2019: A Year of Investment and Divestment

As themes go, 2019 presented a big one: Purposeful investment in new things and thoughtful divestment of old things. We’ll explore that idea in more detail after a quick wrap-up of the year gone by.

2019 in Review

January started on the right foot — literally and metaphorically — with a brisk hike with the FBET team at Yankee Springs on the morning of New Year’s Day, followed a few days later by a cigar contest at Grand River Cigar. I taught a “get fit to print” course at the office, I attended an arctic-medicine course at Metro Health, and — highlight of the month — I took my nephew Kyler by Amtrak for a day at the Adler Planetarium and the Chicago Field Museum (on the coldest day of Chicago’s winter, as it happened).

February brought the Chicagoland Casino Trip, wherein a dozen or so people gathered to visit Horseshoe Hammond, Harrah’s Joliet, Hollywood Joliet, Ameristar, Majestic Star, etc. A good weekend trip with my “casino/podcast” friends from around the country. That month also brought An Evening of Literary Luminescence to completion — a major fundraiser for Write616, with special guest Linda Nemec Foster.

In March, I offered my final round of intensive on-site interviews for our Caffeinated Press interns that year before handing over the keys to the internship program to Brittany. Then, off to the New Orleans Bourbon Festival. A dozen folks from across the country met for bourbon, cigars, food and frivolity in the Crescent City. My trip was (slightly) hamstrung by taking the Amtrak to Chicago and flying out of O’Hare; our train engineer had a “cardiac incident,” delaying us three hours and forcing me to rebook my flight. (He was fine, according to a conductor at the end of the trip.) But otherwise, it was a fabulous experience with wonderful people.

In April, I spent like a drunken fish: I paid off my car and my credit cards, booked some travel, knocked some items off my “to acquire” list, and re-geared myself for scuba. I also began flight lessons through Tulip City Air Service and enjoyed a 30-minute interview on WYCE radio about Write616 and the local literary community.

In May, we booked our package for this coming February’s diving trip to Bonaire. I attended the NAHQ Summit in Chicago — a good experience with good speakers. I taught an Author Platform course, too. At the end of the month, Tony and I flew first class to Las Vegas for 360 Vegas Vacation VII, which was a ton of fun … and profitable, in that I hit a royal flush at 50-cent video poker, good for a $2,000 hand pay.

In June, I hoofed it to Washington, D.C. to speak at the District of Columbia Hospital Association annual meeting. Plus, I completed a day-long river rescue course through FBET, followed by a desert-medicine course. I also began the first-wave expansion of the Grand River Writing Tribe, which entailed a new server and a new forum system. Toward the end of the month, I led a panel discussion (that I sponsored, through Gillikin & Associates) at the annual meeting of the Small Business Association of Michigan, which was keynoted by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The month ended on a high note with the wedding of Brice and AmyJo.

July started with an Independence Day Weekend trip to Louisville, with Tony. We spent a few days at the Horseshoe Southern Indiana (and one night at the Seelbach) and explored many different distilleries. Mid-month, I hosted a table at the Books Alive! event in Ludington. The peak of summer coincided with a long weekend in Denton, Texas, where I had the chance to meet with many of my North Texas friends and attend a meeting of the D.I.C.K.S.; as usual, Roux proved a gracious host.

August proved a bit more quiet, at least at the beginning. I attended the MiFiWriters annual writing retreat in Dowling, Michigan, for three nights. Always the highlight of my writing year. I also did a bit of diving, on one occasion supporting a dive instructor in the water at Lake Versluis as he conducted an open-water certification course for a student. On the 31st, I hopped aboard a jet plane with Tony to attend 360 Vegas Vacation VIII. I ended up getting a suite at the Linq from which I hosted the ticketed 360 Whiskey Lounge event.

In September, I began my updated diet-and-exercise routine, and at the end of the month my friend Scott and I kayaked the Grand River from Grandville to Eastmanville Bayou. The month was otherwise sedate. I had canceled a few things (my planned attendance at the NAHQ conference in Phoenix, my planned trip to Rome) because I really, really needed to begin that updated diet-and-exercise routine.

In October, I helped lead an NCTA day hike in northern Kent County. This month also started (a) regular Mass attendance at Sacred Heart, and (b) my “reading Sabbath” on Sundays, where I do nothing except go to church and otherwise spend the day reading.

November started with a speaking gig at the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality conference, conveniently held in Grand Rapids this year. As in keeping with prior-year commitments, I cut down on extracurricular activities to focus on National Novel Writing Month. I didn’t work on a novel; instead, I added nearly 40,000 words to my writing textbook-in-progress, From Pencil to Print: Practical Advice for Emerging Authors. I continued my tradition of hosting a Saturday-morning write-in at Spectrum Health. Plus, Thanksgiving featured the Indiana Relatives as well as my mom, grandmother and brother with his fam.

December offered a lovely wrap-up to the year. My dining-room ceiling (of which, 15 square feet of plaster fell from the ceiling in late September) finally got patched. Our WriteOn! annual Christmas potluck at AmyJo’s was a ton of fun, as was the GRWT potluck I hosted. I helped lead another NCTA hike, this time on the NCT through Seidman Park. The annual family Christmas parties (at my grandmother’s, and my mother’s) were both a ton of fun. I hosted a “Snacky Day” of games and booze and finger foods, attended by my mom, my brother and his wife, and my nephew. Tony came to town for a weekend so we could launch his Michigan Constitution podcast. And I finished the month — just this morning — with a first phone interview for a potentially fascinating local analytics-leadership job.


On the whole, 2019 was a good year. But early on, I experienced a serious cash crunch — exacerbated by some at-the-time spottiness with my major contract client — that hit home the value of re-thinking everything on my plate. So beginning in late winter, I began thinking of ways to extricate myself from things that offered a low return on my investments of time and treasure:

  • Write616 — Although I loved the mission of this non-profit organization, Write616 featured too few hands trying to do too much work. In particular, our major fundraiser in February was hosted and executed by just Lisa and I. The experience itself was lovely; Linda Nemec Foster and W. Todd Kaneko delivered excellent readings, Robin Connell Trio offered beautiful live music and the food from Grand Valley State University was a delight. But it was a lot, for a relatively little reward. Ultimately, I had to conclude that the mission of the group was not aligned to the community’s willingness to engage. So after donating several thousand dollars and hundreds of hours of uncompensated time as board treasurer, I called it quits in September. So did Lisa, who resigned as executive director. The organization no longer exists.
  • Caffeinated Press — Five of us founded CP in 2014, and later that year we released Brewed Awakenings, an anthology of stories written and edited by the WriteOn! group. We grew. We published a lot, relatively speaking, and enjoyed great success with The 3288 Review, which John spearheaded. We supported nearly a dozen interns for academic credit over the years. Yet our unwieldy management structure and our not-for-profit activities in a for-profit business shell meant that the price of each victory came at a dear cost opaque to our authors and the larger community. In 2019 alone, I contributed nearly $15,000. That level of investment isn’t sustainable, and the price I paid in my physical and emotional health (it’s not easy being the guy everyone yells at when things outside of his control aren’t being done, on top of getting yelled at for things that are) didn’t mesh with my need to radically alter my health trajectory. So in early autumn, we agreed to shut the company down. Effective today, actually.
  • BMI — This year I hit a high point of weight I hadn’t experienced since 2004, just before I reset myself in 2005 and lost 110 pounds that year. I end 2019 down 25 or so pounds, which puts me on a 2014-level footing. And the trajectory moves in the right direction. A massive, painful heartburn attack in Denton (the first I ever had) proved to be an early indicator, but the real kick in the butt came in August, with that lake-dive excursion. I learned the hard way that my cardiopulmonary function was so weak that I needed to breathe “more” than what the regulator delivers, and that was for an easy certification dive where all I did was hold the buoy. I then weighed myself and took my blood pressure and checked my resting O2 sats, and recognized that derailment was imminent. On top of it, my old nemesis of dysphagia came back for a visit, the result of esophageal strictures arising from GERD, leading to me being extra careful about what I could eat, and how quickly, lest things get messy. (It only takes one nosebleed from regurgitating raw carrots to remind you of the value of not having this trouble to begin with.) So I went on a 30-day-no-alchohol regimen and ramped up diet compliance. All those red warning lights from mid-year are starting to flicker off, or change to yellow. My 2020 goal is to get them all fully green again.

In addition, in December, Grand River Cigar closed unexpectedly, arising from disputes among the business owners. I wasn’t there all the time, but I was there enough (and smoking enough cigars and drinking enough beer) that although I’ll miss the place, it’s probably a good idea for my health status that it’s not such a convenient and welcoming establishment any longer.


Wrapping up my roles with Caffeinated Press and Write616 opens a wide door for 2020, when those cost-and-time gains will be most clearly realized. A lot of my November and December have been focused on wind-down activities, but it’s time with a purpose, so that’s good.

And some things are changing, like Vice Lounge, which sees Tony depart, but me keeping a modified form of the show going into the new year.

The question, though, is — what comes next?

A handful of things, actually.

  1. Writing. I’ve always fit my own writing into bits and spurts where I could, but I must prioritize this effort. My professional work (the healthcare quality consulting and the publishing work) both depend on the prompt completion of my two major projects — From Pencil to Print and Delivering MIRACLES: Staffing a High-Performing Healthcare Quality Team. So more formal, protected, planned writing time already is interweaving into my weekly routine. And, of course, upping the game for the Grand River Writing Tribe helps on that front.
  2. Reading. It turns out, taking one day each week to read lets you … get books read. Who’d have thunk it? So the “Sunday Reading Sabbath” will continue beyond the October-December experiment, now baked into my weekly routine.
  3. Outside. I got some hiking/diving/kayaking/flying time in this year, but I fit it in where I could, and when “other things” got in the way, my time for those activities was the first to be slashed. With fewer “other things,” I hope to get my 100 NCT miles in 2020 as well as some more time doing FBET courses, overnight loop hikes and diving. When revenue permits, I intend to finish my pilot’s license, as well.
  4. Inside. The return to church goes hand-in-hand with a greater willingness engage in deliberate self-care, both of my emotional health and of my physical health. The trajectory since September has been awesome; it must continue, and with significantly fewer stressors in the post-CafPress era, that goal becomes easier.
  5. Consulting. I’m setting a revenue target of $10k per month. Not unreasonable, but it means I have to get crackin’ on finishing this $%&#@ book. The book itself won’t make me money, but the fact of its existence is a professional legitimizer in an industry where either books or MD licenses are the key to respectability.
  6. Publishing. CafPress is going away, but with 20 years’ experience in the editing-publishing space, I’m not calling it quits. I’m launching (probably in late winter, when I think From Pencil to Print will be ready) two new initiatives: Diction Dude, an author-consulting group focused on education (in-person paid trainings, a paid newsletter, a podcast), and Lakeshore Literary, a publishing-and-distribution company that will continue the distro aspect it already has, but it’ll also add three publishing imprints. One focuses on traditional micro-press releases, one on hybrid releases and one on issuing a branded series of public-domain classics with brief intro essays. Significantly, these initiatives will not feature business partners, and they’ll be more revenue-first instead of mission-first. I cannot continue to invest in non-revenue-generating goodwill projects anymore.
  7. Connecting. I did a decent job over 2019 of maintaining personal and professional relationships through lunches, cigar nights and various group activities. For example, I enjoyed lunch with Patrick and cigars with Scott usually once a month or so, and lunches with my old Priority Health colleagues quarterly-ish. But I can do more — in particular, with my family.

I suspect 2020 will not look much like 2019. I spent a lot of money in the year now closing, but much of it was an investment in my future success. Now, I need to get these books done and better protect my self-care time. I’ve always planned big and delivered medium, because a lot of my time was spent on high-resource, low-return activities that often got in the way of other parts of my life plan. With the biggest of these now off the table, I have fewer excuses to not deliver as big as I plan.

My stretch goal? To relocate my domicile. I’ve been in the same place for nine years. I’ve long resisted buying a house, but at this point I’m paying a very large amount of money for an increasingly dilapidated living space. Moving will be disruptive, but it’ll also likely prove necessary to bring my costs down and my sanity up.

An exciting time. Happy new year!

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.

Good Riddance, 2016!

Perhaps the ultimate slap-in-the-face parting gift 2016 bequeaths to us is the addition of a leap second. Yes, 2016 will be one second longer. Enjoy it. Enjoy a brief moment longer of a year decried by many in social media as a genuine annus horribilis.

From my point of view, 2016 was a “meh” year. Unremarkable on many fronts, but not awful. I’ll review the timeline, then dive into a few reflections before wrapping up with a few public new-year resolutions.

Year in Review

The TL;DR version is: busy but manageable. Out-of-state travel is indicated in bold, below; I was out of The Mitten at least once in nine of 12 months of the year. And yes, in January and August I traveled to Chicago twice that month.


  • Chicago, IL — NAHQ board of directors meeting
  • Chicago, IL — NAHQ Recognition of the Profession commission meeting
  • Get Published! 2016 — writing-conference panelist


  • Wisconsin Dells, WI — speaker at Wisconsin Association for Healthcare Quality conference


  • Actually, not much of significance happened in March.


  • Louisville, KY — Vice Lounge Online fifth-anniversary trip
  • Chicago, IL — NAHQ commission-coordination meetings



  • Annapolis, MD — speaker at the Maryland Association for Healthcare Quality conference
  • “Bat in the bedroom” incident
  • Ann Arbor Book Festival


  • Atlanta, GA — NAHQ commission-coordination meetings
  • Kayaking on the Flat River


  • Chicago, IL — Joint Statistical Meetings
  • Chicago, IL — NAHQ board of directors meeting
  • Team transitions at Priority Health


  • 40th birthday
  • Kerrytown Book Festival
  • Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality conference


  • Las Vegas, NV — Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic
  • Hammond, IN — Casino trip with Tony
  • Corey+Nicole wedding
  • Grand tour of Kalamazoo indie bookstores
  • Joined board of directors at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters
  • “A Moment of Clarity” (non-fiction essay) contracted through Wipf+Stock
  • Brewed Awakenings 2 and Grayson Rising released at Caffeinated Press


  • Stood for election (unsuccessfully) for Kent County Commission, 17th district
  • National Novel Writing Month — didn’t hit 50k but did learn new skills about complex plotting
  • Began a contract-editing gig for About.com


  • Orlando, FL — NAHQ board of directors meeting; Disney Institute tour
  • Re-elected as chairman of the board at the annual shareholders’ meeting of Caffeinated Press
  • My boss at Priority Health transitions to new role; I now report to our VP
  • Launched new writing group — the Grand River Writing Tribe
  • Two weeks’ vacation


On the Balancing of Work versus Accessibility.

On Jan. 2, 2016, I wrote about a year of refusal. The short version was that I had grown weary of people expecting me to what they wanted, when they wanted it; at the time I wrote that post, I was over-extended, and the pressure of other people’s expectations — particularly about turnaround times on email responses — took a real toll on my mental and emotional health. No one likes getting yelled at by acquaintances, regardless of whether the complaint is justified or not.

Over 2016, I succeeded in learning how to stop feeling guilty about being busy and therefore having to make tough choices about what I do and on what timeline. My new attitude isn’t one of, “Screw you.” Rather, it’s a recognition that I have constraints and that I can’t be all things to all people, so therefore I must let go of the emotional baggage that makes me feel bad when I can’t give others what they want, when they want it.

The problem consistently distills to timeliness-of-response to messages. I have three main email accounts (Priority Health, Caffeinated Press, and my personal address) plus seven other less-trafficked accounts. In an average week, I’ll receive roughly 1,500 emails across all accounts, not including spam. Of those 1,500 legitimate messages, disposition falls into thirds: One-third are list emails I can read or delete without acting on them; one-third are CC/BCC notes from my teams that I need to review but rarely need to act upon; one-third are messages that require me to do something. Put in different terms, I have to respond to nearly 70 emails a day, every day, without fail, if I’m to keep up. I’ve timed this, actually (hey, I’m a quality-improvement professional). Turns out, I can keep up if I dedicate three full hours every day to email, recognizing that some messages might be brief kick-the-can-down-the-road one-liners, while others can take 30 minutes or more to craft a complete response.

The biggest point in all of this, I think, is that “responding to people” can take a significant slice of time that’s not spent on doing other value-added activities — in I.T. terms, it’s prioritizing maintenance over development. The fact that twice in 2016 I took a vacation day from Priority Health purely to get caught up on email says something. Add to the mix the extra overhead of multiple follow-ups and people trying other ways to get my attention (most irritatingly, through texting and Facebook), and the pile just grows deeper.

Of course, there are brief periods when I’m relatively current. Three times (if I remember correctly) in 2016 I had attained “inbox zero” across all email accounts. But whoa, was that a lot of work. It’s more often the case that I will read a message within the first three to five days after receipt, and respond to it usually in about six weeks or so unless it’s a fire drill from my boss or a quick reply to a close colleague. But it’s not unusual that if I have to do something that takes a while before I can respond, answers could wait for three months or longer.

Some folks prioritize “keeping up with communication” above all else. I’ve tried that, myself. Discovered that I can’t get nearly as much done — in fact, one reason that Brewed Awakenings 2 was so delayed this year was that I put ops/admin stuff at Caffeinated Press above editorial work in the first half of 2016. The net result? I managed to stay on top of routine things like messages (more or less) and blog posts and keeping-the-lights-on business activities, but my productivity as an editor was effectively nil.

So lately I’ve deliberately de-prioritized communication so that I can focus on value-added behaviors. I find that very many messages that “need a response” actually don’t need a response if you let them age long enough.

Cynical? Maybe. The point isn’t that other people aren’t worth my time, or that I’m more important than the people who are reaching out to me. I fully recognize and respect that people who message me, in general, deserve as timely of a response as I can manage. It’s not that I don’t care. The real problem is triage. I’m typically putting in 80- or 90-hour weeks, every week, across all my areas of accountability (Priority Health, Caffeinated Press, GLCL, Vice Lounge Online, freelance editing, NAHQ, etc.) and at some point, I have to make tough choices about what to do and when to do it.

That said, you learn a lot about people, particularly business contacts, by how they react to gaps in communication. Most people, when you tell them that responses can take a while, just roll with it. Others start to get panicky (“Oh, sorry for stalking you on Facebook but I was afraid you forgot about me!”) while a few people — fortunately for me, not many — get passive-aggressive, sending emotionally manipulative screeds intended to provoke a response.

My colleague John and I will sometimes disagree about how to handle the passive-aggressive types. He’s in favor of “taking the high road.” I’m in favor of not responding to manipulative behaviors and to confronting them directly when they arise. I see the virtue in his approach, but I do hate letting bullies win simply to avoid an argument.

I continue to try to streamline what I do and how I do it so I can be more responsive to messages, but with the amount of stuff on my plate, it’s a challenge sometimes. No bones about it. But it’s nothing personal, either. And I don’t feel guilty about it.

On the Foibles of Publishing for the Love of It.

I very much enjoy my time at Caffeinated Press. I love our literary journal, The 3288 Review. I enjoy meeting authors and working with our editorial team and helping to grow a literary community.

That said, publishing is a high-cost, low-margin business. The board members continue to pay for the company’s monthly expenses out-of-pocket. Plenty of folks want to work with us — but only if they get paid to do it. Part of the “being busy” part referenced above includes all the sundry activities we must do to market the company and to ensure that we get enough ancillary revenue to defray the costs of doing business. I don’t regret being CEO, but I do sometimes lament that operations overtakes editorial in terms of the most pressing need of the day.

To my astonishment, the literary community of the greater Grand Rapids area is effectively non-existent, which makes running the business a degree more difficult. The GLCL struggles to make inroads. So do we. Very insular. Very few indie bookstores in the metro area; fewer still accept new books. The literary community is fractured into tribes — the religious publishers, the “high literary” writers, the slam poets, the NaNoWriMo group, the Lakeshore, the university scenes — and these tribes have virtually no intersection or cross-pollination. The libraries are “meh” about supporting the literary arts, and the emphasis in Grand Rapids on “art” is really about visual art. It’s not an accident that literary talent isn’t showcased in ArtPrize or on the Avenue of the Arts.

In fact, I can’t even get friends and family or the people who pitch us submissions to buy our products. Seriously.

So we struggle. But — opportunity awaits. No one has really tapped the market yet in a coherent way. Perhaps an event like a “Beer City Book Con” will make a difference. Stay tuned.

On the Dialectic of Habit.

An observation: A habit, once formed, inculcates itself into the fabric of one’s life, pushing against other habits until several habits stand in conflict. In true Hegelian fashion, the thesis of Habit A and the antithesis of Habit B yield a middle-ish ground in the form of Behavior C. Even if Behavior C wasn’t necessarily expected or desired. And eventually Behavior C is confronted by Habit D, etc.

I notice this tendency in myself. I see an opportunity for improvement, I focus on it, I succeed. But that success affects other things in unplanned ways.

For example, for years I obsessively followed a particular Internet news/discussion forum, dedicating perhaps four of five Friday nights to binge-consuming the forum’s content and engaging with other users. It was a habit. Simultaneously, I had a different habit of spending at least one or two nights per week completing a 30-, 45- or 60-minute cycle on my exercise bike. Then, that forum started having hosting problems, and then it went away completely for a few months. So that Friday-night habit went away. I replaced it with the habit of reading news through RSS on my tablet, accompanied with a cigar and a cocktail. But the “Friday night forum” and the “RSS news reader” weren’t a one-to-one substitution — for starters, the number of RSS feeds I followed grew to be much larger than the content on the forum. So the news-consumption habit changed. But because there was so much news to read, the habit spread beyond Friday, until I stopped using the exercise bike altogether. So no cardio, plus cocktails and cigars. Not a great combo. But not a solution I would have architected de novo, either.

The moral of the story? That as we go into the new year with fresh resolutions, we cannot forget that our lives are not a series of task lists to be executed in parallel. Rather, we live messy lives with the warp and weft of different strings of habit weaving themselves continuously into a tapestry that, if poorly planned, will hang crookedly from the wall of your mausoleum. If you resolve to “lose 50 pounds,” you’re not just talking about one set of isolated behaviors. Rather, you’re touching on many different behavior patterns — and the effect of unplanned finagling doesn’t always turn out well.

Which brings me to ….


Every year since 2009, I’ve revisited a document I call the “Roadmap” that lays out, in broad form, my meaning-of-life reflections as well as a series of goals, targeted by season. I update it every year on Christmas Day and Independence Day. When I tweaked it last week, I removed my seasonal-goals list and substituted instead a series of focus areas by month, augmented by a “daily discipline” section templating a paradigmatic week.

Not all of my resolutions/goals are worth sharing, but a few are. I consider you, dear readers, to be accountability partners for me.

Here we go:

  1. Arrive at age 41 at roughly the same physical shape as I was at age 31. But, incorporate more significant strength training beginning in late spring. For single dudes of a certain age (lookin’ at you, mirror), the “muscle daddy” body design seems to be universally popular. Plus, health.
  2. Finish the book proposal for From Pencil to Print (a non-fic writers’ manual) and send it to at least one agent for review.
  3. Write the novel that’s been peeking through the gaps in my last few NaNoWriMo experiences.
  4. Finish and then release my poetry chapbook, Whiskey, Cats & Poems.
  5. Become a registered parliamentarian. (Why? Well, why not?)
  6. Learn more Python — to the point of standing up a Bokeh server and hosting data-viz solutions.
  7. Do at least one of each: Hiking trip, diving trip, kayaking trip. Somewhere around the Upper Midwest. Weekend excursions, nothing crazy.
  8. Do the Tony Snyder 40th Birthday of Power in The Happiest Place on Earth (Las Vegas).
  9. Earn “advanced open water” diver certification and upgrade to “general” class radio license.
  10. Complete a Wilderness First Responder course.
  11. Go skydiving.
  12. Return to the karate dojo this summer.

OK, folks — I’ve nattered on long enough. Let me wrap up by wishing each of you a safe, happy, healthy and prosperous 2017.

Out with 2014; In with 2015 — A Reflection

We are now a full 1 percent finished with 2015. Can you believe it? Tempus fugit. Lots of good stuff occurred this past year, including —

  • Earning promotion to management at work
  • Executing successfully our state healthcare-quality conference in Traverse City
  • Finishing my gear-out for scuba diving and getting back under the water
  • Trekking to Boston, Chicago, Nashville and Las Vegas — plus the Detroit/Windsor casino excursion from February
  • Receiving the Rising Quality Star honor from NAHQ
  • Establishing Caffeinated Press, Inc., and pulling together our first product, an eight-story anthology
  • Sponsoring my friend Rob into the Catholic Church
  • Maintaining a perfect track record for our weekly Vice Lounge Online podcasts
  • “Winning” NaNoWriMo with Aiden’s Wager
  • Ending the year about a pound lighter than I started it
  • Seeing my 403(b) account increase more than 6 percent from last year

As I survey the legacy of 2014, certain lessons have presented themselves:

  1. I’m more likely to get things done and to prioritize effectively when I have a lot on my plate. Conversely, the more I have pending, the more likely that fairly routine tasks will be set aside in service to the crisis du jore. Among those routine tasks are the basic “wellness” activities that too often get trumped by an external deadline.
  2. Unlike the heady days of my early-to-mid 20s, nowadays I need regular downtime to recharge. If I burn the candle from both ends for too long, as soon as a free day comes, I just collapse. That sprint-then-stop pace isn’t healthy in the long run. I’ve been tinkering with my normal to-do list to isolate Sundays. I am going to try to make Sundays a day of full and complete rest — no work, no chores, just tranquility. Maybe some reading or Netflixing or walking in the park, but nothing I have to do.
  3. The things that are important and the things that are urgent, rarely overlap.
  4. The older I get, the less I can pretend that bad habits don’t matter.
  5. Having aggressive goals does matter.

I’m not a fan of new-year resolutions — they reek of “lost cause” — but I have identified some goals for the coming year. I need to replace my vehicle and my desktop PC. I’m planning on trips this year to the Dallas metroplex, Philadelphia, Seattle and Las Vegas, as well as a return trek to Isle Royale (weather permitting). I want to learn Python and R, launch a quarterly literary journal through Caffeinated Press, upgrade my radio license to General class, earn SSI’s “master diver” rank by the end of the summer, and publish a textbook about clinical quality improvement. Later this month, discussions will commence about a possible dive trip with the Gang of Four and about a possible visit to see my friend Jared in Abu Dhabi (perhaps, twinning the UAE trip with a side excursion to Bangalore, India). I’d really, really like to try the Metro Health Marathon in October. And despite bobbing around the diocese, including extended sojourns to the cathedral and to St. Robert, I think I’d feel more at home with a return to St. Anthony.
Today is the final day of Grand Staycation IV. I got a lot done, but much remains to be finished. I’m looking forward to 2015, mostly because I have a better sense than last year of the things that are worth pursuing, versus the things I have either always done, or allowed myself to be talked into. So I think the watchwords for the coming year are “triage and consolidation” — i.e., fixing what’s not optimal and doubling down on what’s important.
Best wishes for a safe, happy and healthy new year!

Welcome to 2014 — Get Ready to Rumble!

Welcome to 2014.
I write this post from my home office, overlooking a quiet, snowy street. To my right, a coffee mug with fresh-ground Starbucks and a splash of Irish cream steams in the cool air. To my left, both cats sleep peacefully upon their pillows. Things around here are still. Serene.
The last 12 hours provided an excellent segue between calendar years. Last night, I made a pan of my spicy Andouille jambalaya, with which I paired a lovely white Michigan wine — the bottle was a gift from my neighbor, whom I helped get un-stuck from a snowbank yesterday afternoon. I built a roaring fire in the fireplace and wrote a new chapter in my novel, bringing the total now to just under 56k words. I chatted on Skype with some friends and traded celebratory text messages, then went to bed shortly after midnight. This morning, all is calm and the outlook is bright.
In retrospect, 2013 was a year of “two steps forward, one step sideways.” Let me elaborate:

  • On the health front, despite some ups and downs, I’m in fundamentally the same place as I was a year ago, and the year before that. I’ll take a “step sideways” instead of a “step backwards” any day, but this year, it’ll need to be “two steps forward.”
  • I finally got my mind wrapped around a long-term personal finance plan that will get me debt-free and ahead of the game (relative to the median of my peer cohort) for retirement savings over the next few years.
  • I competed in, and “won,” National Novel Writing Month, and I’m still working on the manuscript with the hopes of shopping it to an agent or publisher in the next few weeks or so. Much of this growth as a writer came with the support of my WriteOn! friends in the West Michigan area.
  • The podcast has grown by leaps and bounds, aided by the support of a handful of friends across the Western Hemisphere as well as the key learnings we took away from our two Las Vegas trips (the 360Vegas Vacation and the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic). I peg our current listenership at between 3,000 and 5,000 per episode, based on file-touch data from my file server.
  • I swapped jobs, moving from a somewhat personally unsatisfying role as a report writer for the hospital to being a full-fledged data scientist in the insurance company’s Quality Improvement team.
  • I have grown in professional service, being asked to stay on for another three-year term as a section officer in the American Statistical Association as well as bumping up a notch in volunteer leadership within the National Association for Healthcare Quality. And … drumroll … I was the only nominee for 2014 president-elect of the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality.
  • I finally made the Isle Royale trip last Memorial Day, knocking off a bucket-list item.

So the year just past was good to me. I had goals — many of which I met or exceeded — and I made some good life choices. I’m satisfied with the outcome. But mere satisfaction isn’t sufficient; you have to embrace change and create growth opportunities to meet your fullest potential. Herewith my goals for 2014:

  • Return to 2009-levels of fitness. Technically, not a big deal. I have incentive — my 20-year reunion, summertime trips, etc. — that provide motivation. Plus, I finally (as in, just last week) cracked the code about scheduling my day to make a dedicated fitness program work like it used to. Surprisingly simple after it dawned on me that I can walk and chew gum at the same time.
  • Get active in church/volunteering again. I’ve been “off duty” at church for the last five or so years. I’ve also been church-hopping, a practice made easier given that I live almost in the shadow of the cathedral. I’m sponsoring a friend into the Catholic Church this year, and his chosen parish has an involved RCIA program, so I’ll work with him through that, then probably meander back permanently to St. Anthony during the Easter season.
  • Take next step in higher education. I’ve already got the application paperwork for a particular Ph.D. program I’m interested in and will file it this month. And, I do have a Plan B if that doesn’t work out.
  • Get the novel published. This goal looks like a win for before Valentine’s Day, at least in terms of getting the final MS ready for distribution. I intend to give it a bit of time to circulate among potential agents and publishers, but I’m aware that the odds of being snagged are vanishingly small. So I’ll probably self-publish in early summer after a sufficiently large number of rejection letters arrive.
  • Upgrade my station license. Easy win for late winter. I have the study materials, I just need to prep for the exam and take it. At a minimum, I want my radio license at General class, but if the mood strikes — and if I get involved in the Kalamazoo group, which seems more with-it than the Grand Rapids group — I might push for the top-level Extra class.
  • Compete AOW + Rescue diver certification. I am friends with two certified divers, but I haven’t been under the water in years. That needs to change. Over the next few years I want to get divemaster certification, but for 2014 I’ll settle for Advanced Open Water and Rescue, which are the foundations for most other specialty certifications anyway. That means I’ll need to invest in gear, but … I need to anyway.
  • Build an emergency fund. I’m usually so focused on doing things that my income is like a conveyer belt, going in one side and out the other without really stopping in the middle. I need a fund for emergencies — car window smashes, cat vet trips, etc., so I’m not caught S.O.L. if disaster strikes. I’m aiming for $2,400 by the end of the year, just $200 per month into the secret envelope.
  • Run in the 2014 Metro Health Marathon. Finishing a marathon is part of the bucket list. With a renewed emphasis on diving and hiking and fitness, targeting a marathon in 2014 makes sense to ensure I’m at adequate cardiovascular levels for all the other things that require, you know, breathing.
  • Return trip to Isle Royale. Looks like this one is already pretty solid for the Memorial Day holiday week, too. Some of my writing friends are contemplating a trip (probably to stay at the lodge at Rock Harbor), and my brother is strongly interested in going too.
  • Hard-book a 2015 hiking trip to Denali. This will probably be the big trip of 2015 — two weeks in the Great Wilderness. The commute isn’t actually bad — just two days by road, mostly through Canada, if you want to avoid the pain of flying into Fairbanks. Denali is a different class of hike than Isle Royale; both are remote, but Denali has bears and (in most places) no trails at all. You’re just blazing away but still carefully honor Leave No Trace principles.
  • Visit Europe. This one should be easy, too, since I’m technically committed to attend a conference in Utrecht, July 23-25. The only real challenge is that I technically need to be in Boston on August 2 for a different conference. So I might fly into Amsterdam, do the conference, take a week’s vacation, maybe Eurorail it from Utrecht to, say, Paris or London via Paris, and then head to Boston directly or back home for a day or two before Boston.
  • Continue growing the podcast.  Tony and I are planning a pair of return trips to Las Vegas, including one for the 2014 VIMFP, so that networking helps. Plus, we’re working through a long-term plan this coming weekend, thinking through ways of monetizing the show and expanding our reach through alternative distribution channels.

So. A lot on the plate, but it’s all doable, and much if it is already teed-up.
I had a good 2013, and I look forward to a good 2014. And I hope and pray that your 2014 is your best year yet.

Fare Thee Well, 2012 — You Were a Good Friend

As 2012 glides into a well-deserved slumber, I can’t help but reflect on how the year has progressed for me. Some highlights, in no real order:

  • We had a blast at Tony’s 35th birthday celebration in Las Vegas in June.
  • I enjoyed a phenomenal conference at this year’s Joint Statistical Meetings in San Diego. Good conference, great location.
  • I had lots of fun celebrating various birthdays this year with PPQ and the Good Doctor.
  • Treks to Windsor and Joliet proceeded smoothly and enjoyably.
  • I installed an air condition just before the summer started to sizzle.
  • I replaced the tired old Ranger with a healthier, newer Jimmy.
  • I weigh less at the end of 2012 than I did when the year started.
  • I passed the FCC license exam for a technician-class radio license.
  • I actually got out and did some creative photography. More than once, even.
  • Our cigar and cocktail evenings have really blossomed into something great, thanks to a fabulous group of guys and the hospitality of Grand River Cigar.
  • I got more private consulting clients and even earned some decent revenue for once — enough to ensure that I didn’t have to worry about the next paycheck.
  • I did better this year at NaNoWriMo and made a lot of good friends as part of my participation with that crazy crew of creative cats.
  • I went on a lovely day hike along the NCT in northern Newaygo County.
  • I realized an astonishingly high personal rate of return on my 403(b) investment account and despite my late start planning for retirement, I’m actually pretty close to where the experts say I should be at this age.

So, it was a good year. I’m looking forward to 2013 — I have some good goals and a good foundation to build on.

May your own new year be filled with much love, happiness and success.