Doubling Down On A New year

So many times so many people talk in December on how they had such a bad 12 months and they can’t wait to start the new year. I have never logically understood how the turn of a calendar page magically brings about a fresh start. Yet I feel it too. And this year I am doubling down on a fresh start.

My life is OK (not the ideal description of one’s living status) but I am in a major funk. A funk is stronger than a rut and harder to pull out of.

At work, I continue the career path I began 32 years ago. Today there is not nearly enough change and far too few fascinating moments.  Worklife contains some good moments; meetings with my more interesting clients, thinking original thoughts and “getting it” sooner than my competitors and colleges, and teaching the “kids” new things — helping them grow. Yet there are far too many hassles. I am doing things that I learned to do 20 years ago and would be passed down to others if I had the right people with the right skills and attitudes. There are administrative hassles that suck the life force from me. I am a concept guy, a principles guy, a substance over form guy. I hate bad process that I cannot fix and that takes hours away from doing good and doing well.

At home, for as long as I can remember I have been too tired from work to experience great joy enough time away from it.  Within Homelife I am in a rut. I bike, I watch too much TV and spend far too quality time with my wife and grown son. (Too much of the time we are more like roommates than family.) There is the occasional play, some times with friends,  a trip to the health club but too many weekend days I am in a daze or zonked out on the couch.

Health-wise, all is good at 30,000 feet but that masks the aches and pains, hearing loss and forgetfulness. I know that some of this is normal for a 57 year old but I want better. Part of the doubling down is a health thing but let me come back to that.

Outside of the overall funk, 2013 contained a combination of the very good and the tragically sad. My wife and I had two too fun vacations, one in Florida in March and one in Yellowstone and the Tetons in August. My son graduated from college, has a job and is living with use for awhile. Admittedly I was concerned about that arrangement working well but it has succeeded my highest hopes mostly because of him. Between Davide being Davide and whatever influences my wife and I had on him he has grown up (as grown up as any 22 year old can be) into a young man that is at ease around others, a willing participant in keeping up the home in which he lives, hard working and he has developed a great group of friends. He is someone you want to be around.

Additional life positives include more frequent outings with friends, a strong summer of biking –including my 4th Century ride in the past 6 years, and a feeling as though I was able to help a couple of friends through some tough times. Being a good friend is a not insignificant portion of how I value my self worth.

The tragedy of the year was the death of my younger sister in October. Her illness was discovered late. There were a mere eight days between the time we first heard about her cancer and her death. Too much, too quickly, devastatingly sad. I was a guardian of this autistic woman who was unable to fend for herself. Intellectually I know that there was little more that I could have done for her. Her condition made medical tests requiring her to be still all but impossible. And yet I will carry the feeling that I let her and my Mom down by not doing more. Several friends have told me that I was a good brother to her. I am taking them at their word though how is one visit a month plus a few holidays enough? While this pain will carry into 2014 it is one reason that I will be glad to see 2013 end.

So what does all of this do with doubling down on a new year? Excellent question. I had almost forgotten the theme of this piece.

I will make no dramatic new year’s resolutions on how I am going to change what I do not like about my current life. I know myself too well to think that I can keep those promises. First, I lack the discipline. Second, I have contemplated my situation for years and if I had easy answers my life would be different by now. So I will start with baby steps.

Baby Step One. On Christmas Eve morning I had surgery on both feet. (yes 1000 people told me that both feet at the same time was risky. What if something went wrong and neither could bear weight? My response is that I lack time, including time off work, to heal so it was both now or never). If all goes well I will no longer feel a jolt of pain with every step I take, a condition that I have tolerated for years. I may even be able to run again. Part of the baby step is the surgery but the more important facet is no longer tolerating being OK with pain.

Baby Step Two. I am coming back to writing. When people ask me what I would do if I were not practicing my profession of 32 years the answer is always journalism, combining wrtiting, photography and travel. I believe that I have a somewhat unique view of the world. I have a love of faces and stories told through words or pictures. I am only committing to writing but will add photography classes as I can. The travel just requires time and money.

Baby Step Three. I am trusting a new investment advisor, my third after two failures. I would be much closer to being financially ready to leap from consulting to journalism if I had been a close to average investor over the course of my adult life. Not even close. Of course timing being what it is the transition and past bad practice puts too much of my portfolio in cash at a time that stock prices are at an all time high and bond prices are falling. It will take more than a few years for this to work out but at least I believe I will be getting better advice. Can’t be worse than myself or my last two well paid advisors.

Other than that I am working on being more conscious of how I spend my time and the words I say. Bring on 2014. I am as ready as I can be. Baby Steps.

 

 

Burn Baby Biceps Burn

Started spinning. No not in circles to get dizzy, as much fun as that sounds, but the stationary bike kind. A relatively new place called Revolution Spin opened not far from my house. For years a part of my brain told me that I should do this during the long winter between biking seasons. Didn’t do that but I did start this summer.

Began with straight forward Level l spin class. Kicked my butt!! Breathing heavy from minute 1 through minute 40. After a few times I wanted more pain. Fortunately they have hour-long spin and stretch and core and spin and strength classes. Two days after the spina and core, my stomach muscles wailed in pain. I thought no class could be worse. Then I did spin and strength.

Both classes are taught by Tyrone, an ex-Marine who does an excellent job of motivating through a combination of encouragement and embarrassment. He drives the 40 minute spin extra hard since we are not getting a full hour of that. I wait until long after class for my breath to catch up. But then on to the 20 minutes of free weights. Not high numbers of pounds but very high numbers of reps. Until you feel the burn and then your burn burns.

Admittedly,  weights are a small part of my already minimal workout routine. I can go weeks, even months without touching weights. That meant that the gap between this intense workout and my readiness for it was off the charts. And yet I pushed as hard as I could.

Later that day I felt a bit sore but that’s good right? Let’s call that Day Zero. Day One my biceps screamed with pain. They throbbed the whole day. I could barely lift a fork. Day Two was actually worse. The pain level held while my arms were stuck at a 45 degree angle.  Any attempt to straighten them out caused waves of sharp and intense pain through my arms.

This lasted all through Day 5. Yes 5.  I am not the most fun, upbeat guy to start with. When in pain, serious pain, I make Attila the Hun seem like a sweetheart.  5 friggin’ days. Slowly I finally regained use of my arms. 

Yes I will probably take this class again. I will take the time to prepare by touching weights in advance…and have a morphine drip on call.

Running Hard Just To Get Away. Gone.

Most professionals say they work hardest just before and just after vacation. This is my story of the before part.

Vacation Day One. More like Day 1.5. As of this writing I have been awake for 34 hours except for a few cat naps on the planes and a short one by the pool (I will explain that last one in a moment).

The goal of day one is to get from Chicago to Italy. Florence specifically, though it is but a one night way stand on this trip. Some part of my future has this beautiful city as the destination.

As I wake up on Day One there are multiple potential roadblocks in the way of vacation. First, the morning of Day One I wake up in Boston, not Chicago. If all goes well I make a great presentation and book it to the airport to catch a plane that will land 3 hours before we check in for our international flights and first I need to get home.

The other thing I know is that my computer crashed yesterday as I headed to Boston and only after a late afternoon call was I generally assured that a new one (sans my hard drive with most of my key files) would be waiting in my office by the time I landed. What was not yet certain was how the computer would make the 21 mile trip from my office to my home within my 3 hour window. This may be vacation but I will need access to email and files during the next 10 days. Having a working computer was vital. There were emails to write, documents to edit and instructions to leave that I could not do the night before Day One. Now all of this needs to happen in the 1 hour and 23 minutes I hope to have at home. Stress levels were off the charts.

So many things had to go right. I needed the weather gods and plane canceled for maintenance gods to be on my side and allow my flight from Boston to land on time. I needed the computer gods to stop f ‘ing with me (since they chose to crash my first computer only after I could not get help from our IT staff) and get a computer working. Finally I needed the administrative staff gods to find a solution that did not involve my wife, who had plenty of her own work to do that morning, driving 42 miles round trip to deliver my computer.

Needless to say I was skeptical that all the gods would do my bidding. In my most optimistic moment that morning I could be described as pensive. (I do not think that the story needs that line but I felt an uncontrollable desire to use the word “pensive”.)

My lucky day! Prayers answered. The client presentation was a hit. Despite being in the slowest airport security line ever, I made my plane to Chicago and it landed on time. The computer arrived by messenger at my home shortly after I did. It worked. Our son drove us to the airport, the security line was short, we got moved to economy plus seating for the 9 hour flight, and I had time to send email. This is truly one time that the overused word “amazing”applies.

The next twelve hours consisted of two planes, a couple of bad movies, a few pages of the NY Times read and little sleep. All worth it. We arrived in Florence and were picked up by a driver and taken to The Villa Cora, a 5 star hotel just outside the city center.

I highly recommend the Villa Cora. The common areas combine old world charm with a few modern touches. Our room was beautiful with a view of the city center, the basket of fruit and bottle of Champagne a nice surprise and yet being tired and hot we were drawn to the pool. One would never know they were on the edge of a city. The landscaping around the pool area and the gardens that surrounded us made it seem as if we were in the country. The pool was exquisitely tiled and the lounges comfy. Within moments we were offered a welcome drink. I desired nothing more.

I know I read for a while and lazily swam a few laps. I am told I also snored as the 34 hours of non-stop movement punctuated by the early stress of getting out-of-town caught up to me.

With renewed energy I headed solo to the city center to hit a few of Florence’s top sites and to snap a few digital pics. I had less than two hours. Not enough time but time used well. I saw and snapped picture of the Duomo (cathedral) the Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza della Signoria,  the medieval Palazzo Vecchio, and the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge).  I walked by the Pitti Palace but it was too late to go in or to see any portion of the Boboli Gardens. So much to do, so little time.

I did not have time to sit in a cafe drinking cafe or wine and just enjoy a piazza or three. That was the real disappointment. I now enjoy spending time being part of the landscape as much as running around to say I “experienced” the sights.

I did manage to take picture of some interesting looking people as well as the historic sites. After I make time to write regularly again my next project is to put together a book of the people shots I have taken in different countries. (Maybe that is a vacation in itself. With a laptop I could work and publish from anywhere.)

One hell of a first day. Now on to the sea.

Simple Passover Pleasures

I am not a planner. I tend to do things last-minute. Sometimes that works out and other times not so much.

I ran out of matzoh with three days of Passover to go. I am supposed to be gluten-free or at least wheat free and just finished off box #2 of the spelt matzoh ( the gluten-free matzoh is horrible even for gluten-free stuff).  No problem I thought. There are two grocery stores in the area that cater to Jewish shoppers, at least one must have plenty left.

Stopped at one store this morning on my way to work. I combed the aisles. plenty of regular matzoh, some even whole wheat. No spelt. Anywhere.

I made it through the day on scrambled eggs and potatoes for breakfast and salad for lunch. I needed something crunchy and starchy and I needed it now. The second store had aisles and aisles of kosher for passover product. One entire aisle for matzoh.  Spelt, where are you. I looked and looked and looked again. Nothing. I was forlorn. Then just as I was about to go something caught my eye. One lone box of spelt matzoh peeking out from some other boxes.

I grabbed it. Were there more. No, damn, but at least there was one.

I hate to mix my Jewish holiday metaphors but I need a Chanukah like miracle. I need a box of matzoh made for 1-2 days to last for 3. Then finally as the sun goes down on Saturday night I can order my post Passover gluten-free pizza.

No One To Blame But Me

16 days. Keep that time frame in mind. I will come back to that shortly.

I am often child like. But not in the good, imaginative, whimsical, joyful ways of a child.  When was the last time someone described me as whimsical? No, when I am childlike it is in the tired, crabby, it’s always someone else’s fault kind of way. Especially that latter part. I tend to not take charge of things and then get mad at the world as it passes me by.

No excuses now. I am a bachelor. My wife left.

It is not as if I never functioned alone. I am not one of those guys who went from their mother to their wife never having to cook, clean and generally take care of business. I was a bachelor until 38. Just because it is 17 years later does not mean that I do not have skills.  I have skills.

What I lack for the next 16 days are excuses. That is when she returns and until then my life is mine to manage, to improve, or further screw up.

Tonight is night #1 and I already broke two promises that I made to myself. First no overeating. I have to lose the same 15 pounds that I needed to lose last year at this time. I will look and feel better when I pull that one-off. Promise #2 was a limit of 1 hour of  TV a night. 2.5 hours including a totally useless hour of The Wild, Wild, West (how I used to love that show. Damn cable TV reruns.)

At least before the night ended I gained a modicum of control. I am writing again. That is good. Feels good.

I have a long list of my own to-dos and I know that somewhere on the fridge my spouse left me her list. One at a time.

Some goals. Download  Lightroom, get the forms sent in and to learn the basics of photo editing (at least how to download the 600 pictures sitting in my camera). Fix the new version of Out. Exercise 4 times a week. Stretch every day. Lose 5 of the 15 pounds through portion control and exchanging cookies for fruit. Go through the stacks of mail piled up in the office. Schedule the spin classes. These things alone are far more than what I get done in an average 2 weeks outside of work.

Tune in. See if I write every night as planned. Follow the adventures of Bachelor Man. Better than anything on prime time. I hope.

Strange-ers On A Plane

It is late at night. I am on my second consecutive flight after a long day of work. Exhaustion seeps into every fiber of my frame. All I want to do is close my eyes and let the 2 hour flight take me home.

Having done this a thousand times I know that at this hour 90% – 100% of the other inhabitants of this flying metal tube want the same peace that I seek. Unfortunately on this night it is only 90% and I sit within 5 feet of the other 10%… with no possibility of escape.

My frequent flier status allows me to be one of the first on the plane. I settled in, put on my noise reducing headphones and waited for the plane to fill. Everything was great for the first 10 minutes. Then he boarded and sat in the same row just across the aisle. He was wired. From drugs? Adrenaline? Who knows.

He started telling the story of his day and then his life to the guy in the next seat (I think his name was Job). He started before he even sat down and seemingly did not inhale for an hour. No, it was not that it seemed like an hour. I timed it. An hour. It seemed like days. The constancy and length of the monologue were painful enough, but that VOICE.  His loud, deep, gravely voice is seared into my synapses.

I think he was in sales. I think he had some great opportunity that was as of yet unclosed. I got the impression that this man lives in a world of the “almost got it, will get the next one”. Each new opportunity brings excitement. He is not deterred by past experience.  I know this much because it was impossible not to catch some of what he said. I was in the window seat and therefore as far across the aisle as could be. My seatmates in the row started whispering about him but no one, myself included had the guts to ask him to tone it down or better yet to end our misery. But finally it did end, though like one of those car alarms on the street that makes an awful sound and then stops for a minute or two only to start anew, I remained on edge fearing that he would restart. But no, it was over. For him.

Shortly after he concluded the only other person who was not asleep on this flight began telling her story. At least this one had modest entertainment value. Entertainment value in the sense of one of those odd movies that you watch late at night filled with oddball “characters” from the sticks.

This woman was a grandmother from a small town in North Carolina. How small?   As she put it, “…most excitement in town see the dead bodies pile up at funeral home next door “.  She was traveling to the big city of Chicago for the first time to bring her granddaughter to meet the girl’s mother for the first time since she was born. The girl was one of nine grandkids. She had no credit cards, just cash so someone from the 20th century (not even the 21st) had to buy her granddaughter a snack. (No you cannot make this kind of stuff up). She spoke in a drawl that could only be described as small town NC hick. No insult intended [don't you hate when people say things like no ___intended when that is exactly what they intended].

She went on and on until after the flight had landed. There went my last hope of rest. I staggered to the parking lot, found my car and an hour later crawled into bed. Now I know why rich people like their private planes.

I Would Not Wish This On My Worst Enemy

Those were the first words his mom said to me as I hugged her not knowing how to ease her pain.

I stood out in the bitter cold for 45 minutes. The line just to get inside the funeral home snaked its way around the building even now in the 4th hour of the visitation. The line never got shorter until the doors closed 5 hours later. Hundreds and hundreds of people who loved him, loved his family came to say they were sorry and to ask “Why?”.

Scottie was 17. Smart, athletic, funny. Dozens of good friends, dated regularly. Two older brothers who were friends as well as siblings. Two loving and attentive parents. Lots of close family. Seemed to be happy.

And then came Monday night. He seemed tired and went to bed early. His parents went to bed a little later. At 4:30 the police were at their door telling them that their son was dead.

The details are sketchy. At some point he drove from his house, parked the car on an overpass above an expressway and left the car with the motor running. Somewhere around one he was lying on the expressway when he was hit by a car. The assumption is that this kid, who was seemingly happy and loved life, and according to his father “afraid of roller coasters”, jumped off the height of the overpass with the intent to die. The injuries sustained from being hit by the car make it impossible to know for sure that he jumped. Questions of why was the car motor left running and did he jump or go down to the highway by foot would be interesting mystery clues if this were a made for TV movie. Instead it is all too real life.

The bigger and much, much harder to answer question is  WHY. No note. No signs of depression or despair. Had been talking to parents and friends about making various plans for the future. Why?

The sad thing is that we will probably never know. Actually the tragically sad thing is that Scottie is dead. Not knowing why just adds to the pain. Could something have been done? Should someone have noticed something more? We will never know. What I do know that for the past two days I have been witnessing the toll of this tragedy on his parents, brothers, grandfather and uncle. All have been a part of my life for a long time, 3 of them for most of my life. Let me share some moments from the visitation day on Friday and the funeral service on Saturday.

Just one word can describe Friday. People. Hundreds of people. They just kept coming and coming. They waited in line in the cold for an hour and then inside for another hour until you finally got to the family and the casket. The visitation was scheduled from 3-9 but lasted until 11 because people just kept coming.

Maybe there are three more words, love, sorrow and hugs. Love could be seen on the numerous poster boards with pictures remembering and celebrating Scott’s life. In so many of the picture he had that great big smile that he was so well-known for just beaming. Only one of the poster boards had been prepared by the family. The others were spontaneous gestures by friends and extended family, all who loved this kid.Because the love was so strong the sorrow went so deep. So deep for so many people. All of whom were asking why.As Scott’s grandfather said, this is the worst day of my life.

The hugs. When there are no words to be said, nothing that can provide any comfort, there are hugs. There was more hugging done in these two days than I can ever remember being a part of. A hug, a squeeze, a rub on the shoulder provided some measure of comfort to all of us who mourned.

Saturday was the church service and the cemetery. What I noticed the most about the church service was when a family member  would be heart-broken and sobbing another would be strong for the moment and provide loving support. Then sometime later, often moments later, the strong would become the weak and someone else would provide comfort and strength. During one of those moments Scott’s father broke down and his eldest on just put his arm around his dad as if to say yes, this is horror but I am here by your side and I will be strong for you now.

Scott’s uncle is one of my oldest and closest friends. His grandfather and my mother lived together for almost thirty years until her death. My goal was to be strong for them. Instead as I approached them during the service I broke down and sobbed. Loudly. Not the comfort I had been planning to provide but we all understood.

The deacon led a beautiful service and many good memories of Scot were shared. His eldest brother delivered a powerful speech. He made the point that as the youngest of three boys Scott wanted to grow up fast. He always wanted what his brothers had, wanted to do what they did and hang around with their friends. We were told that to honor Scott’s life we should each live our life as we want it to be lived. No compromises and no excuses. That is what a grown up does.

After the cemetery there was a lunch. At least 200 people came. It was the Catholic version of a Shiva. People and food together help the family to momentarily ease the pain and to recognize that while it will forever be different, life will go on. I was glad to hear the beginning of some normalcy in the conversation. Somethings other than more words about a life ended and how sad it all is. There was even a discussion of the best pizza in town. Why do I find that to be worth mentioning? Because I know from experience that the sorrow ebbs and flows and will be strong for quite some time and that talk of pizza takes nothing away from the respect that Scott’s memory deserves but it does mean there is life for others after his death.

After the lunch my wife and I could do nothing more than collapse at home. I have no idea how the family could physically and emotionally endure the past few days. I was exhausted and my body hurt as if I had taken a beating.

The last point I want to share takes some set up. Through my mother and their father our families became family. At several gatherings over the past couple of years, Scott’s dad had challenged my wife, an avid tennis player, to a game of doubles, he and Scott versus my wife and son.

One of the last things Scott’s dad said to my wife yesterday was;

“I guess we will never have that doubles match”.

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