#AmWriting

Posted on 22 November 2014 | No responses

#AmWriting

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Jason’s Playlist … Nov. 2014

Posted on 21 November 2014 | No responses

I do these “Jason’s Playlist” posts annually, usually in late autumn. Writing brings me closer to music.

Anyway, here are the songs surfacing most frequently —

45 (Acoustic), Shinedown
Behind Blue Eyes, Limp Bizkit
Blame, Calvin Harris
Call Me, Shinedown
Chandelier, Sia
Cyanide Sweet Tooth Suicide, Shinedown
Dangerous (feat. Sam Martin), David Guetta
Demons, Imagine Dragons
Forfeit, Chevelle
From Yesterday, Thirty Seconds to Mars
Hesitate, Stone Sour
Hurricane (Unplugged), Thirty Seconds to Mars
Iridescent, Linkin Park
Love Me Harder, Ariana Grande
Monster You Made, Pop Evil
Radioactive, Imagine Dragons
SexyBack, Justin Timberlake
Stay, Thirty Seconds to Mars (cover)
The Thunder Rolls (Long Version), Garth Brooks
Thinking Out Loud, Ed Sheeran

See you next year.

Autumn in Michigan.

Posted on 20 November 2014 | No responses

Autumn in Michigan.

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An Autumn’s Repose

Posted on 9 November 2014 | No responses

Nights in West Michigan have grown consistently colder — in the 30s, usually — and most of the leaves have descended from their perches atop the now-barren canopy. Autumn’s full, glorious array reminds us to be prepared for the winter to come. A few weeks ago, I went for a walk in a county park and saw the transition up-close and personal: Bees going after every fading flower, greens turning into reds and yellows, squirrels building their stashes. All the little creatures, it seems, are fortifying themselves against the frigid desolation to come.

On Halloween day, I had my annual biometric screening. Most of the content — blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol, weight, BMI — met my expectations. No surprises. One measure, fasting glucose, caught me off guard. Not bad enough to freak out over, but not what I expected given that by all lights, I’m in better shape today than I was when I had my first assessment a full decade ago.

The thing about autumn is that the beauty of the landscape proves so charming that you aren’t forced to reflect on the clear lessons hidden beneath the surface. Instead, you repose quietly, enjoying the scenery or sipping the cider and relaxing in anticipation of the busy holiday season to come. So too with aging. We change styles and behaviors, but the danger that counts is the one locked deep within — we obsess about which sweater to wear but never think to check our biometric values. Like the parable of the grasshopper and the ant, at some point, the flurries will fly, and only the well-prepared will make it through. Wellness is a beast that requires daily diligence even in the warm summer sun, because if you come up short when a health blizzard hits … well, it is what it is. Now, then — some general updates, in no particular order.

  • Work continues to be busy. I just oriented my first official new hire as a department manager. Went smoothly. Our division is undergoing a significant restructuring, so it’s been “interesting times” around here in the fullest Confucian sense of the term.
  • It’s November, which means National Novel Writing Month. I’m again participating, and again hosting a write-in on Saturday mornings in downtown Grand Rapids. This year’s novel, should it be polished to the point of shopping, is literary fiction — a tale of a young wealthy man from a dog-eat-dog competitive social circle who, after he’s cut off from the family money, must develop his own life goals and set of morals while fending off the predation of his former friends, who now see a turn-about opportunity to further humiliate him. The meta-narrative of the story focuses on the main character’s investigation of the various classic sources of ethical meaning from the perspective of someone who’s working through a mash of antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders while drowning in a rich, hypermasculine peer group with similar tendencies. Given the language and very strong adult themes, if I ever publish it, it’ll be under a pseudonym. Probably my porn name, which actually makes a great author name, too.
  • The wrap-up activity after my conference took more out of me than I thought. I had to develop and compile surveys so I could issue continuing-education credits. That work, and the resulting time crunch, contributed to my inability to attend a much-anticipated Halloween party at PPQ’s house. CEs are time-consuming.
  • The election was … interesting. I volunteered a bit this year for the GOP, given my status as an elected precinct delegate. Did some door-to-door campaigning a few weeks ago for the MRP in eastern Kent County then spent seven hours as an election challenger in one of the busiest precincts in the City of Grand Rapids. Good experience, but it highlights how so much of the ground game is being run by very young people with very high self-regard who lack any substantive political experience.
  • The publishing company is humming along. We’re in the edit phase of our anthology and are actively looking toward starting a quarterly literary magazine in 2015. There’s much enthusiasm for that journal by several contributors, so I hold out hope that it’ll launch with sufficient love and nurturing.
  • The boy cat has started tunneling under my blankets at night to curl up next to me. It’s adorable. I get a little ball of fuzzy, purring warmth showing up at unexpected times.
  • Hard to believe, but Tony and I are closing in on our 200th podcast episode next month.

No pet, no type.

Posted on 12 October 2014 | No responses

No pet, no type.

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Out for a Walk

Posted on 11 October 2014 | No responses

I completed this afternoon a six-mile nature walk along the Kent Trails near Millennium Park, a favorite activity of mine that I haven’t had much time to enjoy this year. Gorgeous weather — upper 50s, sunny, light breeze. Got to watch, up-close, several bumblebees on a pollen run.

I love autumn. The air is getting a bit more dry, a bit more crisp. The leaves are moving from green to yellow and red and the nights have dipped into the 30s already. October and April are West Michigan’s transition months: We can get very cold, but also very warm, and the life cycle spins afresh. November through March are the chilly, wet months; May through September are the pleasant, dry months. But October and April? The best of both worlds.

The two-hour jaunt also gave me time to think about a handful of disconnected topics:

  • Lately my little friend, Murphy d’Cat, has taken to sleeping on me when I’m at my desk. Fine. As of yesterday, however, he’s now also sleeping on me if I should recline on the couch. Cute little kitty. And warm, too.
  • I am digging Peter Capaldi’s turn as The Doctor.
  • I think I put my finger in why I hate — viscerally hate — telephones. It’s because that now that email and other asynchronous communication methods are prevalent, there’s a certain arrogance in assuming that whatever you need in the moment trumps whatever I might be doing in that same moment. Immediate communications in non-planned, non-emergency situations are, in a sense, an act of aggression that says: “I don’t give a rip what you think/want/need, you must cater to my needs.” Nowadays, I usually keep the ringer off and I never check voice mails, so if you need something … the only effective way of guaranteed contact is email.
  • I’m not worried about Ebola, but I am worried about the federal response to whatever nasty disease comes next.
  • It’s probably good that Tony and I are moving toward marathon podcast sessions instead of doing two or three every two or three weeks — I enjoy my time with ol’ T-Bone, but I do also like catch-up time on Saturdays.
  • I think I might be excited for a decent holiday season this year.

The Serenity After the Storm

Posted on 11 October 2014 | No responses

I love storms — the malevolence of the sky, the crash of the thunder, the relentless drive of the rain. But after the storm passes, the damp stillness brings its own charms in the form of chirping birds, the smell of fresh rain and the juxtaposition of peace lightly scarred by the storm’s damage. After the deluge, there’s tranquility.

But not all storms show up on Doppler radar.

Two weeks ago, at long last, the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality conducted its annual educational conference. For this year’s event, we trekked north to The Park Place Hotel in lovely Traverse City. As president-elect of the organization, the role of conference chairman fell to me. Aided by a delightful team of volunteers from across The Mitten, we continued our long, storied tradition of yanking a three-day educational event from ‘twixt our buttocks.

I was worried, though. Paid registrations nosedived — we had no idea what moving from Frankenmuth to Traverse City would do — and as late as one week before the event, much of the important stuff like menus, brochures, etc., hadn’t been wrapped up (i.e., I hadn’t gotten to it yet). And don’t get me started on the damnable attrition clause with the hotel!

Now that it’s over and the results are tabulated, I can breathe again. It appears that attendance was, indeed, down a slight bit — we ended up with 50 total attendees for the main conference plus a healthy eight for the CPHQ review course — but evaluations came back very positive. The attrition clause wasn’t enforced, so not only did we have a highly regarded event, but we probably will end up turning a small profit off of it, too, despite that I spent like a drunken sailor on things like branded messenger bags and speaker honoraria. In other words: The conference went off without a hitch!

The event, though, was just one drip in a much larger bucket. Add to that a bunch of out-of-state travel activity this summer, plus work on the anthology, plus volunteer stuff with NAHQ, plus the promotion at work, plus extra contract assignments, plus a more robust social calendar, plus deeper political engagement, plus, plus, plus … well, it’s been a wild ride. An embarrassment of riches, actually — the “busy stress” wasn’t because of bad stuff, but because of new opportunities.

Starting roughly last October, and continuing to today, I’ve experienced something I hadn’t really felt in a decade: Overwhelming workloads. Especially this summer, I’ve had to-do lists so long that I realized I just wasn’t going to get everything done, no matter how hard I tried. I don’t like swimming in that pond! So some things suffered — including, alas, my plan to attend VIMFP in Las Vegas next weekend.

But things are winding down. The conference is done, I’m getting more settled at work, the contract assignments are becoming more routinized, and the anthology is humming along. This weekend is the first since late August that I haven’t had any calendar commitments to deal with. Although National Novel Writing Month will be here in a scant three weeks, I have an idea ready to go and a plan for making things happen.

So now the storm has passed, and as I survey my task list for the next week, I can breathe the clean air knowing that the list isn’t impossible, or even that much of a strenuous exercise. It can be done!

I therefore sit, blogging, with Murphy laying on my lap and coffee on the desk and Skype open for occasional chats. I’m going to go for a walk today. It’ll be grand.

Long-hidden serenity is starting to shine through the dissipating storm clouds of 2014. At last.

Introducing supervising audio technician Murphy d’Cat

Posted on 28 September 2014 | No responses

Introducing supervising audio technician Murphy d’Cat

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Music, Unleashed

Posted on 26 September 2014 | No responses

I remember vividly the surprise on Mrs. G’s face when, as a fifth grader, I told her I had memorized all the lyrics to On Eagle’s Wings, a song new to us in the children’s choir at St. Anthony, after just a half-dozen run-throughs. How could I have learned the equivalent of a 30-line poem so quickly? Easy. It was set to music.

Music. Powerful stuff, if you let yourself succumb to its wily charms. Give someone a passage from an epic poem and instructions to memorize it, he’ll panic; put that poem into dactylic hexameter, and he’ll master it in an hour.

Tonight, as I prep for the quality conference I’ll be chairing on Monday and Tuesday, I have my old-but-trusty Sennheiser cans on, streaming my “top ranked” playlist on Xbox Music. Thing is, I’m using my new tablet PC — an HP Split — that has Beats Audio on board. After a half-hour of experimentation, I found just the right “listening experience” settings in the Beats control panel to reveal a whole new dimension to the music I loved, but heretofore had consumed using earbuds on my phone or Surface Pro.

I’m working. Trying to prep for The Conference From Hell. But I keep getting distracted by my ears:

  • The raw, glorious talent of Jared Leto’s voice powering through the unplugged version of Hurricane and his cover of Rihanna’s Stay
  • The raucous good time of Shinedown’s Cyanide Sweet Tooth Suicide balanced by the powerful message of What A Shame
  • The epic anthem that is Imagine Dragons’ Radioactive
  • The elegant simplicity of Britney Spears’s Everytime
  • The feral masculinity of Chevelle’s Forfeit
  • The classic-rock grit of Creed’s My Own Prison
  • The haunting lyrical beauty of Linkin Park’s Iridescent
  • The subtle harmonic overlays and deep bass counterpoints of Stone Sour’s Hesitate

A recent study suggested that the music that moves us imprints our psyche, which is why people tend to favor the music of their impressionable youths. Fair enough. But I know quite a few people who either eschew a deep love of music, or use music more as a matter of skinny-jeans social proofing than a source of joy and inspiration.

Get a gin-and-tonic or three in me, left alone with my music and my thoughts, and I’ll cycle between the aggressive, adrenaline-pumping animality of The Red and the tear-jerking melancholy of slow-moving acoustic ballads like 45. Then — to the horror of my feline overlords — I’ll sing along to Islands in the Stream or Fast Movin’ Train.

Thing is, you sometimes just have to let go and let yourself get lost in the moment. The right music, at the right volume, at the right moment, brings catharsis more lasting than a dozen weepy therapy sessions. Music moves us, if we unleash it.

Birthday Retrospective, Part XXXVIII

Posted on 21 September 2014 | No responses

On Monday I transitioned from a defensible “mid thirties” to unambiguously “late thirties.” I’m more sanguine about the prospect than I might have been a few years ago. Let’s explore why.

First, the last year has been ridiculously busy. I can’t ever recall being this consistently overwhelmed with stuff to do. It started late last October, continued through National Novel Writing Month, persisted through the December holidays and never slowed down. I don’t get days off or weekends off anymore. Yet the stress from doing all that extra stuff is counterbalanced by a sense of mission and progress that’s refreshing. It’s a good kind of busy, for the most part. There’s a method to the madness.

Second, I’m in better physical shape today than I was a decade ago. When I turned 28, I was morbidly obese and on track for a cornucopia of early-onset chronic diseases. Although my calendar’s insanity lately has meant that my waistline has increased a wee bit, I’m healthier today than a decade ago. And that’s a good thing.

Third, my attitude on life has significantly changed. The “been there, done that” sense of serenity about life’s little problems means that the level of daily drama I allow myself to endure has plummeted. The long view makes more sense now than it did several years ago, and the existential stress about aging has given way to recognizing that in the long corridor of life, some doors open, some close — and some open or closed based on the lock status of yet other doors. The path to joy reveals itself in the knowledge that it’s OK if Circumstance bolts some doors, provided you tread boldly across the threshold of newly unbolted doors.

Every year over the eight or so years I’ve run this blog, I’ve written a birthday retrospective. As I look back at prior stories, I’m struck by how adolescent some of them are. When you have the privilege of free time to luxuriate in faux-sophisticated existential angst, I suppose it’s no surprise that faux-sophisticated existential angst should appear on blog posts. When you get to the point when you’re working 14-hour days doing Grown Up work and concede you can’t keep up with everything, then those little luxuries vanish. And when they vanish, so also does the mindset that underlay them.

My 37th year was marked by progress that prompts stretch goals for even more progress:

  • I accepted a promotion at work, leaving me with a nice raise and six FTE — as well as a lot of opportunity to grow our team’s portfolio. The next challenge is to make ourselves indispensable to senior leadership.
  • I wrote a novel. The next challenge is to finish the editing and shop it for publication.
  • I bought my dive gear and got back in the water. The next challenge is to earn master diver certification.
  • I started, with a group of friends, a publishing house. The next challenge is to bring it to profitability.
  • I attended the Michigan Republican county and state conventions as a delegate. The next challenge is to continue to grow with local political leaders.
  • I became president-elect of the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality, with responsibility for executing next week’s 1.5-day state educational conference in Traverse City. The next challenge is to pull off a more significant conference next October in Grand Rapids.
  • I attended various Las Vegas events with other podcasters. The next challenge is to keep those relationships healthy and enduring.

The world is awash in oysters ready to be cracked, but the full flowering of success comes when people realize that the possibilities that seemed so important in their youth aren’t the things that are important later in life.

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