Thursday, December 20, 2012

Getting Serious

So far, I have maintained a generally humorous and light presence on this blog. I do think, though, that my blog should reflect me, should reflect how I look at and interact with the world. I mostly interact with my world through sarcasm, silly jokes, and, while cooking, silly dances. Life is too short to spend the whole time moping about, and I have to agree with Dave Matthews when he says that he "can't believe that we would lie in our graves, wondering if we had spent our living days well".

But I do get serious from time to time, and I think my blog should reflect that. As much as I hope to make you laugh at me or at the parts of yourself that you see in my little stories, I also hope to influence you in some small way when I do become serious. I hope that I can push you occasionally to think about things from a perspective that you may not have considered.

With that goal mind, I need to say something about Sandy Hook Elementary School. I'm not the first to blog about it, and I won't be the last, but I do hope to say something that doesn't consist of trite or opportunistic assertions about the role of religion in schools, violent media in children's lives, or gun control. My friend Terese wrote beautifully about her reaction as a parent. She echoed my feelings, and judging by the comments she's received, I'm not alone in my agreement with her. 

We've had a remarkable outpouring of support for the victims' families. We have seen disgust, horror, and revulsion over the actions of the shooter. These responses have been nearly universal. I understand that in a nation of over 300 million people, there will be fringe groups like Westboro Baptist who either do not feel the horror that most feel, or who, despite the horror, choose to use the massacre to further their own agendas. There are also those who are considering enacting the same kind of mass killings that took place last week. We don't like to think about those people, but we know that this can happen again. In fact, our knowledge that this can happen again drives the fear that Terese wrote about in her blog and the determination she expressed not to allow that fear to rule her.

Our reaction to groups like Westboro Baptist or to the idea that some individual out there may already have plans to perpetrate their own crimes reaches nearly universal agreement, as well. At a deep and instinctive level, we recognize the fundamental evil not only of a person who could commit such a crime, but also of the people who would take advantage of that crime to make cheap political or religious points. Granted, the shooting will become another example that must come into our national discussions about the availability of guns to people of compromised mental states, about the state of mental health in the country, about the supposed role of violent media in desensitizing children to violence, about the role of religion in schools. These points have already come up in response to the tragedy, and I have my own strong opinions on all of them, but the tragedy should not serve as a tool to use in making broad and unsupported assertions.

I've paid special attention to the public reaction to the shooting because I want to make clear that the public reaction to it has been as nearly universal as is possible in a country with such a large and diverse population. Aside from the already mentioned fringe groups or individuals, nobody stopped last Friday and said, "Wait, I need to think about this. My political and religious background is not clear on the subject of school shootings." We didn't NEED to take time or debate anything. Whether because of our natures or because of our upbringing (encompassing a wide range of religious, political, and educational traditions), or in my opinion, through a combination of our nature and our upbringing, we automatically and instinctively understand the WRONGNESS of what happened last week in Newtown. Whether we believe that religion belongs in schools or not, whether we believe that violent media has an impact on our likeliness to commit violent crimes or not, whether we think that guns should be easier to get or harder to get, we all stand unified in our shock and outrage.

This public reaction gives me hope. 

Despite our disagreements over specifics and over the politics of our choices, our myriad traditions have taught the VAST MAJORITY of us the difference between right and wrong. I find comfort in this knowledge. It means that morally and educationally, we are doing something right. Society is not broken. Some individuals in our society are broken. But this is frightening to some, because it might mean that no single group has an absolute monopoly on truth or goodness, and some groups and public figures are now twisting facts, twisting statistics, and twisting decency to convince the public that their group needs to dictate behavior for all of us. Attacking my lifestyle or beliefs, telling me that my lack of active religious faith makes me in some way complicit in a crime like this is wrong. I've seen versions of this idea pushed by some very public figures over the last few days, and this is not the way forward.

To get through this event, others like it, and others to come, to find a way to prevent tragedies like this in the future, we have to recognize our fundamental unity, not our fundamental differences. I don't know what that means on a large scale. I don't know how that will work, but I DO know that as an individual, I can choose to avoid hostility toward those who disagree with my positions, and I can ask others to do the same. 

We're more alike than we sometimes realize.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Dad's Like That Too

A few weeks ago, shortly before I left work for the day, Jessika sent me a text. She knows that I pass a grocery store on the way home, so occasionally she'll ask me to stop and pick up a few things. I'm happy to do it.

This particular time, I walked in, grabbed a cart and started working on the list. Before long, I'd picked up what we needed and hopped into the express line. No worries, I had fewer than twelve items. The cashier was a teenaged girl, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old. You have to understand, once I passed thirty, I lost the ability to distinguish ages below about twenty-two or twenty-three, so my estimate could be off by a few years in either direction. She was friendly. She rang out my purchase, and I left. 

Of course, halfway to the car, I realized that I had forgotten to buy toilet paper. There are two important points here:

1) I was on my way home from a full day at work. In other words, once I get home, I don't plan on leaving again. I'll restate this for friends who, in the past, may or may not have been offended that I've turned them down for weeknight activities. Without significant notice (say, at least a few days), I don't do anything outside the house after I get home from work. Even with notice, I'm likely to turn you down. Unless you have tickets to a Dave Matthews Band show, or there's a midnight showing for something hobbity, I'm not interested in late night activities when all I can think about is the alarm that will go off in just a few hours. Nothing against you. I'm just done.

2) Nobody wants to live in a house with no toilet paper.

Fortunately, I remembered the toilet paper before I had gotten into the car and driven home, so I put the groceries in the trunk and walked back into the store, seeking toilet paper.

As luck would have it, the only checkout lane without a long line was the line I had just used. I stepped up to the register, put the toilet paper on the belt, and the girl said, "Hey, weren't you just in here?" I explained, that, yes, I had just gone through her line a few minutes before, but I forgot one of my items. I also briefly mentioned that I was on my way home from work, and I was glad that I had remembered the toilet paper before I drove home, because once I get home from work, I don't like leaving the house again.

She said, "Yeah, my dad's just like that."

I want to clarify something here. I did not have any desire or need for this girl to see me as a sexual or romantic option. If she's seventeen or eighteen years old, she's young enough to be my daughter. But I had never, up to that point, interacted with an adult (or near adult) who was really young enough to be my child. Sure, considering the age at which a male is sexually mature enough to reproduce, I could technically have a child in his or her 20's at this point, but I'm talking about an adult who I could conceivably have helped to create AFTER I became an adult. So this story is really more about the slow (but shockingly fast) march of time and not at all about how it's gotten harder over the years to score with eighteen-year-olds.

The tale doesn't really end here, though. Just this week, as I was telling my grocery story to someone at work, a coworker from a different department happened to be listening in. Now, as a thirty-six-year-old, I comprehend that I am in my mid-thirties. On some level, I realize that I'm approaching forty, and this is supposed to be a big deal. So as I tell the story about how this girl at the store thought that I was old enough to be her father, a coworker from another department leaned in. I suppose I could also be this coworker's father, but I'd have to have been a high-school dad for her to be my daughter. 

She says, "No way, man! You'd have to be pushing FORTY to be that girl's dad!"

On the one hand, my coworker told me that she thought I was probably in my late twenties to early thirties, so I'm apparently younger looking to some people than my actual age would suggest. On the other hand, I'm apparently one or two years away from forty (which is, by her tone of shock, only a couple of years away from adult diapers and a dirt nap).

Before you get too worried about my self image or my feelings about my slowly advancing age, I need to reiterate that I feel good. I don't feel old (and I shouldn't, since I'm not old), and I don't have any desire to return to my teens or twenties. I'm going to say that again, for good measure. I don't have ANY desire to return to my teens or twenties. I'm simply interested in how it felt to get absolute confirmation that I've apparently moved into a new phase of my life, a phase where the twenty-somethings with whom I've long identified myself start to see me as "older".

I saw a post on Facebook by a friend who has a few years on me. By the way, "few years" is not code for pushing sixty. He's got a few years on me. He recently started a new job and commented on his first Christmas party at the new job. He noticed that he spent his time with the senior management and executives instead of the twenty-somethings downstairs who invariably end up drunk and spreading all kinds of workplace gossip. Rightly, he enjoyed his new position. We all like to have a few drinks, and getting a little soused from time to time doesn't mean you're immature or that you have a drinking problem. But it's nice to feel like you're making some progress.

So, yes, my beard has some grey. My temples are starting to pick up a few grey hairs, too. But I feel like I'm exactly where I need to be. I graduated from college a couple years back. They like me at work. There are opportunities in front of me. I've got great kids and a wonderful wife who listens patiently to all my stories, even the ones she's heard before. It's pretty good to be me right now.

And in fifteen years or so, I'll get to be mistaken for someone's grandfather.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Situational Awareness

Remember the part in Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Return of the King when Frodo is a prisoner in the Tower of Cirith Ungol? Even if you don't know the name, you remember the part. He wakes up, realizes the ring is missing, and an orc pops up through a trap door in the floor. As Shagrat gloats over his opportunity to despoil and kill Frodo (or deliver him to the Eye), he gasps and we see the point of an Elvish blade come out through his chest. Sam has come up behind him and impaled him on Sting.

That orc? Yeah, that's me.

Not literally, of course. I didn't play the role, but Jessika has used the term "oblivious" to describe me more times than I can remember (though probably fewer than I deserve).

This morning I went through my usual routine of snoozing the alarm, showering, starting the coffee, and sitting at my computer at the kitchen table until Zoe's wakeup time. I helped get her ready for school (clothing, breakfast, drink), and finshed my process of getting ready. I also watched Jessika as she poured a giant travel mug of coffee, mixed chocolate and milk into it to make a homemade mocha, and set it on the counter to take to school with her. Halfway to school, she looks over at me and says, "I forgot my freakin' coffee." Now, I watched all of her preparation take place, and at no point during our process of walking out the door, did I ever see her coffee on the counter. In fact, my last recognition that it even existed was when she was making it. My tunnel vision is so complete that I was no help at all in remembering the coffee. Generally, I feel good if I remember my lunch and my security badge for work.

To be fair, she pointed out that it's not my responsibility to help her remember her own things. Jessika is pretty cool this way. She takes responsibility for herself, and she expects others to do the same for themselves. But I'm pretty sure that she could've set $500 on the counter instead of her coffee mug, and I still wouldn't have noticed it. Zoe could have been wearing mismatched shoes and socks, and I wouldn't have noticed. I try to remind myself to pay attention to life going by around me, but the only way I remember is to write it down. Most of the time, though, I don't remember to look at things I've written down. I'm a mess.

When I was a kid, we had a giant mutt of a dog named Chewy. We didn't have a fenced-in yard (I didn't understand at the time, but I think we didn't have the money for it.), so my dad hooked up a long wire runner between two trees in the backyard. We could attach Chewy's leash to the runner, and he could dash madly back and forth across the yard. As often as I had to duck to get under it, one would think that I'd gain some kind of awareness of the runner as a constant in the back yard. Not true, though. Unless I saw it, I couldn't remember to duck. One particularly bad incident left me with a grease mark across my eyes and no glasses. We never found those glasses, in fact. They flew into the woods when I ran into the wire, and we never saw them again. I'm sure it was amusing on some level to watch my sprinting form go horizontal before landing roughly on my back, though. Amusing because there was no serious injury, and slapstick is just funny.

Basically, I'm the kind of guy who could get flattened by a bus while texting and walking across the street.

To compensate for my lack of awareness, I've learned to become a creature of habit and paranoia. I suspect that my paranoia keeps me alive and relatively uninjured. When I lose that paranoia or stray from my habits, I invite disaster.

I once came literally inches from serious injury (possibly death, to be totally frank) when I was working in construction. As I worked on a deck that stood about 20 feet above the ground, I found myself in a situation where I needed to use a circular saw to cut off the top of a 6 x 6 post at the corner of the deck. If you know anything about circular saws, you'll know that the blade does not extend deep enough to cut through a post that big in one pass. The only way to make that cut with a circular saw is to cut each of the four sides. Your off cut will still be attached by a small amount of wood in the middle that the blade could not reach. Grab a hammer, and hit the off cut. Voila. Not pretty, but we were using the posts as a core for a cedar facade, so the post didn't need to be pretty.

Not a good day.
That post in the center of the picture? That's the spot.

I probably could have used a reciprocating saw to achieve similar results. I could have gotten an extension ladder to reach the outside of the post. There are probably other solutions. My solution was to lean out over the edge of the deck with the circular saw to make the outer cut. To be fair, I was encouraged by my boss to do it this way, and I have an incessant need to please my bosses, but I still made a conscious decision to follow those instructions. 

While making the cut, my fleece sweater got too close to the blade. And by too close, I mean touched. My sweater was pulled in. I don't really know how close I came to falling off the deck, or how close the blade got to cutting me open. My sweater was destroyed, cut open across the belly, and it happened because of my tunnel vision. I was more concerned with the objective than I was with how I would get there. I had poor situational awareness of my own body and clothing, I could potentially have paid the ultimate price. Getting to an emergency room would have meant a 30 minute drive in the back of a pickup truck, so it would definitely have been the worst day of my life, one way or another.

I like to think that I would stand up to my boss if I were in the same situation again. But here's the frustrating thing. I'm probably the only person from the job site that day who would have had that accident. I could have handed the saw to my boss, and he would have made the cuts and then poked fun at me for being afraid to do it. 

But all these experiences have built my paranoia to the point where it's like an impregnable shield of fear and insecurity. 

The upside? I don't stub my toes when I walk around dark rooms.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Things

So it's now been nearly three weeks since my last post. I never thought about this when I first started writing, but the election cycle has really taken a toll on my ability to write about anything interesting. I've written three fully formed and edited posts, complete with clever little memes that I created myself. Despite my personal injunction against taking sides in social media forums, I still managed to write three incredibly bitter and angry screeds about politics. I didn't take sides, though, so instead of alienating half of my (admittedly small) audience, I probably would have angered both sides. None of them were terribly different from one another; they simply reflected three attempts to write the same thing without resorting to anger and bitterness. The TL;DR version of those posts is this:

I'm tired of people pretending like they don't care and that they hate everyone involved in politics. Even people who claim not to care have hot button issues, and broadly claiming that both major candidates are terrible is cowardly and dishonest, or at the least, completely unproductive. So figure out what you believe. Once you figure it out, make a decision either to talk about it or not to talk about it, and for the love of Pete, stick to that decision. Seriously, if you think they're both terrible, stop telling me about it, and go back to telling me about Ron Paul or something. At least you had some passion then.

There was more to the posts, digging into third party candidates, insulting Herman Cain (not for being a Republican, but for being an idiot), and generally spreading vitriol around. It's really not an interesting argument to make, certainly not interesting enough to take up a whole post. 

So instead of complaining about the lazy nihilism that oozes out of half the posts I see on Facebook, instead of lamenting all the hate I see at this time of year, I've compiled a small list (obviously not comprehensive) of some things I love. I think that the things we love define us more completely and more earnestly than the things we hate. In the spirit of fighting the negativity of election season with some positivity, here are a few of my favorite things.

1. The Lord of the Rings

This is fanboy love of the worst kind, really. I've read the book a couple dozen times (literally, you have no idea how obsessed I am), and I consume Tolkien's other works about Middle-Earth the way Apple fanboys consume iPhones (and with the same haughty disregard for any perceived failings). I once quoted the Merry Old Inn song at a Halloween party to someone I barely knew at the time (interestingly, she wrote about a different Halloween party in her latest post). In my defense, though, there was alcohol involved in that particular event, so it seemed like a neat little party trick to my addled brain. I even subscribe to the @ShireReckoningW Twitter feed so I can stay up to date on what's happening each day in the novel. 

I've found so much in the novel that I'm always wanting to share. There is joy and suffering, heroism and betrayal, peace and war. Most importantly, I find a concern with the value of friendship and courage. I think Tolkien desperately believed that despair is one of our worst mistakes. In discussing the book with friends, I'm always trying to create the impression that the book is more than just a story about hobbits, that it has something vital to say about the importance of our friendships.

2. Video Games

Man, I love to shoot stuff. I also like to hit stuff with a sword or command large numbers of troops in fake battles. In fact, I find other forms of electronic entertainment inferior, almost boring by comparison. When I sit and watch TV or a movie now, I almost always have a game on my laptop or my phone. I multitask my electronics. Now, based on my love for The Lord of the Rings, you would think I'd love the MMORPG based on the novel (if you're even aware of its existence, that is). Even though I can play the game for free, I just can't get into it. I've tried a couple of times, but the game reminds me of early attempts at computer animation. Long on detail, short on heart. Couple an uninspiring adaptation of my favorite fictional work with the recognition of my sometimes addictive relationship with MMOs, and it's easy for me to skip that one.

Some of my best friends, though, the ones who truly approach the level of adopted family, come from my days playing World of Warcraft. My friends all have lives and names, but in some ways they really are Mercade, Muskulls, Muskullswife, Invysillama, Myca, Mahroo, Moonders, Deadstick, Asakawa, and others, and innumerable alts. We worked together in aid of something larger (getting to the end of the freakin' Shadow Labyrinth) before we ever knew each others' religion or politics.

3. Making Stuff

I can't just say that I like to cook good food, or build things out of wood, or that I'm fascinated by my desire to learn blacksmithy. These things are all of a piece. I love the feeling of standing back from a project, taking a good look at it, nodding my head, and saying, "Yep. I made that. I did a good job, too." If you've ever gotten a slideshow presentation from me before, you'll also know that I love to show off my work. I take pride in creation. I still reminisce with old coworkers about the houses we built and the work we put in. I also reminisce about sitting on a scaffolding 15 feet off the ground, in 95 degree heat, punchy from exhaustion, nearly laughing myself into thin air as my vulgar English boss spoofed Fleetwood Mac songs. For the record, he and I probably couldn't be more politically different. Doesn't matter.

In fact, in nearly every aspect of life that I enjoy, my enjoyment goes hand in hand with the presence of friends and family, despite our tendency so often to be at odds with one another, politically or religiously. 

But we don't cut each other checks to keep the lights on during the hard times because of politics. We don't celebrate new jobs or births because of politics. We don't go to each others' birthday parties, bonfires, or graduations because of politics. And when as we suffer our worst moments and worst losses, we don't mourn together because of our politics.

We celebrate, cry, laugh, sing, dance, argue, criticize, and support -- because we love each other.

At the risk of mawkishness, I'll say that my people are more important to me than my politics.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lessons from Jessika

While talking with my wife the other day, the topic turned to why I blog. Despite my desire to write and share, and despite close relationships with others who write and share, I can't shake the notion that writing is an egomaniacal pursuit. I told Jessika this, and as usual, she defended my own intentions to me. She has a way of cutting through my moments of self doubt with surprising clarity. I write because I like to think that my stories and musings might entertain people, make them chuckle or smile in some small way. I've also heard from coworkers and friends over the years that I have an interesting way of looking at life (although this could, on reflection, be similar to the supposed old Chinese curse about living in interesting times). Now I'm pretty happy with my life, due largely to my particular outlook on life, so I write because I hope that my perspective might enlighten my readers in some way, intellectually or emotionally.

As usual, I learned something about myself and about my motivations from talking to her, and in that spirit, I'm writing today about the impact Jessika has had on my life, my outlook, and my happiness. And I think others may agree. So here are a few things I'll call Lessons from Jessika.

1. Sugarcoating is for candy

A very good friend once told me that when he wants a balanced opinion, when he wants someone who will look at a situation from every angle, sympathize with all positions, and ultimately recommend no useful course of action whatsoever, he asks me for advice. If you don't understand why this doesn't offend me, you need to re-read the last sentence. But if he wants someone who will smack him in the face with brutal truth, he talks to Jessika. For awhile her personal quote on Facebook was, "I refuse to sugarcoat it for you." 

In situations dealing with serious life decisions, a painful truth is always preferable to a comforting or convenient lie. The potential for long term pain or unhappiness is simply too great to risk saying what's easy in place of what's honest. Yes, sometimes truth seems subjective to the person asking the questions, but that's no excuse for pussy-footing around. If someone asks your opinion, they want YOUR opinion. If they come back later and try to lay any blame on you, "Hey, you asked MY opinion. What would I do? You don't HAVE to live like I do, but I won't lie to you about how I choose to live. Don't like my advice? Here's a lesson for you, then. Don't ask me." 

Understand, though, this predilection for painful honesty applies to relations with friends for loved ones -- people you actually care about. When dealing with strangers or mere acquaintances, truth or lies are irrelevant. In those cases, say whatever you must to shorten the interaction.

2. I don't wanna hear it, none of your bullshit!

I don't think I had any experience with Punk or Hardcore before I met Jessika. Sure, I grew up in the 90's, so I'd listened to Grunge and some Industrial, so I wasn't completely wet behind the ears, but I couldn't have told you anything about punk. Let's get something straight: I still can't tell you much. But I've learned a little about the kind of in-your-face, not-listening-to-your-crap attitude that oozes from every pore of most punks. Punk rockers don't have a reputation for making good life decisions (although I do realize that I've quoted a band above known for its influence in straightedge), but I think we can still learn something from the mindset, and Jessika speaks to it all the time.

Life is too short to deal with people who only bring drama to your day or your life. Some of it is unavoidable -- you can't quit every job or drop every class just because of drama. But you can pick your social encounters, for sure. And you can organize your day around the people and the activities that energize you the most. Jessika's most common reaction to bullshit walk the other way, but if she can't walk away, she'll tell you what she thinks. Hell, even if she can walk away, she might, for good measure, tell you what she thinks. 

I've learned that we don't have to put up with the crap that people spew in our direction, and it's okay to scream that at them if it might make them shut up.

3. Everyone wants to be like me!

Maybe. Who knows. It doesn't really matter, though. Live your life as though everyone wants to be like you. Why? Because it means that you're at peace with your decisions. You're at peace with your particular set of idiosyncrasies, and you see them as strengths. So even if you can't prove that everyone wants to be like you, live like you know it for truth.

I've learned that so much unhappiness stems from trying to live up to other people's expectations or hopes for us. If those people know so well what you should do with your life, why do they spend so much of their own lives angry, sad, confused, and unhappy? They don't know crap about how to be happy! Stop letting other people run your life for you. Figure out who you are and what you want out of life, and go work on it!

4. Get over it or die mad.

This is one of my favorite lessons. We're always going to run across people who are just frightfully bothered by us. They don't like what we say. They don't like our work performance, our school performance. They don't approve of the way we speak, the way we vote, the way we worship (or don't).

The best thing those people can do is to GET OVER IT. I live my life in the way that seems best to me and to my family, and I'm not about to change it just because someone else doesn't like it. So get over it.

The other choice, of course, is to die mad. Seriously, if you never move on from your moralizing and judging, you will literally do it until the day you die, raving at everything wrong with the world. And that's really no way to live. Your brain obviously has the ability to move on from bad experiences (hopefully you're not still bitter about every disappointment you've ever experienced). Engage that ability to move on, and accept that I don't plan on changing myself to suit your politics or your religion or your sense of decency. Your life will be better, more full of opportunities for joy. 

Besides, I don't wanna hear it...

Monday, October 01, 2012

What's the Weather?

I have a new phone that I love. I know that I've mentioned this in other posts, but I'm still just floored by the sheer amount of data at my fingertips at all times of day. For example, I can check the weather in my exact location any time I want to. My phone has GPS, too, so I don't even have to input a city or ZIP code or anything. I just press the weather button, and I find out that it's currently 72 degrees Fahrenheit and mostly cloudy. I find myself checking the weather all day long now. I'll be sitting at my desk at work, and I absolutely must know the temperature and cloud cover at that moment.

I haven't always had such easy access to the weather.

During high school, I was a backpacker. I saved up and bought hundreds of dollars of hiking and camping supplies. I had a backpack, cooking kit, portable stove, tent, sleeping bag, hiking shoes, special socks, first aid kit, compass -- you name a piece of hiking gear, I probably had it or had plans for how much a good one was going to cost me.

I and my two best friends, Scott and Jeremy, liked to go on overnight hiking trips. We would pack up the gear, hop in Jeremy's beat up Chevy Nova (the 4-cylinder compact version from the late 80's), and drive up to North Georgia to walk all day, sit around a campfire half the night, and sleep on the ground in a tent. I've learned in the intervening years that not everyone understands the fun in this. Actually, I don't even understand why this is fun. It just is.

If I remember correctly, we planned a trip in early March one year to the Cohutta Wilderness in extreme North Georgia. We checked topographical maps and National Park Service maps of the area. We decided on a trailhead and parking area, planned our route, and decided to avoid river and stream crossings. Although the winter had been mild, we didn't want to deal with mountain streams so early in the year, even in Georgia. We planned our meals, loaded our packs, and tested Jeremy's new pump-operated water filter. Water gets heavy when you have to carry a couple of day's worth at a time, so he had researched filters and decided on a mid-priced filter that had gotten some good reviews in Backpacker Magazine.

Even in the days before the internet became central to our lives, research and planning were easy tasks. Apparently, though, despite all our planning, turning on the TV and planning for weather was a task beyond the likes of us.

Although the weather was nice at home -- in the 70's, I think -- we discovered upon reaching the mountains that winter had not exactly loosened its grip. It was cold up there! No worries, though, we had sleeping bags and a tent and fire-making supplies. Our elevation increased, and I could have sworn that I saw a little ice on the road. Yeah, that was ice. Probably just a little bit of leftover stuff from earlier in the season, though -- nothing to worry about. We kept listening to Frank Sinatra or Take 6 or Manhattan Transfer, or whatever it was we were trying to sing with that week.

The point of no return came when we were within just a couple of miles of our destination. As we rounded an especially icy bend in the road and headed up an icy hill, with an approximately 25 to 30 foot drop at the bend in the road behind us, we hit the real stuff. Not just a little ice, the kind that causes a little bit of tire spinning. We hit ICE. The car's front wheels started spinning in place and we started to slide backwards. Jeremy turned the wheel and stopped our backwards slide by sticking one of the back wheels in a small ditch. Now what? A car came around the corner behind us and got similarly stuck, and a truck and another car started to approach from the top of the hill and soon joined us. Scott, who at the time fancied himself a bit of a ninja, turned out to have foot spikes in his pack. (Honestly? I don't know. Perhaps he could shed some light, but I've never asked.) He and I got behind the car, each took a foot spike for digging into the icy sheet covering the road and tried to push as Jeremy fruitlessly spun the wheels of the car. Ultimately, the four vehicles' owners all got together, sat on hoods, pushed from behind, and slowly, ever so slowly extricated the four vehicles from their predicaments. We had made a few friends, the temporary kind who come together, despite their differences, because of shared hardship, and we went on our way, still intent upon hiking.

We got onto the trail a couple of hours after we had planned. This left us two fewer hours until dusk, when we would need to have camp set up, water filtered, fire built. We walked, but really spent our time looking for a combination camp site and water source. As it turns out, finding a clear spot to set up camp and finding a stream near camp when you've planned your route to avoid water presents a daunting challenge. By the time we found a spot, it was already fully dark. Scott struggled to collect wood and build a fire in the dark, while I wrestled with the tent, and Jeremy risked frostbitten fingers to filter enough water for tea and ramen. 

We ate. Sat around the fire. Retired to the tent and our sleeping bags. We had good bags, but we still shivered. Upon waking in the morning, the extra gallon of water that Jeremy had filtered was a solid block of ice. Not a cold gallon of water with a sheen of ice over the top. A solid block of ice. We had spent the night in 25 degree-rated sleeping bags, and the temperature had dropped to 17 degrees. We shivered through building a morning fire, packing up camp, and eventually heading back to the car. Were our lives ever in danger? No, we had pretty good gear, and we were never far from a fire or the car. 

We camped again, but the three of us never hiked again.

Some lessons? Bring water, even if you plan on filtering refills for your bottles. Don't avoid water when you know you'll need it. 

Most importantly, you can never check the weather often enough.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

Don't I Know You From Somewhere?

I like to think that I'm a reasonably intelligent guy, who has a (probably) better than average grasp on basic statistics. Because of this, I'm under no illusion that I'm the only Mike Coon out and about these days.

One of my uncles has managed to trace our family tree back to a John MacCoone, who apparently came to America sometime during the 18th century. He traced various ancestors throughout New England, found a story about the rescue of some family members from Mohicans, and followed the family to Ohio, where my most immediate ancestors lived.

Based on the geographical movements of my family, and the knowledge that we've been here for going on 300 years, I can only imagine how many Coons are floating around the US. I know that Gene Coon was a producer on Star Trek, and he's not even a part of the genealogical research my uncle has done. He may have been a distant relation, but we don't really know. There's also Brad Coon, who when I last checked, was playing AAA baseball in the Angels farm system. Again, as far as I know, he doesn't pop up in my immediate family, but he's from Ohio, so he's probably connected somehow. Point is, we might not be as numerous as Smiths, but there are lots of us.

And we probably don't even have to discuss the name Michael. It's out there. A lot. I read somewhere once that Michael was the most popular name for boys in America during multiple years in the late 1970's and early 1980's, and I can't imagine that its popularity has waned very much. Most of my classrooms and jobs over the years have included at least one Mike or Michael besides me, so the general likelihood of putting together say, 500 men with the surname Coon and finding a few Michaels is probably pretty high.

All this speculation is leading somewhere very personal -- bear with me.

A few years ago I discovered a Mike Coon club on Facebook. It was a public group (apparently gone now, because a quick search doesn't turn it up), and all of its members were named Mike Coon. I seem to remember seeing 14 members, and neither I nor my uncle Mike were members, so now we're up to 16 of us. I'm sure there are others out there who simply never found the Facebook group or who don't even use the internet. I know from the experience of creating usernames for websites over the years that I won't always get the username "mikecoon". Obviously others find that username relevant.

I have been receiving email for some time from Redbox, verifying rentals and returns, and giving me advice about new releases. I don't rent from Redbox using my email address. We've always used Jessika's email address anytime we've rented from Redbox. So I did a little research, and these Redbox rentals are happening in Colorado Springs, CO. 

This is when I go to Google.

Sure enough -- there's a real estate agent named Mike Coon living in Colorado Springs, CO. Now, his email address is probably very similar to mine, since people tend to use variations on their names for email addresses. I do wonder if he's ever questioned why he doesn't get confirmations from Redbox, though. All of these experiences are relatively innocuous, and no different than what every John Smith in the world probably endures all the time.

Now I've recently bought my first real smartphone, and I have this unlimited data plan from my provider, so I've been playing with apps like crazy. This weekend I decided to join the Instagram crowd. I take pictures of my kids and of funny things, and it seems like an cool way to automatically link to Facebook. So I go to set up my account, and the website tells me that there's already an account linked to that email address. Now, I've had the same email address since Gmail was in closed beta, so I know I haven't typed anything wrong, but I start thinking that maybe I started an Instagram account at some point and just forgot about it. So, of course, I click on "Forgot Password". I get an email with a link to reset my password, follow the link, change my password -- bingbangboom -- I'm in.

Holy shit.

In front of me on my phone is a chronicle of somebody else's life. Mike Coon eating pho. Mike Coon at some kind of Glen Beck event (definitely someone else). Mike Coon's newborn baby. And the Mike Coon in the pictures is not me. Except that based on the email address of record, if somebody wants to know about the man with that email address, they get -- him. Why would someone use an email address they don't own to create web accounts? Does he want my email address? Mine is simple. I got my favorite username because I was an early adopter on Gmail. 

I felt violated. I felt compromised. My wife was NOT attracted to this other Mike Coon. And worst of all, I don't want people to think that I watch Glen Beck. I can accept that other Mike Coons are out there going about their Mike Coon-y business, but when they're using my email address to record their lives on Instagram, that just -- weirds me out.

My first instinct was to delete the account and move on, creating a new one with my email address, but when I went to delete the account, the website told me that the user name associated with that email address could not be reused if I deleted the account. What if this other Mike Coon is really attached to that user name? I can't just delete it on a whim. As it turns out, I'm a nicer person than I give myself credit for. I started searching Facebook for a Mike Coon who looked like the Mike Coon in the pictures. No luck. So I searched Facebook for his Instagram friends. No luck there either. I sort of surprised myself and made an honest attempt to find this guy and say, "Hey, you used the wrong email address. Send me your real one, and I'll change it on the account." 

No dice.

So I deleted him.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Lessons from a 5th Grade Book Report

When I was in 5th grade, I had a book report. I don't remember all of the details, but we received an assignment, and I'm sure the teacher gave us plenty of time to complete it. At this point, I've watched my son go through 5th grade. I have a general idea what kind of assignment the teacher handed out. 5th grade assignments are easy. I mean, for a kid with a reasonable degree of intelligence, 5th grade book reports are like asking Stephen Hawking to do basic arithmetic.

Here's the thing: I don't know what I did with my time -- I've always been a big reader -- but I didn't read anything in time to report on it. 

There are very few moments from my childhood that I remember with perfect clarity.The time I drove my car down the front steps of the house at 4 years old? That's still stuck up there in my brain. The time I got my pants pulled down in front of the whole gym in 6th grade? Who can forget that kind of horror? Trying to attack my next door neighbor with a stick, only to find myself on the ground, his hands around my neck? Yep, still there. (And on a related note, bygones are bygones. We drove to school together all through high school, and we're still in contact on Facebook.) I still remember the night before the report, tearing my closet apart, looking for something to report on, finally settling on Edith Hamilton's Mythology. Now, I hadn't (and still haven't) read the book, but I seem to remember thinking that I could talk about Zeus and Athena and fake my way through. With 25 years worth of accumulated life experience, I've learned a couple of things about myself.

First of all, I'm terrible at faking my way through anything, as it turns out. I don't remember what my teacher asked me or how I responded, but I can remember the shame and fear coursing through me as I realized, standing in front of the entire class, that I couldn't answer her questions. My friends know that I have occasionally tried to fake my way, with embarrassing results. In fact, I vividly remember sitting in a conference room about 6 years ago at the CDC, desperately trying to extricate myself from a job interview that had turned into a massive crash and burn. As it turns out, I really only know enough Java to write a "Hello World" program, despite the fact that I had convinced myself and others around me that I was just weeks away from a big job and big money. That interview was the final straw. I think.

Another thing I see? I make awful decisions under stress. By 5th grade, I had read all of C.S. Lewis's Narnia books, The Hobbit, various books in the Hardy Boys and Three Investigators series, books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Louis Sachar, and others that I no longer remember. You know what I hadn't read? The one book that I chose to report on! To this day I can't understand what fit of stupidity descended upon me to ignore the dozens of books I had already read and could have discussed at length and made me instead choose a book that, even with my higher than average intelligence at that time, no teacher would believe I had actually read. Granted, a classmate did his report on The Stand, but he had obviously read the book, and he later went on to Harvard, then Princeton, then to positions at universities as an English professor. I, on the other hand, spent 16 years on a Bachelor's degree and don't currently teach at any colleges. 

Apparently 5th grade book reports are bellwethers for future academic and professional success.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Astronomy (Stars not Horoscopes)

When I was in seventh grade I decided to perform a great social experiment. I decided to put on a label for all the school to see, that I liked astronomy. For the first time that year, I remember finding three-ring binders that had clear plastic on the front and back, and I tore photographs out of my Astronomy magazines of nebulae, globular clusters, and solar prominences and slid them into the front and back of my binder. In fact, every single month, when the new issue came out, I would go straight to my room, turn to the back of the magazine, and start planning which photographs would go into my binder that month.

I didn't realize at the time, but I think my parents were desperately hoping that their thoughtful and intelligent seventh-grader would start showing an interest in something that might lead to a career, or at least a college major. Now that I'm the parent of an eighth-grader, I've become aware of the crippling fear that starts to creep up on some parents around the middle school years. It goes something like this: 

"My kid is really smart and has so much potential, but I'm afraid that he's just going to flit around from interest to interest for the rest of his life and end up not graduating from college until he's 33, even then getting a degree in English, not in something useful, and he's going to struggle and barely pay bills and worry about money every single moment, and life doesn't have to be that way!"

So you start thinking about ways to take the things that your kid is interested in and push those interests a little bit further, give your kid opportunities to explore those interests, in hopes that you might spark a life-long passion that will lead to a sense of purpose and resolve. I'm no longer worried about my eighth-grader, or at least, not worried in the same way that I was a year ago. For his birthday, he and I went to the local computer store, bought components and built his first computer. So many of his interests revolve around gaming, creation, and the internet, and at 13 years old, we decided that the time had come for him to have his very own screaming machine. Whatever he does, he'll be fine. I'm fine, and he'll be fine.

When I was in seventh grade, my passion was astronomy. Mom and dad gave me a subscription to astronomy magazine, and I became completely fascinated by astrophotography. If you're not familiar with it, astrophotography is not just pointing a camera at the sky and snapping a picture. First you need a good telescope. When I say good, I don't mean one of those little $100 jobs that you find in your local department store. I'm talking about something put out by companies like Meade or Celestron and, depending on your ambition, costing upwards of $10,000. Now, you can get a good-enough scope for something closer to $1000, still not chump change, but that'll get you started. 

When you buy the scope, though, you need to think about the tripod. Not just any tripod and mount will do. There are specific kinds of mounts that will allow a person to turn a knob ever so slowly and move the telescope in conjunction with the earth's rotation, allowing a camera attached to the lens to take extremely long-exposure photographs without the star field blurring from the apparent motion of the stars across the sky over the course of the night. These days you can even get powered mounts that will do all the work for you, assuming, of course that you've set up your tripod and scope properly.

Yep. You can't just put the telescope in your yard and point it somewhere. Not only do you have to locate north, and you have to know your latitude and longitude as precisely as possible. First of all, finding north and pointing there are no mean feat. We generally know Polaris, at the tip of the Little Dipper, as the north star, but point a telescope there, and you still haven't found north. True magnetic north is somewhat off from Polaris. You didn't think we'd be so lucky as to have a star in just the right place, did you? Second, you have to adjust the position of your telescope to allow for the earth's rotation at your specific latitude and longitude. This is not terribly difficult, but I will give you fair warning. If you happen to be dating someone, a person that you potentially might end up marrying, and you tell that person that you know the specific latitude and longitude of your house, you may, possibly, be in for at least 11 years worth of good-natured ribbing over how nerdy you are. I won't reveal my sources, but I can say with absolute certainty that this can happen.

As it turns out, by the time you upgrade to the really stable tripod with the motorized mount and buy a camera and an adapter to hook it up to your telescope, and buy the various filters you'll need, you're looking at close to $2000 worth of expense, and I've just never made it up to that kind of money. I have a 3.5" Newtonian reflector collecting dust in my closet, that has come with me to every home I've lived in for the last 12 years, and one of these days I'll pull it out and hopefully impress the kids with the little bit of knowledge I've acquired over the years. One more way for daddy to prove that he knows a little something about nearly everything.

My parents couldn't get me the big telescope rig, but they got me a trip to Georgia Tech during the summer after my seventh-grade year for a science summer camp. I spent two weeks learning about hovercraft, and bottle rockets, and flatworms. I'm not a scientist, but a valuable bit of knowledge started to worm its way into my brain.

I found out that when I let my geek flag fly, people liked me better than when I was trying to remain unnoticed. My parents helped create the geek monster you know today by buying me a magazine subscription and encouraging my early interest in science. I'd love to say that I learned to be myself, no matter what, but years of high school and attempting to impress all the wrong girls were still ahead of me. Lessons don't really sink in that quickly in real life. 

The telescope might be in the closet, but I've never sold it or given it away. My friends are the best kinds of geeks I can possibly imagine, and the skies still call to me.

Saturday, August 04, 2012


I’m so glad you stopped by to read a few of my words. You may be puzzled to see a welcome message as the fourth entry posted on a blog, but I wanted to get a few entries in before I started inviting people to visit and read.


In college, I had six different majors, and I spent 16 years obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree. My friends can assert that I have a history of starting schools, jobs, projects, and hobbies that I later abandon due to lack of interest.

But two activities keep coming back to me: carpentry and writing. I can remember when I was a kid I the early 80’s, sitting in the living room on weekends when my dad was watching “This Old House”, “New Yankee Workshop”, and “The Woodwright’s Shop”. These guys had power tools, and that was pretty awesome (Well, the first two did. The guy on the third show works entirely without power tools, which is its own kind of completely freakin’ awesome), but even more awesome, they built stuff!

Norm Abram is the host of “New Yankee Workshop” and a bit of a personal hero. He’s a solid carpenter, aided, I’m sure, by the magic of television to allow him to fix mistakes and cover imperfections without the audience ever having to know about them. He loves going into antique stores, finding great old pieces of furniture, and showing his audience how to adapt those old pieces to modern tools, modern materials, and modern techniques. The most respected and expensive carpenters would replicate materials and techniques, but Norm isn’t trying to preserve old techniques as much as he’s trying to teach the joy of creating something for yourself. He’s a great teacher, and he calls drawers “drawhs”, and I gained an early fascination with carpentry from him. I always suspected that if I got a chance, I would love and have a talent for woodworking.

I got my chance during 2007 and 2008 to test out my suspicions when I left retail and started working as an apprentice carpenter. Although the company closed in 2008, and I went back to retail, I’ve never abandoned carpentry. I don’t get to do it much, because tools and space are either expensive or at other peoples’ houses, but the work I do is satisfying.

I’ve also had a fascination with writing down words for other people to read. I remember Christmas in third grade, to this day still my favorite Christmas, when I opened my presents to find a boxed set of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien hooked me on the idea of world-building. I started trying to write sequels to his works, and nothing thrilled me more than seeing Middle-Earth realized on film. I was, and still am, less concerned with Peter Jackson faithfulness to Tolkien’s story than with his faithfulness to the vision and world of Middle-Earth. My desire to write and to share grew out of my fascination with world-building.

I would never have imagined it, but I fear that I have become “that guy” among my group of family and friends who flits from master plan to master plan, unfortunately doing more planning than mastering. I play golf with around a 40 handicap, know about two or three guitar chords, and I have a nice 3.5” Newtonian reflector telescope languishing in my closet. My hard drive is littered with the remnants of computer programming projects that never resulted in any practical programming knowledge. I even know 10 or 12 words in Japanese.

As I begin a new project, fully realizing that the weight of my own history argues strongly for failure, I simply haven’t yet had the nerve to announce a blog that I would update once and then forget. This concept, this project of writing is too important to me to allow it to become another abandoned pursuit.

So I’ve waited, and I have a plan and a vision.

Here’s the plan:

Write something every single day. Most days I expect that I’ll work on this blog. I plan to write many more entries than I actually publish, because not every entry will be a good one. If one out of three is actually any good, then I still get a couple of posts per week, at that rate. My plan will actually require a great deal more time management than you may think. I have a job, a wife, two kids, and an addiction to wasting time. I can spend an hour and a half looking at stupid pictures and gifs on reddit, and, like many of my generation, video games are a tempting distraction. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment, but I won’t neglect my commitments to my family, my fitness, or my job, so I need to reduce my entertainment commitment if I’m going to find time to write.

And here’s the vision:

This blog should be a vehicle for people who already know me to get to know me better and a place where people who don’t know me can meet me. Sometimes that will mean confessional posts, and sometimes I might just rant about something that I just can’t ignore.

This blog will be honest.

Finally, this blog will a mental workout for me. If you’ve ready my earlier posts, you know that I’m physically out of shape and trying to get back on track. Ditto on the brain. If I’m going to make a go at a childhood dream, I need to get my brain and my fingers going again.

Welcome and thanks for starting this journey with me.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Name and Titles

I've been thinking about titles and names lately.

Part of starting a new blog is creating a name for it. I don't know about other people, but I have a hard time coming up with good names. Blogs, school essays, video game characters, you name it, I have a hard time naming it. And I actually do think I know something about other people's naming habits, but more on that later.

As I was titling my blog, I had a few things going through my mind. I though about a descriptive/self-deprecating name. "Adventures of a Dilettante" or something like that. That'll tell people that I write about a wide range of subjects and that I don't take myself to seriously. Who am I kidding? I DO take myself too seriously. Okay, scratch that name, I certainly can't have a title like "The Best Blog" or "I'm Pretty Awesome" or "Please Read Me". I don't want a vague name like "Thoughts" or "My Feelings About Some Things". So I setting for "Do I Have To?" It seems to encapsulate my state of mind on any given day, so maybe it'll grow on me as a name. Or maybe I'll grow out of it.

My good friend Terese has a great name for her blog: "You'll Be Fine, I Promise". She even has a great story behind why she chose that name. I won't spoil the story; she tells it better than I could, anyway. You should read it for yourself, and while you're at it, read the rest of her blog too. She's been tremendously supportive of my fledgling efforts here, and she tells a good story. I'm hoping that sticking at this long enough will result in a great story that can turn into a great name.

The issue of names came up again last week when I joined the office softball team. We had to choose a name for the public park league we joined. Our organizer put out a call for team name ideas, and the names started rolling in. No Homers. Showing Signs of Fatigue. Old and Flabby. Lowered Expectations. Out of Breath. There's obviously a theme here. We settled on Scared Hitless.

One of our office managers quite unintentionally explained the real trouble with titles and names when he heard our team name. He said, "Scared Hitless! I love it! Underpromise and overdeliver. That's the way to go!" I want to avoid broad generalizations, so I'll mainly speak for our little softball team, but I think we might be able to extrapolate outward a bit to portions of my generation without ruffling too many feathers -- The lower you set the bar for achievement, the more pride you can take in failure. "Sure, we didn't win a single game, but look at us! We're Scared Hitless, and we actually got a few hits! We're winners!"

Maybe underpromising and overdelivering is a useful strategy for managing expectations (It certainly worked for Scotty on the U.S.S. Enterprise), but our name feels a bit like the softball equivalent of a straw man argument. I don't mean to say that I'm part of a generation of losers trying to convince everyone that losing is okay. I just see a lot of cynics around me (and in the mirror).

There's no grand realization or plan here. Based on some of the name choices I see, I and many of the people I interact with would rather succeed cynically than fail earnestly. Earnest people get ridiculed for being naive or old-fashioned or just uncool. Cynics are presumably intelligent enough not to be earnest.

Maybe we've bought in too much to the concepts of success and failure. Or maybe our cynical attitudes are merely a manifestation of our rejection of the success/failure dichotomy.

Sometimes I read too much into things. Maybe it's just funny for out of shape geeks to drag their pregnancy bellies around a softball field. As Freud probably didn't actually say, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Wall

Here's a fact about me that not everyone knows. I love baseball.

I remember the Atlanta Braves in the 80's. My earliest baseball memory is a hazy image in my head of the Braves playing the Cardinals in the 1982 NLCS. Without the aid of Wikipedia I can name so many of the major Braves players of the mid-eighties. They had players like Dale Murphy, Bruce Benedict, Chris Chambliss, Glen Hubbard, Rafael Ramirez, Bob Horner, Albert Hall, Claudell Washington, Phil Neikro, Gene Garber, Steve Bedrosian, and so on and so on. I could name more. Seriously, I could.

The eighties were a rough time to be a Braves fan, because the were always so bad, but they were all still superheroes to me. I wanted to be a baseball player. I still do.

So I jumped at the chance to join the office softball team. I'm trying to get my body back into shape. I started running again (ok, fine, I alternate between walking and jogging) a couple of weeks ago. And now, not only do I get to stand on a baseball field, swing a bat, run the bases, and play a position, but it's also some badly-needed exercise. Am I taking a casual public park softball league a little too seriously? Probably. But I love the diamond.

We had our first of two practices before the season starts last night, and playing softball is not as easy as I remember. I used to think softball and baseball were relatively low-effort activities. Maybe when I was more physically acive they were, but with somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 years of nearly complete inactivity behind me, I found myself wondering:

How do you tell the difference between a mental wall and a physical wall? You hear about "the wall", that moment you reach mentally where you want to quit, think you can't go on any longer, but you push through and succeed. But you also hear about people passing out from physical exertion. Not pretty. But those people probably thought they were just pushing through "the wall". How does a couch potato who hasn't exercised seriously since high school tell the difference?

As I stood in the outfield (baseball fans: I deliberately chose to cover right field when I realized how winded and tired I was getting) desperately sucking as much air as I could, sweat pouring down my face, legs aching from the running, arm turning to jelly from all the throwing, I considered whether I would look back in two hours with relief or with regret.

I wanted to stop and tell everyone that I needed to sit and rest, but did I want that because I was about to faint or because I'm essentially weak-willed and give up too easily when faced with physical difficulty. There is some precedent for the latter.

Two things happened. First, my pride and my desire to impress my new coworkers and teammates made all of my questioning irrelevant. I've been at my job for less than two months, and beyond my desire to get out on the diamond and do something I love, I also want to build camraderie and relationships, especially since my boss and my boss's boss are both playing with me. I refused to show weakness.

Second, I stayed upright and even managed to get in a few more at-bats before the practice was over. I hung in there. I may have learned something more valuable if I had passed out, something about not being driven by pride and fear, but I lucked out and saved that lesson for another day.

I also had a stupid grin on my face all night. This is going to be fun.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Are you happy?

A few months ago I found this picture on some random website:

And I'd gotten to this point in my life, where I could really say that, if you were to add everything together, the answer would be, "Yes, I'm happy. Probably happier than I ever thought I could be."

This is a good thing.

Not everything in our lives will always be perfect, and I get that. For example, I wasn't happy in my job. I spent a year and a half going back to school, finally getting the college degree that I quit working on so many years ago. Then I ended up right back in retail. I went back to school to get out of retail, and there I was again, just as miserable at work as I'd ever been. But I found a new job, and I'm much happier, less of the whole overworked-and-underpaid thing going on, and things are pretty good.

If you're unhappy, you should really analyze why you're unhappy. Dig deep. Don't settle for easy excuses. I was unhappy at work because I will never really enjoy retail, plain and simple. No matter how good the company is or isn't, retail isn't my game. Long term? I'd like to teach or to train, or to work on creating programs to educate or train people. I'd like to think that if I practice enough, I might eventually make a few dollars putting words down on paper. Retail doesn't really come into any of those plans, though. So I found a way to change something.

And then the other day I read this article online talking about the 10 things that Americans don't know about America. I always click on these stupid "Top 10 Things" lists despite the fact that most of them aren't all that good. This one, though, buried somewhere in the list, had this perfect little gem. 

"Most Americans mistake comfort for happiness."

Now, I'm a 35 year old male. I spend my days sitting at a desk, and my nights sitting on a couch or staring at my laptop at the kitchen table. I am, at the risk of repeating myself, hopelessly out of shape. My back hurts from the weight of my belly. I couldn't do a pushup if you promised me a bacon cheeseburger, and I get winded just starting the lawnmower. 

My clothes don't fit like they used to. I swore I would never buy 36-inch-waist pants, and those 36-inch pants that I bought anyway are now starting to feel tight. 

I am in a surprising amount of discomfort all the time.

Somewhere in between my teen years -- when I played basketball every day, hiked whenever I got a chance, played baseball with the neighbors, and ran a respectable mile -- and now, I've become a slob, and I don't even know how it happened. One day, I was pretty proud of my jump shot and my lung capacity, and the next day I found myself going back for thirds of that weird chicken-and-rice-and-gooey-cheddar-cheese dish.

At the risk of improperly tying together the concepts of comfort and happiness, I'm going to say that I'd be happier if the discomfort I'm bound to feel every day left me with some sense of accomplishment and well-being.

Yes. I'm talking about exercise. I'm talking about food that only on very rare occasions involves bacon and cheeseburgers.

It's time to take the picture I posted above to heart. It's time to change something.

I don't always plan on writing about my own personal physical fitness hell. But for now, it'll do.