The 49th State of the Self

Today is my birthday, which is always a time to both look back at the year that was and to look forward to the year to come. I decided to spend a bit more time than usual in introspection and to share it here on my blog that I am planning on using much more regularly for a variety of topics on a regular schedule. Intrigued? Keep reading. Also be warned, this blog post will most definitely be TLDR for most.

A lot has happened over the course of my last trip around the sun. I am going to touch slightly on these at the beginning just for context. Some of it has been great, much of it not so much. The biggest thing is obviously the death of my mom, which has eclipsed all else. I still think of her almost daily, and miss her the same. That being said, some other craziness (COVID-19, mass protests, and currently an early fire season and record setting heat, among other things) has had a major effect on most everyone, and I am no exception.

These states are not in order of priority, but they are in an order which will hopefully flow into each of the other states. That is my intention, anyway. Feel free to let me know whether I succeeded or failed.

Professional State

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Like many people today I consider myself to have more than one profession. Call it diversification of revenue, side hustle, or passion project if you prefer. I am going to address each of those in time, starting with the “day job”.

Most of you know that I have worked for Ticketmaster for long time (just hit 10 years on this boomerang there). It is a good company, with great people and fantastic mission. Simply put, we help fans connect with their passion for live entertainment. Whether it be sports, music, theater, monster trucks or whatever, we help it happen. I know lots of people have a knee-jerk dislike for us and that hurts my feelings sometimes because most of the people I know and work with are great people with a shared love for live – myself included.

When my mom’s condition turned for the worst, I talked with my direct supervisor and there was never a question as to what to do. It was “go.” There was no pressure for outstanding work, no checking of available vacation days. No hemming or hawing. Simply support, and for that I will forever be grateful. I got to be with my mom for the last days of her life – both when she was lucid and when she wasn’t. There aren’t a lot of companies with leaders like we have.

Speaking of our leadership, when COVID-19 was just a thing on the news happening overseas, our management was taking a hard look at things to come. They had us working from home a couple of weeks before it was mandated. They didn’t have to do this but they did.

We are an industry that is entirely dependent upon people coming together in large crowds. When you talk about the economy taking a dive, consider the live entertainment market. Almost overnight we went from being on target for a record year, to zero revenue. Our leadership all the way up to the president of Live Nation has been pretty frugal to begin with and there were hopes of a short disruption that we could weather. Unfortunately, we ended up having furloughs and pay cuts for those who remained. While I myself was not furloughed, many of my good friends were. And this hurt a lot and has caused (and continues to cause) some level of anxiety. 

The company has worked to be both open and transparent about the future challenges we face as an industry and company. They also recognized that this so-called “new normal” was anything but. They have provided a number of services such as regular twice weekly meditation by zoom and support for parents to help keep their kids engaged and growing.

Overall I am concerned about the future, but I also still enjoy the work and am grateful to work with some of the most talented and decent human beings I have ever known. That being said, I am currently enrolled in a class for a security certification as it is something that interests me in the field as well as being a valuable skill set to develop.

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On to my other professional passion – writing. I am not going to sugar coat it – writing has been really hard since my mom died. She gave me my love of reading, and some part of me drove me to be a writer to make her proud of me. I feel like I let her down by not achieving greater success.

I did a lot of work on book 2 of the Nash Vegas supernatural series, and that focused on some Civil War era spirits, and in light of the last few months it just feels like this is not the moment to do this book. It will come out at some point, and will be very reworked. I have been working on book 3 of the vampire series – and am very excited for this one. It should be out this fall.

Writing has always been something that I have done for myself first. I enjoy it and process various ideas and characters. Since my mom died, writing has been hard. It hasn’t come easy, and hasn’t even been fun. I expect that to eventually change but it is rough right now.

Mental and Emotional State

I am very much an introvert. As a result the 2020 lockdowns haven’t been terrible for me. I’ve loved spending extra time with my family and having a built in excuse to not have to leave. That being said, we live in a small two bedroom apartment and it is easy to get grouchy with each other. 

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A few years back I was diagnosed with ADHD. The surprise for most who know me was that I wasn’t diagnosed previously. In reality, it was both a shock and a relief. I spent a while coming to terms with that diagnosis and the treatment options, and this last year I feel like I really hit my stride on how to be a functioning neurodiverse person. The combination of medication and BCT and new skills such as meditation and using a bullet journal have been life changing for me both in terms of getting stuff done and in giving myself some compassion for my (many) failures earlier in life. I am trying to carry this compassion and understanding over into helping my own children with their challenges.

Something else that really helped my mental and emotional state was that during this period I read a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear . This book is amazing, and has made such a difference in my life. ADHD gives me a tendency to go all or nothing. Reading the case studies on how small changes add up over time much in the same was compound interest does has really had a positive effect on so many aspects of my life, and gave me the faith that I didn’t have to change a million things at once, or turn a dial from three up to ten.

As mentioned above, my work has given us access to regular meditation and I  have tried a few different apps to help out. I absolutely loved Whil, but as a cost-cutting measure my company doesn’t subscribe to it, and it is a b2b thing only. That being said, Headspace is decent and I have been using both it and Hallow. I prefer Hallow overall, but we do meditation at bed with the kids and the prayer structure and closing by crossing ourselves disturbs and wakes them up and kind of counters the point. That being said, meditation was super hard for someone with ADHD but a couple of things that really helped me were starting out with very short three minute meditations. Also, one of the meditations I followed said something along the lines of “when you catch your mind wandering, congratulate yourself because of this mindfulness”. That was a big breakthrough for me.

Even as an introvert I really get a lot of mental and emotional value out of hanging out with my friends and playing miniature games. This is something I have done for years, and is something that really matters to me. I have used the extra time at home to put a little bit of paint on models at break and lunch during work and as a result have been knocking out some models. I am very happy with how they are looking and those rare opportunities I have had to play games with them have been a blast. Obviously I would like to get more time to paint and play, but I am grateful for what I have and this is one of the very visible places that Atomic Habits have yielded fantastic results.

In terms of an area for improvement here, now that the kids are getting older, I need to make more an effort to play these games with them, and the games that interest them. We play family games a lot, Uno, Boggle, various board games, but they ask questions and love the models I am painting, so I will try and be more inviting to them and willing to play “my” games with them.

This year has also seen me really reconnecting with my catholic faith in a deeper manner. For Lent 2019 I added this image as my phone lock screen.

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A nun designed it and it is laden with symbolism. Death is something we catholics should think about. It would be easy to think the this rough year has shaken my faith, but in actuality it has strengthened it. By facing death – my mom’s, and then thinking about my own as a result, has had the paradoxical effect of a much broader and longer view of things. A decade is not much compared to a century and the century is short when viewed through a millennial lens. My life may be short in comparison, but it is the time I have and what I do and who I am echos down through my children, and then through theirs, and so on. This knowledge of my own ephemeral existence has made me feel connected me to a greater, more lasting one.

Finally, during lockdown I made the conscious decision and put in the effort to get fit. While this has definitely had an emotional effect, I am going to talk about it more detail below.

Physical State

Based on some of the early things I read regarding COVID-19 I was concerned for my safety. I have a bit of extra weight, I had pneumonia as a kid and then a few times as an adult, and also some exercise induced asthma as a kid and just general weak cardio system. I have always thought of myself built more for strength. My mom had recently died, and I didn’t want to do that to my kids. It also seemed to me that being inside all the time would lead to vitamin D deficiency which would make me even more at risk. So I started to take things seriously. I have tried in the past and have had a tendency to jump right in, push myself too hard, and end up with a fairly severe injury. I didn’t want to do this, so I sought out a mentor for health. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to look too far.

Last fall, before the stuff with my mom, I was talking with my friend Ryan, who has lost not only a great amount of weight, but also successfully implemented a number of lifestyle changes that have him in better shape than when he was in high school. He was (and is continuing to be) generous enough to share with me the things that worked for him, and the things that didn’t. One of the first, and most important, things was to track every single thing that goes into your mouth. Overall I never really thought I was eating “bad” but really started keeping track of everything with an app called MyFitnessPal. The first few months the idea was to change nothing at all, just kind of get a baseline and identify. An interesting effect of this was that I found that I cut out beers and sodas almost immediately. I always knew they were basically empty calories, but actually having to enter it and see it just made it not really wroth it. I also started making other changes for the same reason. Anyway, once I had that baseline and the habit of tracking the food, we started playing with the macros (increasing protein, cutting down on processed sugar, etc). Again, just minor tweaks rather than a major change.

I was also not supposed to start exercising anything extra at this point, but for reasons listed above, I decided to start a walking plan which was on the MyFitnessPal blog.

Also, this was pretty early in the US phase of the pandemic so I was able to get a kettlebell which is something I had wanted to get and keep in my car with the idea that I would workout at the parking lot for my work. Fortunately I was able to find one. The recommended weight for males starting is 25-30 pounds, but as I mentioned, I have had a tendency to overdo it in the past so just went with a 20 pounder. In hindsight I wish I would have bought both the 25 and 30 pounders at the time, because they have become very hard to find for a decent price, but live and learn.

After completing the 6 week walking plan, I have continued to walk on a daily basis. Also once I had completed it, I started a very basic kettlebell workout plan from Greg Brookes  – his 4 minute circuits were short enough that even I could not come up with a valid excuse not to do it and I was able to turn that into a habit. 

Overall I have lost nearly 35 pounds since February and am seeing big changes in how my clothes are fitting on me. And these are with just minor but intentional changes – remember Atomic Habits above? Yeah, I have worked really hard to keep that in mind in every aspect of my life.

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Friends, Allies, and Acquaintances 

2020 has been a challenging year. It has also been a year that I have begun to realize that I need to redefine my relationship with social media. ADHD often has addictive behavior components and I have struggled with addiction to video games and, more recently, social media and online in general. Maybe it is FOMO, maybe it is hyper focus. In any event, along with my mindfulness practice it has started to become clear to me that I allow what people write to affect me too much, and in a negative way.

Again, I have to credit and thank Ryan for the following bit of insight as well. People haven’t really changed over the last 30 years and somehow we managed to get on just fine with people. All of those opinions weren’t just in your face all the time. Basically Social Media has made many daily interactions into that awkward Thanksgiving with the family jerk after a few too many drinks. It has a tendency toward bellicosity and offense. And it turns out that I would rather just like people and give them the benefit of the doubt. My dad, who also died way too young, was a very blunt and often crude guy, who said things to shock people. To be fair, that really helped the things he said stick. Anyway, if you are of a delicate humor, I apologize in advance. He used to say “opinions were like assholes. Everybody has one, and they all stink.” Something about social media makes people think that everyone else wants to see their assholes, er, sorry, hear their opinions. And frankly, I’d rather not.

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To that end, I am going to be cutting back on my social media use – particularly Facebook and Twitter, although Instagram as well to a lesser degree. I am still working out the exact schedules and details so watch this space.

Holistic Overview and what the future holds.

So that is where I am at right now. I think it is a pretty fair representation of the last year, and I am happy with the areas I have grown. I believe that there is no true homeostasis in life; that you are either growing or you are dying and that is largely a matter of inertia and choice, and your inertia is determined by your choices. I have often failed to live up to this ideal, but there is value in striving.

I have a lot that I want to say about my mom. She was an amazing, strong, and loving person. She was chronically late and yesterday (the 16th) I felt very out of sorts. I eventually came to the realization that I was expecting a text message from her saying that my birthday card would be late, but that she would get it out. I cried when I realized that, and now writing this, I am crying again. I will be sharing more on her in the future. I often took her for granted and am so ashamed about that. I had to set a monthly reminder to call her, because I would get so caught up in the grind of daily life that I would forget to call her for a few months. I regret all the times that I blew her off because I was “too busy”. Expect this blog to become a place of memories about her, and my own childhood, because I realize I have a terrible memory when I try to recall but sometimes things bubble up and I don’t want to forget them. Or her.

She continues to teach me even with her passing, because she was young. I always thought I would have another year, or ten, or twenty, with her and there would be time and the truth of the matter is that tomorrow is never guaranteed for anyone. She has left an amazing legacy in me and in my own kids. She was kind and wise in ways I am just now beginning to understand.

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In closing, allow me to say simply, that in 2020 the state of the Self is strong.

This is hard.

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The above is from an article I link below. I think 20,000 is low, especially if you include all of the negative messages we give ourselves.

So, you have probably noticed how terribly I have been failing in my daily posting. I have wanted to post, really I have. I didn’t even have a very good reason, other than a feeling of general anxiety and, yes, fear. It wasn’t even like I didn’t have content or ideas about what to write about. I even had the time. But you see, I had missed a couple of days.

Allow me to digress a moment here and share a story of shame from my past. I was supposed to graduate high school in 1989. I actually didn’t graduate until 1990. I know, you are probably thinking that I failed a bunch of classes, and am basically dumb as a box of rocks. If I were just dumb, that wouldn’t really be something to be ashamed of, it would just be who I was. Also, let me just say here also that I don’t think I have ever told anybody about this. I didn’t fail the classes (well, I guess technically, I did). Sorry, I know that I am kind of beating around the bush on this one, but this is really really hard to admit.

Okay, so back to my high school. Wait, before I do that, let me tell you that my birthday is mid-August. That is relevant, because it is a sucky birthdate when you are kid. It is at the end of summer, and usually corresponded to the first week of school. Nobody was going to have a party for you, the teachers didn’t know you, nobody cared. Okay, back to the story.

I decided to skip the first day of school. It was probably a pretty day. It was probably NOT my actual birthday. I can’t tell you why I did it, or what I did, but just didn’t feel like going. And for some brains, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t do it. And honestly, it might even have been the second semester of the year, making everything above simple prevarication.

Anyway, the second day, I thought, ugh, I missed the first day of school. Who does that? I didn’t want to face people – either friends or teachers and admit that I skipped. Then it was three, then a week. If you miss the first week of school, you better have been in the hospital or in Hawaii. Allow me to digress here as well, because by now, you are probably wondering “what the fuck were his parents doing?” The answer to that, is that I had a single mom and she worked really hard, and had no idea what I was doing.

Okay a week turned into two, and before you knew it, the principal, my mom (very unhappy), and I just kind of all agreed that maybe it would be best if I didn’t come back and just finished off school the next year. Honestly, I don’t know the logistics. My mom just cleaned it up, and I went back to school the next year and graduated. Barely. A side note here – you might think I could potentially have gotten invites to two reunions, but it turns out I have never gotten a single one. I wasn’t really popular, and honestly I doubt anyone even noticed that I wasn’t there, or cared.

Anyway, it turns out that I am not alone –  in fact, this is apparently fairly common for people like me with ADHD. I came across this article today (maybe it was yesterday, or the day before) “Children with ADHD Avoid Failure and Punishment More Than Others, Study Says” and when I read it, it resonated so hard with me. At the same time, Jessica from the How to ADHD youtube channel posted this:

So, I decided to just do a thing. I will fail again, I am sure. But I will try not to run, hide, or avoid.