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.

There and Back Again: A Reflection

Flight DL300 touched down in Grand Rapids last night around 8:40 p.m. I got off the plane — it took off from Atlanta; I started in Orlando — then trekked home to greet the feline overlords and head to bed. The great thing about that ATL-GRR segment was the tranquility: I enjoyed an exit-row seat with no one next to me on the two-person side of the MD-88 aircraft. Plenty of space! But also room to unfold my Surface to take some notes. Some of which, are presented below in the form of a reflection.

Updates

NAHQ Board Meeting. This year, our board of directors convened for a destination meeting. We settled on Orlando, FL so we could partake in a “behind the magic” tour offered by the Disney Institute. Interesting experience: It’s a mix of a bus tour and a walking tour of parts of the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. It started at Textile Services, which is basically the commercial laundry for Disney Resorts. Huge. Efficient. And lots of the folks on the floor who saw us on the catwalk waved and smiled, which I guess is the Disney way. Then we went to Epcot and got to go “behind the scenes” at the places where cast members get their costumes and have their break rooms and such. Then off to the Magic Kingdom, which included a brief tour of Main Street inside the park as well as a chance to walk through parts of the Utilador — the “secret tunnel” under the Magic Kingdom that’s actually neither secret nor a tunnel. (You can’t dig into Florida swampland, so the 1.5-mile “tunnel” was actually built on a normal foundation and then it was buried, with the park built atop it.) All the while, our host kept inserting comments about Disney culture and process improvement, to help tour guests better understand the specific mechanisms of Disney’s commitment to operational excellence and guest satisfaction.

We stayed two nights at Boardwalk Inn, which — I must admit — was a great location.

Apart from the Disney Institute tour, we enjoyed 1.5 days of board meetings. These conversations have really solidified; Day One was mostly strategy, with the final half day focused on operations (budget, consent agenda). I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ve settled on a really solid framework for setting program/service strategy for the next few years.

NaNoWriMo. As I mentioned in my last post, I ended the year with a moral victory but not a word-count victory. I am, however, eager to translate my experiences from this November into a more nuanced master plot-and-conflict timeline that I can weave into a better version of the original story.

Grand River Writing Tribe. As part of my general commitment to “rite moar gooder” I’m launching a writing group for authors serious about publication. Read more, and apply, on the Tribe’s temporary landing page.

Kent County Republicans.  By virtue of having stood for county-level office, I was automatically extended the privilege of serving as a member of the Executive Committee for the next two years. So that’s fun. I also got to see my friend Edgard, which was awesome. He suggests he might be moving back to the area next year — a suggestion I hope translates into reality!

Social Schedule. November was busy:

  • 11/3 — Nat Sherman 85th event at Grand River Cigar with Scott
  • 11/4 — Writers’ group Thanksgiving fest (turkey and all!)
  • 11/5 — “Dead Presidents” Halloween party @ PPQ’s in Royal Oak, MI
  • 11/10 — Dinner with Roni
  • 11/11 — Sister-in-law’s 40th birthday party
  • 11/13 — Day of Knockout Noveling at CultureWorks in Holland, MI
  • 11/18 — Murder-Mystery dinner at Ruth’s Chris in Troy, MI
  • 11/24 — Thanksgiving Day at mom’s house
  • 11/27 — The End Is Nigh celebration at KDL/Kentwood
  • 11/28 — County convention, Kent County GOP
  • 11/30 — NAHQ board meeting commences

… and all of this, plus the day job, plus me attending Jessica’s write-ins every Tuesday, plus me hosting write-ins every Saturday morning.

About.com. I’m back into the editorial-consulting space, working as a contractor for About.com and its migration of content to premium verticals. Similar concept to the Demand Media “renovation,” but executed with a much higher degree of sanity.

Reflection

This morning, Saturday, Dec. 3, the National Weather Service’s landing page for Grand Rapids says: “November was among the Top 2 to 4 warmest on record around the area. Meteorological Fall (Sep 1 through Nov 30) eclipsed Fall 2015 as the second warmest on record.”

So, yeah. It’s been unusually warm. My landlord mowed the lawn last week, if that’s any indication. The forecast is for roughly an inch of snow locally over the weekend, although temps will still hover around 40 F; however, the freeze starts to set in around Tuesday night, with predicted high temps between 28 F and 33 F and lake-effect snow likely for the end of the coming work week.

I like cold, snowy Decembers. Warm/dry Christmas seasons totally suck the life out of the holiday. That point was impressed upon me in Orlando, where the Magic Kingdom now stands bedecked in holiday regalia. Looking at Christmas trees while walking around in 85-degree weather just feels weird.

I spent some time on the last leg of my trip home working through some planning notes for my upcoming two-week Christmas vacation, as well as penciling in some goals for 2017. It occurs to me that some of these goals require downtime. When the seasons are out of whack, it’s as if my body’s calendar gets out of whack, too. Downtime is a function of environment as much as a schedule.

Catholic liturgy values seasonality. We have a clock to rule the day, a calendar to rule the month, but the seasons rule the year. Throw some sand into the gears of any of those three temporal markers, and things grind to a halt. I noticed, perusing some old blog posts, that as recent Decembers have been unseasonably warm or cold, dry or snowy, my reaction tends to follow suit. 2012 = warm/dry; 2013 = snowy; 2014 = frigid; 2015 = warm/dry. I got into my vacation and come back again either refreshed or dejected, in part based on my attitude about it all, which is influenced by the climate.

I have high hopes for this December. Let’s see if the weather cooperates.

Twelve Quick Updates from a Whirlwind of a Month

What an interesting — and busy! — few weeks it’s been.

  1. Las Vegas trip. I got back this past Monday from a two-night trek to Sin City to meet up with friends surrounding the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic event. VIMFP is an annual confab featuring Vegas-focused podcasters and bloggers. Lots of attendees. Lots of fun. You can listen to me and Tony discuss my trip report on episode 290 of The Vice Lounge Online.
  2. Nicole’s wedding. My cousin Nicole married Corey on the 14th. Lovely wedding and reception. I wish them the very best for many years of wedded bliss!
  3. Horseshoe Hammond excursion. Tony and I trekked to Hammond, Indiana for a day trip to this lovely Caesars Entertainment casino on the outskirts of Chicago. Everything I touched seemed to turn to gold! You can hear the highlights in VLO’s episode 289.
  4. Essay contracted.  I’m pleased to announce that I’ve recently signed a publication agreement for a short essay, “A Moment of Clarity,” intended for publication in a volume titled Staying Catholic When You’ve Been Hurt in the Church. The book — edited by Eve Tushnet and published by Wipf and Stock Publishers — is currently in early production status.
  5. Brewed Awakenings 2 released. I’m delighted to share that Brewed Awakenings 2, the annual house anthology of Caffeinated Press, is now on the market. Buy your copy today to support local literary excellence! This collection features 15 stories by 14 different authors, ranging from just a few hundred words to more than 20k words; the stories cross genres and styles.
  6. Grayson Rising released. And speaking of releases, Grayson Rising also hit the market this month. This delightful YA novel, partially set in Grand Rapids, is the first major fiction release by local author AJ Powell. In fact, AJ hosted a small launch event at his place of employment that was well-attended and greatly enjoyed by those who dropped by.
  7. The 3288 Review, Vol. 2, Issue 1, released. And now the trifecta: We recently printed the fifth iteration of our quarterly journal of arts and letters. It’s a flourishing property that is already drawing attention across the state. Quite proud of it!
  8. NaNoWriMo is coming. November looms, and with it, National Novel Writing Month. I will participate again. I will also continue to host my Saturday-morning write-ins. I have a pretty good idea of what I want to write, a point I’ll expound upon in greater detail over the next few days. Let it suffice that I’ve developed a good skeleton for a literary novel augmented by some detective-genre conventions. The working title is The Catfish in the Shallows. Do not expect to see/hear much of me between 10/31 and 12/1!
  9. Site5 shenanigans. Although it didn’t affect this site, I had a world of trouble — as in, five days of unexpected downtime — with my longtime Web host, Site5. Outmigration is on the near-term horizon, unfortunately.
  10. Health quality glossary. Spent a fair amount of time recently as a subject-matter expert for NAHQ as we fine-tuned a comprehensive glossary of terms specific to quality improvement in healthcare. Much of this work entailed the alignment of definitions across existing products. Good intellectual exercise.
  11. SIP lines for Caffeinated Press. For years, the CafPress toll-free phone number (888-809-1686) went straight to a voice-mail box. I’ve now set us up with a SIP provider (i.e., a voice-over-Internet phone service) so our toll-free number actually rings in the office. I even have a desk phone, now, with my own extension and local number. Not that I actually use the phone much. But still. Progress.
  12. Outdoor kitties. A pair of felines have been lurking around my house. One of them has a home, and I’ve ensured that she’s been returned to it. The other — a fluffy black tabby, neutered, and sweet as molasses — keeps visiting. He likes it when I give him some Meow Mix. So I do. So far, he looks like he’s in good shape: his coat is fine, he looks well cared-for, his weight seems constant. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for signs of neglect as the cold-weather season sets in. I get the feeling he’s someone’s cat and that he might be an indoor/outdoor dude.

All for now.

Turning 40: A Reflection

I’m told that 40 is the new 30. I hope not; my 30s — particularly the first half of that decade — weren’t all that enjoyable. If my 40s are like my late 30s, though, then bring it on!

Some background: Heretofore, birthdays (especially those evenly divisible by 5) have been a real disappointment. After 21, birthdays don’t matter much. I think I didn’t pay a lot of attention to 25. However, 30 was well-nigh traumatic; the only saving grace was that just two days after, I stepped on a plane to San Diego for my first-ever conference speaking gig. That trip was magical, offering a distraction from pointless introspection. Worse was 35; at that point, you’re half-way to 70 and the phrase “middle aged” starts to crop up. You’re less culturally aligned with your younger friends, but (at least for me) not really settled into a long-term life trajectory. It’s an awkward period, especially if you’re not ensnared in the domestic bliss of spouse and children and white picket fences and minivans. You don’t necessarily fit anywhere. You’re too old to say within the immediate-post-college crowd; you’re too young to spend afternoons on the golf course reminiscing about the Viet Cong. You’re too old to shop at Abercrombie & Fitch; you’re too young to shop at J.C. Penney. You just kinda exist in a grey zone.

But 40? Bah. Just another day.

My thinking about aging has simmered down the last few years. A big part of this serenity relates to the dawning self-awareness that with age comes experience, and that experience brings real benefits. Nowhere does that perspective shine more strongly than at work, where the 20-something fresh-outta-college people we often hire seem to be distracted by irrelevancies. I hear the things that cause them so much angst and say to myself, “Self, that’s a whole lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” In other words: Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, threw the T-shirt in the trash. They spend a lot of time worrying about things that don’t matter. Then again, at that age, I did, too. It’s liberating being on the other side of that divide.

The last few years, with my promotion into management and arrival on various boards of directors and running a small business on the side, have engendered experiences an order of magnitude removed from worrying about who said what on Facebook and which party to attend on the coming weekend. Plus, a solid mid-career professional existence provides means and assets that remain out the reach of younger adults. The stakes are different, so the betting strategy adjusts accordingly.

I am aware, as I occasionally peruse this blog’s archives (I’ve been writing at A Mild Voice of Reason since I was 29!), that at times I’ve raged about getting older or about finding purpose in ways that are, in retrospect, incredibly whiny. Those posts provide milestones along my evolution from pseudo-sophisticated 20-something to a calmer, more focused 40-year-old. And I’m OK with that. I think at some point, you have to stop looking at life as something to be manicured and just live it.

I’m actually pretty happy with my life now. The basics are so well established that I don’t think about them — I don’t worry about covering the rent, I drive a newish car, all the things that should be insured are fully covered, I have a healthy retirement account going, the cats never run out of food — thus freeing more time to focus on other things of greater substance. Like Caffeinated Press. Or my personal writing. Or NAHQ. Or my career at Priority Health. Or the podcast. Or my outdoor hobbies.

But getting there wasn’t always easy, and the barriers were pretty much all of my own making. I wasted that critical 16-to-21 period by making bad choice after bad choice; it was really only the disapprobation of my grandfather (I can’t believe it’s been 11 years ago, this week, that he passed away) that nudged me off a self-destructive path. My family teed me up perfectly for a life of high success. If I’ve managed to achieve middling success, it’s because I pissed away the advantages they bequeathed to me but managed to get lucky with a partial recovery.

My 20s weren’t solid. I was a long-term student. I had a decent job, but didn’t really focus on it. I spent a lot of time in coffee shops, plotting big things that never came to fruition because if I actually tried to execute, but failed, then I’d deal a fatal wound to my own personal mythos of smug omnipotence.

My early 30s were the worst. They started off well enough, with a newfound appreciation for fitness and a devotion to exercise and martial arts. But then I got sick. And made more self-defeating choices, to boot. It wasn’t until five or six years ago that I really re-founded myself, mostly by recognizing that aspiration is nice but it doesn’t pay the bills. And, gee, you really do have to pay the bills. A certain shame at not really being a grown-up offers a powerful, if unplanned, motivation to clean up one’s act.

Many years ago I started a running goal list. Some of those goals, I’ve written about; others, not so much. That list sits in one of my OneNote notebooks, so I can see how it’s changed over the years. Some items that seemed so important six years ago now amuse me. Some current items would have never struck me as being important in those days. Other items have been checked off as successes. Still others remain, their staying power helping me to recognize what’s constant and giving me a focus for my future efforts.

I’ve learned that being busy matters, but only if you’re occupied with meaningful work. I’ve learned that obsessing about love and lust is a sure-fire tell that you haven’t yet learned to love yourself, and that when you finally do love yourself for who you are, the Captain Ahab pursuit of romance seems silly. And at some point, you have to welcome the occasional failure as an opportunity to thrive, and as an object lesson in (finally) overcoming imposter syndrome and all the painfully awkward justifications that prop it up.

Today, I turn 40. And you know what? It’s just another day. What matters isn’t the number, but what you do with the hours allotted to you.

Make yours count.

Laborin’ on Labor Day

I took off Friday, and this coming Tuesday, from the day job to focus on stuff at Caffeinated Press. Making hella-good progress, too.

Some updates:

  • Book Projects Complete.  Yesterday, in an all-day marathon, I performed my finishing touches on the Brewed Awakenings 2 anthology. The project is overdue by almost exactly a year. Yesterday evening, I sent full/complete proofs of the interior and cover to all 14 authors; so far, three have responded, all positively. Except in the highly unlikely scenario of a major edit request, this collection will be released in about three weeks. Today, keeping the theme alive, I did final wrap up on Grayson Rising — also horribly overdue — and sent the proofs of this delightful YA novel to the author. And I finished the first-pass cut of the interior of Ladri, although I have about another hour or two of work on the cover, which I’ll complete when the author gives me a few pieces of info I need. And, John advises that he’ll wrap up the initial layout of Vol. 2, Issue 1 of The 3288 Review this weekend. So September looks like we’ll be wrapped up with four major projects. Which is a relief — the rest of the stuff in the production queue doesn’t hit until winter-ish. I’ll be able to head into November’s NaNo-fueled writing frenzy with a clean conscience that at least I’m not delayed on anything else.
  • Kerrytown Book Festival.  In a few weeks, I’m headed to Ann Arbor for the day to shop our wares at the KBF. Should be a good time. I’ll put the sales education I got from AmyJo to good use. If any of my peeps from East Mitten feel like stopping by ….
  • Submissions. I pulled a few more items from my vetted personal slush pile to submit to a pair of writing contests. I’ve got another submission due tomorrow, then a few more sprinkling through September. It’d be nice to win something, or to at least grow my publication list for fiction/poetry stuff. The current flash piece I’m shopping, Regret, is fairly strong thanks to the workshop I attended in July at the GLCL.
  • Birthday Lunch with Mom. Three weeks and a reschedule later, I finally took my mom out for lunch for her mid-August birthday. It was fun. But it’s funny that it took so long. We’re actually closer to my birthday than we were to hers. And I got to see Gunner, the happy-go-lucky but health-challenged German Shepherd.
  • WriteOn! Flash Critique. Last month, our illustrious writing-group leader, JCBAH, was gallivanting around Ireland and Scotland, so I offered the group an assignment: Prepare a flash piece of no more than 800 words for vetting by the group. As if by magic, eight of the nine participated (and the lone holdout has a really good excuse). The event went well. It’s good for the group to feel the pressure of critiques. We do really good on the pizza-and-socializing part, not always so good on the writing part.
  • National Novel Writing Month. Speaking of writing, I’m looking forward to the frenzy of NaNoWriMo again. I don’t have a fully fleshed idea yet, but some concepts are rollin’ round my noggin. I’m hosting, again, a kickoff Halloween event at Caffeinated Press: Show up after 6p on 10/31, bring a dish to pass, wear a costume if you want, and prep — with a word war to follow at 12:01 a.m. on 11/1. Should be a good time.
  • VLO on Schedule. Tony and I are back on track for weekly podcast releases. We went to every other week in July and August.
  • VIMFP.  I had discussed it briefly with Roux a while back, but it’s looking increasingly likely (odds now above 75 percent) that I’ll be attending the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic in October in Las Vegas. Tony, however, cannot attend. Which means the VIMFPers get an upgrade. 🙂
  • Outside Stuff. Jen (and her husband) and I have rescheduled our diving trip to Gilboa, Ohio for later this fall. And I think I’m going to take a late-September weekend — because I have some free time — to do an overnight backpacking trek near Cadillac. Neither of these are set in stone, but if I can do both, this marks the first year I’ve hit the diving/hiking/kayaking trifecta in a single season. Which will be nice.
  • Ye Olde Catholic Church. Last week I had the chance to meet a new friend, Jane, who’s an author we’ve worked with at Caffeinated Press. She and I enjoyed several beers and nachos at The Cottage one night. She and I spent the bulk of our time talking religion. Reminds me of the value of having a church home, but also reminds me of how painful the state of homiletics remains within Mother Church. No matter where I go — St. Anthony, St. Andrew, St. Robert, St. Mary — I’m struck by how superficial things feel. Perhaps a self-directed renewal during Advent will help.
  • Virtual Desktop. I created an account at PaperSpace.io — the company offers cheap but robust virtual Windows desktops. I picked a Pro offering and created a surprisingly awesome experience out of it. When I need to run the full Adobe Creative Suite on my Surface 3, it’s no problem. As long as I have Wi-Fi, that is.

I’m looking forward to the next few months. September — besides being my birth month — marks a pivot from summer into autumn. So far, the month looks to be fairly sedate, now that I’m fundamentally caught up at Caffeinated Press and the outlook for the next year does not include massive boluses of work I have to handle. October sees the transition into a glorious #PureMichigan autumn, with prep for NaNoWriMo and (presumably) VIMFP on the docket, leading toward my family’s kickoff of the holiday season with Halloween. November is a busy writing month, culminating with Thanksgiving and another five-day weekend. Then December, with a NAHQ board event in Orlando (I know, rough) and then two weeks’ holiday at the end of the month.

I think my anticipating is growing because more and more things are firing on all cylinders. The norovirus-induced weight loss continues. I feel better. Less stress at the day job and at Caffeinated Press, one vexing writer notwithstanding. My writing is solidifying. My financial situation is stable and healthy. I plan to get my Christmas shopping done by the end of this month. Life with the feline overlords remains pleasant. The podcast is doing well. The governance transition within the NAHQ board is starting to gel.

A couple of things are missing — a tighter degree of spiritual centeredness, perhaps acquiring a Significant Other — but those are solvable problems, and they’re not immediately pressing.

The Starks remind us that Winter Is Coming. I say, bring it on.

Laborin' on Labor Day

I took off Friday, and this coming Tuesday, from the day job to focus on stuff at Caffeinated Press. Making hella-good progress, too.
Some updates:

  • Book Projects Complete.  Yesterday, in an all-day marathon, I performed my finishing touches on the Brewed Awakenings 2 anthology. The project is overdue by almost exactly a year. Yesterday evening, I sent full/complete proofs of the interior and cover to all 14 authors; so far, three have responded, all positively. Except in the highly unlikely scenario of a major edit request, this collection will be released in about three weeks. Today, keeping the theme alive, I did final wrap up on Grayson Rising — also horribly overdue — and sent the proofs of this delightful YA novel to the author. And I finished the first-pass cut of the interior of Ladri, although I have about another hour or two of work on the cover, which I’ll complete when the author gives me a few pieces of info I need. And, John advises that he’ll wrap up the initial layout of Vol. 2, Issue 1 of The 3288 Review this weekend. So September looks like we’ll be wrapped up with four major projects. Which is a relief — the rest of the stuff in the production queue doesn’t hit until winter-ish. I’ll be able to head into November’s NaNo-fueled writing frenzy with a clean conscience that at least I’m not delayed on anything else.
  • Kerrytown Book Festival.  In a few weeks, I’m headed to Ann Arbor for the day to shop our wares at the KBF. Should be a good time. I’ll put the sales education I got from AmyJo to good use. If any of my peeps from East Mitten feel like stopping by ….
  • Submissions. I pulled a few more items from my vetted personal slush pile to submit to a pair of writing contests. I’ve got another submission due tomorrow, then a few more sprinkling through September. It’d be nice to win something, or to at least grow my publication list for fiction/poetry stuff. The current flash piece I’m shopping, Regret, is fairly strong thanks to the workshop I attended in July at the GLCL.
  • Birthday Lunch with Mom. Three weeks and a reschedule later, I finally took my mom out for lunch for her mid-August birthday. It was fun. But it’s funny that it took so long. We’re actually closer to my birthday than we were to hers. And I got to see Gunner, the happy-go-lucky but health-challenged German Shepherd.
  • WriteOn! Flash Critique. Last month, our illustrious writing-group leader, JCBAH, was gallivanting around Ireland and Scotland, so I offered the group an assignment: Prepare a flash piece of no more than 800 words for vetting by the group. As if by magic, eight of the nine participated (and the lone holdout has a really good excuse). The event went well. It’s good for the group to feel the pressure of critiques. We do really good on the pizza-and-socializing part, not always so good on the writing part.
  • National Novel Writing Month. Speaking of writing, I’m looking forward to the frenzy of NaNoWriMo again. I don’t have a fully fleshed idea yet, but some concepts are rollin’ round my noggin. I’m hosting, again, a kickoff Halloween event at Caffeinated Press: Show up after 6p on 10/31, bring a dish to pass, wear a costume if you want, and prep — with a word war to follow at 12:01 a.m. on 11/1. Should be a good time.
  • VLO on Schedule. Tony and I are back on track for weekly podcast releases. We went to every other week in July and August.
  • VIMFP.  I had discussed it briefly with Roux a while back, but it’s looking increasingly likely (odds now above 75 percent) that I’ll be attending the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic in October in Las Vegas. Tony, however, cannot attend. Which means the VIMFPers get an upgrade. 🙂
  • Outside Stuff. Jen (and her husband) and I have rescheduled our diving trip to Gilboa, Ohio for later this fall. And I think I’m going to take a late-September weekend — because I have some free time — to do an overnight backpacking trek near Cadillac. Neither of these are set in stone, but if I can do both, this marks the first year I’ve hit the diving/hiking/kayaking trifecta in a single season. Which will be nice.
  • Ye Olde Catholic Church. Last week I had the chance to meet a new friend, Jane, who’s an author we’ve worked with at Caffeinated Press. She and I enjoyed several beers and nachos at The Cottage one night. She and I spent the bulk of our time talking religion. Reminds me of the value of having a church home, but also reminds me of how painful the state of homiletics remains within Mother Church. No matter where I go — St. Anthony, St. Andrew, St. Robert, St. Mary — I’m struck by how superficial things feel. Perhaps a self-directed renewal during Advent will help.
  • Virtual Desktop. I created an account at PaperSpace.io — the company offers cheap but robust virtual Windows desktops. I picked a Pro offering and created a surprisingly awesome experience out of it. When I need to run the full Adobe Creative Suite on my Surface 3, it’s no problem. As long as I have Wi-Fi, that is.

I’m looking forward to the next few months. September — besides being my birth month — marks a pivot from summer into autumn. So far, the month looks to be fairly sedate, now that I’m fundamentally caught up at Caffeinated Press and the outlook for the next year does not include massive boluses of work I have to handle. October sees the transition into a glorious #PureMichigan autumn, with prep for NaNoWriMo and (presumably) VIMFP on the docket, leading toward my family’s kickoff of the holiday season with Halloween. November is a busy writing month, culminating with Thanksgiving and another five-day weekend. Then December, with a NAHQ board event in Orlando (I know, rough) and then two weeks’ holiday at the end of the month.
I think my anticipating is growing because more and more things are firing on all cylinders. The norovirus-induced weight loss continues. I feel better. Less stress at the day job and at Caffeinated Press, one vexing writer notwithstanding. My writing is solidifying. My financial situation is stable and healthy. I plan to get my Christmas shopping done by the end of this month. Life with the feline overlords remains pleasant. The podcast is doing well. The governance transition within the NAHQ board is starting to gel.
A couple of things are missing — a tighter degree of spiritual centeredness, perhaps acquiring a Significant Other — but those are solvable problems, and they’re not immediately pressing.
The Starks remind us that Winter Is Coming. I say, bring it on.