Note 61: Checking in
It's been a while, folks.
I apologize for the past year with so few posts. 2022 has been one of those periods where I feel like the Universe is beating me over the head with a message that I’m either too dumb or stubborn to hear. It’s been a busy year for me, but not one where I’ve been in the reading or (newsletter) writing mood much. Given that I’m gearing up to get back into a “normal” tempo in 2023, I figured that checking in on a few things would serve as a useful form of mental housecleaning.
So, without further ado…
Life in general
2022 has been a bit of a revelation and emotional roller coaster for me.
Earlier in the year, I realized that I’ve likely taken this current version of self-employment about as far as I can without building a completely new kind of company or jettisoning my existing base of research clients and pursuing a whole new sector, such as finance. An alternative to relaunching the company I’ve been pursuing is packaging up and pitching what I’ve built to larger organizations under the theory that they can replicate the capabilities I’ve built by simply taking that over as opposed to starting from scratch. I apologize for being intentionally fuzzy on this description, but conversations are ongoing. The main takeaway is that if I play my cards right, I’ll ultimately be working for someone else in 2023 as part of an existing organization as opposed to forging a path on my own.
The uncertainty about “next steps” has been the largest element coloring 2022. It has me leading a bit of a dual identity - on one hand, I’m mentally preparing to join someone else, but on the other hand, I’m also pushing the existing business as far as I can under the theory that will be a more attractive acquisition target than one that’s been “on pause” and will take some time to get its irons warmed up again. And part of that ongoing pushing has kept me up to my neck in project work all year, which has parked me in more of a reactive mental state - “let’s focus on getting Stuff Done for tomorrow’s call” as opposed to thinking longer term. Now, the thing that I don’t think a lot of people appreciate is how Time flows differently for different mental states. When one is in a Reactive Stance, there’s ALWAYS more to do than time to do it. Time flows VERY quickly and life is a series of frantic sprints. In a Proactive State where one makes Careful Plans, the Next Thing always seems to be just beyond the horizon, and Time flows more slowly (and is more manageable).
Bopping back between those two modes has been mentally chaotic, as as much as I’d like to be able to write here that I’ve handled that like a champ, the truth is that I haven’t done a great job with it this year. Perhaps a regular Routine might help? About that…
With all the macro-level chaos happening around me, perhaps some micro-routines that keep the days manageable might be useful. I think that they would - if some of the basic stuff around me would stay fixed.
One of the simple things that I’ve enjoyed over the past half-decade has been the stability offered by my simple coffin-sized office in downtown Chicago. It never felt large to me, but it was Big Enough that I had a stable place to work and I could set up small little rituals such as trying to get up and ready early enough to be one of the first folks ordering breakfast at my local McDonalds at 6am opening so I had a couple of hours to Get Useful Work Done before The Calls and Meetings Began. My office was situated in a decent location that had access to a variety of amenities, including a 92-year old Post Office that was put in when Joe Kennedy built the place almost a century ago.
I should have known that change was in the air when The Powers That Be (in this case, the Vornado Realty Trust company) decided that it wanted more money for the space than Uncle Sam was able or willing to pay, and the Old Post Office was shuttered. That became a medium-level inconvenience most of the year, and a potential disaster over the holidays (which we’ll get to in a bit). Fortunately, I never got around to setting up a PO Box there, or it would have been worse.
Losing the Post Office sucked in a “How could they?!?” manner, but what really stung was losing my local McDonalds with about three days notice in late October. Now, I can see closing a Post Office that isn’t generating enough revenue to make rent (even if its existence there is a pretty big value-add for your tenants), but the McDonalds did more business than the rest of the food places combined, but the Vornado Tornado decided that it wanted a put a gym there instead.
I don’t want to go on too long, but a couple of words about “my McDonalds”… While I didn’t eat there all of the time, it served a useful role in that it could render “what am I having for lunch or breakfast” an easily answered question. (I don’t focus well when I’m hungry.) If I’m in the middle of a crunch (see above), it was useful to be able to get a meal there and bring it back to the office. I thoroughly enjoyed their Diet Cokes, which were perfectly calibrated caffeine-wise. When the rest of the building was closed, I could count on them being open (even throughout COVID). In short, having that there took a lot of useless mental work off the table for me.
However, when they closed up shop, it’s also like a good number of my friends were exiled. In five years waiting for your Egg McMuffin to be ready, you can’t help but strike up conversations and relationships with the people you see every weekday. I got to know the folks there and I liked them. About this time of year, I’d be dropping off a couple boxes of Frango chocolates there to show them that I appreciated them and looked forward to ordering the same three things every day into the New Year. (Last year, they gave me a koozy to keep my Large Diet Cokes cold.) When the rest of the world was still closed with COVID, they were there, ready to go as soon as the Mayor let us back on trains again for non-essential purposes.
It sounds silly, but losing the Post Office and the McDonalds this year made it feel like the Universe was chipping away at some of the simple and basic things I’d come to take for granted. I’ve been working to build new routines, but I kind of liked the ones that I had. Those didn’t need to go away.
The final months of 2022
I didn’t have much time to mourn my McDonalds after it closed at the end of October, as Election Season was upon us again this year and I worked from home the week before to minimize any potential COVID exposure that would keep me from working the polls again this year.
I didn’t do a recap post this year, but Election Day went VERY well, and it was consistently busy unlike any I’d ever experienced before, even in past general elections. Voters were ready to go as soon as polls opened and we were busy throughout the day. Normally, there’s a couple of “dead periods” sprinkled throughout the day when you may only get one or two voters during an hour and you’re watching the minutes tick by slowly until the next rush or polls closing. That didn’t happen this year.
I don’t know if that was the result of increased voter interest or the City consolidating and moving polling places, but we were on our toes the whole time. We even ended up registering a first-time 92-year old voter, which was the high point of the day for me. There was no drama in closing the polls and transmitting the results, and I was in bed at a decent hour.
I didn’t have a lot of time to reflect on the election before heading out the very next day on the train for several weeks in New Mexico to help out my family when my father went in for some shoulder surgery. I’m not going to get into all of the details that led to my trip in this Note, but I was there for most of the month of November to help out (including well work, shuttling folks to physical therapy and airports, taking care of various sets of animals, etc.) and to knock out our first post-COVID Thanksgiving visits. It was a good trip that I may write about more in the future, but it was fairly mentally disruptive. I left Chicago just as folks were wrapping up Halloween, and rode the train back into the City in the middle of the Christmas season.
If you’ve been a subscriber from the time when I DID publish regularly, you’ve been beaten over the head with the trivia that the Christmas season is a pretty key moment (if not THE key moment) in my year. I developed a nice set of rituals leading up to the holiday (kickoff at Thanksgiving, setting up the tree and outdoor lights on Black Friday, getting out holiday cards in the first couple weeks of December, my trip to the downtown German Christmas market to fetch strudel, etc.) that were cut short by my New Mexico trip. I was about 10 days late starting my holiday chores.
I was making up for lost time until last weekend, when that came to a screeching halt after I tested positive for COVID late Sunday evening after being knocked out with the mother of all head colds that day after a pretty packed Saturday doing holiday-related chores. After a couple frantic messaging sessions reaching out to the families I’d been playing Santa’s helper the day before (Good News: I don’t seem to have passed it on to anyone I know), I settled into an involuntary week before the holiday working from home, as opposed to doing “double time” in the office trying to clear out my work backlog as planned.
Overall, I’ve been very fortunate with my COVID infection. Other than spending a Sunday on the couch, my symptoms have been mostly mild, and I’m honestly feeling better now than I have since the middle of October. (New Mexico’s dry air had me dealing with constant congestion issues.) I’ve struggled over the past week to extract as much “double time” as I could out of the week (there’s a VERY good reason I have an office in the first place), and the results have been mixed. I am dealing with some energy and motivation issues, and while I’d like to blame that on COVID “brain fog”, the truth of the matter is that I’ve likely been dealing with persistent and low-grade anxiety and depression for most of the year, and the energy and motivation issues feel familiar, and not like somethine new impairing me. It’s the same feeling I get from being cooped up at home, and me being in a “salvage the season” mode for the holiday season as opposed to pulling off “Christmas Champion” this year. It would be more concerning to NOT be in a funk of some sort or other given the challenges that have been thrown my way this year and me being cooped up in the same place all week.
Salvaging the last week of the year
Ironically, more I write about this, the more that I think that my ability to salvage the final week of the year (and enter 2023 on a good footing) might be based on my ability to pull off last year’s last Christmas task. Since COVID still had folks not travelling last year, I pulled off two holiday feasts - Thanksgiving to kick things off, and a similar Christmas meal for friends around that day to share with us. If I can pull off a negative COVID test in the next 48 hours (my last one was ALMOST there), I may hightail it to the local grocery store through all the new snow yesterday’s blizzard dropped on us to do a bit of a Christmas Day replay.
It’ll do a few useful things:
Get me out of the house and into the supermarket.
Gives me a good reason to get up early, rather than sleeping in as I’ve been doing.
Stocks the fridge with leftovers that I can take into the office next week.
Provides a good excuse for making dishes that I thoroughly enjoy.
Blocks off some time for me to toss on a couple holiday films to make up for my general lack of holiday media saturation this season.
Provides a new positive and proactive mental anchor point to launch into the next week.
Cross your fingers for me that this next test comes back negative. (And thank Uncle Sam for the free COVID tests!)
A lot of this post is me mentally venting and getting some of the toxic mojo out of my system. I want to thank each of you reading for your patience with this, and promise to get back to form in 2023.
Odd numbered years are the ones where I try to read another hundred books, and I’m doing that again next year - if only to restore my reading discipline that was in tatters by the end of 2021 and went completely by the wayside in 2022.
I also need to do a full post checking in on the Rocket Stocks (that will be a fun one to write in a post-zero interest rate world), as well as start flogging some of other writing that I’ve been doing this year (2022 wasn’t completely dry on that front).
I also have some thoughts about automation I want to share that come from my own personal occupational challenges (the prices and limits of automating as much as possible) as well as automation we’re seeing in the art world around the “Art AIs” that are disrupting a lot of stuff near and dear to my heart.
Thanks for sitting in as my involuntary therapist I seek to flush some of the mental channels to get the engine running again.