New Year

I read the other day that the way you spend the first 12 days of the year will determine how you spend the rest of your year. If that’s the case, then I’m in for a long year of walking along industrial stretches of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, skipping along sandbars, and snapping vivid phone pictures of the sunset or blurry zoomed-in images of the moon. And of course working, sleeping (at least a bit), and spending time with friends and family.

I want to share more writing, too, but since it’s the 11th hour of the 11th day of that critical 12 day stretch, I better get cracking. After all this time in the wilderness of work, relationships, and lonely riparian sojourns, I’m not quite sure where to start.

I guess I can take a brief look back at the new year so far. We are adding on to our house and the living room and porch areas are complete. Ruby has been practicing viola in the new space, which without furnishings or stained floorboards feels like a yoga studio. Last night I sat on the floor and could see the moon shining through the skylights in the vaulted ceiling. People keep asking when the project will be finished but since most of it is done I’m enjoying these final few weeks of the building process and these first tentative uses of the space.

Emil is playing a lot of Super Mario Maker and composing his own video game soundtracks on the programmable Casio keyboard we bought during lockdown. His electronic compositions are a nice blend of the jazz standards he learns in piano lessons and the hours he’s spent reading the Casio’s manual and skillfully manipulating the arpeggiator. In school he enjoys math and is illustrating the animals in the Chinese zodiac. We’re almost through with the year of the tiger and on to the year of the rabbit. Thank goodness.

Raising older kids is a lot different than raising younger kids. You never know what kinds of conversations you are going to have or need to have. The other night Ruby couldn’t sleep because she’d either read or heard from a friend that the sun will eventually swell to such a large size that it will fatally suck all the planets in the solar system into its orbit, including Earth. That prompted a long conversation about worry, life, the universe, faith, science, and many other things, all while we listened to an instrumental album of a string quartet playing Miyazaki soundtrack themes. I was touched by her concern for the future of people hundreds of millions of years into the future. I remember feeling the same way as a kid, still largely unaware of present-day problems in society but overwhelmed by the idea of eternity. You just listen, stroke their hair, gently share some perspective, and send them back to bed. But their questions and earnestness in asking them stay in your mind for a long while afterward.

After an intensive few years of helping people buy and sell homes, Jenn has mostly stepped back from real estate and is refocusing on her photography business, specializing in interiors, portraiture, and also shooting random objects and scenes just for fun in her free time. It’s been great to see her return to her professional and creative roots while also planning the home addition and helping out with the kids school activities and projects.

Life for me has been good, but humbling. In the past five years I have edited over 100 different titles for Andrews McMeel Publishing, mostly graphic novels, thematic comic collections, a few memoirs, books of poetry, and narrative nonfiction. I love helping authors shape and focus their ideas and working with our design and production team to help realize each author’s vision. I work with some amazingly talented people. The only problem is it can all be dizzying to keep track of, and I spend a lot of time writing emails, walking around drinking coffee, or staring into space and hoping I didn’t forget to do something critically important. But I’m grateful to have a job that aligns with my interests and affords us the chance to do fun things and explore new places.

People often comment to us how much we get around or are always traveling, which is a combination of truth and optical illusion. Many of the posts that look like travels are in fact from nearby locations, just framed in a way that looks interesting or exotic. And some of the trips we take (hello and goodbye, Dauphin Island, Alabama!) turn out to be bumpy and misguided. While we have been fortunate enough to go on some great trips this past few years, the superficial sheen of social media rarely reflects the more mundane or complex realities of daily life, which is one of the reasons I want to do more writing instead.

Whether I’m in a foreign country or at home in Kansas City, the reality is that I’m mostly just moving in circles—not heading toward anything specific as much as just moving around. On a walk through Westwood Park a few weeks ago, I was reminded of the Rilke poem “I Live My Life in Widening Circles,” in which the speaker talks about endlessly roaming through the world, circling the ancient tower of God, asking himself who he is: a falcon, a storm, or some giant song. I love the idea of eternally searching and not even knowing what you are searching for, even if I’m not yet quite as resigned to the concept as the guy in the poem.

After completing so many circles, I also thought I would have things a bit more figured out by now. I guess I expected that at around age 40 I’d hit some sort of threshold of accomplishment, age, or understanding. But I didn’t, and I haven’t, so I keep moving. 

But now that I find myself in a rare moment of rest, settling back into routines amid the shorter and colder days, I find that the corollary of that poem is also true. I live my life in tightening circles. I find myself walking familiar routes, revisiting projects that have been on pause for years, trying to figure out how to integrate my desire for travel, exploration, and escape into my daily life here in the Midwest.

It’s so easy to live in the same city or work the same job for a long time and feel like you’ll never be surprised again. To feel like you’ve seen it all before and everything new is just a repackaged iteration of something that’s already been done. But then I take a look at the artwork, writing, or projects by a few of the artists I know—people who may be quite a bit older than me, but who still look at their surroundings with the same sense of newness and exploration one might bring to a country they are visiting for the first time. 

Their work reminds me to remain open to new things, new people, new ideas, and new possibilities. It reminds me that no matter where you live, there are always new opportunities to work with others or to dig deeper within. It reminds me to stay curious and keep experimenting. And most importantly, to stay in motion and stick with things, especially when I feel stuck. 

So in conclusion, before the clock strikes midnight on this 11th day of the year, I’ll sign off by wishing you a happy 2023 and a furry and gentle year of the rabbit. Please look for some new posts here soon and see the “about me” page if you’d like to get in touch. I’m very much looking forward to a new year of explorations and discovery, and I’m wishing you the best of luck.

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