Today is Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays – and perhaps you’ll forgive me if I parse that word as holy day. If we raise our aim above the purely horizontal, thanksgiving – or gratitude, if you please – is one of the highest acts of worship.
Usually on this holy day, I think of the big stuff, from infinite grace born of God to the spilled blood of patriots and the wrenching sacrifices of their loved ones. All of that is still there, still here, still the object of daily gratitude. But as this holy day has approached, I have reflected on smaller, more personal things. I hope this doesn’t sound too self-serving. In any case it has been an interesting year – and I know it’s not quite over yet.
Now that I mention it, there is a chance that this whole post will sound self-serving. Perhaps you would trust me that my thought in writing is a little less selfish than it may appear: that your thoughts and experience might somehow run parallel to mine — and that the shared journey may somehow be useful.
I’ve always been skeptical of detailed plans for things which are complex and unpredictable, such as a human life, or even just one year of a human life. My usual New Year’s resolution is – some of you already know this – a tongue-in-cheek resolution not to resolve.
This year I made some actual, serious resolutions. I told some friends and readers I had made some, but not what they were. I’ve mentioned a couple of them since – but even those are only part of my interesting year.
Another Trip to Israel Would Have Been Welcome
I began the year employed by a company based in Tel Aviv and hoping for at least one more of those full-week or longer annual business trips to headquarters, with a day or two for tourism included in each. I still haven’t seen Galilee or Masada. This summer, my job went to Israel without me and stayed there. Looking at it from the company’s perspective, it was a more or less reasonable act of reorganization, but it was not altogether a welcome development from my perspective.
That said, I knew before the fateful but friendly Skype call from the COO that I was getting pretty burned out. It took a few weeks of unemployment for me to appreciate how burned out I was. I won’t belabor the symptoms here, and I do not enjoy unemployment, but I found myself grateful for a much-needed opportunity to recover.
The small piece of my job that stayed in the US – not enough to justify my salary – required that I train someone to assemble some complex reports. In the 15 or 20 hours I spent doing so, I had the blessing to become acquainted with one of the most remarkable souls I have met. I must tell you her story sometime – or point you to her telling of part of it. (I could do it now, but I want to do her justice, not slip her in as a footnote to something which is mostly about me.)
Those Resolutions I Mentioned
I wanted to lose 100 lbs by my 50th birthday, which was earlier this month. I lost 50. Now I’m working on the next 50. The happy effects are already considerable, but I won’t belabor those here either. It may be a good thing that this has happened only half as quickly as I hoped. I can’t afford to buy new clothes that often.
I wanted to launch two new web sites earlier than I did this year, but they were online by early October. I’ve been blogging at LocalCommentary.com for a decade, but I’ve long wanted to separate the politics from everything else – partly because the presence of one limits the audience for the other, and vice versa. Now this site, BendableLight.com, is for “everything but” — mostly writing, reading, and religion — and FreedomHabit.com is for government and politics. More recently I built another small site at marketing.rodeback.com, a small blog called Sensible Digital Marketing, to support my professional activities in digital marketing (especially PPC). So, as to quantity at least, I’ve surpassed this resolution, even if all three sites are still works in progress and long will be.
Another resolution was to read something every day – or let’s be realistic, almost every day – that I don’t have to read for the job, and preferably in a printed book. I’m over 50 percent, I think, which is a major improvement.
I further resolved to give out 50 more “Freedom or Free Stuff – Pick One” bumper stickers. I got a late start at this one, because I designed the batch I ordered early in the year to promote FreedomHabit.com, which wasn’t ready until October. I still have more than 30 left. Let me know if you need a stocking stuffer for some conservative or libertarian loved ones — or if you need to vex a beloved welfare statist.
Firsts and Unexpecteds
At the risk of betraying my stated devotion to small things in this post, I interrupt it ever so briefly to note that one of my children spent most of a month in the hospital this summer. I and we have been grateful for the results and all the good people behind them. Very grateful. And my bride of 26 years and counting has me grateful for both the 26 years and the “and counting.” She thinks I went overboard commemorating us this year, but I am unconvinced. I did something I wanted to do last year, for our 25th, but couldn’t pull off then. (I already explained having a bit of extra time this summer.) There was multimedia.
But back to smaller things, all more or less unexpected – and all of which I enjoyed.
I coached a basketball team for the first time, some very energetic third graders, each of whom I’d be happy to coach again. It was so much fun that I’m planning to coach a team of fourth graders early next year (one of whom is my youngest son).
Most of the firsts involve writing – which for me is a happy development in itself.
I had my words carved in stone for the first time, on a monument in American Fork to a slain deputy sheriff. I’ve written of that elsewhere.
After writing many other things over the decades, I wrote for film for the first time this year, a feature-length documentary about the American Fork High School Marching Band and its 2013 season, entitled Champions of the West. The best part was not seeing my writer and associate producer credits on the big screen or witnessing the audience’s enthusiastic reception of our work. It was hanging out with the stars – the staff and parents, but especially the students – in interviews, at band camp, at the premiere. I also enjoyed getting acquainted with two talented young filmmakers, Matt Judkins and Russ Judkins of Cinemafex, as well as our gifted narrator, two-time regional Emmy winner Kent Bates. And the hundred or two hundred hours I spent on the project helped assuage my guilt for being mostly unable to do the Band Dad thing right. (Today is a little more fun because I also was asked to write some material for an NBC writer to use in writing his script for NBC’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade broadcast – just the AFHS Marching Band’s portion, of course. So if you hear the hosts say words like “American Fork High School Marching Band” or “John Miller,” I, ahem, wrote those. Sort of. Indirectly.)
Can You Endure One More?
I came down with the flu last winter and had to stay home from work. This bug wasn’t too bad, but it went to my head in an odd way. My usual approach when ill is to work from home, but this time I couldn’t. When that fails, I play Civilization IV for hours on end. That didn’t work either. Plan C is to read a good novel – or a bad one. I couldn’t even focus on that for more than five minutes. I couldn’t concentrate on favorite movies or television either. And I wasn’t ill enough that I could stay in bed and sleep.
I had been thinking for a long time about how to treat a particular theme in fiction, and a few new ideas had been swirling in my head – ways it which it might work, when other things hadn’t. Different characters, a different setting, a different plot than I had tried. I sat down in my unconscionably comfortable reading chair (UCRC), one of my favorite places on earth – it’s in my home office – opened a Word document (sorry, WordPerfect, I love you more, but I can’t do this any more), put my two new characters in a large room together, and set them talking to each other.
By the time I could go back to work, after missing three days, I had more than half of the first draft of a novel and an outline for the rest of it. Several months later, having replaced some evening hours of exhausted television-watching with writing, I have a complete draft. It still needs a rewrite or two, but some chapters are out to my “alpha readers” for feedback on what works and what doesn’t, and I’m still enjoying the work.
I recently came out of the closet, so to speak, to my family. I told them that, if a publisher picks up this novel at all, it’s likely to be classified as – blush! – LDS young adult fiction. And there’s a decent chance that it will be called – double blush! – LDS young adult romance. The first chapter even fared very well in a recent romance writing contest (young adult division, and, at least in my case, altogether without the “heaving bosoms” of certain relatives’ recent jokes). Romance is not the theme; it is the context in which the theme plays out. But whatever. They say you write the book you can write, not the book you always wanted to write or thought you would write. But I’m still adjusting to this.
On one hand, I’ve been trying to read more young adult fiction than I ever read before, or wanted to – and to read it with a new humility. On the other hand, I have a growing list of young adult fiction clichés in which my current novel does not participate. (No promises for any possible future works.) But that’s a topic for another day.
On both hands, I have enjoyed almost every minute of the work. (It is work.) Watching less television, even fine television, is probably also a good thing.
Who wouldn’t be thankful?
As a youth I loved photography. I would have loved it more, if I had had more money. I would love it more now, if I had more time. After this year’s film adventure I might even add cinematography, if I had a lot more time.
I didn’t like to take pictures with people in them. Mountains, lakes, rivers, flowers, trees, oceans, sunrises, sunsets, aircraft. Not people.
I mention this because I have lately discovered a change in myself. Now I value images with people in them more than before, far more.
Quite the opposite of my youthful taste in photography, these days most of my thanks (so to speak) also . . . have people in them.
If you’re reading this, you’re one of those people.
Thank you for reading. And have a thankful Thanksgiving. The happy will take care of itself.