Reflections on 36

For the past few years I’ve been borrowing a tradition from a friend and doing an annual birthday post to look back on the year that’s just passed and forward to the year ahead. Today is my 37th birthday; 36 was a lot of different things—many of them good, some of them bad—but one of the reasons it’s been difficult to write this post is that it doesn’t feel like it’s over yet. I like neat, crisp endings and transitions, and my last three birthdays have been great in that regard: each year built steadily on the last, I could see the progression, and timing-wise they made sense, I was able to structure my life in such a way that my birthdays felt like genuine endings and beginnings both.

Not so this year. Today feels like just another day of trying to find my bearings in the world we live in now, despite my attempts to imbue it with significance. There’s power in that, though—this moment we’re living in is an intersecting line of history, a time that forces us out of our individual lives to come together and work to make the world what we want it to be. I don’t know how relevant a birthday post is in a time like this, frankly, but I believe in traditions, and this is one that I like, so I decided to keep it going this year.

With all that in mind, here are some of the defining moments/themes/experiences that I’m bringing with me from 36 to 37:

  1. The aftermath of the election. Like most people I know, Trump winning the election was something I knew intellectually was possible, but viscerally I hadn’t even stopped to consider it until the Election Night returns were well underway and it started to become more and more apparent what was about to happen. That was a dark night; I still remember the feeling that came over me when I realized that it was really happening, that he was going to be our next president: numb dread, and existential uncertainty about what our country was and what it was about to become. That was the first night, and the first few days. As many of you know, though, I have an extremely strong bias towards action, and my initial action in this case was to reach out to as many friends and acquaintances as possible, to sit down and talk and reconnect and figure out what my community was going through, and to think about what my role in this new world should be. That in and of itself was really valuable, because it showed me just how many lights there are in this present darkness, and how much power there is waiting to be unlocked. It’s going to be a hard four years in a lot of ways, and there’s going to be a lot of damage inflicted on the most vulnerable among us, but as we’ve already seen with the Women’s Marches and the response to the immigrant & refugee ban (to name but two), Trump has made us into a nation of activists…and when we all start moving in the same direction, there’s nothing we can’t do together.
  2. The Civic Minute. 2016 was a year in which I got my Civic Minute workflow down pat, and also in which its readership really took off in a big way. In the immediate aftermath of the election I added a bunch of Trump-related news to the Minute, just because that’s all anyone was writing stories about, in Seattle or anywhere else in America, and the response was really positive…for the first couple of weeks. After that the local news cycle started to come back, and people stopped clicking on the Trump links as much, and I could sense that there was a general fatigue setting in among a not-insubstantial portion of the population where the president-elect was concerned. There was clearly still a lot of interest in getting a weekly Trump digest for a lot of Civic Minute readers, though, so I decided to explore that further.
  3. Last Week in Trump. After testing the waters a bit I ended up splitting off the Trump news into a standalone email, and on a whim I added a few articles from conservative blogs to the first edition of the beta—getting outside our bubbles was a very popular idea at the time, but no one had come up with a really good model of how to do it, and I figured this could be a lightweight way to get started. It quickly became apparent that the juxtaposition of liberal and conservative reactions to the week’s news was the core product as far as a lot of my readers were concerned, so I focused on that aspect and built it up, in the hopes of providing a platform that residents of both bubbles could eventually use to start seeing the other side as less hysterical and more human, and to start to be able to speak the same political language. The beta was hugely popular, so I launched the email officially the weekend of the inauguration, including getting some local press the week leading up to it, and it took off like gangbusters. At this point it’s become my main post-election volunteer project, and I’m excited to see how much more I can grow the list. If you want to check it out yourself, head to lastweekintrump.com.
  4. Using my friends professionally. One of the highlights of launching Last Week in Trump was the team who helped me do it—one friend who’s an industrial/graphic designer put together the logo, another friend who’s a web designer put together the website, and another friend who runs his own PR firm managed the launch for me and was personally responsible for all of the press hits that it’s gotten so far. If you’re in need of any of their consulting services, I can’t recommend them highly enough.
  5. The election season. Even before Election Night the 2016 election cycle was a tough one for a lot of folks, but there were plenty of high points along the way, too, at least for me—the number of thoughtful, high-quality conversations that I had with friends on Facebook comment threads was amazing (I know that sounds counterintuitive, but I have the evidence to back it up); caucusing at the Century Ballroom along with hundreds of friends and neighbors reminded me of why I first got involved in politics back in the 2008 Texas primary; and watching the Democratic National Convention convinced me that the Democratic Party really is the party of the future, and that’s a conviction that the last three months have only strengthened.
  6. Friends & family. This one’s a recurring theme for those of you who have been reading my birthday posts for a few years, but once again, far and away the highlight of the last year has been all of the good times, bad times, and everything in between that I’ve shared with all of you. The relationships that we have to other people really are the meaning of life in my opinion, and I continue to be extremely fortunate where my relationships are concerned.
  7. Good times, bad times. That’s not to say that last year was all roses and sunshine in that department, though. Election Night was the second time last year that the way I thought about my world was unexpectedly upended—the first was in late spring, and it caused a major shift in the dynamics of my core group of friends. The details aren’t important for the purposes of this post, but it was the first time last year that I went into crisis-management mode and reached out for 1:1 conversations with most of the people I knew, and realized in the process that the individual connections I had were still very much intact, but that the apparent golden age we’d been enjoying as a friend group up until that point was a thing of the past (and I also began to realize that it hadn’t been such a golden age for a lot of folks). Just before I reached the breaking point in terms of the real estate spring rush plus all of the emotional energy needed for dealing with that process, I took a quick weekend getaway to the Oregon coast to rest and recharge, and to reflect on “the fragility of happiness and the durability of joy,” as I put it at the time, and that phrase has stuck with me as a way to think about last year, and life more generally. Stability never lasts, the world never stays the same for long—but the deepest, most eternal parts of life are contained in the smallest moments, and they’re ultimately what we’re all fighting for.
  8. Kids. Speaking of which, one of the highlights of last year for me was getting to spend a lot of time with my 16-month-old niece Darcy and her cousin Ellie, who was born two weeks earlier; and, up here in Seattle, with my good friend’s adorable 5-year-old niece Lily. If you ever need to remind yourself what this is all about, just hang out with a little kid for a few hours.
  9. Real estate. Work was something that went very well when I was 36, and that looks set to do the same for 37, too. Whenever people ask me how I like being a real estate agent, I tell them, truthfully, that it feels like someone made a copy of my soul and then turned it into a profession. I’m at the beginning of my third year in the business, and I can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing with my life; thank you to all of you who have been a part of that journey.
  10. Public speaking. The General Manager for my real estate brokerage asked me to be one of the speakers at our TEDx-style kickoff event last month, and I gave a talk to a few hundred Windermere agents about the Civic Minute (which is the only form of marketing that I do for my real estate business) and how to more effectively remind people you already know of what you do for a living. It always feels good to be up on a stage in front of an audience.
  11. The townhouse. I bought a new home, a pre-sale new construction townhouse in the heart of Capitol Hill that should be finished sometime this summer if all goes well, and I’m really excited about it as potentially the last home that I’ll ever need. I’ve spent countless hours planning out all of the different ways that I can use the space for myself, my friends, and my family over the course of the next 30 years, which is a great thing to contemplate.
  12. Light rail. My current place is a 7-minute walk from the new Capitol Hill light rail station (the new place will be even closer), and the new station with its 3-minute travel time to downtown has been an absolute game-changer.
  13. Custom-made cards. I send hundreds of birthday/closing anniversary/thank-you/holiday cards every year, and my little sister runs a letter-press business on Etsy (you can and should check it out here)…so I decided to keep it in the family and start ordering as many of them as possible through her, and I’ve loved the results.
  14. Order, compassion, and impermanence.  Those three words were what I decided formed the core of my personal belief system back in my mid-20s after I formally renounced Christianity and left the church, and I was reminded of them during a fantastic religion & politics conversation with a friend in the aftermath of the election. They still ring true today, and they’re still at the heart of my worldview, even though I hadn’t thought about them explicitly in years.
  15. Video games. I’m basically addicted to video games. My solution to this problem since I graduated from college has been that I just don’t allow myself to own video game systems, but earlier this year I came up with a different twist. Shortly after I bought an Xbox One, I made myself a rule: from Monday through Saturday I can only play it once I’ve done everything in my daily routine (16 different items that together ensure I’m completely caught up on every aspect of my personal and professional life), with Sunday as my cheat day. It’s been amazingly effective so far at both making me stick to my routine and limiting my video game intake, when nothing else was working on either front; and I haven’t broken that internal rule even once since I implemented it three months ago (see “order” above).
  16. Jury duty. I finally realized a lifelong dream of being called for jury duty in late November. It wasn’t quite all it was cracked up to be—I sat around in the main jury room for a day and a half without ever even being called down to sit for jury selection—but it was still good to get to experience the system firsthand. 
  17. Traveling with friends. Continuing on a theme from 35, I took some great trips last year with friends, chief among them showing a group of Seattle friends around Austin and an epic two-week European vacation that combined a good friend’s wedding, a mini road trip with two good friends from the wedding, and a week of hiking through the Swiss and French Alps with the bride, the groom, and the groom’s father and brother.
  18. Solo retreats. I have a carefully curated collection of what I call “quiet places” up and down the west coast that I go to when I need to relax, unplug, and unwind, and 36 was a year in which I added a new one to the list (the Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast on the Oregon coast) and revisited the original quiet place from my college road trip days, the Marin Headlands hostel just north of San Francisco. I also had some great road west coast road trips in the new car…which still makes me happy every time that I see it, think about it, or drive it; it really is my automotive life partner.
  19. The ultimate weekend carry-on. You may not know this about me, but I’m absolutely obsessed with travel bags. Patagonia’s Maximum Legal Carry-on is the be-all and end-all for longer trips (that was all I packed for my two-week trip to Europe earlier this year), but there’s been a hole in my arsenal for awhile now: a small carry-on bag with room for a few changes of clothes plus a laptop & iPad, so I don’t have to bring two separate carry-ons on shorter weekend trips. I finally followed a friend’s lead and took the plunge on a Minaal Daily to fill that gap…and it’s been absolutely phenomenal. If you’re in the market for something similar, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
  20. A perfect run on the best driving road in the world. I love great driving roads, and Highway 33 in southern California is the best one I’ve ever encountered. The last time that I drove it, the week of Thanksgiving, was absolutely perfect. I’d driven all the way from Seattle just for the occasion, so the pressure was high, but it had been raining all day, so I was setting my expectations as low as I could in case I was rained out…and then, just as I overtook a Tesla and started getting into the twisty bits, the rain clouds parted, the sun came out, and I had a glorious, pulse-pounding 45-mile run before the clouds came back and the rain set in for the remainder of the three-day drive back up the coast to Seattle.
  21. Sadness and fear. I had a very powerful realization at a small-group gathering after the election: if you divide human emotions into the broad categories of happiness, anger, sadness, and fear, I’m very strongly in touch with happiness and anger, but not so much with sadness and fear. One of the reasons that I enjoyed that drive in southern California so much was that pushing myself to the limits on a truly great driving road is the most dangerous hobby that I have, and doing it consistently for nearly an hour feels the same, to my body, as I imagine running for dear life from a sabre-toothed tiger must have felt to my ancient ancestors. When I finally reached the end of the road and stumbled out into a diner to recuperate, my entire body was shaking so much from the adrenaline crash that I could barely stand, and I felt stripped down and opened up to the world in a way that I very rarely am these days. It was exactly the release that I’d craved without understanding that I’d needed it, and I passed the rest of the drive filling myself back up with post-election podcasts (if you’re not already listening to Our National Conversation About Conversations About Race, it’s highly recommended) while driving through redwoods in the pouring rain. One of the items on my work list for 37 will be trying to sit with the emotions I’m less comfortable with instead of avoiding them.
  22. Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. I joined the board of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, which advocates for more funding for affordable housing across the state, and I’m looking forward to becoming more involved with them in the coming months.
  23. Seattle Public Theater. SPT, where I’ve been a board member since January of 2015, went through a major leadership transition at the end of 2016. It was my first time being part of a process like this as a board member, and there was a lot that I learned from it and continue to learn from it.
  24. The Marquis co-op. I’ve been on the board of my co-op apartment building for 6 of the 7 years that I’ve owned a unit here, including 4 years as board president, but since I’m moving this summer I didn’t re-up for this year’s board at our annual meeting last month…and it feels very bittersweet. We’ve got great new blood on the board in the form of a couple of our newer residents, but I’m really going to miss this place; it’s been a wonderful home.
  25. Buying a hat. After years of abstractly wanting a hat of some kind, I finally found one that I like. It sounds like a simple thing, but it’s amazing how big of a deal it is—it’s my most often-used fashion accessory these days, and it’s much more stylish than the red knit cap that it replaced. 
  26. A new Comcast modem. This one also seems like a small thing, but it’s made an enormous difference in my quality of life. Ever since I switched to Comcast I’ve had really spotty wifi, but all of that changed when I bought a new, Comcast-branded combination cable modem and router last year. Fast, reliable Internet had eluded me for years, which became maddening once I started depending on it for mission-critical real estate work, and having it again is fantastic.
  27. Writing down dreams. This is something I’ve done consistently at other times in my life, and I’ve gotten back into the habit in the last 6 months. It’s usually the first thing I do as soon as I wake up, and trying to capture them accurately is a great exercise in short-form creative writing.
  28. Paragliding. One of my closest friends decided that she wanted to go paragliding for her birthday last year, so naturally I went along. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot just by talking to my tandem instructor while we were floating around looking for thermals. 
  29. The cognitive revolution. I read a brief evolutionary history of mankind called Sapiens on a friend’s recommendation, and it introduced me to an idea called the cognitive revolution, which I’d never heard of before. Basically, it’s the theory that the reason homo sapiens won out against all of the other variations of humans that existed thousands of years ago—including some who were both stronger and smarter than we were—was because we developed the capacity for storytelling, which is truly what separates us from the animals.
  30. Dating. 36 was a very hit-and-miss year, dating-wise, but a good one overall, and I learned a lot over the course of it. For the first half of the year I outsourced my dating life to a matchmaking service (Simply Matchmaking), which was great because a) it was a really busy period of the year, b) I love blind dates, and c) I ended up meeting a lot of women I probably wouldn’t have otherwise; and most of my dates the rest of the year came from just meeting people while I was out and about. I had a lot of second and third and fourth dates, and there were a couple of women I saw for a month or two, but nothing that led to a real relationship. I feel good heading into 37, though; I’m looking forward to seeing what the new year brings.
  31. Playwriting. I didn’t do much on this front, but several of my long-term playwriting classmates had phenomenal years, including two of them getting multiple plays produced around town and one becoming the board chair of New Century Theater Company, and we had a great annual retreat on Vashon Island together for the third year in a row. Even though there are no more classes as of this year, we’re still a pretty tight-knit group, and one that I feel very fortunate to be a part of.
  32. Standing desk. I bought a new desk, and ordered a keyboard stand and external monitor mount kit to go along with it that converts any desk into a sit/stand desk with an external display…and I absolutely love it; it’s changed the way I work for the better.
  33. Dance Church. One of my second dates this year was to a great class that Velocity Dance Center puts on every Sunday morning and Tuesday evening called Dance Church, and it kind of changed my life—it’s like the best wedding dancing you’ve ever done, but structured like an exercise class, and everyone’s completely sober. Highly recommended if you like dancing for dancing’s sake.
  34. Voice coach. After years of pretty much everyone in my life telling me that I need to talk more slowly, I finally looked up a voice coach and took some lessons from her that were really useful in that regard. The secret, it turns out, is all about how you breathe.
  35. Personal trainer. Another thing I finally got around to from my to-do list was going to see a personal trainer who had been highly recommended by a friend for improving posture (and rightfully so). You know what’s also really important where posture and movement are concerned? How you breathe.
  36. Meditation. The power of breathing didn’t really hit home for me, though, until I took a mediation class from a friend the same week that I started going to the voice coach and the personal trainer, in which I recognized a lot of what I’d learned from the other two. I’ve meditated at various times in the past, but I never really understood why the breath is what’s used to center the attention until last year. It’s amazing how powerful the little things can be.

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