June 25, 2012

Everyday, the world is made

I have a couple of inspirational songs by Switchfoot on my running playlist, including "Dare you to Move" and "This is your Life". Their new song, "Afterlife" will be in heavy rotation.


"Afterlife", by Switchfoot, from the album Vice Verses

June 22, 2012

Where to start

When you are feeling low, it can feel like you are in a hole you can't climb out of. 

Depression hands you a shovel.

The feeling feeds on itself. You keep digging deeper and deeper, farther into yourself and away from the world. Where you used to be able to see a way out, and all you needed was a ladder, now the light seems impossibly far away. You stop looking up, and you don't even notice when someone throws you a rope.

Melodramatic? Maybe. But if you have gone through it, you understand. If you haven't, I don't know that a few more paragraphs will land any punches.

And of course, procrastination dovetails nicely into all this. The farther you dig, the more things back up, and the less you feel able to tackle anything - much less all of it. Vicious cycle.

Well, I have stopped digging. If I think about all I need to do to get out of the hole, I will be overwhelmed. I just need to start making steps in the right direction. If I can make positive steps, it will feed on itself just as the negativity that got me here. Attitude and perception are everything. If I feel better, I will see things better, and I will do better. Rinse and repeat.

I am starting with the basics - how I feel physically. For the first part of this year, I have been running haphazardly. If I felt sore or tired, it was all too easy to put off a run for another day. Though I have maintained a relatively healthy weight, I haven't been feeling all that good. I am running out of  "another day".

My friend Sean has run every day for a month a number of times, and it not only gave him a great physical base, but it ingrained the habit of running. There was no debate whether this was a running day or not. You just ran. I have never really been tempted to do this. Even at the height of training, I typically only run three times a week, and rarely two days in a row. I always felt that running more than that was inviting injury.

My roomie actually gave me the inspiration to make the leap. Matt has been running consistently for nearly two months. And when I say consistently, I mean every day. He has now run 51 days in a row, and has dropped over 35 pounds. You can just see how much better he feels.

So I have started a regimen of my own. I plan to run 30 days in a row, and today was day 11. Now as soon as I roll out of bed, I put on my running clothes (well, after feeding the insistent dog). Doesn't matter whether I feel like it or not, I just run. No putting it off, no procrastination. Habit begets habit. Things get checked off, the load gets a little lighter.

And I am checking things off on the backlog. I am eating a little better and the head is a little clearer. There is lots left to do, but the first steps are being made on the open road.

June 12, 2012

Shifting out of reverse

Lloyd Dobler: Why can't you be in a good mood? How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood and be in a good mood once in a while?" 
Constance: Gee, it's easy.

~ From the movie, "Say Anything"
I have been in a funk for months, and I did not want to celebrate my birthday this year. I am not huge on birthdays in a normal year, but this year I just wanted it to slip by unnoticed. It wasn't any false modesty with secret hopes that my protests would be ignored. I really didn't want to be the center of attention for even a moment in my current state of mind.

I suppose to put a broad label on it, I am going through my mid-life crisis right now. It is not the sort where I snap and act out in a self-destructive manner (cheating, sleeping around, drinking, drugging, etc), or the sort where I make extravagant, impulse purchases to fill the emptiness, or reclaim my fading youth with a little red sports car. I do not wish to be any younger, and I am fine to be 45. No, it is the more quiet lamenting on how little I have done in the past four and a half decades.

I am sure this is nothing particularly unique. Most of us thought we would be farther along at this point in our lives. All of us had secret, or not so secret dreams that never came true, or that we failed to even pursue with any passion. But of course, to me, it is terribly unique. It is my failure, my falling short of my own particular ideal.

But even the ideal was poorly formed. I did not clearly visualize what I wanted my life to be at any point along the calendar. There were no pictures pinned to an inspiration board. I did not plan to make my first million by the time I was 40, dream of having pool in the backyard, or a vacation home in Hawaii. I just wanted a home, a yard, a wife, a dog, and enough money to get by with a little cushion for the unexpected.

Though the vision of my future was never particularly clear, I know at 45 I am nowhere near where I should be. I definitely imagined I would be farther down the road by this point. I have not only been coasting for too long, I have actually been going in reverse. Feelings of failure, despair and depression have been my companions these past few months. I have wallowed in it, and made myself more miserable for it.

But I am blessed. Blessed by a wonderful family, and terrific friends who would not let me hide away in a cave an sulk. When I said I did not want to celebrate my birthday, they would have none of it. They dragged me somewhat kicking and screaming to spend a lovely afternoon on a patio in sunny San Diego. There was good food, great beer, and even better friendship and conversation.

When it comes to family and friends, I have won the lottery. When I think of you, I have nothing to complain about, and the joy that they have brought to my life has made me a better man. You will always be my priority, but I need to make some changes. I am only making myself miserable, and by being miserable, I am doing no good to these people that I value so much.

Thank you dear family and friends. You change this guy:

to this guy:

And I am forever grateful. I will try to bring this guy out more often.

June 1, 2012

Getting crafty

I don't consider myself to be a particularly creative person. I am not one of those people who looks at yard as a blank slate, and can picture how I would landscape it. I don't walk into a craft store and imagine all I can do with the bits and pieces in bins. Food in the fridge aren't ingredients unless a recipe is nearby. Rather than being a "vision" guy, I tend to be more on the production side of things. Give me a set of plans, and I am on it.

I do have an occasional corner of my world where I try to stretch my legs. In the past, I made DVDs at the end of each year, and I enjoyed laying out the pictures, movies and music to try to tell a story. When I wrote my novel, there was a front and back cover to design, photos to stretch and twist, and a website to arrange.

These days when I have a project, creative or not, solutions can generally be found online. CreateSpace, Kindle Publishing, and PubIt made it possible to produce the various versions of my novel. I found a great (free) program in GIMP that allowed me to design my book cover myself. YouTube videos have taught me how to fix appliances, re-key door locks, and snake drain lines.

When I started brewing beer, I found lots of creative people willing to share their knowledge and excitement. I have spent (too) many hours surfing websites and message boards looking for every bit of information I could find. Once I get this homebrewing down a little better, I will look to create my own versions of beers, but for now I am sticking to the recipes.

In the meantime, I have been pouring a little creative energy into the stuff surrounding the actual beer. I found plans to make beer crates quite cheaply out of scrap wood. I will use these to store the beer in the crawlspace, away from the summer heat. The guy who drew up the plans also showed how you could antique the wood with a little steel wool and vinegar, and imprint a logo with a color printer and an iron.

Here is how they turned out:

Plain crate

Logo imprint

Antiqued and filled with beer

While I was waiting for the beer to ferment and condition, I created a label for the bottles.

The little QR code on the right will lead you to a webpage with the statistics, recipe, my brewing experience, lots of other beer nerdiness. There is also a link to the website in the sidebar (if you're into that sort of thing).

I opened the first beer last night. Mistakes were definitely made during my first batch, so I was a little worried that the beer would be undrinkable. In the end, it was just okay - not great, not terrible. It was a little flat, and I was little disappointed that the hop character didn't come through. Afterward, I opened up a Red Hook ESB, which is what the recipe was based on, and I realized that my version wasn't as far off as I thought. I guess I remembered Red Hook being better than it was.

So far, I am really enjoying the brewing process, and having a small creative outlet. I already have another batch of beer fermenting, and I can't wait to see how it turns out. I know that I love the beer the recipe is based on, so I have higher hopes.

I have also started using the website Pinterest, which is an endless stream of inspiration and creativity - crafts, recipes, re-purposing and re-imagining everyday objects. Kristy has bookmarked lots of cool projects already. Who knew there were so many things you can do with wine bottles, mason jars, and wood shipping pallets?

I am starting to see little glimmers possibility in the bits and pieces, and I now find myself stopping more often at the local fencing company to look through the scrap pile. I just need to keep looking over the shoulder of those creative types until it really takes hold.