Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reviewing My Decade

In honour of my 38th birthday today, I'm going to present the highlights of my life from each year in this Decade of Disaster. There were some bright spots, but as far as achieving the three goals I had set for myself (career, published novel, and marriage), I was a complete failure. Thus, those three goals carry over into the new decade and I promise you, I will be successful in this new decade.

Each year features a photo of me taken in that year. Without further are some of what I've experienced in this now-ending decade. I'm so relieved that its over, so I can finally put it all behind me. I will take all the lessons learned and apply them to new situations over the course of the next year and decade.


The year and decade began with so much progress: I was a White House Intern assigned to Vice President Gore's legislative affairs office in the U.S. Capitol building. I couldn't ask for a better set-up than that! Gore was the person I most wanted to work for and when I applied for internships, I struggled between wanting to experience both the White House and the Congress. This internship gave me all three experiences: working for Gore, working within the Executive Branch, and seeing the U.S. Senate up close and personal for four months. In terms of personal highpoints...this experience ranks right up there with my Navy Basic Training experience in 1991. Nothing else I experienced in the decade to follow comes close to the four months of bliss I experienced on my Washington Seminar.

Besides the internship, living with fellow BYU interns in the same apartment complex in Alexandria, Virginia and hanging out after work and on weekends really made for a "MTV's The Real World" experience...without the intrusive cameras. We had drama, debates, laughs, and friendships (as well as a few people I couldn't stand). I almost did not want to stay in the BYU leased apartments, but I'm glad that I did. I bonded with five fellow Seminarians through the course of that semester.

The greatest honour, though, has to be serving as Nathan's Best Man at his June wedding in Williamsport, PA. I was surprised and honoured when he had asked me, since he had three brothers, but I couldn't say no to that...even if I had doubts about his fiancee and his "rush" to marriage. The photo above shows me performing as one of the "Blues Brothers" during "Soul Man." Nathan's brother Joel was the other Blues Brother and he totally upstaged me with his wild man antics. I'm just grateful that I did not have to dress up in the chicken suit for the chicken dance. People did like my Best Man speech, though the mother-in-law kept giving me the evil eye because she wanted it to be less than a minute. I think I kept it under four minutes, but my goal was to make people laugh and then say "awww" about my thoughts on the couple. Succeeded on both counts.

Other events that year: left D.C. on July 24th after failing to find a job and running out of money (a church member gave me $50 to make it back to Atlanta with); taking my first lie detector test for a job at GBI (it was scary, but I passed!); the ten year high school reunion, where I had some good laughs with the guy who bullied me in Junior year and part of Senior year; and I spoke to students in my former history teacher's class about the military, college, and interning in the White House (most of the students' questions were about how the G.I. Bill worked and what Monica Lewinsky was like!).

Each year, I like to do something new or discover something new. In 2000, I discovered the music of Keb Mo by happenstance (the Discovery Channel store at D.C.'s Union Station happened to be playing "A Better Man" while I walked past and my ears couldn't resist the funky blues that emanated from that store). I also started writing my long planned novel based on my Navy experiences, partially as a way to not think about the stolen election.

I ended the year visiting my best friend Nicholas, who was stationed at an Air Force Base in central Georgia, which was about a two hour drive from Atlanta. We crashed some college's 80s New Year's party that was kind of boring. At least the music brought back fond memories of our junior high school days. It was also great that my best friend and I were living in the same state again.


This year began the search for a better job after realizing that I did not want to share a cubicle with a fundamentalist woman (she was Assemblies of God, a religion I really do not like at all). I also pursued Internet dating and met an interesting lady, though it didn't work out. My new discovery this year were Numerology and Jack Kerouac. In fact, I had avoided reading Kerouac for years, despite the "voice" inside my head whispering "read Kerouac, read Kerouac!" each time I'm in a bookstore. I have no idea why, but as soon as I read the first biography (by Tom Clark), I was stunned by how much Kerouac and I had in common (way we see the world, our personalities, even some common experiences). Thus began my decade-long fascination with reading every book by and about Kerouac that I could get my hands on, and buying products featuring Kerouac on eBay (my favourite: a limited edition Kerouac bobblehead).

Also this year, I had the most amazing spiritual experience on August 22nd, which lasted in intensity for two weeks. Some might call it an "enlightenment experience" while others would call it euphoric bliss. I understood why people took drugs...they wanted to experience what I was able to do without use of any drugs. I don't know why or how I was able to have this blissful feeling, and I have been wanting to experience it again all decade long but never came close, so I consider it a gift from the spiritual realm. The timing was right for it to happen when it did.

Around the same time as that experience, I finally found a job that paid a living wage and offered benefits and more vacation days than my long-term temp assignment at GBI. With the increase in pay, I was able to afford my own apartment, which was a dream a long time in coming. In October, I finally moved into my own place in the center of Buckhead, the most happening neighbourhood in Atlanta. I loved living in Buckhead. The energy was very good.

At the end of the year, I turned 30. Nicholas came up from Middle Georgia to help me celebrate the day, where we saw The Fellowship of the Rings. His visit made it a great birthday.


This was the year that my car died: a 1991 Saturn SL1 that I had bought in 1996. It served me well...going all the way to Vancouver BC and up to Williamsport PA. I looked into buying a 2002 Hyundai Accent, but the dealer said that I needed to make $5,000 a year more than what I was being paid in order to secure a loan. I could've looked at used cars, but with my income, I realized that having a car and the expense of it all (car payment, insurance, repairs, and gasoline) would mean no vacations for me. Since I'm the expert at traveling on the cheap, I'd much rather live without a car than live without a vacation. A coworker thought I was crazy to live without a car, but he didn't like to travel so he didn't understand the predicament of my choice. Sure, if I made enough money to afford both a car and to go on vacations every year, I'd have both...but I couldn't, so I had to choose one or the other. Travel won. Travel always wins.

At the end of summer, my office moved away from downtown into a new building in Cobb County. While I loved the new building and all that space, I was not happy about the commute from Buckhead to Cobb County. It required two separate bus systems and going out of the way, which resulted in anywhere from an hour to ninety minutes of waiting and commute time when the distance was less than five miles from my apartment to the office building.

The highlight of my year, though, was that I was planning a trip to Boston on Amtrak when I got the urge to call family friend Frank, who lived in South Carolina. It turned out that he had a cousin who lived near Boston who had just given birth to a 12-pound baby boy that Frank wanted to meet. Traveling together in his car made it much cheaper than it would have been had I gone up there alone. This also fulfilled a dream of mine: going on a roadtrip with a good friend of mine. Of course, my dream roadtrip involved Nathan, but Frank made a good substitute. He's extroverted and fun to hang out with. His personality is such that he could bring me out of my normally reticent shell.

What made this trip adventuresome was that his car was old and about to die at any moment. Frank was a retired mechanic in the USMC, so he knew all the quirks of his car's engine that he had no fear of anything bad happening. The biggest problem is that the car had an overheating problem, so we could never let the car's temperature get above a certain point on the thermostat. We were driving in the heat of early August. Thus, we couldn't run the A/C very often. Because Frank suffers from Gulf War Syndrome and has a pacemaker, the heat will make him pass out. So...we had to monitor all these things on that long trip up north on the always busy I-95 (its pretty much heavy traffic from Richmond VA to NYC). Since we were going on a budget, we wanted to avoid toll roads and bridges. We hit NYC during Friday evening rush hour traffic in the middle of a torrential downpour. That was pretty scary driving, so I insisted that Frank drive that portion.

The trip was awesome, as I got to see all that I had planned to see: Walden Woods, Concord, the Revolutionary War sites in Boston, the JFK library, Harvard, Boston Common, and Lowell (where Kerouac grew up). I also achieved a childhood dream with this vacation: I finally made it to states #49 and 50 (Connecticut and Rhode Island). I beat my dad in having set foot on all fifty states and I did it before turning 31. On the way back from Boston, we drove out to Amityville on Long Island to see if we could feel a "demonic presence" in the famous haunted house. Well, we had a hard time finding it until the mail lady pointed out the house. The owners got rid of the creepy looking windows, so that's why it was easy to miss. Then it was on to Manhattan for six hours, where we saw Ground Zero, Wall Street, and walked all the way to Times Square, which feels like the center of the universe. After the trip, Frank tried to see if he could fix my car, but even that was beyond his mechanical skills. The best thing this trip did, though, was make Frank a really close friend. I considered him a family friend before, but there's nothing like a road trip to bond you to people.


This year began for me under a fireworks emblazoned sky in New Orleans. I had wanted to visit this unique American city for years and with my sister saying that it was in danger of being destroyed in a hurricane, I knew I had to make it a priority to see. After Katrina hit two and a half years later, I was so glad that I visited it when I did. Its a fun city with a cool vibe. I like the mix of cultures: French, Cajun, Caribbean, African, Catholicism, and of course...Voudou (Voodoo / Santeria). The food was excellent, the architecture very pleasing to the eye, and the music on street corners just amazingly sweet. I had spent my 31st birthday in New Orleans and New Year's Eve. I caught an early morning New Year's day bus back to Atlanta and upon returning to my home city, I just felt a big "ug!" Compared to New Orleans, Atlanta just seemed bland to me. I often had this feeling about Atlanta after the trips to Boston, NYC, New Orleans, and San Francisco.

Also this year, I attended a Spiritual Journaling retreat sponsored by my church in McDavid, Florida (near Pensacola), I was named the Employee of the Quarter, and I volunteered on the Georgia for Dean campaign. My fall vacation was to visit relatives in the Twin Cities and Nathan's family in Mason City, IA. A long-lost step-cousin had recently sent a letter to me via my grandparents, so I responded and made arrangements to visit her while I was in the Twin Cities. That turned out disasterous, as it was over Halloween and it was nonstop go-go-go from one activity to the next. I didn't get a chance to visit the family and have a good conversation. I felt that she was using me to show off to her in-laws and friends that she did have relatives she wasn't ashamed to introduce them to. She's not really a relative, though. Her mother married my uncle in the early 1980s, so we met as young teens. The last straw for me was when she helped her sister go through old junk in the house. Her older sister was insulting of my uncle and I had enough of it and called up my former D.C. roommate (who was attending the University of Minnesota with his wife and was the next group I was visiting during that vacation) to see about going to his place earlier than planned.

What I learned from this experience is that I don't like being trapped and I hate depending on people for rides. I did not feel comfortable around my step-cousin's older sister (who decided to live with her father when her mom married my uncle). I told her that my uncle wasn't the problem, that no one liked her mother (this is all well known and agreed upon by everyone, including my step-cousins), so my uncle is seen as a kind of "saint" in our family for putting up with her when no one else could stand being in the same room with Aunt Marie. I was glad to leave them early and spend time with my former roommate and his wife. The contrast in vibes and tension was pretty stark. The visit pretty much killed off my interest in maintaining contact with my former cousin. She and I used to be great penpals during our adolescence and young adulthood, but I guess time has revealed that we have little in common.


This year, I achieved another long-sought experience: attending Sunday School at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia when former president Jimmy Carter was preaching. This happened on the same Sunday that Vermont Governor Howard Dean was a special visitor in the lead up to the Iowa Caucus. He had hoped to get Carter's endorsement a few days before the critical caucus, thinking it would influence Iowa voters. Well, we all know what happened after Iowa. Still, it was pretty cool to hear the former president give a lesson on the trials of Job, and to meet both Dean and the Carters after church.

The commute from Buckhead to work each day took a huge toll on me, so I decided to move into an apartment within walking distance to work. It had never been my dream to live in Cobb County (I'm a DeKalb and Fulton County boy at heart). I thought this was the thing that would improve my life, so I made the move. I did like that I got a two bedroom apartment for not much more than I had paid for a one bedroom in Buckhead. However, I missed the vibe of Buckhead. Smyrna felt like I had been banished to outer darkness. It was a typical suburb: car dependent. Though I had plenty of diverse restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, Borders, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, and even a mall all within a forty minute walk from my apartment and work, I still missed the life I lived in Buckhead. I would've probably stayed at my last job if it had moved into an office building near Decatur, which was where I really wanted to live. Decatur matches my vibe and its the county seat of DeKalb.

Johnny Clegg toured the U.S. and Canada this year and I was able to get backstage passes again (as I did in on his last tour in 1996). When I presented him with one of my Utah license plates (which was personalized with "SAVUKA"), he immediately remembered me as the guy who gave him the personalized Virginia license plate at the 1996 concert. That was pretty amazing.

I attended a church service that used the former Gold Club (a gentleman's strip club that was put out of business). I loved this surreal experience...though the church was typical for non-denominational Christianity. For me, the selling point was that they used the building where men once came to see women dance around poles (the poles were still there). I love how people can reinvent new uses for old buildings (such as a church converted into loft condos).

For vacations, I visited my old friend from Basic Training in Davenport, IA over the Fourth of July holiday and met his girlfriend (whom he married in 2006); and over election day, I went to San Francisco with a week jaunt up to visit my brother in Portland. This trip reminded me how much I loved the west and put the seed into me that it was time to prepare to move out west in 2006. The biggest accomplishment for me was finishing my novel on December 22nd. It came to 209,013 words (698 pages). I was shocked by how much I wrote (my goal was 500 pages), but I was relieved that it was finally finished and that I could begin the editing process and queries to agents. I thought for certain that it would be published before the decade ended. Thus, a disappointment.


This was the year that the scandal hit my office about the ongoing membership fraud. The local Fox affiliate did a special investigative report that was fair on the first day but an outright lie on the second day. They had claimed that people were promised free Braves baseball tickets just for signing up their children in the program. One lady interviewed had a son who was too young to join. I was the one handing out the free tickets and we had A LOT of free tickets, but the demand was greater than anticipated so we ran out. Fox made it sound like we failed to deliver on our promises. Also, the voucher that people had to turn in stated quite plainly that supplies were limited, to get the tickets while they lasted. Aside from that, the truth was that fraud was committed, to the tune of 30,000 fake youth (in an officially quoted membership tally of 80,000 youth). That's a huge percentage of membership that was fake. The head guy resigned and no one seemed too sad to see him go (I didn't like him, as I thought he was too much the smirking good ol' frat boy like our president). I was sad to see my supervisor decide to change careers, though I knew it was bound to happen. He was my bellwether: when he left, I would make plans to exit, too. He just did it a year earlier than I planned to leave.

Also this year was a family reunion centered around my cousin Michael's high school graduation. I hadn't been to Atchison, KS since 1996 so it was good to return. It was hard to see my grandmother, though, who could not remember me and did not talk much. Seeing her in this condition was very emotionally difficult for me. I always loved how she asked me questions about my life and wanted to know everything. She was someone I was very comfortable sharing details about the events and experiences of my life with. To see her body, but know that she wasn't fully present was sad. As difficult as it was, I was glad that I got to see her then, because she passed away in October. I was the only one of her descendants to speak at her funeral. None of her five sons nor her other grandchildren wanted to say anything because they didn't think they could without breaking down. I felt that this was the least I could do for my grandmother.

My vacation in the fall was to the Peace Colloquy sponsored by my church in Independence MO and then to visit my best friend Nicholas in the Saint Louis area. I got to meet his girlfriend, who was hinting quite obviously that she wanted an engagement ring (she put a big plastic "diamond" ring on top of his counter). Not that my opinion mattered much, but she won a ringing endorsement from me. I told Nicholas that she was definitely "a keeper." On this trip, I really enjoyed seeing the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. That is truly one unforgettable experience. No other presidential library and museum comes close (sorry JFK!).


This year began with my cousin Michael's suicide, which happened around the time of my tenth anniversary of getting out of the Navy. It was heartbreaking, especially with the circumstances surrounding his decision to end his young life. Because of the timing of this suicide, I could not afford to make his funeral, as much as I wanted to go. As bad as it sounds, had the suicide occurred three or four months later, I would have been able to go. The strangest thing about this suicide, though, is that I had a strong urge to call him on a Wednesday night, but I couldn't find his cell phone number and didn't want to spend time looking for it. Based on info I learned from his parents, he had made desperate calls to priesthood members in church but couldn't find anyone to talk to (they either didn't pick up or they didn't have time). I sometimes wonder if my phonecall might have made the difference. I rarely get a strong urge to call someone, so why didn't I listen to that prompting?

I did quit my job in April to prepare for my move west. I spent the summer at my parents house, sorting through my things and finally taking the Biology course I had failed my last semester at BYU so I could finally get my degree. I really wanted my degree in 2000, and after that failed to come true, I kind of lost interest. People would joke that I was three credits shy of a degree.

In the summer, an old high school friend was gunned down in front of his home, which came as a shock to learn about on the evening news. Even more surprising, I learned that the news was slow in reporting it (a day or two after the tragedy) and he was already buried by the time I learned the news. I would have went to his funeral, had I known. He was a good guy.

At summer's end, I boarded Amtrak for my four day long journey to Portland (via D.C. and Chicago). I had always wanted to see America by rail and this move presented the perfect opportunity. Not only was it actually cheaper to go by rail, but I was also allowed to take more bags with me than an airlines. I was fully loaded with as much as I could stuff into five bags.

I attended my first Young Adult Retreat with the church at Samish Island and met a great group of young adults in the Pacific Northwest. I also saw Cindy Sheehan, Jim Wallis, and Al Gore at various lectures in Portland. I was already living my dream life in Portland in the first four months. I spent my 35th birthday at OMSI, for the special Star Wars exhibit. This was a perfect gift for me.


In January, I began my job search (that has been ongoing for 35 months now). I also got to see Vancouver BC once again. This was the best year in terms of young adult activities with my church...both the members in the Seattle area and the Portland area. We had a retreat at a member's family cabin in the Snoqualmie forest, we had another retreat at a member's mother's house near Mount Saint Helens, and in the fall, we had several events in Portland. This was the year that I also met Christine and the year of the best Young Adult Retreat at Samish Island (when Portland had seven people go up for it).

For my vacations, I took an Amtrak journey to Chicago and attended Nicholas and Jennifer's wedding, which was great. In October, I returned to Utah for the first time since leaving in 1999. It was quite the emotional journey to return to BYU, where I felt the most lonely I've ever felt in my life. The college years were difficult, but I truly did learn a lot and saw how much I had changed in ten years when one lady actually "tested" me by her intolerant comments about my church at a Thai restaurant I used to work at.

I lost my Great Aunt Effie this year. She was like my second grandmother, since I never got to know my maternal grandmother. I also received a job offer to work in Alaska for three weeks of every month. I was so tempted to accept and sometimes regret that I didn't, but the biggest reason was because I had planned to volunteer on political campaigns in 2008 with the hope that it would lead to my career in government. I also wanted to stay involved in the Young Adult groups with my church and spending three weeks of every month on the North Slope of Alaska would not allow that.

The new things I did this year was attend my first anti-war rally (with a sign I had made) and to blog. I actually had no idea what I would blog about, only that I wanted my own blog. Amazing to see the shape its become over the past three years.


This year was amazing in terms of the politics. I volunteered on the Sam Adams for Mayor campaign (instead of the Jeff Merkley for U.S. Senate campaign), met Bill and Chelsea Clinton during their separate visits to Portland to campaign for Hillary, attended the massive Obama rally on a hot Sunday afternoon just a few days before the primaries, attended election night parties (with Christine, who is not political), and volunteered on a campaign for City Council by a candidate who was the same age as me and most likely would've been in my circle of friends had we gone to the same high school together.

As for travel, I was in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene when the biggest snow storm in years hit, thus extending a weekend trip by a few days as we were stranded. I visited best friend Nathan and his wife in San Diego, then took Amtrak back to Portland. I went to Coeur d'Alene again in the summer for my own personal retreat. Then when I learned that my sister got engaged to a guy I haven't met, I decided to make a trip home to meet him long before the wedding as well as to get my things out of storage and reduced. Something new I did was join the Writer's Dojo to be a part of a community of writers, which gives me a place to go and just write in a very cool, zen atmosphere.

My parents came for their Washington and Oregon vacation in October, and we saw quite a bit of the northwestern quarter of the state (from Florence to Astoria, Astoria to Hood River, Mount Hood to Portland). It was a fun vacation. The only one missing was my sister.

The year ends with my Aunt Marie's death (the divorced woman with six children who married my uncle). She was the most unpopular person in our family, so while no one would be vocal about "celebrating" that she's gone, her passing was not difficult to accept. I don't think many in my family miss her at all. She was a strange lady.


Finally, we get to this year. I didn't find a new job this year as I had hoped that I would. While it has not been a great year for me, its also not the worst year I've lived. All I can really say is that I somehow survived.

I was glad to see the end of the Bush nightmare and a new president come into office and slowly right the ship of state back on course. People expecting a miracle this early need to have patience. We'll see where were are in 2012. Don't write off President Obama this early!

In February, I participated with Young Adult groups in two church services in different Vancouvers: British Columbia on the first Sunday and Washington state the last Sunday. One service them was about listening, the other was about seeing. Interesting juxtaposition, I think.

The biggest event of the year was my sister's wedding and the family reunion. While happy for my sister, I also felt like a failure. I'm nine years older than my sister and had hoped to be married by this point in my life. The fact that my life has gone off course in 2000 only contributed to this feeling of frustration in me. For me, I only see marriage as a possibility once I land my career. When I'm working in a place where I see myself working for the rest of my adult life until retirement, then I'm ready to pursue some serious dating that leads to marriage. But, not to spoil my sister's big day, I kept my feelings to myself and participated in the joy the rest of our family shared.

Two weeks after the wedding, my grandfather died. I had lived from 1971 through 2005 without experiencing the death of a close family member (though grandfather's two sister's had died in the late 1990s and early part of this decade). Since 2005, the tally has been five. Thus, why I consider this decade to be the "decade of death." This summer seemed to emphasize that point, as many famous people died: Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Patrick Swayze, Eunice Shriver, Ted Kennedy, Corazon Acquino, and others.

I also attended another wedding this year, that of two members of MAYAs. Heartbreakingly, it was also the year that Christine got engaged to her long-distance boyfriend, whom I had hoped she would end the relationship with this year after spending so many awesome moments with me. It grieves me to think that I was creating memories with someone else's wife. We had so much fun together and our conversations never got boring. In my sister's wedding, she and her husband had read each other their vows that they had written themselves. My sister said that from the first moment she met Dave, they fell into an easy conversation that she never wanted to end. That's exactly how I feel about Christine from the first moment I met her in May 2007. But like my experience in 2000, this decade ends the same way it began: me falling for a lady I connected with on so many levels, who ends up marrying a European man. This deja vu experience cannot be coincidence. I'm determined to find the meaning of it happening twice to me in the same decade. The reason it frustrates me is because it is hard for me to find a lady I feel a connection with on "all levels" (physical, spiritual, personal, emotional, and to a lesser degree: political).

The new thing I tried this year was being a counselor at a senior high retreat. It was an interesting experience, though I don't think I'm right for that role. My heart keeps calling me towards something international. That's where my true passion lies. I did enjoy Bend Institute this year and learned a lot. That was a great retreat and I was glad to have gone.

What I learned most this year is the power of energy. From my perspective right now, I'm amazed by the absence of two things in my workspace: two negative women. The office fired one in April, which I was relieved that they finally did. She was an emotional mess and truly negative energy. But the biggest negative energy was moved to a different part of the office in August and it made such a huge difference that many people noticed the different vibes they felt in the weeks after the change. In the battle of wills, I WON! I consider it to be the greatest victory of the year. I did something about it to enact the change. Though this year was beset with one financial setback after another, I walk away knowing that the energy we emit makes a huge difference to other people.

The "school marm's" negative energy was so strong that it did make me sick at times. It was overpowering stuff. In case you're wondering if she's, she hasn't. She's still her negative, toxic self. A week or two ago, she went off on a customer over a simple explanation. A customer had asked me a question and as I was attempting to answer, she interrupted with her belligerent tone and getting even more upset when the person didn't understand what she was saying. She was on the verge of tears and I just had to walk away. What the hell is this woman's problem? She should be grateful they didn't fire her, but if there's still a budget crisis at work next year, I hope they ax her next.

But who cares, right? Because I fully intend to manifest myself a new job in the new year. I want to get this decade of success started off on the right note. My experimentation for 2010 will be to play with the energy vibration and see where they lead.

As for my birthday...Safeway had a sale on lobster tails, so I bought one. I had this for my birthday in 2006, so I look forward to eating this luxury meal once again. Its a definite rare treat (once or twice a decade, it seems). My regular readers probably know what I'll be wishing for when I blow out the candles on my cake. Here's to a year of miracles in 2010.

1 comment:

pat m said...

Happy birthday Nick...wishing you health, prosperity, peace and happiness.