Unrealized inspiration

I’ve tried a couple of time to give a recap of what has happened over the past several months since the fire but every attempt came out bad. Since something else has happened that I want to write about I’ll give a quick synopsis: month in hotel, dog anxiety, found nice place, still settling in, dog happy, we’re good.

Anyway, the other night I got a text from my mom that read “Do you hear from Hans? It has been quite a while since I have and the phone number is no longer valid.” Which was odd, because I had just that day realized I needed to call him on the weekend. It had been eight months since we talked and I wanted to catch up – he was my inspiration to get into programming back in the day and I was getting back to it. Four minutes of research later I found the obituary. He had passed away in April, eight months earlier and just a short time after our last conversation. Now eight months was longer than we usually went between calls but not by a lot. Thirty four years of friendship has that kind of time dilating effect.

To say that Hans had been a big influence on my life would be an understatement. I met him in Albuquerque as a wannabe punk 12 year old geek in the making. I had started playing Dungeons and Dragons and he ran a game. I know my parents were concerned at first, as he was 19, but things were on the up and up and he eventually became a family friend – even coming over for many Thanksgivings because he had no family in town. I learned my first pieces of programming from him – something which turned into my first career.

But the way he inspired me was just by being authentically himself. When I met him in 1982 he had recently moved to Albuquerque from Idaho. Why did he make the move? Because he lived there for a few years as a kid and knew that was the place for him. And he made the move by loading his backpack and saddlebags, and riding his 10-speed bicycle 1300 miles. During the thirty four years I knew him he mainly spent his free time doing one of three things: photography/videography, playing D&D, and teaching computer skills. He could have “done something” with his life but he liked tutoring kids at community centers, especially in poorer neighborhoods, so they could “do something”. When we talked I’d hear the typical problem roommate stories, but more often it was how great the classes were going and how I should start programming again.

Hans did not march to the beat of his own drummer. He marched to a freeware drum machine app that he downloaded from somewhere, then played around with until it sounded good. I will miss you, my friend. Gods keep you.


I am standing outside my apartment. Three people are inside, packing up everything. Later some other people will evaluate everything to decide whether is it fine, fixable,  or fucked. 

It is humbling. A life summed up in boxes and tagged large items, to be inspected by some disinterested third party. Is this who I am? A PS4, some boardgames, and an exercise bike? At some points in my life it seems like I answered yes. No, not “answered”. That implies a decision. More like passively accepted society telling me who I was.

People seem surprised with how calm I am about the fire. And I guess I am. But the loss of things isn’t too terrible. Sure, a few precious things are gone. But now I have the opportunity to be mindful.of what I bring back into my life. It is easier to say “No, thank you” than “Goodbye”.

Unexpected pushes

For several month Jules and I have been on autopilot in many ways. She has been focusing on work – more hours are almost always great when you consult – and I have just been caught up in the normal stresses of call center management. Plus physical therapy so I can skate again.

That led to many weeks where we’d say to each other “We need to do some downsizing this weekend” or “Hey, we can go through <X> and see what we really need”. But then on Saturday we’d get involved with other things to destress and completely forget about it until Tuesday or Wednesday.

This morning we got a swift kick in the asses. I was having a nice Saturday morning cuppa tea when I heard someone loudly say “Fire!” Not a shout, just someone speaking loudly. That sounded odd so I looked out the back door and saw flames reflected in the next building. Long story short – Jules, Ciarda, and I are all fine. We made it out with paperwork, computers, and (after the fire was out) most of our clothing.

Now a lot of our stuff is trashed.

The first picture is our bedroom. Our bed is somewhere under there. As is my table full of stuff. The second picture is Jules’ office. You can’t see the windows because the ceiling has fallen down and covered them. Both of them have ceiling covering everything. Most things are waterlogged. What are we going to do? We are going to move on.

Brutal Calculations

Good morning! Life has been life, lately. And life, as John Lennon quoted from Allen Saunders, is what happens when you make other plans. I really wanted to come back with something about that aspect of life but realized that I needed to talk about something else first – the choices we make about what we do and having to balance what we Want To Do with what we are Required To Do. Brutal Calculations as I have started to think of them.

Brutal Calculations. We all make them. They are part of the lives of every single person on the planet. An example for me commonly is between work and practice. Playing roller derby is a huge passion for me. Having been injured I need to work harder to come back and part of that is going to practice and actually skating. Practice and working out becomes a priority. Then I have work, which is a supervisory/management position. That means I have a lot of stuff to get done with deadlines. It also means that I get assigned extra tasks based on business need and I am expected to complete them. Even if I have to unexpectedly work late that night to do it.

And there you have it. The choice between roller derby, an activity which lifts my spirit and brings me joy, and work, which keeps a roof over my head but isn’t “uplifting”. A Brutal Calculation.

But the choices don’t have to be that stark or depressing. It can be the choice between playing Fallout 4 (very fun in the moment, no long term benefits), writing (can be fun, working on a skill that will be useful), and working out (quite a chore, great benefits). If you have limited resources you have to make them. Do you buy the Deluxe, Super Premium, Every Channel Possible Cable Package, or do you take classes to indulge a hobby? Do you pay the phone bill or the electric bill?

Well, lately my choices have been work, working out, the aforementioned Fallout 4, and watching old episodes of Would I Lie to You? It is time for me to change prioritization.More writing. More working out. More practice. What about you? What calculations do you want to change in your life?


Benefits and consequences

It has been about two months since I started on my project to change my lifestyle. After years of thinking it would be nice to have less stuff cluttering my life (or, as I’m coming to view it “garbage”) but feeling I couldn’t do anything about it, I was inspired to make the changes. I started off with all the enthusiasm of a new convert. It was new and inspiring and great. It got tough at points but I persevered. Then life started happening. Work hours changed and while I still worked the same number of hours the schedule messed up my sleeping patterns. But I soldiered on, albeit with less energy and less adherence to the rigid challenges I had set myself.

In the last week and a half – starting the day after my last post – things got rather hectic. It started on a Thursday. Jules had found an apartment that sounded good – decent price, allowed dogs, decent neighborhood. I had a feeling about the apartment so I skipped practice to view it with Jules on Thursday night. It looked good. Not great, not the answer to all my prayers, but good. So we filled out an application immediately and settled ourselves to wait. We figured we could get the place and negotiate to move in a couple of weeks.

On Friday the building owner called us. He had spent part of the day verifying our information but had been unable to verify my employment. The joys of working in a huge corporation. We figured out how to do that but I would have to do it from work. Since I had already gone home it would wait until Monday. Once we had that we figured we could negotiate a good move in date.

Saturday was going through stuff with a little more urgency than usual.

Sunday I found this in the bedroom closet: 20160409-1

Black mold. Our situation just went from “Let’s do this right” to “Let’s do this right NOW”.

Monday, we were approved and signed the lease. On Tuesday we took bedding, some clothing, toiletries, dog supplies, and enough food to get by for a bit. We have spent the rest of week moving as much as we can each night. It is now Saturday and we are not yet done but all that remains is bits and pieces.

This is our living room now:


And this isn’t everything. We have unpacked some stuff in the bedroom and office. We moved almost all of our stuff – leaving only the things we had already decided to donate. There is a lot more to go through. But time was of the essence. We could not follow our plan of “Move only what we want; donate or sell the rest”. This is a consequence of our obsessive need to accumulate stuff, to buy more to fill that emotional hole.

However, we had already started our winnowing process. We spent two month working on it. This could have been much worse.


Time flies but stuff gets done

Well, life has been kind of busy. Moved into a different department at work so I had to transition my team over to someone else and get into the swing of the new team. Lots of stuff to do. And this move came with yet another schedule change – and I rarely do well with schedule changes. But things settle and it is time to write again. Although I probably should not have waited until shortly before I have to head out.

Cleaning stuff out has gone well. Jules has been her usual amazing self and gotten many things out the door. I have moved most of my “keep” stuff downstairs. I have more stuff to sell – time to learn how to sell on eBay. Do people still use eBay anymore? Also, once I have everything out of the upstairs I will need to winnow the downstairs. There are probably many things that can go – I really don’t need three guitars for Rock Band.

We are also having some trouble finding a place. I guess the toughest part is finding one that takes dogs.

There you go. Back to writing. Not very inspiring on the face of it. No bon mots, no pithy wisdom, no uplifting words. But read again – life is throwing up roadblocks and we are getting past them. It may not be glamorous, but we’re getting there.

Are ruts bad?

Moving is generally considered one of the top life stressors, up there with major illness, job loss, death of a loved one, and divorce. We haven’t moved yet, but in getting rid of so much stuff (stuff removal update below) it is like we are having a mini-move before our move. And you can ask people who have known me for a while – I don’t deal well with these kinds of changes.

“But Val, what does this have to do with being stuck in a rut?” you might ask, because by now you have realized that my post titles tend to be a setup for the posts themselves. First, what is meant by “stuck in a rut”? People use that term when they feel they are stuck doing the same thing, day after day, week after week. They may feel that there is no excitement or energy to what they do, or that the effort of doing something different is too great to alter their routine. Eventually it just becomes easy to do what you always do. You can just go with the flow without much thought. And eventually get bored.

Most of the time people don’t like doing the same thing, day after day after day. You start feeling like there is something missing, like you could be doing something more. Or at least something else. But when things go topsy-turvy that rut can help out. When life starts knocking you around, when things get rough, having an easy path that doesn’t require much mental effort to follow can be a lifesaver. You can save that brainpower to deal with the emotional turmoil -whatever the cause.

Declutter update:

Jules continues to do amazing work. She is our extrovert and has already sent off our dining room table, my old bike that I haven’t ridden in a decade, and a propane grill off to new homes. She has also found a new home for the piano, but the new owner needs to arrange for a mover. She has also taken a bunch of stuff to Goodwill – both hers and some of the stuff I pulled out from under the stairs. I have some skate gear to go through to either donate to my league’s loaner gear or sell. Today is also the day I start going through the bedroom and moving more stuff into the donation room. I also need to check on selling some drums.

I took her to a supermarket

I don’t know why but I had to start it somewhere. And that is what is happening soon. I’m trying to figure out the best way I can do this quickly and it turns out that I need to set things up right to efficiently declutter. Now, this isn’t a case where I’m saying I have to have the right music or it needs to be the right time of day or I need to be in the mood. Given my mental makeup, I get overwhelmed if I try to go through things “in place”. I get distracted, lose track, and end up playing with stuff. But I used to do this – my mom would say “not often and not willingly” – when I was younger. How did I do it?

Well, I would clear a space in my messy room. And by that I mean I would take a section of my room, generally about an eighth of the room, and remove everything from it. I would shovel stuff from one section of the floor to another. Any small furniture would get moved. Stuff would come down from shelves. Then I would go through the now-even-messier seven-eighths of my room and look for everything that belonged in the empty eighth. Once that was complete I would repeat the process with another section. During all of this I would find stuff that I obviously didn’t want (garbage, broken things, clothes I hated, etc) and move it to the hallway to be disposed of.

My bed was always the last section. Now, the only things that belonged on the bed were my bedding and the books I was currently reading. That meant that anything left there was most likely something I didn’t need or want and could be removed.

Now what does all this mean today? It means I am going to clear a space. And when I say that I am going to do it I mean Jules is doing the lion’s share of the work to find new homes for stuff because she is amazing and I’d just throw it out rather than deal with strangers. We have a space that looks like this:


Not too bad, right? A little cluttered but manageable. But if we pull back the curtains:


A bunch of stuff we don’t need. A lot of it was not ours originally – neither of us plays piano, which is what you can see a little of under those boxes. Jules has found a new home for the table (it is going away tonight to a needy family) and we are really trying to find someone to take the piano. Other stuff under there includes my old chain mail gear, an air conditioner, boxes and bags of stuff. We are going to clear this out on Saturday.

Then I will relive part of my childhood, hauling stuff I want to keep from my old bedroom down to here. Everything else can go.

The symbol is not the dream

When I was young I wanted to drum but I didn’t have encouragement. I remember being told many times to “stop banging” on whatever it was at the moment – a margarine tub, a bucket, or even all of my mom’s pots and pans upended on the floor like a drum kit. They tried to have my dad teach me guitar but my fingers just wouldn’t move right. I joined band and the teacher made me a saxophonist. I even tried learning bass as a teenager. None of that felt right. Part of me always wanted to drum.

Years later I shared this desire with someone very near and dear to me. Another friend had purchased a doumbek and in hushed tones, as if I were embarrassed to admit it, I told her that I had always wanted to do that too. She excitedly told me that I should – but I didn’t right away. Maybe because that friend had just started and I didn’t want to “copy” her. Maybe I was just scared.

A few months later we went to an event put on by a group in the Society for Creative Anachronism. It was called Pennsic and it was incredible. Lots of classes, performances, food, music, parties, great people. And merchants. Several of those merchants sold musical instruments. I decided to splurge and get a doumbek, because who knows if I’d get an opportunity back in Wisconsin. If I had known then what I knew just six months later, I wouldn’t have gotten it – because it was the wrong style for the way I would end up playing. And if I had known then what I knew a 18 months later I would have waited until I got home because not quite 100 miles from my house was a master drum maker.

In that year and a half I purchased five or six drums of varying low to mediocre quality. All but one of those drums has been given away. I purchased two doumbeks from Abdul Hamid Alwan, a wonderful man with a great shop in Milwaukee, WI that sold many, many things. And in the back of that shop were drums.


The one on the right is the first drum I purchased there. It was great and wonderful and I loved playing it. The drum on the left (with the hard case) is one that Hamid used for a while when he performed. It is a gorgeous drum that I bought to play at my first wedding. That marriage didn’t last long and, while this drum is even nicer to play than the first, I could never really bring myself to play it much.

Anyway, I posted on Facebook that I am selling them. Two drums from a now retired master drum maker whose clients included professional musicians in the Middle East. Both have meant a lot to me. But they deserve to be in homes where they bring music and joy.

But don’t worry, I still have this lovely drum…



I haven’t posted in a couple of days because, well, lots of reasons. Busy time at work (month end can be like that). Getting back to roller derby. Morning workouts taking time from writing. But also because I’ve had to shift my method of getting rid of stuff.

One thing I can have problems with is long term time estimation. If there is a long time before something happens then there is always a long time before it happens. At least there is until reality slaps me in the face with a reminder that there is only a short time. That’s what happened here. Jules informed me that we had less than two months until we moved. Not really enough time for me to leisurely filter things out. Nope, I need to “get a wriggle on” as Jules says.

But as I’ve said before, sticking me in a room and telling me to go through everything turns into me working hard for 15-30 minutes, getting overwhelmed, and then being distracted by things. And I can’t rely on Jules to constantly keep me company while I do everything. So I’m trying to come up with ways to do this that minimize the “supervision” I need with this to keep on track. I have some thoughts, but suggestions are always appreciated.