Dude Essential Guide series. The second volume (Mechanics of Fiction) is probably 70 percent done; the book about short-form technical non-fiction (Service Journalism) is probably 40 percent done. Two of the volumes are at zero percent because they’re new ideas that didn’t fit into the original plan, but the remaining five are somewhere between 20 percent and 60 percent done, thanks solely to me slicing up the Pencil to Print manuscript. Likewise, I’m progressing through Delivering MIRACLES (my healthcare book) and should be done with the first draft by the end of the summer. So excited to see these multi-year projects finally come to fruition. It’s been slow going, running several projects in parallel instead of in series, but I’ve learned that I’ve got a cap for how long in a week I can work on any one project before my eyes roll into the back of my head and I just want to smash some battleships in World of Warships.

Health care. As I mentioned in March, I likely had Covid-19 disease. At the time, I hadn’t been to my doctor’s office in, oh, maybe a decade. (I’m a healthcare quality consultant. Just as auto mechanics tend to drive junkers, we HQCs tend to use spit and duct tape to keep our bodies going.) The nurse on the phone was absolutely horrid to me, so I elected to switch primary-care physicians. My new doc is young and aggressive. My family “enjoys” a long and intimate relationship with hypertension — and I, myself, had blood pressure high enough to compare favorably to jetliner hydraulics — so she ordered a bunch of tests: enough blood work to impress Dracula, a transthoracic echocardiogram, a renal vascular ultrasound. (Pro tip: The ultrasound tech is not amused when you ask, during a renal ultrasound, if you’re having twins.) Anyway, it turns out that I’m not dying. She prescribed some long-overdue meds for blood pressure; that’s my one major genetic inheritance from which there’s no escape. I also was very, very, very low on Vitamin D again, which probably explains the slow recovery and frequent deep exhaustion even after I recovered from probably-Covid. So I’m back to daily supplementing, and spending more time in the Great Outdoors.

The funny thing about blood pressure — I know on paper the factors that adversely affect pressure, but I didn’t know how those things affect me, personally, in the real world. So I ran an informal experiment on myself, testing what happens when I do and don’t enjoy things like fast food, cigars, alcohol and coffee. For the most part, coffee kicks my butt very hard, reading-wise, for a few hours, then the effect dissipates. I can’t see an obvious short-term contribution from cigars. Alcohol matters if I go above two or three standard drinks in a “session” with effects that last at least 36 hours. And fast food? All that sodium makes a huge difference … and that difference lasts for 48 hours to 72 hours.

Moral of the story, kids? No one’s immortal. I’m in good shape under-the-hood for my age and genetics, but as we get older, we must do what we must to avoid falling off the Cliff of Good Health without a parachute. And for most people, the Cliff is kinda obvious, but easy to stumble over by accident. I’m avoiding my cliff, and I hope and pray that you do, too.

Hiking. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to the woods I go. In the last few weeks, I’ve:

  • Completed a 5-mile loop at Millennium Park (the yellow trail plus the to/from stretch to the trailhead).
  • Completed a 4-mile loop at Grand Ravines Park (the path around the park) with Brittany and Mel.
  • Completed a 4-mile loop at Seidman Park (the outer-ring path), which includes segments of the North Country Trail.
  • Completed a 4-mile loop at Aman Park (the outer-ring path) with my brother and his friend.

Plus, in two weeks, my brother and his friend and I will undertake an 8-mile section hike of the NCT, northbound from Nichols Lake South to 14 Mile in Newaygo County. He’s also suggested that he really, really, really wants to do Isle Royale, so we’ve tentatively planned it for Memorial Day 2021. 

I took pictures at three of those bulleted hikes; check out the photo galleries to view them.

Politics. I was roped into running, for a second time, for the 17th district commission seat for the Kent County Board of Commissioners. My district is something like D+50, so we joke about me being a “sacrificial goat,” but it’s still a good exercise in civic engagement. Similarly, if you haven’t checked out the #Unity2020 ticket information and you’re not a fan of either Trump or Biden — well, check it out.

Church. In June, Sacred Heart re-opened at 25 percent capacity, as authorized by the bishop. Kudos to the parish team for a smooth transition. The parish added two additional Masses on the weekends — both of which are billed for vulnerable populations and thus masks are obligatory — and did a ton of great stuff, including Zoom-based all-parish meetings, to keep everyone connected and engaged. As of July, we no longer need to sign up for services. 

Because Sacred Heart is in tune with the full history of the Church Universal, with a pastor with an admirable degree of erudition and foresight, we actually re-introduced a practice that was common during the Black Death years, centuries ago: Liturgical forceps. Yes. Holy tweezers. When you attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form (i.e., the pre-Vatican II Mass), you kneel at the altar rail to receive the Eucharist on the tongue. In the Middle Ages, with plague sweeping across the land yet lacking knowledge of the germ theory of disease transmission, the Church in sua sapientia authorized (and still authorizes) special liturgical tweezers so that the priest does not risk touching your mouth with fingers that might have touched other mouths. So Sacred Heart busted out the forceps at the EF Masses. (With the forceps, he drops the Host on the tongue, he doesn’t just lay it on, so the forceps themselves never touch you, either.) And with the priest wearing a non-liturgical neck gaiter during the distribution, we actually complied with social-distancing rules even during a moment as intimate as that.

Social events. With the Coronapocalypse still with us, social activities have been somewhat spare. Tony and I went on June 1 to the grand re-opening of the Firekeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Michigan. I enjoyed a lovely Sunday dinner with my friend Patrick a while back, and I got to check out his scrumptious library. Plus I enjoyed a lovely walk around the Grand Ravines county park with my friends Mel and Brittany (and Brittany’s dog, Mischief). The writers’ groups have been meeting virtually since March. We did, however, have a pair of cookouts at my brother’s house — one a few weeks ago, with grilled burgers, and then on Independence Day, with slow-cooked ribs. Both events were faaaaantastic.

All for now.

“Jason, Jason, Are You Okay?” A Tale of March Illness

My last post prompted some back-channel questions about how I’m doing. Which is touching. So please permit a brief* follow-up post answering that question publicly.

* 1,600 words is “brief,” right?

A Wasted March

The first week in February, I thought I was coming down with a cold. However, by the time I took my buoyancy class on February 6, it cleared — and two days later, I jetted off for a week in sunny, spectacular Bonaire. And I didn’t feel at all sick on the island. However, one day on a dive, I think I might have given myself a mild over-expansion injury. I had a fast ascent (almost 60 feet in two minutes, which is the top end of the recommendation) while maintaining buoyancy solely through breathing and not by playing with my inflator or dumps. Later that evening, I experienced a bit of trouble breathing and some chest tightness, but by the next morning all was well. So I shrugged that experience off as a nod to the age-old diver warning to never hold your breath.

Our return trip routed through Miami International Airport on Saturday, February 15. At MIA, we packed cheek-by-jowl in a petri dish of humanity for two hours, in addition to back-to-back, full, three-hour flights in (alas) coach. 

About 10 days later, I got a cold, but it was an odd one. First, it was remarkably mild. And second, it stayed purely in the upper respiratory tract. No sore throat, no cough. That pattern was unusual; usually my colds always migrate to my lower respiratory tract with a sore throat and a cough. Instead, I just experienced two weeks of occasional sneezing and nose-blowing and mid-grade exhaustion. Not enough to be debilitating, but certainly enough to induce me to do just the minimum.

By the middle of the first week of March, the cold persisted, but the exhaustion got a bit worse. Again, not debilitating, but after I finished work, I was done for the day. No writing, just … existing, watching YouTube videos or staring blankly at my computer screen realizing I intended to write but couldn’t be bothered to move my fingers. And, oddly, I became significantly cold-sensitive. No fever, but just consistently chilled, which is odd because Michigan winter is my jam and my office this time of year typically clocks in somewhere between 52 and 56 degrees Fahrenheit. I actually turned up the furnace and kept a blanket on me and kept my feet on a hot pad.

Two weeks later, on March 18, things turned worse. For the next week, I alternated between feeling okay-ish and not. The pattern was consistent. Between 8p and 10p, a slight fever, somewhere between 99F and 99.6F oral (my baseline oral temp is around 97.5F) with intense chills set in. I’d go to bed and poor Murphy d’Cat couldn’t understand why I couldn’t stop shivering violently despite four blankets. But by morning, I’d be sweaty yet the fever broke. Until the evening. I yo-yo’d like this for roughly a week. I also developed a very slight cough, never productive.

One night — Friday the 20th — I woke up at 3a unable to breathe. Tight chest, labored breathing. I was thiiiiis close to thinking about going to the ER until I remembered I had a pulse-ox monitor. So I took a few measures, saw my sats were 96 or 97 or 98 percent, and figured I was talking myself into a worst-case diagnosis, so I went back to bed. Didn’t sleep much, granted, but I went back to bed nonetheless.

On the 23rd, I called the doctor’s office. Turns out, I needed a new doctor; mine doesn’t accept my new insurance, although the nurse triage line was kind enough to tell me that I should self-quarantine and there was no need or capacity for COVID-19 testing. Later that day, I found a new primary care doc, but because of the COVID crisis, I couldn’t be formally enrolled with a new-patient visit for 90 days. So, I’ve got an appointment … in mid-May.

By the 29th, the cold-like symptoms and the fevers mostly stopped, but it wasn’t until April 1 that I actually felt decent.  

Tips for Staying Virus-Free

My assumption through the long, tired slog through March was that I had the cold and then the flu. However, neither the cold not the flu behaved like normal — the obvious assumption is that I had COVID-19, but even then, my symptom progression didn’t really match a typical COVID-19 case: I never experienced significant shortness of breath, my fevers were mild (and, strictly speaking, didn’t seem to cross the 100.4F mark), and I didn’t develop a persistent cough.

I’m a fan of the Dark Horse Podcast, hosted by Bret Weinstein. He and his wife, Heather Heying, have been “sheltering in place” in Oregon so they’ve been live-streaming on YouTube twice each week. They’re both evolutionary biologists, famous for the kerfuffle a few years ago at Evergreen State College. They’ve shared some fascinating information about COVID-19, including Heather’s likely experience with it much earlier than the general pandemic in the United States. They offered some great information about the disease and its origins in their first and second livestreams. Their third livestream kept up the theme (it covered bats, bio-weapon theories and the social implications of the pandemic). I had asked them a question and, in the separate Q&A livestream they conducted, Bret actually answered my question about masks (by name!), which left me kind of geeked.

After reviewing some CDC materials and seeing how Weinstein and Heying addressed the subject, I think the odds are well above average that I acquired COVID-19 but my case was mild enough that I avoided hospitalization. It’s improbable, giving timing, that I was infected in Miami, but it’s also possible that a sequence of unfortunate events — potential lung over-expansion plus a mild cold — left me a bit more open to a lower respiratory infection than I might otherwise have been. However, without a test, this hypothesis cannot be verified. And in Michigan right now, there’s no capacity for screening for people who aren’t seriously ill.

One interesting educational tidbit that I learned from Weinstein and Heying relates to more advanced infection prevention. Everyone, of course, should follow basic guidelines for minimizing infection risk:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with un-washed hands.
  • For the coronavirus, wear an appropriate mask when you’re in a public space, and practice social distancing of at least 2 meters from everyone else at all times.

Weinstein recommended a few other precautions, to which I’ve added a few of my own:

  • If you don’t own a supply of N95 masks, make due with a doubled-up bandanna. Wear it over your nose and mouth in public, as if you were some sort of Antifa thug. A bandanna (or, as I’ve been wearing, a cotton shemagh) is likely highly effective, if not as good as an N95 mask, given the vector of coronavirus infection. Wash it daily. Clinical evidence from a 2010 study published in Applied Biosafety suggests bandannas are 11 percent effective at blocking 1 micron particles. The coronavirus is 100 to 120 microns and travels in droplets, suggesting that a well-fitted bandanna face covering could be something above 90 percent effective or better in blocking the virus. As they say — good enough for government work. (Weinstein recommends the bandanna in the absence of N95 masks, and my question to him in the livestream addressed this journal article.)
  • When you get home from a trip, strip and shower immediately and do not re-wear clothes. Virus particles could land, e.g., on your hair and then transfer to your pillow or to your eyes/nose/mouth through inadvertent touching. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is believed to live just a few hours on fabric, but that’s all it takes. If you decontaminate yourself after you get home, you substantially cut this risk.
  • Men with epic beards — yeah. You do know that they’re massive infection vectors in any case, right?
  • If you can sanitize your cart handles or basket handles at the store, do so. Sanitize them before you actually use them.
  • Decontaminate your hands with soap or alcohol sanitizer before you enter the store and before you get into your car. It’s not necessary to wear gloves in the store given that coronavirus doesn’t lead to COVID-19 through direct skin contact.
  • After you put your groceries away at home, wash your hands. The coronavirus can live up to a week on hard non-porous surfaces, so assume all the packaging of your groceries are contaminated. As such, wash your hands after touching all this stuff, especially before/during/after meal prep.
  • Safety glasses or sunglasses with side protection limit viral exposure to the eyes.

Lots of people have suffered from COVID-19, but emerging anecdotal evidence suggests it might have passed through parts of the country, especially California, earlier than people assume. Given that those early mild-to-moderate cases were likely misdiagnosed, odds are good that many more people have contracted the virus and either proved asymptomatic or experienced non-acute symptoms that have kept them out of the denominator of public-health stats. Until serology tests hit the market, however, we have no way of knowing who might have encountered the virus but avoided COVID-19 infection, or who encountered it and experienced mild symptoms.

Did I have COVID-19? Hell if I know, but it’s more likely than not. Some of my symptoms are consistent, some aren’t. Then again, my “cold” and “flu” weren’t typical, either. All I know for sure is that I basically lost the entire month of March to a mild, yet real, malaise — one that didn’t break until April 1.

A Pandemic of Opinions About the COVID-19 World Order

What a difference a month makes. Just 30 days ago, the Wuhan Coronavirus seemed like a distraction from the seriousness of the Democratic beauty pageant. Partisans sniped about whether COVID-19 represented an existential threat to the species or a hoax to get Trump. The Dow was looking to crest 30,000 points. Life offered predictability.

In fact, just six weeks ago, I remember sitting on the porch of our rented apartment in Bonaire, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, enjoying rum and a cigar and talking to Dave (who frequently travels to China) about whether he had been to a place called Wuhan, because the news stories out of China were looking scary. He told funny stories about his travel adventures in China and India.

Now? No one’s laughing. No one with working synapses thinks it’s a hoax.

Where to begin?

The Epidemiology

Let’s start with the science. 

The novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan likely originated with a wet market. That’s a market serving slaughtered animals, many of them exotic. The Chinese government made motions to shut them down after the SARS epidemic but let them persist. 

Some terms: The virus, called SARS-CoV-2, sometimes leads to a disease called COVID-19. People can be infected by the virus and, because they’re asymptomatic, not actually manifest the disease. The math about the dangers of COVID-19 are based on reported cases of people whose infections have morphed into the disease. However, some unknown proportion of the country has acquired and defeated the virus without developing the disease. Keep that distinction top-of-mind when you think about population-prevalence statistics. A good deal of reporting has mixed, willy-nilly, cases of infection and cases of disease.

It’s difficult to get a good sense on how wide the disease has spread, in part because people with very mild cases are likely under-counted in the denominator and in part because some of the worst outbreaks occur in countries with regimes that shade the truth (China, Iran, possibly Russia and Venezuela). For people with mild-to-moderate infections, the disease symptoms are so similar to influenza that only a specific test yields a concrete diagnosis. In general, though, the danger signs of COVID-19 include dry (often extreme) coughing, shortness of breath, and fever.

The CDC offers an online symptom self-checker that helps put your mind at ease about what your best course of action may be. In general, if you experience trouble breathing, become confused or lethargic, show a bluish tint to your face or lips, or feel persistent pain/pressure in your chest, seek immediate medical attention. Those are signs of hypoxemia—low blood oxygen—and is caused by, among other things, acute respiratory distress syndrome, which is a serious complication from COVID-19.  Basically, your lungs fill with fluid, preventing oxygen absorption in your tissues, which is why the number of ventilators is important. (If you’re a worry-wort and you merely think you’re having difficulty breathing and then hyperventilate and then generate the same symptoms of respiratory insufficiency … get yourself a pulse oximeter and learn how to use it.)

However, those big-three symptoms everyone talks about aren’t the only ones that manifest with COVID-19:


When you consider how COVID-19 differs from the cold or the flu, two statistics matter:

  1. The R0. The R-naught of a pathogen marks its replication multiplier. A pathogen with R0 = 1 generally results in one infected person infecting a single other person, in the long-run average. Diseases with an R0 of less than 1 generally self-contain; not enough people get them to cause a pandemic. Diseases with R0 above 2 spread like wildfire. It’s easy to see why: One person infects two. Those two infect four. Those four infect 8, who infect 16, who infect 32. Imperial College London estimates the R0 of COVID-19 to be 2.4. That’s code for “a lot of people will get exposed to this thing in the normal course of business.”
  2. The case fatality rate. The case-fatality rate is the proportion of people infected by a pathogen who will die from the pathogen or complications related to it. A study published 24 February in JAMA suggests a case-fatality rate, as represented by official Chinese statistics, of 2.3 percent. That rate, however, is highly dependent on the age and chronic comorbidities of the afflicted. Relatively few young-and-healthy people die of COVID-19, for example, although they can and do. In Italy, the official case-fatality rate is somewhere above 8 percent, but Italy’s population skews older and they’re classifying any cause of death that looks like COVID-19 to be COVID-19, so that number is almost surely overstated. In the United States, it appears to hover around 1.45 percent with statistics current as of 26 March.

People sometimes ask: Is all this drama worth it? After all, more than 80 percent of infected people experience no or very mild symptoms. In fact, absent clinical testing, doctors can’t tell the difference between COVID-19 and the flu. So why worry?

The best way to answer that question is to look at the interplay between the case-fatality rate and R0. The flu’s case-mortality rate is around 0.05 to 0.1 percent with an R0 of 1.3. Compared to the flu, it appears COVID-19 kills 15 to 75 times more people and infects twice as many people. Although it’s true that for a broad swathe of people, COVID-19 infection proves utterly anticlimactic, the public-health concern isn’t with the 80 percent. It’s with the 20 percent who require hospitalization. Of those, 5 percent will die, and a proportion will only survive acute respiratory distress syndrome through the use of a ventilator—and many those extreme survivors will never regain full pulmonary function.

If we leave the disease unmanaged, the prospect that 1 million or more Americans could die from COVID-19 isn’t scaremongering—it’s science. Given that there’s presently no vaccination or treatment, the only tool in our toolkit becomes an artificial reduction in R0 through tactics like enforced social isolation. Because even though the virus might have an average “natural” case-fatality rate of 1 percent in optimal-care settings, if a large chunk of that 20 percent who require hospitalization can’t get a ventilator, the case-fatality rate increases. Sometimes dramatically. In an overstretched healthcare system with inadequate ventilator supplies and fewer healthcare providers (because they, themselves, are sick!), that death rate climbs. And climbs. And climbs.

Are these broad shutdowns scary? Sure. Unprecedented? Yup. Necessary? Absolutely!

In a perfect world, by mid-summer, we’ll all look at these shutdowns and wonder if it was all a let-down. Much ado about nothing. If that’s the case, then congratulations to us all—these measures worked. And if mid-summer comes and the world feels like Thunderdome—well, then, they didn’t. And may God have mercy on our souls.

Shining Points of Light

Resist the urge to see only the bad and the scary, though. Use this moment as a ready-made excuse to connect with old friends (remotely, of course) and to practice random acts of kindness. Stories abound of people doing good things—like people who organized a drive-by celebrating a 7-year-old’s birthday. Or the teenager who delivered dinner and offered an impromptu trumpet performance for an isolated elderly couple. Or the students who use their 3D printer to help create face masks for healthcare workers. You can be the hero of such a story, too.

I’ve been eating my own dog food. The last few days, I’ve been sending occasional text messages and emails to folks I haven’t seen in a while, or who I know might be struggling, or who happen to live in a hot zone like NYC. We each enjoy our web of networks. Now’s as good of a time as any to make sure the strands connecting each node remain active and strong.

Some institutions are doing their best and thereby demonstrating their resilience. My home parish, for example, has followed the orders of the bishop and the governor to suspend public services, but the church stays open for private prayer and individual confession remains available. Plus, the parish has called every registered parishioner to check in, and the pastor has been releasing daily YouTube videos with Lenten reflections on the readings of the day plus a blessing. (And the bishop live-streams Sunday Mass from the Cathedral.)

Arts institutions have offered creative online performances. Even Sir Patrick Stewart has been tweeting a sonnet a day. Because Shakespeare. And corporations are helping, too—Xfinity/Comcast is, for the next few months, waiving all Internet usage caps to accommodate work-from-home activities.

When you’re part of the solution, you’re not part of the problem. You can be a shining point of light. And when enough points of light glow in the darkness, the darkness shall not overcome it.

The Problem of Information

Speaking of darkness, let’s turn to the media.

The most significant gut-churning lesson from the last 90 days isn’t about the virus or the economic aftereffects of it. Rather, for me, the big story has been the utter failure of the press to be serious about, well, anything. Consider:

  • Reporters have repeatedly asked President Trump if it’s racist to call the disease the “Chinese Coronavirus” or the “Wuhan Coronavirus” despite that it’s common practice to name new diseases after the location they first appeared. Think about that. You’re a reporter. It’s a pandemic. You have access to the President of the United States. And your primary goal is to try to dunk on him about terminology? Seriously?
  • The conservative media went on, and on, and on, about how COVID-19 is just the flu and complaining about it is like impeachment all over again. Then they decided it was serious and Trump’s response has been perfect.
  • The progressive media attacked Trump for not locking the country down, days after attacking him for locking down the borders, despite that the president has no authority to lock down parts of the interior—let alone the entire country—except in specific instances of armed insurrection. No matter what Trump does, it’s too little, too late, too corrupt. Even Governor Cuomo has found nice things to say about Washington’s response, for cryin’ out loud.
  • The centrist pundits tried to prognosticate their way into relevance, only to be proven wrong (in the aggregate) at every step of the way.

For a long time, China lied about the respiratory illness arising from this virus. Chinese authorities at all levels suppressed information. None of this information is in dispute. As recently as this week, China maintained that a U.S. Army athlete brought the virus to China last November. To mention the duplicity of the Chinese Community Party in allowing the disease to spread isn’t racist. It’s truth.

A Gallup poll taken March 13 to March 22 shows that of nine polled entities, the U.S. news media was the only institution underwater in its approval rates. Overall approval for the media stood at just 44 percent, with 55 percent disapproving. Contrast that to the media’s foil, President Trump, whose approval rate for the coronavirus crisis stands at 60 percent. Even Congress is at 59 percent approval

For an excellent case study in the utter lack of self-awareness “infecting” the media, consider Damon Linker’s March 27 column in The Week in which he wrote:

Over and over again, those who report on and analyze politics at close range have documented the president’s lies, exposed his schemes to enrich himself, taken note of his errors and their consequences, and highlighted his incompetence and cruelty — and at every step of the way they have assumed this would make a political difference. But it hasn’t.
Maybe it’s time to recognize that it won’t.
Accepting this is hard. Journalists, academics, and intellectuals tend to be idealists. They went into this line of work not because they wanted to be rich but because they wanted to make the world a better place in some way. This doesn’t mean their ideas on improving things would always have positive outcomes if they were enacted, or that their favored policy proposals deserve to take priority in our public life. Not at all. But it does mean they tend to assume that most people will recoil from outright lies, deception, malice, injustice, sleaze, and thuggish imbecility when it is exposed and demonstrated to them.
But maybe that isn’t true.

It’s isn’t true at all, but it’s a perfect encapsulation of the tendency of the modern commentariat to loathe Trump and the Republicans so much that bumper-sticker slogans substitute for truth and moral catastrophizing reins supreme. Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines the Intellectual Yet Idiot as “the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking ‘clerks’ and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think and 5) who to vote for.” Sounds a lot like the press corps, from top to bottom, and their fellow travelers in Twitter’s Blue Check Mark Brigades.

I think there’s a lot of truth to Taleb’s framework. And—forget the coronavirus a moment—the prevalence of the IYI crowd in the media and in the commanding heights of academic administration and cultural institutions hints at the weakness of the elite worldview that’s part of the current repatrimonalization of Western institutions. Individual people cannot make prudent decisions about life-or-death choices, let alone inform their economic and political beliefs, when the primary gatekeeper of information is across-the-board corrupt. How much of the populist resurgence roots in some way to a reaction against IYI narratives?

Yet that’s where we’re at. I’ve dreaded this conclusion for a while now, but the systemic failure of the press seems inescapable

Preparing for Tomorrow

Pundits churn out prediction stories like the genre’s en fuego. Every single one of these predictions is utter horseshit. No one knows what lies ahead. No one knows how long it’ll take to get Wuhan Coronavirus under control; no one knows the final death toll; no one knows the secondary toll taken from loss of livelihood in the shutdown; no one knows how long the economy will take to return to pre-crisis levels; no one even knows if the economy will ever fully recover given the presently unquantifiable risk of radical social disruption that renders the Washington Consensus moot.

So I’m not going to offer predictions.

Instead, I do two things:

  1. Hope for the future. Humans tend to rally in the face of adversity. I’m generally bullish on the short-term prospects. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of a renaissance in organized religion and in the strengthening of the “little platoons” in hyperlocal contexts. I believe we’ve got it in us to come out ahead. I remain hopeful that human ingenuity will find a way to defeat this virus and that by mid-summer or autumn, we’ll have something like a solution that allows for a significant degree of a return to normalcy. I’m betting that by Thanksgiving, we’ll be giving thanks for the CoronaCrisis receding in the rear-view mirror.
  2. Plan for the apocalypse. I also remain aware that things can always get worse. How much worse? No one knows. But just as the best-case scenario isn’t likely to materialize, neither is the worst-case scenario. That said, if you plan for the worst-case scenario, you’re prepared for everything. So I’ve been slowly working on stocking some non-perishable food items and jugs of water. I’ve made sure all my first-aid kits have been re-stocked and that stuff that’s expired got rotated out. I’ve added recurring tasks to my to-do list to swap and recharge the batteries in my radio and flashlights. I’ve re-inventoried my hiking-and-camping gear. I’ve been making checklists in case I need to get out of Grand Rapids in a hurry—Where will I go? What will I bring? How shall I provision for, and transport, the cats? If I’m traveling by car, what else might I toss in my bags if I’m not sure how long, or ever, it might be before I return home? 

Think about these things. Being prepared for the worst while hoping for the best means that you’ll take whatever happens in stride.

All that said: Stay safe and healthy. 

Some Leap Day Reflections

Something fun happens once every four years—and I’m not talking about the interminable agony of the presidential election cycle. Today marks leap day, the quadrennial recurrence of the 29th of February. To my fellow children of the Ford Administration, I say: Happy 10th birthday. Just think: In 2060 or 2064, you’ll finally be old enough to legally raise a toast in your own honor. Perhaps by then, some of you will even have adulted.

A handful of miscellaneous reflections follow, in alpha order by subject heading.


Over the last few months I’ve accumulated a second pair of cats. These felines, whom I’ve cleverly nicknamed “Kali” (the calico) and “Grey” (the grey), have grown accustomed to receiving their daily sacrifices of kibble. Both seem semi-feral; they don’t skedaddle at the first sign of their human butler—a red tabby sometimes stops by and it darts for its life even if it sees me in the window—but I can’t get too close. Kali, in particular, shows up on the back porch every morning around 9 a.m. and greets me with alternating meows and hisses, darting to-and-fro but never getting within arm’s reach. That little bugger won’t even go near the food until it sees me on the other side of the kitchen window.

Relatedly, Ziggy d’Cat still stops by intermittently. He remains scrawny, but not as deathly emaciated as he was a few months ago. However, he still expects shredded chicken and will bypass kibble if he thinks I’ll see him and therefore bestow upon him a portion of the holy bird. As such, I keep some of the shredded rotisserie chicken I buy for my lunchtime salads reserved for him.

Meanwhile, indoors, Murphy d’Cat has largely forgotten his trauma of my Bonaire trip, while Fiona d’Cat has discovered that if she’s persistent enough in ignoring my attempts to redirect her, that she eventually will find a perch on my left arm whilst I recline at my work desk. Both occasionally play with the toys Brittany brought for them, and both love the new cardboard scratching posts that she gifted to Their Feline Majesties.

Church & Lent

I’ve grown accustomed to the rhythm-and-flow of Mass in the Extraordinary Form at Sacred Heart, which I’ve attended since October. I think I much prefer the EF to the Ordinary Form that most Catholics experience. Probably the biggest reason relates to being left alone. In the OF, you’re forced to be a “community.” So one must endure congregational singing with insipid 1970s-era Simon & Garfunkel show tunes. You get ad populum priests, who must then put on a “Mass face” as if he were a performer. You suffer the hand-holding and cringe-worthy “prayers of the faithful” and a mismash of ill-trained altar servers. The nice thing about the OF is that you’re there for a purpose, but it’s up to you whether you follow along in your hand missal, or pray inwardly, or line up for Confession, or whatever. And there’s no army of “extraordinary ministers” or hippies with guitars to be found. That said, I still prefer the current Liturgy of the Hours versus the old Divine Office. The Office isn’t as rich in Matins as the LotH Office of Readings, quality of the psalter notwithstanding.

As I occasionally YouTube-surf deep-think videos, I occasionally find some with a religious theme. I’m struck by the intellectual poverty of much of contemporary Christian apologetics. Several examples showcase my frustration. First, I’ve watched a few hours of YouTube videos featuring Dr. Taylor Marshall, a well-known “trad bro” commentator—one of those younger, gleeful traditionalist Catholics who’s into smells-and-bells, lots of babies, the “traditional Latin Mass,” Communion on the tongue, and theories about the alleged assassination of John Paul I by nefarious cardinals affiliated with the Freemasons. Lots of decrying the “Novus Ordo” (more properly, the Ordinary Form) and boasting of their fecundity. Second, I watched a series of lectures from the BeThinking National Apologetics Day Conference from 2011, which was a response to the New Atheism. Distinguished speakers included William Lane Craig, John Lennox, Peter J Williams and Gary Habermas. These videos constitute the cutting edge of Evangelical apologetics, but they’re fighting last generation’s battles. (So are the New Atheists, for that matter; none of them take seriously the problem of quantum probability as a significant blow to the classic formations of the Cosmological Argument.) Third, I’ve watched a series of lectures by Robert Barron, the priest who founded Word On Fire and who, a few years ago, became one of the bishops in the archdiocese of Los Angeles. He seems like a nice guy, and certainly learned, but he can’t stop preaching to the converted.

My biggest problem with apologetics, writ large? It’s only persuasive if you’re already on the inside. No one’s speaking, really, to people who may be sympathetic but not yet within the tent. Arguments tend to rely on Scripture or too-precious argumentative scrupulosity presented as if the conclusions were stronger than they really are. Not a lot of grappling with fundamentals. For that matter, the “apologetics” offered by modern atheists prove similarly defective. I think there’s ripe ground, somewhere, to make an inductive preponderance-of-the-evidence argument for questioning agnostics who enjoy better-than-average knowledge of modern science and who prove capable of thinking themselves out of a wet paper bag. But if such a resource exists, I’ve yet to encounter it.

Granted, it’s necessary and valuable to use Scripture and various parts of the Magisterium to succor the congregation. The problem arises when pastors consistently pick the low-hanging fruit. A person who’s not in the congregation, or perhaps in the pews but doubting, isn’t ever going to be persuaded by an argument that relies on some anodyne phrase in 5 Galassionians 87:331, and isn’t going to care that William Lane Craig believes that the multiverse challenge to the Cosmological Argument is insufficiently parsimonious to be true. 

Anyway, it’s Lent. Last week, Sacred Heart offered a 40 Hours devotion. It launched at the end of the 12:30 Mass last Sunday (a Missa Cantata in the Extraordinary Form), with a Eucharistic procession in the nave and the full, chanted Litany of the Saints. I volunteered for the midnight-to-2-a.m. shift on both Monday and Tuesday morning. Then, Ash Wednesday. So this week I landed 10-ish hours in the nave. I observed the fast-and-abstinence rule on Ash Wednesday and the first Friday of Lent (yesterday). I intend to keep that practice “religiously” this year. 


I’ve managed to flesh out the remaining courses I’m planning to take through the dive shop. With those courses and their mandatory dives, and a few additional dives over the summer, I’ve set a goal of achieving the SSI Master Diver milestone by the end of this year’s season. I’ve already completed the Nitrox and buoyancy specialties. So the five I’ve asked to get scheduled this year include Navigation, Diver Stress and Rescue, Science of Diving, Search and Recovery, and either Night or Deep diving. Upon logging 50 dives and completing five specialties (of which, Stress and Rescue is mandatory), the Master Diver recognition automatically applies.

Diving is an expensive hobby, but all of these courses were bought and paid for last April, as part of a package for my new computer and new BC. So my 2020 out-of-pocket for all of this is effectively $0, which is nice. (And the same held for Bonaire; the resort package and the airline tickets were bought in mid-2019.)


My Sunday Reading Sabbath activity continues apace. In the last few weeks, I finished:

  • Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
  • Heaven on Earth: The Rise, Fall and Afterlife of Socialism by Joshua Muravchik

I’ve been working through Introduction to Christianity by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) and Civilization: A New History of the Western World by Roger Osborne. In addition, during the 40 Hours last week, I read—in one sitting each—the Book of Job and the Gospel of St. John

Next on the list, I pivot to St. Augustine, with The Confessions, The City of God and On Christian Doctrine. These books, as I own them, constitute Volume 16 of the Great Books of the Western World series—the second (1990) edition, edited by Mortimer J. Adler. I picked up a mint-condition package of all 60 hardcover volumes a long time ago, on eBay, but until I read some Nietzsche a few months ago, I hadn’t really cracked any of them open except to marvel at the thin paper and minuscule type.

After Augustine, I think I’m going to lighten up a bit. I “liberated” some of the old Write616 library, including some Jim Harrison books that heretofore I haven’t encountered. I’ll probably use Harrison as a breather, then pivot to Aquinas later in the year. 

One thing I’ve learned from Osborne’s book is that you can’t fully understand the last 1,500 years of European history unless you grasp the Augustine-Aquinas frameworks and how the worldviews promoted by these two saints radically shaped the intellectual life of Western Civilization. You don’t get medieval Christendom without Augustine; you don’t get the Enlightenment, the Reformation and the Counter Reformation without Aquinas and the Scholastics. And you can’t rally grok the fundamentals of the modern debate between liberalism and populism/integralism without listening for the echoes of the Augustine/Aquinas tension.

Social Calendar

My social calendar hasn’t been super active lately, which is good. I continue to attend my two writers’ groups, and in February I hosted one. A few weeks ago, I hoofed it to the East Side for cigars and dinner with Tony, Jen, Dr. Jon and the Doctor’s Wife. Had lunch last week with Brittany. I’m going to visit my mother tomorrow. I had a cigar and the “Champagne of Beers” with my former landlord and his wife last week. I enjoyed lunch a few weeks ago with the old crew from Priority Health. I keep missing drinks with Scott because of our opposite travel schedules, and lunch with Patrick keeps getting bumped, however. 


I generally don’t watch much television, but I have been watching Doctor Who on BBC America. I’m conflicted. On one hand, I’m satisfied with Jodie Whittaker’s incarnation of The Doctor, although following Peter Capaldi, who was my favorite, is a tough row to hoe. On the other hand, I really, really dislike how on-the-nose woke the Chibnall era has been. I can’t improve upon the review recently authored by Simon Danes although I’m not as bearish about Whittaker as he.

Conversely, I’m really enjoying Star Trek: Picard on CBS All Access. I love the pacing, and the plot, and the acting. There’s enough genuinely new material that it’s an eye-popping new perspective on the Trek universe, but the callbacks to TNG are appropriately subtle and well-done. I even enjoy Wesley Crusher’s The Ready Room recap videos.


Weight loss continues. According to records in MyFitnessPal, I haven’t been this light and airy since 2013.

A while back, I augmented MyFitnessPal with notes I made in various places (including this blog) before the app even existed, so I input data points going back to 2004. It looks like a slow-motion roller-coaster. I started 2005 around 275 pounds, although I believe that even by then, I had lost a fair amount. My guess is that in the summer of 2004, I hovered just below 300, but at the time, I didn’t own a scale. By May 27, 2005, I recorded a weight of 210; that was the holiday weekend where I changed my hairstyle and wardrobe and replaced by glasses with contacts. On May 1, 2006, I logged 160 pounds, although I had achieved that milestone several months earlier. That 157-to-163 weight fluctuated consistently until late 2009. On August 8, 2010, I logged 210 lbs again. And from there, a slow ascent—230 pounds in December 2012, 250 pounds in May 2016, 270 pounds by July 2017.

Lots of those data points directly correlate to various stresses. Over 2009 and 2010, I relocated three times and was involved in a major car crash. In late 2012, I had a ton of work stress with reorgs at the hospital. In mid-2016, I was doing HEDIS. By mid-2017, more work stress with a new boss at Priority Health.

Now that I’m self-employed, work stress goes down. So does my weight.

Funny how that “works.”


Speaking of work—yikes.

I made the executive decision a year ago to prioritize my books above all other tasks. I think that decision proved sound. Of those tomes, one is mostly done, and the other is coming along nicely. Writing books isn’t an easy process; it takes time and research. And if you’re not in the mood, forcing yourself to write usually just subsequently forces you to un-write what you’d committed.

I have been contracting with just one client—a media company—performing content renovation full-time for a year, and part-time for several years before that. The role pays enough, and because it’s through a payroll company, it’s W2 work (with benefits) rather than 1099 work. However, the client shut down with no notice in early December, rebooting again in January. I went an entire month without income. That wasn’t fun. I made it through, but it cut close to the bone. Last week and this week, the same client temporarily restricted everyone to 85 percent of hours. Not helpful.

As a freelancer/contractor, it’s never a good idea to rely on just one client. I’ve always known that, because I’ve freelanced in some capacity for a decade. But I got burned by sacrificing portfolio diversity in favor of focused book-writing time. So over the last week, I’ve been on a mad-dash of client acquisition. This “reach out and contract with someone” process moves faster than I hoped, because I really wanted these books to be done first, but it is what it is. I also thought seriously about going back to a 9-to-5 office job, but the problem there is one of over-specialization. Jobs I could land tomorrow won’t pay more than my current contracting gig. Jobs that do pay more prove more challenging to obtain because they’re (a) more rare in this local market and (b) in different industries than health care. So I’m at something of a competitive disadvantage for Quality or Analytics roles in West Michigan because I don’t have an IT degree and I hail from the health care industry.

So over this week and last week, I’ve been doing a few things to shore up my personal finances:

  1. Set a goal of $10k in revenue per month. It’ll take some time to materialize, but I’ve never actually goal-set in this manner before. 
  2. Acquire new writing-and-editing clients to augment short-term cash flow.
  3. Add two new business lines to Gillikin & Associates to support local businesses with self-funded insurance coverage to better manage employee health.
  4. Launch Diction Dude (likely on Monday), which I’ve been working on off the side of my desk. I didn’t want to launch it until my book was done, but … yeah.
  5. Launch Lakeshore Literary (also likely on Monday). This is the one-man successor to Caffeinated Press, which we closed in December.


And on the writing front—

  • I penned two short stories for my writing groups. So they’re going to be workshopped next month.
  • Progress is solid on From Pencil to Print.


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