2016 A Year In Review

This is my favorite essay to write every year.  It is an opportunity to put things down on paper and process 365 days worth of information and put a nice bow on it for the year.  I use this review to see where I spent my time and money, and the priorities that those expenditures imply.  My general habit is out of sight out of mind in order to focus on the present, so shining some light on the past year allows me to process things better.  This is sometimes a double edged sword since writing 2015’s review walked me right into a series of anxiety attacks that spiraled into a rough start to 2016, but lets see how this goes.

As a committed workaholic the most important thing in my life was my job.  This was the first year since high school where I will only get a single W2.  My long and storied history of working multiple jobs and pursuing other income streams is at least on pause.  I left my side job at the hospital, couldn’t host AirBnB at my apartment, and didn’t actually follow through with my drunken inspiration to become an Uber driver.  Yet somehow this year I brought in more money than I have since my crazy overtime Walgreens days.  I worked a good amount of overtime, but through focusing on making my store run better I got a big bonus and a very solid raise.  This time last year I was depressed about work and unhappy about where I was going, I have come to terms that this may not be what I want to do for the rest of my life, but it is what I am doing now so I may as well squeeze the most out of it.  As with a lot of things in my life having a feeling of acceptance allows me to get the most out of it.  There are some big changes to my company coming in 2017, and the ones that have already been rolled out have have been very challenging, but I will just keep on doing my best and trying to hit my goals.

Financially this year was a big win.  I finally hit positive net worth (more in assets than in debts) this July and have felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders.  I don’t carry any credit card debt, my car is paid off, and I hit my target amount that I wanted to save for a house down payment.  The main thing hanging over my head is my student loans, but I was able to refinance to a lower interest rate and will keep chipping away until they are gone.  Luckily I have put in the type of advance work to build the type of systems into my life that allow me to live the way I want to without having to worry too much about money.  I have noticed an uptick in consumerism since hitting positive net worth, which I am trying to curb for the future.  The day that I hit positive net worth I vowed that I would no longer worry about the small things, overtime would not be a priority, and I wouldn’t waste time driving around to find free parking.  Non of those have fully come to fruition, but I have made some improvement on them.

I am a very obsession person and the things that I focus on go a long way toward defining my life.  This year I learned a lot about coffee, I went to specialty roasters and did cuppings, perfected brewing ratios with various equipment, and became a known regular at 5 or so coffee shops.  Being this awake allowed me to get a lot of other things done.  I dabbled in lots of things but the most rewarding one is starting to paint.  I always wanted to paint, but I have absolutely no natural talent.  Humans in general, and myself in particular, tend to move towards the things that we are good at and neglect our weaknesses because it feels good to bask in the glory of being good at something.  I never expect to become good at painting, but it is a pleasure to sit down at the end of the day, crack a beer and move some paint around.  Whatever I paint tends to wind up as a mountainous landscape, I guess you paint what you know.  The most fun aspect of painting is actually buying supplies.  The ladies who work at Michaels aren’t used to guys like me shopping there and have adopted me like the giant special needs child that they never had.  They all make sure that I get the right stuff at the best prices, maximize my rewards points, and baby me in a way that I sometimes need.  It is much cheaper than therapy.

I also really got into meditation this year.  I have dabbled for years, and made a push last December, but through the power of technology and the Calm app I was able to make a lot of progress.  I was patchy at first and then made it a few months of meditating every day before I fell off during vacation.  I kept trying throughout the summer and starting in August I kicked off over 100 days of meditating using Calm every day.  As someone who is a huge fan of quantification this provided me a lot of feedback and motivation to keep the streak going, but recently I have fell off.  Not with the meditation but with tracking it, I get the reward from sitting for a few minutes each day, not from the streak displayed on the phone.  I felt like I was keeping that streak alive to brag to others, which is the opposite of mindfulness and now my practice is more about benefits to me.  Calm is a great tool for exploring different types of meditation, I started with the normal vipassana style of following my breath, and progressed into simple body scans and basic walking meditation.  I now have a practice of taking a deep breath every time I stop at a stop light, it doesn’t have the same effect as 20 minutes of sitting on a cushion, but it does help ground me a bit.  I have been dabbling in other non strict meditation practices like Wim Hoff breathing and isolation tanks, but as of yet I haven’t done either frequently enough to experience huge benefits, but they are showing promise.  Shockingly the most rewarding type of meditation that I have tried is Metta (Loving kindness).  You follow the practice of sending positive feelings toward someone or a group of people who you really care about, then someone you feel neutral towards, then someone you have negative feelings toward, then the whole world.  It sounds way too gooey and woo woo for me, but a few minutes of this practice provides a reset for me like nothing else, and I often do it during my lunch break when I have had a challenging morning.  If you life gets better around 1:45 on a weekday then it is probably because because I am sending positive energy your way from the Rite Aid break room.

I didn’t travel much during the second half of the year, but the trips I took during the spring were extremely rewarding.  Greg and I drove to Gatlinburg via Asheville, we surprised Lou in Philly for his bachelor party, I took a quick trip to Hotlanta to spend time with the Greene family and hang out at Beth and Lazer’s camp, and was part of the most epic Team Zissou group costume at the Bill Murray themed BCTC, I drank way too much at all of these events.  I was honored to be in weddings on back to back weekends and celebrate the day with two couples who’s first dates I happened to be at.  The Lysogorski wedding was my first time performing a wedding, and it was a wonderful day in a beautiful vineyard.  The Sisto wedding the following week was also a blast, I cried a lot of joy tears and caught a duck while walking around Saratoga in a tuxedo.  I finally took the solo vacation to the Pacific Northwest that I have been talking about for years in June.  Bouncing between Seattle and Portland was a lot of fun, I had no concrete plans and chased beer, coffee, burritos, and adventure while spending a little quality time with one of my favorite people in each city.  It was the most relaxing and low impact trip that I have been on in years and is the only vacation that I have ever returned home from relaxed.  I am planning a lot more unstructured solo travel in the future, and this was a perfect gateway drug.

One of the huge benefits of travel is that I can bring things that I find out about myself home.  While in NYC this October I rationalized that I could walk 20,000 fitbit steps no problem when on vacation, but rarely topped 8,000 while at home.  Since that day I have made a concerted effort to walk more every day.  I set the goal of doing 10,000 steps a day every day for a month and then extended it to 2 months.  I then realized that I wanted to hit 5 miles (around 11,500 steps) a day and made that my goal.  For the past 3 months I have gone out of my way to get those steps every day by walking outside and exploring or doing laps in my living room.  It seems like a small thing, but it definitely makes me feel better and has lead to the discovery of a lot of cool new places.  This summer I started cutting a lot of carbs out of my diet except for a weekly cheat day and have seen some benefits.  I am not strictly low carb, I have convinced myself that dark chocolate doesn’t count, and I know that I can get better results if I cut down on my alcohol consumption, but I am pretty glad of my progress.  I haven’t been losing a ton of weight, just 15 or so pounds, but there seems to be a pretty steady decline from eating better and moving more and I certainly feel better most of the time, which it the measure that really means the most.  I still occasionally slip up, like last week when I “accidentally” ate an entire pizza on a Tuesday, but I haven’t let slip up and failures derail my whole system like I have in the past.

One of my biggest regrets of 2016 was that I kind of neglected my friends.  I know that it is natural to fade out of people’s lives after college but I was able to keep a firm grasp on that for many years.  I still spent a good amount of time with folks, but I kind of isolated myself more than past years.  I am a terrible communicator and have spent too long relying on the fact that when I am together with my close friends it is like no time has passed.  Now that people are getting more settled we have less opportunities to see each other and since I am out of touch we feel farther away.  I miss a lot of my far flung friends, and I will keep pledging to reach out more, but am realistic that it probably isn’t going to happen.  After spending years not making any Vermont friends I finally feel comfortable in the community up here, and while I am not super close with many comics I am at least able to make connections and escape from physical and mental isolation.  I also have a pretty close group of friends from college hat has grown since Dave and Jess have moved here, it is great to have a tight knit group that can go on adventures together, and it isn’t even that awkward that I am the 7th wheel with married or engaged couples.

Looking at this summary it feels like I am glossing over the bad parts, so here is some negativity.  I haven’t been doing well at comedy, I was slumping and not having fun, it is getting better but I can’t look back at this year and site more than a handful of bright spots.  I continue to wonder why I spend so much time and energy on something that beats me up.  This summer I went through a bout of crippling insomnia.  I was sleeping 3-4 hours a night for several months and trying out dozens of different remedies from essential oils to accupressure mats and white noise machines before I finally snapped out of it and am back up to my full 6 hours a night.  Donald Trump won the election and all of a sudden I woke up in a world where I am the enemy to a lot of people in my social media bubble.  It is bullshit for me to complain about being an upper middle class straight white man, and as a feminist, LGBTQ ally, and friend to religious and racial minorities I understand the frustrations and fears of these groups and that they are not directing their outrage at me, but it does still sometimes get under my skin.  I think that this contributed to the overwhelming sense of loneliness that resonated through the fall.  It wasn’t the standard “The leaves are dying and I want to see the world burn the color of the trees” fall that I am used to, but more of a disconnect from the people that I care about.  I spent a lot of time embracing the need to completely block people out, I got over it, mostly.  As usual dating was a challenge for most of the year, I got sick of seeing the same people on all the same sites and slowly started to withdraw from them.  I was frustrated, lonely, and kind of giving up, it sucks.  I did meet someone very nice a few weeks ago and we have been out on a few dates, I really like her but I don’t know if it has the possibility of going anywhere, and I realize that writing about it will probably get me in trouble so I am going to stop.

One of this biggest struggles in my life is falling into comparisons with my friends, and this year was tough on that.  Now that we are in our 30s a lot of my friends have responsibilities that I don’t.  They have houses, and partners, and kids, and dogs, and I got karaoke drunk on Thursday night.  I realize that there is no such thing as “normal” and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but I am starting to question taking a much more unconventional path than my peers.  I have built a life that runs on a different trajectory, one without a defined end game.  It is scary looking at the future and having no idea where I am going and what I am doing.  I love playing uncle to my friends’ kids and getting texted pictures of smiling babies but I feel conflicted as to weather I am going to pursue a future that has children in it.  I love the idea of owning a house and having a place to call home, but just 6 months ago I was contemplating moving south if my landlord sells my apartment, and having the ability to drop everything and move is extremely appealing.  I have always felt conflicted about growing up and settling down, and it will probably get harder and harder each year moving forward so there is no end in sight.  I did make a step and get a new peace lily, I named him Ficus II in remembrance of my last peace lily, he sometimes gets a little bit too rowdy and occasionally makes a mess on the carpet but he has mastered the commands sit and stay.

This year I feel like I have made a lot of changes that have leveled me out.  I am used to wild swings in my life and riding those highs and lows like a roller coaster, but this year things were just kind of status quo.  Maybe it is meditation, or listening to a lot of entrepreneurial podcasts that detail major successes and losses, or my habit of reading stoic philosophy, but things seem more neutral, which I suppose is a good thing.  I feel a bit more distanced from what is going on, like I am an observer rather than a participant, which is strange.  I haven’t been having as extreme emotional responses, which is good because I am a violently angry person, but also bad because I like enjoying things.  Maybe this is part of that whole growing up and settling down thing that everyone keeps talking about.

When people ask me how things are going my stock responses are “You know, working too much, sleeping too little” or “Just putting one foot in front of another” but this year I have been occasionally using a new one.  “Busy, but in a fulfilled way” is a better representation of my life.  I have multiple options of things to do every single night.  There is always something that I want to do or a place that I want to go, comedy shows, improv jams, storytelling events, friend’s band playing, burlesque show that I keep saying I will check out, gallery opening, hockey game, and a plethora of other events that are a lot of fun.  I have gotten better at not feeling obligated to doing everything and not feeling bad about missing something if I am not feeling up to it.  This is a fulfilling life, where I can get up on my day off, drink some coffee, read a book, and then go to a fun event.  At the same time I can also plan on going to something after work and then bail if I am not feeling up to anything more than collapsing into my recliner.  Busyness is often seen as productivity, if you are rushing around you are important, and finding that balance is key.  Having things going on in my life is important to me but I am not willing to let it stress me out and I think that I am finally at a time in my life where I can accomplish the things that give me the best rewards.

For a lot of people 2016 was a dumpster fire.  It wasn’t that bad for me, maybe a tire fire at worst.  But it happened, good and bad it is part of my story, and it is part of what makes these yearly reviews worthwhile.  I made a lot of moves and did some things that I am proud of, but there were always things that I didn’t get done.  If you have made it this far then you probably care about me enough to read 3,000 words worth of my bullshit, and I thank you for that.  I hope that your year went well, and that next year will be even better.  I promise to write more, create more, and be better next year, but for now I will just stay here locked inside my head, surrounded by my faults, and content with that.

Happy new year.

Advertisements

Stuff Versus Things

I love having stuff.  Not in a sentimental way where I tie memories to the stuff that I own, because I am not a very sentimental person.  I kind of wish that I had the memory tie in, where I couldn’t get rid of stuff because I was so attached to them, instead it isn’t about the stuff that I own, but it is about ownership.  This is somehow both shallow and visceral and dealing with that duality is kind of tearing me apart.  And like anything that eats at me I find the best way to cut through it and put it behind me is to try and put it into words.

When I was a teenager and went down the rabbit hole of rock music I fell in love with the idea of controlled chaos.  I was never an especially tidy person, but during those years I went off the wall.  I took the chaotic nature of the music that I listened to and created a corresponding physical chaos in whatever I owned.  I started covering my walls with music flyers, and my notebooks and water bottles with stickers.  Everything was arrayed in an erratic pattern that seemed to have no structure, it was like a complex code that only I could crack, because no matter how strewed things were I knew exactly where everything was.  During my freshman year the head of residence life used my dorm room as an example of the type of mess that the RAs should not allow on their floor.  To prove him wrong I challenged him to name anything that I own and I would direct him to is in seconds, he found my biology book under the stack of CDs behind my guitar in the closet.  It might not be arrayed in any way that make sense, but it was mine, and I knew exactly where it was.

Once I moved out of the dorms things got crazier.  Now I had an entire house that I needed to furnish, which I did by raiding dumpsters, trash piles, and goodwill.  We literally knew the garbage pickup days for the city of Albany and would drive around looking for cool stuff or pieces that would serve as an upgrade over the crap that we had picked up during previous weeks.  It was a bad habit, but to be fair we did wind up with some pretty cool stuff, like they say some people’s trash becomes frat house legends.  One time we actually found a toilet, tossed it in the back of my truck and brought it to the room with the dirt floor in our basement where guys used piss during parties, it was supposed to be the ultimate joke.  Until the first party where someone took a dump in it, the joke was on us.

After I moved out of the frat houses, and spent a year on the road with only the possessions that would fit in the back of my van I found myself needing to start again.  I furnished my first few apartments with hand me down furniture and things that I bought at discount shops.  I kind of shudder thinking about it now, for 2 years I lived in this beautiful $1500 a month townhouse with a fancy fireplace and recessed lighting, and it was packed full of beat up furniture and miscellaneous crap.  There were a few times that I had to literally stop myself from picking stuff up from the side of the road by saying “You are a god damn doctor, you should not dig through the trash.”   It was around the time that I made the mental switch from wanting to own stuff to wanting to own things.

Stuff and things may sound like an insignificant linguistic distinction, but in my mind it means the world.  Stuff is easily acquired, it is easily replaced, it is nothing important.  Things have meaning, durability, and a larger cost associated with them.  Things are what grownups have, things move with you when you leave a place, stuff gets put out on the curb to be picked over by college students, and the occasional doctor of pharmacy.  It was a glacial change, because things can get expensive, but after a few years I think that I have finally hit the point that I have very little stuff, and most of what I own is things.

A while ago I looked at my life and actually saw more things than I really need.  I enjoy buying things, especially things that convey meaning.  Buying books or artwork is a very fulfilling experience, it helps to satisfy the primal need to obtain while getting something that provides a return.  I have boxes of artwork in my closets, and books with Borders price tags on my shelf, every kitchen tool known to man, and more brewery glassware than I could ever drink out of.  Even after going through several rounds of purging because of moves and reading several books about minimalism, I am finding that I still have too much.  I realize that for someone like me minimalism in an unobtainable ideal, but I need to at least curb my need for maximalism.

Over the past year my goal was to upgrade the things that I used the most.  It sounds silly but buying a new kitchen scale to replace the crap one that I bought at Kmart was one of the biggest wins of 2016 because now the one I have is functional, beautiful, and works properly.  I took it a step farther and started to upgrade and standardize my wardrobe to reduce decision fatigue in the mornings and allow me to save my brain power for the things that really matter.  I may have gone a bit overboard spending a good amount of time and money shopping online, trying to find things that would fulfill my needs.  I ran the numbers and during 2016 I had 76 Amazon orders, not 76 separate things, 76 separate orders, often with multiple things in them.  And that doesn’t count the things that I bought from any of the other websites that I use for clothes or gear.  This level of consumerism is ridiculous, and I kind of hate myself for being disappointed whenever I get home from work and there is no package at the door.  But disappointment and shame are often the key to making changes, and that is the plan for 2017.

I don’t like doing resolutions, but I am a huge fan of goals.  Resolutions are extraneous and are hard to quantify, but goals fit better into systems and plans, and I am a systems and plans type of guy.  The first step will be to curb my Amazon addiction.  Having Prime set up with one click makes things too easy, especially when I have been drinking.  I am going to try and limit purchases to once every 2 weeks, so that on that set day I make a purchase of everything that I have thought about that has made it out of the impulse window.  I will also be avoiding the Lifehacker deals site, which is a gateway into a world of deals of stuff that I really don’t need (see also Sous Vide immersion circulator).  By buying less I will hopefully save some money and won’t have to focus on so much reduction, which will simplify my life.

I don’t ever think that I will move to full minimalism, but I also don’t plan on spending any more time dumpster diving.  My life is crazy and chaotic enough that I no longer need a physical manifestation of clutter.  Hopefully I can continue making the switch from stuff to things, and continue upgrading my life, but at a more comfortable and planned pace.  Maybe after years of trying I can finally silence the teenaged anarchist in my brain telling me that everything I own will look better with a sticker on it.

The Open Door Policy

When feature comics pass through the Vermont Comedy club they need a place to stay, often times that place is my futon. When comics come up from Boston to perform at my Meadery show they also stay on my futon.  When long lost distant cousins are interviewing for medical residencies they can save money by staying on my futon.  When my friends come to Burlington for weddings or to go on epic beer quests they often pass out on the floor, but the futon is available.  Buying that futon off a friend who was moving for $20 was a good investment.

Growing up we didn’t have a ton of money and were constantly traveling.  While we occasionally stayed in hotels, both nice ones and roadside dumps, we mostly found ways to stay with people that we knew.  Road trips to visit family, co-opted vacations with people to visit their families, visiting my parent’s friends from college, and fun adventures to unglamorous places defined most of my childhood.  Part of relying on the generosity of others was the need for reciprocation, and my parents always had an open door and a makeshift guest room available for any friends and family who may be passing through.  Having this open door policy and knowing that we would always make room for people left a huge mark on me, and is a tradition that I try to carry on today.

If you have ever lived in a frat house you understand that it is loosely controlled chaos.  While this wasn’t Animal House it was fluid enough that it always seemed like there was someone on our couch.  The freshman who had too much to drink, the friend who was having a rough time with her boyfriend, the alum visiting from out of town, the grand president who was doing a chapter visit, the friend from home who was working a summer job, or the guy who lived with his parents but didn’t want to go home where always present themes the places that I lived during college.  It wasn’t an imposition, we had 3 houses on the same block and it wasn’t uncommon for me to show up at the other houses and crash on their couch if it was too loud or busy at my house.  Having this commune feel lead me to an understanding of the transient lifestyle and embrace the good feeling that comes with providing shelter.  For the 5 years that I lived in those type of houses I always enjoyed having people stay, and often looked forward to having others visit.

When I was in my final year of college I did internships all over the country and I relied heavily on the kindness of others.  Part of the time was spent staying for a few weeks at a time with my parent’s friends, the ones who used to stay in our guest room.  I also spent some time living in a government trailer on the Navajo reservation where one day I went from being by myself to coming home to find a med student had moved in unannounced and took it all in stride.  Driving home from Arizona I was able to spend time visiting friends and family in far off places like Utah, California, Texas, North Carolina, and Virginia.  Taking advantage of offers to visit friends and have them point me in the direction of the important places that only locals know was one of the highlights of my trip.  After returning to Albany I resumed living a low impact life of sleeping on a futon mattress on the floor of my friends’ pantry before spending a few months of the summer at my family’s camp.  That year was one of the most trying, eventful, and memorable times of my life, and I couldn’t have made it through if people weren’t generous enough to open their homes to me.

After graduation I strove to pay forward some of that hospitality.  I was always looking for 2 bedroom apartments in order to provide a place for others to stay.  For the first few years there wasn’t much opportunity.  My friends were scattered into the wind and were busy setting up their own lives so with the exception of a friend who stayed with me during an internship it was mostly me alone in my bigger than necessary and excessively empty apartment.  Then something changed and all of a sudden visiting Vermont became a priority for my friend group, a change that closely corresponds with the boom in the beer scene.  All of a sudden there were a ton of people clamoring to stay at my place, and my willingness to let anybody stay, even if they were only friends of friends who I have never met made my place a destination.  It was good to connect with people, both new acquaintances and old friends, and it made my apartment a much more welcoming place to be.

One night I got drunk and signed up for this newfangled website called AirBnB.  The minimum that you could list for was $60 and I though that there is no way someone would spend $60 bucks to stay on my futon in Middlebury.  I was wrong, and over the next 4 months I earned more than 2 grand by utilizing my empty guestroom.  This experience taught me the how to be a better host, and motivated me to keep my apartment clean, which was something that I have struggled with in the past.  I was also able to meet some interesting people, and some fucking assholes, and get a better understanding of how to be a good guest when I visit people.  It was a very eye opening experience and was worth way more than it’s monetary value.  Once I moved back to Burlington my new apartment complex forbids AirBnB, so I lost the income stream but still found ways to play host.

When comics come to town they are always impressed that I let them stay for free and are always grateful.  I suppose I see where they are coming from, friends and family are one thing, but people who I haven’t yet met is completely different.  But these aren’t strangers, they are people who I share mutual friends with, who are up here on a business trip.  For the most part it has been great, and with one exception I would let them all stay again.  I have had the chance to meet new and interesting people, network a good amount, and help my friends who own the club get talented performers on the stage.  It isn’t anything fancy, just a futon in a room that I rarely use, but for some visiting comics it makes a world of difference.

When people say anything about how generous it is to open up my guest room, I just brush it off with “I have the space” but in reality it is more of a benefit to me than it is a drawback.  I like having people stay because it keeps me from getting too comfortable in my own space.  It keeps me on my toes and allows me to reconnect with a long forgotten past when my life was much more random.  I have been able to meet dozens of new and interesting people, have great conversations, explore new opportunities, and make a few new friends.  All it takes is having an open door policy and a $20 futon.

Brave New World

During the fall of 2009 I was living like a nomad and working my way through a series of 5 week internships.  I was accustomed to scrounging whatever sleeping arrangements that find for a few weeks before packing everything I owned into a few duffel bags in the back of my van and moving along.  That October I was ready to head out on my grand adventure, a two month, 11,000 mile road trip out to the Navajo reservation and wandering my way throughout the country on the way home.  This week one of my favorite people is setting out on a similar adventure, this is for her.  Here are the things that I wish I would have known and the celebration of the things that I did find.

Beware the Altitude:  The reservation is one of the highest places in the country, Chinle where I stayed was over 7,000 feet, combined with desert dryness.  For the first week I suffered terribly from dehydration and the thin air.  Headaches, being out of breath, nosebleeds, it wasn’t fun.  The key is to drink a lot of water and wait to adjust.  Water, not purple gatorade, it may have electrolytes but it isn’t as good as just plain water (plus as we all know only blue gatorade works).  Buy a humidifier and put some vasaline inside your nostrils and keep hydrated, this too will pass.  Also be aware that your visions of “It’s a dry heat” don’t apply in the high desert, it will be cold, during the 5 weeks I was out there we got more snow in Arizona than my parents got in New York.  Dress warm.

Red Rocks:  When you transition from the plains to Texas into the desert the most striking thing is the change in colors.  Gone are the verdant pastures, instead everything is red, even the trees have a red tinge.  After years of reading Tony Hillerman books I thought that I knew what it is going to be, but it is so much more.  It can take your breath away, especially watching how the light hits and changes the colors.  It is amazing to think about the time that it takes to grind for air or water to grind the stone and carve these amazing landscapes.  As a side effect red dust is everywhere.  It is in the tap water, it is in your eyes, it was still caked into the nooks and crannies of my car when I sold it 4 years after I left the reservation.  No beauty comes without its own cost.

Beware the tourist trap: Maybe I was more susceptible because I drove out alone along route 66, but tourist traps are everywhere.  Every rest area you stop at or place you want to hike there will be people trying to sell you garbage.  This is a common thing on the reservation because it is an easy way to generate cash from tourists, so don’t give in.  I do love doing touristy stuff, but it gets old really fast so space it out and talk to people so that they can point you to the legit events and the authentic places that you have to check out.  The stuff that people are selling off blankets isn’t all garbage, I got some amazing rock carvings and a bear stone necklace that I wore for years.  The key is to have an abundance mentality, because there will always be more chances, and if you find something haggle over it.  Sometime if you are feeling like having a weird adventure it is cool to pick a place off a billboard and explore, if you have no expectations then you can’t be disappointed.  If I didn’t do that then I couldn’t brag about going to a wolf sanctuary where George RR Martin later adopted a pack of wolves.

Hit the National Parks: Teddy Roosevelt did amazing things for this country by preserving so many of our national parks.  Growing up in the East we underestimate the size and scope of the country, but out West the world is so vast and the National Parks have some of the best vantages to see the world from.  It costs a few bucks to enter, but it is worth every cent.  I have amazing memories of hiking in Arches, and the Petrified forest, climbing the rocks of El Morro, and eating a burrito on the edge of the Grand Canyon.  There are dozens of other parks that I wanted to visit, but that just means that I need to go back.

Listen:  Navajo is one of the most amazing languages in the world.  It is a lovely sing song cadence that sounds amazing.  I spent a lot of time working through interpreters and was able to bask in the sound of my words crossing cultural barriers.  It is important to not get caught up in the cultural differences.  The Indian Health Services system is established on the 1870s ideals of the white man helping the poor despondent native.  Add this to the normal medical professional to patient distance it is hard to connect with these people.  It is important to remember that they are just people.  Also don’t use one person as a representative for all Navajo, especially if that person is an old lady hits you with her cane for not wanting to buy a rug.

Life of Poverty: One of the most striking things about living on the reservation is the poverty.  There is very little industry and a lot of federal handouts that are seemingly misspent.  I was often reminded of driving through the desolate small towns of upstate NY and seeing brand new trucks parked in front of run down trailers.  There was a big culture of panhandling and selling things in parking lots that took me by surprise.  Everywhere you look there are pawn shops because many Navajo traditionally use jewelry to store wealth rather than keeping it in banks, but when I first got out there I couldn’t shake the feeling of seediness.  Contrasting the economic depression of the towns are the federal facilities like the hospitals which are literally gleaming beacons in the desert which serve as a perfect exaple of federal waste.  It is enough to give you whiplash.

Addiction and Lack of Self Care:  As a medical processional, and as a human being, it is hard to watch people destroy themselves.  But you can’t live their lives for them.  The reservation is a dry territory, but booze still makes its way in.  The roads to and from the towns like Gallup, Moab, and Durango which are just outside the reservation borders are littered with beer cans.  Hitchhikers make their way into these towns every weekend to indulge their vices.  A lot of people just don’t take care of themselves despite free medical care.  Basically everybody had diabetes and heart disease from eating frybread with every meal, and the labs that I saw shocked my idealistic self.  It hurts, but you can’t live their lives for them.  We all have our own lives to live and our own bodies to take care of, and I am certainly not one to lecture on that.

Embrace the Silence:  I have never felt so alone when I was on the reservation.  I was not in a good place at that time, and the silence made it worse.  I was alone in a government trailer after driving out by myself.  I made no effort to connect with the people at work, one guy tried because of our fraternity connection, but I kind of pushed him off.  I traveled by myself every weekend, hiked by myself, and eventually became fine with it.  I embraced that silence and made peace with myself, which is the greatest gift that I have ever received.  To this day I am fine alone, I can fill my own head and heart, and have developed a self reliance that has served me well.  Once you leave the glow of the town streetlights you will be plunged into a complete darkness and silence.  Your mind will struggle to fathom it and invent stories that live in the darkness.  It isn’t hard to fathom how an ancient people were able to create such amazing stories and gods to fill that landscape.  It may be scary, but by knowing that darkness and that silence you will be able to know yourself and will come out the other side a better person.

I sat down to write a little list, but instead I have spewed 1500 words of stream of consciousness.  There are dozens more things that I can say.  Don’t drive fast at night or you might hit a horse.  Go to Antelope canyon and Bryce Canyon National Park, I always wanted to go there.  Flagstaff is the Burlington of Arizona, Durango is the Burlington of southern Colorado, I should stop comparing places to Burlington.  Know that big area on the Verizon map where there is no service, you will probably be right in the middle of that area.  Don’t do meth.  Watch out for snakes when hiking.  And a million more tips.

Go new places, do new things, meet new people, bring fresh eyes to ancient places.  Have an adventure.

Memento Mori

Late Fall makes me think of death.  Maybe it is the empty trees.  Maybe it is the gloomy early darkness and the eventuality of winter bearing down on.  Maybe it is the history and traditions of New England that our culture has adopted and transformed into the full on Halloween experience.  Or maybe it is that a few years ago my aunt and one of my close friends died within a week of each other.  It is probably the last thing.

I have never really feared death.  Not in a macho way, it is just something that happens as a part of life and I accepted the eventuality of my own passing.  I think that I have far worse feelings about the passing of others than I would ever have contemplating my own death.  I didn’t have any tragedies in my early life, and didn’t lose anybody close to me until I was in my teens, so I wasn’t directly touched by death but I knew it was around.  I think that I lived much of my early life with the reckless abandon that many kids of my generation had, taking chances and embracing the rush that comes with danger.

When I was 13 my best friend moved away and I scrambled trying to find another group of people who would accept me.  That fall I tried to prove myself to a group of guys who were a little rougher than the crowd that I was used to.  Spoiler Alert: I wasn’t rough enough at the time to handle it.  There was a lot of drinking and smoking and tough guy teenager stuff going on, and as the new guy I was the easiest target.  One time things got so out of hand when I talked back to the “ringleader” of the group that he took things to another level.  He went upstairs got his father’s pistol, made me get down on my knees to be forgiveness and put it to the back of my head.  Apparently he removed the clip and was just “joking” but had had enough to drink that he forgot to take the round of the chamber.  That was a pivotal moment in my life.

After that I realized that I needed to make some changes and started surrounding myself with better people, which was one of the greatest investments that I could have ever made.  The guy who pulled the gun on me wound up dropping out of school and when I last heard of him about 10 years ago was in jail for making a sex tape with his 16 year old girlfriend.  I was lucky enough to find new friends and set off in a positive direction, but that incident always stuck with me.  I could say that it made me realize that I could survive anything and rise above, but in reality it put a thought in my head that no matter what happened I would somehow meet a violent end.  This belief lead to a reckless college of experience of drinking too much, fighting too often, and feeling apathetic about everything.  My friend Brad and I shared a prevailing belief that we wouldn’t make it to 30, so why not take chances.  I apparently was wrong and have reached the ripe old age of 31, but Brad proved the point by not making it to 25.

After Brad died I pulled out of my spiral and spent a few years trying to be my best self.  By that I mean working far too much, isolating myself from everyone in my life, burning all the bridges that I could, and spending my time off watching Pawn Stars and binge drinking.  It was great.  It took getting robbed at work and actually experiencing the threat of violence beyond my control to snap me out of my self destructive path.   I turned things around and over the course of two years was able to actually make positive changes in my life, new job, new car, new apartment, new me.  And as I was settling in to this new life the rug to pulled out from under me.

My aunt Pam was a character.  A learned doctor, a comic, someone always chasing hobbies and obsessions, an obsessive online shopper, who spent most of her life keeping people at bay.  Sound familiar?  We developed a pretty close relationship and spent a lot of time talking through my experiences and chasing her memories.  She was also a junkie who burned so many bridges (at least in her mind) that she died broken and alone.  We had a great conversation a few days before she died, we talked about Lou Reed.  Now listening to the Velvet Underground makes me sad.

I knew that Pam’s passing was inevitable and while it hurt it was bearable and I was able to console myself knowing that she was no longer in pain.  What wasn’t bearable was hearing a few weeks later that my friend Dustin had passed.  He was always the life of the party, a tiny little ginger who lived much larger than his stature.  We only knew each other for a few short years, but he made a huge impact on me.  When he died it tore me apart.  Dusty was so full of life and he died in a terrible accident that could have happened to me thousands of times over the years.  His death hurt a lot of my friends more, out entire friend group was destroyed, which took out most of the support system that I had left.  We all fell into despair for a while a while, but eventually we manned up and got busy living.

A few years ago I started reading stoic philosophy and learning about Roman customs.  I was captivated and fascinated by the idea of Memento Mori.  The concept is to remember death, which is a statement that cuts both ways.  It can be a “live the best that you can because death could be right around the corner” like that cheesy Live Like You Are Dying song that always plays on the Muzak station.  Or it could be a “Don’t get too full of yourself, because someday you will die and be nothing but dust and nobody will remember who you are” which helps to keep me grounded.  Learning from the stoics is much more rewarding than iconizing the skull and crossbones or memorizing lines from Thanatopsis like I used to.  It allows me to find peace with whatever is going on in my life, good or bad, knowing that things, including life, are temporary.  These books are full of wisdom that has stood the test of millennia and still rings true while also being incredibly quotable and relevant.

I like to think that I have started to become more comfortable with death.  I worked in long term care and for 18 months would start my day off with an email that listed which patients had died during the night.  I suppose that this helped me to rationalize that while death can effect us all in the end we are nothing but names on a list just waiting for someone to update our status in a computer to deceased.  In theory I have hardened myself against death and readied myself for it.  I don’t believe in God or an afterlife, so I have nothing more to look forward to so I might as well make the best of it.

I work in a field where death is constantly present, and spend a lot of time with comics who bring tragedy to the stage, and have become very comfortable with it.  Along the way I have learned that only through knowing the darkness I can enjoy the light.  Being aware of that contrast makes the good parts of life so much sweeter.  Everything in life, including life itself, is temporary, so why not make the most of it.  Everyone I know is going to die, and I am prepared to celebrate their lives rather than mourn their deaths.  And when it my turn I can only hope to approach my grave like one who wraps the draperies of his couch around him, and settles down to pleasant dreams.

“Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.” -Marcus Aurelius

Meh-Political

As we near November the whole country is getting spun up about the election.  As someone who doesn’t believe in the political process I don’t have a dog in the fight of either the presidential or local elections, but I feel myself getting drawn into the anxiety and regularly feel like I may snap during the next stupid Trump joke or Bernie impression that I hear.  As some warning the last time I wrote about politics I got my father so angry that he actually yelled at me for the first time since I was in High School, so be aware that my views will probably piss you off.

I used to care about politics, it fascinated me in much more than the watching the train wreck feeling that I get now.  My parents are self described “Old Hippies” who were two of the three registered democrats in our small town.  Their liberal leanings were ever present, but they didn’t stymie the flow of ideas and allowed me to become who I wanted to be, which is how I became such an unabashed capitalist.  They encouraged discussion and at least acknowledging people’s viewpoints and trying to see where others are coming from.  As a teenager I started reading Tom Clancy novels and became enthralled with geopolitics and the delicate ballet of nation states.  I also became a news junkie, watching national news every morning before school, reading the local paper when I got home, and catching parts of the local news before bed.  I was in absolute overload, trying to balance the knowledge of Clancy’s Soviet struggles with the developments of the day, trying to find my way through a web of local, national, world, and fictional news.  I watched the 2000 election and was in heaven, the old dynasty Republicans versus the wooden but sound Al Gore fighting over the electoral college and hanging chads.  I loved it and was planning on finding a way to pursue this as a career, maybe with a history degree, and maybe making it into the CIA like my literary hero, Jack Ryan.  And then two planes flew into the World Trade Center and everything changed.

I obviously can’t take ownership of this tragedy, it impacted each and every American, and there are so many people who suffered so much more than I ever dreamed, but it had a big impact on my life at a pivotal moment.  At 16 I was not fully formed as a person and was at the point of making important decisions about my future that would have far reaching consequences.  I no longer started my morning off by watching tv, because I saw nothing but bad news.  I traded in the evening paper for reading Rolling Stone, losing myself in a world of music that became all consuming.  In short instead of rising to the challenge like so many did and dedicating myself to the country I sought out escapism and turned away from the present and from the relevant, which is something that I am not proud of.

For the next few years I fell down the rabbit hole of music, consuming all types, learning to play (poorly), using my brain power to memorize lyrics and track lists instead of trying to sort out bigger problems.  I suppose that this is a bit harsh on myself since I was far from the first kid to turn off, tune in, and drop out, but it feels like it was a big fork in the road for me that lead down a completely different path.  When I got to college I got into the punk scene and tried to avoid the political aspects but couldn’t help but get swept up in the angry “Not my president” aspect of the Bush years.  Through punk I discovered the ideals of anarchy and embracing the outsider status, and found it easier to completely ignore politics and plead ignorance rather than get caught up in the discussions between my friends.  I voted for Obama in 2008, not sure why but I think that I just wanted to shake things up a bit and piss off my conservative roommates.  Beyond that I spent all of college locked in an internal struggle between anarchy, apathy, and alcohol, and graduated well educated but ignorant of all political issues that weren’t satirized on the Daily Show or Colbert report.

In a not so surprising twist I graduated, started making money, and all of a sudden didn’t want to pay taxes.  I suppose that the idea of a small government fit with my anarchist ideals, but I never thought that I would wake up one day and realize that I was a Republican, especially after I moved to left of liberal Vermont.  Maybe it was just a brief counter reaction to the political climate here.  To be clear it was mostly only fiscal conservatism, I am still pretty liberal on most moral values.  All of a sudden I found myself politically awake for the first time in a decade, trying to sort out my feelings on taxes, second amendment rights, foreign intervention, and a host of other issues.  This is the point that you are probably thinking “Sounds like you are a libertarian” but please stow that.  The Libertarian party is bullshit, a bunch of people who want the best of both worlds aren’t willing to commit to their values.  It is a bunch of wishy washy agnostics who will never get any momentum and won’t get anything done.  I would rather bury my head in the sand and ignore the political system, which is exactly what I did.

I live in a place where my votes literally don’t matter.  Even being a centrist in Vermont puts me to the far right of the political spectrum.  Beyond the presidential race my vote will have little impact.  Local politics are even worse and more corrupt than national races, and since I am a bit of a nomad I don’t feel invested in trying to make changes.  I realized that I really don’t have a dog in any political fight.  I live a life of little political consequence, I don’t own property or champion any issues.  I am realistic enough to know that there are not going to be any sweeping changes to the system, and that any changes will have little effect on me.  I like to consider myself a feminist who believes in equal rights for all races, religions, and sexual orientations.  In my best future I could probably be an outspoken advocate for the rights of others, but in reality I am too selfish for that.  Frankly I hate the self serving white people who become mouthpieces for oppressed groups, because they don’t have skin in the game and never seem genuine.

Maybe I could have gotten behind Bernie, if he wasn’t such a caricature.  Or maybe someone like Ron Paul if he wasn’t so much of an isolationist.  I probably couldn’t get behind Johnson because he seems like an idiot.  Trump is also an idiot, but I doubt that he really has a chance.  Hillary has the credentials, and despite being a crook will probably do a decent job, but you could never say that I’m with her.  I believe that the Vermont political scene involves a guy with a pony tail, which is exciting, and some school board member turned out to be a bigot, but I can’t get invested in those races.  Maybe this will change and I will start championing a cause or fall under a candidate’s spell.  Maybe I will see some change instead of a continuation of the status quo.  Maybe they will put out some piece of legislation that will will effect high income straight white males who identify as feminists, believe in gun ownership but don’t own any guns, and are too fat to be drafted into the military and I can start championing that cause, but how likely is that?

So go out next month and vote if you want to or don’t vote, I don’t care.  Whoever becomes president will lead us down the path that they choose.  Whoever gets elected governor or senator will have their own agenda.  And the mayor or school board member will have rule over their own fiefdom.  But no matter the changes I will carry on, not reading the news, not caring about who is in power, and not willing to risk jury duty by registering to vote.  If this pisses you off then that is your own issue, and if we go down a perilous path I own that.  Feel free to point me out as a villain, because as Washington said “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

The Sophomore Slump: My Second Year in Comedy

In September 2014 I started taking a standup comedy class, now two years later comedy has become an integral and basically daily part of my life.  The journey hasn’t been all sunshine and candy corn, it has pushed me to explore a lot of subjects and thought paths that I wouldn’t have normally pursued.  I have found myself bouncing from top of the world to rock bottom, unbridled excitement to just going through the motions, riding the roller coaster of happiness, sadness, anger, and many other emotions.  I have tried to approach comedy as a chance to meet new people and have a fun outlet, so it makes sense to take a realistic look back at the past year and see what I have accomplished and have I need to improve on.

During my first year performing I fell into two big tropes, the promising newcomer and the guy who would go to great lengths to get on stage.  I was moderately talented and was very comfortable with public speaking which gave a better stage presence than I had earned or rightly deserved.  I was also living in Middlebury and driving to Rutland or Burlington every time I wanted to get on stage, which was a level of commitment that most people appreciated.  Knowing that someone is burning 2 hours on the road to get 5 minutes of stage time is something that you have to respect and knowing that someone is willing to go anywhere to perform in some sub optimal venues is also a desirable trait in a comic.  I was also writing prolifically, culling over past experiences and facebook statuses trying to squeeze every joke possible out of my life.  I was also branching out by taking improv classes and performing storytelling.  All these factors lead to a very productive year where I was able to perform very often and had high hopes for my comedic future.

Now looking back it isn’t surprising that I burnt out a bit, but it is surprising that it took so long to happen.  I was working more than full time, and grinding it out on stage 2-3 nights a week, trying to pursue several types of comedy, all while trying to live a real life.  Luckily I learn well from failure.  I thought that I was a shoo in to be a finalist for Vermont’s Funniest Comedian, and was pretty crushed when I didn’t even make it out of the preliminaries.  This Icarus moment spun me out a bit, I stopped going to as many open mics, stopped going to people’s shows, stopped enjoying producing my own shows, and withdrew a bit.  This combined with a lot of other outside issues with work and moving to Burlington while trying to have a real life lead to me spending most of my winter holed up in my apartment.  Throughout the spring I was going through the motions, not writing much, not performing well, not doing improv, not going to other people’s shows and not being supportive to other members of the community.  I went on vacation and planned on at least doing some exotic open mics, but I was so burnt out that I wanted nothing to do with comedy.  Instead of comedy being something that enhanced my life it became something that held me back, which is not a good place to be, but it was the type of place that forced me to do some soul searching.

This time for self reflection finally allowed realism to creep into my thought process.  Comedy is a very hard thing to pursue, Louie CK worked his ass off for almost 30 years before he got to where he is now.  Every successful comic says that you just need to keep working for 10 years before you realize that you have the chance to be good, so the unrealistic idea that after a few months performing comedy in Vermont I would be able to pursue this as a career.  In fact I realized that there is no way that I want to pursue comedy full time.  I don’t want to move to a big city, I don’t want to spend all my time in dark clubs, I don’t want to learn acting, and I certainly don’t want to give up my good job to pursue something with much more elusive financial prospects.  I respect anybody who wants to make the jump, and thoroughly miss a lot of my friends who headed to NYC or Boston to pursue their dreams, and will do everything in my power to support them, but it just isn’t a path that I want to pursue.

I suppose that leads to one of my internal dilemmas, why do I do comedy to begin with?  I do it because I enjoy it, not every second, but as a whole.  I enjoy spending time with funny people, and meeting new comics who I would not have met in real life.  I like the fact that my pharmacy friends tend to admire that I am stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something different.  I like it that my family now sees me in a different light.  I like that my comedy friends come to me with all their medical questions (you are constipated, eat more green things and drink more water).  I like being the type of person who you can run jokes past or have a beer with.  I like having a guest room that I can put out of town comics up in.  I like that my boss asks if I have a gig before asking me to cover a shift.  I like expressing myself, and having something to obsess over when I am bored or neurotic.  I like that feeling of having my heart in my throat before a challenging show or audience.  I like telling stories.  I like what I do in my free time, and I might as well keep it up.

I don’t want to sound like the whole year was nothing but pain and drudgery.  I started my own show, which allowed me insight into the business side of entertainment, and the complications that come along with running or doing anything worthwhile.  I hosted a lot, securing a skill that allowed me to command and audience.  I had the opportunity to perform at a brand new comedy club and tons of other venues all over the state and make a lot of people laugh.  I got to perform in benefit shows that raised money for good causes, and allowed me to give back to my community.  I am proud of the fact that even when I wasn’t fully engaged I didn’t become bitter.  It would have been easy to point to the successes of others and say that I was entitled to that, but I was able to frame it as those people worked hard enough and are talented enough to have those successes.  This mindset allowed me to support my friends through their successes, and while I was envious I never felt angry at them, or thought that I should be doing it instead.  I suppose that this is a mark of a good and supportive scene, which is the main thing that makes performing in Vermont fun.

Throughout the past year there was never a time where I was going to make a dramatic pronouncement that I am done with comedy and will never grace the stage with my presence ever again.  In fact over the past month or so I have had an uptick in shows and feel myself getting excited about performing and putting myself out there.  With most slumps I have been in it is a purely mental thing, and getting excited and having a reason rather than just going through the motions is the best way to pull yourself out of a slump.  I hope that over the next year, and for many years to come, I can keep refining my craft and viewing comedy as something fun to do that makes my life better.

Begin Again: An Exercise In Meditation

I love silence, not because it allows me to relax and experience peace, but because it gives my consciousness the chance to expand and fill the empty space space.  Being in silence gives my mind an excuse to race and fill the silence with thoughts or ideas, chase scenarios, rationalize the past, and build mental walls.  Chasing this silence pushed me to drive cross country, and survive college, and create physical and mental art.  The thoughts that inhabit this silence were my constant companions, and something that kept me sane, or as sane as someone with voices in his head can be.  As much of a benefit as this has been, it does have it downfalls, namely years of isolation and decades of lying awake and staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to come.  Over the past few months I have fallen into a habit of trying to silence my mind during these quiet periods and instead of processing the past or envisioning the future I have taken the opportunity to explore a time that I don’t often inhabit, the present.

I have dabbled in meditation over the years, from breathwork to calm flying anxiety to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy lead by a psychologist to help fight my chronic headaches.  It was never traditional and was never anything that I fully committed to, but it did seem to give me a small respite in a turbid world.  Last winter I decided to forego the “woo woo” aspects of meditation and try to develop a mindfulness practice.  After listening to 150 episodes of the Tim Ferriss Podcast and hearing about two thirds of this high performing guests talk about their meditative practices I started thinking that it was something that I should try.  I downloaded the Headspace app and planned to give it a shot sometime in the unspecified future.

About a week before Christmas I had a terrible day at work in what I just knew was going to be a long and frustrating stretch.  I went home in a terrible mood and couldn’t shake it not matter how I tried. I grew frustrated lying awake staring at the ceiling, so I pulled out the Headspace app and gave it a shot.  After 10 short minutes I was able to relieve a lot of tension and anxiety and fall blissfully asleep.  The next day went so smoothly it shocked me, not because it was an easy day, but because I was so calm and relaxed, and the only thing that I could point to was the magic of meditation and I committed to giving it a try.

Unfortunately meditation isn’t always as easy as it seems.  Over the next few months I kept trying to use Headspace but got annoyed at the British voice that guided the meditation.  I tried just sitting and following my breath, but I found it incredibly boring, and since I find boredom maddening I would be angrier after a meditation session.  A friend suggested reading 10% Happier by Dan Harris, which is something that I now appreciate, but the first time I read it his descriptions of his past anxiety walked me right into panic attacks.  I tried to explore local mediation groups and events but those all verged into the religious and crunchy aspects which made me far more uncomfortable than the idea of secular mindfulness meditation.  I listened to talks by Sam Harris and Tara Branch but found both of them off putting for different reasons.  I struggled to even define meditation, constantly questioning if I was doing it right and wondering if I was supposed to hit some special place where I would be hit by a beam of cosmic light that would take me to nirvana.  Eventually after several months of hacking at it and trying to Alpha male my way into peace I got frustrated and just gave up, which apparently was all that I needed to do.

A week or two later I was getting ready for bed and felt the overwhelming need to meditate.  I downloaded a different app called Calm and was lulled into a meditative state by a nice woman with a pleasant voice.  And the next day I tried it again with the same results, and again and again before I decided to upgrade the app and pay for a subscription that would allow me to try different guided sessions.  For a few dollars a year I had access to sessions that covered self acceptance, forgiveness, non judgement, sleep prep, and a bunch of other topics that I need to work on.  The calm and non judgmental voice kept telling me that the point of meditating was that when my mind wandered and fell into the thought stream to just return to my breath and begin again.  And after all the fighting and battling from my previous attempts it was nice to just fall into a practice where I was fully in charge, yet not in charge of anything.  For a few minutes a day I just existed, and that quickly became my favorite part of the day.

A lot of meditation books talk about the benefits on and off the cushion.  When meditating (on the cushion) I found it easier and easier to find the moments of peace because I was exercising the focus “muscles” that allowed me to return to my breath or point of focus.  After years of multitasking my way through life I was purposely singletasking, and focusing on just one thing made me even more efficient.  Off the cushion I found that taking those few minutes a day had lasting after effects.  I felt more at peace and in touch with my emotions, and when I was in a bad mood or something angered me I found it much easier to detach and re-frame things for a positive outcome.  I found myself having more moments of spontaneous happiness and was able to appreciate more of the little things.  It wasn’t instantaneous, but over time I started noticing how I felt when taking the first sip of a coffee, or while stepping into the sunlight on my way to my car in the morning, little moments that had become part of the background were brought to the forefront and made life a little bit better.

Over time I worked my way into a daily meditative practice where I sit and meditate for a 10-20 minutes each day.  I also started making time to take a few deep breaths and find my center whenever I find myself losing control.  I found that to meditate you don’t need to sit on the floor in the lotus position while wearing an orange robe and anointing yourself with oils and crystals.  Instead I can take a few seconds to push the past and future away and appreciate the here and now.   And I learned to be ok with having my mind wander a bit, and to explore the reaches of my psyche, as long as I recognize that it is wandering, bring it back to breath, and begin again.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Much like my life my living situation has followed a pretty straight trajectory with a few setbacks and double backs along the way.  Willsboro to Broadalbin with summer reprieves back to the lake, then bouncing around Albany for a few years.  While I was in college I had a few delusions of dropping everything and moving to Alaska or Utah, but I had a constant vision that I wanted to live in Burlington.  Upon graduation it didn’t work out an I found myself living in Plattsburgh biding my time until I could move to the promised land, and after 6 months was able to make it to the area that I have called home for more than 5 years now.  Now things may be changing and I am feeling like it is time to make a decision on what to do with my future and where to go from here.

I need to say that I love my life.  It is important to know that I appreciate and accept what I have, while I do love pushing myself and trying to better my situation things are pretty good, so I apologize for sounding like I am whining.  People would kill to be in my situation, but as with every situation there are two sides.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and what looks like traps in my life may look like benefits to you, and your life may feel fantastic, but I want no part of it.  I have spent most of my life trying to live outside the lines and having no urge for a white picket fence and 2.5 kids in the suburbs opens a paradox of paralyzing choices and opportunities that boil down to a simple question.

Question: What do I want?

Answer: I don’t know.

Yesterday I got a call from my landlord that he is strongly considering selling my apartment.  While I am an ideal tenant he has gotten two unsolicited offers and is strongly considering pursuing one of them even though he has repeatedly assured me that the unit was not on the market, which is true in practice if not principal.  He kindly offered to move me into another one of his apartments that is apparently much nicer but is in a different town.  While I am going to check out the apartment I don’t much care about how nice it is because it is 10 minutes further from work, adding 20 minutes a day to my already hour and a half commute.  I can’t fault the guy for selling my apartment, he is a very nice guy and he is just trying to do what is best for him, but I can resent the fact that he is is putting me out and serving up a worse lifestyle and presenting it like he is doing me a favor.  Complicating things is that my lease ends in October, which is a very dead time for Burlington area real estate, and finding a comparable place will be a huge pain, on top of having to pack up my life and move yet again.  Oh and if you made it to this point and are saying “Why don’t you just buy a house its an investment” please keep your pontificating, I have no plans on buying in a very expensive market like Burlington on short notice while having my money tied up in long term investments, especially since I don’t know if I will be staying in the area.  I am using this time to explore my options and to consider making a move that I have been contemplating for a while.

Burlington is great, I like living here.  I have a great community of friends and comedians here, and there are an abundance of things to do and ways to spend time and money.  I really enjoy the lifestyle that I have here, but as with any small place the opportunities are limited. I have been here for 5 years and except for doing comedy nothing has really popped for me.  I am surrounded by people that I like whenever I want to be, but there is nothing concrete that absolutely keeps me here.  On top of that the job market is limited, mostly because I have blown through so many options over the years.  To be clear my job isn’t terrible, I don’t cry in the car after my shifts, and it pays well but it is a bit of a dead end with few opportunities for growth.  I can’t help but think that my resume with 4 jobs (one of them twice) over 6 years is a black mark against me and that one look at that scares people away more than the immense range of skills and achievements that I have gathered from my wandering path draws them in.

So where to do I go from here, the first step is making a list of opportunities and cutting it down.

Asheville, NC- Years ago I drove though and thought that I could live here.  It’s a beer mecca with a laid back culture, good food, and is at an acceptable area of the Black Lives Matter – All Lives Matter spectrum.  It is also a reasonable drive from my family in Richmond, friends in North Carolina, and friends in Atlanta while still being just a day’s drive from Albany.  I visited this January and enjoyed my day in the city, it is a reasonable climate with a lot of culture and things that I enjoy, including what seems to be a vibrant comedy scene.  I do fear that I will make it down there and won’t want to live in the city, and once you leave Asheville and head into the hills you are in a far different place than Vermont

Hotlanta,  GA- I haven’t really liked Atlanta during my tow previous visits, but then again I was looking at it as a travel destination rather than a place to live.  I am not a fan of 7 lane highways or sprawling suburbs, but Atlanta does have a ready made support system.  I have a whole bunch of friends in the area who all have their own deep support systems that they would allow me to tap into.  On top of that there is good beer, professional sports teams, and easy flights to anywhere in the world.  The climate is a bit too sticky for my tastes but I can get used to anything and every place has air conditioning.  I think that I can grow into loving Atlanta because it has so much to offer and will allow me to explore lifestyles and options that I have never experienced before.  I will actually be heading down in two weeks for a previously planned vacation and will pay closer attention than I would have before.

Austin/San Antonio, TX- Barbecue and burritos.  I suppose that there is much more to Texas, but from my previous trips that is what really sticks out.  Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the US and offers a wide range of options for food, comedy, and entrepreneurial growth, and while I have never been there I feel like it would be enough of a Texas with training wheels for a Yankee like me.  On top of that it is close to San Antonio where two of my dear friends live with their families, and another couple that I am close to is moving.  I don’t know if I would be able to settle in San Antonio proper, but it is a really cool (figuratively) city that I loved when I drove through years ago.  My biggest hangup is travel considerations, and the fact that Texas is so damn Texas.  I identify as an anarchist with nihilistic tendencies, and while I am very open minded plopping me down in the land of God, Family, Country may be a bit much.  I will keep an open mind, and at least explore the options.

Tampa, FL- Lets face it, I am probably not moving to Florida.  It is a humid and swampy state shaped like a penis, but a number of my closest friends live on that penis, and they love it.  I have visited several times over the past few years (during the temperate months) and enjoyed what it has to offer.  As someone with a background in Long Term Care it is probably a decent choice since people go there to get sunburned and die, not necessarily in that order.  For all it’s drawbacks it does have good beer, lots of beaches, and the opportunity to get eaten by an alligator and/or a python.

Portland, OR- Coffee.  Beer.  Flannel.  Facial Hair. It is Burlington on a large scale.  Probably not realistic, but I would be a fool not to explore my options when I am visiting next month.  The dream of the 90’s is alive.

Plattsburgh, NY- I love the ‘burgh, enough so that I am willing to abbreviate it as “the ‘burgh” and have a good history in the lake city.  I didn’t fully appreciate it when I lived there, but that was more about be being 25 and dumb rather than the city.  I could easily see myself settling down in a place that has good memories, is close to camp, has family and close friends, and is still close enough that I don’t have to leave Burlington fully behind.  It is also extremely cheap and is a gateway to me getting my “dream” of owning a small cabin in a secluded place so that I can write in peace and get murdered by an escaped prisoner.  The biggest drawback is Plattsburgh’s climate, which for most of the year is as frigid and unwelcoming as it’s women.  I also feel like it would be a big step backward, I spent so long holding Vermont as the promised land to backtrack and return to my roots feels like defeat.

Going Nomad- I have entertained the idea of doing consulting work on federal facilities like military bases and reservations.  I think that I would really like this job for a year or two, but beyond that it isn’t sustainable.  The adventure and travel would be amazing but it is really surrendering to a lonely life of being rudderless and living in government trailers.  The consultants that I worked with on the Navajo res were all jaded divorced guys in their 50s plodding away until retirement, and I don’t know if I am that far gone.  Yet.

It is fun to entertain these options, but lets be honest I am probably not going to leave Vermont.  Last week I was offered a job in California making 170k a year doing a job that I could easily handle, and the reason was because I simply didn’t want to leave the life that i have built.  I don’t have anything holding me here, but at the same time I don’t have anything motivating me to leave, and in that case inertia almost always wins out.  I can enjoy this thought exercise and explore other areas and spend the next few months looking off the ledge and contemplating making a leap, but based on my track record I doubt that I will actually make the jump.

I welcome your opinions and view and will listen to compelling arguments, but just saying “just go for it” doesn’t work.  The boom/bust prospects just aren’t there, the best case scenario is that I like the new lifestyle I have more than the one that I currently have while the downside is that I am put into a bad situation.  I hate meeting new people and while I love exploring and having adventures I am afraid of failing in the new place that I go.  Saying “you can always move back” belittles the fact that I am in a constantly changing situation and taking a detour even for a year or two can put my in an even worse position.  I acknowledge right now that I will probably just find a new apartment and carry on with the decent but unfulfilled life that I have now.   I will always enjoy the minimalist fantasy of packing up my car and driving off into the sunset, but as with most things the fantasy is the best part.

Final Summation: None.

You Always Remember Your First Time

Today I took some time to reminisce about a moment where everything changed.  That seminal moment many years ago where I went in a boy and left a man.  As I sit here in the place where it all started more than 10 years ago I can’t help but think of how foolish and awkward I was, and how much I have grown, and how much better I have gotten at all aspects of the act.  And now it is time for you to get your mind out of the gutter as I tell the story of my first time drinking coffee.

I was a late bloomer, and didn’t come into my own with coffee until I was almost 20 years old.  I had always enjoyed the gas station cappuccinos that come out of that terrible sounding machine and that are mostly sugar with some coffee flavoring, but actual coffee was not anything that I could stand for more than a few sips.  I preferred to find my caffeine though diet sodas and little cans of energy drinks, and rode that “EXTREEEEME” lifestyle through the first two years of college, but as is my tendency one day I decided to try something new partly out of necessity and partly out of a sense of adventure, and now it has lead me down a rabbit hole that I never could have predicted.

During the summer of 2005 I overextended myself, another familiar tendency that know all too well.  I liked Organic chemistry so much during the school year that I was overjoyed to be invited to retake Orgo 2 again over the summer.  Two months of Dr Martha Hass teaching me and 6 of the other dumbasses who couldn’t hack it the first time in intensive classes 3 days a week.  That would have been torture enough, but as I have covered previously I am a workaholic.  During my 4 days off each week I still managed to juggle 2 jobs, getting up at 5am to work at a hospital pharmacy then driving up to Saratoga to work at SPAC during the evening, before heading back to Albany to crash out and repeat the process.

During one of these 70 hour work weekends I found myself with a little downtime between jobs on one of the hottest days of the summer and in that moment I felt the need to make a change.  While driving through downtown Saratoga I was overcome with the strange need for an iced coffee.  Knowing nothing of this magical bean juice I didn’t want to risk it with a gas station variety, I wanted to go to the source, the most fancy high end independent place that I could think of, Starbucks, the exact Starbucks where I am sitting now.  Walking in for the first time and being enveloped by its warm Pacific Northwestern decor and hip music made me feel like I was at home and ease some of my nerves, but I was still kind of freaking out.  I was out of place, I was this kinda grungy kid with longish hair and big mutton chops (yeah I made bad decisions) wearing a polo shirt for a performance arts center over slacks and dress shoes from being at the hospital.

Beyond being uncomfortable in the venue I was all of a sudden confronted with an entire language that I didn’t understand.  As the people in front of me in line rattled off terminology about grande half caf one pump mocha lattes I started to panic.  Coffee, I want coffee, but not hot coffee I want coffee with ice in it, but how do I say it, where is it on the board, I don’t know what all of these words mean, how foolish am I going to look to these cute baristas, are they going to like my sweet sweet mutton chops, oh god what am I doing.  And as I scoured the display board I noticed the one word I was looking for, Iced, right next to the word Americano.  I sidled up to the counter and asked for a large iced Americano.  For a few seconds the panic abated, its an Americano, Americans love coffee so it is just an iced coffee, and I am such a grown up that I ordered a large one.  Let me take a moment to say I was dumb.  If you aren’t familiar an Americano is espresso topped with water, and while it is my favorite style to drink now, it was probably not the best option at the time.  Espresso, especially Starbucks roasts of it, is the darkest most bitter way to roast coffee beans, and a large (Venti) iced Americano at Starbucks has 3 shots of espresso in it, making it one of the most bitter and burnt coffees that you will ever have, and that was what I started with.

Once my name was called, or more pointedly “Venti Iced Americano for Alan” I sheepishly approached the counter and embraced my fate.  There was no room to put in milk or cream and I couldn’t get the raw sugar to dissolve so it just formed a layer of sediment on the bottom of the cup, I gave up and headed out into the sunshine to carry on with the day.  As I stood on the busy sidewalk holding a 24 ounce cup of cold espresso water on that hot summer day I was about to embark on a journey.  I took my first sip and savored the cold beverage as it rolled over my tongue and hit all my tasted buds resulting in a jolt that I will never forget, because it was fucking terrible.  It was all that I could do to keep from spitting it out, but I gutted through that first sip and contemplated where to go from here.

I tried a few more sips and couldn’t make it work. I was faced with one of my biggest failures and unsure what to do I took a path that I don’t take often, I called it quits and threw the nearly full cup into the trash.  I think it is the sting of this defeat and my reaction to the situation that have burned it into my brain for all these years.  I couldn’t muster the  strength of will to make it through.  From where I am sitting I can see the trash can I put it in, and my inner monologue keeps calling myself a pussy and repeating the line “drink up, there are tired kids in Africa that would kill to have that full cup of coffee.”

My path through coffee has been long and twisted.  I kept trying until I started to like coffee in all its forms and embraced it’s culture.  I have used coffee as fuel, and as a reward, and as a motivator, and for pure sensory joy.  From Starbucks, to 3rd wave independent roasters, to instant and kcups, hot or cold, black or with various additives and enhancers, coffee has always been there for me.  Even when I go on my periodic detoxes to kill my tolerance the sight and smell of coffee bring up strong memories of experiences good and bad, the adventures that these beans have fueled, and the friends that I have shared my cups with. But no matter how long it has been or have far I have traveled I will never be able to forget that first Iced Americano, and the bitter taste of defeat.