Las Vegas Trip Report

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

Las Vegas: Day One

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

Las Vegas: Day Two … ZorkFest!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Las Vegas: Day Five

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

The Voyage Home

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

18 Years Later …

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

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

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

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

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

Days Flying By

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

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

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

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

From the back cover:

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

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

Division by Zero: Double Take

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

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

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

Get Published! 2018 Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, 2017—At Least You Tried!

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

2017: The Timeline


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


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


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


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


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


  • Welcomed Tabitha to the CafPress board of directors.


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


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


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



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


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


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

The Year Ahead

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

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

Then I look at my bucket list.

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

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

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

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

End of the Year Catch-Up!

… and just like that, it’s the second half of December.
When I left the Priority Health office on Thursday afternoon, I began an extended vacation period that doesn’t end until the morning of January 4. So far, I’m off to a good start. On Thursday I had dinner with Chris and Sheri after work, then did a focus group for the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters at the Craft Beer Cellar. On Friday, I did some Christmas shopping, saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi and attended the annual holiday party of my social writing group—and I bought a Best Buy door-buster item, a 49-inch TV that will replace the sad 28-inch version that had been in my living room. Yesterday, I enjoyed the annual Christmas party hosted by my beloved grandmother, St. Dorothy the Matriarch.
Evenings have been consumed with reading, which is something of a novelty lately. Just finished A War Like No Other, a history of the Peloponnesian War by Victor Davis Hanson. The landlord re-cemented some of the bricks in my office fireplace, so I’ve been reading by the fire with an adult beverage and a lap cat. Very serene.
But despite the “vacation” label, it’s not really a time of vacation. I’m not going anywhere, save a one-night trek to Chicago for a NAHQ planning session. Instead, I’ll be at my home office (mostly) or the Caffeinated Press office (occasionally) to get caught up on all the stuff I intended to do in 2017 but haven’t yet managed to finish.
This year, I’m doing something different. Instead of just looking at my mile-long task list, I’ve affinitized my tasks (I use Todoist) into projects. What’s new is that I’ve scheduled these Todoist projects by day, so each project has an assigned day:

  • 12/15: Christmas shopping
  • 12/18: Professional associations and consulting
  • 12/19: Reading list curation & content/distribution strategy for my erotica novellas
  • 12/20: Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters
  • 12/21: Personal writing projects
  • 12/22: Politics and health & wellness
  • 12/23: Vice Lounge Online
  • 12/26: Personal hobbies
  • 12/27: Caffeinated Press (marketing, seminars, the lit journal, governance)
  • 12/28: Personal finance & home stuff (filing, deep cleaning)
  • 12/29: Caffeinated Press (finance, operations, editorial)
  • 12/30: Caffeinated Press (transition work for the lit journal)

Overlaying all of this is my current consulting work for DotDash and ongoing Caffeinated Press work doing manuscript reads and some editing/development work on our anthology and two novels in progress. And I’m taking the actual holiday-days off entirely as downtime.
I think my to-do list is eminently reasonable and will clear the deck for a strong start into 2018.
If you, dear reader, take some vacation, I hope it’s safe, happy, healthy and relaxing!

An October Update

After a brief stretch of unseasonably warm weather in late September, West Michigan has unambiguously slipped into autumn. I look out my home-office window—the air is nice, with that charming mix of cool and moist that suggests “tailgate season”—and I see more and more orange and red amidst the green. Squirrels scamper with earnestness. Bugs are vanishing. Things slow down.

“Winter is coming,” I’m told. And I hope it does. I’m excited for this year’s holiday season. In my head, it kicks off with my mid-September birthday, which marks for me the end of summer (Labor Day doesn’t do it for me) and the beginning of “winter Lent.” Then October sees the tree transitions and sweater weather and writing prep that culminates in Halloween—holiday season kickoff!—and the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. Thanksgiving re-grounds me with family and marks a pivot point for NaNo. And as soon as the mad-dash of writing is over, I pivot to Christmas and then take two or three weeks off from the day job to recharge, etc. It’s a great time of the year, even in years when I’m not “feelin’ it.”

So today seems like as good of a time as any to offer some updates, offered as usual in no particular order, but as always under the watchful gaze of my feline overlords.

VLO’s Summer Vacation. Tony and I took a half-vacation (i.e., work slowdown) in late July and throughout August; as of September, we were back to a normal weekly podcasting schedule. The upside to VLO now rolling in its sixth year is that we’re stable and mature. And, of course, that we have thousands of downloaders and hundreds of engaged listeners on Twitter, Facebook, the blog, etc. Given that we don’t monetize this program—it’s a hobby and labor of love—the response by people all across the world has been fantastic. And for almost all of the shows for September and October, our alcohol segments came to us free of charge courtesy of gifts from our listeners. It’s a ton of work, but it’s a joyful thing.

NAHQ @ Cincinnati. On my birthday, I flew to Cincinnati for the back-to-back board meeting and educational conference for the National Association for Healthcare Quality. It was a professionally rewarding experience. Being a board member means that the conference is tightly scheduled for us. Six days, five nights. But what made it personally rewarding was the deep camaraderie among the current members of the board and the great cadre of seasoned, senior volunteers who work with us. NAHQ is about to go into a very tight period where the organization pivots from an association-management model (i.e., a separate company “manages” the association, hires the staff, provides the office, etc.) to a fully stand-alone model where the association itself handles all its own operations, leases its own offices, hires its own team, stands up its own I.T., etc. This is a huge deal. We’re bigger than most groups that make the independent pivot and we have only about a quarter of the time the average group enjoys to make the move … but our staff are awesome (almost all are leaving the management company to be hired by NAHQ outright) and our finances are rock-solid. It’ll be a heavy lift, but it’ll be done with finesse and—we expect—utterly transparently to our thousands of dues-paying members.

Jot That Down. I’m pleased to share that Jot That Down: Encouraging Essays for New Writers has been successfully released. I worked with A. L. Rogers, the book’s editor, to get it produced in print. It’s a great resource for new/aspiring writers, covering a variety of topics and genres in an easy-to-digest manner. Currently available for purchase for $14.95 from Caffeinated Press or by special order from your local independent bookseller.

Other CafPress books. And speaking of Jot That Down, I’ve wrapped up Isle Royale from the AIR, an anthology edited by Phillip Sterling that collects stories, poems and art from former artists-in-residence at Isle Royale National Park. I’m also in the production phase of Brewed Awakenings 3, our annual anthology, and Off the Wall: How Art Speaks, a collection of poetry and art co-developed by Elizabeth Kerlikowske and Mary Hatch. And final edits are due from the advance review copy for Ladri, a novel by Andrea Albright. Barring disaster, each of these books should be in-scope for a boost event we’ll host at the end of the month. Two more novels await this year—Kim Bento’s Surviving the Lynch Mob and Barbara David’s A Tale of Therese—plus Jennifer Morrison’s local-history book The Open Mausoleum Door, then I’m caught up with production across all of our lines of business.

NaNoWriMo. NaNo’s coming, so that means that I’ve had to (a) re-curate my author page and (b) think about what I’m going to work on. I think my technical focus will be on sharpening conflict and using that conflict to be the primary driver of the plot (instead of my usual, which is to let the plot drive the conflict). The story itself will be another bite at a Jordan Sanders murder mystery because I’m well-acquainted with the characters in this universe. But I still have three weeks to nail down my idea.

Grand River Writing Tribe. The Tribe has been together for 10 months now, and it’s been going gangbusters. People are participating. Getting published. Supporting each other. Without a regular, focused critique group, a writer stands at a significant disadvantage. GRWT meets twice monthly for three hours, combining critiques, focused education and dedicated writing time. And we still welcome potential new applicants!

Juicing. So this happened. On October 1, a scant week ago, I began a significant diet program. I had purchased a juicer and accessories. For several days, I had nothing but fruit and vegetable juice. Then, on the advice of clinicians at work, I’ve migrated to a part-juice, part-good-food regimen. So it’s been juices with a little bit of, e.g., shredded chicken or sushi or carrot/celery sticks. The thing is, I’m avoiding all processed sugars, alcohol, refined carbs, etc. Not even doing my traditional Lean Cuisines. It’s either juice I prepared myself, or plain shredded chicken or sashimi without the rice. (Tonight, I’m making a salmon fillet with asparagus.) Already down five pounds in a week. And although the diet part isn’t hard—I really like what I’m consuming—what’s been more interesting is the level of planning I’ve had to do. Actually preparing a shopping list (“I need this many swiss chard leaves, this many pears, this many ounces of blueberries …”) and planning my evening schedule around my dinner schedule has been both illustrative and challenging. And now that I bought an elliptical, which just got set up in my living room—whoa! Credit to my friend Tony who did a 30-day juice diet in May (and lost a ton of weight!) and who remains incredibly supportive even when I mock him unfairly for becoming a vegan.

The Great Outdoors. Tomorrow, a half-day kayaking trip beckons, with Jen, Brittany and Steve. Next Saturday, I’m doing a day hike on a section of the North Country Trail in the Manistee National Forest.

Home Shopping Spree. With the annual management bonus we received at the day job, I was able to pay off some bills, pay other bills early and invest a bit in both Caffeinated Press and my own home front. Of note, with the mid-summer swap of my bedroom and my office, I had to buy all new bedroom furniture. That’s done: Dresser, headboard, vanity with bench. Then some odds-and-ends, including the aforementioned elliptical, some knickknacks like candles and new lamps, a full-length mirror and a stool for the bathroom, and a replacement computer. My “normal” all-in-one home computer is very old and has been intermittently hostile, so it’s been retired to be a dedicated writing machine at my dedicated writing desk. The new machine—the first upgradeable tower PC I’ve owned since, I think, 2005—is an iBuyPower box with a quad-core i7-7700 processor, 16 GB of RAM and a 3GB GPU (GeForce GTX 1060). In all, a decent if not bleeding-edge machine. The only real hesitation I had with it is that it appears to have been designed by a 13-year-old boy, with proliferating LED lights (that I covered with electrical tape!) and a keyboard that looked like a l337 toddler toy. Picked up a 27-inch monitor for it; almost got two but I’m glad I didn’t because with it and the 17-inch aux monitor I already had, I’m literally out of room on my desk. I literally cannot fit two 27-inch monitors. Anyway, Duane, if you see this: “SIXTEEN GIGS OF RAM.”

Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters. It’s an exciting time at GLCL. The board has been discussing a very, very robust programming schedule for 2018 as well as rebranding and an expansion of the board. A ton of work, to be sure, but I think it’ll help focus the organization and promote local literary citizenship. More to come.

All for now. May your autumn Winter Lent warm your soul even if it chills your toes!

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.


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.