Long-time readers may or may not recall, but I started last year’s new years post, my 2015 post, with a one-fingered salute to that dud year, wishing it an unceremonious good riddance and a pessimistic smell-ya-later, don’t-let-the-door-hit-ya-on-the-way-out kinda frustration.
I take that sentiment back. I’ll gladly redo 2015 if I never get another year like this one: sigh… 2016 …w …t …f?
Oh sure, we did a few awesome things, I admit. We travelled, marathon’d, renovated, and savored a quiet summer and shrugged off a mild start to winter. None of the humans in our house got sick. Claire did amazing in school. Life went on, day-by-day, change-by-change, and… oh right… the changes. THE CHANGES! The whirling, spinning, never-ending parade of changes. Someone please stop the year: I’d like to get off.
Where do I start?
Oh, right: the list.
First, who are you leaving behind in 2016?
Lots of celebrities, apparently, even to the point that the last few days of 2016 have been filled with hipster campaigns pleading with the year to stop taking our famous folks. Thankfully, closer to reality, our year was not interrupted by any people-funerals. That said…
So many of our friends did the big dog change-up this year.
There are a bunch of people in our life who are leaving this year with a new dog in their lives. At the same time there are too many others who are leaving 2016 without one. We’re in the newly-without group.
CHANGE #1… Sparkle, who’d been with us since 2005, got suddenly sick over the summer with a heart inflammation disease that progressed so fast she didn’t even make it to her second vet appointment. She suffered for a few agonizing days as we sorted through our options and tried to make her as comfortable as we could, but she departed this world with the fleet-footed speed you’d have expected from a dog with her spirit, passing away at the foot of our bed and her people gathered around after a quiet weekend with her family.
How did you make money in 2016? How might you briefly describe to others what you do for a living?
I hit the six year mark since I needed to change my “Current Employment” status on LinkedIn, and while, strictly speaking, my job hasn’t really changed in the day-to-day sense, there have been a raft of other work-related changes that have burned my heart, body, brain, and soul in ways that I’ve hitherto avoided writing about, including CHANGE #2… some significant staff turnovers in 2016 that have meant some people who I enjoyed working with are now off doing other interesting things and have left us scrambling to fill gaps and stick our fingers in the leaky dam, so to speak, some of which has escalated due to CHANGE #3… a major corporate re-org which, when it wasn’t filling my life with duties associated with the change itself, has turned the once-stable ground below our desks to metaphorical ice, slipping, tripping, and causing a lot of uncertainty if not for the security of our jobs then what is still pending with regards to what I’ll be doing day-to-day, where I’ll be doing it, and to whom I’ll be reporting. Oh, and then, just to add insult to injury CHANGE #4 the building where I do that job was undergoing a noisy, dusty, obstacle-filled, they-moved-my-favourite-restaurant, epic renovation this summer and fall. It’s mostly done now, and it turned out great, but it was still an everything-is-different-or-temporarily-broken wash of oh-great-more-changes kinda summer.
What do you wish you’d done more of? Less of?
Running…. and running. Confused? I wish I’d done more fun running, and less grind running. After nine years, countless races, and thousands of kilometers, what I know I love is part where I go exploring the city with friends, a camera, or both. I’m starting to resent those I-need-X-klicks-today runs. I want to do more of the fun running and less of the kind of running where it starts to feel like an obligation because the success of a vacation or something is hanging in the balance.
How would you describe the world from your perspective in terms of:
a) technology? I think I’d call it hitting a limit somewhere that we’re going to all need to be a little smarter to get over. There was the moment when we were sitting in the departure lounge of some airport waiting to board our plane on one of our November travels and the intercom voice came up and delivered this emotionless recitation about “the FAA limits the size of your carry on … blah… blah… if you require assistance … blah … blah…” and that “if you are traveling with a Galaxy 7 Note phone today please be aware that due to the frequency of these devices catching on fire you are prohibited from bringing it on board… blah… blah…” uh… so that’s a thing now… “come see us at the front desk to make alternative arrangements.” We all want better, faster, smaller… but apparently we haven’t quite earned that yet.
b) culture? Sequels with a dash of original series. I know culture isn’t defined by what you get to watch on your screen, but I think it’s a good thermometer. On the one hand, it was another year filled with movie sequels and prequels and spin-offs and spin-outs, all delivered in brain blasting three-dee from a small conglomerate of film studios. On the other hand, the same-old-drivel on our TVs seemed to be interrupted by a slate of pretty cool original series science fiction & drama from the unlikely independent studios of Netflix and Amazon. Plus, if you haven’t hooked Youtube into your UHD screen yet, you should: there is so much truly independent programming being produced that you barely need so-called “real” TV anymore. I haven’t paid much attention to the worlds of music or literature with the same lens, but I suspect something similar might be afoot there too: the same old safe-this-sells drivel from the big players, but reams of unique, high-risk independent stuff from the smaller guys and indies.
c) politics? Ugh. Grabbed her by the pejorative. Ugh. Double-ugh. Do I even need to talk about the flustercuk was the American election this year or the Brexit vote last spring? Populist-driven campaigns riding on waves of made up realities in fact-less, emotion-filled vacuums in the name of breaking the so-called establishment. Fools and morons and players and con-men, twisting the irrational fears of the millions into a political perfect storm through which it will take so much will and energy in the coming years to just grab onto something bolted down and not get washed overboard. My only question would be that as a Canadian should I be worried that on our North we share a border with Russia and on our South we are soon going to share a border with what seems to be a Russian puppet state… formerly the USA? (Here’s the reality folks: if you’re not going to use those brains, someone is going to use them for you… and ya’ll got played hard.) I’m not even going to list these as CHANGES, but they should count for about half a dozen that are going to impact us all, and not always well.
d) philosophy? Selfish. Though a caveat: not everyone. I’ve seen such acts of selflessness this past year to warm even my cold heart, but I think as a general trend, particularly when the economy gives this sense of urgent foreboding and so much change is on the move, people hunker down and look after number one…. which is fair. I do it too. But on the scale of the low of a Mad Max-style Dytopia up to the pinnacle of a Bill & Ted-style Utopia, widespread selfish actions put us closer to Mad Max end of the spectrum than to the classic “Be Excellent to Each Other!” worldview of everyone’s second-favourite Keanu Reeves film. It’s alarmist, and it will swing back, but c’mon people: in 2017 try to be more excellent to each other.
e) prospects? The pessimists are predicting the end of the world this year, what with a crazy man driving the crazy train. So… y’know… enjoy this list. Might be the last one. That said, I personally want to believe that we’ll pull through somehow.
What three experiences will always remind you of 2016?
1) Organizing BJR… In early June nearly twenty of us converged on the mountain parks the west. The annual running of the nearly-three-hundred klick long Banff-Jasper Relay through the high mountain roads full of beautiful scenery (and distinctly lacking in cellular coverage) was an amazing experience, further both boosted and buffered by the fact that I was nominated team captain and spent many uncounted hours leading into the weekend planning, plotting, emailing, booking, confirming, collecting, and cajoling. It all worked out great — it always does somehow.
2) Running NYC… This will come up again later in this post, but in November we travelled to New York (our second trip) and bummed around Manhattan, cavorted with celebrities, took in some shows, check out the sights, and — oh right — I ran the 2016 New York Marathon. Bucket list: check. My time wasn’t spectacular thanks to many lead-in and day-of factors, but I finished. Upright. Alive. And am probably a slightly more interesting human being because of the experience. Two months later I’m still recovering.
3) Losing DOG… You know how you can kinda tell when something that is happening, like when you’re beloved pet is literally fading away in your arms, that the memory will be indelibly burned in your brain forever? That last day, the last hours, the last moments with my pup will be burned into my brain like that. I’ll keep bringing it up until it stops hurting to bring it up… so probably never.
a) spouse Meetings. Meetings. Meetings!
b) kid(s) YouTube. Netflix. Repeat.
c) parent(s) Countdown to Retire-fun-ment
Without asking them, what are three words you think that your ________ would use to describe you in 2016?
a) spouse Stop visiting Amazon!
b) kid(s) Daddy, my Daddy.
c) parent(s) Our middle-aged son!
What are the details (events, memories, etc) surrounding important days in your life in 2016:
a) birthday? I turned 40. (Just a number, right?) And while the day was pretty average –dinner out, cake, a few presents– the weeks leading into it were marked with at few personal victories, not the least of which was crossing the finish line of the 40th running of the NYC marathon.
b) anniversary? It was just another day. Thirteen years. I think we went out for sushi to celebrate and Claire (not a lover of sushi) complained the whole time.
c) the holidays? It was cold. Snowy. Messy. And so (after coffee, lunch, and some short musical performances at my grandma’s place) our plan to drive to Camrose to spend Christmas Eve with family #1 meant an hour on an icy highway on the afternoon of the 24th. Gifts. Food. Crepes for breakfast. And then back on the highway through some of the worst of winter driving conditions for a 3 hour trek down to Calgary for Christmas day with family #2. Gifts. Food. And then back to Red Deer for a quieter interlude before getting back home on Boxing Day… all to find out that Leon had spent his holidays doing more work on our kitchen. All that in the first 3 days of a 10 day vacation break.
d) new years? The plan, as I write this BEFORE New Years is that we’re hosting a party: a big prime rib roast and some other fancy foods served from a nearly complete new kitchen. About fifteen people (including kids) will descend upon our house, and there will be drinks and games and talking, with a dress-up photo booth and fireworks in the park nearby.
How would you describe your life from your perspective in terms of:
a) fun? I’ve been struggling with fun since losing the dog. My daily walks around the park have evaporated and while I’ve filled a few of the gaps with new hobbies, it’s been a chore to get back into that life-is-fun stride.
b) family? We’re all getting older. Drawn apart. Remote. Disconnected. A few fine folks in my extended family are not well, and that means I’m thinking about the implications of that distance and separation more and more. My sister is ready-to-pop pregnant. My brother started a business and is working long hours from home. Karin’s brother, as always, is pulling cable long days in remote places and struggles to see his own family, let alone us. And we don’t see much of the oh-so-scattered tribes anymore, and that’s as much my own fault as it is anyone elses.
c) friends? This is both stronger and weaker. I admit that I was an early adopter of social media, but for too many of us it has replaced real contact. I’ve been trying to wean myself off of it, but that’s a two way street: when all these relationships are happening online, it’s tougher to keep them strong in real life. But then there are people I grow closer to all the time and a few who I can’t even imagine not seeing as infrequently-frequent as I do.
d) food? Sour…dough. Another odd little side-project I took up this year included starting a sourdough levain. With the exception of when I didn’t have a kitchen for a couple months, 2016 was full of freshly baked sourdough bread.
e) fitness? I ran a marathon. Again. For some reason, though, despite the grueling training that effort involved I spent the year feeling like a bit of a slouch.
f) finances? Thanks to CHANGE #5, that massive main-floor and full-kitchen renovation project that is nearly, but not quite, done as I write this, we spent a lot of money on things like wood, paint, stone, stainless steel, and the fine quality craftsmanship of some hard working folks with the attention to detail we didn’t get the first time we built that kitchen eleven years ago. Plus, we did a bunch of travelling in 2016, so…
g) fashion? Another year, another twelve months of office casual punctuated by evenings and weekends in haute runners chic.
Compared to this time last year, you are:
a) happier or sadder? sadder, with a caveat: 2016 has been a sad, miserable year, but I’ve filled the new gaps and frustrated silences with new hobbies and interests. The hobbies make me happy. But I feel like such a different person than who I was last year, too, and I know there are a lot of sad reasons for that.
b) thinner or fatter? Marathon training makes me hungry. I need to deal with that in 2017, I think.
d) focused or distracted? Laser focused. My spidey senses have been in full tingle-mode for the last six months, give or take. The neighbourhood, the province, the country…the WORLD! Everything is nutty and seems like it’s ready to shake itself to bits. It’s exhausting trying to keep up and hold yourself steady these days.
e) responsible or irresponsible? Ir…. because for all those reasons, I think I’ve let a few responsibilities slip, just for the sake of my own sanity.
What was your biggest achievement of the year? Failure?
While part of me wants to say that it has something to do with CHANGE #6, aka taking up the violin, that sentiment seems a little premature: maybe next year. In reality I’m handing off the title of biggest achievement to the my participation in the NYC Marathon. It was a huge thing, won in a chance lottery, trained through months of less-than-ideal conditions, planned with meticulous agony, and spanning a day that I felt, burned, ached, reeled with every cell of my body. In the end I have a jacket and a shirt and a medal… and a video: oh, and a whole bunch of blurry memories. And while I could count off a whole list of failed little projects this year (a) I think failure can be something to celebrate, because it says you at least tried, and (b) my biggest failure was probably a sliver of my biggest achievement: as much as I pushed myself to run that damn race, deep down I know that not doing something more to figure out my whole leg-cramping-up-frequently issue stole a good thirty minutes from me during that event. I’m going to hold that in my heart as part of the memory, beat myself up over it forever, and likely never find redemption… even though so many of you would tell me to just get over it.
Did you travel? Where?
In February and March we spent two amazing weeks in Maui. We rented a condo near the beach, then spent hours each day building sandcastles, snorkeling, boogie boarding, eating interesting food, traveling around the island, taking a million photos and videos, and even sneaking in a few runs.
In November, Karin and I went off to New York City. As previously mentioned, I had scored an entry in the 2016 NYC Marathon and had spent the bulk of the summer training and preparing for the race. We red-eyed it down, buzzed around the city, saw a show, met a celebrity, ran the race, and took in a live-taping of the Late Show before limping back home just as the election was ramping up.
A few days after New York, Claire’s fall break kicking in, we dodged back down south and visited the other coast. Five days in Anaheim and Los Angeles, touring ourselves and a tag-along Ron through Disneyland and Universal Studios. I also ran another half marathon there, and with the pressure of New York abated, actually ran a much better race than the week previous.
What did you want and get? Not get?
I can’t say exactly the moment when I decided that it would be neat to learn to play the violin. It has been a couple years. But knowing that it would be a lot of work and take a measured, purposeful effort to do it properly, I’d been putting it off for, what is fair to say, years. In September, with my 40th birthday on the horizon, something finally clicked and I decided I was ready. It wasn’t the financial commitment of buying an inexpensive student instrument to aid my learning, but rather the time-and-energy commitment of doing the effort justice. There would be no second attempt. So I bought one. I signed up for lessons. And three and a half months in, though I’m not quite ready to declare success, I’d say that I got something I wanted: my attempt at learning to play the violin. On the other hand, shopping with Karin a couple weeks ago, it was made abundantly clear that I need to practice a few (hundred) more hours before I’ll get a better instrument: so, y’know… no Stradivarius this year.
What ___________ will likely remind you of 2016 and why?
a) website – The site I work on for my job (undisclosed) underwent a HUGE-ass CHANGE #7 this year. Everything about it, including how it’s operated and managed, changed, and there was a lot of work to get it launched and a lot of work since it launched to make it all work. It started before the New Year last year, but the bulk of the work rolled us through most of 2016 and this year will be marked around my office as the year of our best redesign so far.
b) film – E.T., being one of the first “grown up” movies I remember seeing as a kid, long long ago, it always had this oddly special place in my heart, but then standing in New York’s Central Park a few weeks before my 40th birthday having a chance but very real, genuine conversation about marathoning and parenting and travel with D.B. the lovely lady star of that movie, who is just a little older than I am, was not only a surreal moment for me, but brought me back to thinking about this movie over the last couple months and how life has woven this very strange path lately.
c) song – Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, if only because it was the first song I learned to play on the violin. Since then there have been about a hundred others, but… that was the first one.
e) game – Judge if you will, but the release of Pokemon Go, that slightly nutty crazy augmented reality game where you walk around catching virtual creatures in the wild, coincided almost in brutal parallel with our losing Sparkle. I don’t think we would have given it much heed, but this silly little game became this too-important distraction during a tough time, simultaneously a reason to keep getting outside for neighbourhood walks in the absence of a four-legged excuse.
What was the best book or story that you read and what was your greatest literary discovery for 2016?
I discovered that I really like Kurt Vonnegut’s work these days. It’s older, but appropriately surreal and scattered for my currently state of mind. Seeing as how I’m doing another big reading project in 2017, I’ll likely be working my way through his library as a result. In fact I’m reading one now, so get ready for some Vonnegutly posts in the New Year.
Describe the best picture you took — or that was taken of you — in 2016
As mentioned previously, about 20 of us trekked out to to the mountains to run the Banff-Jasper Relay, a nearly three-hundred klick, fifteen leg race down the stretch of highway linking the two National Park townships. I ran the fourth leg, a brutal slow-grind hill leg finishing a the literally peak of the course. While not the most difficult leg, it ranks up in the top three or four for technical difficulty. My support guy — because you need a support vehicle for the duration of the run — was Daryl, who was keeping my hydrated and fueled, cheering me along dressed in his giant sombrero and Hawaiian shirt slash safety vest ensemble, and snapping tonnes of photos. He grabbed this epic shot of my final climb with the view in the background, a photo that he shared a couple days later on Facebook and to which I commented that it was probably the most epic photo I’ve ever had of myself, ever.
Thinking twenty-five years in the past: reminisce. What do you recall or what event stand out most of all from your life and beyond in 1991?
I was fifteen, and it was my first year of High School. New friends and a shit-load of work because I signed up for the honours IB programme which was like pre-college for keener nerds. We roamed the mean streets of Red Deer, played video games, made dumb movies with borrowed VHS camcorders, and dabbled on the not-quite-internet of my friend’s homebrew BBS system, where we would modem-dial-in and play text-based games and chat long-after curfew. A few of my friends were dabbling in the girlfriend department, so those exclusive guy-filled days were turning into oh-nicole-is-coming? afternoons of behaving ourselves. We drank slurpees until we couldn’t see straight and knew every parent-free hiding spot within five klicks of each other’s houses.
Thinking ten years in the past: reminisce. What do you recall or what event stands out most of all from your life and beyond in 2006?
It was the year of babies: friends and family who now have this batch of ten-year olds, or thereabouts: my first niece included. It was our first full year in our house. The year of landscaping, and fence post digging and our last big kid-free vacation: the next would have Karin multi-months preggers. Our first full year with Sparkle. My first full year at a new (now long-past) job. My first full year with that little grey Mazda. The year we started discussing, seriously, the prospect of our own kid. And the first time I kicked off THIS annual New Years post in earnest.
What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory because they made you…? And why?
a) happy: March 6, this hot, sunny day on the beach in Maui, a quick so-unlikely-coincidence vacation cross-over run and lunch with Jenn and her family, sandcastles, wakeboarding, some beer at the condo, and just this random, forget the rest of the world is crazy for one minute kinda day in paradise.
b) sad: July 24, and specifically at about quarter to midnight when my beloved pup of a dozen years passed away in my arms after fighting an acute heart disease for a both too-short and too-long few weeks.
c) angry: July 19, because before being sad about Sparkle, there was a week of a bunch of other emotions that went along with a harsh diagnosis and a futile treatment regimen: there was a lot of anger, mostly at myself for wasted time, missing other signs (which I’m sure were there) and at the random, uncaring universe for pulling this crap on us.
d) defeated: June 30, the day the bulldozers showed up to inflict CHANGE #8… ripping up our local park to build subsidized housing, and I realized that even when you pretty much work in City Hall, it’s not always possible to fight against the heart-numbing bureaucracy it occasionally steamrolls over you.
e) victorious: November 6, as if I need to say it and despite the unexpected difficulty of the race, crossing that finish line in New York’s Central Park.
f) surprised: October 26, when, while sitting in a meeting quite far away from my computer, I got an email from the Late Show about scoring free tickets. Not just free tickets, but free PRIORITY tickets. It was probably one of the most awesome shows we’ve ever been to, ever.
What kind of plans or goals have you made for 2017 with regard to ___________? And why?
a) family – My running crew might not like this much, but training for a marathon meant that I sometimes needed to put family priorities second to getting in a distance run. I’ll probably swap those priorities around a bit this coming year, at least when the weather is nice.
b) body – I’ve been eating like I’ve been training for a marathon, even after I finished the marathon. January first: ugh… salads for lunch, or something. I can’t keep that up.
c) money – Hopefully when we get the handful of outstanding bills on this kitchen renovation fully and finally paid, we can focus on the last couple years of our mortgage.
d) knowledge – Keeping up with the violin counts, right?
e) self – I’m going to read a whole lot of silly books. That’s something that is just for me: downtime with a book.
f) creativity – I think my daughter has the creativity gene on lockdown this year, so my creativity will be wrapped up in finding ways for her to be creative. Plus, I’ve already vowed to do that 5-second video clip-per day challenge thing again. Oh, and some more writing, of course.
Thinking ten years in the future: prognosticate. What do you think the world will be like in 2026?
People on their way to Mars. Self-driving cars everywhere. Donald Trump in his third term as US President-for-life. The iPhone 15 will have a battery that lasts at least four hours and only explodes upon request. The Carbon Wars will be in full swing, and we’ll all be working from home because it will cost far too much to commute every day. I’ll be fifty. Claire will be done high school and at college. And I’ll be a fiddling genius, and probably busking in an LRT station somewhere for money to buy flour for my bread.
Thinking twenty-five years in the future: prognosticate. What do you think the world will be like in 2041?
Now that we’ve surrendered two major world powers to populist governments driven by short-term, business-focussed agendas with no interest in taking responsibility for the ills of the world, climate collapse, or inclusivity, I expect it will start to look a lot like one of those dystopian societies, fighting for scarce, highly controlled resources like food and energy. I’m a bit of an alarmist, I know, but I’m honestly more than a bit scared for the future these days, guys. Really. The bill is past due, and we’ve got some really shitty tippers at the table.
Explain a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016:
I probably already knew this, but it was so much re-enforced in 2016 it’s worth restating: it’s great to have something to believe it, but an ideology can be a dangerous thing. It’s great to challenge the status quo, but there is a reason that we have that cliche about babies and bathwaters. It’s important to find balance in the media through distributed channels of primary information, but many of those channels have agendas that are not open or clear or fair. It’s great to read, and talk, and share information, but those you read, talk, and share with can’t be the same small group over and over and over or you risk trapping yourself in a bubble that is very difficult and painful to burst out of.
What is one thing you’d like your kid(s) to know about the year 2016?
Pendulums swing two ways. Brace yourself for when it swings away from you and position your expectations accordingly.
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” — Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
One word that sums up your theme for 2016 is: