An Auspicious Start

The new year is a mere 2 percent complete but so far, so good:

  • Kicked the new year off right with a 6-mile hike along parts of the North Country Trail and some horse trails, near Yankee Springs Recreational Area. Went well. My brother came, too, which was nice. The hike was sponsored by FBET; I’ve recently registered for a series of FBET trainings to occur over the next few months.
  • We held a board of directors meeting for Caffeinated Press. John is back from sabbatical. Woohoo!
  • Met the new landlord.
  • Already prepared federal taxes for Gillikin & Associates and VLO Media.
  • Lots of odds-and-ends wrapped up.
  • Welcomed two new members to the Grand River Writing Tribe.

January’s going to be a flurry — lots of stuff that I must wrap up before the end of the month, because starting in February, my daily life is going to take a major change for reasons I can’t share yet.
But as I said: So far, so good.

2018: A Most Extraordinary Year

As we prepare to kiss A.D. MMXVIII goodbye, I am astonished at where I am today versus the last time I wrote my annual end-of-year reflection. Without a doubt, three major life lessons loomed large.

  1. Resiliency illuminates the upside of any major change. Much of what transpired in 2018 could be perceived as being risky or harmful or scary — indeed, on more than one occasion, friends and family in-the-know about 2018’s myriad “opportunities” would ask me if I’m okay. Yet every time I experienced a significant disruptor, I sought the potential benefit. Not in a grief-management way, but rather by (newfound!) innate disposition. I’m in a much better place because of it; if the events of 2018 had unfolded in, say, 2012, I would not have adapted — I probably would have melted down in a cascade of self-defeating behaviors and thereby set myself back a decade. I touched on this truth in this year’s birthday retrospective. I think a big part of the puzzle rests simply in getting older. As Gillikinism No. 39 teaches, “Experience puts meat on the bones of theory.” Early in one’s life, every drama represents something new and potentially terrifying that must be learned and accommodated. Later, every drama rings familiar and therefore proves surmountable. And lest you think that the foregoing paragraph reeks of self-congratulation, let me reiterate: This resiliency triggered by default, not by dint of heroic will. When you arrive at a point in life where you’ve grown comfortable with risk, where every crisis feels familiar and therefore resolvable, you’re freed to act in a more upbeat and strategic way. I’ve naturally hit that point, I think. Not because I consciously worked at it, but because I’ve incurred enough rotations on the Big Blue Marble to reset my expectations and to augment my emotional toolkit.
  2. People thrive within their networks. I’ve been horribly, horribly slow at recognizing the power of networks. Part of my resistance follows from my mild introvert tendencies, and part of it hails from a solution-oriented approach to problem solving. An old boss of mine, Tracey, once told me that co-workers sometimes grew frustrated with me because I’d go to a meeting and in the first five minutes, announce a solution to whatever problem the meeting was intended to address. Even though my solutions were often “right,” they engendered a hostile reaction because I didn’t allow everyone else to arrive at the same position at their own speed and as part of a consensus decision. My last year or so at Priority Health emphasized the degree to which people make decisions not based on facts or logic but on emotional responses to colleagues. Especially as a full-time independent consultant, I’ve re-learned that people are your biggest advocates and your biggest barriers but the trick to success is to ceaselessly work the network. Grow it. Tend to it. My friend Tony used to encourage me along the lines of Mr. Kool-Aid Man, Ivan Meissner, founder of BNI. I wish I had paid more attention to Tony’s counsel in previous years. Let it suffice that in 2018, I finally learned the lesson that it’s better to build relationships with people and only then help them solve their problems, than to solve their problems then assume that you’ve therefore built a relationship.
  3. Infrastructure matters. You cannot do complicated things well without an infrastructure that supports appropriate planning and execution. This year, I learned the hard way that no matter how effective I was at managing tasks, without a clear hook into my calendar, I wasn’t as good at executing on those tasks. With Caffeinated Press, for example, I spent a huge chunk of the middle part of the year fixing and tweaking the electronic infrastructure that we had built with duct tape and twine — well north of 70 percent of my dedicated CafPress time, for several months — to do nothing but maintain status quo. What a waste! So we migrated to Zoho One, and now my maintenance consists in ensuring the bill gets paid. On a personal front, I migrated away from my beloved Todoist to Microsoft To-Do, because of its deep hooks into Outlook and OneNote. So now instead of just listing the things I need to get done, I schedule them on my calendar. And I ensure that my calendar is prudent: Time for work, some reserved time for enrichment, etc. Every Sunday night, I plan the week ahead, re-curating my task list and then harmonizing my calendar to make the tasks work. I’m still doing more than I should — I’ve incurred significantly more obligations than time available — but I’m making good progress on whittling down the task list. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when, instead of looking at your to-do list and saying, “Wow, I’ve got 168 items on it” (which is today’s count) “so what should I do next?” you block time to prioritize and schedule those items and then slot them into your schedule.

A Review of 2018

Looking at things thematically:
Career. In January, it became obvious that I had no real future in the Advanced Analytics department at Priority Health. I have lots of opinions about what happened, and why, but I’m obligated at present to keep those insights to myself. Let it suffice that by May, I had departed Priority Health. Instead of seeking employment elsewhere, I opted to launch Gillikin & Associates, a healthcare quality and analytics consulting agency. (And, yes, I’ve booked business in 2018, woohoo.) So far, so good. I’ve done some speaking gigs (I presented two sessions at the NAHQ conference in Minneapolis in November, for example) and have been intermittently bidding on state and federal contract opportunities. All of my infrastructure work is done; I opted to “freeze” active client acquisition until I could complete the bolus of publishing work that has been on my plate. Looks like the freeze will lift in January, and I’ll be ready to go at 110 percent. I’m actually rather excited by this development.
Domicile. I’ve lived at The Fortress on Prospect Avenue for a full eight years now. I rent. My landlord finally sold the house; it closed on Dec. 21. The new landlord — who so far cannot even be bothered to text me his name — seems to want to keep business as usual, although “business as usual” entails a substantial increase in the rent I’ve been paying if he declines to maintain certain concessions that the previous landlord had extended. So I’m not sure where I’ll end up, or when. This place isn’t worth the alleged full market price, a point the new landlord will eventually learn to his everlasting grief.
Writing. Early in the year, a few short pieces of mine saw print. I continue to write, although my focus in the second half of the year was trained on two long-form non-fiction projects: From Pencil to Print, a guide for emerging writers, and Introduction to Health Quality Analytics, a textbook for people new to healthcare, quality or analytics. The Grand River Writing Tribe remains strong; we lost Marie to an out-of-state move but have, by the end of 2018, tentatively welcomed two additional people, thus reaching our cap of eight participants. Oh, and I released a few more of my pseudonymous erotica novellas to market, and they’ve generated some reasonable sales. That’s cool.
Publishing. Woof, what a year. For all practical purposes, Caffeinated Press in 2018 was the Jason and Brittany show. The upside is that the two of us have done a tremendous amount to “unclog the drains” and to streamline infrastructure and plan strategically. The downside is that with just the two of us, editorial work was slow. We enjoyed a pair of delightful interns this summer, who helped us immensely, and I learned a lot about the daily life of other small presses through our membership in the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses. As usual, the challenge is editorial production. It’s literally just me, and I literally am so time-constrained that progress grinds slowly. And every time I get help, the help vanishes after training and orientation. I persist, but ….
Podcasting. Tony and I are about to cross the 400-episode mark with Vice Lounge Online. In February, we’re going to spend an entire weekend together to plan a six-month series of content so that we can spend more time doing value-add things for our Patreon supporters. With thousands of downloads per episode, an active Facebook group with more than 200 people, and well north of 1,000 Twitter followers, the podcast is doing well.
NAHQ. This year proved interesting. In April, the board of directors adopted a new Code of Ethics for the profession of healthcare quality. I was privileged to co-chair that work, in partnership with my colleague Andrew and our staff partner Karen, and to serve as lead author for the new Code. However, given my transition from Priority Health to Gillikin & Associates, I resigned my position on the NAHQ board of directors in September. I look forward to working with NAHQ and my colleagues in the profession in new ways in the future.
Write616. Although we had a good year, and I was gratified at the response to the Get Pressed program that I facilitated, we’ve come to recognize that helping people one writer at a time is fundamentally unsustainable. As such, we’re pivoting in 2019 toward developing a major multi-day literary festival. Lots of time has been spent over the last two months preparing for it, including our board hiring its first executive director. We’re planning a major fundraiser in late January. It’s a critical time for this tiny non-profit, and a significant amount of my time lately has been spent on ensuring the success of this transition and this fundraiser.
Travel and Events. Eleven out-of-state trips in nine different months. December proved to be the only month without me going to an event somewhere.

  • January: NAHQ working trip to Chicago, IL
  • February: Casino trip with friends to Windsor, ON
  • March: Visit to Denton, TX to see the DDB crue
  • April: NAHQ board meeting in Chicago, IL
  • May: Training in Wakefield, QC; 360Vegas Vacation and Zorkfest in Las Vegas, NV
  • June: NAHQ commission week in Chicago, IL
  • July: Casino trip with friends to Windsor, ON (again)
  • August: MiFiWriters Retreat in Dowling, MI
  • September: 360Vegas Vacation in Las Vegas, NV; NAHQ board meeting Denver, CO
  • October: MAHQ conference in Traverse City, MI
  • November: NAHQ conference in Minneapolis, MN

Politics. I didn’t get too engaged this cycle, although I did in December win another two-year appointment to the Kent County Republican Executive Committee, this time as an elected member instead of a statutory one. Most of my political volunteering went to the campaign of Matt Hall, a friend of mine from college who successfully challenged incumbent Rep. Jim Maturen (Calhoun and parts of Kalamazoo counties). Matt won election by more than 11 points in November and takes office later this week. I’m excited for him.
Health. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” — early in the year I hit a high point of weight and poor cardiopulmonary fitness. Both have gotten back under control. My diet is the best it’s been in a decade: My home-dining habit mostly consists of large salads for lunch and steamed veggies and fish for dinner. The biggest obstacle fell into the “adult beverages” category, but I’ve discovered that simply not buying them means I have nothing but distilled water to sip in the evening as I read and write. As if by magic, weight goes down. Who’d a thunk it?
Hobbies. I knocked a bucket-list item off my list by earning Wilderness First Responder certification. I joined the Fortune Bay Expedition Team guild and have taken several trainings with them, including a land-nav practicum a few months ago. I’ve gone on several hikes along the North Country Trail, mostly in the Manistee National Forest in Newaygo County. I’ve purchased the “ground school” self-study equivalent for a private pilot’s license and have plowed through the material, with another go-around planned soon. About the only thing I didn’t do was dive this year, but that’s okay — I need a new wetsuit anyway, and I really should get my gear torn down, cleaned and inspected.
Relationships. One thing about 2018: I’ve definitely made more of a goal of keeping relationships kindled. Lots of lunches, dinners and after-work beers.
Reading. I made a point to read more in 2018. I’m working on a blog post that outlines the year’s reading program, but it’s not yet ready for prime time.
Saw-Sharpening. After I saw the writing on the wall at Priority Health, I endeavored to treat 2018 as a year of growth and skills improvement. I’ve done quite a bit of reading, and studying, and online course completion — all with an eye toward making me a better person. These investments proved pricey, but valuable.

Goals for 2019

So what does the new year bring?
A commitment to diversification. I really don’t aspire to go back to a middle-tier job in a 9-to-5 organization. Yet I’m aware that consulting has its pitfalls and its periods of more-or-less consistent revenue streams — and I don’t have a Significant Other to lighten the load. So I’m really trying to settle into a few things. First, to advance Gillikin & Associates as a primary source of income. Second, to get Caffeinated Press to be wholly self-funding. Third, to keep Vice Lounge Online fully self-funding (it crossed the threshold this year, with Patreon). Fourth, to keep my contract editing work with DotDash viable as a funding backstop. Fifth, to establish and then promote a media company to harness my publishing expertise to bring in personal revenue. The two major book projects I’m working on are unlikely to be significant revenue generators, but they’re significant credibility enhancers, so the slow walk to having four to six sustainable sticks in the fire continues apace.
Next, a commitment to good health. I end the year with better cardiovascular fitness than I’ve had in many years and a slimming waistline. The journey continues. Cutting extraneous carbs (lookin’ at you, 800-calorie martinis) will help. So will more time on the trail.
Also, a commitment to long-term stability. My most pressing need is to figure out a long-term residency plan. I’m not sure whether I’ll remain at The Fortress for another month, another quarter, another year or another decade. I’ve got a few ideas, each with a relative mix of trade-offs. Similarly, I still need to develop a strategy for dealing with changes in priorities. Too much of my week is inherently unpredictable because new opportunities, problems and the like creep in. Unlike most people, I don’t enjoy the structural stability of a family and a 9-to-5 job and plenty of free time on nights and weekends. I’m literally scheduled from 7a to 11:30p, Sunday through Saturday. The unpredictability of my priority list has adversely affected folks like authors who demand status reports and whatnot, reports that I refuse to provide because I don’t have a freakin’ clue what the answer is. There are weeks that my schedule derails by Tuesday. So either I refuse to accept new opportunities — a ridiculous solution — or I start to trim stuff that really doesn’t evince a satisfactory ROI, like certain editorial projects. I don’t really want to do either.
Finally, a commitment to continuing growth. The more time I spend “adventuring,” the more I like it. The more time I spend traveling, the more I like it. The more I study new techniques and ideas, the more I like it. I’ve started carving off time in my week dedicated solely to sharpening the saw. This trend will continue.
So. That’s 2018, and my hopes for 2019. I wish you all the best for a happy new year.

Birthday Reflection, Version 42.0

I offer this annual birthday reflection, a day early, from a hotel room in Denver. I’ve spent a lot of time in hotel rooms lately, and more time yet remains on the calendar over the next few months. Writing from “somewhere else” often sharpens insight.
I’ve experienced a fair amount of change over the last 12 months. Some good, some challenging. The biggest lesson I’ve taken away is that resilience protects against the pain and uncertainty of change, but the forum of that change (internal vs. external) is not without consequence.
Lots of leadership-advice books natter on about resilience. You know the drill: Cultivate this virtue to accept the things you cannot change. Resilient people follow leaders without complaint because they adapt to having their cheese moved. Grow a shell of resilience to avoid taking workplace slights personally. Et cetera.
I think the truth is different and a bit less opportunistic. I’ve written before about how I’m understanding more deeply the toxic effects of comfort. Yet being aware of the problem and actively addressing it — well, a large gulf of intent divides the two, and most people aren’t ready to bridge the gulf. Resilience is, in a sense, a person’s willingness to build that bridge.
The events of the last year forced my personal gulf to dry to Lake Mead-like levels. Not only did I have to face disruptions to my comfortable routine, but I had no choice but to address them. The stressors — changes in jobs, responsibilities, etc. — were external. Resistance and denial would prove futile. So address them, I did. And I’m largely satisfied with how things have played out so far.
Yet internal stressors beckon, as well. And that’s the real lesson of resilience. What happens when you see a gulf but aren’t forced by outside forces to bridge it?
I recently enjoyed a lovely conversation with a younger friend who’s struggling with her life and career trajectory. I offered advice, of course, but the chat reminded me of a time, back in my late 20s and early 30s, where I kinda-sorta built a life mostly by putting one foot in front of the other and seeing where I ended up. Sure, I might have had goals, but I didn’t meaningfully work on them. I just muddled through, hoping for something better yet preparing for nothing at all.
Eventually, I had to face a sad fact: The life I lived, and the life I aspired to live, stood in stark opposition. What to do?
Some people do nothing. They continue putting one foot in front of the other. They convince themselves, for the most part, that they’re happy. But they’re not really fully actualized in Maslow’s sense of the term. They followed the path of least resistance for them and make do with the consequences.
Others become bitter. You see it in failed careers, failed marriages and shattered families. In chronic disease. In addictions. In isolation and radicalization and a gradual separation from the finer points of reality.
I chose a different path: I elected to pivot. It’s not a fast thing, and it’s not flawless, but over the years — drop by drop — I’ve prioritized different things in different ways. I’ve tried to encourage new habits and to drop counterproductive old ones. I’ve tried to spend my time on what matters instead of what’s urgent.
I started that journey a decade ago. I’m still on it; playing the long game is essential. I’m closer to the finish line than the starting line, but a few laps remain. And I’m happy with that. This pivot required resilience, and that resilience helped me get through parts of 2018 that haven’t been exactly enjoyable.
So I journey into Year 42 with a cheerful spirit. Lots has been done, much remains to do, and I take joy in every turn of the shovel.

Six Months Later …

On January 21, I wrote the following:

A cluster of storms now thunder in the distance:

  • We’ve had significant board departures at Caffeinated Press
  • We’ve re-branded and re-launched GLCL as Write616
  • Tony and I re-skinned Vice Lounge Online
  • I managed to lose, despite the holidays, about 10 pounds
  • Murphy d’Cat has been puking quite a bit lately, meaning a vet visit is on the horizon
  • My landlord has suggested that he’s about to sell the house where I’ve dwelt for the last seven years
  • My department at Priority Health (I’ve been with the corporation for nearly 18 years) is being reorganized, and the role I occupy of departmental manager is being eliminated, although the “what’s next for Jason” question still hasn’t been answered

As you might imagine, it’s been a wee bit complicated lately. Nearly every major aspect of my life—job, hobbies, domicile, pet health—has been put under a degree of stress that they haven’t before, and to boot, it’s all been pretty much simultaneous.

From the vantage point of early July, it’s time to revisit the weather report. In order of appearance:
Caffeinated Press. Brittany and I spent the last six months doing a complete under-the-hood renewal of the company. We’re now pivoting back to editorial ops and to network-distribution efforts. I’m more satisfied than ever that we’re on a path to long-term sustainability, but the process of getting there has been tedious.
Write616. We’ve been programmin’ up a storm. Which is good. We lost two board members (Kelly’s term ended and KT decamped to the East Coast to begin her MFA program) but gained one, as well (the other Kelly). Summer is a quiet time for us. So far, so stable.
Vice Lounge. The new site skinning went well. We just began our usual summer hiatus, when we slow down by releasing one show every other week, instead of weekly. We purchased new equipment (a mixer, some pop filters) and deployed Patreon to encourage listener support. Tony and I both went to Las Vegas for the 360Vegas Vacation, and we’ll both returning later this summer for the next 360Vegas Vacation. Next week, we meet with a group of friends (met through the wide, wooly world of podcasting) for another overnight excursion to Caesar’s Windsor in Ontario. We had already met nearly a dozen folks in Windsor in March.
Health & Happiness. Weight has been stable, tweaking down slightly. I bought an exercise bike a few weeks ago and have discovered that I actually really enjoy making fish and steamed vegetables for dinner and rotisserie-chicken Caesar salads for lunch. More by accident than by design, I’m settling into a low-carb diet and getting much more cardio time in. The new Apple Watch, with its built-in exercise monitors, has been a useful weapon in the cause.
Feline Overlords. Murph is fine. They’re both fine, and have been providing appropriate oversight these last few months.
Domicile. I’m still here, but the landlord is slowly improving the house to list it. I’m aware of his plans. He’s setting high bars (interested buyers must be qualified with the real-estate agent, one viewing only under tight restrictions, etc.) for sale, given that the house was cosmetically refreshed in the early 1980s and last substantially rehabbed — we think — in the early 1950s. If he manages to sell it, and I’m not convinced his heart is in it, then I’ll probably relocate within 60 or 90 days. To where, I haven’t yet decided, but I have a few ideas percolating ‘twixt the earholes, so I’m budgeting/planning accordingly.
Priority Health. My last day there, after nearly 18 years of service, was May 2. I’ve since launched Gillikin & Associates, a healthcare quality consulting agency, and have been funding this effort through a mix of severance payments as well as supplemental income from my contract editing work.


With all of this transition, particularly around Priority Health, I took the advantage of the last few months to eke some wins that heretofore I hadn’t been able to accomplish, because of day-job time constraints:

  • Spending orgy. I burned through a ton of cash early in the year on things that I figured I’d need to have in place given the employment transition. Stuff ranging from a PC consolidation (I bought a Surface Pro 4 with all the bells and whistles and a color laser printer), to golf clubs, to fitness equipment, to a refresh of my hiking gear, to branded promo materials for my consulting efforts. I burned cash like Johnny Depp at a wine auction.
  • Wilderness First Responder training. I scheduled it in January and successfully completed it the first week in May. This certification has been on my bucket list since 2009.
  • Isle Royale AIR application. I filed an application to become an artist-in-residence at Isle Royale National Park. Although I was not selected, it was a matter of pride to have filed the paperwork. The powers-that-be picked two artists out of more than 100 qualified applicants.
  • NAHQ Code of Ethics project. I spent a lot of time serving as project co-lead, and as lead author, for the new Code of Ethics for Healthcare Quality Professionals. The work is still unfolding as we put meat on the bones of the Code as approved in April by the board of directors. More than 100 hours over the last few months went into this work effort, including a day-long focus group in Chicago in February. More still to come.
  • CafPress stabilization planning. Brittany and I spent a ton of time behind-the-scenes cleaning up finances and contracts, re-evaluating projects, streamlining costs and infrastructure, assessing insurance policies, building a platform for distribution, etc. And we brought aboard two interns (one from GVSU, one from Aquinas) who have rocked out this summer’s efforts. One intern, in particular, requested to serve office hours, so I’m in the office roughly 15 hours per week, minimum, to both oversee intern progress as well as to dedicate time to my publishing duties. I’m aware that some folks view my time, and the publishing company’s, primarily in terms of editorial output. This mindset is both offensive and wrong-headed. Running a business takes time. Editorial ops are just one piece of a much larger puzzle, and it makes little sense to focus on editorial when we haven’t significantly cracked the retailer market. I’ve spent more time on CafPress stuff in the last six months than I have in any prior 12-month window. But it’s time on maturing the business so that future editorial projects are better positioned to succeed.
  • Measuring the Marigolds. We did manage to release one editorial project, though — Measuring the Marigolds, a poetry collection by WMU emerita professor Miriam Bat-Ami.
  • Denton. “Goin’ down to Denton, gonna have ourselves a time ….” I went to Denton, Texas in March. Had the chance to spend quality time with Roux, Ryan, Edwin, Sparkles, Duane and Regina in their own back yard (plus Winstar!), and make great new friends at The Don’s. Lookin’ forward to a return trip.
  • Get Published! conference. Did this, again, at Herrick District Library, under the bold and visionary leadership of the MiFiWriters. Great experience.
  • Publication credits. I was officially published in Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds and in Division by Zero: Double Take.
  • Launching G&A. Starting a company from scratch — one based on a national service platform, rather than local sales or service — is no small thing. I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours since February poring over website copy, contracts, federal-contractor forms, marketing materials, etc. And I’m yet not completely done!
  • 360Vegas Vacation. Went over Memorial Day (great time, including ZorkFest) and will be returning over Labor Day.
  • Discovery flight. I went flying! And now I’m beginning the process of enrolling for flight lessons.
  • Joined FBET. I applied, and was accepted, as a guild member for the Fortune Bay Expedition Team. Took a class on waterborne medicine in early June and have been taking various online courses offered through their School of Expeditionary Sciences. It’s been a phenomenal process to see how they work, and how I’m already in some ways ahead of the curve (I have a radio license and WFR certification, for example) and in some ways, I’m behind (never occurred to me that a Chevy Cruze was a suboptimal vehicle choice for overland adventure travel). So I’m doing online courses and playing catch-up where I think I have gaps. For example, I just bought a new handheld radio, a Yaesu VX-6R. My “old” radio, a Baofeng BF-F8HP, is decent enough for things like supporting a contest or participating in a local repeater net, but the Yaesu is highly water-resistant and much more programmable. Little things. Like, I’ve had a kayak for years and even a chunky PFD (not that I’ve needed it on the Flat River). But my kayak is a “flatwater” type with open bulkheads, not ideal for more complex lake crossings or Type I-III rapids. So a touring kayak is now on the acquisition list, despite that the cheapest of them retail for more than $1,500. Why bother? Because FBET does stuff like take a two-week drive/camp trek through Newfoundland and Quebec, venturing to places most people never journey. That’s why. It’s increasingly important to me to see the wild world from the trail. Or from 60 feet below the surface. Or from 3,000 feet above it.
  • Auto repairs. On top of everything else, my car needed brakes and it had a minor GM recall, so I brought it in. Turned out — doesn’t it always “turn out” when you visit the dealership? — that there was much more amiss under the hood than I initially suspected. So $1,300 dollars later, I drove off with new front brakes, a new water pump, a reprogrammed Emission Control Module, new valve covers and a new intake manifold. But it’s done, and the Cruze purrs like a kitten now instead of squealing like a hamster running a marathon on a wheel without grease.
  • Photography. Got another photoshoot published, this one of downtown Marshall, Michigan. Was already there taking photos on behalf of my friend Matt Hall’s race for State Rep.
  • Reading. Been scheduling time to read for pleasure. Seven books down, so far this year. I keep buying them, though. Three themes surfacing. First, the whole “end-of-Western-Civ” ruin porn genre penned by mostly conservative authors. Second, the “Catholic-response-to-the-end-of-Western-Civ” genre, in the Benedict Option vein. Third, the “editing-for-fun-and-profit” genre, represented by the five books arriving from Amazon tomorrow: Scott Norton’s Developmental Editing, Jane Friedman’s The Business of Being a Writer, Don McNair’s Editor-Proof Your Writing, Peter Ginna’s What Editors Do, and finally an updated copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. Current version is 17; I’m on 15.
  • Writing. Lots of writing. I try to reserve an hour or so, before I go to bed, to write. Not always successful, but I do okay. Presently have five projects I’m tinkering with.

The New Discipline: Scheduling

One fast lesson over the last few months relates to the how part of the getting-things-done march I’ve been on.
The problem, in a nutshell: I’m super-freaky good at enrolling tasks in Todoist, the to-do platform I use. And I’m also quite adept at kicking tasks down the road each week. So in June I started blocking off two hours every Sunday to compare my to-do list with my calendar. And I’ve been scheduling my to-dos as calendar items (usually in a large, affinitized block, rather than a one-appointment-per-task approach). This strategy has proven immensely helpful at time management, as well as revealing my innate over-optimistic attitude about what tasks I can accomplish within specific time periods, absent deliberate calendaring of the time necessary to work on them.
Lots more on my private list of stuff to accomplish in 2018.
I will say this, though. In January, I thought a storm was brewing. And I was right. But the result has been more liberating than I had imagined.

Las Vegas Trip Report

The period between returning from Quebec and hoofin’ it to The Happiest Place on Earth™ stretched three long weeks—and by long, I mean “lots to do.” Holy moly. You’d think that not having a corporate 9-to-5 day job would free up copious amounts of time, but I learned that (a) accumulated catch-up takes a long time to process when the list is as long as an elephant’s trunk, and (b) that I need to very carefully manage my schedule. Having just one or two out-of-the-house activities in a day is enough to derail the entire day’s productivity. Even something simple as meeting someone for a 90-minute lunch takes on a different meaning when it’s 90 minutes for eating, 30 minutes each way for transportation, 15 minutes each way for prep and another 30 minutes to shower and get dressed.
Because of Quebec and Las Vegas, I set a mental trigger of June 1 as the day that “the new normal” starts. So today I finish some clean-up, reset my task lists and prepare to dive into this brave new world of independent quality consulting.
But before we effect that pivot, let’s talk about Sin City.
In my trip report that follows, I mostly don’t name-drop friends who met up with us, because I don’t want to offend anyone I missed. I connected with so many friends—probably around 20 folks—that I’ve met before, plus a dozen or so new friends, whose in-person camaraderie I truly value. This trip had fun experiences, yet I found the people part to be the best value of all.

Las Vegas: Day One

My flight left Grand Rapids at 6:30a on Friday the 25th. Much to my astonishment, the TSA line at GRR was ridiculous. Probably at least 100 passengers ahead of me. To be fair, the line moved fast, but I’m accustomed to arriving at the TSA checkpoint at Gerald R. Ford International Airport and finding two people ahead of me. Not fifty times as many!
My flight connected in Detroit—where I met Tony and we sat for a spell in the Delta lounge, enjoying a mimosa and breakfast food. The flight to Las Vegas was extra fun. The same flight crew from Grand Rapids also serviced the Las Vegas flight, and two of the flight attendants recognized me. Add Tony offering a tip to keep the alcohol flowing (we were seated in Comfort+), the two of us chatted and had four separate cocktails and played Forbidden Island on the iPad. Those cocktails were fun: Tony prepped a TSA-compliant bag of mixers plus a few Shaker and Spoon recipe cards. So we had bitters and mixers and airline spirits. And the best part was that it was all legal: The mixers were sized to pass the screening and they contained no alcohol, so we didn’t run afoul of FAA regulations about self-service.
From McCarran International Airport we Lyft’d it to Excalibur. Yes, Excalibur, the Circus Circus of the South Strip. The room was quite serviceable and, to be fair, we didn’t really stay there much. But it’s a property to check off my list. From Excal we Lyft’d it again, this time to Harrah’s, where Tony had a second booked room. (Both Excal and Harrah’s were comped.) Then we inducted Chris and Julie and Alastair and Mitchel to the joy of Bally’s Keno. Tony, Mitchel and I had taco lunch at Tequila Taqueria, then we connected with a few others before meandering around Center Strip for a while, eventually connecting with a crowd at a craps table. From there, it was off to Treasure Island for some miscellaneous gambling until the beginning of ZorkFest.
ZorkFest, by the way, is a conference intersecting awards travel and casino loyalty programs. The event is hosted by with several supporting sponsors. ZorkFest was first held in Atlantic City last year; this year’s shindig landed in Las Vegas. The message of the conference is how to travel cheaper and smarter by maximizing the value of loyalty programs, points systems and airline miles. Apparently, only suckers pay full price for travel. I went to ZorkFest because it was adjacent to the 360Vegas Vacation VI festivities, but I walked away from the conference with substantial new insight into the value of these programs and on point maximization. Kudos to the entire TravelZork team, especially Michael Trager and Eric Rosenthal, for their hospitality and insight.
The Friday-evening ZF activities consisted of a cocktail reception (sponsored by Gogo) followed by a VIP dinner, both held in the conference facilities at Treasure Island. After dinner, we enjoyed a “celebrity craps tournament,” with proceeds from ticket sales supporting Pangea Educational Development, a charity long championed by everyone’s favorite Millennial, Adam the Vegas Travel Fanboy. URComped offered the first-prize gift of a cruise for two. A great time, supporting a great cause.

Las Vegas: Day Two … ZorkFest!

We dedicated Saturday to ZorkFest. The event opened with comments from the Cousin Vito. I attended sessions by Adam Bauer of Travel Fanboy, Gilbert Ott of God Save the Points, gaming expert Eric Rosenthal, Anthony Curtis of Las Vegas Advisor, Craig Shacklett of URComped, Jean Scott of Frugal Vegas fame and Heather Ferris of Vegas Aces. Throughout the day I enjoyed the chance to engage in some one-on-one chats with several of the faculty, including Ferris and Curtis. In particular, Anthony Curtis—a godfather of gambling and Vegas advice for many, many years—proved delightfully warm and eminently approachable, especially over cocktails at the bar.
After the sessions, Tony, Mitchel, Ryan and I went to the Mandarin Bar at Mandarin Oriental for cocktails followed by a quick dinner on the way back to TI, at the Gordon Ramsey Pub & Grill at Caesar’s Palace. We were joined intermittently by folks including Andrew, Phil and Bobbi. From there we returned to TI for Podcasters After Dark, a two-hour session sponsored by The Bettor Life and featuring an introduction by the Vegas Confessions Podcast then live shows from Scott Roeben of Vital Vegas, Adam the Millennial of Travel Fanboy and Mark DeVol and Dr. Mike of You Can Bet On That. After the show, we enjoyed cocktails and snacks until midnight, then post-cocktails cocktails in the suite of Michael Trager, the fearless leader of Travel Zork.
ZorkFest offered a ton of benefit and insight, as well as great new networking connections. Highly recommended.

Las Vegas: Day Three … 360Vegas Vacation VI, Part I, Subsection A

Events for 360Vegas Vacation commenced at 3p for a meet-and-greet at the Centra Bar at Luxor. Before that, however, the day was mostly spent gambling and enjoying fine adult beverages. We met Mark and Keren of the 360Vegas Podcast, as well as a large contingent of friends, at the Franklin Bar at Delano. That large group then engaged in casual gambling and drinking around the area, until we settled at a blackjack table at Luxor. Rob kindly shared a cigar with me, which was nice, and we chatted a bit about formal religion while sipping highly priced but well-made cocktails.
Then … JEN ARRIVED. So funny thing. Tony and I had planned this excursion as a two-person Michigan delegation because Tony’s divine better half, Jen, wasn’t able to come to Las Vegas that weekend. However, we had plans afoot for months for her to show up and surprise him, on his birthday. Which was that day. So as we sat at the blackjack table, she came up behind him and asked if she found a 360Vegas meetup. Tony was utterly flummoxed. Took him about a minute to recover. The fact that she and so many of us kept the secret perfectly for so long was a delight.
Anyway, after the Centra meet-and-greet, we took a party limo from Luxor to downtown Las Vegas. Kudos to Joey for sponsoring the beer and shots on the bus. After the limo arrived, I checked into my hotel room—a Vintage Room at El Cortez—only to find that (a) I needed an armband to access the guest rooms, and (b) that apparently one must pay extra for the non-bidet bathrooms:

The first time was shocking. After that, I figured I was “upgraded” to a room with a built-in shin cleanser.
The evening was spent gambling around town. Most of us stayed at a two-deck pitch blackjack table at Main Street Station for most of the evening.
I’m pretty sure I ate stuff that day, but I cannot remember what or where.

Las Vegas: Day Four … 360Vegas Vacation VI, Part II, et seq.

Monday was fun.
I got up early, dined at Siegel’s 1941 at El Cortez, then wandered to Main Street Station to play slots and video poker for a while. From there, I perambulated around most of the downtown casinos, dropping a $20 here and there and sometimes getting $120 back. That was nice.
Festivities restarted with a meet-and-greet at Banger Brewing at noon, at the Fremont Street Experience. Tasty beer. Then we returned downtown. I made it to Treasure Island for the 2:30p whiskey tasting in Michael’s TI suite. Something like 14 or 16 of us, coordinated early on by Mitchel, either brought a bottle or contributed to Eric, who procured several premium bottles. So we ended up with a lovely collection to sample:

I took responsibility for pouring, to ensure equitable distribution as well as to streamline the logistics of serving so many glasses of so many spirits in such a constrained time period. A few folks, including Tony, Mitchel and Bogan, helped with contextual information. (And Bogan and I traded cigars to try.) It was a good time. Lots of whiskey, but because we kept some order to it, the activity wasn’t the train wreck that the Windsor tasting had been a few months prior.
From there, we Lyft’d it to Luxor for dinner at Tender…

… followed by a meet-and-greet at Skyfall Lounge at Mandalay Bay:
We enjoyed group craps at Luxor after that, where Alastair won pretty much everyone back more than their initial investment on a 45-minute roll. Miscellaneous gambling ruled the rest of the night. Props to Luxor for taking great care of us and to Julie for her expert photography that evening.

Las Vegas: Day Five

My last full day in Sin City was a pleasant one. I woke up, tried breakfast at The Buffet at Excalibur, walked down to Mandalay Bay to acquire some Davidoff cigars, wandered around South Strip for a while on my own, then connected with about a dozen folks at New York New York for beer. We then toured the Park MGM property (formerly, the Monte Carlo). Interesting design choices. I’m sure Mark at 360Vegas Podcast will have more to say in the future about the “abortion” (his term) of the Monte Carlo.
After Park MGM, I went with Alastair to meet with Chris for an extended brunch at Wicked Spoon at Cosmopolitan. Delightful food but even better conversation. From there, Alastair and I took a nap (separately) until it was time to meet at Centrifuge at MGM Grand for a final round of cocktails with the group.
After Centrifuge, given my flight schedule, I retired for the evening. I moseyed back to Excal, grabbed a few slices of pizza then packed and went to bed.

The Voyage Home

My flight home left McCarran at 6a on Wednesday, May 30. Took a Lyft from Excal to the airport. Arrived at 3:45a—which was 15 minutes too early. Apparently, Delta doesn’t open for business until 4a, so everyone waited and waited and waited for the baggage people to show up. Line of roughly 150 people waiting to drop a bag. By 4:05a, the Skycap was open, but despite the Delta supervisor encouraging people to use it, almost no one did. Except moi, whose wait shrunk from 45 minutes to 4.5 minutes. And the TSA line was blissfully short: Only a half-dozen people ahead of me to get into Terminal 1.
Flights were utterly sedate. The leg back to Grand Rapids was half empty. Pretty nice. Home by 4p, after a Meijer run. The feline overlords were pleased to see me. All was well.
Now, it’s time to get to work.

18 Years Later …

On July 7, 2000, I accepted employment as an administrative project coordinator with the nursing resource center at Spectrum Health. The organization—then just three tumultuous years into the merger between Butterworth Hospital and Blodgett Memorial Medical Center, and under a strict federal consent degree to boot—offered no benefits for my temporary/on-call role, but it did feature a generous hourly salary and flexible scheduling. I wasn’t especially drawn to healthcare; I just needed a job and the hospital paid better than retail. So I signed the employee agreement.
Eighteen years later, I now depart the organization.
It’s been a wild ride. In my first two years, as a resource admin, I performed a series of odd jobs: Medical records filing, documenting a perioperative process improvement project, staffing the donor-records processing area of the Blodgett-Butterworth Healthcare Foundation. Then I did some weekend-only intake work for the Care Management team. From there, I was hired full-time around 2002 as the administrative assistant (and later, the data analyst) for the director of Care Management. Over the next eight years, I stayed with her department as it morphed to include patient placement, registration, scheduling, denials, pre-bill management, etc. In 2010, I became the team leader for the hospital’s Revenue Cycle Informatics group. A while later, a series of executive realignments commenced and by 2012, my team was dissolved and I was transitioned into the corporate Information Services team. I did that job for about a year—mostly Epic reporting for the Spectrum Health Medical Group—until I decamped in 2013 for Priority Health, the organization’s managed-care arm. In 2014 I was promoted into management, leading the Quality Improvement Analytics department. In early 2018, my department restructured and the role of manager was eliminated. I’ve been doing special projects on work-for-home from the last three months. I declined to return to individual-contributor ranks and so have taken the severance pathway.
On April 27, 2018, I turned over my badge and laptops to my human-resources business partner. I’m technically “on the books” as an employee until May 2, but that extra few days is merely an administrative convenience to obtain one additional month of benefits.

I did not expect on that long-ago summer day that I’d begin a career. As a philosophy major at Western Michigan University, I thought I was bound for the seminary, or if not that, then the professoriate. Spectrum Health was a bridge job to launch me to greater things. But funny thing: I liked the organization, the people, the subject. I stayed a while. Then I was entrenched.
Over the years, I’ve been able to stretch myself in various ways that I think helped the organization:

  • I served for four years as the hospital’s administrator for the biomedical ethics committee, putting my degree to use on behalf of patient needs
  • I developed the first Revenue Cycle Scorecard, a 100-page monthly databook, and later the Revenue Cycle Scorecard, an executive reporting package
  • I helped reengineer the patient registration audit program and the process for obtaining access to health plan verification portals
  • I oversaw the implementation of a community EMR to support some outpatient case-management functions
  • I offered primary outcomes evaluation services for the high-risk maternal/infant health program
  • I provided direct operational support to the facility revenue-cycle leadership team for things like budget and labor planning
  • I built complex databases for community case-management resource lists and for daily hospital bed-availability reporting
  • I calculated the 30-day downstream total community cost from avoidable surgical-site infections
  • I assessed decadal trends in the use (and abuse!) of ADHD stimulant drugs
  • I developed part of the process for providing high-level assessments of new corporate initiatives
  • I coordinated the business-side process for HEDIS 2016—which included not only the normal annual process but also a complete codebase revision (PL/SQL to Informatica), a vendor transition and the complete outsourcing of medical-record review
  • I architected a “zero defects in care” member registry that accounted for individual-level insight into compliance with USPSTF guidelines for adult well care
  • I led the business-side implementation of an exploratory virtual server environment for advanced data management and statistics

All the while, I was supported professionally through memberships in the American Statistical Association, the American Society for Quality, the American Evaluation Association and the National Association for Healthcare Quality. In fact, after years of volunteering with NAHQ, I’m now privileged to be in year three of a four-year term on the national board of directors, and a recognized subject-matter expert in the field of health data analytics by my peers across the country.

Next week, I’ll be disconnecting entirely. No email, no texting, no social media. When I return online on May 8, I launch Gillikin & Associates, Inc., a healthcare quality consultancy focusing on analytics, population-health management and quality culture. I’m probably going to spend part of the summer writing a textbook to orient analysts to analytics in healthcare quality management.
In addition, I’ll have a bit more time to offer Caffeinated Press, Write616 and Vice Lounge Online, as well as a few social and political commitments I’ve taken aboard. That includes bolstering my long-running editorial-renovation consulting work for DotDash (which, at half-time status beginning in mid-May, will alone pay my bills). With the stress of Priority Health now off my plate—it’s only now that I appreciate just how emotionally taxing the last year or so has been—I have some mental bandwidth to commit to reading more, exercising often and eating prudently, in addition to the joyful pursuit of a successful consultancy.
That said, I’ll miss my co-workers. I’m proud of the Exploratory Analytics team I leave behind (Satish, Jen, Brad, Brittany) and many dozens of colleagues who’ve challenged, supported and enlightened me during my career.
Eighteen years is a long time. But you know what? It’s also a long time to get dangerously comfortable. Comfort is a toxin, I think. And I’m purging that toxin from my system. Independent consulting will be a challenge, but one I eagerly embrace. Fresh challenges yields new growth.
Leaving is bittersweet, but I trust I’ll be better for it in the long run.

Days Flying By

A few weeks ago I remarked to some colleagues that it seemed both too early and too late for the beginning of March to have arrived. By that, I meant that so much has happened that time is flying by. But, flip side, it’s only just March. Time’s also draggin’ along.
Some recent highlights, in no particular order:
Windsor Trip. In February, a group of roughly a dozen folks met at Caesar’s Windsor, a hotel-casino property inside of Windsor, Ontario, for a weekend of gambling and consumption. ‘Twas a lot of fun. I ended up roughly breaking even for the whole darn weekend, aided by a hand-pay hit on penny slots and a big win in the high-limit room at MGM Grand Detroit. Tony and I dedicate next week’s Vice Lounge Online podcast to the trip report.
Denton Trip. Got back last week from three nights in lovely Denton, Texas—a suburb of northern Dallas. Great time with Roux, Sparkles, Edwin, Ryan and the whole gang. My trip report will be released as a VLO podcast in roughly a month, and highlights also popped into a Denton Dallas & Beyond podcast last week. (Spoiler: I appear as a guest on the DDB show.)
NAHQ Updates. Been back-and-forth to Chicago three times since the new year. We successfully held a day-long in-person focus group related to the initiative I’m co-chairing to rewrite the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice for Healthcare Quality Professionals. In addition, I’ve been one of the subject-matter experts working through revisions to the Health Data Analytics competency area. Not to mention, I’ve been working directly with our CEO on a board strategy presentation. Meetings galore. Intensely rewarding work.
Get Published! Conference. Last Saturday, the third annual Get Published! conference, sponsored by MiFiWriters and held at Herrick District Library, went off without a hitch. Good content. Emphasis was on voice, POV and self-editing. Three panels and two workshops. The MiFiWriters team gets beaucoup credit for their excellent command of logistics.
Health & Wellness. I returned from Denton with a touch of the flu, it seems. Not pleasant. I’ve been using my elliptical to prep for an upcoming wilderness training. Turns out that ellipticals are not like the treadmills and recumbent bikes I’ve been previously familiar with—my problem on the elliptical isn’t my cardiopulmonary fitness but rather that my quads give out before I can really tax my lungs. Baby steps, as it were.
Caffeinated Press. We’ve been doing a lot, although almost all of it is behind the scenes. Brittany and I are presently running the business as, effectively, a partnership; we’ve established a weekly private office-hours session to get things done. That focused time has been helpful, insofar as we’ve made tremendous progress on things like inventory and author statements and long-term sales/distribution strategy. We’ve had to prioritize shoring-up biz ops ahead of editorial for the last few months, which was a good decision, albeit painful for impatient contributors. The way we see it, we either need to stabilize our income stream or just stop. We’re focusing on the former in the short term so that we can continue to do editorial stuff for years into the future.
Write616. Programming’s off to a good start. I’m hosting the next Get Pressed session (about “Author Media Toolkit”) this coming Tuesday evening. Beyond programming, we’ve been doing a lot of admin stuff related to the GLCL-to-Write616 governance transition.
Hobbies. So far, so good with Vice Lounge Online. We’re fortunate to have had several very generous contributors to our Patreon page to support the show. Over the last few weeks I’ve enjoyed several great conversations with people about potential scuba trips this summer—woohoo! Even if it’s just in concept. I’m working through the study guide to take the FCC exam to upgrade my amateur radio license from Technician to General class. And I’m enrolled in a week-long Wilderness First Responder course in May, in Quebec. Really looking forward to that. This trip is why I wrote my hiking-gear inventory list last month and re-curated all the supplies in my master first-aid kit.
Writing. Still working through my personal slush. Haven’t submitted much in the last month, although I’ve managed to apply for two juried contests and for a slot as an artist-in-residence at Isle Royale National Park. I don’t carry high expectations for any of this; I’m merely writing, and rewriting, and occasionally submitting to carefully selected markets. Like ya do.

Christ's Body, Christ's Wounds; Double Take; Get Published! Conference

Have you yet had the chance to pick up the two books I’ve been published in this year? And have you planned to attend a great craft conference that’s just over a week away?

Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds: Staying Catholic When You’ve Been Hurt in the Church

From the back cover:

In every church—in every pew, it sometimes seems—there is someone who has been deeply hurt in the Catholic Church. And yet these people find themselves coming to church, wondering if anybody else can understand their experiences, their questions, and their needs. This book brings together twelve authors who describe the pain they’ve experienced in Catholic institutions—and the pathways they’ve found to healing and renewed faith. In poetry, memoir, pastoral guidance, and practical advice, these authors explore issues ranging from racism to sexual abuse to gossip and judgment. They offer support and encouragement to all those for whom the church has been a place of harm as well as holiness.

Spoiler alert: I’m one of the 12, with my essay “A Moment of Clarity.”
Available from Wipf and Stock Publishers or on Amazon.

Division by Zero: Double Take

From the back cover:
The mirror is just another abyss into which we gaze.

We all wear masks, swapping them out one for another as we move between worlds. Hero. Villain. Teacher. Boss. Lover. Soldier. Healer. Are people truly who we imagine them to be? Are we? Sometimes we wear these roles for so long, we forget. If we let the mask fall away, will we remember? We may not even recognize that which remains.

My story, “Conversion Therapy,” forays into fun territory for me: Genre fiction that’s a wee bit over the top yet carefully constructed to delight readers.
Available from MiFiWriters.

Get Published! 2018 Conference

Mark your calendars for March 10. That’s when MiFiWriters hosts the third annual Get Published! conference at Herrick District Library in Holland, Mich. The event runs 9:50a to 4p and will focus more heavily on craft and writing, with panels and workshops related to voice, point of view and self-editing strategies.
Caffeinated Press is a participating publisher.
The conference is free. Registration is requested if you want to have first-page critiques by the editors.

All the King's Horses and All the King's Men

Today is the 21st day of January, in the Year of Our Lord MMXVIII. And I sit at my desk, looking at this—

—and reflecting that two months ago today, I was wrapping up time in the office and about to head out for a five-day Thanksgiving Day holiday. I looked forward to it, really; it was my chance to decompress a bit and to amp up my word count on my NaNo novel. All was well with the world. The course was locked; the tiller was firmly set amidships with nothing but calm seas enveloping the horizon.
Much has changed since then. The last two months have been surprisingly eventful—and by eventful I mean in a “I will remember this 30 years from now” kind of way, because this moment serves as an inflection point.
A cluster of storms now thunder in the distance:

  • We’ve had significant board departures at Caffeinated Press
  • We’ve re-branded and re-launched GLCL as Write616
  • Tony and I re-skinned Vice Lounge Online
  • I managed to lose, despite the holidays, about 10 pounds
  • Murphy d’Cat has been puking quite a bit lately, meaning a vet visit is on the horizon
  • My landlord has suggested that he’s about to sell the house where I’ve dwelt for the last seven years
  • My department at Priority Health (I’ve been with the corporation for nearly 18 years) is being reorganized, and the role I occupy of departmental manager is being eliminated, although the “what’s next for Jason” question still hasn’t been answered

As you might imagine, it’s been a wee bit complicated lately. Nearly every major aspect of my life—job, hobbies, domicile, pet health—has been put under a degree of stress that they haven’t before, and to boot, it’s all been pretty much simultaneous.
Funny thing, though. In my head, this is freakin’ exciting. (Well, not the Murphy part, of course.)
Allow me to explain this apparent excursion into cognitive dissonance.
Long-time readers of this award-winning, action-packed blog know that I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 12 years thinking through the whole “what do you want to be when you grow up” question. In fact, my boss at PH has recently put that very question to me—which is odd, given that I’m a year older than she—but I’ve finally concluded that I don’t think that the question makes any bloody sense.
People identify themselves by fixed constants: Jobs, careers, family, military service, volunteer work, etc. Their self-conception is a function of their identity as defined by their role in the economy or in society. And that’s fine. So a person might answer the “who do you wanna be?” question by saying something like “a politician” or “a doctor” or “a data analyst.”
I’ve always found that framework to be deeply lacking. People are multidimensional. We do, of course, have jobs, and families, and personal and professional service commitments. But we’re more than the sum of our parts. Because most people develop deep ties to place and people, through jobs and mortgages and marriage and procreation, they’re fundamentally constrained in their ability to pivot. They’re locked. So they accept the chains and they even come to identify with them. I’m not much of a Nietzsche devotee, but the master/slave dynamic he outlines in Genealogy of Morals has its useful real-world applications.
On several occasions over the years I’ve followed a conservative impulse to not-act despite a desire to act, because it was safer to stay in place than to make progress seasoned by a higher risk potential. In particular, I think about the missed opportunity of setting out for a summer-long sabbatical hiking the Pacific Crest Trail eight years ago, although I realize in general that my list of bucket-list goals and the trajectory of my day-to-day life have been deeply out of sync for quite some time. So even though I wouldn’t have chosen that answer, the “who do you want to be?” question turned, by default, into “Humpty Dumpty.” There I sat, on the wall, waiting for the great fall. Waiting. Endless waiting, believing myself to be in charge yet a slave to comfortable inertia.
The wait is over. No matter what happens at Priority Health, for example, a point’s been reached where stasis is no longer an option. I’ve got some irons in the fire; I may well end up better off there than I am today. Or I might leave, opting instead to finally launch that health quality consultancy I’ve been thinking about (and which, my peers across the country have uniformly encouraged me to do). Who knows?
Likewise, six months from now I might still be here on Prospect Avenue. Or I might not be. Maybe I’ll buy the house. Maybe someone else will, and either I’ll continue to rent or I’ll need to relocate.
I’ve got a ton of new accountabilities at Caffeinated Press with our board turnover and with the re-launch efforts at Write616 still going strong. Do I keep going? Do I bail? Do I do something else entirely?
I’m deeply fortunate to have the economic security to weather this storm and a network of friends, family and professional colleagues who’ve been so generous lately with their time and counsel.
Six months from now, things will be very different. I don’t know how they’ll be different, or what different even looks like. But Humpty finally caught the storm winds. Humpty’s toddling off the wall. Humpty won’t get put back together again. But you want to know something?
I don’t think he wants to be.

Oh, 2017—At Least You Tried!

After the giant national dumpster fire of 2016, I had hoped that the world would be a calmer and saner place in 2017. Yet once again, experience kicked hope in the nuts. As Dark Helmet says: Evil will always triumph because good is dumb. 🙂
That said, 2017 wasn’t personally horrible. In fact, it was a year of great learnings. Let me review the year, then offer some reflection, in this annual installment of my “year in review” blog series.

2017: The Timeline


  • Started the Grand River Writing Tribe, which had five people for most of the year and two additional candidates by December.
  • Began a two-year term as a member of the Kent County Republican Executive Committee.
  • Assumed the duties of board treasurer of The Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, a literary non-profit based in G.R.


  • Attended the MI GOP state convention in Lansing as a full voting delegate.
  • Attended Commission Week, a three-night stay in Chicago as part of my duties as a member of the board of directors of the National Association for Healthcare Quality.


  • First complicated programming push for the Writers Squared program—a GLCL authors’ series funded in part by the Michigan Humanities Council. I was the fiscal officer on MHC’s grant, which covered the 2017 program year.


  • Get Published! 2017 conference at Herrick District Library, sponsored by MiFiWriters. I was a panelist, panel organizer and session leader.
  • NAHQ board meeting in Chicago.
  • Spoke about small-press publishing at the inaugural UntitledTown Book and Author Festival in Green Bay, Wisconsin—a great event keynoted by Margaret Atwood and Sherman Alexie.
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy watch party at AmyJo’s.


  • Took an extended Memorial Day vacation to focus on Caffeinated Press work.
  • Duane visited Grand Rapids, driving from Corpus Christi—and we got to have coffee, the first time I’ve seen him in years.
  • Spoke about health data analytics at the educational conference of the Illinois Association for Healthcare Quality in Naperville, IL.


  • Welcomed Tabitha to the CafPress board of directors.


  • Moved CafPress office up one flight of stairs in the Ken-O-Sha Professional Building.
  • Swapped rooms at home between my office and bedroom.
  • NAHQ Commission Week in Chicago.
  • Flight over Grand Rapids with Other Jason.
  • Photo hiking tour
  • New bed! Broken toe!
  • Cigar night with Tony, Matt and Scott.


  • MiFiWriters weekend retreat in Kalamazoo.
  • Family party for my cousin Callista, visiting from Colorado.
  • Kayaking trip at the Double R Ranch with most of my core and extended team from Priority Health (Brad, Brittany, Jen, Megan, Satish, Liz, Dom).


  • 41st birthday.
  • NAHQ board meeting and NAHQ Next conference in Cincinnati.
  • Home shopping spree: new PC, new bedroom furniture.



  • Story accepted for Division by Zero anthology; review of proofs for Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds.
  • Participated in—and won!—National Novel Writing Month.
  • Sedate family Thanksgiving at mom’s house.
  • CafPress launch party and poetry reading at Books and Mortar in Grand Rapids.


  • CafPress reorganization; four of six members of board of directors resigned or went on sabbatical, all for good/happy reasons.
  • Annual maternal-family Christmas with St. Dorothy the Matriarch.
  • Three weeks’ (almost) vacation.
  • Read a book for fun—A War Like No Other by Victor Davis Hanson.
  • Completed development of my life-long reading list.


I took a peek at the 12 separate new years’ resolutions I listed just 12 months ago. I accomplished zero of them. But I’m not dismayed by this turn of events, because I’ve learned something very, very important this year: The things you want to do and the things you have to do aren’t naturally aligned—but happy and successful people discover how to turn the things they have to do into the things they want to do.
It’s not lost on me that a ton of what’s occupied my time over the last five or so years are the things I must do. Following the Kübler-Ross model, I’ve noticed (as I look back at posts from years past) that I spent a lot of time whining in the denial and anger stages of “being busy.” Then I migrated to bargaining with myself about what magical solution could optimize my personal timestream and slice through correspondence clutter. Then I got stressed and depressed at the mountain of stuff ready to collapse upon me. Then I got to acceptance—of doing what one can do and not stressing about what’s left undone, or left delayed.
That acceptance stage was really the story of my 2017. Now, however, I realize I probably accepted the wrong thing, and I came to that conclusion this month as I reflected for the first time about whether I want to move on beyond my 17 years at Spectrum Health System. If I did leave the company, where would I go? What would I do? What about consulting?
See, those 12 resolutions from a year ago had nothing—not one damn thing—to do about work. Nothing about Priority Health. Nothing about Caffeinated Press. Instead, they were all focused on personal enrichment, good health and solid relationships. I had accepted that I had to prioritize the things I had to do so that I might squeak a few minutes of what I wanted to do somewhere into the mix. Those precious few things earned pride of place on my resolution list precisely because they were stretch goals; one rarely sets a goal to do the things one already routinely does.
But perhaps re-consideration is in order. Now that I’ve really turned my mind toward my day-job career, a whole lot of secondary considerations start to filter in, mostly around what fills the gap. And I’m aware that some opportunities to close that gap remained unrealized, because I was so occupied with what I had to do that I didn’t invest in what I want to do.
What, I wonder, might life look like if I turned the priority pyramid upside down? What if, instead of spending hundreds of hours developing and publishing books no one buys, I spent the time writing my own? What if, instead of attending events and office hours, I went running or hiking or kayaking more often? What if, instead of staying up consistently past 1 a.m., I went to bed earlier so I could wake up earlier and do cardio before heading into the office?
The things I want to do and the things I’m obligated to do remain misaligned. But that’s a fixable problem—and my only real resolution for 2018.

The Year Ahead

So. It seems 2018 will be the year of the pyramid flop. What might that look like?
For starters, I turn to my Roadmap. I’ve mentioned this document on this blog before. I started it on Dec. 2, 2009. I revise it every year, without fail, on Independence Day and Christmas Day. The contents shift over time, as you’d expect from a framework that now stands at revision No. 22. I learn a lot by looking at old versions of it!
The Roadmap begins with a section titled “The Fullness of Life,” which includes the following statement: “A man’s full measure reveals itself in the sincerity of his struggle to realize his natural potential—a capacity anchored in the development of wisdom, obtained through the bold and joyful pursuit of diverse experiences, meaningful relationships and new ideas. Steadfast nurturing of this potential leads to true optimism, the key that opens the door to a happy and virtuous life.”
It then offers my personal vision statement: “I will be a contented and healthy man who, on his 70th birthday, can look himself in the mirror without fearing the sting of regret.”
Then I offer 10 strategies for achieving this vision:

  • Cultivate serenity.
  • Nurture insatiable curiosity.
  • Remain excellent at the basics.
  • Favor action over study.
  • Foster relationships.
  • Reduce consumption.
  • Present an enticing façade.
  • Resist unhealthy entanglements.
  • Avoid comfort’s temptation.
  • Prepare for an uncertain tomorrow.

Then I look at my bucket list.

Which—let me interrupt this blog post with a special news bulletin!I knocked an item off my bucket list last week. Yes. I did it. After five years of screwing around with it, and probably between 200 and 250 hours of development over those years, I’ve finally compiled version 1.0 of my Life-Long Reading List. It’s a roster of more than 550 titles that I think a person should encounter before he or she swirls the drain. It will obviously be open to re-curation over the coming years, but it’s basically a consolidation of different canon lists with some of my own judgment sprinkled in for color. Interested in it? I’ve published it. Visit the Life-Long Reading List page. Add your additions and questions into the comments on that page. And yes, the bucket-list goal was in developing the list, not in plowing through it. 🙂

So my bucket list and my list of intermediate goals tell me what I think are valuable. They’re not necessarily where I spend my time. When I abstract my short-, medium- and long-term goals into a concise list fit for reprinting here, I arrive at the following list of goals for 2018:

  • Get back to roughly ~160 lbs. by autumn and start weightlifting after I fall below 200.
  • Aggressive summer schedule for scuba and hiking—potentially a return trip to Isle Royale—and therefore, first, return to excellent cardiopulmonary condition.
  • Do at least one of the 360 Vegas vacations.
  • Meaningfully advance the profession of healthcare quality by over-achieving on our present work for the NAHQ code of ethics.
  • Upgrade my diving certs and upgrade my radio license.
  • Get the “registered parliamentarian” endorsement.
  • Apply to the master’s program at the Jefferson School of Public Health.
  • Finish and transmit to at least one agent, my non-fiction proposal for From Pencil to Print.
  • Submit at least one short story or poem each month.
  • Complete Wilderness First Responder training.
  • Join, and do stuff with, the Fortune Bay Expedition Team, RACES and Skywarn.
  • Obtain a private pilot license.
  • Make Caffeinated Press financially sustainable through distribution-network growth and the release of paid seminars.
  • Buy golf clubs and go golfing with people.
  • Consolidate my several secondary PCs and laptops into one device and sell/retire the rest.
  • Go to Rome.
  • Go back to church more reliably.
  • Visit Denton, Texas.
  • Keep Vice Lounge Online going strong.
  • Do monthly photo shoots.
  • Re-start the monthly cigar-and-cocktail nights at Grand River Cigar.
  • Re-join a dojo.
  • Apply for an artist residency for at least one national park.
  • Read at least one book per month for fun; first priority is on the published volumes of the Oxford History of the United States.

Notice, I say goals. I probably won’t accomplish many of these items—if I can knock out just two or three, a year from now, I’ll claim a major victory—and I dare not call them resolutions. But they are, in a way, a reproach. They interrogate me: Where am I spending my time, and in what proportions, such that these goals remain elusive? What more can I do to make my “wants” into my “musts?”
The 17th year of the first century of the third millennium wasn’t a bad period for me. It was a year of stability on most fronts and progress on a few.
Let’s see how we can improve that score in the 364 days ahead.