The end of the year seemed to arrive in a hurry, but this year, for me, seemed more ridiculous even than the last. It was a year of very intense highs and lows, some of which I haven't talked about in a public way, and won't here either. These retrospectives are useful to me, to compare and contrast previous years with what I just experienced.
I think we all looked at the end of last year, with the vaccines slowly rolling out, as the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Of course, it didn't turn out that way, but for none of the reasons that I expected. By April, adults could start to fall into two categories: vaccinated and not. I remember when I got the second shot, feeling kind of invincible. I was ready to do anything. Unfortunately, the year ended with more deaths in the US, not less, and especially by late spring, most of these were preventable.
Behaviors in the world became a little more normal. Simon went back to in-person school at the start of the year, as we were completely satisfied with the protocols in place for his public school. Diana returned to work as the theater complex opened a huge outdoor venue on their front lawn. We were able to buy back in to our Disney annual passes in April as well, and we used them a lot this year. There was even a period of time where masks were completely optional indoors at the theme parks. Mask requirements were still a thing in a lot of places for most of the year, but I didn't find it to be that big of a deal once I found a type that was comfortable. Even our Broadway season has resumed, and we've seen two shows so far this year. While there never was a real "lockdown" the year before, there was still far less restriction to what you could safely do this year, and that was a relief.
Simon got Covid right around the start of October. It wasn't a random mystery about where he got it, which still troubles me, but fortunately, the vaccines did their job as expected for me and Diana. Within a day of availability for the 5-11 cohort, Simon got his first vaccine dose, and the second three weeks later.
Now the omicron variant is out there, and while Diana and I have boosters, we're still trying to be relatively responsible. The disease is theoretically mild with this variant and our vaccination, today there's news that it isn't so rough on the lungs, but I think the bigger goal is not to be a transmission vector. The variant is moving faster than the science, which would be a little unnerving if it weren't for the fact that the breakthrough infections appear to be less serious. What's completely frustrating is that more people died this year than last, and for no good reasons. We had a solution. I think we're all pretty tired of the whole thing, but unfortunately fatigue doesn't change the potential outcomes or the science of it all. The uncertainty of when the pandemic really "ends" is exhausting.
I've run out of time to write this, so I'm going to keep this high level. Like pretty much everyone, I've had to ask myself where it is that work fits into my life. More than ever, how a company handles its environmental, social and governance issues matters to the people who work for it, as well as investors. It feels like a huge opportunity, the idea that companies might need to have a conscience. They could succeed where individuals and government can't by using financial influence for good. I'll write more about that when I have more time.
Last year I launched POP Forums as a managed service, and never did anything to promote it. This year was the same story. I just don't have anything left at the end of the day to put energy into selling something, which is kind of a bummer because I'm really proud of the work I did to make it available to anyone with a credit card. I even have some ideas about how to promote it that would be relatively low cost, but I just haven't acted on the ideas.
If that sounds skeptical, maybe it is. I wonder after 20+ years if I'm just going to one day lose interest. I worked pretty hard to get at least most of the stuff up to date this year and not using any older technology. Everything is cloud-based, redundant and crazy fast. Heck, it even runs on Linux under the covers, which is something I never expected back in the day.
I would love to build something new, to sell, but it would have to be something that I find useful, and I honestly don't know what that is. I would also inevitably run into the situation where I wouldn't be that interested in selling it.
That crazy amount of stuff I made in 2020? It did not carry over into 2021. I'm not going to lie, I actually feel bad about this now that I'm at the end of the year. In my defense, I had a lot of other things to worry about (read on), but it doesn't feel good to say that I didn't make very many things.
My open source commits were not nearly as impressive as the two years before, where I exceeded 100 straight weeks of contributions. My 2021 total was only 204, compared to 360 the year before. Most of that was concentrated on all of the stuff for the POP Forums v18 release, which in my defense required me to touch most files. I only made 11 commits to MLocker, my personal music cloud, the entire year, but I'm still very proud of that project. I use it every single day.
I ended last year with the intention of really going nuts with videos for SillyNonsense, but I only did a few early in the year, and a few at the end of the year. Not proud of that either. I have a ton of ideas still, and tons of stuff on my computer that could be videos. I'm still not even sure what my intention is with these. There's no coherent goal, I just want to make videos.
I completely abandoned my Modern Gen-X radio show, even though I'm still getting various radio stations picking up the episodes that I did last year. Some have even asked for more. In my defense, part of the reason for that is the fact that so little new music really grabbed me enough to want to do it (see previous post for annual playlist).
Some of my disengagement is connected to my declining interest in social media, which is for some reason tied to the big content distribution channels. So few of my friends are really using Facebook actively now, which is depressing given the distributed nature of my real life social network. It feels like making stuff that they would want to see or use is what would make it more worth it. To that end, I actually prototyped a social media network. It's a web app, but it does some basic stuff. I wonder if I'll ever go further with it.
This was a challenging year for health in our house. Simon was relatively healthy aside from the Covid. Diana has had better success with migraines, but it still wasn't great. She's also had some serious back pain that resulted in crazy painful shots, and she may need more. I don't know how she manages to be such a great and positive force in the world as she manages these pains, but she does it.
My health story was pretty serious from a long-term perspective, if not immediate. Orlando Health fired my doctor and the others in that office last year (yeah, during a pandemic), and the replacement did not impress me when I saw him for my annual in 2020. One of the excused doctors from that office opened her own private practice in the spring, and I finally got in to see her in August.
My labs came back with three things she wanted to correct: hypothyroidism, high cholesterol and high triglycerides. The latter two were familiar issues, and I just thought they were off because I didn't get enough exercise. But the thyroid, that was something no doctor was previously looking at. She put me on levothyroxine which at first made me erratic, full of energy then crashing hard, but two weeks in it leveled out. Six weeks later, it wasn't moving the needle much in my labs, so she doubled the dosage. I went through another adjustment period, but by the start of October, I realized that I was not having the fatigue that I thought was mostly mental. My weight even started to slowly decrease. It has made me feel better when I didn't know I didn't feel good. I'm generally more energetic and sleep better.
Next up was a statin to get the cholesterol under control, and sure enough that came down as well. The triglycerides were still high, and she put me on a crazy dose of omega-3 stuff that I'm not sure is right. She observed that my tri's went up between my last two labs, but I think that's in part because I stopped taking the OTC omega-3's she said I didn't need (they were recommended by the previously canned doctor). Not sure where this will land, but I'm terrible about consistently taking them since they go with food.
The idea that I have to take drugs though to be healthy is psychologically challenging. It likely will extend my life, but I went from no drugs to three. Well, four if you consider I also take an antihistamine every day because it apparently mitigated my IBS problem. I ended up taking generic Zyrtec almost every day in the spring because pollen was nuts, and I noticed that I wasn't having IBS symptoms. There are some studies that show antihistamines may help, so I just kept taking it.
I also had my first colonoscopy this year, as well as an endoscopy. I was technically overdue for the colonoscopy since the guidelines for screening were moved up a few years. The colonoscopy showed that I have harmless diverticulosis, which is pretty normal for my age, because everyone gets it by the time they're dead. Beyond that, the doctor didn't find any polyps to remove and I'm good for ten years. The endoscopy was to see if anything weird was going on to cause my difficulty swallowing, a phenomenon I only have every few months. Nothing to see there except some erosion caused by acid reflux, so I'm taking an acid reducer temporarily for that.
Mental health is something that I take very seriously, and I was deliberate about seeing a therapist this year. I did a ramp up with a new one earlier in the year, and then began spacing out the appointments to monthly, but I find it very valuable. Expensive as it is, I'm "good at it" with the right person, able to really come up with an agenda and be outcome driven. This new therapist really gets me and she has really helped me navigate all of the weird shit in life.
What I probably waited too long to do was see a psychologist about confirming or disproving my theory that I too have autism spectrum disorder. To no surprise, of course I do. While Simon has a different journey thus far, and ahead of him, there were too many similarities between his experience and my childhood to just overlook it. My previous therapist said it was likely, as did the new one, but they're not technically qualified to do the diagnostics. So I spent hours digging up my childhood and got a nice report that profiles where I am.
I also have an official ADHD diagnosis to go with the ASD, which is interesting, because I don't think that it is a deterrent to the way I operate, for the most part. It actually may be beneficial to me as a manager, because it seems like it helps me to context switch and see the next thing to act on. The two things together help me to reduce ambiguity to an appropriate level to benefit everyone that I work with, which is kind of cool and feels like a super power.
As I mentioned last month, I'm not exactly sure yet what to do with this information. The more immediate thing is that I find myself able to give myself a little room for the things that I considered personality flaws in my childhood and even into my 20's. By that I mean not dislike myself for difficult relationships, disregard for school work, or even my impatience in learning to write code early in my career. Those were not personality flaws, they were situations influenced by my wiring, which I didn't understand at the time. I have so many memories of thinking, "Why can't I just do this thing, this way," and thinking less of myself for it. I didn't even know what ADHD was at the time.
I think I'll be feeling out what to do with it all for a long time going forward. I have unintentionally developed all kinds of coping skills and adjustments to compensate for things that are difficult. The big change is that now I can see where those accommodations to the world can wear me down and cause exhaustion. So for example, if I'm in a large gathering of people, and I need to retreat for 15 minutes, that's OK, I'm going to do that. I see that I've developed strong "people skills," but I also see that it can be draining to use them, and that's OK.
For all of the things I found difficult this year, being married to Diana was not one of them. Just out of casual conversation with other married people, I fully appreciate how easy our relationship is by comparison. I'm not saying we never encounter problems, but they're infrequent and resolved quickly. This has been a big year for me and self-awareness, and I know that I have a long history of not being well understood in relationships, and not always seeing them from the other person's point of view. For whatever reason, Diana gets me, and I get her, and it works really, really well. I don't take that for granted.
Parenting, on the other hand, isn't getting easier. I love Simon dearly, but I long for the days of changing diapers and not being able to sleep overnight, because that was easy by comparison. I didn't go overboard researching car seats and educational toys back then, but even for the amount of winging it, I know now that it was really distilled down to three things: Feed him when he's hungry, put him down when he's tired, change his diaper when it's full. That's literally all you need to know about parenting for the first year. It might be exhausting, but it isn't hard to figure out. That period ends very quickly.
As puberty approaches and feelings get more intense, it feels a little like a powder keg when mixed with ADHD and ASD. I'm astounded at his ability to build complex LEGO sets and kick my ass playing Halo on Xbox, but he lacks the patience and discipline to learn what he needs to. Like me at that age, he still struggles socially. He's not well equipped to adapt. Despite the need for routine, he fights the bedtime routine every night. His impulsivity in particular is difficult to manage, whether it's interrupting to talk or making poor decisions about how to respond to prompts. Few things are ever easy.
Last year in the public school, he did merely OK, which is to say that he passed, but as much as I tend to discount the standardized testing, he was a few points below acceptable in the reading and writing part. Our bigger concern though was that he would most certainly not be set up for success going to a typical middle school with 1,800 other kids, so Diana went the distance and researched private alternatives. He's eligible for state funding, so trying it out was a no-brainer. The results have been mixed, and are still very concerning. Socially, he has thrived, which is to say he's kind of found "his people." He has a "best friend." On the other hand, we're skeptical that he's learning at the level that he should, and could. His report card is all A's and essentially perfect, which given last year, means he's either not being challenged or not being properly evaluated, or both. If that weren't enough, two out of three of his teachers observed no problems on his developmental pediatrician's questionnaire, which is a huge red flag in a school that's supposed to help kids with ADHD and ASD. He certainly struggles with homework, so what exactly is going on there? This begs the question about what we do next. It's a source of constant stress.
Now, I don't want to paint a picture that it's all bad. We're seeing a lot more self-awareness this year, and Simon is getting better at understanding which feelings he's having, even if he doesn't always effectively handle them. That's huge. I'm also surprised to hear him recently explain things to me sometimes in a cohesive narrative, though it's usually just about things that interest him. He's openly expressing gratitude and appreciation more frequently. He has a strong desire to help and volunteer, which is validating because it feels like we're raising a good human being.
I think the best way to summarize the stress and anxiety around parenting is that we just want him to grow up to be a self-sufficient adult. I appreciate more than ever what it's like to enter the world as someone who is a little different, and I don't want it to be hard for him the way it was for me. I really do think that he's super intelligent, but the ADHD in particular seems to interfere with the manifestation of that. I think this will be a critical year for him, and we don't want to screw it up. It's a lot of pressure.
Our ragdolls Finn and Poe have been very much perfect cats. I don't know how behaviors can be breed standard, but they do all of the stereotypical things. Most charmingly, they flop at your feet, stick their legs in the air, and demand belly rubs. It's fantastic. I've never had cats this amazing before. They're not quite two years old yet, but I can't imagine not having them. The loss of Emma and Oliver last year was tough, and while I'll always have fond memories of them, Finn and Poe level up the pet game. They're beautiful animals loaded with personality.
Diana also has her heart set on having a black cat. We tried fostering an adult cat earlier this year, and it turned the boys into real bastards. They did not get along and it was clear that we risked changing their personalities. He went back to the organization that Diana volunteers for, and eventually landed in a good home as a single cat. We now have a kitten who is only a few months old. So far, the boys mostly aren't sure what to think of him in their short introductions, but the kitten hisses at them growls with the noise of a cat four times his size. We're using toddler gate therapy for them to get to know each other, but it's too early to tell how it will go. If it doesn't work out, there's little doubt the little charmer will find a home.
During the spring of last year, Diana and I started messing around with temporary tattoos, which look pretty realistic and are durable for a week or so, because we've both been talking about real ones for years. She had her first when she was 30, so in her case, she's been thinking about it for two decades. The pandemic hit, and that went on hold, but this year we made it real.
I had narrowed it down to two things over many years, and I kind of knew I would end up doing both. The first was the phrase "laugh at the wonder of it all," a lyric from the song "Sound" by the band James (they're huge in the UK) on my forearm. The second was a mandala-compass rose hybrid that mostly I just thought would look cool on my calf. I went to the same guy for both, appreciating his skill and precision for line work.
I remember in my 20's being into tattoos but unable to reconcile the idea of getting one, given its permanence. Now, I just don't see how I could overthink it like that. Certainly I wouldn't want to get something silly or go to a hack "artist," but it's not that big of a deal. I enjoy the process, and there's something even satisfying about the pain. As long as you're into it, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. I really love both of them, and wonder why I waited so long. I wouldn't rule out another one.
Diana also found a guy in Tampa that sort of freehands floral designs, after seeing a friend get hers. So now she has a lovely design on her upper arm and shoulder, and it's really cool.
I think I've always been a tattoo and piercing person, I just didn't have the tattoos. Crazy that I went 16 years between the latter and the former.
The only thing we did last year was spend a few days in a beach rental in July, a small privately owned thing with maybe a dozen little condos. It was still weird since it didn't include going to restaurants and doing stuff. This year, we started in January by renting a single-family home right on the beach in Melbourne. It had a hot tub. I worked from there during the day, overlooking the ocean, so I didn't even take time off. It was completely glorious. I've never felt more peaceful and rested. I don't know why, but being near the ocean feels amazing. If I can figure out how to make it happen financially, a small oceanfront place is one I wouldn't mind being my last house.
Once we were fully vaccinated in April, we were ready to start venturing into the world. When we obtained our passes for Walt Disney World, I got an ad for reduced rates for certain nights at certain hotels, and it felt like a good opportunity to stay on the property. We seem to do that about every two years, to enjoy the pools and pool bars and see the parks like tourists, including the transportation. We stayed at Art of Animation in July and totally surprised Simon. It was fun to get away for a bit, though the weather made it tough to regularly enjoy the Skyliner, the gondola ride that goes from there to Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
The fall brought us out to Venice to stay with my father-in-law, after not seeing him in person for a year and a half. That's a nice distraction and mini road trip under three hours, and we did that twice.
Our first legitimate, leave the state (and the country) vacation was on Disney Cruise Line, for our 20th cruise. That was something of a mixed bag, not because of Covid mitigation, but because Simon's behavior was erratic. Two nights were awesome, two were not. We also ate too much, and spent some time being fairly uncomfortable for it. It's like we forgot how to travel!
On our original timeline, we thought we were going to Alaska last summer, without Simon, and then this year we would go to Northern Europe. I don't know what's next. The problem isn't where, it's whether or not we can travel with Simon. He's going through a phase where he's difficult to travel with.
This year was a lot like last year. We didn't spend a lot of money. We did add a new car payment though because we eventually felt like we had to replace Diana's car after the accident. I felt like we should put a bunch of money down, but interest rates were so low that it didn't seem like a good idea. In fact, I didn't pay off the older car either, because these loans are all sub-2%. It makes way more sense to sock away that money in investments, so that's what we did this year. I mean, even my IRA, which I never look at, managed to squeeze out a 7% gain this year. It's weird that paying off debt, when it's cheap, isn't the goal.
I tried investing small amounts in various things that seemed likely to recover this year, specifically theme parks and cruise lines, but I had pretty mixed results. Half I cashed out at 10%, the other half are down 15% or more and I still have them. I made like a grand in the process, but I'm under on the other side. I learned that I don't have the stomach for that kind of investing. I will continue to put stuff in mutual funds and ETF's that mostly just reflect the market.
This year we finally became founding donors at our local arts center, something that we've talked about for years but finally felt comfortable enough to do this year. Like last year, we might have been stingy about buying stuff, but we tried to make meaningful donations to the usual charities and social advocacy groups.
To say that we got off to a rough start, with the insurrection on January 6, is an understatement. A very loud series of politicians have created a false narrative about the integrity of democracy, and a minority part of the population has bought in to it to further erode the integrity of the democracy they're worried about. It doesn't make a lot of sense. More concerning though is that we live in a nation that is still not being represented by its majority, which is not the batshit crazy people who stormed the Capitol. That really concerns me.
But the wider concern is that we, as a global society, can't seem to see the truth that's in front of us. We can see the planet becoming less inhabitable, but some still want to debate that it's a problem. We can see that inequity along racial, gender and economic lines exists, but we don't address it. We have a solution to a global pandemic, but we don't embrace it. I have to remind myself that it could be worse, if we look back to the days when slavery was legal and women couldn't vote, but the biases of those seemingly ancient eras are still with us.
With that in mind, we've certainly seen extraordinary positives as well. It was a good year for charitable giving. The economics of energy production are starting to favor renewables. People seem to want sustainable transportation, even if the auto makers are slow getting there. Diversity, equity and inclusion are becoming core values in companies along side environmental, social and governance priorities. There is positive change happening in the world, it's just hard to see over the negative stuff.
The pandemic has triggered a lot of questions about what "normal" means, but I think that it's clear that our normal before wasn't very good. We can do better.
I learned in recent years that "midlife crisis" is actually a quasi-clinical term that describes a person in their mid-40's who has a crisis of identity and purpose, and that it may include intense depression, anxiety, and possibly erratic behavior. I thought that maybe I was having one of those, but it was pointed out to me that all of that stuff has to be triggered by age to be a midlife crisis. The truth is that I've had waves of these feelings at other points in my life, like when I was 32 and getting divorced. When it comes to age, the truth is that I actually really like being 40-something. It's the first time in my life that I've felt like I have wisdom and am not prone to doing silly things that I would when I was younger.
With that in mind, I think the trigger for the feelings and actions have more to do with the pandemic, the new requirement for medications and the stress of parenting more than anything else. There's a lot to unpack there, and the joy and pain has felt heightened this year. I suppose I've acted out, but even the tattoos weren't exactly spontaneous. The most damage I did buying things was a Pac-Man machine, and I've been meditating on that for years too. I did, very briefly, entertain buying a Porsche since they finally have an electric model, but even that was instigated by Diana's accident right before the last new year. That would have qualified as a crisis!
What really materialized in the way of adjustments includes the aforementioned focus on saving and investing. I guess the uncertainty has pushed me in a direction that wants to increase the odds of long-term stability. There's the focus on where work fits in my overall life. I've reaffirmed my desire to get out into the world, even if travel is not always easy or practical right now. I do legitimately want my health to be better even if I dread admitting that I'm genetically predisposed to hypothyroidism and high-ish cholesterol.
The biggest thing is that I don't want to feel like things are always on fire. That's what life was like this year. Much of it was out of my control. Getting there will require looking for peace and not letting the ridiculousness of the world get to me. I am, after all, equipped with the wisdom to do that.
I used to ask the question about whether or not I was happy, but I've come to realize that it isn't the right question. Happiness is not a thing that occurs at all times, and it's not realistic. I think it's true that you can't know happiness without knowing pain. I think what ultimately matters is whether or not you're content, which is the feeling that you're OK in the moment, not wanting for things and generally able to appreciate that moment. Most of the time, I think that I am content. But I felt like I was intermittently tired much of the year, just mentally drained. Maybe the thyroid had something to do with that, but even now... we've had a rough year. I find myself being more deliberate about leaning on my sense of wonder and curiosity as a means to focus on things that are constructive.
I can't make any predictions about how 2022 will go. The good news is that I'm fully prepared to embrace that uncertainty, because at no time in my life could I have predicted where I would be next beyond some general, high-level goals. I think that embrace can set you free a bit.