Birthday Reflection, Part XLIII

A week ago today, I inaugurated my 43rd spin ’round the sun as a tiny fleshy dot upon this big blue marble. Using a process I call “math,” I discovered that such a number is smack-dab between the ages of 18 and 68. Which means I’m at the midpoint between the transition into adulthood from childhood, and the transition from adulthood into that second childhood known as retirement.

Well, then.

Casual readers of this award-winning, fan-favorite blog have no doubt noticed a general decline in posting frequency over 2019. Such relative quiescence isn’t accidental. In fact, it’s coupled with something else I did — banishing Facebook.

(Okay, banish is too strong a word. I deleted the app off my phone and today marked the first time in roughly six weeks that I logged in through a browser. I’m not deleting the app — I administer some business accounts — but for all practical purposes, I’m off FB. This situation will likely endure. So if you’ve got great news to share, please email me.)

Anyway, I’m overdue for an update, given that the last one was five months ago. I’m writing in the late evening, with the windows open an an early autumn rain pounding the driveway and the feline overlords unusually sedate. A perfect environment for writing, so to quote Sophia Petrillo: “Buckle up, slut puppy.” Here we go.

A Birthday Reflection

I don’t welcome my 43rd year with any bold new insight or special resolution. Instead, I merely observe that the horizon upon which I think and act seems to have lengthened, which has affected how I assess the relative value of any specific course of action. Once upon a time, I thought in terms of days and weeks. Later, I thought in terms of months. Now, I tend to think in years and decades.

What I mean is this: When I was in my 20s, I tended to consider what I was going to do “this week.” Maybe if money was tight, I’d have to think about how I’d pay the rent “next month.” It never occurred to me to think about “next year.” In my mid-to-late 30s, however, I pondered more about the goals I had for “next year” whereas “next week” was largely off-radar. That change of frame proved useful. I had advanced my career to the point where I didn’t need to think about how I was going to pay the rent or my car loan. I could therefore strategize, in the autumn, about a Vegas trip the following spring, for example.

In my early 40s, I find my life-strategy time focused more and more on how I’m going to tee myself up for retirement. Being single with no dependents, I have a lot of flexibility. But I also lose a bit of security because I can’t count on a spouse and maybe a few crumb-crunchers to circle around me when I’m wrinkled and grey. Planning for a transition from prime adulthood into old age means laying plans now. And although I don’t envision ever retiring per se, I do foresee a transition in stages from the burning-the-candle-at-both-ends life I’m now living, to a gradual stepdown in frenzy over many careful years of preparation. I aim to be the 85-year-old man brandishing a cane and a rapier wit, speaking at yet another book-launch party. Not the guy sitting on a rocking chair outside a by-the-month motel, sucking on an oxygen tank and worried about whether I’ll get a new power scooter to help with The Diabeetus.

I’ve been watching several of the YouTube lectures of Jordan B. Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist and faculty at the University of Toronto. He’s recently famous for some of his political controversies as well as his two major books, Maps of Meaning and The 12 Rules for Life. I read the latter book when it came out, and I’ve been reflecting on Peterson’s specific advice. Some of his ideas resonate, like the notion that life’s basically a bunch of suffering — don’t expect to be happy, but at least try to be less avoidably miserable. And that a life worth living takes a lifetime to build, “so get on with it, man.”

One does not become a wise, respected, less-miserable elder by default. So “get on with it,” indeed. More about that subject after we conduct a whirlwhind tour of the last few months.

My Summer in a Nutshell

Life since the tail-end of April has been, as they say, a box of chocolates:

Travel. I’ve gone to Las Vegas twice (May and August) with a bunch of friends from the Vegas-focused podcasting community. Tony and I trekked to Louisville for a long weekend over the Independence Day holiday, for distillery tours and gambling. I spoke at a conference in D.C. in June. I flew to Denton, Texas in late July to reconnect with my DDB/DICKS friends. I made a day trip to Chicago to meet with friends in May. I’ve been out of Michigan for at least part of each month, May through September.

Outdoors. Progress! I started flying lessons, although I’m pausing that initiative temporarily given how often I’ve been bounced among flight instructors (they need to get their $@%^ together). I’ve done a few day hikes, including along the North Country Trail. I’ll be kayaking this coming Saturday on the Grand River with my friend Scott. Went scuba diving a few times in inland Michigan, and gave my updated gear a nice shakedown. Completed some great courses through Fortune Bay Expedition Team, including a hot-weather medicine class and a day-long river-rescue course on the Rogue River.

Reading. My reading slowed a bit over the summer because I’ve been preoccupied with writing — an acceptable tradeoff. But I’ve managed to devour George F. Will’s The Conservative Sensibility and Kevin D. Williamson’s The Smallest Minority. That said, I’ve also purchased a ton of books that sit on my to-be-read shelf. Twenty-four titles await review, ranging from books about moral theory and literary editing standards, to Jim Harrison’s Off to the Side. I look forward to colder weather and its invitation to build roaring wood fires in my office fireplace while enjoying soft Bach, a fuzzy blanket, a good book and a purring lap cat.

Writing. I’ve been writing so much that my fingertips hurt. I’m closing in on the 100k-word mark for From Pencil to Print, my reference book for emerging writers. I recently closed the first draft of the infamous (to me) Chapter 4, which focuses on the most common structural and mechanical problems I’ve encountered over five years of vetting cold queries. That chapter, believe it or not, clocks in at 25,000 words. But they’re good words. (Please, Lord, make them be good words.) I’ve also plunged headfirst into Delivering MIRACLES, a book about the proper staffing and structuring of healthcare quality teams. I’ve really struggled with the organization of this latter book, but during prep for a presentation I’m delivering in October, inspiration struck and now I’m really excited for this book because I think I “cracked the code.” And on a personal front, I recently released one of my erotica novellas on Amazon — under pseudonym, of course. And I really enjoyed the three-night writers’ retreat I did in August as well as my semimonthly meetings of the Grand River Writing Tribe.

Working. Nearly a year and a half after I left Priority Health, I’ve long since found solid contract work that’s replaced my former W-2 income. My major client right now — a New York media corporation — brought me aboard to perform technical document review full-time, and as such, I get to be a temporary W-2 employee of a tiny Florida-based payroll firm instead of a pure 1099 contractor managing invoices. The upshot is that in addition to an easier long-run tax position, I now enjoy decent medical, dental and vision benefits at very nice rates through this payroll firm. It’s still contract work that I negotiate, but through an agency instead of through direct invoicing. In addition, I’ve joined groups like the Small Business Association of Michigan, the Grand Rapids Chamber and the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. In fact, I sponsored a session at SBAM’s annual conference this year and moderated a panel on work-life balance. Professionally, even though I’ve been quiet, I’ve been busy on these books and on earned business.

My Autumnal Re-Centering

So, a good summer. But the autumn? Horse of a different color.

Whilst recreating in the Lone Star State, I had a bit of a health scare in the form of a significant attack of heartburn. So far, so anodyne, right? Happens to everyone at some point — but not to me. Long story short, I’m at a pivot point where an immediate health detour is necessary while a delayed or avoided detour will prove not-okay. Much of what’s going now on re-creates the end of 2004, so it’s familiar territory. Back then, I needed an EGD because I had significant esophageal erosions and scarring arising from mostly asymptomatic GERD. Plus, obesity. Plus, exhaustion. Plus, pre-diabetes. Plus, plus, plus. So in January 2005, I was in a do-or-(eventually)-die moment. So I did — I left grad school, left the newspaper, lost 110 pounds in 2005 (and another 30 pounds in 2006), got a gym membership and used it five or six times per week, started karate, took up long-distance running, etc. And I maintained those gains until mid-2009, when the quadruple-whammy of a major auto accident, several rapid changes of domicile, a new high-drama boss at the hospital, and a significant Vitamin D deficiency brought back something like 60 pounds in six months. Since then, I’ve been on a fairly regular cycle of plateau, stress response, re-plateau.

So, yes. It’s 2004 all over again, but even more so. I now need to repeat 2005, or else.

The funny thing is that I really don’t consciously perceive overt stress. I don’t suffer from depression and anxiety. My stress is more biological than psychological — I do too much and am spread too thin, but I’ve always been loathe to say no to things and to stop doing things that ought to be stopped, so I end up burning the candle at both ends and then dropping a match in the middle. And because there’s so much to do in parallel, everything progresses glacially, frustrating some and creating a negative feedback loop for me, emotionally, that eventually manifests physically.

It takes a significant shock to upset that cycle. And now, for the first time since 2004, the shock has been delivered.

The practical upshot is that I’m clearing the plate of almost everything. Call it the Great Purge of 2019. On an immediate front, I canceled my travel to Phoenix and Rome (the former for practical reasons related to health management). And I’m unwinding practically everything else. I resigned last week from my role on the Write616 board of directors. I discontinued participation in a peer-networking group online. I’m not yet ready, in the context of this blog, to fully disclose everything that’s changing, given that some readers here will be affected by some things that haven’t yet been announced in their proper context. Let it suffice that a lot of stuff is moving from my must-do column to my stop-do column between now and New Years Eve, but details will emerge in the official channels where those details more properly belong, in the days and weeks to come.

In 2005, I hit the reset button and stopped everything but my day job. What filled the gap proved largely unplanned. Not bad, but not planned. In 2019, I’m hitting the reset button again — but at least this time, I’ve got a strategery.

The Road Ahead

So what’s next?

Well, mid-September through the end of January will be a period of hibernation. No out-of-state travel. A lot of big rocks in my jar will move to different gardens by the end of the calendar year. I’ll be spending my days working and my nights reading and writing. A lot of the stuff that’s clogged my calendar and my to-do list now glides toward the dustbin, with some things — being more significant — requiring several months of transition. My mornings will begin with reflection and exercise; my nights will end with journaling.

My diet’s changing. In fact, it’s already changed, and apart from a beer after an NCT hike last Saturday, I haven’t had alcohol or a cigar since I podcasted with Tony two weeks ago, a fact made glaringly obvious when I stepped on the scale this morning and saw a 5-lb. reduction in just one week. I’m getting back into aerobic exercise with a determination borne of necessity. I intend to take two days each week for myself, a pure sabbath on Sunday and a maintenance Monday for clean-up, errands and personal time.

You are unlikely to see me on social media, but you may come across me at church — I recently joined Sacred Heart. You may find me at a writers’ group or a one-off local cultural activity. You might find me on the trail. Otherwise, you’ll find me at home.

But yes. Autumn began yesterday. I’m taking the season to hunker down. To be quiet. To do and to be and to fix.

Because I’m really excited for what 2020 holds, and I aim to be maximally ready for it.

Six Fruitful Weeks

Where to begin?

Over the third week in March, I traveled to the Crescent City for the 2019 New Orleans Bourbon Festival. Had a great time — stayed with Tony at the Harrah’s N.O. hotel/casino then welcomed the opportunity to meet with a dozen friends from as far away as California and Manitoba. A wonderful time, with wonderful people, and wonderful brown spirits, and wonderful culinary delights.

But here’s the thing: In an attempt to be clever, I opted to save a few hundred bucks by flying out of Chicago O’Hare instead of Grand Rapids. So to maximize my time working, I figured I’d take the Amtrak from Grand Rapids to downtown Chicago, then the L straight into O’Hare. In theory, it was a plan of unparalleled brilliance, foiled only by the fact that the train engineer suffered a heart attack, prompting a three-hour pause in St. Joseph, Michigan, and a sad Jason rebooking his flights to (a) arrive later than planned, and (b) to cost more than just flying outta G.R.

On the way back, given that I had plenty of time both on the train and at the (lovely) Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago Union Station, I waxed internally philosophic about the Big Meaning of Life questions.

Some conclusions:

  • I’d rather experience now than plan to experience later.
  • Bootstrapping big things isn’t a wise idea. To paraphrase my late, beloved grandfather: Anything worth doing is worth appropriately resourcing before you start. Seat-of-your-pants business development is a recipe for mediocrity.
  • My arch-nemesis, the Jonah Complex, thrives in those little minutes when it’s easier to surrender to acedia than to hone one’s game. Yet — just as with training a cat to avoid the near occasion of sin — it’s better to create an environment where the defaults are configured to channel good behaviors rather than indulging in self-flagellation at the point of failure.

In light of those reflections, I’ve spent a large amount of the month of April taking new stock of my portfolio of assets and liabilities — financial, emotional, experiential — with an eye toward (as they say) defecating or abdicating from the throne.

So here’s what’s happened this month:

  • I’ve paid off my car, heavily invested in my business enterprises and wiped away all my credit-card debt. (In fact, I’m writing this post from the Starbucks on Alpine Ave., while said car undergoes a much-needed interior and exterior detailing.)
  • I booked a week-long vacation to Italy for late summer. Never been to Europe, and don’t want to wait until I’m 70 to go. Itinerary includes Rome (my home-base hotel is a stone’s throw from the Vatican), Naples, Assisi and Capri. May take a brief side trip to either Florence or Venice, if time permits. Been doing some Duolinguo lessons to prepare.
  • I wrapped up my notes and paperwork for a paid speaking gig I’m doing in June in D.C.
  • I started flying lessons, out of West Michgian Regional in Holland. Went on my first flight last week and have two more flights scheduled this week, plus I attended a “how to pass your checkride” seminar with an FAA examiner. Cool stuff. On track to earn my private pilot license by the end of the summer, and I’m grateful to the support from my friends Patrick and Jason (both pilots) for their encouragement and advice. I’ve got a great, engaged instructor, which really makes a difference.
  • I replaced the BCD (the air vest) for my scuba gear and registered for enough specialty courses this summer to potentially earn Master Diver certification by the end of the season. I’m already booked for Feburary 2020 to visit Bonaire, a little Dutch island off the coast of Venezuela, for a dive trip with two diving friends.
  • I fleshed out and resourced Lakeshore Literary Logistics, a company that compliments Caffeinated Press. L3’s purpose is book-and-lit-journal distribution, not publishing. Although I still am active with Caffeinated Press, I’ve gotten almost completely out of editorial project management and am instead focused on L3 and distribution planning. On the CafPress front, John is focusing on the lit journal and Brittany is now handling editorial project management in addition to her work as CFO.
  • I’ve developed one of the books I’m working on, From Pencil to Print: Practical Advice for Emerging Authors, to roughly 50 percent complete. The manuscript presently stands at about 65,000 words, and I’ve already enlisted the support of one of my interns as well as a few writing colleagues to examine sample chapters. I might even have a guest author for a special-topics chapter lined up. A complete first draft will likely be ready to go by the end of the summer. Still haven’t decided whether I want to shop a proposal or self-publish, but I have time to figure it out.
  • The other book I’m developing, Introduction to Health Data Analytics, is now fully fleshed and I’ve got a kitchen cabinet of healthcare industry colleagues on board to review sample chapters. I’m expecting to be first-draft ready sometime over the upcoming winter.
  • My work with Gillikin & Associates is going well, albeit quietly. I’ve got a part-time client in New York that’s prompting me to be a bit less aggressive with marketing right now. I recently joined the Grand Rapids Chamber, the Small Business Association of Michigan and the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. Look forward to lots of professional networking over the next few months.
  • Although my travel schedule is fillling — right now, I’m booked for Chicago, Washington DC, Dallas, Las Vegas (twice), Rome, Phoenix and Louisville — I’m slotting in time this spring to do a kayak trip and, I think, an overnight backpacking loop.
  • A confluence of events conspires to draw me back into more regular church attendance. Part of it relates to just shifting priorities, and part of it relates to a dive into the minutiae of the Extraordinary Form (for both the Mass and the Divine Office) that migrated from curiosity to intrigue.
  • The podcast is going well. Vice Lounge released a 4-inch-by-six-inch flyer with basic strategy guides on one side and tasting trees on the other. A nice touch for long-time friends of the show.

So, yeah. I’ve been busy. And although I did pull a back muscle a few weeks ago that laid me up for a while, all is well. The feline overlords are content, and no immediate crises seem to be brewing.

It feels like things are coming together nicely, and that 2019 will be the year that several of my bucket-list items cross off the list.

An Auspicious Start

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

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

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

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.

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.

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!

Bidding a (Fond) Farewell to July 2017

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

Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sundry Professional Updates

From the work front:

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

Sundry Personal Updates

And on the home front:

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

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

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!

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