"What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily?"
-- Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius
After a difficult end to 2016, I had hoped 2017 would bring a healthier and happier time in my life. In some ways this proved true. I reduced the amount of medication I ingested (if only temporarily), I expanded my reading tastes to include more non-fiction, and I made lasting changes to my lifestyle that I hope will pay dividends as I grow older. My daughter has grown in leaps and bounds and I'm as proud and hopeful for her now as always. I am, if anything, even more in love with my wife of 12 years. Our finances are solid and my job, while stressful, is as secure today as it was a year ago.
But 2017 held some unpleasant surprises as well. Most notable, my mother-in-law went to her doctor to complain about dizziness and left with a diagnosis of glioblastoma. This shocked the family, and from August until the week of Christmas a cycle of aggressive treatments and surgery corresponded to my wife repeatedly driving eight hour trips to provide support to her father. By Christmas we had exhausted our options and my mother-in-law is now reduced to hospice care and the Do-Not-Resuscitate order. Her decline is a powerful reminder of how fragile life can be, and the suddenness with which the unexpected can change a life's course.
Those of you who followed dannye's ordeal with brain cancer know how much is left unsaid in that previous paragraph. But I have found this past year that I'm less and less willing to share my thoughts with others. Maybe it is an acceptance of an increasingly misanthropic bent as I grow older, or maybe it is just a survival instinct when faced with great stress. This is my first submission in almost eight months. I had originally signed up for reQuest, but withdrew in the knowledge that whatever I submitted would be written as a compulsory measure and not from any overt desire to reintegrate into our small band of digital exiles.
Yet here I am. This summary of the past year is useful to me. It helps put my recent past in perspective, and it helps focus my energy for the future. So, my 2017 looked something like what follows.
Of my reading, I noted the this list in various journals and notebooks through the year:
- Shibumi by Trevanian (Read in honor of John Wick, interesting, learned a little about Go.)
- Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey (Sci-Fi fun, love the character "Amos".)
- Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey
- Babylon's Ashes by James S. A. Corey
- Dune by Frank Herbert (reread, holds up, a classic.)
- The Signal and the Noise : Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don't by Nate Silver (Informative and entertaining.)
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
- Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (First half is a powerful account of the Holocaust.)
- Borne by Jeff VanderMeer (Weird. Fun. I've come to enjoy this author a lot.)
- A Reader's Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year by Tom Nissley
- Hounded by Kevin Hearne (These are the Iron Druid series, complete brain candy, finally gave up on the sixth book.)
- Hexed by Kevin Hearne
- Hammered by Kevin Hearne
- Tricked by Kevin Hearne
- Trapped by Kevin Hearne
- Hunted by Kevin Hearne (DNF: Did Not Finish)
- Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Timothy Ferriss (Despite my dislike of the author, I loved the bits of advice / routines from the wide range of personalities.)
- The Iliad by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles(Surprisingly enjoyable, also, no Trojan horse. Who knew?)
- Moral Letters to Lucilius by Seneca the Younger, translated by Richard Mott Gummere
- How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger (Very inspirational, provided a course correction on my personal eating habits. Plenty of room for further improvement.)
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (DNF: Unlike last year's Ulysses, I did not finish this, but moved to something else.)
- Gateway by Frederik Pohl (DNF)
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau (Selected readings, I revisit this fairly regularly)
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain (DNF)
- One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Another powerful account of man's desire to rule other men, and the seduction of power, no matter how small.)
- Beren and Lúthien by J. R. R. Tolkien (Meh.)
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Weird, captivating, slow to develop but interesting and a little troubling.)
- The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (DNF. Got 1/3 of the way in and just lost interest.)
- Waiting for the Punch: Words to Live by from the WTF Podcast by Marc Maron
- Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (DNF. Barely started really. Hated it.)
- It's Been a Good Life by Isaac Asimov (Refreshing, inspiring memory of a person I admired as a kid. Still do, despite being able to see his flaws come through.)
- The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare (Enjoyed this, but loaded with issues when considered in a modern context.)
- Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell (Historical fiction brain candy. At least better than average brain candy though.)
Notable Events of 2017 (Hits and Misses)
- True to last year's resolution, we spent a huge amount of time going to the local parks to play and read. This is good for all of us, and the aim is to continue the habit as soon as winter is over.
- I started a monthly metrics spreadsheet that I print out and keep in my journal. This has a line for each day of the month and captures what I've focused on in my personal practice. The metrics vary a little, but December's included check boxes for daily flossing, body weight, miles walked, sex, water consumed, books finished, in-bed before 10:30 PM, and dollars in personal spending pile. This was another successful habit I've started, and it dovetails into keeping a daily journal because I open the one to complete the other each morning.
- Failure at work continued. Our leadership has obstinately refused to admonish my supervisor despite repeated complaints from our entire group. At least until a few weeks ago when they took the limited action of sending him home for a few days. This is too little too late, as I now represent the last employee on my floor. Since his arrival, this supervisor has driven away thirteen staff members. We are functionally crippled, and the environment is toxic in the extreme. So a challenge for the coming year is how best to navigate work.
- I tried a daily notecard practice where I would write three goals to accomplish in the day, with at least one meant as a 'quick win' that could be accomplished early in the morning. This had mixed results, but it is worth revisiting and trying to alter it to a more successful practice.
- Journaling has become a real joy. Always a fan of notebooks and stationary, I picked up some softcover, large format notebooks and colored gel pens at Costco, and I've kept a daily record since last August. I also catalogued the variety of diaries and journals I've used going back to 2003.
- The solar eclipse proved as interesting and awe inspiring as expected. I left work early and set up lawn chairs under our old dogwood tree. My family watched as the eclipse progressed (our area was about 98% occulted) and we drew pinhole shadows with time stamps to show it unfolding over time. Very memorable moment with my wife and daughter.
- I started drinking coffee. A lot. It had a noticeable effect on improving my happiness and sense of well-being. Unfortunately, it had an even more noticeable effect on my stomach, an already frail creature, and I am now once again taking omeprazole (Prilosec) daily. Under my doctor's orders, I am no longer drinking coffee. Fail!
- With the introduction of daily amitriptyline to help manage my chronic arm and hand pain, I revisited some past hobbies. A friend let me borrow one of his spare guitars, a beautiful Danelectro, and the joy I felt strumming for the first time in 15 years, well, I can't really describe it. Making music is one of the most hurtful losses I have experienced in a life of chronic pain. But the momentary elation crashed to a halt by Day 3. Even through the pain medication my arms and shoulders locked up like the Tin Man. With a heavy heart I returned the guitar to my friend.
- In the summer I sold another chunk of my old Magic: The Gathering cards and used the money to purchase a PC for my daughter. There was enough left over to order a drawing table. As a preteen and young adult, I spent hour after hour drawing at one of these, and now my daughter also loves to draw. My hope is that I can ease back into it as well with better success than I had with the guitar.
- Last year's medical issues also impacted my annual Halloween binge, so this year I was determined to enjoy the season. While I did not enter anything into the Horrorquest (sorry Scott!), I did manage to watch the following movies:
- Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (with my daughter, who enjoyed it)
- Prince of Darkness (I always include John Carpenter, and it had been years since I saw this one. Loved it.)
- Gremlins (another one with kiddo, she loved the slapstick campiness of this one. Lots of fun.)
- The Nightmare (a documentary about sleep paralysis, this scared my wife so bad we had to turn it off within 5 minutes of starting)
- Aliens: Covenant (every time I think this series can't disappoint me further, I'm proved wrong. Fuck you Ridley Scott!)
- Salem's Lot (1979) (as a kid I remembered this scaring me, and I think the book it is based on is an almost perfect horror story. This film, however, definitely DID NOT hold up to the test of time.)
- Slumber Party Massacre (an early '80s flick that my wife and I both enjoyed. There's some interesting trivia here as well, and the gender-bender aspect was great too.)
- Ginger Snaps (Canada's entry on my list this year, and fun!)
- The Babysitter (one of Netflix's homegrown films, this turned out to be a lot of fun. Very much worth a watch, in the vein of Cabin in the Woods.)
- The Conjuring (another one ended early, my wife got creeped out at the empty house.)
- 10 Cloverfield Lane (I had heard mixed reviews of this, but once it got going I got sucked in, and ultimately thought this was a great approach to the idea.)
- Don't Breathe (another newer, more polished film than my usual Halloween fare, but we enjoyed this a lot. Except for the turkey baster, avert thine eyes!!! DON"T LOOK!)
- The Mummy (this recent remake with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe was supposed to signal the start of a new run of the Universal Monsters series. If so, that reboot is Dead on Arrival (pun intended), because this is possibly the worst thing I have seen in a decade. Truly, truly bad filmmaking on display here.
- Stranger Things, Season 2 (They have a formula, it works, they stuck with it (except for that weird urban interlude), and this proved as satisfying as the first. And Paul Reiser, awesome!)
- Since 2001 I have on-again, off-again played the first MMORPG, Ultima Online. It is a guilty love like no other for me. The isometric view, built on top of the framework from Ultima VII and Ultima VIII, evokes wave after wave of nostalgia for me. This year Ultima Online turned 20, and the miniscule staff that supports the game held a party in northern Virgina to celebrate. I couldn't make it, but my longtime friend and guildmate Talia not only had lunch with Lord British himself, but sent me a box load of autographed items and memorabilia. They join my cloth map collection from Ultima III through IX that I have hanging proudly in my office.
Through this past year I maintained a focus on saving as much as possible (even against the stinging cost of $8700 for a new roof). In my race to retire early, we have saved and earned $58,000 since this time last year. We live a largely simple life, have an older, smaller home, and save religiously. My goal is to retire in ten years, or sooner if we can save enough. While I fall short of the target for early retirement extreme, I am at least jumping in the right direction. Were it not for the dark cloud of medical expenses that follows me through life, I am sure that goal would be achievable. As it is now, I worry that medical care will forever tie me to employment as long as healthcare policy in the US remains unchanged.
Looking ahead to 2018, I want to build on the successes of this past year, learn something from my failures of 2017, and provide a source of strength, security, and comfort for my family as they deal with loss in the coming months. Last year I refrained from specific resolutions, but this year I will record for next year's review a list of goals (and books to be read):
- I want to limit myself to only taking TWO personal days at work. This is a real challenge, given the environment, but I should conserve more of my leave for family emergencies.
- I want to read at least 50 books. Of those, I want to at least give the following a chance or reread:
- How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World: A Handbook for Personal Liberty by Harry Browne
- The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie Jr.(random Redditt recommendation in a genre I've ignored outside Cormac McCarthy)
- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by B. Traven (ditto)
- The How Not to Die Cookbook by Michael Greger (building on last year's success)
- Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss (again, like his previous one, I'm interested in what his guests have to say, not his own thoughts)
- The Four Pillars of Investing by William Bernstein
- Early Retirement Extreme: A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Financial Independence by Jacob Lund Fisker (revisiting after a few years)
- More Shakespeare plays, based on Asimov's love of the Bard and my recent enjoyment of Shrew
- The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837-1861 (if it can be found cheaply or through inter-library loan)
- Along with whatever else catches my eye through the year....
- I want to continue tracking my savings and expenses to reach my 2018 year end goal ($235,000)
- I want to reduce clutter by selling unused hobby stuff from years past (specifically DnD miniatures, books I no longer reference, gaming paraphernalia, etc)
- I want to floss a minimum of 350 days of the year (2017 trend would be at or above this)
- I want to walk 250 miles outside (warmer months) and 20 hours (1200 minutes) of elliptical inside (winter months)
- I want to journal at least 350 days of 2018.
"Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and, second, to have what is enough."
-- Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius