Tag: birthday


I think there is a perception, or at least I’ve always had the perception, that life gets easier as you get older. Maybe it’s because you gain some amount of freedom you hadn’t experienced before. Maybe you get a stable job and no longer have to worry about money (as much). You get married and have a kid (or a few) and aren’t as lonely. Or any number of possible things that can improve as time marches on.

What I’ve found over the course of my 37 years is that life is always hard for most people, most of the time. It just becomes hard in different ways. While owning a home and having a child and maintaining a marriage and having disposable income are all great things, it’s also really hard to maintain a home and raise a child and share your life and be responsible with your money. We work so goddamned hard when we’re young to lift ourselves up, earn the responsibilities that we’re told make us successful adults, but then need to learn how to shoulder the burden of those responsibilities. The margin of error shrinks with each one. It’s terrifying.

Although I’ve not quite reached middle age (all being well), I have reached a point in my life where I’m beginning to lose more than I gain. Eight years ago, I lost my grandfather. A few months after my son was born, I lost my oldest friend. This past December, I lost my mother-in-law. Going forward, I’ll likely attend more funerals than weddings. I know all too well that Death hovers near all of us, all the time, and will reach for you at random.

I say all of this only to acknowledge that life is hard. For most of us, most of the time, it’s always been hard and will continue to be hard.

And that’s okay. Because we level up as the difficulty rises. Sure, sometimes we fail, or we retreat. But most of the time we learn to manage it. We become wiser. Get stronger. Understand ourselves better. There is value in that as part of what it means to get older and to live a life well lived.

For a brief time I wasn’t sure I’d see 36, let alone 37. So, even though things are hard right now, even though most days I feel like I’m barely treading water just balancing my day-to-day responsibilities (to say nothing of my ambitions and dreams, which are largely ignored nowadays), I’m grateful to feel it at all. Feeling like I’m about to crumble under the weight of my responsibilities means I’ve built a full life. It means I’ve achieved things and now must maintain them. Feeling this way means that I am here, experiencing all that life can throw at me and I’m making it through.

After COVID, and having a child, and getting cancer, and losing people I love, I’ve realized that I am resilient. Resilient and persistent.

So are you.

Remember that as things get harder, and they will always get harder. We are resilient and persistent, and life is worthwhile because it is hard.


Each year on my birthday I try to find something revealing and maybe insightful to say. How successful I’ve been at that only you, dear reader, can tell me. This year, though, feels different. My cancer diagnosis has changed my perspective on life a bit. It’s made me more grateful for the time I have, more determined to make the most of it, and more cognizant of what’s important to me.

In my prior birthday posts I sometimes spoke about getting older. I don’t think I realized then that getting older isn’t a guarantee. Being more attuned to the cancer community I’ve been exposed to people much sicker than I ever was, including a few that did die young. I wonder what their plans for the future were. I wonder what opportunities and ambitions they passed up thinking that they would have more time, or more money, or more energy in a future they’ll now never get to see. And I wonder what sort of amazing things we lost in them not getting one.

Luckily, I am still here and (hopefully) will be for at least a little while longer. So let’s talk about my hopes for the future. Things I want to do. Works I want to create. Ways I want to make the world a distant fraction of a percent better than it is right now. Consider this something of a bucket list.

  1. Be there for Elijah as he grows up: Obvious, I know, but it’s my main motivation for doing whatever I can to grow old. I want to see the type of man my son becomes. I want to help guide him into being that man. I want to meet his children. More than anything. If the rest of my life is a huge waste, this will still make it worthwhile.
  2. Gift Elijah Money: What I mean by this is that I want to save money specifically for him to have when he becomes an adult. Not a college fund necessarily because he may not want to go to college, but a nice chunk of change for him to decide what to do with. Travel? Sure. Buy a house? Okay. Save and invest? Good idea. Go to trade school? Sounds great. Start a business? Go for it. The point is to give him the head start my wife and I weren’t afforded, and also maybe avoid some of those predatory loans young people are forced into.
  3. Take my family to Vietnam: My wife was born there, but hasn’t been back since she was a young girl. I want to experience her birth country with her, and I know she wants to share that with our son.
  4. Go back to Greece: A few years ago we took a cruise around the Greek Isles. While I’m sour on cruises because of their terrible environmental impact (and because my wife doesn’t have much in the way of sea legs), our experiences in Greece were amazing. We’d like to go back.
  5. See America: This country I live in is huge, with myriad cultures and experiences to be explored. I want to do a solid sampler platter of it all. Big cities, small towns, remote forests–pretty much everything except maybe the desert. Not huge on sand.
  6. Visit all 32 NHL Arenas / Cities: Even though the NHL is problematic, and hockey in general has a shit culture, I love the sport. I love playing it, watching it, and investing in it. And since each NHL team is based in a medium-to-large city, it’s a good excuse to do some traveling and sight-seeing. So far, I’ve only hit Buffalo (duh), Philadelphia (duh again), and Montreal. Still have 29 to go.
  7. Make a Movie: I’ve been saving and investing with the hopes of eventually having enough money to make a microbudget film. I think I have the right script idea, so now I just need to write it, fund it, and gather cast and crew. In my head it’s totally doable. In reality, it’ll be tough.
  8. Write Like I’m Running Out of Time: I have so many story ideas I’m excited about. Pulpy action / horror stories, sci-fi action comedy, existential stories about religion and grief, and stories I’ve tried telling in the past but didn’t have the skills to get them right. I want to write it all before I run out of time. It’s not really possible, is it? I’ll always have new ideas that I’m excited about. But I can try.
  9. Reenter the Screenwriting Arena: I haven’t written a full screenplay since 2015 or so. I was pretty good at it, but not quite good enough to break through. I think with the experience I’ve gained writing short stories and novels, plus the life experiences I’ve had since then, I could write something special.
  10. Create a Webseries: I initially meant to do this last year, but then, ya know, cancer. It’s something I can write, shoot, act in, and edit myself. I think the idea is pretty good, but the execution will be tricky as a one-man show. Maybe this year will be the year.
  11. Publish: My ultimate goal is to be a hybrid author. Right now I want to traditionally publish my novels and self-publish novellas and short story collections, as I did with Anh Nguyen and Through Dark Into Light.
  12. Get Involved in Politics: I’ve always had an interest in politics. That’s why I minored in Political Science. Getting involved, though, has always eluded me. It’s hard to know how, which isn’t a good excuse. There are also time considerations, and if you really pursue politics the issue of being a public figure (no matter how minor). It’s an ugly arena, but a necessary one.
  13. Volunteer: Again, time is tough to overcome here. Volunteering and politics are closely related in my mind, as depending on where you volunteer that act on its own can be considered a political act. Mostly, though, I just want to contribute positively to people’s lives in some way.
  14. Earn Decent Passive Income: I’m slowly working on this. Between publishing and investing, I have some passive income coming in, but it’s really only worth a couple of decent dinners per year right now. I’m not going to be paying the mortgage with it anytime soon. The goal, then, is to get to that point.

Obviously, a lot of these goals could be broken into sub-goals. I have specific places in America I would like to see, specific areas I would like to volunteer, etc. But as a broad list to look forward to for whatever might be left of my life (if cancer doesn’t get me, maybe an assassin will?) I think it’s a good one.

Now to just make it happen.


My birthday cake is officially a fire hazard.

Today is my 35th birthday. 35 is the last major milestone for a while (I can run for President! Yay?), but it’s also a point in life where things are either actively changing, or have changed enough to reflect on. I believe that we all live several lives over the course of our 80-some-odd years (or more! Hopefully!) on the planet, and by my math I’m somewhere around my fourth.

Let’s talk about them. And, for funsies, let’s call them “Ages.”


The face of a martial arts master.

Childhood is weird. Memory is imperfect on our best days, and as we get further removed from childhood our recollection of it becomes a combination of unverifiable events and fantasy.

My childhood feels like staring at vague figures doing vague things in a thick fog. I remember being a generally happy child. I ran around outside, played with my friends, watched Saturday morning cartoons, played Nintendo upon waking up, and had an active imagination. That all sounds pretty good.

In reality, my childhood was filled anxiety and anger. I had chronic stomach pains that were never diagnosed, but in hindsight probably had to do with anxiety. My parents divorced when I was 13, and the years leading up to that were rough. Lots of arguments, snide comments, and a few physical altercations (none involving me).

To me, though, that was normal-adjacent. I had my coping mechanisms (wearing ear plugs and going to bed while it was still light out, for one) and so I didn’t think that the environment I was in might be unhealthy. Now that I have a son, though, for whom I want to provide an environment that supports his development in the smoothest way I can manage, I can see in what ways my childhood fell short. Some of that is because of my parents and their flaws, and some of it is because of circumstances they had no control over. They didn’t ask to be poor. My family didn’t ask to deal with mental and physical illness. We all had to deal with those things, and I think that contributed to a lot of the negative feelings in the house.

And so I’m left with frustration at all the things I never got but also am awestruck for what I had, given the circumstances. Sure, I only had two pairs of pants for an entire school year, but I never went hungry either–even if the food was often out of a box. My parents managed to pay for and take me to Tae Kwon Do three days per week, and then bought me equipment to play roller hockey after that. When you’re a kid you don’t understand that those types of expenses come with sacrifice.

We begin the long journey of discovering ourselves as children. My first identity was an angry, impatient child. After starting Tae Kwon Do I learned patience and how to direct my emotions into something productive. At home and at school I learned the value of being helpful to protect yourself. And I learned how to use sarcasm to deflect, and humor to engage. These traits have stayed with me, for better or worse.

Childhood is also when we begin to decide on who we want to be. I discovered reading and writing as a boy. I met my first best friend, who introduced me to hockey. I got a VHS-C camera from my grandfather and made videos with my friends.

I can recognize these things now, only because of how far away they seem, and how far I’ve come away from them.


Puberty hit me like a truck hits a raccoon. Messily.

Many people say your teenage years are the best of your life. They’re absolutely wrong. Unless you stop maturing or run into tragedy as you get older, your teenage years won’t be your best years. However, they will be the most memorable.

My feeling is that this is because from the time puberty kicks in until you graduate college (or later) you’re a raw nerve and you feel every experience to maximum effect. Friendships are closer. Parties more fun. Sports harder and more exciting. Relationships deeper and more intense. To be a teenager is to truly experience everything in all its complicated glory for the first time.

My world expanded. I left my street for the first time and started to wander the neighborhood with new friends. I spent a lot of time on AIM, in chatrooms, and on Pogo. I went to overnight roller skating to meet a girl I only knew online. Later, I dated a girl from the suburbs, which was my first basic lesson in culture shock.

These new experiences also includes loss. As I moved into teenagedom, I let go of the friends I had made on my street (including my first best friend–the one that introduced me to hockey) in favor of new friends. My parents divorced. My sister joined the Army and left home. Pets died. I didn’t know how to deal with it.

I rebelled, in my own way. One year in high school I put my hair up in what I deemed “spider-legs” (basically, a bunch of tiny ponytails all over my head) and used colored gel to dye the tips green. I drank Mike’s Hard with my friends, when we could get it. Stayed out until 2 or 3 in the morning sometimes. Once, I ran into a friend’s dad outside while walking home late at night. He stopped me and asked if I was high. I’ve never been high, so the answer was no. He didn’t believe me. Most people didn’t. A consequence of living in a house where second hand smoke rolled out of the door like fog in a horror movie.

I also went to youth groups, despite not being religious. It was a place to hang out with kids my age, and if we went to the one with my friend’s older brother he would take us to the dollar show afterward (where I first saw MINORITY REPORT), and then we would help him clean car dealerships. Cleaning those dealerships made me think I wanted to work in an office. It seemed so fancy and stable.

I had my first heartbreaks (and did some of my own heartbreaking, as hard as that may be to believe if you’re going off the above picture), and poured that emotion into poetry, short stories, and screenplays. In those, I began to learn what it was I wanted in a relationship. Eventually, that rocky road would lead me to my wife.

But not quite yet.


Henley’s for life.

The time after high school is insane. I went a bit insane with it.

I moved out when I was 19, vowing to never go back. Technically, that was true, although I have lived with my sister on two separate occasions. My vow wasn’t because my life was bad at home, although I certainly believed that at the time. First was dorming for a semester, which was pointless. I was stuck in a room with three other guys, one of whom slept through his alarm (the chorus to Thrice’s “Artist in the Ambulance” on repeat) every morning. On weekends I worked and generally spent my time at home, anyway.

After the dorm, I got an apartment with a high school friend. A family friend was our landlord, so we got free internet and cable. This only turned awkward once–when my landlord got a court summons for downloading porn to his IP Address, which was actually my roommates doing. Luckily, some research revealed there was nothing to worry about. My roommate and I got along really well (at least from my perspective–I’m sure there were lots of things I did to piss him off), which I am eternally grateful for.

Those four years were some of the poorest, most exciting of my life. Parties seemed to happen every weekend. I had friends in the art scene, and was able to score comp tickets to plenty of theater and music shows. My roommate was into gaming, so we played hours and hours of Halo, Gears of War, and Rock Band.

I was active everywhere. I wanted to get to know my city, and so I explored whenever I could. On my own, driving the ’84 Firebird my father had gifted me (and I then proceeded to neglect) around the city. Working in the independent film scene and getting to step foot in places most people rarely think of, like the water pumping station on Lake Erie. My work on independent film culminated in my writing and being Assistant Director on GRANTED, which then led me to reconsider all my dreams of being a filmmaker.

My friends and I played lots of sports. Dodgeball (2008 WNY Dodgeball champs!), volleyball, some hockey, and working out at the gym. We had to stay active, considering how much we drank and ate out.

This time was when I began having trouble holding down a job. Not out of incompetence (not always, anyway, although I was fired from being a telemarketer after two days), but in trying to find something that paid well and I truly enjoyed. I did Burger King for three years, two separate stints of machining, landscaping that didn’t end well, teaching an afterschool science program (where I would eventually meet my wife), and then working as an usher at the Buffalo Museum of Science. I also made wooden plugs on a drill press in my father’s basement for a penny per plug. If I worked quickly, and the wood cooperated and didn’t break apart of clog my drill bit (fat chance), I might make 200 plugs in an hour. I hated it.

Creatively, I wrote a lot. Mostly short stories and screenplays. I joined several writer’s groups that met in restaurants or coffee shops. I tried to direct my own short film, but royally fucked it up and gave up. I think I disappointed people.

There were also girls. Each one a lesson learned about who I am and what I need from a relationship. None were bad relationships, not really. Certainly not from my perspective. A few of those girlfriends might disagree, and I wouldn’t blame them. Most of my deepest shames are from how I interacted with women at this point in my life. My own insecurities made me less than they deserved.

Until Hanh, anyway.


Married with children.

Growing into a responsible adult is exhausting.

Now that myself and most of my friends are marrying and having kids, it sometimes feels like we’re transitioning from being participants in life to being observers of it. I spend way more time watching my kid grow than I do any growing myself. And I think that’s right. I think that’s how it should be.

Which isn’t to say I’m dead, or that I’m not longer capable of growth or dreams or whatever. My priorities have changed, though. Where I choose to focus my energies has changed. That change is because I’ve finally figured some shit out.

Now that I’m older, I have a lot of things that I didn’t in those other eras. Stability, a sense of my strengths and weaknesses, money. The only thing I don’t have much more of now than then is time. But that’s because my life is so damn full. It’s bursting with things I never expected to have. Love, for one thing.

I often wonder what 15 year old Siege or 25 year old Craig would think of 35 year old Mr. Gusmann. I think they’d have a lot of questions about why I’m not a famous director or screenwriter, but ultimately they’d be ecstatic with where I am. It’s a helpful gauge when I’m feeling down, sometimes. On my worst days, when I hate my dayjob and Elijah won’t let me sit down for five minutes, and the house needs to be cleaned, and God damnit something broke, and the cat’s sneezing, and fuck what now–I can still look around and appreciate how all of these little annoyances are a direct result of my filling my life with people and things I love.

For me, each age has been better than the last. I’m determined to make sure that holds true, which means the beginning of this new era should be the best yet.


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.


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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