Life · Observations

2017: A Retrospective

So, 2017…glad it’s over.

Depending on what side of the US political fence you sit, it was the best year ever or the absolute worst. Either way, it’s been exhausting. Polarizing.

Weinstein and the long overdue fallout.

Tornadoes. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

The Las Vegas shooting. The Egyptian mosque shooting. The Texas church shooting. The shootings. Always more shootings.

California on fire, again. Or is it still?

The birth of Fidget Spinners. The death of Net Nuetrality.

Friends were diagnosed with cancer. Or were declared to be in remission.

Friends lost jobs, some found new ones. Plans were rearranged.

Friends got engaged, got pregnant, got divorced.

Here at home, we lost two dogs to illnesses, four months apart.

We decided to keep the kitten who showed up on our doorstep in November. Against our better judgement.

Personally, 2017 was a year of introspection, although that isn’t really the right word. Probably not. Self-reflection is probably more accurate.

With so much going on “out there” out of control, it’s easy to get caught up in it. Show me one time that actually helps things, yet we still do it. I know it never helps me handle it. Much more effective for me is to just work on what I do with the information. Focus my attention and mental energy on what’s really important and the people I care about.

Late this year, I decided to make a conscious effort to do more of the things I enjoy, which sounds stupid, but I tend to be the first to say “I can’t [insert activity], because I have to [insert lame reason].” Little things, like having a beer with coworkers, carving out time to take a walk or read a book or work on a drawing, tended to take a back seat to other more responsible, grown up activities.

“I can’t hang out because the dog and cats have to eat at exactly five PM.”

“I can’t play disc golf on Saturday because I have freelance work due Monday.”

“I can’t go to Cars & Coffee because I have to clean the garage.”

This year I’ve worked on being more intentional about taking time for myself. Not to get away from others or shirk responsibility, but to be able to be more present and clear-headed when I get back to them. Doing things I enjoy makes me a happier person, which translates to being a better person, which, in turn, makes me a better friend, husband, employee. Shocking that we’re surprised that works.

By New Years’ I’ll have finished the third book I’ve read this year. Not that any of the three are difficult reads, but considering years have gone by where I haven’t read more than a few pages it’s a start. All three have been in the self-improvement genre though, so that’s new.

With any luck, I’ll be able to continue this trend in 2018. The ever-growing reading list will get tackled, read books will be shared.

I’ll write more, draw, paint and weld more. Hang out more. Care more.

Be more involved in things that matter and work to shun the things that don’t.

I guess luck has nothing to do with it. Maybe I should say that 2018 will be a year of doing things intentionally. More of the things that matter or that are good for me, less of the opposite. Why does that end up being so difficult?

Either way, good riddance 2017.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.


Brontosaurus < Apatosaurus

Every member of every generation has one of those events that rock them to their very core. For some people, it was the the JFK assassination. For others, the Martin Luther King, Jr, assassination. For my generation, at least the early part of it, it was the morning the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on live television. The latter part, of course, and probably for the generation after mine, it simple became known as 911.

There are many smaller events though, that don’t hit with the same impact, but that still stick with you.

For example, a mere 20 years ago in college, we were taught in our Astrophysics class that there were nine planets in our solar system. Then, suddenly, in 2002, Pluto got the boot. Downgraded by the scientific community to a mere “icy rock that’s also orbiting our sun but not really a planet sorry KTHXbai” and suddenly we’re down to eight. Our entire lives, nay, the entire history of the modern school system has taught that Pluto was a planet. Hell, it even had a Disney dog named after it…and now, from woof to poof! It’s off the list.

Another one of those moments where I learned that the scientific community was probably just trolling us was when they informed the world that “Hey, guys what? Probably the most famous dinosaur of them all didn’t really exist, Brontosaurus was really just another version of the Apatosaurus that kind of looked like the other one so yeah, sorry you got so attached to it. You still have the Triceratops though, so quit complaining or we’ll take that away too.”

The little boy nerd in me was crushed. Who am I kidding…I was crushed. Dinosaurs fueled the my imagination my entire life…and with a nickname like “Thunder Lizard?” It’s not like I lost sleep or anything over it, but still, you can’t just take that away from me. Come on!

Fast forward to 2017, when we have flying cars, and robots that do our bidding and, wait, never mind.

Anyway, and the second season of Netflix’ runaway show Stranger Things had just come out, and during one of several binge sessions, what’s this I see? One of the main characters is wearing a purple sweatshirt from the Science Museum of Minnesota, and it has a giant Brontosaurs on the front, in all its 2-dimensional glory, lumbering over its true name, set in some ugly-yet-period-specific font. I feel a twinge of sadness – it’s just one more nod to something that existed in the 80s, and now it doesn’t.

Like Kodak film. Or DeLoreans.

On a whim, I did a Google search for “brontosaurus sweatshirt” and what do I see?


Yeah, it’s an obvious money grab, but hey, credit where it’s due. They saw an opportunity and ran with it, and their gamble paid off.

In a big way.

In addition to the one I bought, apparently there are more than a few Brontosaurus supporters like myself around the world willing to shell out $40 a pop for the opportunity to ironically thumb their nose in the general direction of the scientific community, even if it was in “Ultra Violet.” The SMOM we hoping for 10-15,000 t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other swag when they opened up the shop, but got blown away by the response of 30,000 order at last check.

It shouldn’t be a surprise.

Nobody likes the name “Apatosaurus.” I have a feeling most people don’t even know if they’re saying it right.

And you can bet it doesn’t have a cool nickname.

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Coffee shop ramblings

I was spending my Sunday morning at Songbird Cafe as is my ritual, when a large eclectic group of twenty-somethings rode up on their even-more-eclectic collection of bikes, circling the front of the building in a single-file line like Native American warriors in an old western. The descended on the coffee shop, dismounted, and wheeled their bikes in the front door, quickly tripling the number of customers in the room.

Given that Songbird isn’t that large and that I had forgotten my headphones, it was impossible not to overhear some of their conversations. I learned that this particular group of pedal pushers was part of Phoenix Spokes People. I hadn’t heard of the group before, but a quick read through their web site gave me the highlights.

They are a local cycling group, dedicated to making Phoenix a better place to ride, both for fun but also as viable day to day transportation. They work to raise awareness of the issue of bicycle safety and accessibility, and speak at City of Phoenix budget hearings towards that end.

So while they get together and bike for fun (although two hours in this mornings humidity suggests otherwise to me), they also work to make their city a better place.

Another conversation sprung up between friends who hadn’t seen each other for a while, and rather than the typical “just working,’ ya know” response I tend to give to the “what have you been up to?” question, this young man explained that he’s been dedicating his time to bringing the largest green and sustainable living event in the US to Phoenix in 2015…or something to that effect.

Behind me, I overheard someone chatting up a new-to-Phoenix transplant, who had moved into the slowly revitalizing downtown area. Whoever he was talking to was excitedly talking about the cool network of independent coffee shops and cafes in the area, and he explained that he had actually chosen to live in this area because of spots like Jobot and Songbird. They made suggestion after suggestion to add to his list of locally-owned shops and foods to try, referencing the handy Phoenix Coffee Culture poster on the wall. Turns out she was involved in the design or production of the posters.

I decided to vacate the couch so three other people could sit down, and find someplace more quiet to continue whittling down the weekend reading list.

And also not feel badly about just sitting there not contributing to the world.

Would you like a side of activism with your cappuccino?

I drove north for a bit, and ended up at Giant Coffee.  I took the open parking spot right in front of the door as a sign. Once inside, it wasn’t much quieter, as the long table in the middle was occupied by a growing group of six or eight boisterous guys working on an upcoming community event.

Doesn’t anybody just sleep in on Sunday mornings anymore?

As I sit here, a new feeling begins to creep in… brought on by all these young people dedicated to these various causes, working for a better community, excitedly optimistic and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

The feeling is that I am living in the wrong time.

Not like those who say “I should have lived in Colonial times,” or “I would have been a great knight,” because, well, the Dark Ages and dysentery and all that. But sometimes I feel like I missed my ideal time by about 20 years.

I love most of the things about the current state of our civilized life, at least the ones that don’t have to do with better ways to kill each other from a distance. Our technology is amazing and always improving. It’s unheard of anymore that a disease wipes out entire generations or groups. We can put frozen ingredients into a microwave and a meal comes out. Electric cars. Smartphones. The internet.

I just feel like…what else is coming? What if I was twenty years old today and had this world at my fingertips? What could I do if this was where I started?

I’d like to think I would be involved like the Millennials, but who knows. For every hyper-involved community-minded young person there are probably fifty who sit at their computer and play video games and eat Funyuns all day. Statistically it makes more sense that I would have been in that number.

Because I kind of like Funyuns.

Last night we celebrated my grandmothers 90th birthday, surrounded by friends and family. I’m curious if she ever feels/felt that way. Does she ever imagine what her life would have been like if she had been born into the sixties, or the eighties, or today?

She’s seen so much in her lifetime, I can’t help but wonder if there were times when she saw nothing but potential in the world around her. Maybe that thought crossed her mind when she saw the moon landing, or perhaps in the eighties when the artificial heart was invented? Today those are old news, but back then, those events would have certainly left me thinking the world was amazing, and that things could only get better from there.

Also at the table was a couple of my younger cousins from the other side of the country. The youngest, a talented photographer who happens to be a sophomore in high school, just got back from a trip to India, of which one of the highlights was getting to see the Dalai Lama celebrate his birthday.

His older brother is in college now, but a few years ago, he went to Thailand and worked with an organization that smuggles children across a border so they could attend school during the day, then sneak back into their home province at night.

In high school I was a worked at Red Lobster, primarily for car insurance money. Saving and/or travelling the world wasn’t even on my radar. Even when I got to college, the whole plan was to just graduate and get a good enough job to pay back my student loans.

Ah, yes, big dreams, had I.

What it took was getting a corporate job, and I was lucky to get it. But with that security comes a cubicle and punching a time card and dealing with layers of management to get anything done. It only requires you give in, little by little, until you look back at your life and know you spent a large percentage making no difference in the world other than increasing your 401k balance. It’s still the old way of thinking; find a good job, at a good company, and stay there forever.

Then, when you’re done working, then go do something you’re passionate about.

You know, with the years you have left.

Today’s young people don’t even see that as an option; it probably never even crosses their minds. I guess that’s what happens when you’re still in school and are told that the chance of finding a job in your field when you graduate is slim. Might as well find something you’re passionate about to dedicate your life to while you’re riding out the student loan clock, right? I suppose the added carrot on the end of the stick is that if you’re really lucky and the stars align, that which you’re passionate could become your career.

I know every generation probably says this, but the youth of today have so many opportunities to make a difference if they really want to. It seems like you can’t shake an organic stick in any direction without hitting some community action group that’s striving to make Phoenix or Arizona or the world a better place to live.

And then there was this light bulb moment

A thought just occurred to me: maybe this feeling isn’t about being born too soon. Perhaps this is just the mindset that comes with age. Maybe this is as simple as just subconciously wishing I was a bit younger, just starting out, with this version of the world at my doorstep. Maybe this feeling is just nostalgia for a time when one had the freedom to act on what they really wanted to be doing, as opposed to what the responsible adult decision would be.

Because, if you know where to look, it isn’t difficult to see the potential in a world primed for change. Sure, maybe it won’t be the same as when we were younger, but like they say, it’s never too late to get involved, or work to make a difference.

It’s just up to us to get off the couch and join the cause, whatever that cause may be.