January Challenge Recap

God was this month’s challenge invigorating. I have had a lot going on in my life recently and most of it came to a head during the past few weeks, but I was able to counter that by getting rid of so much stuff. My original idea was to go through one type of item each day, but once I got into the first few boxes that plan was out the window. I found it best to just pick one area to work on or project to tackle each day. I had also planned to take pictures of everything that I got rid of to provide a visual record, but I found that to be an extra step between deciding I wanted to get rid of something and actually getting rid of something, which could derail the entire process.

I found that beyond the whole getting rid of stuff I don’t use thing I was able to focus on a the way I purchased or used things. I started going through my cabinets and cooking meals that paired with the freezer furniture stuff that I am always stocked with. My kitchen is my favorite place in my house but it becomes clogged with special equipment and mono use tools. Simply decreasing clutter and making it easier to move around and prepare things is a huge relief. The best part of this process is that it is just getting started. The skills I learned over the month will help me moving forward and allow me to keep paring down the things that I don’t need (knife pun)

I also started to reevaluate how I buy things. Whenever I was in a store it was easy for me to look at something and think “boy that would be very helpful” but once I took a moment to think about how often I would use it and if I really needed the product it became very easy to talk myself out of it. I found that if I spend a few seconds looking at it before I picked it up and put it in my shopping basket it was much easier for me to move on without it. Once I put a product in my shopping basket I feel an ownership of it that makes it harder to put back. While I am not a master of marketing or psychology, I was able to see my own process and create a pathway that made my decision process easier.

In the end I sent 3 carloads of stuff to goodwill, gave away some items, cleared out my cabinets and freezer, returned a bunch of growlers and glassware that I don’t use, and learned a bit about my purchasing process. It was extremely liberating to get rid of a bunch of things that I don’t use, and to question myself as to why I ever felt the need to keep these things. I am in no way making the move to minimalism (I kept my backup beard trimmer) but I was able to minimize the amount of stuff that I don’t use often (I got rid of my backup backup beard trimmer). It was a very cathartic way to start the year and I look forward to keeping the momentum going all year.

On to February’s Challenge

Last February I decided to try something new, sobriety. I wrote both prospective and retrospective reviews that help to shape this year’s adventure. Last year I was recovering from some personal tragedies and had fallen head over heals into the craft beer scene so I felt that

Sobruary was a good option. This year I am in a much better place and hope that taking a short break from drinking will help push me forward and allow me to get to the next level.

Why: Why not? It is always important to push yourself to experiment with tweaks that will allow you to get better. I am not as heavy of a drinking as I was in the past but I am still looking to improve. I feel that taking some time off will allow me to recharge my batteries, save some money, and jumpstart some of my fitness goals for the year.

How: This one is pretty simple, just stop. While I still enjoy visiting breweries and cracking some beers with my friends I am no longer in the mode where I want to drink all night in my living room. I will sometimes have a beer or two with dinner or while watching Netflix, but it isn’t a prime priority. The hardest part will probably be spending so much time in bars doing open mics and shows, since having a few beers tends to pass the time and get me into the mood to do comedy.

The System:

Drink lots of water: This is key, it keeps me hydrated and works as a beer substitute. It is easy to fall into drinking a lot of soda or juice, but why drink the calories. I mostly only drink beer, water, and coffee so it should be no big deal.

Steer clear of triggers: I love buying beer, almost as much as I enjoy drinking it. The idea of walking into a store and finding a hidden gem or something new is a great allure. I also love going to breweries and hanging out. By becoming part of the scene I can meet new people and learn new things, but putting it on hold for 28 days shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Don’t give in to peer pressure: I have friends visiting and some of them don’t understand why I won’t partake. Most people get what I am trying to do, but some people will never get it, and that is OK. By having a clear cut goal and making a commitment, plus stating it in writing, I am committed to seeing this through. Peer pressure rarely works on me, especially while sober so it should be relatively easy to deal with.

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Find Your Tribe

A few days ago I was reading an email with one of those supposed “live your life better” points and I came across an interesting statement, “find your tribe.” They meant it as a go forth and meet new people who like the same thing as you, but instead it got me thinking about the people that I already know.  I get a lot of these emails form various list serves and most of the time they are filled with fluff about how I should meditate, go to the gym for 6 hours every day, drink my coffee at a leisurely pace, and buy whatever product or course they are selling. But every once in a while you come across a gem that makes everything click into place, this was one of those times.

The concept of “tribe” may seem very foreign in our society, but if the nomenclature doesn’t fit then try substituting the word family. Most people have two types of families, the ones that they are born into and the “family” of friends and associates that they choose. I suppose that for me the term tribe works better, since my groups of friends are constantly moving, flowing and evolving like the American Indians of the plains. I suppose that it also works since I am closer to some groups than to others, and form alliances and associations with tribal type bonds. I have a huge tribe full of fraternity brothers, a good sized one full of professional associates, a small but powerful tribe of friends, a group of beer lovers, and lately I have been trying to build a tribe of comedians. The great part about thinking of these groups as tribes is that I can create new groups and connections without having to deal with the messy terminology.

I suppose for those that know me assigning nomenclature to disguise my connections is a bit out of character. I have never gotten into petty terminology of who is a “close friend” or a “best friend” but I have always been pretty clear with how I view people if not how I call them. I like most people work on a tiered system where as I get to meet people and they move through the stage such as acquaintance, associate, friend, and confidant or some such hierarchy. I suppose that the best way to move up this chain is to belong to intersecting groups that I spend my time with. It is a bit like having a Venn diagram of where I spend my time, those in the green area where the yellow and blue circles overlap are my closest friends. No real surprise that my closest friends are beer drinking fraternity brothers who like to laugh at my jokes.

For most of the past decade most of my friends have followed a similar pattern. They were at one point in time in pharmacy school, or dated/lived with/were close to one of my friends. Based on that distinction they were mostly white, middle class, moderate to highly intelligent, internally motivated, and probably a little full of themselves. Having only friends from the same mold is a double edged sword, since you are the average of the 5 people that you spend the most time with, buy it also limited my scope and made me uncomfortable when I met people who aren’t in that mold.

During the first few years after college I was so caught up in the work too much sleep too little cycle that I never took the time to develop new contacts in my new home towns. I would work 60 or so hours a week then run off to Albany to spend time with my friends or to camp to spend time with my family. While these trips were great release valves and gave some balance to my hectic and stressful life they prevented me from putting down roots. It wasn’t until I moved to Middlebury and got to know a few people and develop a few routines that I was able to expand my circle. Part of that is due to a more forgiving work schedule which allows me to go out and do different things after working a full day, but I think that part of it was because I reached the point that I no longer want to be as much of a nomad. Don’t get me wrong, we always want what you can’t have, and I still long for a life of freedom and a no responsibility, but I know that the best option is for me to settle in and develop a life for myself.

I have always been consumed by my passions. I latch onto something and pour every ounce of energy into in. Over the years most of these passions are solitary endeavors like writing or photography, but the ones that I have picked up recently have been more social ventures. Pursuing craft beer and visiting breweries gives me to opportunity to strike up conversations with interesting people from all over. Sometimes it is making small talk with someone while waiting in line, other times it is being the only one hanging out with the brewer. Since I am a middle of the road beer geek I have a lot more knowledge than the layman but a lot less than the brewers and serious geeks I can walk into every conversation either taking in or imparting knowledge which makes for great discussion and a worthwhile feeling. I pride myself on being a beer geek rather than a beer snob because I enjoy all types of beers and don’t feel the need to look down on others for their lack of knowledge or divergent tastes. I hope that this makes me seem like less of an asshole when referring to hop varietals or using terms like “catty” and “roasty” but then again maybe not. Most of my friends are into beer and we spend a lot of time discussing out of the box beers from far away breweries and bragging about how we have a friend of a friend who is able to ship us some. In the end it makes for interesting conversation and a welcome feel good atmosphere. Even the few beer snobs in our tribe are unobtrusive enough that they don’t put off the rest of us too much.

Over the past few months I have been lucky enough to meet a whole bunch of new and interesting people through comedy. I have always been a bit of a loner and putting myself out there is a step WAY outside of my comfort zone. Taking a chance and doing something new like comedy opened me up and allowed me to meet people in a comforting and easy going scene which has really been a blessing. Going from meeting 3 non work related people in the past 5 years to meeting dozens in the span of a few months is a big step. Simply making new acquaintances and starting the getting to know you process is a welcome step. Hopefully as I continue my journey through comedy I will continue to meet new people from all different backgrounds and walks of life and the tribe will keep on growing.

One of my favorite movies is SLC Punk. In part of the opening act they introduce a character named John the Mod who “moves between the tribes.” Set in Salt Lake City in 1985 the movie focuses on the rigidly defined class structure of the underground, mods, punks, heavy metal guys, new agers, the like. And though this brightly colored hierarchy never resembled my life, the sense of moving between groups and acting as an ambassador always appealed to me. As tied as I may be to a few groups I take pride in the fact that I am not a one trick pony solely locked into working with one set of people. Being able to move between groups and spend time with different sets allows me to maximize my time and keeps me from getting bored. Maybe because I have a unique appearance and a booming voice but people tend to remember me and readily seek me out, which in turns brings me into their group and allows me to form even more new connections.

The past year or so has been focused on personal growth and trying new things. Through that process I have been impressed with my ability to switch between personas. It isn’t a psychopathic thing, but embracing who I am when surrounded by different groups. I guess it is part of my development of a stage persona that is an amplification of myself. I have been able to work on making that mental switch in the same way my professional pharmacy attitude used to come on whenever I put on my labcoat. This grasp of self awareness and knowledge of who I am supposed to be when is different settings is something that develops with time and is something I keep striving to get better. As great as the idea of “just being yourself” is it doesn’t work for all situations.

This essay has turned longer than I anticipated, and I think that I could probably keep going. The net effect is that I am pretty happy at where my tribes have taken me and I am looking to find other tribes and to grow as a person. I like finding new outlets and pursuing new passions and meeting others who share some of those passions. I look forward to expanding these groups and having them overlap, as far as I am concerned the more I hear “So how do you know Owen?” the better.

A Walk Down Memory Lane

A few months ago I was in Albany for the weekend and had some time to kill so I got starbucks and took a walk around the old neighborhood.  Yes folks, I, Owen Foley, former punk rock boxer and anarchist extraordinaire have become a pinkey up, latte drinking stroll taker.  2005 Owen would totally kick my ass right now.

My stroll took me past the houses on Holland Ave where I spent many of my formative years.  This is a little bit of hyperbole since I didn’t grow up in the Holland houses, but moved in when I was 19.  While I was technically an adult at the time looking back it feels like it was just infancy, and the 4 years that I lived on Holland were the ones that laid the framework for most of my friendships and fundamentally made me the person who I am today.

If you didn’t attend the Albany College of Pharmacy and/or Health Sciences from 2003-2008 you probably don’t have any clue what I am talking about.  There are 6 big and beautiful Tutor style houses on Holland ave just a block from the college.  They were actually closer to the school and the dorms while having amenities such as off street parking (a premium in Albany), full basements, and no adult supervision.  They looked beautiful on the outside and had once been grand on the inside, our solarium had a wall mounted fountain shaped like a fish, plus we actually had a solarium.  The problem was upkeep, and the landlord didn’t put any time or money into the properties since he really didn’t care, as evidenced by the fact that he rented them to college students.  While they had the potential to be nice they were so outdated that there was no way they would pass code inspections.  In our entire house we had 2 grounded outlets, the walls were moldy and full of asbestos, and there was a room in the basement with a dirt floor that was infested with all sorts of insects.  We also didn’t do much in the way of upkeep, and between the parties, and the hookah coal dust, and the beer bottles all the houses (except for the 110 which had 2 girls living there who cleaned) looked like they war zones.

The school and possibly the city of Albany have ordinances in place to prevent fraternity houses, so these were technically not frat houses, but that was just a technicality.  When I first came on campus there were 2 KE houses and one Phi Del house on Holland ave, by the time of the great eviction there were 2 KE houses, 3 Phi Del ones, and one former KE house that had been condemned.  It is worth pointing out to those that went to other pharmacy schools on our campus KE was not the national women’s pharmacy fraternity, but the only all male chapter, and while they were good guys they were definitely some hard partying natty swilling bros.  Those of us in PDC were not much more refined, many of us were hard partying devotees of Keystone Light and Evan Williams.   For the fraternities it was an ideal situation, close to campus, secluded from most neighbors, on the main drag but isolated enough that the cops didn’t bother us.

When we were freshman my group of friends was always looking for a place to hang out and drink.  After a near stabbing experience behind a bodega it was decided that we needed a safe place to call our own.  Behind the Holland houses was a road that was protected from view by a stand of trees, so we started drinking there.  The normal people on the road didn’t mind us and the KE guys would sometimes come and drink with us.  But as Albany tends to do it eventually got cold.  I knew the PDC guys, but didn’t hang out with them much outside of parties, eventually one day as we were counteracting our shivers with malt liquor one of the PDC guys approched us, lets call him Meatball.  Unlike the KE guys who came out and drank with us Meatball had no such intentions, he came out to yell at us for being stupid and drinking in the cold, and dragged us into his warm basement where he told us we can drink anytime, it was one of the kindest things that anyone has ever done for me.  Eventually we moved from the basement into the living room, and into their poker games, and eventually we were accepted as PDC wannabees.  It is no surprise that most of us wear letters today.

After my first year of college I was asked to move into a room at 100 Holland.  It technically was an office, and it technically wasn’t insulated, but I jumped at the chance despite the objections of my parents and the college.  The rest of the story is a bit of a blur.  During the next 4 years I lived with 9 different roommates, hosted dozens of parties, went through good and bad times and generally raised hell… oh yeah and I studied a little bit too.  By 2008 our landlord had had enough, after a certain roommate of mine neglected to pay rent for 11 consecutive months nobody’s leases were renewed and we all had to find new places to host our debauchery.  Myself and 4 others ended up settling in the suburbs at a decent house called Fort Glenmont that we proceeded to run into the ground to the point that it was torn down last year.  No matter what other places I lived my college experience will always be tied to 100 Holland ave.

When I was on vacation with Meatball this spring he told me how he had walked past 100 Holland when he had last been in Albany.  I decided to take that walk down memory lane myself.  I walked around all the houses and peered in the windows and was saddened to see how far things have fallen apart.  In a few short years our already run down houses had descended into decrepitude.  The doors were boarded up to prevent vagrants, but there are smashed windows and broken porch railings, and the roof of the office that I had moved into 10 years ago had collapsed.  It was an immensely sad experience to see the cathedrals of my youth reduced to rubble.

I take a lot of solace in the fact that the most important part of those houses are the people who lived in them.  The friendships that were fostered by living in these very fun places so close to each other have stood the test of time.  I can’t think of a week during the past 10 years that I have gone without being in contact with someone who lived on Holland ave.  My best friends and I had an opportunity to be together in a unique place at a unique time when the school and the cops and the slumlords allowed us to create memories that will forever bind us.  When I returned from my walk I wiped the tears from my eyes and went out with a bunch of those friends to have new experiences and to write the next chapter or our story.

2015 A Look Ahead

Holy Crap it is 2015 already, and I just got used to writing 2013 on my checks.  This year like any other is full of promise and the ability to try new things and have new adventures.  The key is transferring the idea from potential to kinetic and actually doing those things and getting where you want to go.  Here are some things that I want to continue from 2014, some new things that I want to try in 2015, and some adventures that I want to have.

2014 was a big year for personal growth, as covered in my 2014 Year in Review.  I had the opportunity to try a bunch of new things and I really want to keep doing them.

  • I starting doing comedy and enjoyed taking a class, did open mics and a few showcases and scheduled performances.  I plan on continuing with stand up and have already been booked for gigs on January 4th and February 14th.  I will also be doing more improv and will be starting a class on January 6th.
  • I would say that I enjoy running, but that would be a lie since nobody enjoys running.  That being said I am going to continue running during the new year and will actually be trying an adventure race in January.  I plan on doing a 10k some time and probably more 5k races, but I don’t plan on doing any of those where you get pelted in the face with colored corn starch.  A few months ago some of my friends got me drunk and took advantage of my good will and convinced me to sign up for a “winter adventure race” which is basically a 6 mile Tough Mudder in January.  I am going to do terribly and it is going to be miserable, but you can bet your ass that I will finish.
  • I will however try to branch out and try other new exercises.  Last year I did a little bit of yoga and boxing and lifting, and I want to get into them, mostly because anything is more fun than running.  Hopefully by doing these other activities I can continue on my path to health.
  • I don’t think that I am going to continue online dating.  It was a good experience to put myself out there and I made one really good friend, but it was a big drain of time and energy.  I learned a lot and maybe I will start up again, but right now it is not a priority.
  • I will continue writing.  I have found writing and exploring some of the things I discuss on this blog to be very therapeutic.  While writing is a lot of work and takes a commitment to get words on a page on a regular basis I think that I am up for the challenge.  I will also be branching off from my 1200 word dialogues into some shorter comedic writing.  Who knows maybe one day I will be heralded as a humorist.

There are a lot of new things that I want to try during 2015, overcome some fears and explore some new possibilities, it should be exciting.

  • I have never been a big fan of guns and had a bad experience when I was younger, but 2015 will be 10 years since the last time I have shot a gun.  I plan on taking a firearms course and getting comfortable with the idea of guns.  I hope to draw on some help from my friends and would like to shoot pistol, shotgun, rifle, and possibly even an assault weapon.  I don’t foresee myself ever becoming a gun owner, but having the experience and the comfort level will help to assuage my fears and make be better at surviving the zombie apocalypse.
  • I was told that Vermont has a healthy scene for Moth style storytelling, which is something that I have always wanted to try.  I plan on hitting a few events and giving it a try.  My delivery style is pretty perfectly suited to telling a 5 minute story and God knows that I have enough of them.
  • I haven’t hiked much over the past few years, but with a return to the southwest in my plans I am hoping to do a little bit of hiking.  I enjoy being outdoors and having the opportunity to take a lot of photos and get some alone time, so I am going to set the goal of hiking 12 mountains this year, even if they are just short hikes up Rattlesnake or in Breadloaf.
  • Professionally the most important goal that I have for 2015 is to take the exam to become a board certified Geriatric Pharmacist.  This is a pretty big step for me to go from the guy who got tossed out of pharmacy school and eventually graduated with a 2.4 GPA to becoming one of less than 2000 people with a CGP in the country, and only the second CGP from the great state of Vermont.  There are going to be some professional changes for me in the coming year and I am glad for the learning experience that I have had, but getting this certification will be a nice accomplishment that will hopefully carry through on the next level.

There were a number of trips that I was planning for 2015 but it looks like some of them won’t be happening.

  • January- Gatlinburg: I am still planning the normal trip with a detour to spend a night with family in Richmond
  • March- Tampa: Still going to do this one, in part because with Hunahpu day falling during Saint Patricks Week it is a great opportunity to get out of the northeast and spend some time drinking with my friends.
  • June: Finger Lakes: Who doesn’t love a wedding in wine country?
  • June-Seattle/Portland: This is something that unfortunately has to fall by the wayside.  I don’t think that I am going to have enough CTO to pull it off so I am going to postpone until 2016 and move my plans for an Alaskan cruise back until 2017.  I am sad that I am missing this opportunity, but I swear I will make it out there some day.
  • August- Grand Council in Albuquerque: I am looking forward to a glorious return to the desert (invest in Coppertone).  I celebrate my 30th birthday the previous Friday so I may head out early to do some hiking and explore a place that I haven’t been in more than 5 years.
  • September- I am planning on going out to Wyoming for a friend’s wedding reception.  Not sure of the details, but I am going to make it happen somehow.
  • October- Tampa: Heading back to the Sunshine state to celebrate another wedding, I am hoping that there will be a Jack Daniels fountain and an ice sculpture.
  • On top of all this there will be my normal trips to Albany and camp, and possibly a few trips to Connecticut, Boston, Maine, and maybe even NYC.

It looks like 2015 will be a year with a lot of promise.  I am sure that everything will not go exactly as planned and there will be a lot of other changes that I am planning for but don’t want to talk about in the is forum.  When I set out for 2014 I wasn’t planning for it to be so successful, but even if 2015 doesn’t live up to the hype I am glad to have a plan in place and things that I want to work on.  That is better than any half cocked resolution.