Saturday, December 31, 2016

366. The End and the Beginning

Screw you, 2016. I made it. I’m going on three years of completing my New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s a rundown of the last few years:

2014: Do 25,000 pushups over the year
2015: Write 500 letters to people
2016: Log 500 miles running, write 366 blog posts

I’m going to give some unsolicited advice about accomplishing New Year’s Resolutions: make them a numbers game. You need to do something that can be tracked and logged so you can keep your progress. Just saying, “I’m going to read more books” isn’t going to do anything for you. You should probably say, “I’m going to read 25 books.”

Anyways, I was a little worried about having more than one resolution to accomplish this year. I slowed down at times. I didn’t run as much in the late summer because it was ridiculously hot and I think I injured myself. I also got a little bogged down by blogging October and November, hence writing over 60 posts this month. I was thinking so much about the election that I just didn’t want to write about it anymore. I also reduced my consumption of news by quite a bit over that period.

I’ll say that I learned one big thing over this year: writing and running are big parts of my life. These are things I need in my existence. I don’t think I need either of these everyday, but I know when I do need them.

So that brings us to 2017. I’ve been thinking about what to do. Usually if I do something physical or writing, I’ll probably be able to accomplish it. I had a list at first, but I’m already on my way to accomplishing two of those things, so it didn’t feel fair. My original list was: go to Spain (heading there in late April), run a half marathon (I did run 13.1 miles the other day), and submit stuff to the Modern Love column (that will be part of the updated list.)

After a little thought, here are the 2017 New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. No social media on Sundays. Social media consistently ranks as one of my least favorite things about life, yet I continue to take part in it. I wish I had some reason other than that it’s addicting and mindless and allows us to escape out of our dull present life for a few (or many) minutes. I can think of few, if any, times that I’ve needed social media. And Sundays are a good day to reflect. I also have newspapers and books that I want to read. So, I don’t want to waste my time on those good days.

  1. One hour of writing, preferably on Mondays at 7 p.m., at a coffee shop/bar somewhere. I want to keep writing. This will be a good way to keep me motivated through those times. People always say they want to do something or other, but they make no plans on how to accomplish x, y, or z. I have a few places where I want to submit essays. So this will be a good time to keep track and use a certain time and space to write.
  2. Run a half marathon. This is pretty simple. I’m not 100 percent sure which one I’d like to do, but I think this is something that can be hashed out at a later date.

Your move, 2017.

Friday, December 30, 2016

365. Things I learned this year

Regardless of all the crap that happened in 2016, I must admit that I learned a few things. I’m not going to pretend I’m a bastion of wisdom. But damnit, I’m smart, I’m funny, and (some) people like me. Here are some of those nuggets of wisdom that I learned this year.

Always look forward to lunch:
This is the number one thing I preached this year. People always talk about how breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and dinner gets a special elevated status with its fancy sauces and cooking techniques and mail-delivery groceries. Lunch also gets relegated to the desk to go along with “working lunches.” I hate that so much. Lunch gets no respect. I have a theory that everyone needs something to look forward to. No matter how much you enjoy your job (and I do enjoy my job), you need a break in the middle of the day. It’s healthy to be looking forward to something good. It helps especially if that thing includes a delicious meal. Lunch should fit that bill. At worst, a bad lunch can exacerbate a bad day. On the other hand, a good lunch can amplify an already good day.

Help yourself, first:
You know when you fly there’s that warning that you need to take care of your own oxygen mask first? Yeah, that was this year. I learned that if you’re not at your best self, you can’t help others. I tried to put on my own oxygen mask through writing and running and taking part in the things that I enjoy. I helped less often, but I’d like to think that my contributions to people mattered so much more.

Find the Joy:
Our culture is so obsessed with people being happy. I hate that term. Happy is so watered down and nebulous, what does happy look like? My mind immediately went to the stereotypical family of four with a house and picket fence. That may happy for me in the future, but it’s definitely not happy for me right now. It’s hard to picture happy, but it’s nowhere near as hard to picture joy. You can see joy. Right now my joy comes from watching soccer, running, eating a good sandwich, and spending quality time with friends.

Get a mission statement:
I created my mission statement this year. It’s “I will use empathy and kindness to heal wounds, build bridges, and fight injustice.” I came up with it the day after the election. It’s helped guide my decisions post-election. I don’t know if life became any easier, but I feel better about myself and my life choices after this. It will help guide my decisions in 2017.

Tune Out:

I learned that I don’t need to be on social media all the time. Life will go on if you miss one celebrity’s twitter tribute to another. You don’t need to pay attention to every ebb and flow in the world. Some days it’s totally ok to be behind the curve on things. You have to listen to yourself first.

364. Good Moments of 2016

According to every person on the internet, 2016 was the worst year ever. Of course there’s the backlash of “No, it wasn’t the worse year ever, every year is awful.” But then there’s the backlash to that backlash of, it may not have been the worst year ever, but it was still pretty bad. It’s kind of exhausting. I don’t want to add my take to that chorus, so I’m going to recap the year in moments of joy. Here are a few moments that stick out to me in the swing of things:

-Standing in a drizzle on Hall’s Island listening to Wilco. I recapped this concert in a previous post. It was one of the few times this year where I really tried to focus on “Being There.” I remember thinking to myself during the concert that I was happy just to be standing there listening to the music. I didn’t need to be on my phone or recording it. I just took it all in. It helped that I met a really cool women and we ended up talking about music and soccer during the breaks of the concert. It’s always great when there are little, unforeseen surprises in the course of your day. It really makes you appreciate getting out of the house. There’s so much out there that we wall ourselves away from. That’s what scares me about the future. We’re going to end up just sitting in our house away from everything. That concert reminded me that it’s important to go out and do things even if they feel exhausting in the first place.

-Sitting in Soldier Field watching the United States Men’s National Team play. I went with my buddy Jack to Chicago to take in a game of the Copa America Centanario. Politics regarding the tournament aside, it was a fun game. Luckily, we saw one of the more exciting games of the tournament. The United States ended up winning 4-0 against a pretty decent Costa Rica team. We also had some really great seats on the midfield line. I’d definitely take in another game. (Hopefully, the team can improve this year.)

-Seeing Paul McCartney at Target Center. I’ve seen many of my other music heroes in concert: Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, but I had never seen one of the Beatles, one of my all-time favorite bands growing up. I remember seeing a giant banner over Target Center on the day that Prince died. I had walked over the First Ave to drop off some flowers in front of the Prince star when I noticed the banner. I checked online and saw that tickets were still pretty cheap. I bought two of them for $100. He put on a great show full of energy and some good banter. I’m so glad I saw him before he stopped touring.

-Seeing A Prairie Home Companion on opening night. I went to APHC with my mom. It was the first night on the job for new host Chris Thile. He had some great guests, including one of my favorite bands,  Lake Street Dive. I really enjoyed Thile’s energy and passion towards his new responsibilities. I’d love to go see him again.  

363. Notebook Dump

Because it’s almost the end of the year, I want to save my big creative juices for my final blog posts. So I’m borrowing a device I used as a sports reporter: the notebook dump. Here are a few things that have been on my mind.

I saw the movie “Fences” yesterday. I liked it, a lot. It’s a good drama. One thing I don’t like about “dramatic” movies is that they often have to hit you over the head with how dramatic they are. The protagonist has a drinking problem, so we need a musical montage of that character drowning themselves with a bottle. Or they have daddy issues, so we see dramatic closeups of a photo of that departed parent that walked out on them. I know that lots of people have those sorts of issues, but I don’t know too many of those people.

“Fences” takes place in 1950s Pittsburgh. It’s adapted from August Wilson’s play of the same name. It follows a black family as they navigate middle class life in that era. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that Denzel Washington’s character is a hardworking father and husband who makes a mistake. He has struggles, but the movie doesn’t hit you in the face with them. The story unfolds with understatement and texture. It’s refreshing to have a movie that makes you invest a little bit in the characters and their stories.

I really have grown to love the Current. I’ve actually started listening to it more after the election. I just haven’t been able to get back into the news groove ever since the election. I actually like the DJs and they all have their own characteristics that make them unique. I like Mark Wheat, the British DJ who runs the evening shift. He’s always kind and cool. He seems like the type of person who’d be happy to chat with you for a little bit if you met him on the street. The whole station has been a great source of comfort in the waning days of the year. This is also the first year in a while where I feel educated enough to contribute to some year end lists. (I really liked the new Bon Iver album, sue me.)

I’ve had a hard time latching onto one book. I recently finished the novel “Staggerford” by John Hassler (a Saint John’s grad.) I like the character development, but it hasn’t aged well. There are lots of outdated racial references to Native Americans in there. I’m a few hundred pages into a book called “Soccernomics,” it’s interesting, but soccer books can get a little dry. I don’t know if I’m going to finish it. I also have a book on Spain, as well as “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann. I read it a few years ago and loved it. Hopefully I can get through it again sometime soon. I also have a memoir of a man from Minneapolis who’s in prison. Maybe my new year’s resolution should be to write more books.   

Thursday, December 29, 2016

362. Turkey Club Club: Fat Chance Sandwich Shop

Have you ever been to a bar that’s trying hard not to look like a franchised-type place? They keep the decor low key. They make their food to match with current culinary trends (sliders, anyone?). They offer local micro-brews. Yet, somehow it doesn’t work. Even though the place has all the ingredients for a good bar, it still somehow ends up feeling soulless. I hate those types of places.
Give me something authentic.

Fat Chance sandwich shop caught my eye a few weeks ago when I saw an article on the City Pages website about the place. They help provide work for chronically homeless people, and they also make really good sandwiches. I’m always willing to give community-minded restaurants a chance, so I thought a Thursday lunch would work perfectly. I made the drive up Highway 169 to the location. It’s located in a strip mall across the street from North Hennepin Community College.

The first thing I noticed about the place was that it was sparse. It had an industrial feel to it. There were three long picnic tables and a couple of booths. There was a concrete floor and one counter where you order. The sandwiches all had names that were just off the ordinary: the Conveyor Belt, the Chef Sam, the Haystack. I went with the Chef Sam because it was the only one with turkey as the main meat. It came out to $10.69, which is on the pricier side, but I later learned that the portions of the sub would make it worthwhile.

There was a group of three women sitting across from me, and two other men who had come in for solo lunches. I waited about five minutes before a guy who looked like he could have played offensive tackle for Vikings came out and delivered my sandwich. First thing, it was huge. It was on thick white sub bread and it was about a foot long. I knew I’d only be able to eat half of it.

One thing I’ve noticed lately is the proliferation of huge sandwiches. I love a sandwich where you get good value, but some of them are kind of ridiculous. A few weeks ago, I ordered a turkey club from Murray’s (one of the nicer restaurants in downtown Minneapolis) and it was literally about two inches of just meat. There wasn’t much else on it. I thought it was a bit much.

At Fat Chance, however, it worked. There was a good mixture of meat, veggies, and bread. The meat tasted fresh. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of white bread, but I got it this time. It held everything together well. I got everything on it, except for the mustard. It came with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber, pickle, and mayo.

There wasn’t anything too special about this sandwich. No fancy sauce, no secret way to cook the turkey, no special type of arugula. It tasted great anyway. My favorite sandwiches are the ones that can combine a ton of ordinary things and they end up tasting delicious. I’d highly recommend coming hear to check it out. It’s a place that doesn’t try too hard to something it’s not.

361. Love Languages

One trope that has frequently popped up in my dating life is discussion of the five love languages. They are words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, receiving gifts, and physical touch. It’s an interesting way to distill such an abstract theme

Quick sidebar: I’ve noticed a handful of things that can signify that a date is going well or not. One of those things is discussion of the five love languages, or if we note how absolutely awful dating is. If we just seemingly go through a checklist of what we’re watching or reading, it’s probably not going to work out. I get that it’s healthy to bond over something, but if it doesn’t go any deeper than that, you’re probably going to run into trouble.

I’ve never actually figured out what mine is, so I thought I’d take a turn at it today. The website I used offers you about two dozen comparison questions between different statements like, I appreciate it more when someone I love A: Buys me a gift to show how much they mean to me B: Tells me that they love me. It took me less than 10 minutes to get through.

My results were as follows. My number one was words of affirmation. I suppose that makes sense. I’m a very communicative person when it comes to those things. I’ve been known to write love notes, talk about how I feel, and try and be honest with how I communicate. I like hearing those sorts of things, so I guess it would be natural that I would put out what I want to hear. There were no surprises about that.

My second one was quality time. That makes sense as well. I’m not much of a gifts guy. Or rather, I like thoughtful gifts as opposed to random tokens. I’m not that big on “stuff.” I really hate it, actually. I don’t mind an occasional gift or two, but I don’t like to focus on that. I thought it was interesting that my least popular note was for physical touch. I guess I don’t mind it, but it’s never been something that’s been all that important to me.

Maybe this is something I should bring up earlier in my dates. I think it’s really important to know what sort of gifts you want. I recently learned that the gifts you would like aren’t always the ones that will be beneficial to a relationship. I sent a girl some chocolates as a small token. I don’t mean to assume things, but I felt like it was a pretty solid thing to do. I don’t think it’s too much of a generalization to assume that most girls like chocolates. Except I didn’t hear any sort of thanks from her. That sort of hurt me. She mentioned it in passing, but there wasn’t any sort of thank you. That might be the best thing I learned in a relationship in the past year. Give what you are willing to give, but don’t be offended if they refuse the gift.

This year has been all about figuring out what I want and what I need. I guess I can use this as a starting point in more of those conversations.

360. Inputs

During the “WHY-SKYS” retreat at Saint John’s, a friend of mine mentioned that he had tried to reduce the “inputs” in his life. That meant deleting his Facebook account, reducing his time on other social media platforms, and shutting off digital communications for periods of a time. He’s still a busy guy with an active life. He just seems like a guy who’s far less concerned with the digital ebbs and flows of daily life. I think he has a point.

I follow over 1600 people on Twitter. I know that’s far fewer than most people. I would say that maybe 10 percent of those are friends or family. Another 10 percent are sports/news accounts. There are a few accounts I follow for work. There are less than 50 personalities/journalists/celebrities that I actually enjoy following.

Rather, I seek out their accounts when I’m looking for perspective on different things. So that leaves well over half the accounts without a clear reason why I’m following them. Those are all inputs of people I don’t know and probably don’t care about. That doesn’t seem healthy. I’m getting information from people that I put little to no value in. I probably thought they had value at one point, but that’s changed. There is one sports reporter who covers the University of Colorado athletics. He’s a good reporter, but I just don’t care about the University of Colorado athletics. I should probably unfollow him. If I need to find out information about the Buffs, I know where to find it.

There was an article in the New Yorker a few weeks back that I really enjoyed. It was from the writer Jia Tolentina, called “The Worst Year Ever, Until Next Year.” The last line really got to me:

No, 2016 is not the worst year ever, but it’s the year I started feeling like the Internet would only ever induce the sense of powerlessness that comes when the sphere of what a person can influence remains static, while the sphere of what can influence us seems to expand without limit, allowing no respite at all.”

I think the common theme here is the internet. I spend too much of my time on it. People talk about how great the internet is when it comes to connecting people. I agree with that, but I feel like the good things are dwarfed by the amount of pure crap, despondancy, and cynicism that seems to dominate my feeds. I think people have an urgent need to “do something,” yet they can’t “do” anything, so they turn to the internet to vent. It snowballs and just catches other people in the grasp.

I think 2017 is the year I will reduce my inputs. I have a big heart. I am a kind person and I am a generous person, but when it gets stretched too far, it gets tired. It also gets worn out by cynics. I don’t need that in my life. I want to care a lot about a few things, rather than a little about a lot of things. I think that’s a healthy tradeoff.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

359. Toxic Memories

A few years ago I went to a social gathering for a former workplace of mine. I worked there for three years and I still knew some people who had worked there for a few more years than I did. I loved that workplace. I have lots of good memories associated with it. I grew a lot as a person and professional there. I met lots of great people over the course of my employment there. I thought I’d slip back into that magic state once I got around some of those people again.

That didn’t happen. It was at a bar in St. Paul. I exchanged pleasantries with about a half-dozen people and we caught up about our lives. That’s all great for about 20 minutes because you then kind of walk around fiddling with your drink wondering if you should suffer through and get another one or if you should just cut your losses at the moment and get out of there. I stuck it out for another hour. It wasn’t that awful, but it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be.

This feeling happens a lot more than it should. You want things to work out a certain way. You want your thoughts and memories to remain in tact and you want to be able to summon those feelings at any moment that you’re feeling down or in need of a little boost of things. That’s one thing this current nostalgia-heavy economy likes to tell you: the past was always great and you should keep going back to that well because your thoughts will not disappoint you. Or at least they shouldn’t disappoint you. Keep buying things and taking part in things that remind you of those good times.

But that doesn’t help you in the deep dark present. Things change. I’m glad that things change. One friend of mine talked about how he had cut another friend out of his life after that friend had made some incredibly hurtful and disparaging comments about a divorce my friend was going through. If you keep thinking of that friend as the same old drinking buddy you had in college, it doesn’t do anyone any good. You can only live in that space for so long until you realize that it’s not the real space. Sometimes it’s just good to sever those ties and not look back.

I think the way you fix that is to really latch on to those places and people you can have those connections with. Keep cultivating those connections you care about and things will ultimately work out. I realized a while back that I’m not able to keep up extremely close relationships with everyone that I’ve ever encountered in my life. And it’s ok to let some of those things fade away. I like to think that the ones you really cared about will stick around. If you keep making new memories you won’t be tempted to fall back into those comfortable, yet potentially toxic, holes of your memory.


358. Your Own Thing

One trait I like about myself is the ability to see what other people are doing and do something that is slightly different than the norm. I just got back from an overnight trip to Saint John’s University where I spent a day with six close friends from college. We didn’t do much other than catch up, go to prayer with the monks, eat Gary’s pizza, and chat with some monastic friends of ours. It was nice to be in a place of peace where the only thing you needed to do was be in the moment with one another.

I do enjoy taking part in alumni events with CSB/SJU, but they don’t give me the satisfaction that the short time I spend up at the monastery every year does. The events are usually just an hour or two long, I don’t know a ton of people, and it usually involves a lot schmoozing, rather than catching up with people you care about. (I do enjoy schmoozing, but I can only take so much of it.)

I went up to homecoming earlier this year. Seeing the football game was enjoyable and seeing a few people I hadn’t seen in awhile was good as well. The things that struck other people didn’t strike me in the same way. I never learned the Johnnie fight song. Football is fine, but I rarely stay past halftime. I just enjoy doing my own thing so much more. Walking back to Saint John’s on the Wobegon trail with my friend Jer was the most rewarding activity of the weekend. It was just time that we spent on our own, creating our own thing.

I think what works about it is that we make those activities that aren’t the “typical” alumni reunion activities, typical. We walk around campus and check out everything that has changed over the last few years. We go to prayer with the monks, we chat with them, we just catch up in the guesthouse instead of getting blitzed at Sal’s in Saint Joe. And that’s fine. We eat Gary’s and Bo Did’s, too.

The word that all of my friends would use to describe Saint John’s is community. It’s something we valued throughout the course of our time there, and it’s something we still try to incorporate in our everyday lives. I wonder if we would have said that during our first few months at the place. While we all enjoyed drinking, I don’t think any of us made that the central tenet of our time at school. We studied hard, we tried new things, and we all grew in numerous ways. I think we all still try to do that in our own ways.

There’s that old saying that you measure a man by his friends. Or maybe it’s show me a man’s friends and I’ll tell you who they are. I’m so lucky that I got thrown into a group of guys that are people who I respect, enjoy being around, and learn a lot from on a regular basis. And I’m looking forward to next year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

357. Like a Rolling Stone

I’ve always been a little weird about making phone calls to people. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve absolutely hated talking on the phone. I remember that as a kid I’d hide from my mom or dad when they were on the phone with various relatives. I didn’t want to talk to my grandparents, or various aunts and uncles. I vociferously avoided being around my parents during those times. I remember there was one time where I needed to call a friend to see if he wanted to come over, but I just avoided it. I didn’t want to talk to his parents or anything like that.

That stuck with me during college. I hated doing phone banking during political campaigns. I probably have some sort of fear of rejection that is so easy project during a phone call. I really hate that. The funny thing is that whole relationship with a phone changed when I worked in journalism. I had to be on the phone a lot. I became a lot more confident with who I needed to talk to and what I needed to say. I think a lot of that came from just that being part of my job.

The reason I’m writing all of this is because I was waiting for a phone call from someone I didn’t want to talk to. It was one of those things that just needed to happen, but I’m not excited about taking care of those things. I suppose I just needed something to write about, and phones were the thing that came up. On to a different subject.

I realized that candy is nowhere near as exciting to me as it was about two dozen years ago. My stomach can’t handle it. The flavors are too unfamiliar. The texture sticks to my teeth. I don’t feel good after I consume it. I don’t understand how grown adults can consume all of that sugar in one sitting. Although there are plenty of sugar laden things that adults think of as healthy that are actually just as terrible for you. There’s booze, a lot of “granola bars”, desserts, and other random snacks. I’m also guessing that tobacco is on that list. I do eat about two dozen cookies in one sitting when I go to my parents house. I suppose tastes change as things move on.

Captain America: Civil War is on Netflix. I’m excited about it. That’s probably going to be my viewing entertainment later this evening. It’s good to just have something that you can turn to when you’re upset. It was one of my favorite movies of this year.


I’m currently listening to “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan. It’s my song that I turn to when I need to get over someone. It’s such a winding song. I turn to it mainly because of the chorus, “How does it feel to be on your own? With no direction home, like a complete unknow.” It makes me feel better. It makes me feel all right about being on my own path.

356. Bo Diddley's

I'm thinking about my sandwich right now. I bought in from Bo Diddley's, a popular sandwich shop in St. Joseph, Minnesota. I stop there just about every time I go up to Saint John's for a visit. The first thing you notice about the sandwich is that it is big. You can get it in three sizes: third, half, or full. I always get the full because you can get two, or if you're disciplined, three meals out of the whole thing. As I've said before, the key to a very good sandwich is making it with good bread. The bread for a Bo Did's sandwich is thick. I'm not sure who makes it, but I've never seen anything like it. It feels like it's almost as big as a football.

I usually get the turkey (obviously). IT comes with lettuce, tomato, peppers, onions, and pickles. I get it with mayo. There's nothing spectacular about the sandwich. It just all works together really well. Honestly, I think that's what some sandwich places don't get. They try to make it work with just one or two nice ingredients, but it doesn't come together. The meat, bread, veggies, and everything else all just works really well together when it comes to a Bo Diddley's sandwich.

It's also become the final stop on our annual WHY-SKYS retreat over the Christmas holiday. It's a good lunch spot to take in everything. The whole decor from Bo Did's probably hasn't changed from when it first opened in the 90's. The tableclothes are a red and white checkerboard pattern, the chairs are wood and feel like the ones a grandma would have. There are overhead lights, but no track lighting over the whole thing. The menus are still written in chalk. It just feels like it hasn't changed in all the years, and it doesn't feel like it has too. I am happy for that.

A few months ago, a friend of my posted on Facebook that Bo Did's was being sold. The owner wanted to retire after nearly three decades running the place. I don't blame him. The restaurant industry is exhausting and keeping the restaurant going when a number of other places have folded in that time is no small feat.

There was a small part of me that wondered if I should buy that sandwich shop. Well, I don't have the money, so that would probably be an issue. It's a romantic idea though. Sandwiches don't need to save the world. They just need to feed the people who are going to save the world. I like the idea of serving the meal where people are having their first dates or old friends getting back together to catch up after lives have all taken random turns. It's good to be a place of fellowship. That whole act of getting together over food and drink is so underrated. I don't know if I'd be able to buy and sandwich shop, but I'm going to continue to go there.

Ok, time to eat that sandwich...

355. Death and 2016

This has been a brutal year when it comes to a lot of things. There was the enduring crap show of the election that seemed to hit a new low every week. There were a trove of celebrity deaths. And there were horrific acts of violence all over the world. Other than the collective grieving of your favorite artists, musicians, and actors, social media didn't seem to help much. It really seemed to ratchet everything up worse, not make it better.

Last night, as part of our annual "Christmas retreat" my college friends and reminisced and sipped scotch in the Abbey Guesthouse. We brought up our annual tradition of "Highs and Lows" where we each share a reflection of our year, both the good and the bad. During the last two years I had a lot to say at this part. In 2014, I talked about leaving Boston and the life I had built up there. In 2015, I spoke about the stresses and pressures related to my job. But this year? Life was pretty good.

I have a job that pays well that I enjoy. I have strong friendships and connections with people I care about. I've been in good health, and I didn't lose anyone close to me. I've set down roots in the community here. That's been wonderful. That's the weird thing about these days. Everyone and everything else can tell you that the world is going to shit and you should be upset, but in your own little corner of the world, things can be OK.

I mentioned two things from this year. First, I hated seeing my friends go through some tough times. Whether that was offshoots from the election, or personal adversity, I really didn't know what to do. I realized this year that I can't be the hero all the time. You're not meant to be a savior to everyone. All you can do is offer up your gift. My gift this year was a bit of kindness and the ability to listen. I'm glad people took me up on that.

My second thing I mentioned was my repeated failures in the love department. I went on a lot of dates. A LOT of dates. I didn't remember names. That's no where near as a maddening as a divorce or anything of that nature. It has its own pain though. I suppose the good that has come out of that is that I've gotten to know myself a little bit better. I know what I want and what I need in relationships. Not compromising on certain things is OK as well.  I think I'm a better person for that instead of going around blindly wondering where I'm supposed to be or worry that I'm not doing something right. No, you're ok. Not everything has to be governed by the swirling vortex of crap that seems to be going around the world these days. Some days are dumb, others are great. You just got to figure out how to persevere.

Monday, December 26, 2016

354. Wilco and Weezer

I drove back to my parents house on Christmas Eve afternoon. The drive from St. Louis Park usually takes about 45 minutes, but this time it felt shorter. I was thinking about relationships and dating (duh) and how everything kind of just falls apart sometimes and there is nothing you can do about it. I listened to the Wilco song “Ashes of American Flags” a handful of times. It’s a song I use to cope with things. That drive turned into one of those moments in time where everything goes by quickly. Once I hit the Wyoming exit, I couldn’t believe the drive was almost over.

This is a bit of a tired cliche, and it’s also a bit angsty, but two of the bands that sort of defined my 2016 were Wilco and Weezer. I saw both of them in concert. They both released new albums. They both begin with the letter W. Duh. Here are a few of their songs that stuck with me over these past 12 months.

Weezer- The Good Life: I discovered this song in mid-March. It’s got a bare guitar riff hook and a fantastic sing-a-long chorus. “I’ve got to get back to the good life.” I played this the other day while I was walking home from Uptown after a less-than-steller date. It’s a good song when you’re ready to say that you’re through with dealing with a bunch of crap. That happened quite a bit this year.

Wilco- Poor Places: This song was one I played while driving in the evening. “My jaw's been broken My heart is wrapped in ice My fangs have been pulled and i really want to see you tonight.” I love that image of being so hurt and in pain, yet all you want to do is see someone tonight. I first heard this song when I saw them in concert on Hall’s Island. I didn’t realize that it was also on the live album of theirs that I have. It was a pleasant surprise for the summer. It was my lost in the moment song.

Weezer- California Kids: This was one of their new songs this year. “It’s gonna be all right If you’re on a sinking ship Those California Kids will throw you a lifeline.” For some reason, I always feel better when someone tells me that it’s going to be all right because most of the time it will be all right. (Also, Weezer is one of those bands that elicits a strong reaction out of people. You don’t just dislike Weezer, you HATE them or think they sold out. I don’t know. I just like their music.)

Weezer- Surfwax America: This was another one of those songs that I discovered over the course of the year. It’s also another great chorus to sing along to. I bought the Blue Album for my brother for Christmas, but I may need to purchase one for myself. It’s just a great album to have along in the car.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

353. 13.1 miles

My achilles tendons hurt. I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that I ran 13.13 miles yesterday. To put it in perspective, my normal runs are between 3-5 miles. I only very rarely go above those distances. My previous high for running was just over eight miles. This run also occurred during a weird mix of rain and snow over on a mid-Friday morning.

Yesterday, at about this same time, I was sitting at my computer trying to pump out a few blog posts before I got on with my day. I have next week off, so I thought about people I might want to see. There was a girl I dated earlier this year who I hadn’t seen in awhile. Things ended a bit bumpy, but the eventually warmed up and we’ve had sporadic communication since. I thought it might be nice to get coffee just to catch up. I texted her with a “Random of out the blue text: How are you doing?” Simple enough. She responded that she was doing great and that she got engaged last week. That wasn’t the response I was expecting.

Do you know that feeling when you lift something too heavy and you end up seeing stars? It kind of felt like that. It was a surprise that I wasn’t prepared to receive. Seeing someone you were quite close with just a few months ago take a very big step is a bit jarring. Before you assume that this is some sort of “not over her” thing, I can assure you it’s not. We both moved on over the summer.

I was flustered, but I couldn’t really take it out on anyone or anything in my apartment. I went to the sink and splashed my face with cold water. I then changed into my running clothes and stretched out for a while. I was texting with another friend about wanting to run 10 miles. I didn’t think I actually would, plus a little bit more.

I went on my usual route on the bike trail, heading east around Cedar Lake. I stayed on the bike trail once I got to the Cedar Lake beach and I continued west. I looped back towards Benilde Saint Margaret. By that time I had already logged about six miles, but I still felt good. I decided to head around Lake of the Isles. I couldn’t feel my feet and I was soaking wet. I probably saw only about six other runners out the entire time. I tried to smile and wave to each of them. I needed to fight out a smile.

I rounded back towards Cedar lake and checked my phone. I needed about 1.5 miles to hit the half marathon mark. I headed up France Avenue to loop to Wayzata boulevard, which is north of my apartment. Just as I hit the pedestrian bridge that goes over 394, I crossed the mark. I was cold and wet, but my adrenaline was pumping.

Was I angry about the news that I got about two hours earlier? Anger isn’t the right word. Surprised. Shocked. Exasperated maybe. I told her that I wished her the best for her and her fiance.

There’s no use in wallowing. Sometimes you just got to get up and go. You’ll be surprised where it takes you.

352. HIMYM

I’ve been rewatching the show “How I Met Your Mother.” The show’s premise is that in the year 2030 the protagonist, Ted Mosby (voiced by Bob Saget), is telling his future children how he met their mother. And then the show tells the hijinx of Ted and his four friends from approximately the years 2006-2014 (I think?). It’s a confusing premise at first, but I’ve grown to like it. I think I’ve been rewatching it because I wanted something comforting. I like the characters and I like spending time in that world, but my views on the show have changed a little bit from when I first started watching it about four or five years ago.

I really hate this “find the one” crap. Maybe this is a little bit of bitterness sliding over into my taste in art, but I don’t believe in things related to fate in the love life department as much anymore. Maybe it’s one of those “Oh because you haven’t experienced yet, so you don’t know” sort of things. I don’t know. I think the whole process is a lot more tedious than you’d think it should be. I guess that’s fine, but Ted seems like such a whiner to me watching it later in life. Whining hasn’t gotten me that many good places in life. I guess that’s ok, but whatever.

I’m not a huge fan of the fat jokes. There’s a lot of jokes related to Barney, the show’s lothario, not wanting to sleep with “fatties.” Those jokes haven’t aged well. Those also seem kind of lazy.

Maybe this is me projecting my own frustrations and annoyances once again, but the whole thought of everything being one grand story that you can tell your kids seems too convenient. A metaphor that I’m fond of using is one of a pomegranate. I don’t think life is one long grand narrative that you can connect through everything. Life has starts and stops. You have to dig through a bunch of crap until you find the nuggets. Maybe it just takes you time to connect all of those pieces into one complex narrative. I don’t know.

Overall, maybe just surmising on things and sitting on them isn’t healthy and productive. I’ve been sitting in this chair worrying about things all morning. I’m on my fourth cup of coffee and I think I need to go out for a run.

I’ll just tell myself that I need to be a little less whiny, a little more productive and I should probably stop binging on things for hours on end. It’s not healthy. Life is just slightly better when you figure things. Life isn’t about sitting around waiting. I think you have to get out and do stuff. Just do things that make you happy and fulfill you and good things will happen. Maybe I need to just take heed of that and not worry about everything. That’s rarely worked out well for me. Alright, time to get off this damn computer and just go do something.   

Friday, December 23, 2016

351. Looking Back

There are some friends I don't see anymore. It's weird that I define my life in very separate circles that rarely intersect with one another. There is the pre-Conserve era. That's the one I have the most trouble remembering. I don't have very many friends from that time. There's my family and a few people I communicate on Facebook with mainly through Facebook wall posts, but not much at all. I don't have a place I go back to in my hometown to drink and commiserate. For a variety of reasons, it just never happened. I'm OK with that. Though it's a bit weird to have your life remembered through the photo albums your mom put together over the years.

Then there is the Conserve era. This was probably the era in my life that defined me the most. It helped me develop a love of small communities that can help people. My enjoyment and love for being outside and in the outdoors grew there. I learned that sometimes you just have to help people. Also, you sometimes can't help everything. Sometimes things just don't turn out like the way you imagined they would. I don't have that high school I thought I would, but I do have some really great lifelong connections that have stuck with me through all of that. There's a reunion next summer. I'm looking forward to exploring back up there for a little bit.

And then there is Saint John's. Saint John's was like Conserve, but it helped affect more of the whole of me: spiritually, socially, emotionally, intellectually. All of those pieces of me were affected by my four years at Saint John's. I'm really excited to go back there with some friends in a couple of days. My fondest memories are walking around in the woods, sharing beers in Vincent, watching the Office is some cramped dorm room on Mary 3, doorknocking for random candidates all around the county. Those were all good and shaping experiences. In a way, I'm glad all of those things helped shape me.

I worked in Maryland for a few years. I really enjoyed Maryland as a state, and I still have a few connections there, but I don't think I have a love for it as much as I do other places. I haven't really been back for very long since leaving. Maybe I'll get back sometime in the future.

Then there is Boston. Boston was another big part of shaping who I am. Notice that I'm not saying my school, but living, working, and just being in Boston all contributed to who I am today. I loved feeling the strong identity that the town has. It was nice to feel a part of that for two years. I think two things really affected me there: working at a comedy theater and the Boston Marathon bombing. Those are two very different events, but they shaped a lot of who I am and what I am looking for in life. Maybe the rest of that is for a different blog post.

350. Random

Your future self is wanting your present self to do something right now. I read that line somewhere yesterday. It kind of stuck with me. I don't think my future self ever talked about Netflix binging for hours. Not that that is a bad thing, sometimes you need that. It just seems like that's not the ideal way to make an epic adventure or get things done in your life. Realizing that you future self want to hold you accountable is a very good way to keep from the crap boiling over in your life. It also saves you from realizing that you're not supposed to just sit around all the time.

I remember that one time in high school I checked out a handful of movies to take home over break. I think I may have got to one or two of them. They were ones I wanted to see, but I just never invested in watching them. I'm not sure why. Life gets like that sometimes. We know we want to do something, yet we just can bring ourselves to do it. It's weird like that.

What did I want all this time? What do I still want or need? That's the multi-billion dollar question. Why is that so hard for people to answer? We think we know what we want, but it's so hard for us to vocalize or describe it to anyone else.

I've been listening to the Josh Ritter song "Empty Hearts" a lot the last few weeks. The chorus goes, "Don't let me into this year with an empty heart." I really like that line. That will be the 2017 mantra. No empty hearts.

My future self is probably screaming at me to get these blog posts done so I can go and do something else with my day. A run sounds ideal. Although a movie might not be a bad thing either.

I guess another thing that goes along with that is the waiting for whatever you want. I've tried to embrace waiting in different aspects of my life. We focus so much on instant gratification that we kind of don't know how to wait for things anymore. Waiting for stuff is bad. Heck, the human attention span is like eight seconds, isn't it? I don't mind that as much anymore. It's good to embrace the excitement before something happens. It's a space where you can kind of allow for tons of possibility.

This has been kind of a rambling blog post. I haven't had a full cup of coffee yet. My browser has eight tabs open. I've been picking through Spotify trying to find the best songs to write to. A few articles I want to read are up as well. I was thinking about going to a Yoga class at 9:30, but I don't think I'm going to be out of bed in time. I'd rather be outside anyway. I have to punch out another blog post right now anyway. Well, we're almost to 366.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

349. Eight Mile Nick

There's a space I go into sometimes that I don't really like what I do. I'll call it 8-mile mode in honor of Eminem. It's the time where I leave a situation that really makes me angry and I'm not quite sure what to do about it. If I'm wearing a hoodie, I'll usually throw up the hood and blast whatever music I'm listening to really loud. It's usually some sort of angry stuff. I like to think I'm feeling cool in that moment, but I'm really not. I'm still only Nick. I'm just a lot angrier that I'd like to be. I did that the other day after a particular frustrating evening. I wasn't sure what I was doing somewhere and I didn't get the exercise that I usually require. Just a lot of things boiled up after that. They all kind of just released in that moment.

There was a moment in yoga class the other evening that made me really think. We were doing some ab crunch things near the end of class. They weren't extremely difficult, but they took a bit of effort. The teacher said that this wasn't about exercising your abs, but more about learning how to make your mind right when you're dealing with a lot of stress. It calmed my mind as I was in the midst of doing the crunches. Sometimes I think it is really about acknowledging things and acting on those things. Some days it just helps to give everything a name and go from there.  

I've started to notice those times that I get upset a whole lot more often. It's made things a lot easier. I know that I'll need to do some sort of physical activity after work if I want to be a productive (or relaxed human being in the evening. It's been nice to understand that and act upon that. But in all other forms of life it gets to be a little bit more complicated. I know what negative routes I can take when I get upset and I know what positive routes I can take. It's good to work on those positive routes: exercise, eating some healthy food, heading to a bookstore or library to relax, getting out of the house or just getting away from everything that is totally stressing you out.

I always wonder what other people think when they see 8-mile Nick. It's a little weird, it's not like me. Honestly, I think a good portion of it is just for show. Part of it might just be a little cry for attention. When I'm really upset, I  usually shut down within myself and stop being a lively person to talk to. It feels like people understand that a lot more. I know there's lively angry Nick who makes a big show out of being upset. Most of those times I'm only slightly upset, but I'm magnifying it to a greater degree because I want the attention. In the ned, I don't really like 8-mile Nick, but I deal with him.

348. Listen to Yourself

As I’ve noted in a few previous blog posts, I’ve tried to do better about listening to myself. It hasn’t always worked, but I’m getting there. Yesterday, I wanted to get my haircut after work. Getting my haircut calms me down in a weird way. Even though my hair isn’t long, I can feel it when it gets slightly out of control. I can’t relax. I feel like a mess. I used the Great Clips App. I thought I’d be OK because I checked in just as I was getting on the bus at 4:45. It said I had about 22 minutes to wait before I got my haircut. I got there just after 5 p.m., but it said that I still had a 17 minute wait. The person who checked me in said it would still be about a 20 minute wait. Not great logistics, Great Clips.

I thought about just skipping out and heading home. I had some errands to run and I wanted to get home quickly. I decided to stick it out. I knew I wanted a haircut and I’d be even more upset if I didn’t get one because I’d feel gross and I knew I’d have to come back later to get one done. I felt good, even if it took a little bit of time.

Later in the evening, as I was heading out to go see a Minnetonka basketball game, I stopped at TJ Maxx to pick up the last part of my present for my Secret Santa. I had a heck of a time trying to find what I was looking for. That was when I remembered that they kept the gift I was giving near the checkout, which is kind of weird if you ask me. I was wondering around for about 15 minutes. I was hoping it’d be a quick in and out procedure, but it wasn’t. That was sort of frustrating. But I held out and I knew I was going to get something because I didn’t want to do anymore shopping.

It has sort of come down to asking myself what I want. When I’ve been faced with a decision lately, I silently ask myself that question. Usually the first thing that comes up is the correct answer. I was watching Netflix yesterday when I made it through two episodes of the show I was watching. I asked myself if I wanted to watch a third episode, but I knew I wanted to go to bed. It’s good to know your own limits.

I’ve tried to use this question to define some of my other relationships as well. It’s had some good results. I had an online discussion with a friend of mine a few weeks ago and we talked about this very subject. We often don’t listen to ourselves and what we want. Granted, we don’t always get what we want, but it sure is nice to strive for that exact thing. I want to improve on that in the new year.