The Other Side of the Cones

I live just a little past the halfway mark of my town’s half marathon course, so this morning I spent some time at the top of my street encouraging runners. I had a few friends running but most were strangers.

One feels a bit awkward at first, standing on a street corner yelling at gasping, wheezing, pain-stricken strangers. They need air. They need water. They need rest. I’m serving out platitudes like “Keep it up,” “Keep it steady,” and “You’ve got this.”

One feels a bit like an asshole.

But here’s the thing: I’ve run that course. I know that by mile eight, your head is buzzing with doubt and worry. You hurt. You’re tired and, having done eight tough miles, you are wondering if you can do another five. You can, but you need to be reminded.

For a moment this morning I feel like I am on the wrong side of the cones. I want to be running in this race with them, but it feels good to be on this side, observing. These people are bothering to do difficult things they don’t strictly need to do. No one is making them. There’s no prize. They struggle, each in their own way, because struggle itself has value.

I admire each of them. The runners, the joggers, the walkers.

Many answer my support with a thumbs up, a wave or a quick thanks. At mile eight, every breath becomes precious. Any acknowledgment is a gift they give to me. And I quickly feel a lot less like an asshole.

I am noticing that thoughts are like viruses. They travel easily and quickly colonize a host. Good thoughts supplant bad thoughts.

Encouragement matters. Not always big, grand gestures. Sometimes just standing at a street corner, noticing someone’s effort, giving them a better thought than whatever is happening in their head at the moment.

Keep it up. Keep it steady.

You’ve got this.

Road Trip Takeaway

My wife, daughter and I recently returned from an 8 day, 1941 mile road trip vacation. We roller-coastered at HersheyPark, Pennsylvania and explored Niagra Falls, Ontario from above, below, behind and beside. We ate over-priced sandwiches at the top of Toronto’s CN Tower. We snapped hundreds of photos and bought the tee-shirts, hoodies and other souvenirs necessary to commemorate our journey.

It was a terrific trip. We saw beautiful places, ate delicious food and had interesting adventures together.

My wife has noticed that I look my most relaxed, happy self in photos taken while traveling. She isn’t wrong. The change of scenery sharpens my senses and wakes me up.

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This was my family’s first big road trip vacation. We usually go directly to a place (the beach) where being at the locale is the point. Our road trip vacation was different. More than usual, I enjoyed the surprise of the people I met along the way as much as I enjoyed being in the places where I met them.

The Apostolic church congregation in their Sunday white suits and dresses holding their annual conference in the HersheyPark hotel. The manager at the upstate New York gas station Subway who appreciated my twelve year old daughter’s affinity for hot tea. The Subway sandwich artiste who verified twice that when we ordered soda we actually wanted pop. The waitress at Niagra hotel who encouraged me to take my time eating breakfast because she was too tired to set another table after I left. The waitress at Dad’s Diner in Niagra who works all spring, summer and fall to save up enough money to winter in Cuba.

And our Toronto evening cab driver who was a resettled refugee from Afghanistan. He grew up under the Taliban, escaped to Germany and finally managed to resettle with his family in Canada. And he doesn’t want to get political but who can see how or when this endless war will end?

Every language of the world was spoken in the lobby of our Toronto hotel and every manner of dress represented. The night clerk was Japanese. The morning clerk Korean. The friendliest, most helpful concierege South African.

All along the trip everyone was please and thank you at the hotel elevators and have a nice night and take care.

There were some crazies, too. The cursing guy in the Toronto subway station who repeatedly kicked the passing train as it sped by. He was quickly hauled off by the police. The drunk outside the Chinatown gift shop who kept grabbing the crutches of his hobbled companion to start a fight and then, once the fight was well-started, wrapping this friend in a huge embrace as apology. Repeat this cycle five times.

Throughout the clean, friendly, well-ordered city, the destitute, the homeless, the friendless. My daughter wanting to cross every busy street and give money to every homeless man or woman who had a dog. Me explaining in my Father Knows Best voice that you can’t help everybody by giving them money and you certainly can’t put yourself at danger crossing busy streets and some of these people are definitely nice pet owners who need help but some just have the dog as a way to get your attention. And then myself, hypocritically crossing those same busy streets to admire a local musician play the guitar or flute or Chinese fiddle and dropping money into their open instrument case.

These people, all of them, made our family road trip special. And my heart is very full remembering the few minutes shared with each. They will not remember me. In a few weeks, I will not remember them well. And yet, they matter because my twelve year old daughter will remember something very important. As we were leaving Toronto for the 14 hour return drive home, she said, “You know. People are a lot nicer than I expected. And polite. And friendly.”

“In Canada?” I asked.

“Yeah, but actually everywhere.”

She isn’t wrong.

Menagerie: Our History Told in Dogs

My house used to be a menagerie. Five dogs living, more or less, in harmony. You learned to overlook the occasional outburst from grumpy Bella, so full of fiesty swagger she picked on Sunny, a dog twice her size. Bella went blind and learned humility late in life. Better late than never.

Five dogs is a lot for one home. We didn’t plan it. We found them or they found us. Hard to say who rescued whom.

Now we have only two dogs and our house is much quieter. We lost Bella and Bailey last autumn and Tinker just last week. Losing Tinker was the hardest hit. He was my good friend. He was also the last pack mate of our first dogs Lucy and Jasper. Losing Tinker was losing a link in a chain that went back to the beginning of my marriage.

My wife and I have shared our home with eight dogs since the beginning of our marriage.

Lucy found us while we living in a tiny one bedroom apartment with a kitchen so small you couldn’t open the refrigerator and the stove at the same time. Lucy ran across the intersection one rainy night. Fearing we had run over her, we stopped the car. My wife opened her door and called, “Puppy?” Lucy jumped into the car and went home with us. She was a wise, patient, noble soul with a passion for stolen bread. She loved kids and skunks. Fun fact: you can turn a terrier pink by using tomato sauce to cut skunk spray.

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My wife found Jasper while donating aluminum cans to the animal shelter. I was finishing graduate school and we had just bought our first house. Jasper, a Manchester terrier, was picked up by animal control in a local coal yard, riddled with worms. We had to quarantine Jasper for 10 days in my mom-in-law’s garage while purging the worm infestation. If you’ve ever had a nightmare where plates of unsauced spaghetti come to life and start looking for you, you’ll know something about those 10 days. Jasper recovered and quickly adapted to his new life. He never lost his dread of hunger or his anxiety about being abandoned. He was the most loyal, care taking dog we ever had. Jasper was our nurse. My wife put an axe into her leg one evening while I was at work. She managed to drag herself into the house before passing out in the bathroom. Jasper cleaned up the scene and woke Michelle with kisses. Medical science does not recommend dog licks as a cure for cuts and abrasions but Jasper’s kind kisses healed many wounds in a fraction of the normal time.

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We found Bailey at the animal shelter. My wife thought Lucy’s mothering instincts deserved a puppy. We came home with a full grown golden retriever mix, instead. Bailey was our happiest, friendliest dog. He also had the worst breath. He liked to get up close and personal. You just held your breath and went with it. Bailey loved toys but rarely actually played with them. He mostly just enjoyed seeing how many he could carry in his mouth at one time and obsessively moved them from room to room to keep the other dogs from stealing them. He had long, luscious fur and everyone assumed he was a lady. He was pretty. We might have called him Bowie. He gave the impression of being large, but, when shaved for summer, was quite small.

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I found Tinker while on a run. He was sniffing around a dumpster in front of the low-rent apartments across the street. I picked him up and carried him from door to door asking if anyone knew him. No one did. I took him home. Bailey got excited, having found his good friend. We kept Tinker. Tinker was a dachshund/chihuahua mix, a scrappy low-rider. Bailey was big and Tinker was small. Looking at one another and lacking mirrors, each assumed the other reflected his own proper size and stature. Bailey thought he was small. Tinker thought he was big. It worked for them. I used to carry Tinker around like in one arm, like a football. Or a loaf of bread because why would I be carrying a football? Being carried was Tinker’s favorite place to be.

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Phoebe wasn’t with us long. The neighborhood kids found her roaming around and decided to bring her to the crazy dog people house. She was a black lab/hound mix and the smartest dog I’ve ever met. She could work out problems like how to bring a six foot tree branch through a twelve inch dog door. The dog actually dropped the branch, studied the problem and then brought it through sideways. I’m pretty sure she understood quantum physics and relativity. Unfortunately, she was also a touch aggressive when it came to pack dominance. When our daughter was born, Phoebe decided to challenge Lucy for head of pack status. She attacked Lucy while Lucy was sitting on the couch near Michelle and newborn Emersey. She would never have intentionally hurt anyone but was ready to kill Lucy. No longer able to trust her, she had her put down the next day. It was the right decision but not finding a new home for Phoebe still stings.

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Michelle and Emersey ganged up on me to adopt Sunny. They went to the animal shelter while Michelle was feeling depressed. Sunny was a hound who had lived her entire life inside an apartment with an elderly shut in. Sunny was pad trained but had developed a grass allergy because she had never been outside. She didn’t trust men and freaked out everytime someone came to the door. People didn’t come to the door where she had lived before. Certainly not men. For five months, she barked in confused anxiety when I came home from work, as if she didn’t know me. And then, one day, she chilled. That’s the power of putting down the dog food. Food, eventually, equals trust. We are friends now.

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Nellie came to us from Michelle’s grandmother, who at the age of 90, decided she couldn’t live at home alone anymore. Ma and Nellie moved in with us for one day and then Ma decided she could live at home alone after all. Nellie stayed. Nellie is an 18 year old Jack Russell terrier mix. We attribute her longevity to the fact that Ma cooked chicken breast and rice and vegetables for dinner everyday for years. Nellie is a bit neurotic, but who among us is not? She loves my wife fiercely and follows her around the house all day and night, keeping herself in sight at all times.

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Bella was a true mutt and a true rescue. My mother-in-law took Bella in as a temporary foster while taking radiation for Stage 4 lung cancer. Bella’s sojourn was meant to a temporary stop over on her way to another home. Everything at that time was temporary. We lived day to day, grateful for the moments we still had together. I am still amazed at the generosity my mom-in-law showed to help a dog while she herself was dying. Dog people are special. Bella was meant to catch a ride north with a relocation/rescue service but she missed her ride because the program  organizer was a flake. After three missed attempts, we took Bella in permanently. I suspect that was the organizer’s plan all along. Bella was an older dog who had whelped many litters in a puppy mill. She had been misused and was tired and crabby about it. She didn’t easily tolerate the fun and games of the other dogs and often growled at Sunny for breathing too much of her air. Bella went blind one week while we were on vacation. We returned to find her stumbling under tables and trapped by chairs. We never learned why she went blind but the blindness taught her humility. She learned to enjoy being held and tolerated the presence of other dogs.

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Eight dogs so far, but right now only two. We have Sunny and Nellie. Nellie is very old.

When we said goodbye to Bailey, my daughter asked why dogs lives are so much shorter than ours. I told her it was to help us practice loving them completely even when we know we will eventually lose them. That is, it seems to me, the secret of a well-lived life. A life well-lived is a life where you have allowed yourself to love completely despite the knowledge of inevitable pain, disappointment and loss. Our dogs prepare us for the harder times when we must say goodbye to the people we most love.

My house is very quiet. I miss my good friends. I am grateful for them and for their help with the practice of loving in the face of certain loss and the bravery required to open oneself to the loss that makes life much richer and bigger than before.

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2017: Look Back

2017 was a difficult year.

Okay, that was a literary device called understatement. 2017 was a shit ass painful year. It was frightening, dispiriting and chaotic. People I love got swallowed up by their depression. The monster got me into its mouth a time or two, but, for now, I manage to keep climbing back out.

In January, we swore in our Reality TV show president. He gave us a dark, sinister inauguration speech. American carnage, anyone? American carnage ensued. Most mornings through June I woke up in a panic, thinking there had to be something I could do to help slow the carnage.

I wrote my senators. One of my senators sent back form letters explaining why I was stupid and wrong. My other senator sent thoughtful, considerate replies. He actually agreed with me on a few points and voted accordingly. Then, he sold his vote for personal profit. If you haven’t noticed, the representative part of representative democracy is broken.

But I digress. This isn’t a political post. Politics was a blanket over most everything I thought, felt or did in 2017. It made me an anxious wreck. Politics are important and inescapable. Politics describe how power moves through groups of people. This isn’t Republican vs Democrat stuff. This is The Powerful vs Everybody Else stuff. Please do pay attention.

At yet, as I sit here in the last 12 hours of 2017 thinking back over the year, it isn’t the awfulness and anxiety that comes to me. I find, looking backward, that my life remains wonderful.

I started taking piano lessons in January. I’m not brilliant but the practice is creative struggle. It is difficult. The difficulty is the point. My daughter plays too. She has more natural ability than I ever hope to have. It is a joy to let her see me struggle with my imperfection. What I lack in talent, I make up for in discipline. I hope she notices me getting incrementally better.

We bought a piano in February. Felt hammers on metal strings in a house with wood floors. We make a joyful noise.

My wife and I attended a weekend poetry workshop at Campbell Folk School in June. I reconnected with poetry, enjoyed the company of fellow poets and ate dinner with a few blacksmiths. It was a very Walt Whitman weekend. Oh, and I befriended a tree.

I run three libraries for my college. We recarpeted the largest library in June. The new carpet made a huge difference. Our entire building felt the way you feel when you wear new clothes for the first time — fresh, eager, confident — plus that new car smell. In preparing for the new carpet, my team recognized that our shelves no longer showcased the best of what our library has to offer. We woke up one day and realized we were highlighting dusty back runs of magazines no one read anymore, reference books no one needed and microfilm no one understood. We lightened up, opened the space and created alcoves to show off our new books, new magazines and media. There’s still work to do, but you can now step in the front door and understand what the library is for.

Fall semester started with a full solar eclipse. I watched with my family from campus while listening to Dark Side of the Moon. It was incredible.

In September, my wife and I saw HGTV’s Property Brothers give a live performance. I didn’t know what to expect. It was super fun. They took interactive questions from the audience via Twitter. My Twitter question was first. Jonathan Scott gave me a shout out by name. I felt Twitter famous for something like 20 seconds.

My house is a refuge for needy dogs. We’ve had five dogs for several years. Four of them were senior. We lost Bella and Bailey this year. Bella was blind and getting confused. Bailey’s back legs gave out. We miss them terribly. The morning we put Bailey down, my daughter asked why dogs have to die before people do. I told her it was too help us practice loving people we know we are going to lose someday and loving them anyway. It was a hard truth. Truth is always hard.

We took our first family camping trip in October. Three nights at Big South Fork Park. We had great weather. We rode a train and visited an old Kentucky coal camp. I woke up every morning profoundly grateful for a mediocre cup of instant coffee and read Mary Oliver while in the woods. I put down my phone and took off my Fitbit. I measured time by hunger and the angle of sunlight. Like Thoreau, I lived deliberately. I felt awake.

A few weeks later I visited a community college as part of an onsite accreditation team. The team I worked with was well-organized, well-prepared and well-led. We liked each other and helped other. I’ve done leadership academies and conferences. I read about leadership principles and practices. That three day visit was one of the best professional experiences of my life.

In November, my library team hosted our first Long Night Against Procrastination. Two hundred students showed up to take advantage of extra library/learning center help, get focused on their end of semester goals and eat free food. It felt good to help student focus on practical, specific goals. It reminded me to do the same.

I ran my first half-marathon the week before Thanksgiving. I trained with a running group on Saturday mornings for months. Each week, I felt myself getting stronger and better prepared. A few weeks before, I did a practice half with these friends and found I had set my goals too low. I knew I could run 13.1 miles and a bit faster than I had expected. I had a terrific partner for race day. We ran the best race of our lives, greatly outperforming my own expectations.

And now, I am enjoying the last few days of a two week vacation. I stay up too late with my night-owl wife and wake up whenever I want. We are visiting family and friends. We are together.

And so, it seems 2017 wasn’t awful at all. My life is bursting with richness and reward. I find that I am well-blessed to live in a house with people I love and who love me. I work with great people, and our work is meaningful. I write things. People read them.

The year ahead will be politically brutal. The Powerful will seek to make themselves more powerful still. They will seem to succeed. We will resist. But as we do, as we engage in the coming struggles, let’s remember that our lives are made with our attention.

Every day is new. Every day contains wonder.

Empty Chair

There is an empty chair at your Christmas table. Maybe you lost someone 40 years ago. Maybe you lost someone earlier this week. Our Christmas celebrations recognize abundance — the gathering of friends and family into our homes, the tables laden with roast and casseroles and treats. Our Christmas trees are rooted deep in piles of gifts given and gifts received.

But Christmas is also about what’s missing. The people we loved, we lost and we need back in our lives. When we slow down to recognize the empty chairs, it isn’t only their absence we feel. There is greater abundance. We laugh. We tell stories. We remember. Their lives fill our lives.

We hug our children. We kiss our wives. We celebrate the long unbroken line that is our family meal. The table stretches farther before us and farther beyond us than we can possibly see. And yet, we each have our plate, our place at this table. For this moment, maybe the next, until one day we too have passed and the empty chair is ours and it is our time to hope our lives have helped make the meal richer for all.

Metallica and the Middle School Morning Commute

Listening to music in a moving car is one of life’s primary pleasures. The speakers surround you. You are encapsulated by sound. If the car is moving fast, all the better. You can melt into that sound. The boundaries of your body disappear and you are allowed to become the amalgam of your thoughts, feelings and sensation.

The music you choose is important. It sets the tone for the journey and colors your mood upon arrival. Always important, but perhaps never more important than the middle school morning commute.

For most of my daughter’s young life, I have been DJ, curating her musical experience with chauvinistic care, thoughtfully exposing her to the things she is supposed to love. She heard Beatles and Hendrix and They Might Be Giants with odd bits of classical, jazz and current pop tossed in. She soaks it all in and has taken my playlist as her playlist.

Now she is ten, and I let her assume the awesome responsibility of iPod selection. She dives in and out of her playlist. She grabs random tracks just because she likes the title. When we are out in public, say the grocery store or a restaurant, a song will occasionally reach out from the background and catch her attention. “What is this?” Tap Shazam. “Add this to my playlist.”

My daughter is getting her ears.

Every day for the past three weeks, my ten year old daughter has chosen Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” for the middle school morning commute. Understand my surprise and amusement.

Metallica is an incredible sound. Metallica is art, but I could not realize it when I was ten. When I was in middle school, music was tribal. The music you chose for your own defined you. I found the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. I was nerdy and in my head a lot. I liked words and abstraction.

When I was a kid, Metallica belonged to the “hoods”. Those rough and rude, slightly scary smokers with the badass tee-shirts. They lived in their bodies. They weren’t “my people” and thus, Metallica was not for me.

I hope it is different now. I hope the ease with which we shuffle our playlists or stream across Spotify genres reflects the ease with which people of different backgrounds and experience blend their musical personalities. Perhaps music is no longer tribal.

As I grew older, I realized the Metallica listeners actually were my people. We were all people who formed deep, intense emotional connections to whatever sounds helped connect our inside selves to our outside. They just had cooler tee-shirts.

My daughter still dives through my iPod playlists. She still digs Beatles and Hendrix and TMBG. But she is finding her own tastes. She is curious about K Pop and hip hop. She likes video game music. She adores Melanie Martinez, an aesthetic I call “baby doll mope pop”. She is finding it on her own.

And so, “Master of Puppets” every morning for three weeks. I like to think it lifts her morning mood, cuts through the haze like a first cup of strong coffee. I imagine her bursting through the middle school doors with that intense, learning forward energy, feeling like a bad ass as she walks through the lockers, toward her people and her day.

That is the pleasure of music heard in a moving car, a pleasure you carry with you, felt most keenly during the middle school morning commute.

Middle School Band Holiday Concert, a Proud Parent’s Review

Miles Davis. Wynton Marsalis. Louis Armstrong. Great trumpet players, all. You know their work.

Less familiar, perhaps, the sonic stylings of Emersey Benson, 5th grade trumpet player for Robertsville Middle School band. You can be forgiven for not yet knowing the impressive oeuvre of this young talent. She started playing trumpet three months ago and made her triumphant stage debut on Thursday, November 30, 2017.

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The evening was a rousing success. Dozens of eager young musicians crowded onto stage, some of them battling their first bout of stage fright. Others seemingly immune to prey of nerves. The palpable expectation of young musicians and parents alike radiated through the auditorium as our musicians warmed up, practicing their embouchure, clarifying their tone, moving together as one unit through a series of controlled aural blasts.

And then, show time. The band director introduced each section, one by one, letting each present a sample of their craft so the audience might better appreciate the contribution each instrument brings to the sonic weave. The trumpets were ascendant.

The 5th grade performance was crowned by two performances of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. The program listed the piece as “Star Search”, but we knew the song’s true title. The first take had trumpets playing medley. The second take had trumpets providing color. Both were solidly recognizable.

As any proud parent, I strained to hear the notes sail from Emersey’s horn but could not pull them apart from the other joyful sounds. That’s pretty much the point. Unless you are playing a solo, it is usually best not to stand out. Emersey’s trumpet melded with the rest, indiscernible, but I knew from her practice at home just days earlier that her playing was solid, steady and bright. All the notes in the right order at more or less the proper time.

It was, for me, an intensely emotional experience. I am learning to play piano but have never played in the company of other musicians. I love to see music played live. The coordination and self-discipline required to bring one instrument into concert with many others is beautiful. Every performance, no matter how small, is a conversation without words. I am always overcome, sometimes moved to tears.

I often feel most human in the company of musicians having their conversation. Each of them connected to one another in a unified band and the band, in turn, connected to the audience, which is now its own thing rather than a collection of people. Live performance welcomes individual people into human company. It is among the most powerful things people can do.

Thursday night’s performance was special. I felt the thing I felt when watching Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins or Wynton Marsalis perform at the Tennessee Theatre. The thing that moved through me Thursday night was the same thing that has moved through any of the Indigo Girls, U2, Tom Petty or Violent Femmes shows I’ve attended.

I can only hope my trumpet playing daughter and these young 5th grade musicians felt it too. I hope they will continue to develop their coordination and self-discipline no matter the level of talent each believes they individually possess.

I hope they recognize what they are doing together is art and that they keep mashing keys and pressing forward to recapture the transcendent experience of music so they might always know what it really is to be human.

 

A Sense of It

Depression is another planet. A planet that looks mostly like your own with the same basic physics and sometimes the same weather. The people here look like people you know, except they are all very far away and getting farther. Maybe you no longer speak the same language and no matter how very hard you try, you cannot communicate with each other. And maybe there is always something important that needs doing but you can’t remember what that something is or why it so urgently needs doing. Priorities are hell. Everything is equally weighted. Its all urgent or utterly inconsequential. You cannot know which. Everything is effort. You move from day to day, hopping across small islands of sleep. There are mercies. You don’t dream. You lie down and extinguish. You drift in the place of the not yet born and the no longer living. Eventually, you wake and your mind does the complicated math. How long until I can be here again? Hours and hours and hours. Days and weeks and months. Sometimes, they add up to years. The fear inside this yawning abyss. A place for lost things. The place you happen to find yourself waiting still.

Humble Brag: One year and 40 pounds

One year ago today, my doctor gave me some heavy news. If I didn’t make some positive changes quick, I was going to end up diabetic and at high risk for heart issues. I was a whisker away from pre-diabetic and my good/bad cholesterol mix was upside down. We talked a lot about the link between diabetes and early onset dimentia. I came away from that conversation with my head spinning. I knew I wasn’t healthy but I had always figured I had time to get it together. Always sometime in the future. Suddenly, I had no time to waste.

After that conversation, I became very focused on sugar. My choices became very simple. Sugar is hurting me. Don’t eat sugar. I trimmed most of the sugar and processed foods from my diet and got more active. I had a Fitbit and started paying attention to more than just my steps. I started tracking my calories intake/output. I had specific, measurable goals that I could monitor in realtime and make useful choices throughout the day. I started taking my breaks to walk at work and walked on my lunch break. It wasn’t hard. It just required consistency.

I’m no longer pre-diabetic and my cholesterol is mixed the right direction. I lost 40 pounds and feel good most days. I joined a running group and am pushing my mileage toward my first half marathon in November.

This isn’t just a humble brag. Everybody’s journey is different. Losing weight is easier for guys than girls. It has to do with metabolism, muscle mass and such. I’m not bragging. I just want to say that I’m proud of what I’ve done for myself this past year and that it wasn’t as difficult as I had told myself it would be. In fact, I succeeded because it became very, very simple. Avoid sugar. Drink water. Get active. Be consistent.

And that’s the takeaway: Keep it simple and be consistent. Every day do the thing that matters most. Whatever it is you want or need, it is right there for you. It is possible. Start now. Keep it simple. Do it everyday.

2017: Make Ready | A Prayer

2016 was a brutal year. 2017 is unlikely to be kinder. I stopped writing for a while because the things about which I was writing no longer seemed very much to matter. I have taken the time to read and watch and listen. I have been seeking patterns inside the noise and confusion that has become my life.

I am working with groundlessness. I am working with uncertainty. I am working with fear. I need to write true things. I need to do things that matter. I have been working toward one goal: focus. I have not found it.

I don’t have any answers aside from this: we have all been swallowed by noise and confusion, but this noise and confusion is not our actual lives. We are still ourselves though our surroundings seem unfamiliar and our families and friends sometimes feel like strangers.

On New Year’s Day 2017, I am still making myself ready.

It has become for us a habit to wish one another a happy new year. I wish that for all of us, but happiness, it seems, is no longer enough. Happiness is not purpose. Happiness comes from purpose. It is a way of way of working and doing and being.

And so, my prayer.

I pray that all lives be enlarged by joy and love and gratitude. I pray enough courage to do the right things. I pray to continue gathering abundant happiness along the way. But, more than all of this, I pray to make a useful life. May my life, my words, my actions help soften the noise and reduce the confusion for someone else.

I am writing with joy. I am writing with love. I am writing with gratitude for you all.

And wishing for each of us a Useful New Year.