When the pandemic started I felt this need to write about it in this kind of ‘dispatch’ series. A kind of daily retrospective into what I was feeling, what was happening in the world – just so I could look back and remember it all. See the ‘old life’ as it was being molded into this kind of workable piece of something that I hopefully ended up with. My problem was that I was stuck in the deep end.

SARS-CoV-2 has been this ominous cloud, just looming. I work in Marketing – a fickle industry – and within that, my current agency focuses on event & museum marketing. I followed the corona story with clenched teeth before it crossed the oceans knowing if it made the jump what it’d mean. I walked into the agency president’s office in early February, asking what the plan was, what we were going to do, and how we move forward. The claws had already slunk into my anxiety gripped chest. Let me be clear – I said from the beginning, I’m not afraid of getting sick – I have been, and still am, more worried about the world, what will be left for my son, what horrors or glory wait for all of us across the deep canyon of the unknown – but I digress. There was no plan. Everyone, including my boss, was focused on ‘two weeks;’ a lie we told ourselves to keep the creeping terror at bay. Just two weeks and we’d be back – a fortnight. Simple.

On to five months and I’ve moved from the riddled aches of overloaded anxiety and fear, to an apathetic wandering that left me with deep breaths around the house, to now an uncertainty that things not only won’t ever be the same, but that life is seismically different. Society – how we lived our lives, how we go through our days, how we see people, how we view someone coughing in line at the grocery store, to the masks we wear and now attach a sense of fashion – is different. A cure or not – there will be another invisible thing to catch to step up and take hold. Maybe not in a year or ten, but eventually. Existential terror taken hold.

Why the title though? The above should explain, but let me say it in simple words. I’ve felt detached for a while, a feeling of strange wondering – never settled – not so much unhappy as unfulfilled by my work, never feeling what I do is enough both in life and work. With riots in every major city now, unemployment the highest since the great depression, very little financial support for the masses – tensions will rise. The media is focused on sensation, getting back to “a new normal” (when they really mean is ‘as close to before’ as possible) and there doesn’t seem to be leadership from our government. I’ve taken to mostly feeling dizzy reading the headlines and stories of the day making jokes, laughing at memes, and trying to ignore the ever-present, more pronounced than ever feeling of being unmoored.

A coworker told a story very early on in the lockdown that their neighbor had ‘lost it’, climbing onto their roof and yelling about the coming pandemic in a mask and gloves. My first feeling wasn’t pity or concern for the person on the roof but understanding. I knew that for most people staring into the dark maw of headline news, the call to fall into the hole was strong. I could see one bad day, a terrible afternoon, or just being slightly more detached – it could be me up there. Empathy for those on the edge. That feeling never really went away, we just live with it.

Maybe that is the new normal, learning to live with the row rumble of impending doom.

More soon.

Where to start from the last place we left off? Yeah, this is getting a bit clunky with a touch of this or that and there are pieces of ideas and nothing really fully formed, so I guess it’s a catchall. Which will have to be okay.

In life: we’ve moved back east. It’s wonderful and scary and sad and beautiful. We have found love in the movement in things, gliding through the ever-seasonal landscapes of New England and squeezing as much out of it as we can muster. Hiking is a real thing we’re doing without fail every weekend. We’re away from family which is always less awesome, but as an excuse – with schedules and kids the way they are we’d likely see less and less of them anyway. This doesn’t lessen the impact of missing some people you enjoy, but it’s more akin to giving my brain a lolly. So we’re here.

In brewing: I’m more or less done homebrewing in full. I sold off the entire kit for scrap. Years of accruing pieces for pennies, but it wasn’t going to move. Would I still brew if I didn’t sell it off? I’m unsure. I rarely drink beer – a feeling of atrophy washes over me just looking at the craft beer shelves. I mostly take home 4-packs of cider now – which is becoming a thing out here. I think it’s more aligned with wine in so much as it doesn’t make me feel bloated (any beer) or turn my stomach into battery acid (sour beers). So it’s shelved until.

In work: I’m a Digital Director now for a small (but growing) agency in the burbs.

In dreams: I still want to write, but I’m so strung out now after work, helping with homework, and the gym, and and and – that I get tired thinking about this let alone trying to cobble a story together. I’d love to still write a novella or story or graphic novel or… something someday. I have to make time for it. I’m cooking an idea up in my head about an apple orchard as a life goal. Maybe I’ll think about writing a business plan? Cost out how much everything is. See how viable it would be and how much start-up cash my “retirement dream” would be. In a way, an apple orchard could be a way to bridge all of my interests into one – gardening, science, working with my hands, trees, nature, research, history and I could even erk out a book about it. I may go into detail in the future. It’s something I keep coming back to.

In family: My son is ever older; smarter than I ever was. I see myself in him a lot – which sometimes just makes me feel bad for those forced to be around me at a young age. Lis is crushing it as per always.

I’m not sure I have much else to share so I’ll end it here. In short – make time for the things you find important in your life. It’s okay to pause what you thought were ‘life goals’ to shift your priorities. Don’t get hung up on staying focused.

More soon.

Digital marketing, social media, SEM, SEO, Adwords – for some they are buzzwords. They become amorphous objects, loosely collected in the back of their minds and there it’s gripped onto for fear of losing relevance. Utilizing the buzzwords are no longer about ‘keeping up’ but about following the pack, pretty pictures and likes only get you so far, brand building is not just an about creating a great landing page or a growth of followers year over year, but about making an impact. It’s one to one – meaningful marketing. There is a reason your boss wants you to look for influencers, there is a reason influencers are a thing or were.

I’ve built a brand from next to nothing to fully realized; something with supporting documents, direction, and real soul. The general public doesn’t want to connect with a brand – they want to connect to a person, an idealized entity that lives somewhere on the other side of the screen. They are connecting with their favorite celebrity, they collect ideas, feelings, pictures from across the hum and din of spinning fans in a server room. Our job, as social media and digital professionals, is to close that gap. It’s up to us make it feel less like showing up late to a speed dating event and more like finally getting the attention of that cute barista – something they know, maybe something fun or unexpected, but they want to know they’re okay, they’re heard.

Obviously, that isn’t always the case. Some people, many people live a life of complaints on twitter or facebook like it’s their personal megaphone to the world at large. They cry foul and only relay how they’ve been slighted. I’ve dealt with my share of that type – as anyone in customer-facing social would. Sometimes they happen to be someone who comes in 3-4 times a week, or spends thousands of dollars on hotels a week, or… well your “best” customers. Some folks just have an ax to grind and you’ve got to find out how sharp it is. Sadly, many companies feel as though this is what ‘social’ is all about; running searches and algorithms to mitigate damage and running press releases through 140 character ticker tape.

This misses the point.

Of course, this begs the question – what is the point?

You’ve got to find that out for your company, brand, store, etcetera. We are living in a world where you’re allowed to not be on a platform for whatever reason. You can sass your customers. Be a style brand. Collect likes as if they’ll stop giving them out. Do you need to post cat videos to be relevant? Maybe for you, but not for everyone.

My advice: don’t get caught up in the “we’re not on [x] platform” talk – it’s useless; don’t get wrapped up in everyone else is doing – find where you thrive; keep active and watch where it ‘feels’ right to grow. Get out there, kid.

I want to write today, but I’m pretty empty on ideas for today. On many days I wish I had some kind of wisdom to impart. Some sage advice that I have learned over my years in social media, the differences in offices, how best to work remote, about raising a kid, brewing beer, something anything. I can’t conclude I’m an expert on any of these things it’s a constant flow of figuring it out. I’m not sure why, but when someone says they are an expert in something, it portrays in air of finality. I’m always learning, stretching and creating new creases in my mind. I’m never going to throw in the towel and say I’m “done” learning about something. After 8 years working in food, there was a new ‘bottom’ to the trench of knowledge and that can be carried to any subject – the rabbit hole knows no bottom beyond your potential to stop to learning. You want to know how deep it goes? Pick up a shovel. Suddenly this post is about how I have an unquenchable thirst for learning and less about my writer’s block. My advice: learn more and never stop. Dig deep and never stop, excavate three holes at once, stop and come back, but never stop. Get a book on tree identification if you are interested in it, read up on non-central campaigns of world war two, take a woodworking class, watch fly-making videos, just get out there.

Knocking off that run was a big ‘bucket’ item for me. I ran the last 20 feet and crossed the line with my son in the warm glow of delirium – it was fantastic and beautiful and heart-warming and I was beat. I finished in an “okay” 4:36. I feel like I did well enough but could have done things differently – that list is a few items, so I’ll break them into bullet points:

  • I should have picked up orthopedic insoles a lot earlier. I had my squishy foam insoles the entire time I was putting on miles; 5k, half-marathon, and all training of the full marathon. Physical therapy docs said to buy new ones asap – and that was five months before I started running. Your feet/ankles/legs hurt a lot? See a doctor. Already have orthos? See about an upgrade.
  • I should have trained harder/longer. I made the mistake of letting my body dictate how the last few weeks of my training played out. I was so tired – mentally and (mostly) physically I was worried about injuring myself. My big 20-mile run ended at 15.8 because I cramped up so bad and had to be driven home. I never reached that goal and only hit 20 miles out on the trail, which is where the real race began.
  • I should have waited a year. This goes with the training regiment. I had ample time to ramp up according to my plan, but given that I was going from a 5k in October 2015 to a full marathon in 2016; I was pushing too hard.
  • I should have paced myself better. Again, as an inexperienced runner, I went out and did the first half of the marathon a solid minute/mile faster than I was aiming for. I got all amped up and didn’t pay attention to the pace runners until it was too late. I felt amazing before ‘the turn’ – where the half marathoners went to the finish line, and I had to keep going – after the turn was a fast descent into sadness.
  • I should have checked how long my book was. I run with audiobooks, and it’s always worked to remove myself from myself. You’d have thought I would learn my lesson from the incredibly short “Born Standing Up” for the half-marathon, but no. I chose the amazing book “Bossypants” as my marathon book. Painfully, I finished the book around that 20-mile mark, and I was left without my comfort blanket of reading to keep my mind company.
  • I should not have walked so early. Everyone was right, that first time you walk is the worst – the door is opened, that option was there. Just a little bit more walking. Ugh, I’m tired, maybe I’ll walk a bit. Bleh.
  • I should have NOT left for a business trip the same day as the race. It was silly and memorable, not as awful as I thought it was going to be, but it just put an odd spin on the whole recovery process.

Would I do another marathon? I’ll likely do another, someday, if my body can take it. Training for a marathon is work, like an actual part-time job level of work. When you commit to putting two and a half to three plus hours of your Saturdays into running and cramming in another 4+ hours during the week, then add on the stretching & more stretching – it’s work. I’d have to allow myself the time to commit to it before anything else. I’d love to do a ton more half-marathons, 5 & 10Ks. I’d just need a buddy. I’m fully recovered, which took a lot longer than anticipated and worked through a lengthy cold season and now am stuck in the doldrums of deep winter. Running will continue as soon as it gets above single digits; the itch is getting worse and the sads are creeping back in.

More soon, stay sane and safe.

I don’t talk about politics often unless someone else starts the conversation. For a few reasons, I wanted to put this together and maybe help me feel better about it all.

When someone says we live in dark times, or that the world has gone insane I can’t get on board. I feel like saying “these times are crazy” is a paper-tiger excuse to wave off a reality. Times aren’t crazy; times couldn’t be more subdued: crime is down nationwide, more people are insured (yes, costing more but besides my point), unemployment is at a manageable level (yes, can always be better), housing market rebounded, interest rates have been perpetually at rock bottom, I could go on. I can’t put the entire blame on the republican candidate’s rise on the media’s love with exploiting the ludicrous fringe and the non-narratives built from almost non-existing problems (i.e., immigration & stateside terrorism) culminating into the wavering joke that knew no end – they are here to make money, fear and sex sells. I can’t blame the supporters either; their fear boils over into seething hate by the fuel of 24-hour news and the insular echo chambers of social media. You keep piling wood on the fire, don’t be surprised to get burned. Let’s not lay the dead sheep of “media’s” snarled grins at our feet then point our fingers at the hearts that beats inside them; it’s a fun house mirror reflecting only the dregs of our souls. We tune in to the circus, we turn blue links purple, we click and watch and soak up the blood and tears that is squeezed from this election. The “crazy times” are bound to those who cannot see past the bloody teeth & torn sheepskin and see them for what they are: beasts. We get caught up – I say “we” because I’m as much to blame – it’s hard to see past the first paragraph, the headline, we take for granted the papers lead line is honest, we walk into our offices, homes, gyms, bars and ask “did you hear what s/he said” or did. The absurd is the car crash on the highway and we’re all slowing down to take a look. While we gawk, we slow everyone else down. The nation isn’t different from it was yesterday, we weren’t suddenly this way, the light has just been turned on in the shadows. Only crazy part is the media gave the mic to the those crawling out, but again who could look away?

Clowns eventually take off the makeup; we’ll need time to wipe the paint off and gaze deep into the void of our pupils to what lays behind it – no matter who wins.

So here I am sitting in bed thinking about my passing grandfather. My mind is swimming in thoughts of his and my time together. For some reason when someone passes I begin putting together what I’d say at the pulpit. I’d maybe start with a joke or something meaningful to set the tone. Something about how life is a journey and it’s best traveled with important people. I don’t mean you have to see the world with the mayor, but people who hold up. He and grandma seemed to be in that van driving across the country every so often. I’m happy to think that maybe grandpa can go back to traveling with his wonderful wife.

I had my trip with those two. The memories are like a flipbook – a blur of movement, but if your finger sticks long enough you get a clear picture. I remember them picking me up and my mother’s “please don’t terrorize these people” look on her face. My “on board” bag stuffed with activities that I became bored with in the first 3 hours of a cross-country trek. There were night stays in dumpy motels and breakfasts at “Flying J” and lunch consisted of canned franks or meat to be spread on crackers. That isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate spending that time with them. I finally, truly saw the sharp beauty of the Rocky Mountains. We visited an imprisoned family member and a beef jerky factory. And who could forget how I took my first whizz along the highway, with the doors open wide within earshot of my grandmother sitting passenger side, all while in the shadows of the perfect rock sculptures of the Arizona desert. It wasn’t a trip about finding more about them, but more about finding myself with them.

See, my grandfather has a hard shell. Let me tell, just a quick story, as an example. One year, our family got together at a cabin in Colorado where the kids were left to bother the poor older folks, all while the older kids and parents went off into the rocky nowhere. I was an obnoxious cuss, and he wasn’t interested in getting dealt into my game, but one morning the two of us got the better of each other. My grandfather and I were at a small kitchen counter where I proceed to grill him on the utensils contained in a large ceramic jar. I machine-gunned off:”What’s that?” He tried to stammer an answer fit for an 8-year-old, but before he could get two words together, I moved on to the next item in question. This line happened a handful of times, each of us parlaying. That was until I asked him about the last one. I finished my question, and he looked at it then me and said straight-faced:”Put your hand down.” Well, this wasn’t like his other answers, he certainly sparked my curiosity. “Go ahead,” he invited “put it down and I’ll show you what it does.” I smiled at the wooden block, then at him and placed my hand palm side down on the table. He pulled it out of the jar and raised it and paused – either in his hesitation or mine – and brought the meat tenderizer down onto the back of my hand. Let’s say for the sake of storytelling, that I stopped asking him questions for the rest of the trip.

But that is the same man who shook me out of many a Nintendo stupor to watch desert night flowers bloom. The same guy who woke me up early to unfold and hang the American flag that he meticulously cared for in their front yard. This was the same guy who said “Howdy partner” in the same tone no matter my age. He was the same guy who invited me to have milk and Oreos every single night I stayed with them, especially if that day was contentious. To him, everything was resolved at that table. He wasn’t a stubborn old man, and I wasn’t an annoying young kid. We were two fellas having cookies.

And that’s what I’d do if I had my “one more chance,” to be a fella at that dinner table, having cookies.

2016-08-24 13.31.31When I homebrewed a lot more, I had a subject. When I worked in food, I had a subject. Now? I work with hotels and while interesting, complex, and not at all structured the way most people think – it’s not an issue I’d focus on. I’m still a dad, so I can write more about that – but I’m not really one of those who likes to talk about my kid. I don’t know if I’m board with brewing or it’s become too much of a time sink? I make too much at one time for… just myself? I don’t have as much free time? A part of me wants to hunt for a new hobby, sell off the homebrew wares and do something that I can keep and do in a tiny space. Oh ya know, like finally work on writing the script for the graphic novel? Or finding more/better things to write here? I’m running a lot and training for a marathon at the end of October, but who gives a shit about that besides me? Maybe a couple of other runners I know, but the sum of that conversation exists in a vacuum as much as talking about working out; people will talk about it with you if a) they share an interest, b) don’t have anything else to talk about. I’ve got a modular kayak now – so that quite fun. Maybe it’s that this summer’s been jam-packed with activity, there isn’t much brain space beside slowly falling asleep to woodworking youtube videos. I could write more about social media, I guess? But I’ve found most “social media experts” to be a load of wind without much practical experience, like self-help writers who only have acclaim in writing self-help. I’m too mired in practicality, maybe. I have this friend that works at writing. That puts me to absolute shame as far as his work ethic on becoming a writer. He’d very much likely be there a long time before I grazed the surface. I’m in awe of him. I want to put out work at his clip. He’s good too, plus he puts the hours in.

Maybe it’s time to apply what I’ve learned from running to my writing: lace up, shut up and get out there.

So I seem to have picked up a new hobby. This post is more like a tale of my fitness than a straight line explanation of why.

I was not into structured fitness and prescribed by junior or, horror-of-horrors, high school. It started in college. I’m not sure if was tennis near the dorm, racket ball, swimming, my badminton course, but moving just came easily. I wasn’t an expert in any field, but I put just enough effort in to have fun. I could keep up, no trick shots, or many baskets or unattested matches, but I liked it. Unknowingly a spark struck. Year three, I took in a job at Walmart nearly 4 miles away. I was going to ride my bike to work. This came as a shock to everyone but me, but I knew if I just set to do it, it wasn’t going to be hard. I still remember that first ride on my first day to work. My shift started at 9 am, I left early to make sure I was on time, but also could ‘cool down’ before starting work. It was an unseasonably warm late spring day, and it didn’t take long for me to question my sanity. The other important detail? My college town, Macomb, is situated amid a couple of swollen hills. I lived at the very bottom of the these, my journey to work took me from there to the highest in a pretty short distance. The hill is steep enough to question why I’d bought a cruiser bike with extra wide handlebars. The first time I hit the hill in the near-empty college town – the only sounds were distant birds, my huffing and the clang of a cheap bike chain. I could have walked to the top faster, across four lanes country roads, but I was riding my bike. It got easier; summer got hotter, and then it got hard again. I started bringing a shirt to change into and hitting the rarely used water fountain to keep up appearances. On days off I began riding the corn-glazed hills, getting chased by leash-less dogs and developed a love of moving under my own power.

After college, I biked to work, and one year non-stop through winter – which got rough in early February – but the sense of accomplishment became a badge I wore. In Maine, I rode from our house in the East End (North Side) to work near the airport (clear across the city limits). Later, out East I rode through dark woods –  where every day brought adventures; nearly crashing into deer, turkeys, and other critters. Once Finn was born and I worked from home, we rode for 30 miles in one direction, walked/played for a bit, and rode back. We were out there and moving, 4′ snow falls didn’t stop us from at least walking the neighborhood.

Maybe I just have to keep moving. The thing was though I always hated running. I liked to bike. Running was the for the birds, but starting in those rolling hill college days, speaking to mentors and peers – a dream arose. Something that I wanted to do, one may call it a “bucket list item” but I never classified it as such until late: to run a marathon.

It started with me running my mouth. I had joked for years that a 5k was for children, and I could just sign up and run one, no training was needed. My wife did just that, giving me a fair warning first, but entered my name no less. We did great, and I started to really… like? running? After our race, I confided in her that running a marathon was on my bucket list in a halfhearted chuckle about my madness and slight melancholy about it never coming to fruition. I got a text a month and a half later – I was still jogging off and on short distances – that we were now entered in a half marathon. My heart sank. This was my test; it was only half, but it’s a path to see if this could ever happen. I got more serious about training, I put in the miles, and somewhere in there, fell for it. Post half I wanted more.

Now for the real reason why I run. I’ve tried to explain it, but people think I’m either insane, or I do it for the endorphins; I’m not sure they’re entirely wrong or right on either count. The longer distances I go, the more I “like” (up to a point) running. So what happens? I’m not entirely sure. I’m me, but not me. I’m running, but I’m not. At the peak jogs, the best ones, my body melts away, and my mind takes its path. I’m plugged into an audiobook, focused and melding into the story. In there, in the movement and deep listening, in the quick pace of books (1.6x) – I’m there and not there. I’m listening and wandering all at once. Transcendence?

That is why I run; I run to get away.

There are, of course, the normal fears that come chained to running and exercise. Fear of gaining too much weight; I have relatives with serious health problems – obesity, heart issues, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, etcetera – and I’m running away from those too. I’m also running to find balance, to put time in for myself and adding savings to my life bank. I’m feeling healthy and happier every day, and I’m sure that is thanks to my activity.  I run for my kid; exercise is not only fun but an important part of taking care of yourself. Couple that with the former fears, I’d like to be around as he ages. So I run for all those things too, it’s an added benefit.

So now I’m training even more: killing off the majority of a weekend morning to moving, and then squeezing in short runs during the week. Recently, I’ve found it hard to get up to and past 14 miles; I get tired, thirsty, hungry, and so on. But I’ve got until the end of October. I’m at the bottom of the hill again – I’m sweating in the quiet hot morning – either pedal or I’m late.

I had about two full paragraphs here about getting people motived before I cut them all. About the challenges I’ve faced as we roll out “the agency.” I’m not sure I have any good advice but to try everything you can and then go back through your list and try those things again. In short, my job relies on people that don’t answer to me, nor do I entirely work “for them;” their success in what I do heavily depends on their involvement. It’s a constant struggle to find new ways to say “help me, help you.”

Current thoughts: Expose clients to ‘the new world.’ Don’t put them in timeout, hold their hand – it’s easy to make people feel simple, it’s harder (and better in the long run) to educate.

I’ve also got a couple ‘big picture’ ideas crashing around in my head for work and having a busy mental day has left me excited and pretty scattered.

More soon.