That’s a wrap, 2018!

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Photo by ViTalko on Pexels.com

As the year winds down to a close, I wanted to look back at last year’s wrap-up post in which I set some goals for 2018.  I realized a few years back that I need to set goals, and not resolutions.  Resolutions get dumped after thirty days like a CBS All-Access trial, but goals tend to stick more because I get annoyed with myself when I fail.

How did I do on last year’s goals?  Let’s find out.

My goal from last year: Write more.
How I actually did:  Just terrible.  I managed all of five posts in twelve months, not including this one.   I need to do better.  I even fell behind on travel posts in 2018.  I still haven’t written about most of my trips from this year.

My goal from last year: Traveling more.  At the very least, I wanted to see local places I haven’t seen like Bok Tower Gardens, the Citrus Tower, or the Orlando Cat Cafe.
How I actually did:  I failed to see any of the places around Central Florida that I listed above, but I did see Boston and Hartford for the first time, and Washington DC for the third-ish time.  I had some in-state travel, including a family wedding in Naples and visits to friends in Sarasota, Tampa, and South Florida.  I also took a longish trip back to Germany and Austria near the end of the summer, including a quick detour to a city I had never seen before.

I went out of state a total of four times this year, so I’m calling this a definite win.  Now I just need to post blog entries about all of the trips!

My goal from last year: Reading more. I set a Goodreads Challenge in 2018 to try to read at least 52 books-  one a week.
How I actually did:  Success!  Sort of.  About two thirds of the way through the year, I realized I was going to fall horribly short, so I changed my goal from 52 to 24.  Instead of one a week, I shot for two a month.   And I hit the middle-  a total of 34 books read this year.    It’s more than double the number I read in 2017, so I’m counting this as a win despite my dodgy adjustment of the goal.

My goal from last year:   Change my concert-going selections to be more about quality than quantity.
How I actually did:  Well, this has just been the longest year ever.  Looking back at my ticket stubs, I am astonished to realize that some of these were this year when I thought they were actually last year.

In 2018, I saw Book of Love, They Might Be Giants, Vice President Joe Biden, Randy Rainbow, Erasure, Owl City, 4U: A Symphonic Celebration of Prince, VNV Nation, and Mannheim Steamroller.  Five of those I had seen before and enjoyed enough to repeat.

On the musicals front, I saw the 30th anniversary celebration of Rent, a Central Florida local production of Xanadu, and the Washington DC preview of Beetlejuice: The Musical.   All of these were really great.

All in all, this was a slower year for concerts but I definitely boosted the quality, mostly.  I say mostly, because Mannheim Steamroller was kind of disappointing- Chip Davis doesn’t tour with the group any more, and the whole thing just kind of felt like a  Mannheim Steamroller cover band made up of indentured slave musicians.  There was no interaction with the audience, and no joy on the stage.

Beetlejuice: The Musical made up for that by being amazing and I’m considering trying to see it again after it opens on Broadway in late March.

My goal from last year:   Work out more regularly.  More time on the treadmill, especially.
How I actually did:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  I am terrible at getting to the gym!   It’s much easier to get to the gym from my new apartment than it was from the old one, but it’s also much easier to justify just sitting on the couch with the remote control and a bowl of Chocolate Moose Tracks ice cream.

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My goal from last year:  Get better sleep.  Turn off the screens a little earlier each night.
How I actually did:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  My sleep is… not good.  According to the sleep tracking that I get from my FitBit,  I usually get somewhere between six and seven hours of sleep per night, and the quality of that sleep is just so-so.   Getting more than eight hours of restful sleep is really uncommon for me.  I know many of the reasons for my poor sleep, and I’m trying to fix them.

My goal from last year:  Eat fewer cookies and less sweets in general!
How I actually did: My results on this one are mixed.  I do keep fewer sweets in the house, and I’ve been eating better overall, but I could still improve this.   Right after I eat this chocolate chip cookie dough.

To sum up,  I did terribly on meeting my 2018 goals.   For 2019, my goals are more or less the same as they were last year, with a few simplifications, and a few significant additions.

The 2019 Goals-

Be healthier:  Eat better, sleep more, and get some damn exercise.  This isn’t complicated, I just have to pay attention to it and put in the effort.

Travel more:  I’ve decided on a try to make at least three out of state trips and at least one International trip for the year.  If I can do more, that’s awesome.

Feed my inner introvert:  Spend more time with books and less with little screens, whether they be my phone or my television.  And, contradicting the little screens rule, write more in this blog.  I used to be so prolific, and it’s been nearly dead for a while.

…but also see friends more often.   I also mentioned in my year end recap last year that I wasn’t very good at feeding my friendships, and I’ve tried to improve that this year.  This is actually a pretty big deal, because I work from home and I can easily go for four or five days at a stretch without leaving the apartment.  I did well, though- I definitely spent more time around other people this year.  I even made a lot of new friends, and I’ve kept a regular social schedule that gets me out of the house at least a couple of times a week.

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Listen to more music,  live or otherwise:  I figured out a long time ago that if I don’t listen to music, I get cranky.  It changes my mood, it lowers my stress, and it’s as vital to me as breathing.    I hadn’t been able to listen to music as much as I like to for a variety of unimportant reasons.

To fix this, I went out a few weeks ago and bought myself a new sound system for my apartment.  The new speaker integrates with streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, and it’s the best purchase I’ve made literally all year.  I even figured out how to stream Antenne Bayern to it, which is wonderful because it’s better than any local radio.  (Sorry, WOMX, I’ll always cherish my time with you guys but German radio is just better.)

Let go of rage.  Here’s something that most people who know me will probably be surprised by-  I am full of anger.   I am Steven’s livid inner monologue.

I have been carrying more stress and anger this past year than any in recent memory.    Carrying this stress, resentment, and bile into the new year would be the least healthy thing I could possibly do.   I am trying to follow the sage words of Elsa, to just let the damn thing go.   I am trying to forgive and mellow, to chillax and be more zen.  It ain’t easy, but I’m trying to let go of rage and negativity in the new year.

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I am trying to incorporate three things into the way I react to stress and conflict:

  1. The Polish phrase, “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy.”  Translated to English, it means “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”  I’ve been trying to stop myself from butting into other people’s stuff. My tendency is to try to correct people’s errors.  In short, I have become a buttinski.  I can’t even begin to quantify how often I start to write a comment on social media, then pull back because I realize there’s nothing to be gained by injecting myself into the conversation.  Not my circus…
  2. You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.  During my last relationship,  I changed a great deal of who I am in order to better suit my partner. While she never explicitly asked me to do this, I noticed pretty quickly that she was happier when I behaved in certain ways. Subconsciously, I started to act differently in order to feed the relationship.  It started small, but it built up to massive changes in me over time.  It was subtle, and I didn’t notice myself changing at first.  By the end of the relationship, I barely recognized myself.  Changing who you are to make another person happy is incredibly unhealthy, and I hate how long it took me to recognize what was happening.
  3. Not everything needs to be fixed.  I scraped up my car a while back in the parking garage of my old apartment-  the right rear quarter panel is bent and is starting to rust.  I spent months thinking that I either needed to fix it or replace the car.   Because of crappy design decisions by Mazda, the estimate for repairing this one tiny blemish is more than half the remaining loan on the car.   The damage doesn’t affect how the car runs and it doesn’t make it any less functional.  Once I realized that the car is perfectly fine, I let go of the notion that I need to fix or replace it, and that obsession stopped spinning out in my mind.

A lot of the things that have caused me stress and anger this year are things that I have brought on myself.   While I need to accept that some of my stressors must be endured, I realize now that I can cut many of them loose.

You’re allowed to take back a little of your own time, and a new year is a great time to take stock of your life and make those changes for the better.

I wish all of you a happy and healthy new year.  And, because this joke never, ever gets old for me, I’ll see you next year!  Do you have any goals for 2019?

What I learned from the Labyrinth

Labyrinth-poster2Labyrinth, the musical fantasy epic from Jim Henson and Brian Froud, has long been one of my favorite movies.  I loved it the first time I saw it in 1986, and I love it now.  A few months ago, Fathom Events brought Labyrinth back to movie theaters for a few days.  While I was enjoying a new viewing on the big screen, I started thinking about the life lessons encoded in Henson’s Bowie-filled masterpiece.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, here’s the basic premise for the start of the movie-  Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a teenage girl who clings to the fantasy life and toys of her childhood.  As the film opens, she is late to babysit her brother Toby, and she’s a whiny brat about it.  She complains about having to babysit to her Stepmother and father, “It’s not fair!”  Once they go out, she is frustrated by Toby’s constant crying, and she super dramatically wishes for the Goblin King to take the baby away from her.   Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) appears, and takes the baby as she requested.

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I need a portable fan for dramatic entrances.

When she says that she wants him back, he gives her thirteen hours to get through the Labyrinth to the castle beyond the Goblin City.    This is where the story really kicks in- and the lessons.

Pretty isn’t always good, and monstrous isn’t always bad.

When Sarah first meets Hoggle outside the Labyrinth, he’s cheerfully killing faeries with a pump-spray filled with of some sort of pesticide. She picks one up, thinking it’s a poor abused thing, and it promptly bites her.  Later, she first encounters Ludo suspended upside-down and being tormented by goblins with biting-sticks. Ludo looks and sounds like a ferocious beast at first, but it’s an illusion.  Once he’s right side up, his fierce expression turns out to be sweet and friendly.

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The idea that pretty things can be dangerous and that helpful or good-natured things might be hiding behind ferocity is repeated throughout the Labyrinth, and that leads us to…

Take nothing for granted.

Early in the film, Sarah is following an outer track of the maze but she struggles to find an entrance to the Labyrinth.  When she slumps against the wall in frustration, she meets an adorable worm who invites her in for a cup of tea, and to meet the missus.

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How does he tie that tiny scarf?  He’s a worm, he’s got no hands!

Sarah is too preoccupied with getting through the maze to stop, and she says as much to the worm.  He tells her not to take anything for granted, and points her to a place that looks like solid wall.   She realizes after a moment that it’s an illusion, and that there are openings all over, and rushes off.

Don’t be in such a rush that you miss the important things.

The worm isn’t done with the lessons there, either.  At the end of their exchange, the worm tells her not to go in the first direction she chose.   She doesn’t question it, thanks him, and races off in the other direction.  Once she’s out of earshot, the worm says, “If she’d have kept on goin’ down that way she’d have gone straight to that castle.”

If she hadn’t been in such a rush, she would have gotten to the castle much faster. and the movie would have been considerably shorter.

Life isn’t always fair.

Throughout the movie, Jareth sends obstacles to keep Sarah from reaching the castle to reclaim her brother.  When he speeds up the clock and changes the conditions of her challenge, she impetuously complains that  it isn’t fair.  Jareth’s dry retort is one of my favorite lines in any movie: “You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

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Goblin King Sass!

It’s important to have perspective about the problems in your life-  fairness rarely enters into it.  Whining about how things haven’t been fair to you will accomplish nothing at all.

You can get used to any bullshit if you spend too much time around it.

When our intrepid heroes reach the Bog of Eternal Stench, they meet Sir Didymus, the stalwart defender of… a tiny rickety bridge across the bog.  While we never find out why Sir Didymus has pledged himself to defend this bridge, we do realize that he must have been in the Bog for quite some time.  Everyone else in the group is recoiling with disgust at the stench, but Sir Didymus doesn’t notice at all.  Think of it as the olfactory equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome.

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This is also true in real life- if you have a terrible job or a bad relationship or a friendship that is withering on the vine, it’s easy to get used to it.  Inertia is sometimes difficult to break through and we often let a less-than-ideal situation go on for far longer than we should because it’s what we’re used to.

Sometimes you just need a new quest to get out of the Bog.

Your stuff is just stuff.

During the requisite drugged-peach hallucinatory trip segment of the movie,  Sarah finds herself in a junkyard with no memory of what she was doing.  She encounters a Junk Lady with all of her possessions on her back.  There’s a moment where Sarah returns to what she thinks is her room, surrounded by all the things she loves – her old games and books and toys and stuffed animals.

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The Junk Lady starts to hand her the things she loves, and begins stacking them up on her back-  after a moment, Sarah starts to have an improbable stack of her things resting above her shoulders, just like the Junk Lady.   She realizes after a few minutes that her things are all just junk- the belongings aren’t that important, and she quickly resumes her quest to reach Toby before the clock runs out.

This is a recurring theme in many of my favorite movies- the things you own often wind up owning you.  They can pull you down, and weigh heavily on you.  And at the end of the journey, it’s really all just junk-  the important thing is the people you meet along the way.

Love can be a subtle control.

In one of the most subtly nasty moments in the entire film, Jareth says a thing which summarizes the tricky control of many a psychologically abusive relationship.  Gaslighting, in a nutshell:   “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”

In a way, this is the same lesson as most of the others-  you can get used to any situation, no matter how bad.  The things you love can control you.  Pretty things are often bad for you.

The way out is to remember your own strength, as Sarah did when she stopped playing  Jareth’s Goblin games at the end of the movie:  “You have no power over me.”

What lessons did you learn from Labyrinth?

So long, 2017. Hello, 2018!

My friend Jade posted her year in review  a few days ago, and it made me realize that my year has actually been quite a bit less busy than some of my previous years.    Some things haven’t changed at all-  things are still great with Amelie, and nothing major has changed for either my family or hers.

I only had two major life changes this year-  We moved to Orlando in May, and I spent the last two months of the year completely unemployed and job hunting like a fiend.  I should have a job starting on 08 January, assuming nothing goes wrong with the paperwork, so I’m looking forward to that.

I don’t do “resolutions” any more, because they fall through way too quickly, but I will give myself a list of suggested “goals” based on the areas that I feel like I was a little bit stagnant this year.

I wrote 21 blog posts in 2017, not counting this one.  If not for my travel posts, it would have been far fewer.    Goal for 2018: Write more.  Even if it’s only one post a week, that’d be better than this year.

I read fourteen books in 2017.  Goal for 2018:  I plan on doing a Goodreads Challenge in 2018 to drastically increase that number.  I’m thinking 52 books is a good goal-  one a week.

We only took two trips out of Florida this year- Los Angeles in June, and New York City in July.  I can’t do much on this one for a little while, because first I need a regular paycheck and the accrual of vacation days.  I’d like to travel some more, but time and money are at a premium.   Goal for 2018:  At the very least, we should do some little trips around here on weekends.  For example, I’ve never been to Bok Tower Gardens, the Citrus Tower, or the Orlando Cat Cafe.  These are all places that I’d like to see, and that don’t require an overnight stay somewhere.

The one area where I feel like we did a lot in 2017 was concerts and show attendance.  During this calendar year, we saw all of the following:   Cabaret, Alan Cumming, The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience featuring Ramin Djawadi, The Flaming Lips, Panic! At the Disco, Neil Diamond, Bastille, The Head and the Heart, The Birthday Massacre, Bob’s Burgers Live In Concert, Queen with Adam Lambert, Kinky Boots, Green Day, Arcade Fire, An Evening with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Love Never Dies, La Nouba, and The Blue Man Group.   Goal for 2018:   Change my concert-going methodology to be more about quality than quantity.  Last year, we grabbed a bunch of show tickets that we didn’t end up using because the event came up and we realized we just didn’t care enough to deal with the crowds-  concerts should be a delight and a treat, not a chore to get through.  I forgot that at some point.

I was crappy at going to the gym this year.  I was strong early in the year, but then we came to Orlando, and I never wanted to leave the apartment.  My parking space is on the sixth floor of the parking structure, and leaving the apartment means I have to loop down all six levels.  It takes a minimum of five minutes just to go from my parking space to the street, and I hate it!  Goal for 2018:   Work out more regularly.  More time on the treadmill, especially.   I’ll be moving to a new apartment in May, so I’ll keep the parking lot nuisance in mind as I search for the next place.

I also slept really poorly in 2017.   I have lost all sense of what day it is, or what time it is.  My apartment has poor sound insulation, so every emergency vehicle, every small-dicked jackhole with more engine noise than brains, every drunken sidewalk fight-  they all keep me awake.  Goal for 2018:  Get better sleep.  Turn off the screens a little earlier each night.  If I do well with the exercise goal, that will help with the sleep goal.

I’ve been trying to eat healthier overall, and I’m better than I used to be.  However, I am terrible about cookies.  If they’re in my house, they’re in my mouth.  The leftover Halloween candy was especially bad-  I ultimately had to put it in a sealed box on a high shelf in the closet, because I would just grab a handful any time I walked past the bowl on the counter.  It’s too easy to snack.  Even worse,   I’ve noticed a definite trend between my sweet tooth and my mood.  It turns out this is not just me- there were lots of articles this year about how there is a link between sugar and depression in men.  This tracks from my own experience- if I have a lot of sugary stuff, such as cookies or candy, then I feel terrible later.  Emotionally, too, not just physically.  Goal for 2018:  Eat fewer cookies and less sweets in general!  I’ve started this already by simply not purchasing them in large amounts.  I try to keep them out of my kitchen, so the temptation isn’t there.

While this isn’t a goal as such, I need to spend more time on my friends.  I have more friends in Orlando than I had in South Florida, but we never see each other because most of them are incredibly busy.  Friendships need to be fed!   Some of my Orlando friends haven’t even met Amelie because the busyness has taken hold.   This shall not stand!

That’s all of the things that I can think of for a general recap of 2017.   I wish all of you a happy and healthy new year.  And, because this joke never, ever gets old for me, I’ll see you next year!

Do you want to change anything in the new year?  What goals have you set for yourself to do so?

[#AtoZChallenge] A is for Afterward.

On Thursday night, people who had worked at my previous Mr. Company all gathered together in a bar for a happy hour.  The last happy hour.

I say the last one because we were let go in waves.  The first group of people was out the door in the middle of August.  There was a farewell happy hour.   The next group, the largest group, was mine, in the middle of December.  We had another happy hour.  There was a tiny group let go in the middle of January, so another gathering.

Last night was the day before the Boca Raton office closed its doors-  the last dozen or so people in the office had been busily clearing away the remains of twenty years of business.   Over the last few days, I’ve seen pictures posted on Facebook of an empty data center, rows of empty cubicles, and the lead developer wearing shorts.  These are all equally traumatic and heart-breaking.

I’ve talked about my own departure from the company in previous posts, and I mused back in December that the grieving process would probably hit me later on.  It has.  Up until now, I was still interacting with many of these people on a professional level, but those meetings have ceased.

I wanted very much to go back to the office one last time, to see the empty spaces for myself, and to walk the old familiar hallways.  I realized halfway through the happy hour that this was pointless, though.  Right now, it’s just an empty building.   The thing that made it home to me for so many years was the people, and they were all around me.

When we got together for this last farewell happy hour, it was really a wake.  A very Irish wake, because quite a few people had quite a few drinks.  I highly recommend the Red Sangria; it was delicious.  There was reminiscing, and hugging, and more than a few splashes of emotion.  People who had left us in years past turned up, because this was more than a company to many of us.   For a lot of us, it was a family.

I started with Mr. Company when I was 29 years old.  My entire life for the last fifteen years has been shaped by working with this amazing bunch of people.  Thanks to the Internet, I won’t lose touch with many of them, but I’m sure gonna miss working with them.

What’s your favorite mixed drink?

Administrative note: This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Each Monday through Saturday in the month of April, I will write a new post- one for each letter of the alphabet. If you would like to participate, it’s never too late to start. Just look over the guidelines at http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/.

So this is what having free time is like.

I meant to keep writing on a more regular basis, but the first half of December has been absolutely ridiculous.  I moved out of my apartment with Amelie’s help, and Thursday was the final day at Mr. Company, after more than fourteen years.  I’ve been keeping busy since Thursday afternoon, so I don’t have a lot of emotions to process yet.  I suspect it will hit me later.  Like any long relationship that comes to an end, there will be a grieving process.

It’s difficult to really frame fourteen and a half years in your mind.  We’re used to shorter hops in time-  what happened in the last week? What happened in the last year?

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My ID badge. July, 2002

When I started working for this company, I was in my late 20s.  It was the summer of 2002, and my ID badge photo was taken on July 1st.  I worked for Mr. Company at first in technical support.  I moved from a tier one job to tier 2, then tier 3, and within four years I was a supervisor.  I wrote reviews, did hiring interviews, the whole lot.

During that time, I worked with dozens of people who have passed in and out of my life over a span of years- the tech scene in this part of Florida is not so large that you don’t run into each other from time to time.  I made friendships at Mr. Company that will be with me for the rest of my life.

I didn’t really like being a management type, though.  The job wasn’t technical, favoring delegation of tech work instead.  I much prefer to be responsible for only my own work, and I missed getting into the technical work.

In 2007, I moved over to operations and became a UNIX administrator.  Right away, I was given the chance to travel to Dulles, Virginia to do a bunch of work in the data center.  The next year, I went to Hong Kong for two weeks to work with a team of colleagues on a big server installation.   Hong Kong was my first-ever trans-Atlantic hop.  My only international trips before that were the Bahamas and Canada- international traveling for beginners.   Hong Kong was the first time I ever went to a place where I didn’t know the language and it was fascinating and awesome.

In 2011, I was in my fourth year as a UNIX administrator and our partners in Zurich asked us to assign a sysadmin to the local German office.  Volunteers were requested, and I was in a perfect situation to go- I had just sold a condo and all of my stuff was already in storage.  I said sure, and by the middle of November of that year, I was living full time in Regensburg, Germany. I was promoted again when I moved, giving me my fifth title change sine I started working for the company.

Including Germany, I visited 23 more countries during my three years living and working in Bavaria, and I made still more life-long friends.   I compiled an incredible variety of experiences in that time, and it’s all chronicled here in this blog.

At the end of 2014, after three years in Germany, I returned to the US.  I worked in the Boca Raton office again.  During the summer of 2015, I spent five weeks in Japan to work on a migration of their customers to a new platform.  While I was there, Mr. Company announced that we were divesting all of our web hosting business, and I knew my time at the company had an expiration date.

Fourteen years is a long time.  While I was working for this company, I bought a home, lived in it for about seven years, and sold it.  In fourteen years I’ve moved nine times, two of them internationally.  I’ve attended weddings of friends and family.  Also funerals.  And births.  My oldest niece has graduated college and purchased a house.  My youngest niece just turned six.   I’ve purchased two cars, a 2005 Civic and a 2015 Mazda 3.  I met my girlfriend just before I moved to Germany, and we got to know each other while I was across the ocean.  We’ve been together since 2014.

Trying to recap a span of nearly a decade and a half is not an easy task.  It’s just too much.

It’s finally the end-  the company has eliminated the positions and the entire office is closing.  I’m not the last person out of the building. but there’s only a dozen or so people left to clean up the mess we all left behind.  I’m glad that I’m not the one left behind, because that’s going to be the most difficult work of all.

The goodbyes on Thursday were difficult.  I mostly wasn’t emotional, until Daryl started saying nice things about me.  That was enough to make me almost lose it a tiny bit.  (Damn you, Daryl!  Why can’t you just hate me like a normal techie person?)

The picture at the start of the post was me on the first day in 2002.  This one was taken earlier this week, in my last days at the company in 2016.  I look like I’ve seen some stuff.  And I have.

Fourteen years later, December 2016.

I also got the best sleep I’ve had in years on Thursday night, because there was no reason for me to wake up early on Friday.  For the moment, I have nowhere to go.

So how’s your December going so far?