Category: birthday

34

Still marching confidently toward my demise.

Today is my 34th birthday. It’s not much of a milestone. Last year was my Jesus Year. Next year I’m eligible to run for President. This year I’m just kinda here. Regardless of the arbitrary significance placed on any particular year, I wanted to make it sort of a tradition to write a list on my birthday. Something to remind me that in my years I’ve done good, or learned things, or whatever, and to share them. So, without further adieu, here are 34 random things I’ve learned about myself, about the world, and about people throughout my life:

  1. Nobody knows anything. As I’ve gotten older and interacted with more people, in a professional and personal capacity, I’ve noticed that (outside of rare occasions) no one really knows what they’re doing. It makes sense, considering that everything we do is made up. Our jobs are made up. Money is made up. Hell, language is made up. No wonder we’re all just improvising our way through life. In a way, I find comfort in this thought. Provides me perspective when I start to feel overwhelmed or frustrated with the world.
  2. Peregrine falcons can fly up to 200mph. I think that’s pretty fucking amazing.
  3. Cats are very affectionate animals. That is, if you’re their person. In my house, I’m Athena’s person and my wife is Belle’s person. If you’re not a cat’s person, then you can go fuck yourself.
  4. The system is rigged. Unless you’re rich and (preferably) white. We see it all the time in the justice system, in business, in education, and in daily interactions. Racism is something I’ve always felt strongly about, and while I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say here, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the deck is stacked against minorities of all types in our society. Always has been.
  5. Family is hard. Thanks to recent life changes I’ve done a lot of thinking about family. The only conclusion I’ve really come to is that family is hard. We don’t get to choose our family and we’re expected to give those members of our family a long leash solely due to the fact that they’re blood. Mostly, I think that’s bad. We shouldn’t set the expectation that just because someone is family means they can be a shitty person. I’m more fond of the idea of choosing your family through bond, not blood, but now that I’m a father, I also have a deep desire for Elijah to at least know his extended family in a way I was never able.
  6. Writing, and communication in general, is a valuable skill. As someone that communicates for a living, for a long time I thought that my job was bullshit. I thought that everyone should be able to communicate well enough that I was unnecessary. It’s a foundational, fundamental skill to just get along in society. But, as I’ve worked with people of all sorts of different skillsets, I realized that communicating properly and efficiently is a skill that needs to be nurtured. So maybe my place in society isn’t as worthless as I thought.
  7. Intelligence is misleading. We tend to have a narrow view of what makes someone “smart.” We see erudite, well-read intellectual-types as intelligent, when in reality everyone is smart in their own way. I’m a well-read (pseudo) intellectual and I feel like the dumbest person in the room when around blue collar workers that are discussing machine tolerances or engine blocks. Someone’s intelligence is a complex combination of factors, many of which are circumstance (were you born in the suburbs or inner-city? Because that’ll go a long way to determining the quality of your education…) and interest. I no longer believe I’m smarter than anyone, only that we’re all smart in different ways.
  8. The actor that played the Dean on COMMUNITY won an Oscar. Jim Rash, who played Dean Pelton on COMMUNITY, won Best Adapted Screenplay for THE DESCENDANTS. That’s quite the range.
  9. Indecisive? Flip a coin. If you’re stuck between two options, just flip a coin. Not because you should do what the coin says, but because the coin will reveal what you really want. For instance, if I can’t decide between pho or banh mi and when I flip the coin it comes up banh mi, but I feel a little disappointed, I’ll know that I truly want pho.
  10. Nothing can prepare you for parenthood. Now that I’m a parent, I feel wholly unprepared even though I was warned by everyone that it’s really, really hard. I think it’s one of those things you just can’t physically or emotionally prepare for, no matter how much you intellectually know about it. Like war.
  11. We are creatures of contradiction. Life is short, but also long. The pen is mightier than the sword, yet might makes right. Everything is chaos, but we live in structured societies. Lactose intolerant people love cheese. We live contradictions everyday, and we’re all hypocrites in our own ways. Does that mean we should lean into those things? No, of course not. But it’s useful to recognize the fact and strive to overcome it.
  12. French toast is best with cinnamon directly in the batter. I add it to the egg as I’m whisking it, before adding the milk, and that helps the cinnamon get all up in the bread instead of piling onto a single slice or something ridiculous.
  13. Honesty helps achieve forgiveness. When I was a strapping young lad, desired by women near and far (that’s sarcasm, by the way), I learned early on that being honest helped me avoid the bigger pitfalls in my relationships. If I wasn’t feeling someone or I made a mistake I told them, and lots of times we were able to weather it or, if the relationship ended, stay friendly. In all the different ways I’ve fucked up in my life, being honest about it has often (not always) led to forgiveness. For myself and of myself.
  14. Being useful is a good way to make friends. It’s difficult to make friends as an adult. One way to do that, though, is to be useful. Foster a skill that can be useful to like-minded people. I didn’t talk to anyone outside of my family and coworkers for the first three years I lived in DC. But when I started to play hockey and demonstrated some skill, I was constantly asked to join games, which led to friendships. I’ve used to same approach since moving to Philly.
  15. Everyone should go to jail once. I wrote about this a bit in last year’s birthday post, but I wholly believe that you need to do things that test your mettle. Going to jail for a night puts you in so far over your head you’ll learn things about yourself that you’d never have the opportunity otherwise.
  16. Things rarely happen when you want them to, but they do happen. This may be cherry-picking anecdotal data, but a pattern I’ve noticed in my life is that I generally get what I want–it’s just rarely when I want it. Which isn’t to say I don’t work for those things. On the contrary, it’s because I work for what I want that I get it eventually.
  17. Stocks are dumb and awesome. For the past year and a half or so I’ve dabbled in the stock market and done pretty well. Lots of reasons for this (like a pandemic driving share prices down at just the right moment for me to invest), but I like to believe that part of my minor success is recognizing what bullshit the stock market is and playing to that. I mean, for as much as analysts want to quantify stock prices and forecasts at the end of the day the market is based on the emotions of investors. How stupid!
  18. Fun is important. Initially, I was going to say something here about sports and their pointlessness. But I love sports and I shouldn’t be negative on my birthday, so instead I’ll say that fun is important. Discordianism has an idea of “nonsense as salvation” that I find appealing. The Principia Discordia states: “To that end, (Discordianism) proposes… NONSENSE AS SALVATION. Salvation from an ugly and barbarous existence that is the result of taking order so seriously and so seriously fearing contrary orders and disorders; that GAMES are taken as more important than LIFE; rather than taking LIFE AS THE ART OF PLAYING GAMES.”
  19. You can plan for life, but you can’t predict it. When I look back at the last ten years or so, I’m shocked at the route my life has taken. If you’d have asked 24-year old Craig where he’d be, who he’d be with, what he’d be doing, and who he will become, his answer probably wouldn’t come close to the reality of it. I think that’s a good thing. 24-year old Craig was an idiot. Just like 44-year old Craig will think of 34-year old Craig, I hope.
  20. Keep improving. I consider myself a “lifelong learner” and believe in continuous improvement. There is so much to the world, to people in general, and our lives are short enough that we need to continually put the effort into bettering ourselves just to scratch the surface of our potentials.
  21. Keep trying. Whatever it is, don’t give up without good reason. Sometimes life forces us to defer our dreams, or to take a different route, and in that we may lose our passion. Fine. But I’ve found that giving up doesn’t make one feel better, otherwise. If you can, keep going. The result may never be what you want but that doesn’t mean the journey isn’t worthwhile.
  22. Money can buy happiness, but only so much. There are studies that show money can make you happier, especially when that money goes toward meeting some of the lower ends of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. After a certain point, though, it becomes less important.
  23. Time is happiness. Time, in my opinion, is much more valuable. If there is a Heaven and I make it there, the first question I’m going to ask is how much time I wasted doing things I didn’t find enjoyable. I will not like the answer. We’re bound by our responsibilities (and the system–see number 4) but should try to maximize the time we’re enjoying life.
  24. Money is important and should be treated as such. Despite what I said in 22 and 23, money does make the world go ’round and there’s no use in ignoring that fact. I generally dislike money but have tried to build a good relationship through budgeting and investments that has made me more comfortable living withia capitalist society.
  25. The human race has only been around ~100,000 years or so. That’s barely a blink in terms of the timeline of the Earth. It’s useful to keep that in perspective.
  26. Being nice is undervalued. Showing respect, being helpful, and generally treating people with kindness doesn’t get enough recognition for being the most important thing any of us can do.
  27. Aliens probably exist, but there is a good chance we wouldn’t even recognize them if we met. The Universe is a big, big place. Like, unfathomably huge. If life on Earth exists, it’s more than likely another star system has the right environment for life. That said, the chances of us finding it or recognizing it as alien life is pretty low. There is also the chance that, after nearly 14 billion years of existence, intelligent life has come and gone a trillion times already. I interviewed some experts about this years ago.
  28. The Carolina Hurricanes lucked into their 2006 Stanley Cup win. I mean, the Sabres were missing their top four defensemen in the Eastern Conference Final, and then Edmonton lost their starting goalie in the Stanley Cup Final? No wonder the Hurricanes didn’t even make the playoffs the next season.
  29. Babies are hard to fuck up–and thank God for it. As a new father, I’m grateful that newborns are on auto-mode. It’s difficult, but I also think it’s nature’s way of giving new parents a mulligan. There’s no way to be a good parent immediately and I can only hope that once he’s ready I can grow into being a good parent.
  30. It’s hard to be sustainable. Our society isn’t built to be sustainable, and because of that sustainability is expensive, which makes it difficult for people to take part. My wife and I have learned this over the past few years as we’ve tried to buy more sustainably.
  31. Sandwiches are the perfect meal. Think about it–every food group (and therefore, every nutritional need) is represented on a sandwich. I rest my case.
  32. Things are hard and that’s OK: Part One. Right now, in 2021, things are hard. The pandemic is still raging. One of the two major political parties in our country is doing its best to destroy democracy. The Buffalo Sabres continue to be a bad hockey team. However, it won’t be like this forever. Especially if we do our part to make things better. Except for the Sabres. They’ll likely continue to be bad for the foreseeable future.
  33. Things are hard and that’s OK: Part Two: The things we do day-to-day are hard. Work is hard. Writing is hard. Child rearing is hard. But they’re also worthwhile and give us purpose that’s hard to come by any other way. It also helps to believe that life is about the journey, not the destination, to end with something trite.
  34. We all need help. I think we all fall into the trap of trying to shoulder our burdens alone. We shouldn’t. As a new father, especially, I’ve come to recognize how impossible life can feel when we’re trying to do it alone. We’re a social species for a reason–our chances of success at any task improves when we seek and receive help. So don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask f or it, and don’t be stingy when offering it.

33

Ah, yet another year closer to death.

Recently, I turned 33. Like any creative with ambition, every birthday I wonder about what I’ve achieved and the impact I’ve made on the world. And every year, if I’m honest, I don’t feel like I’ve made one. I also believe that’s not a particularly good mindset to have. I’m naturally cynical, especially about my own work and place in the world, so for this year I don’t want to focus on that type of negativity, even if it comes more naturally and more easily to me.

Instead, I decided to write about 33 positive things in my life, big and small. These might be things I’ve done well, things I’m proud of, or just things I enjoy. I’m sure somewhere in here is something impactful and meaningful, but I’ve always held the belief that one shouldn’t ascribe those characteristics to oneself. That would be narcissistic. Anyway, here’s the list:

  1. While I say I don’t believe in luck (there is an idiom I like, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”) I do have to give props to circumstance. We’re all products of circumstance, and circumstances have led me to some cool shit. Like meeting my wife. At the time, the circumstances were just right for us to meet. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to considering myself lucky.
  2. I haven’t had much success as a writer, but I’ve done quite a few writerly things I’m quite proud of. Wrote and made a movie when I was 22. Run multiple blogs. Wrote science quizzes for a non-profit. Interviewed athletes for a sports magazine. None lucrative or with a wide readership, but all informing who I’ve become and all things I can point to with some pride.
  3. In my senior year of high school, I spent a night in jail for stealing old computers from a closet in my school with some friends. (They called it grand larceny, which was then and will always be bullshit). I’m not particularly proud of this fact (although I do have an anti-authoritarian streak in me that smiles when I think about it), but I am proud of what it taught me about myself. After being searched, fingerprinted, and otherwise processed I was put into a holding cell with other “criminals.” Not knowing what to expect, and only having what I’d seen in movies and been told by the cop that picked me and my accomplices up from the school, I was prepared for the worst. Verbal and physical violence. And I was ready for it. Which, in hindsight, is a relief. Nothing ended up happening, and in fact most of the guys in the holding cell that night were fairly pleasant (guys were in for things like public drunkeness, or loudly arguing with their girlfriends, and would be released without issue), but walking in with preconceived notions of violence and feeling prepared to face it head-on showed me that I don’t panic easily, and I’m tougher than I give myself credit for.
  4. I’ve struggled with social anxiety most of my life. On my first day of college, for example, I nearly didn’t get out of my car to go to class because I was afraid. Throughout college I avoided participating in groups like the school paper because I was scared. This was a trend into adulthood, like when I was hired for my first job after moving to DC. I nearly didn’t get on the metro to go because it felt like my chest was going to explode and my legs were stuck in wet concrete. Over time, with some work, I’ve been able to control the anxiety and now don’t struggle as much to try new things or meet new people. I still won’t be the one to start a conversation, though. So if you see me out and wonder if I’ll come say “hi” I probably won’t. You’ll have to initiate.
  5. When I was young, I thought of myself as having leadership qualities. High school and college taught me that just thinking you have those qualities isn’t the same as exhibiting them. That said, in my day job I’ve grown into a leadership role within our department and enjoy it.
  6. This year I decided to put myself out there and really make a push toward becoming a full-time writer and building an audience. No idea how it’ll turn out, but I’m actively walking that path, which is itself a small victory.
  7. I’ve learned that the best way to get people’s attention and, sometimes, to make friends is to demonstrate a skill that has value to them. I discovered this by being a pretty solid hockey goaltender.
  8. Similarly, I’ve learned that people will gravitate toward you if they believe you’re dependable. I do my best to be dependable.
  9. In college, while sitting in my car drinking, a friend told me that he respects me because I wasn’t necessarily exposed to art, literature, or other pursuits as a kid, but I discovered and pursued them on my own. I appreciated that he noticed my drive to be the best version of me possible.
  10. While volunteering, the director of a non-profit (Learning Life, for those interested) told me that I was the most “generally competent” person he’d ever met. Like 9, that sort of compliment means the world to me.
  11. Throughout my life, I’ve done a very good job of choosing who to be close with. If I have one skill, it’s finding good friends.
  12. I waited for years to propose to my wife because I wanted to be sure I could support her. Happily, while she finishes her doctoral degree I’m doing just that.
  13. I was an angry child and would often fly off the handle for small reasons. My father enrolled me in Tae Kwon Do, where I learned discipline and how to regulate my emotions. I’m probably on the opposite extreme now, as my lack of an emotional reaction is often interpreted as uncaring, but I prefer that over the alternative.
  14. I’ve always been something of a picky eater. Over the last ten years my wife has introduced me to all sorts of new foods and my palette has expanded quite a bit. Back then you wouldn’t have seen that from me.
  15. I wrote a novel. I never thought I’d be able to do that. Maybe one day you’ll even get to read it.
  16. Similarly, I built this website on my own.
  17. Discipline and responsibility are closely linked in my mind. Hard to be one without the other. I try to be both, and I think people recognize that in me.
  18. Working for Americorps was a life-changing experience. First, it taught me that I actually enjoy kids. Before doing Americorps they confused and frightened me. I also learned a lot about teaching and communication that has helped me in every aspect of my life. Oh, and I met my wife there.
  19. My cats are awesome, and my wife and I are excellent pet parents.
  20. My parents divorced when I was young and mine and my sister’s relationship with my mother was left in a bad place, leading to a three-year period of silence. One day, I decided to drive to my grandparents house, who we had lost communication with when we lost my mom. By some coincidence (miracle?) the entire family was there, including my aunt who lives multiple states away. That was the beginning of repairing our relationship. Eventually, my sister also salvaged her relationship with our mom, and things have been pretty great ever since. Now if I miss a week where I don’t call her she gets mad at me.
  21. Year after year I’ve slowly tried to ramp up my reading. Last year was an adulthood record for me in books read, including some mammoth ones like Chuck Wendig’s WANDERERS and Joe Hill’s THE FIREMAN. It helped me to alternate between epic novels like those with novellas like Victor LaValle’s THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM, Ellen Klages’s PASSING STRANGE, or Paul Tremblay’s THE LAST CONVERSATION. This year I’m trying to read more short stories to allow myself more bite-sized reads that I don’t need to carve out a significant amount of time (in my life that means anything more than 15 minutes) to read.
  22. I have a pretty finely-tuned bullshit detector. It’s saved me from some sketchy situations and people, like when I was desperate for a job after college and almost got sucked into a multi-level marketing scheme. Going back to 11, this skill has helped me to quickly decide whether or not I should put effort into a potential relationship.
  23. While growing up in blue collar Buffalo, I thought that I wanted to work within an office, with my own cubicle and everything. Seemed safe. When I first moved to DC, I was able to find an office job within a month. It was writing-based and had a good salary with benefits. I finally felt like an adult. I was also terrible at it. From the job itself, to wearing a suit and commuting everyday, none of it was what I had thought it would be. I was fired within ten months. After a long stint of unemployment I found another office job doing the same thing. I lasted four months. Eight more months of unemployment I thought, “Well, third time’s the charm,” and applied to a proposal writing position that allowed me to telecommute. I’m now on the cusp of my sixth year with the company and lead our small division. In short, it wasn’t the job I was bad at (although the learning curve was steeper than I had expected at the time), it was working in an office.
  24. I do my best to be as honest as possible, even when it gets me in trouble.
  25. I’ve won a few awards for various things throughout my life–mostly athletics, but also public speaking and some workplace stuff. But in hindsight the most accurate award I’ve ever been given was “Most Helpful Boy” in third grade. I like helping others.
  26. As a straight white guy I recognize that I was born into privilege, even if I grew up poor. That said, I’m also very cognizant that even though you might recognize your own privilege, that doesn’t mean you’re culturally aware or not subject to ignorance. It’s something I actively work at and luckily have a wife that isn’t afraid to call me out when I’m being insensitive or ignorant.
  27. I enjoy most housework. Throwing on my headphones and cranking a podcast while I do the mindless task of cleaning is a break from living in my head. My wife appreciates it, too. Don’t ask me to cook, though.
  28. My father is proud of the person I am. I’m not sure whether or not he ever had doubts of me (maybe when I was arrested?), but he genuinely takes interest in most of the things I do.
  29. Maybe more importantly, I think my father respects me. He’s a complicated man, often stubborn, and much smarter than he lets on. But when we’re talking I can tell he makes an extra effort to really listen to what I’m telling him, good, bad, or otherwise, and engage with my thoughts more than superficially.
  30. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve only gotten more curious and more driven to learn new things. That’s exciting.
  31. I’m not a money-driven person. Sometimes this has been a bad thing, like my inability to negotiate for salary or raises. Recently, though, I’ve gotten better about recognizing that money is important (even if I hate it) and have taught myself how to be financially responsible. This led to my negotiating a promotion and raise recently. Guys, I even bought stocks. It’s crazy.
  32. Considering things like climate change and the general wastefulness of our culture, I try to live as sustainably as I can. This year, for example, my wife and I decided to only buy clothes from sustainable places. It’s been fun learning about the different products you can buy that are safer and better for the Earth. And, aside from costing a little bit more money, it hasn’t really affected our lifestyle much.
  33. I think, after much difficulty through my adolescence and early adulthood, I’ve become a decent man. Still lots of work to do, but I’m motivated to continually improve on myself.

So, that was actually pretty difficult. But as someone that can get hung up on the rejections and failures and mistakes I’ve made throughout my life, I think exercises like this are important for perspective, if nothing else.

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