Annual Birthday Reflection, Vol. XXXIX

In the wee hours of Saturday, the 12th of September, my cousin Nicole delivered a healthy, happy baby girl. Emma is adorable; Facebook proves it. Emma’s arrival, just three scant days before my 39th birthday, is worth a moment’s reflection.

Let’s begin with today. I got up a bit before 7 a.m. and put my pants on, one leg at a time, as per usual. I expended considerable quality time rubbing the soft underbellies of both Murphy and Fiona before trudging to the office. The day was filled with sundry tasks, broken up by a birthday-driven Fancy Carrot Cake Showdown for which Brittany and Luke each brought — you guessed it — a fancy carrot cake into the office. (Both were tasty.) I left right around 5 p.m. and drove to my mom’s house, where I got a card and a mini cheesecake and the chance to visit with Gunner the Mighty German Shepherd. Then, off to the Caffeinated Press office until around 10 p.m., putting the finishing touches on the 2015 ArtPrize anthology sponsored by the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters and the Cascade Writers’ Group (we’re publishing their edited work). And now, one Lean Cuisine and one glass of diet Coke later, here I sit, in my home office, blogging merrily.

Fancy Carrot Cake Showdown
Fancy Carrot Cake Showdown

Throughout this pleasant but fairly unremarkable day, my mind wandered to thoughts about how my thinking has evolved over the last year. The biggest “surprise” was how much my priorities have pivoted toward two themes: Mastering the Basics, and Cultivating Excellence.

Mastering the Basics

This will sound bad, but hey — I’m a single male. So here goes.

You know when you’re “younger” and certain chore-like subjects don’t seem as pressing? Well, now they matter. Stuff like monitoring my 403(b) account, ensuring full and appropriate life/health/auto/renters insurance, paying bills on time, keeping the bedding clean, paying down the student loans, disinfecting the bathroom, etc. Routine activities, but part and parcel of life’s delayed-gratification busywork. Maybe the married-with-children thing forces a degree of discipline early, but for me and for friends similarly situated, we’ve been able to skate by without having to be excessively disciplined. But now that discipline is starting to assert itself naturally.

The joke with a subset of my friends is that “#Adulting is Hard,” but there’s an element of truth to the claim. Like transitioning from the Grasshopper into the Ant.

Cultivating Excellence

When I think about my top priorities for the next year, they’re not “fun” in any meaningful sense, but in an odd sort of way, I’m eager to attack them. The biggies are a counterassault in the Battle of the Bulge, returning to school for a master’s degree and publishing a novel with a press other than my own. Secondarily, it’s master-diver certification and an overseas trip.

I think it’s important to be excellent at something, or several things. I’m a fan of the Jack of All Trades approach to expertise, but even Jack can become an exemplar of excellence in a few specific areas. Genial generalists are nice people, but excellence is a survival strategy.

A decade ago, I fancied keeping my options open. Now, I realize that excellence opens doors that lead to even more options. A decade ago, I obsessed over dating, video games and running. Now, I have no time for games, no burning desire to dive into the dating pool and no luxury to just lace up and head out. A decade ago, I had a job. Now, I have two separate careers.

* * *

So now the clock will tick over another day, just as today has ticked another tock on life’s odometer. I’m neither happy nor sad about another birthday. All I know is, time’s a-wastin’, and much remains to be done.