Monday, January 25, 2016


Disclaimer: When I told this story to some friends in person, I mis-remembered some of the exact details, and since that version is funnier than the truth, I'm going to employ the use of "historical fiction" in my opening paragraph.

The other day I ordered some calcium pills from Amazon (because I'm an old man now - I'm thirty! :) and combined with a couple other items in my cart I had maybe $50 or $60 worth of merch. Then I realized, "hey, this deodorant is half the price at Sam's club," so that got deleted from my cart. And some of the other stuff in my cart, after reflection (and asking myself, "what would Alissa [my girlfriend] buy?") I deleted them because I realized it was an irresponsible impulse buy that I didn't need.

This left me with a cart of things I "needed" (calcium pills, and an iPhone car charger), and it also left me $10 short of getting the free shipping. Ain't nobody got money for shipping around here! I desperately needed to spend 10 more dollars so I could save five dollars on shipping. I'm not sure whether that's real irony, "Alanis Morissette irony," or just plain silly, but nevertheless an hour later, I was still wracking my brain for something that I "needed" to buy. Eventually I found a used book I've been wanting (Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn), a movie (Harvey), and some honey in a bear-shaped container to round out my purchase.

As my friend Matt pointed out when I shared this story with him, the opportunity cost of my time was way more than the price of shipping. I'm probably a little too stubborn and don't know when to call it quits on a sunk cost.

My point, though, is this: in that hour wasting time window shopping at Amazon, I realized I have reached that magical, mythical, unheard-of-in-America, land of enough. Now of course, there are plenty of things I could spend more money on, like Star Wars Legos, or lightsabers, or more board games, and on and on and on. Which is what my society tells me I should do, because what I have already can never be enough. But it is. That moment for me was profound.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Gary, part 6

From October 30, 2015.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

'Twas the night before Halloween and I was on my way to Northfield to meet up with a friend. Standing outside in the dark, there you were. I pulled a hard left turn, followed by one of the most awkward parking jobs I've ever done (it involved a few extra turns, a loop, and backing into what I'm not sure in retrospect was a legitimate parking spot), and walked over to talk with you. I admit I was not in the most sympathetic (or is it empathetic?) mood.

As we small-talked, you mentioned your characteristic refrain of your unstable health. I was sad to hear your woes, sad to hear your body has rejected two transplants (for which organ, I wasn't clear), and sad as well at my reaction. This blog post is going to be the real me, with no make-up covering my struggles and opinions that may be, perhaps, judge-worthy.

To put it bluntly and unlovingly: how does an unhealthy, non-working and non-employable older man come in line for a transplant (twice) in front of younger patients who, given a chance at life, might change the world? (a child who, with the gift of a transplanted organ, might become be the next Steve Jobs, or Mother Theresa, or Rosa Parks, or...) I suspect I'm lost to the dark side of judgmentalism, but it just plain bothers me that you were given two, and possibly soon three, chances at a transplant, when so many people are waiting on organs (over 120,000). Even in the time it will take me to finish write this blog post, another person will die waiting on a transplant. (My frustration is now assuaged marginally after researching and learning that, of those on the waiting list, less than 2000 are children. Statistics generated from US Department of Health & Human Services.)

And then there is the sheer dollar amount involved. Hospital stays are expensive, surgeries are expensive, the new special medication you're going to start is ultra-expensive, and even before we first met, all those trips to the ER you've always talked about are expensive. Someone's paying for those. My inner-curmudgeon asks, "is it my tax dollars?" And am I okay with that? How should my faith influence (dictate?) my response?

My curmudgeon also wants to know: at what point does this system break? How much public assistance can (or should) be given to non-productive members of Community until it becomes untenable? Can a Community sustain itself with that kind of drain of non-productiveness?

For my girlfriend, the answer was easy: you're a child of God, and that makes you worthy. Period.

I probably should be okay with that answer, but I find myself still struggling. Of course, then I also must face the question: "who am I to say who's life is more worthy than another's?" Am I more worthy than you? I mean, my own Crohn's treatment is expensive, the brunt of which is borne by my insurance - is it my place to say "I'm a productive and contributing member of society, and therefore I'm more worthy"?

I could probably ramble on for a while, but I think instead, this is the place where I simply pray, "God, please soften my heart."

There is a second part to this story. As we wrapped up our conversation, I told you I would go grocery shopping and buy you some protein shakes, cereal, and milk. (to be honest, I also thanked God that you didn't ask to join me in this trip to the grocery store, because I would not have had the patience or humility to walk slowly with you through the long aisles). I confirmed which apartment building you were in, you told me your apartment number, and we agreed on a time when I'd drop the food off the next morning. And because you couldn't remember your own phone number, I gave you yet another of my business cards (you'd lost all the previous ones I've given you) and you said you'd call me so I would get your new number.

The next morning, after wrapping up coffee with a friend who himself is deeply involved in social justice for people experiencing unstable housing, I visited the grocer and picked up all the items on your list. When I got to your apartment building, I scrolled through the entryway's phone directory and didn't see you listed. Thinking maybe I had your last name wrong, I went back through the directory - since there were no first names, only first initials, I dialed up the only "G" name in the list... and reached a kind-but-definitely-not-Gary woman. I waited, hoping the door might see some traffic, and was rewarded 10 minutes later when a postal worker let me in.

You'd said you lived in apartment #46, and since all the numbers on main floor were in the 100s, I went down the elevator to level 0, where I found... cars. Lots of cars. And no apartments. Then I tried going up to 4th floor, thinking maybe I'd misunderstood and you had said "406". I knocked on 406's door and when a friendly young African American lady answered the door I exclaimed "you're not Gary!" She was very sweet, but she'd never heard of you.

Walking back to my car, I saw another apartment building across the street. The front door was locked, but the back door wasn't. ... In retrospect this all sounds incredibly creepy and stalkerish, but I swear all I wanted to do was deliver the two [heavy] bags of groceries I was lugging around! Anyway in apartment building #2 I looked at the directory and your name wasn't there. There was only one "G" name here as well, and I tried knocking on that door but no one answered.

Not willing to admit defeat I drove several times up and down the street where you panhandle, but you were not there. I checked inside the Arby's you like to eat at, and you were not there. I checked a third nearby apartment building and you weren't in the directory.

Then I gave up. I sulked back to the grocery store to return the food that I had bought for you. (they weren't able to take back the dairy, so I kept the half gallon of milk). If I see you again, maybe we can try this again, but until then I'm very miffed. By your irresponsibility in failing to call me so that I had any contact information for you, and by your irresponsibility of not even knowing your own phone number so I could have put it in my phone right away last night when I asked for it, you have reinforced negative stereotypes (that "homeless people are irresponsible", which I know is an unfair and unjustified stereotype) at a time when I was already struggling to fight against those in my head. And you've reinforced the notion for me that no good deed goes unpunished. It makes me sad and less inclined to do nice things for strangers. Is that fair? No, not at all, but it is reality. You wasted my time - two hours of my precious "me time", of which I get so little, now squandered, and that is not OK. My heart is growing hardened and jaded, and that makes me very, very sad.

One might reasonably ask why I even bothered at all? It's a valid question, especially when the previous paragraph sounds like I'm playing a victim card when I'm not the real victim. The answer boils down to a different question, and how I answer it: "Do the Weak have a moral claim on the Strong?" I don't think so. But the Strong do have a moral call to help the Weak. You (Gary) may not have a moral claim to demand my resources (time, money), but I do have the moral obligation to provide them. Or, put another way: the world is unfair, but those who are in a position to help make the world a little bit less unfair, also carry a moral obligation to try.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Goals for 2016

Apparently I completely missed setting goals for 2015, because the last blog post I can find about goals was from March of 2014. Oops! Guess that means I didn't accomplish anything last year :)

Now now, that's not true. I in fact wrote two blog posts about life lessons learned (blog post 1, blog post 2), which are closely tied to my personal-improvement goal-setting of 2014 and prior years. I also actively pursued online dating, and have been in a relationship with a wonderful (and very patient) young woman for the past 9 months. For those of you who've been to my house and noticed my goals & timeline wall in my basement, well, eHarmony is checked off that list!

As I reviewed my goals from 2014, most of them were linked to personality traits - for example: anger management or maintaining a healthy life/work balance - and I believe I've accomplished the majority. A couple, such as punctuality and eating more healthfully, I've done less well at, so I'll continue to work on those.

For my 2016 goals, I'm leaning more heavily on the tangible, measurable accomplishments than previous years, though I still have at least a few personality-related improvements. Here we go:

  • Aspire to live more like Elwood P. Dowd (see my "next decade" goals from Life Lessons part 2)
  • Spend time with the people I want to spend time with, and learn to say "no" to other invitations
  • Stand up for my right to "me time" and not overbook myself
  • Continue to refine my budget, and be better at saying "no" to eating out; also, continue my trend of not buying alcoholic beverages when I'm out with friends (unless someone else is buying!), which easily saves perhaps $10 each outing
  • Pay off more than half of my remaining car loan (~$13,000, so at least $6,500) by year's end
  • Max out my 401(k) contributions for the year, or, purchase a rental property using that money as a downpayment
  • Listen to 30 or more audiobooks, at least 5 of which are literary classics (aka, my typical Star Wars books won't count :). This should be very reasonable to achieve, since last year I listened to 60 audiobooks (and read 4 paperbacks). Considering my goal in 2010 was to read ONE book, I think this is good progress!
  • Practice guitar at least once a week
  • Exercise at least twice a week
  • Lose 15 pounds - I'm currently at 155, and I'd like to be at 140 by year's end; this means eating fewer sweets :(
  • Visit my friend in prison at least once this year
  • Have an environmentally conscious yard, which will include lots of milkweed and butterfly & bee-friendly plants (this work is already planned for springtime)
  • Have a clean basement by year's end; this means spending at least an hour each week working down there
  • Try again to record a CD, which roughly means finish writing 1 song every month, and saving money from each paycheck for the recording process

Those are Jeremy's "official" goals for the year. Please help hold me accountable!

Friday, January 01, 2016

Books I read in 2015

Throughout high school, college, and early adulthood, I struggled and failed to fully board the "reading books" bandwagon. This is partially because I'm a slow reader (who would have thought?) but mostly because sitting in one place to read a paper book, without being able to multitask because "reading" requires my eyes stay focused on the page - ain't nobody got time for that. Then in late 2011 I discovered audiobooks, and my world changed.

In 2015, I read 4 old-fashioned paperbacks, and listened to 60 audiobooks, a new personal record. Some were phenomenally amazing (Blue Like Jazz, Ready Player One, William Shakespeare's Star Wars); some were phenomenally boring (Howards End, Monte Christo); a few were just plain "bad" (*my opinion; I'm looking at you, Maze Runner trilogy; and also that Joyce Meyer book, and also Chuck Wendig's Aftermath); some were classics (Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes, Dune, Monte Cristo, To Kill a Mockingbird, Dracula, Animal Farm, et al); and 22 were Star Wars books :) Beggars In Spain was a re-listen because it was life-changing for me the first time; and William Shakespeare's Star Wars I listened to twice in a row, because it was just that good.

The average length of these audiobooks was 11 hours and 9 minutes (thrown off slightly by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 70+ hour complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories; without Holmes, the average length of my 2015 books drops to 10 hours and 8 minutes). My average amount of listening per day was 2 hours and 4 minutes.

TitleAuthorAudiobook length
Star Wars: William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh BackIan Doescher3:25:25
Star Wars: AftermathChuck Wendig12:16:00
Star Wars: Backlash (Fate of the Jedi book 4)Aaron Allston11:10:20
Star Wars: Abyss (Fate of the Jedi book 3)Troy Denning11:19:03
Star Wars: Omen (Fate of the Jedi book 2)Christie Golden8:25:51
Star Wars: Rule of Two (Darth Bane book 2)Drew Karpyshyn10:12:00
Ready Player OneErnest Cline15:40:00
Star Wars: Dark DiscipleChristie Golden11:12:00
Brave New WorldAldous Huxley8:00:02
Animal FarmGeorge Orwell3:11:46
Star Wars: Outcast (Fate of the Jedi book 1)Aaron Allston10:12:11
Star Wars: Path of Destruction (Darth Bane book 1)Drew Karpyshyn12:16:00
Star Wars: The Old Republic: AnnihilationDrew Karpyshyn9:39:27
Star Wars: The Old Republic: RevanDrew Karpyshyn10:52:23
The Fate of TenPittacus Lore10:41:25
DraculaBram Stoker14:32:38
Star Wars: William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth ReturnIan Doescher3:35:00
Star Wars: The Old Republic: DeceivedPaul S. Kemp9:25:59
The Screwtape LettersC. S. Lewis3:36:38
Star Wars: The Clone WarsKaren Traviss7:47:14
Star Wars: Red HarvestJoe Schreiber7:56:10
Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal AllianceSean Williams13:47:44
William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope
(listened again, because it was that good)
Ian Doescher3:29:15
Peter PanJ. M. Barrie5:39:49
William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New HopeIan Doescher3:29:15
Go Set a WatchmanHarper Lee6:57:00
My ÁntoniaWilla Cather7:19:57
Star Wars: CrucibleTroy Denning12:08:00
The Death Cure (Book 3 in the Maze Runner series)James Dashner8:55:19
Star Wars: ScoundrelsTimothy Zahn13:57:27
The Kill Order (prequel to Maze Runner trilogy)James Dashner10:02:00
I Am Number Four: The Lost Files: Rebel AlliesPittacus Lore8:04:13
The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnMark Twain9:24:00
Howards EndE. M. Forster11:04:14
To Kill A MockingbirdHarper Lee12:17:00
The Scorch Trials (Book 2 in the Maze Runner series)James Dashner10:23:03
The Battlefield of the MindJoyce Meyer6:27:08
Mere ChristianityC.S. Lewis5:52:41
What We Talk About When We Talk About GodRob Bell4:25:20
Star Wars: TarkinJames Luceno9:27:13
Maze RunnerJames Dashner10:50:27
Star Wars: Lords of the SithPaul S. Kemp10:56:53
Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedRob Bell3:39:27
Children of DuneFrank Herbert16:51:10
The Count of Monte CristoAlexandre Dumas46:56:39
What on Earth Have I Done?: Stories, Observations, and AffirmationsRobert Fulghum6:15:39
Dune MessiahFrank Herbert8:57:00
DuneFrank Herbert21:02:12
Life TogetherDietrich Bonhoeffer3:37:54
Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in ExileRob Bell, Don Golden3:25:10
Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy ThompsonPatricia Briggs14:53:09
The Normal Christian LifeWatchman Nee7:42:56
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the VoidMary Roach10:27:52
Dead Heat: Alpha and Omega, Book 4Patricia Briggs11:25:48
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: No PrisonersKaren Traviss7:10:39
Jane EyreCharlotte Brontë21:47:32
Blue Like Jazz: Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian SpiritualityDonald Miller7:00:57
Beggars in SpainNancy Kress16:10:52
Brentwood's WardMichelle Griep10:24:19
The Complete Stories of Sherlock HolmesArthur Conan Doyle70:48:20

And the paperbacks:

  • Shadows of the Empire, by Steve Perry
  • The Grimjinx Rebellion, by Brian Farrey
  • The Shadowhand Covenant, by Brian Farrey
  • The Vengekeep Prophecies, by Brian Farrey