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.

Nashville statues are nice, too.

Posted on 9 September 2014 | No responses

Nashville statues are nice, too.

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I think my order for “Wild Turkey” was…

Posted on 7 September 2014 | No responses

I think my order for “Wild Turkey” was misinterpreted.

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Labor Day = Day of Labor; Mayhaps a Lesson There?

Posted on 31 August 2014 | No responses

It’s not lost on me, the irony of spending a five-day Labor Day holiday sitting at home … laboring. I took off Friday, as well as Tuesday; Monday is a paid holiday that doesn’t come out of my PTO bank.

On Friday, apart from joining the call for a quarterly board meeting for the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality, I ran a few errands and came as close as I dared to actually relaxing. Yesterday was split between prepping for this coming Friday’s inaugural meeting of the editorial committee for Caffeinated Press and doing some contract editing work for a client. Today is “me” day — and by that, I mean catching up on personal tasks and domestic chores. Tomorrow, I do a deep prep dive into the final touches for the MAHQ conference at the end of September, as well as pull together the presentation I’ll deliver in Nashville next week. And Tuesday? That’ll be spent mostly wrapping up my 10,000-word short story for the anthology to which I’ve been invited to submit.

Lots going on. And the new job brings its own expectations that I’ll do a lot in a short period of time. Challenge accepted.

Yet one thing is abundantly clear: I have to scale some stuff back. I’m doing too much for too many, without enough time to attend to the things that fall into the “important but not urgent” quadrant of Life. Some of my cigar time the last few days has drifted toward what I need to pick up and what I need to set aside — on the choices I need to make to succeed instead of merely to tread water.

Still, it’ll be good to knock a bunch of stuff off the to-do list.

In other news:

  • I now have a nerd paradise going on in my home office. My “normal” computer — a Toshiba all-in-one with a huge touch screen and Win 8.1 — sits where it normally does. Added on the side desk are the iMac I bought last week (yes, I bought an old but excellent-condition iMac 5.2 running Snow Leopard off Craigslist; the value-add was the legally licensed copy of Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection). Next to it sits my old, frail HP laptop; it’s actually a decent machine but the on-board display occasionally goes out. So I hooked it up to a gorgeous 21-inch monitor that Duane gave me, then wiped it and installed a copy of Elementary OS (a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu). I’m typing this post on the Linux machine, in fact. All that notwithstanding: From one chair, I can access a Windows PC, a Mac and a laptop running Linux.
  • Enjoyed dinner and drinks on Friday with my friend Stash. She became a manager a bit before I did; we had a lovely conversation about the leadership culture of our employer over happy-hour margaritas on the outside porch of a lovely Mexican restaurant.
  • Duane has moved to Texas. He’s an interesting fellow. Every three years or so, he develops the wanderlust bug and has to basically reboot his life somewhere else. I first met him more than a decade ago, in Kalamazoo. I hired him to join the opinion staff at the Herald. Then I helped him get a job at the hospital. Then he went to get a second master’s degree in California, then to Korea. Then I helped him get another job at the hospital. Now he’s off to be an assistant director at a small university in east Texas — and I wish him well. I helped him move a week ago, and I’m planning to pack the stuff he put into storage, into a U-Haul and bring it to him sometime in October.
  • Speaking of jobs: My friend Rick has moved on from the hospital. He’s plotting his next career moves, but he’s in good spirits and I wish him the best.
  • Last weekend, I attended the Michigan Republican state convention in Novi. I’m glad for the experience, although the event was a bit … anti-climactic. Only one round of balloting. Despite contention for the lieutenant governor role and pretty much all of the academic stuff (state board of ed, Wayne State trustees, Michigan State trustees, U of M regents), the results were sufficiently strong that the losers on the first ballot moved unanimous consent to seat the victors. All of my preferred candidates won — I’m especially pleased that Lt. Gov. Brian Calley showed so strongly despite a well-organized Tea Party effort to boot him off the Snyder ticket. Credit where it’s due: Today’s MI GOP under Bobby Shostak has shown a considerable amount of adeptness at not being complacent about potential political threats, and also for having a keen eye for optics. Dave Agema — our state National Committeeman who made waves earlier this year with his vitriolic anti-gay comments — was basically shut down for both the Kent County and the state conventions. On the upside, Rep. Justin Amash is growing on me. He was one of the few high-profile elected leaders who spent a lot of time being visible among the delegates from his district.
  • I bought a Fitbit last weekend. The biggest insight from its tracking data so far is that my sleeping patterns suck. I am averaging slightly more than 6 hours per night despite being in bed for about 7.5. I have “restless” periods around 2 a.m., and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s cat-related. (Says the guy writing a blog post while the Boy Cat sits next to me, meowing.)

Anyway … full plate this “vacation,” but the upside is that it’s better to be busy making progress than lazy being complacent.

A 90-Day Lookback

Posted on 10 August 2014 | No responses

I haven’t posted a general update in almost exactly three months. So here you go, in no particular order.

Joint Statistical Meetings. Last week, I attended the Joint Statistical Meetings in Boston, Mass. The conference was lovely — as always, it’s high on theory, but there are enough applied sessions to keep things interesting. I chaired a session for the Section on Statistical Learning and Data Mining that included an eclectic mix of various “Big Data” subjects. I also presented a poster summarizing the 30-year history of the Quality and Productivity Section (for which, I serve as the webmaster). My colleague Erica attended with me; one night, we had tasty sushi in Chinatown then walked around Boston Commons and the Public Garden. One nice thing about the convention center — it has a Sam Adams brewpub inside, so you can have beer between conference sessions. Overall the food was good: I had several bowls of chowdahhh as well as a plate of lobster mac and cheese that was more lobster than pasta. The one downside of the trip was the return flight — the Detroit-to-G.R. leg featured a broken airplane, a confused plane switch and unfortunate attempts at humor by Delta employees. Compound this with a late-night schedule and screaming toddlers, and patience wore thin.

Scuba Diving.  Last month’s trek to Gilboa was aborted at the last minute on account of thunderstorms sweeping through NW Ohio that weekend: As a general rule, it’s imprudent to play around 40′ below the surface during an electrical storm. We rescheduled for this month. Just yesterday, however, Tawnya and I dove Lake Versluis in Kent County. Visibility was awful at less than five feet. The lake did have a lovely thermocline, though, and we accidentally came across the diving bell. I don’t think we went too deep — I’d be surprised if we ever got below 30′ — but it was good prep for Gilboa.

Higher Education. Although I was accepted into the graduate-certificate program in applied statistics at WMU beginning this fall, I’m going to ask to defer to January. I’ve got way too much going on through the end of the year to add a class or two in Kalamazoo to the mix.

Publishing. Work on the publishing house, now named Caffeinated Press, Inc., has largely concluded — at least, for the start-up phase. We now have a C-corporation with a five-person board of directors. In addition to serving as chairman of the board, I’m also chairman of the editorial committee. Lots of work involved in starting a company — and even more when it’s a full-blown corporation with other people involved. I am confident that we’ll have our first work released generally before Christmas.

Writing. The first project for Caffeinated Press is an anthology with content based on the writing prompt of “all goes dark.” I am submitting. I’m not sure what I think of my story, but it only needs to be around 10k words so … I can do it. I’ve also met with Kiri to begin a two-person writer’s group. Should be fun.

“Data Analytics.” Earlier this year, I participated in a Delphi session in Chicago for the National Association for Healthcare Quality, related to NAHQ”s project to define the next generation of professional competencies for health quality practitioners. The larger framework having been completed, NAHQ is now diving into two competency areas — data analytics and population health. I’m chairing the former group, with work to unfold over October and November as a rapid-cycle project. Exciting stuff.

NAHQ Conferences and Webinars.  Speaking of NAHQ, next month features that group’s annual conference in Nashville. I’m attending, and am both presenting a session (on the effect of ICD-10 and the ACA on data trends) and co-leading a breakfast session that’s closing in on 175 attendees. Wow. Concurrently, I’m working with NAHQ’s staff leadership on a national webinar program. My colleague Linda and I co-led a webinar in June that received good scores from the roughly 100 participants.

MAHQ Conference. The annual conference for the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality convenes in late September. I’m chairing the planning committee. We’re in a busy spot right now — planning for medical continuing-education credits, soliciting vendors/sponsors and prepping brochures. I’m really looking forward to October: Conference planning is hard work!

Mini Hiking Trek. Looks like my brother and I will do an overnight section hike of the North Country Trail in mid-September. Should be fun. I think we’re going to do a full off-trail camping experience, too. We might put in at a specific trailhead, hike until dusk, set up camp, then return the same way the next day.

Mom’s 60th. Tomorrow my mother turns 60. Wow. And in five weeks I turn 38. Time, you accursed trickster! I clearly remember my mother’s 30th.

Contract Auditing. One of my clients, a national service-journalism company, has brought me in to do a different kind of post-production audit work that’s much more in-depth. I’m finding the process illuminating. And with the new work that the company is issuing, the last few months have been lucrative.

Cat Personalities. As my little fuzzies sit on their pillows on my desk, it occurs to me just how different they are. Fiona is the aggressive huntress, welcoming of humans and willing to cuddle next to me at night. She rarely meows, but she will chirp when I get home. Murphy is shy and almost codependent, but he’s more adventure-seeking. He’s also the most loquacious feline I’ve ever encountered. Much to my amusement, he doesn’t like it when his sister fails to fully cover her droppings in the litter box, so he does shovel duty after he hears her use the box.

Social Stuff. I’ve been super busy since … well, last October. Lately I’ve had a few social events worth noting. I saw Guardians of the Galaxy with Duane last weekend. The week before that, I hosted a cigar night at my house featuring dry-aged steaks supplied by Scott; we had seven guys over for nearly five hours on a weeknight. The weekend before that, AmyJo hosted the annual writer’s cookout at her house. Regrettably, though, I haven’t been able to hit a Game Night because a certain someone (*ahem Brittany*) insists on scheduling them when I’m not available.

Music & TV. I’m still on a strong 30 Seconds to Mars kick, but I recently discovered some Shinedown stuff I wasn’t previously familiar with that I’m digging (Cyanide Sweet Tooth Suicide is just fun, and I got chills the first time I heard the acoustic version of 45). I gave the newest Chevelle album another listen, but as much as I like their early stuff, the most recent album has not a single track I like. On the TV front, although I don’t have time to watch much, I’m looking forward to Capaldi’s run on Doctor Who and I enjoy my “fangirl chatter” with Jen about Teen Wolf and Supernatural even if Julie rolls her eyes. Otherwise, Netflix is slowly passing through Haven.

OK, all for now.

Boston! Another nice statue, in the Public Gardens.

Posted on 5 August 2014 | No responses

Boston! Another nice statue, in the Public Gardens.

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Boston! Nice statues.

Posted on 5 August 2014 | No responses

Boston! Nice statues.

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