Birthday Retrospective, Part XLI

Here I sit, on the 17th floor of a hotel overlooking (the admittedly interesting) downtown Cincinnati, having just returned from a traveler’s solo dinner —for the record, a tasty gin cocktail and a Cajun shrimp platter—which solitude afforded me some welcome opportunity to reflect on what I’d write here, in this decade-long tradition of writing about me on my birthday.

Lawd a-mercy, it’s been a day. I got up at 7 a.m., aided in large part by Fiona d’Cat deciding that my bladder made for a great trampoline. So I got up, took a shower, grabbed a bit of breakfast, then hit the road for pre-trip errands. First, to drop off consignment copies of Jot That Down: Encouraging Essays for New Writers (edited by A.L. Rogers, published by Caffeinated Press) to Baker Book House. The book launches tonight at the 10th anniversary Jot Writers Conference. So, yay for that! Then I went to the Secretary of State’s office to renew both my plates and my driver’s license. Which was good, because my DL photo still had me with long hair and TSA is really not amused by ID pictures that don’t look like the person bearing the credential. Then I went to Meijer to buy assorted things. Then I went home to pack and make the house cat-friendly while I’m away. Then I went to the Caffeinated Press office to drop off the rest of the Jot That Down order I didn’t consign to Baker. Then I went to the airport—and holy cow, the new unified security screening at GRR is actually quite impressive—then off I went upon the wings of American Eagle. The flights were fine (better than fine; both legs were on an Embraer 145 with a 1×2 configuration and for both I sat on the “1” side of the aircraft). We connected through O’Hare, so of course my journey to CVG was delayed an hour. Then I Uber’d it to the hotel—great driver, so I tipped him, which is a thing with Uber now. Unpacked. Ironed my clothes; sent my navy suit and black jacket to the dry cleaners. Grabbed dinner. Now I’m blogging. I’ll probably re-read my NAHQ board book before I go to bed, for I do NOT want to disappoint my colleague Andrew tomorrow.

It’s been a week. In the last seven days, I’ve released the advance review copy of Isle Royale from the A.I.R. (edited by Phillip Sterling, forthcoming next month from Caffeinated Press) to Phillip. I joined a mini board meeting with my colleagues at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters to discuss administrative stuff plus, significantly, marketing and rebranding. Cool things are coming on that front. And I retrieved our print run of Jot That Down from Color House Graphics. I’m pleased with CHG’s speed, quality and cost. Oh, and I released another of my pseudonymous erotica novellas to Amazon. Plus pushed the most current episode of The Vice Lounge Online which—holy hell—is now at episode No. 333. Icing on the cake: I received notification that I’ve been admitted to WMU’s Graduate College on a non-degree track; I think I want to start a grad certificate in applied stats and then transmogrify that into either something related to healthcare administration or the interdisciplinary PhD in evaluation.

It’s been a month. Finished the re-architecting of my home office thanks to an equipment swap with my mom: She took the recumbent bike, I took the recliner and its plush rug. We’ve gotten a ton of major work efforts tidied up at Priority Health, in anticipation of the long slog of budgeting-and-pricing season, which officially begins today. I gave a second-to-last pass on edits to Conversion Therapy, a novelette I wrote in August at the MiFiWriters retreat. I completed the advance review copy of Ladri (a dark urban fantasy novel written by Andrea Albright and forthcoming next month from Caffeinated Press). I got the GLCL membership database synced up. And, I got to see my cousin and her husband and two children, including newborn baby Athena!

It’s been a year. We moved to a different office space at Caffeinated Press; I re-did much of my home’s interior layout because of this consolidation, including bringing my big U-shaped desk home. I’ve gotten my own personal writing slush pile increasingly honed and ready (almost!) for more vigorous shopping. My team at PH has, in many ways, set the gold standard for my division’s new operational focus—I’m immensely proud of them. I’ve survived two leadership transitions at the day job and picked up a side consulting gig for my old mentor, the infamous RL. My two indoor feline overlords have been joined by two outdoor feline fellow travelers in the form of Ziggy and Tiger. I launched the Grand River Writing Tribe, which is hummin’ along great. I spoke, this spring, at the Illinois Association for Healthcare Quality conference as well as the inaugural UntitledTown authors’ conference in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I joined the board of directors of the GLCL—and saw it lose its gorgeous building. I’ve gone hiking and kayaking. Last fall, I went to Las Vegas for VIMFP and to Orlando for NAHQ.

It’s been a decade. My early 30s weren’t all that hot. But it got better. Inasmuch as I had dreaded (perhaps too melodramatically) the arrival of The Big Four Oh, I find that there’s a certain charm in things like having a positive net worth, a reliable and modern vehicle, insurance and the means to do stuff like hire movers instead of begging family to bring trucks over. I joke with Brittany that #AdultingIsHard, but after you crack the code, it’s surprisingly charming.

It’s been a life. My mother visited me on Wednesday to give my my birthday card. During the course of conversation, she inquired—in a roundabout way—whether I’m happy, in a big-picture kind of way.

My TL;DR answer? Yes.

How could I not? This post has taken twice as long to write than it needed to, because every minute or two my phone dings with a text message, Facebook post, LinkedIn message or tweet wishing me a happy birthday. Dozens of people think kindly enough of me to take a moment to send a brief message of support.

Perhaps that’s the biggest accomplishment of all.

Bidding a (Fond) Farewell to July 2017

July is about to bow its sayonara. Interesting month. Got a lot accomplished. Moving into August on an upbeat note. Let me talk a bit about photography, then I’ll segue into professional and then personal updates.

Photography

I perambulated yesterday around Kent Trails, near Millennium Park, along a 4.1-mile loop. I brought my trusty Nikon D3100 camera (I know, I know—antique body at this point) with my Nikkor 70-300 mm lens. The goal of the walk wasn’t to hone my technical skills with manual-mode shooting but rather to just work on framing with this lens. Haven’t used it much yet. Had some fun with it — my favorite 29 photos are captured into three Tumblr photoset posts organized by the themes of park, flora and fauna. And it was great to get into the relative peace of the park.

After I left the trail, arms wickedly sunburned, I stopped for an unannounced visit to my mom. That was nice. I’m thrilled that Gunner the German Shepherd is doing well. He’s a whopping 110 lbs now. Yikes.

On my way home from my mom’s house, I visited the new nature walk that used to be The Highlands Golf Club. In the summer of 2000, I worked course maintenance at The Highlands. The Great Lakes Senior Golf Association wrote up the course by saying:

In the early 1900’s Donald Ross, one of the world’s most renowned golf course architects, designed one of the best golf courses in West Michigan. In 2008 we celebrated our centennial year at The Highlands in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Now you too can play and walk the fairways that Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and hundreds of other PGA, Senior PGA, and LPGA stars have played.

I myself had played there, with my grandfather, in the 1990s and early 2000s. Earlier this year, the 18-hole, 121-acre site was acquired by the Land Conservancy and added to the Blandford Nature Center. So far, they’ve done basically nothing but remove the hardware for the course (flags, cups, ball washers) and mow a few meandering paths through it. Otherwise, it’s being reclaimed by nature. I’ve documented the effect that just one season’s worth of quietude has wrought on what used to be a nationally respected course. See the photoset. Beautiful, but also sad. When you see a place you worked so hard to maintain now overgrown and wild, you cannot help but reflect on the impermanence of things. Even things like a 109-year-old golf course.

And one last photo thing—all this picture-taking impelled me to get my portfolio organized. So my major shoots are up on Tumblr and are accessible, along with my Instagram feed, on this blog’s Photos page. Remember, folks, I make no claim to being a professional photographer! 🙂

Sundry Professional Updates

From the work front:

  • At Priority Health, I have a new boss in the form of my former fellow manager, Sheri. I like her. This should be good. And the major work of the summer—vetting 175 different corporate initiatives totaling more than $80M in cost savings, in time to support the annual budgeting and pricing process—was delivered in full and on time, which is huge given that our VP didn’t think my team would be done until November. I’m rewarding my core and extended team with a kayaking trip next Friday. We’re going to the Double R Ranch for a light lunch, then spend 2 or 2.5 hours on the Flat River, then return to the ranch for dinner and drinks. Folks are excited. Kudos to Jen, one of my senior analysts, for coordinating the kayaking festivities.
  • At Caffeinated Press, our newest board member, Tabitha, is going gangbusters to impose some project-management discipline on projects I was too thinly stretched to manage myself. Our office move is now mostly done, so I can focus on distribution, book production and the third volume of our Brewed Awakenings anthology. With the move (and corresponding rent reduction) and Tabitha’s arrival, I think things are beginning to even out a bit. Which is good. The last nine months or so have been a real drudge at times.
  • Two weeks ago, I hoofed it to the Windy City for our summer Commission Week meetings for the National Association for Healthcare Quality. Professionally rewarding but also exhausting. Spent a fair amount of time on my newest NAHQ project, which is to co-lead the initiative to revise NAHQ’s code of ethics and standards of professional practice, from scratch. A ton of work to be done, but on the bright side, I can put that degree in moral philosophy to use! Next up for NAHQ is the board meeting and annual conference in September, in Cincinnati, but the ethics work will likely occupy the bulk of my NAHQ time for the remainder of 2017.

Sundry Personal Updates

And on the home front:

  • I broke a bone. First time ever. Whacked my foot against the living-room table whilst chasing a fly. Broke my right pinky toe, jammed the next toe in and managed to pull a back muscle as I contorted to break my fall.  And did something to temporarily injure my right wrist. But I got that winged demon. I got it good.
  • I bought a new bed. After nearly 15 years, my Select Comfort dual-chamber queen-sized bed finally had one chamber fail. Which meant that for a few weeks, I slept on half an air bed while the cats just geeked out over their ability to play hide-and-go-stalk in the valleys of the deflated side. Because cats. Anyway, I tossed the Select Comfort and temporarily replaced it with an air mattress from Meijer while I plotted the switcheroo between the bedroom and the office (because of the Caffeinated Press move). Now that the moves are all done, I bought a Casper mattress on the recommendation of my NAHQ colleague Andrew. He was right—I love it. It’s a 10-inch queen mattress with several different foam layers. It came in a box, vacuum packed and rolled up like a sleeping bag. I opened the vacuum bag and *woomph* it almost immediately restored itself to its full shape and size. So far, so happy.
  • Enjoyed a fun cigar night with Tony, Matt and Scott this past Wednesday. I arrived around 7p. Didn’t leave until a quarter to midnight. Long after Tony and Scott left, I sat with Matt and with Rob (the owner) talking politics and enjoying a Nat Sherman 85th Anniversary cigar and sipping a Perrin Black Goat beer.
  • My 4.1-mile expedition to Kent Trails yesterday, plus comments from my colleague John, suggest that the hiking trip to Hodenpyl Dam would make more sense in October, at the height of color season. I cannot find room to disagree, so I’ve rescheduled accordingly. Plus, it’ll give me a chance to actually use the recumbent bike that I own but studiously avoid. Hiking goes better with some degree of cardiopulmonary fitness, I guess.
  • My personal writing has picked up. I’m wrapping up another of my pseudonymous erotica novellas intended solely for Amazon. I recently wrote a short story, Ashes of Another Life, which at 2,350 words was constructed to meet a very specific writing prompt from one of my writing groups. My other writing group is firing on all cylinders. And I’m looking forward to the writers’ retreat next month, a weekend event in Kalamazoo. Also, the essay I wrote that’ll be included in the Catholic anthology won’t be released until late 2018, which is a shame but also, as a small-press guy myself, I totally get it.
  • On the Vice Lounge Online front, Tony and I have again concluded that summer is a real pain to get together given our opposite schedules. So for August, we’re on an every-other-week rotation. Normal programming resumes in September. That said, you’re welcome to catch us on iTunes or listen on the Web if you’d like to check out recent episodes or browse the back catalog. It’s all good stuff, people. All of it.

OK, all for now. Hope you had an equally satisfying July … and here’s to a kick-buttocks August.

Jason’s 10 Life Strategies

In December 2009, I started a document called Why I Bother. It was intended to be a one-page personal life roadmap, which is why at some point I renamed it Roadmap. (Simplicity, FTW!) Every year since then, at Christmas and Independence Day, I re-curate that document, removing the old, adding the new and tweaking the current.

I won’t pretend that I do everything I tell myself I’ll do. But I also won’t sugarcoat the truth that without this document, and my self-imposed semiannual revision to it, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have.

The paper consists of several discrete text blocks: A short paragraph about the meaning of life, a one-sentence personal vision statement, a list of 10 bucket-list goals, a list of 10 life strategies, a set of high-level monthly achievements planned for the next six months, a reminder of the things I must do every day within a typical week to meet my semiannual targets, and finally a few meaningful quotes about why the whole exercise matters. I ruthlessly trim it to ensure it fits on a single 8.5-inch-by-11-inch sheet of paper (single sided!).

From time to time, I share parts of this framework on this blog. Today, I offer a revised look at the Ten Life Strategies I try to honor. Here goes:

  1. Cultivate serenity. Find the path of least drama and reserve personal time to recharge your batteries—whether through prayer, or meditation, or hiking in the forest or petting a cat. When the going gets tough, smile and exhale and remember that all of this has happened before and all of it will happen again. There’s no such thing as an unfixable problem, so there’s never a need to panic.
  2. Nurture insatiable curiosity. Always ask why and always poke one level deeper than everyone else. No matter how bad it is, most of us can deal with what we can understand. Understanding, however, only follows when you probe from what appears to be, to what a thing really is. Aristotle’s theory of causation helps to guide the relevant questions.
  3. Encourage excellence through focus. To be conspicuously excellent requires that you set aside trivialities to emphasize the thing you want to be excellent at. As such, you must focus, putting aside the minor activities that often consume the bulk of one’s time. Do fewer things with greater care. The risk of being a jack of all trades is that you never become a master of one.
  4. Favor action over study. It’s tempting to think too deeply before committing to something big. Better, I believe, to think quickly, then do something, then re-evaluate what you did from a more experienced position. A person can spend a lifetime preparing for a major goal then find that by the time he’s ready to pull the trigger, the opportunity has vanished. When in doubt, do. Scientific method, and all that.
  5. Foster relationships. “Other people” aren’t a distraction; they’re the whole point of living a fruitful life. Take care, then, to keep friendships alive and to avoid burning family bridges. Traversing the high road can sometimes be unpleasant, marked with bitter compromise, but it’s a damned sight better than always being right and therefore always being lonely.
  6. Reduce consumption. Do more with less. Spend less money, eat fewer calories, drink less booze, make fewer bad choices, engage in less-conspicuous materialism, suffer through fewer empty one-night stands. Et cetera. A spartan lifestyle brings benefits beyond mere simplicity.
  7. Present an enticing façade. People are naturally attracted to beauty. We aren’t all gifted with Hemsworth genes, but we can all pay attention to the minor details—behavioral as well as physical—more likely to incur social approbation. Even a perfectly ordinary person can rise through the aesthetic ranks by paying careful attention to manners, grooming, wardrobe and comportment.
  8. Resist unhealthy entanglements. Bad habits and negative people rob you of time, energy and often money. Put negative influences aside, ruthlessly. Avoid the desire to be “right” and thereby fuel others’ needs to reciprocate. When you find a bad apple, chuck it into the field and grab a fresh one, because no matter how hard you try, you’ll never completely eat around the worm.
  9. Avoid the fire hydrant. Things that are truly important rarely demand immediate attention. It’s seductively simple to fall into the trap of always responding to a deluge of “daily drama”—email, arguments, unplanned deliverables, maintenance activities—that constitute the tyranny of the urgent. But not everything requires your attention or response. If you prioritize the important, and ignore the urgent-but-unimportant, eventually your plate will rebalance in a much healthier way.
  10. Plan for an uncertain tomorrow. Be bold in the face of risk, but don’t be an idiot. Prepare for retirement or emergencies—not just financially, but also in terms of the skills you master, the experiences you enjoy and the love you’ve shared. Tomorrow might be bright, or it might be black. You don’t know. But if you treat each day like it’s the last, you’ll find that when the last day finally arrives, you’ll face it with quiet dignity.

I sometimes honor them more in the breach, but nevertheless, I try to leverage these ten life strategies to help me realize my long-term goals.

Jason's 10 Life Strategies

In December 2009, I started a document called Why I Bother. It was intended to be a one-page personal life roadmap, which is why at some point I renamed it Roadmap. (Simplicity, FTW!) Every year since then, at Christmas and Independence Day, I re-curate that document, removing the old, adding the new and tweaking the current.
I won’t pretend that I do everything I tell myself I’ll do. But I also won’t sugarcoat the truth that without this document, and my self-imposed semiannual revision to it, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have.
The paper consists of several discrete text blocks: A short paragraph about the meaning of life, a one-sentence personal vision statement, a list of 10 bucket-list goals, a list of 10 life strategies, a set of high-level monthly achievements planned for the next six months, a reminder of the things I must do every day within a typical week to meet my semiannual targets, and finally a few meaningful quotes about why the whole exercise matters. I ruthlessly trim it to ensure it fits on a single 8.5-inch-by-11-inch sheet of paper (single sided!).
From time to time, I share parts of this framework on this blog. Today, I offer a revised look at the Ten Life Strategies I try to honor. Here goes:

  1. Cultivate serenity. Find the path of least drama and reserve personal time to recharge your batteries—whether through prayer, or meditation, or hiking in the forest or petting a cat. When the going gets tough, smile and exhale and remember that all of this has happened before and all of it will happen again. There’s no such thing as an unfixable problem, so there’s never a need to panic.
  2. Nurture insatiable curiosity. Always ask why and always poke one level deeper than everyone else. No matter how bad it is, most of us can deal with what we can understand. Understanding, however, only follows when you probe from what appears to be, to what a thing really is. Aristotle’s theory of causation helps to guide the relevant questions.
  3. Encourage excellence through focus. To be conspicuously excellent requires that you set aside trivialities to emphasize the thing you want to be excellent at. As such, you must focus, putting aside the minor activities that often consume the bulk of one’s time. Do fewer things with greater care. The risk of being a jack of all trades is that you never become a master of one.
  4. Favor action over study. It’s tempting to think too deeply before committing to something big. Better, I believe, to think quickly, then do something, then re-evaluate what you did from a more experienced position. A person can spend a lifetime preparing for a major goal then find that by the time he’s ready to pull the trigger, the opportunity has vanished. When in doubt, do. Scientific method, and all that.
  5. Foster relationships. “Other people” aren’t a distraction; they’re the whole point of living a fruitful life. Take care, then, to keep friendships alive and to avoid burning family bridges. Traversing the high road can sometimes be unpleasant, marked with bitter compromise, but it’s a damned sight better than always being right and therefore always being lonely.
  6. Reduce consumption. Do more with less. Spend less money, eat fewer calories, drink less booze, make fewer bad choices, engage in less-conspicuous materialism, suffer through fewer empty one-night stands. Et cetera. A spartan lifestyle brings benefits beyond mere simplicity.
  7. Present an enticing façade. People are naturally attracted to beauty. We aren’t all gifted with Hemsworth genes, but we can all pay attention to the minor details—behavioral as well as physical—more likely to incur social approbation. Even a perfectly ordinary person can rise through the aesthetic ranks by paying careful attention to manners, grooming, wardrobe and comportment.
  8. Resist unhealthy entanglements. Bad habits and negative people rob you of time, energy and often money. Put negative influences aside, ruthlessly. Avoid the desire to be “right” and thereby fuel others’ needs to reciprocate. When you find a bad apple, chuck it into the field and grab a fresh one, because no matter how hard you try, you’ll never completely eat around the worm.
  9. Avoid the fire hydrant. Things that are truly important rarely demand immediate attention. It’s seductively simple to fall into the trap of always responding to a deluge of “daily drama”—email, arguments, unplanned deliverables, maintenance activities—that constitute the tyranny of the urgent. But not everything requires your attention or response. If you prioritize the important, and ignore the urgent-but-unimportant, eventually your plate will rebalance in a much healthier way.
  10. Plan for an uncertain tomorrow. Be bold in the face of risk, but don’t be an idiot. Prepare for retirement or emergencies—not just financially, but also in terms of the skills you master, the experiences you enjoy and the love you’ve shared. Tomorrow might be bright, or it might be black. You don’t know. But if you treat each day like it’s the last, you’ll find that when the last day finally arrives, you’ll face it with quiet dignity.

I sometimes honor them more in the breach, but nevertheless, I try to leverage these ten life strategies to help me realize my long-term goals.

Celebrating America — from 2,500 Feet

Late yesterday, my friend Jason R. emailed me with an intriguing proposition. He’s a private pilot and he had time reserved in one of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk planes available for rent through the airport. So he invited me along for a ride. I eagerly accepted his kind offer, even knowing that I had to reveal my far-too-depressing weight so he could do his pre-flight math.

We took off from West Michigan Regional Airport (formerly known as Tulip City Airport) in Holland, Mich., around 2:45 p.m. today. We headed north, then east to Grand Rapids. After getting an up-close view of my hometown, we swung back east and kissed Lake Michigan just south of Muskegon, then hugged the shoreline until we were south of Holland, to return to the airport from the southwest.

With clear skies and calm winds, our hour-long trek remained quite peaceful — almost no bumps to speak of. I took some pictures with Jason’s camera (he wanted a photo of his house from the air; he lives just a couple of miles from the airport) but otherwise I just enjoyed my first time in a plane where I had the chance to look out the front window. And because we traveled at roughly 2,500 feet the whole time, we occupied the sweet zone where we were “high enough” but still low enough to clearly see the world below.

Some in-the-moment observations:

  • My friend makes it look easy. Flying a plane — even a single-engine piston plane like the Skyhawk — takes practice and concentration. He made it look as casually effortless as if he were tootling along in a moped with wings.
  • Fun fact: The propeller spins so fast that you literally cannot see it. The view from the windshield is completely clear. Jason tells me that if the sun glints just right and you’re oriented in a certain way, you can sometimes see ghosting of the prop. But while we were airborne, it was if the plane were being pushed by invisible flying monkeys. (I looked behind us, but couldn’t see my mom’s minions at work, hahaha.)
  • Our headsets allowed for clear conversation while minimizing engine noise. As an added bonus, I got to listen in on the fun air-traffic-control stuff, including Jason’s friendly conversation with Grand Rapids Approach.
  • West Michigan Regional Airport is a beautiful facility.
  • That little plane takes off in like five feet. And we had a smooth landing despite light crosswinds.

Two more-significant observations:

First, from 2,500 feet, America looks like America. Not “red vs. blue,” not “white vs. black,” not “rich vs. poor.” Just America. It’s pretty, really. You see cities, and farmland, and boats on the lake, and families on the beach. We often underestimate the vitality and the resilience of our Federal Republic. Yes, we have problems, and a bucolic trek into the clouds cannot and should not obscure them. We’ve always had our struggles and we always will. Yet when you see your community from the air — the roads you drive, the stores you shop, the churches you visit, the trails you walk — you realize that far more unites us than divides us. That, I think is the real lesson of Independence Day: No matter how much we squabble, America still represents the best hope for free peoples everywhere. And whether you love Trump or you hate him, or whether you see oppression lurking around every corner or are blinded to inequity by your privilege, we would do well sometimes to set aside the heated rhetoric and just celebrate the fact that we’re still, 240 years later, a nation dedicated to a proposition.

A proposition worth celebrating, I believe, even if we live that proposition imperfectly.

Second point. It’s long been a bucket-list item to get a private pilot’s license. Jason’s invitation reinvigorated that bug. I really enjoyed the flight, and from what he tells me, the time and expense of getting a pilot’s license aren’t really that onerous. The thought of taking off for a day to visit places for which driving would be prohibitive, strikes me as rather fun. In the Skyhawk, for example, you’re tooling along north of 110 mph or so, and you’re going in a reasonably straight line with no traffic snarls or signal lights. So the 2.5-hour drive to Traverse City becomes a 1-hour flight. Or my frequent trips to Chicago, which sometimes take five or six hours when traffic’s not favorable, is basically an hour between West Michigan Regional Airport and Chicago Executive Airport.

On my list for things to prioritize for 2018!

Zen and the Art of Home-Office Relocation

Over the last few weeks, we at Caffeinated Press have slowly migrated up a flight of stairs. Our two-year lease in Suite 104 at the Ken-O-Sha Professional Building expired June 30. Instead of renewing, we opted to move to a smaller unit within the same building — Suite 102, which comes at roughly a third of the space and roughly 40 percent of the per-month rent. Given that we previously enjoyed a very large office that two people used for less than half time, this change frees working capital for the publishing company while preserving a central hub for files, inventory, a workstation and a small conference space. We paid a heck of a lot of money for a space that would sit vacant for days or a week at a stretch, so this transformation is fiscally prudent.
Good change, right?
The caveat is that I had a large U-shaped desk there, with a filing cabinet and sundry other things (like a reading chair, a microfridge, a whiteboard) that couldn’t fit in the new suite. So I had to bring them home. But as configured, I didn’t have space at home, either.
Long story short, I hired a moving company (Quick & Careful Moving, a Local First member) to schlep the big furniture from the old suite to the new suite and to bring my stuff home. To accommodate it, I flip-flopped my bedroom and my office. Until yesterday, my office was a long, narrow room overlooking the front porch, filled with “temporary” furniture I built and stained myself. And also until yesterday, my bedroom was the house’s original solarium, with a fireplace and built-in cabinetry and terra-cotta tile flooring.
So yesterday I moved rooms. Fascinating experience — not least, because of how much trauma such a move inflicted upon the feline overlords, who are not accustomed to change. But also fascinating in the sense of how one choice leads to a cascade effect:

  • To accept the desk from the movers, I needed to clear out the solarium
  • To clear the solarium, I needed to partially clear the front room
  • To clear the front room, I needed to relocate roughly 80 linear feet of books from the front room to the solarium
  • To relocate the books, I needed to move the stuff from the solarium cabinets to the front room.

Et cetera. It’s like playing a game of Jenga: To do X, Y must be moved first, and Z has to be yanked out before Y’s in play. The living room — the no-man’s-land between the two rooms — can only hold so much stuff as a staging area, so a lot of this move required sequenced swapping of items in fixed spaces.
But after about 15 cumulative hours’ effort, and the muscle of the movers, I got ‘er done:

Some conclusions:

  • I have a heck of a lot of filing to do, some of which reflects holdovers from when I left my apartment in Kentwood nearly a decade ago. Yikes.
  • I need “real” bedroom furniture, so I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a small dresser and perhaps a tiny secretary’s desk and chair. I relied on the cabinets, before, but the new bedroom features a shelved alcove and a closet but not much else.
  • I think I want a recliner for my reading chair instead of my more spartan cushioned wooden chair.
  • Holy hell, I need curtains with blackout fabric instead of just blinds. I have no clue why the neighbors think the nighttime outside requires 1 billion candela of auxiliary lighting.

And on the bright side, although I still have to deal with cats, they have more places to sleep and play in the new office, so at present, they’ve left me mostly to myself. Except for that one time Murphy jumped off the desk hutch, without advance warning, and used the back of my neck as a landing strip. It took a full 15 minutes for the bleeding to subside. Anyway — now, all my stuff is put into one convenient room, so regardless of what work I’m doing, everything’s concentrated within the same four walls. There’s something to be said for efficiency.
I’ll miss being able to decamp to the CafPress office to work long periods without feline interruption, but I’ll adapt.

The Relentless Pursuit of Attention

In theory, I should be in Las Vegas right now, celebrating Tony’s 40th birthday and revving into the festivities of 360 Vegas Vacation IV. In practice, I’m at home, in the first half of a six-day vacation from the day job, using that time not to vacay but to catch up on all the stuff that’s been piling up since, literally, Christmas.
Piling up, and in a sense, serving as a canary in the coal mine. Because a significant part of this six-day extravaganza involves the consolidation and the transitioning of stuff that’s occupied time on my calendar but to no good long-term end, while things that ought to be on that calendar (lookin’ at you, exercise!) keep slipping because other fires flare up worse than the morning after a midnight run to Taco Bell. I haven’t been feeling well lately (not Taco Bell’s fault, to be fair) and the number on my scale has been creeping upward, which is a sign that I need to make some structural adjustments. Happens every five years or so, actually, and it’s happening now. Accordingly, much curation of the to-do list has been unfolding, which has occupied time now to free up time later. A normal and healthy activity, to be sure, so I’m not complaining, but one that — when you’re in the middle of it — feels as much of a slog as flying through O’Hare.
The last six weeks witnessed a haze of mile-marker posts:

  • I spoke on Health Data Analytics at the educational conference of the Illinois Association for Healthcare Quality in Naperville, IL. My old friend Tony H. is the president of IAHQ; he spoke in Michigan when I led the Michigan association’s conference, so turnabout was fair play. Plus, I had the chance to see my NAHQ colleagues Sarah and Karen, which always makes me smile.
  • I spoke on the subject of risk management in publishing — framed as a discussion encouraging emerging authors to look to small presses rather than the agent market — at the UntitledTown Book and Author Festival in Green Bay, WI. The UT folks did an excellent job, and I enjoyed the serenity of St. Brendan’s Inn on the Fox River in the heart of Packers territory.
  • The Get Published! 2017 conference in Holland went well. Four panels, each of which was followed by a craft workshop. I led one panel and participated in another, and I co-led the day’s general-fiction workshops. The event, sponsored by MiFiWriters, has not failed to impress me, two years running. They do an excellent job with the conference.
  • My friend Duane undertook a brief excursion to Grand Rapids — he was here, I think, for less than eight hours — to clean out his storage locker. He now resides in Corpus Christi, TX, which means that he drove from there to here and back, just for an hour’s worth of packing. Yikes. But he and I had the chance to sit down for coffee for 90 minutes, which was nice. He’s the guy who pushed me into fiction writing, plus he’s just a fascinating human being, so connecting in person, albeit briefly, warmed the shriveled cockles of my soul. (Or something like that.)
  • Caffeinated Press is moving: We’re relocating to a different suite in the same building. And we’re partnering, at least in the interim, with the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, which lost its space in the bookstore at Wealthy and Eastern.
  • Most other things on my plate have been on track. Tony and I are still podcasting. GLCL is still doing the Writers Squared events. Life continues.

Given all my driving back and forth to the far side of Lake Michigan, I reactivated my XM Radio subscription. Turns out, I really enjoy the BBC World Service. One special report, about people who poorly adjust to fast-paced professional working environments, proved enrapturing because of the arguments made by one of the research scientists interviewed for the segment. In short, she said that the biggest problem most people face isn’t being too busy in the sense of having too much work, but rather of having too many competing demands for attention that creates a second-level need for time to orchestrate and prioritize these demands. In other words, it’s not that employees are given 60 hours of work in a 40-hour week, but that we’re given 40 hours of work but because each stakeholder for a unit of work isn’t transparently aware of the priority queue for the other units of work, the employee must work 60 hours to get the 40 hours of tasks done. That extra 20 hours of non-value-added effort results from the need to coordinate competing demands for simultaneous attention while addressing what’s important vs. what’s falsely urgent.
I can certainly relate, says the guy who has spent probably one-third of the total writing time on this post, so far, dealing with feline demands for affection. Including Tiger, the outside cat, who has figured out that if he sits on my air conditioner and meows loudly, that I’ll come outside to pet him. In true Pavlovian fashion, he slaps that button like his furry little life depends on it. But I digress.
For a while, I started to second-guess my work-estimation skills, because every time I agreed (or did not agree) to take on some project due by some date, I figured that I’d be fine — plenty of flex in the schedule to accommodate — but more often than not, timeframes slipped. In retrospect, and after listening to that BBC segment, my thinking has recalibrated: I did plan effectively. What I didn’t consider, however, was the relatively recent (“recent” being, oh, the last 18 months or so) explosion in demands for my immediate attention when such attention isn’t truly required, flowing from both the increasing complexification at Caffeinated Press and the changes to my portfolio at Priority Health. I haven’t built enough slack time to extinguish all these myriad fires, yet planning for the fires means I won’t have time to devote to the work unless I just plan to do less than I can actually deliver. Chicken, meet egg.
I don’t think, looking back on things, that the problem is that I’m inherently too busy, although I know I’ve complained about it in the past. I think the problem is that a small tail of people who want what they want, when they want it, and the noise they make in demanding it, tends to suck the much of the oxygen away from everything else. Right now, it’s a particular author I’m working with, but a few weeks ago it was a colleague on a volunteer project, and a few weeks before that it was a friend, and a few weeks before that it was a stakeholder at work. So if on Sunday afternoon, I were to plot my week in detail (which, as it happens, I always do), that plot only lasts until the first time I get sidetracked by someone demanding my attention through behaviors that, in some cases, are … astonishingly bold. And then the plot unravels. But the work doesn’t go away, so I have to re-plot, this time with more to do in the same amount of hours. Rinse and repeat, until either I have to take a six-day vacation to catch up or some item on that to-do list explodes out of control.
Claims for attention can adopt an interesting ethical flavor. Assume I tell someone that I will do some activity on the first day of each month. Further assume that the other person prefers that I do that activity every Monday. The middle ground really isn’t semimonthly; one person’s preference wins, the other’s loses. Generally, the person whose preferences win is the person who must perform the act. So the other person must accept that his or preferences will not be satisfied, and one would hope, to do so with grace. When, however, the other person engages in aggressive or passive-aggressive bullying in order to get his or her preferences satisfied, the outcome is usually conflict. Which blows up. Which consumes unbudgeted time to resolve.
Anyway.
This six-day “vacation” is proving helpful in that I have some time to address a few outstanding big-ticket items, mostly for Caffeinated Press. That’s good. And I’ve had a bit of mental space these last few days to reflect on the systems (people, process, technology)  that must be in place to manage demands for immediate attention, which is also good. Between the transitions at GLCL, a logistically complex summer at CafPress and a triple-digit queue of magnitude-and-impact studies at Priority Health, the summer is going to be jam-packed.
But given this current catch-up and curation exercise, I nevertheless look forward to it.

A Month in the Life

The onset on seasonal fur-shedding by my feline overlords reminds me that summer’s coming, a welcome reminder in the mid-winter gloom. The characteristically goofy weather in the Upper Midwest has contributed to a sense of change: Last night, we were in the low 20s F, but a few days before we enjoyed the upper 60s.
Some updates, in no particular order:
Ziggy and Tiger. So speaking of cats, my two neighborhood friends, Ziggy and Tiger, continue to be a near-daily presence around the property. Of the two, Tiger — a neutered male, and sweet as molasses — is probably an indoor/outdoor cat for someone. He’s obviously well cared-for, with no signs of injury or illness, and he’s extremely friendly to strange humans. Ziggy, a black tuxedo female, is a bit worse for wear. She’s also adorable, with a chirpy meow, but she’s underweight and is now showing occasional signs of injury (perhaps from fights) as well as patches of fur loss and ear damage. She has a collar, and I texted with the phone number on the tag a few months ago, but the response was cagey. I suspect she was abandoned last fall. If she starts to appear to be in real distress, I’ll probably scoop her up and take her to the vet, and then look into having her put in a shelter. She deserves a loving forever home.
Chicago. Just got back from an unusually warm and sunny Windy City for the semiannual commission meetings for NAHQ. Great experience. The four commission chairs met Wednesday for a day of planning with the executive director and the president and president-elect. My commission met Thursday and Friday. Went well. Flights were also pretty good, although I was thiiiiiis close to starting an angry tweetstorm with American Airlines. Apparently, AA swapped the plane type. The plane arrived into O’Hare on time, but it was a different model with different weight-and-balance requirements. I was one of nine passengers pulled aside on the “you’re probably gunna be bumped” list. Ultimately, we all were able to board, but — THE PLANE WAS ONLY TWO-THIRDS FULL. Why we’d be over-weight on such a de-populated flight defies reason.
Caffeinated Press. We’re entering a make-or-break year. We’ve mastered the art of making books, but the bigger challenge is selling those books. Although we’re in various catalogs, and we do a fair amount of hand-selling on our own, the real trick is networking with independent bookstores. So it appears that we’ll be doing our own state-wide distribution operation. With Partners having closed, and other distributors being big and expensive, I think that divvying up our target market and personally serving participating bookstores is probably the key to success and the next evolution of our business. Meanwhile, we’ve got exciting changes coming for our literary journal, The 3288 Review, and nine new titles in various stages of completion. And also: Most of the heavy lifting of our tech migration has now concluded. New project-management tools, new email server, new learning-mangaement system … yay!
Grand River Writing Tribe. The Tribe continues to meet. It’s going well, so far. Great participation and engagement, and a wonderful group of people around the table. We’ll be re-opening the door to membership at the end of March, so if you’re local to the Grand Rapids area and wish to join, consider our Grand River Writing Tribe online application.
Poetry. Poems are funny things: When you want to write them, you can’t; when you don’t have the time to write, inspiration strikes. I’ve been working on a collection — a chapbook provisionally titled Whiskey, Cats & Poems — for a while. Got a half-dozen poems or so complete. Then … nada. But, this morning, eight new ideas struck me, like the cars in an out-of-control freight train. At least I had the foresight to take notes. I’m not a skilled poet, by any measure, but I’m working on it. Very relaxing, especially writing by candlelight with (you guessed it!) a cat and some whiskey. But working more with poets and reading much more poetry, thanks to my time with the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, has proven instructive.
Get Published! and UntitledTown. We at Caffeinated Press have been invited to participate again in the Get Published! writers conference, which this year will be in Holland in mid April. Then, in late April, I’ll be off to UntitledTown in Green Bay, WI, to present a session about publishing. Exciting!
State Convention. I went to my political party’s state convention earlier this month. Got to meet some great new people from mid-Michigan. Stayed the night with Tony and his wife at their palatial estate in Dimondale. Great weekend all around! I went to my political party’s state convention earlier this month. Got to meet some great new people from mid-Michigan. Stayed the night with Tony and his wife at their palatial estate in Dimondale. Great weekend all-around!
Personal Goals. During my Christmas vacation, I did a great job of more carefully planning my 2017 goals down to the month level. That approach seems to have paid off — progress and visibility are now more “in my face” than they were before, leading to more deliberate decisions about how I spend my time and what I choose to prioritize.
Ash Wednesday. Lent’s coming this week. I’ve had a personal goal of returning more actively to regular liturgical life. Perhaps this year will be the year.
All for now. Enjoy the rest of the winter!

What a Month!

While I was on my winter holiday a month ago, I experienced a transition of leadership at the day job. My boss, Bob, took a different role, so now I report directly to our divisional vice president.

The change is, to put it delicately, not inconsequential.

The last few weeks have required a major pivot in how my team and I execute our work, and on what cadence. So a series of 60-hour weeks.

And other things have crept up, too —

  • I was sideswiped in a hit-and-run accident earlier in the month. In the grand scheme of things, not much damage to me or my car. I pulled a back muscle, which has been intermittently unpleasant. The damage to the car looks superficial, although the insurance adjuster quoted $977 in repairs. (You might have guessed that I have a $1k deductible.)
  • I’ve transitioned into my treasurer role at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters. The long-term time commitment is minimal, all things considered, although I did have to spend some time getting set up — new accounting system, logins, emails, etc. So a bit transition time.
  • I had the chance to offer a final revision to the essay I submitted a while back, to an anthology about the Catholic Church. Not 100 percent I’m thrilled with it yet — pretty tight word-count constraints — but at least the project is moving along.

Quiet weekend, for once. Might start digging through messages, which have now (cumulatively) crossed the 1,000-unread-emails count. Perhaps a fire and some whiskey and a cat would help. Hmm.

Merry Christmas!

As of noon today, I settled into the second half of my annual end-of-year vacation. Hard to believe that eight days have elapsed already — I haven’t gotten a ton done off my to-do list, but in fairness, I’ve been fairly heavily preoccupied with fire drills from several different sources (lookin’ at you, Priority Health and NAHQ conference calls) and party planning, so I haven’t had much chance to just sit, plan and execute. The little time I’ve had, has been significantly interrupted by the cats. Seriously. I literally cannot work from home anymore — the feline overlords want to lay on me or on my keyboard and no amount of gentle redirection proves effective, and locking them out of my office merely engenders scratching and loud meowing that persists for hours.

Christmas this year has been a mixed bag. I know I’ve been harping on it these last few years — and earlier this month — but I look at Christmas a bit differently than I used to. It feels more like an obligation game: Show up places, give people things, receive things, fight crowds, etc. Having snow on the ground helps, but not a lot. Religiously, the Advent/Christmas season has grown so trite that it seems hollow, a point I attribute mostly to the astonishingly and consistently poor homiletics among the Catholic clergy.

But it hasn’t been bad, all things considered. Did the maternal-family thing on the 17th. My soon-to-be-former boss took his direct reports for dinner at Gravity last Tuesday evening. Roni took me to dinner as part of newly joining the GLCL board of directors. My mom did her usual Christmas Eve thing last night (my extra “drunk Santa” gifts with messaged labels went over well). Today has been fairly quiet — I edited episode 299 of Vice Lounge Online and now have been plotting next week’s intended achievements with one hand (literally) while the other hand attends to one of the cats.

And sitting here, in my home office, writing this post, it occurs to me that I have a lot of “Christmas cheer” to share. I’m grateful for a lot of things — having a decent career, relatively little family drama, a solid circle of friends, lack of serious material want — that I often take for granted.

Because I just edited a podcast episode, VLO makes for a great top-of-mind case in point. Over the years that Tony and I have been podcasting, we’ve had the privilege of meeting some wonderful folks from all across the Anglosphere. The cast of characters waxes and wanes, but the fact that I could make a solo trek to VIMFP in Las Vegas in October and run into probably 20 or more people I knew, or that we could get a dozen people to our five-year podcast event in Louisville in April, speaks volumes. I have “people” — friends of the show — that I know well enough that I could reach out if I ever visited their home communities. Southeast England? Manitoba? North-central Texas? Atlanta? Las Vegas? Northern California? Pennsylvania? Check, check, check, check, check, check, check. And then some. #Amazing

I’m immensely grateful for my friends, my health, my stability. I know that others don’t have what I have, but I’m keeping those folks in my thoughts. I know some friends and acquaintances are working through challenges as different as raising an infant, navigating a divorce, changing gender identities and recovering from cancer. These people need our holiday well-wishes!

So to all of you out there, I wish you a very merry Christmas.