Not goodbye, see you later: A note to Syracuse

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By the miracle of WordPress scheduling, as this writing publishes, I'm spending my birthday unloading a giant truck into a storage unit in Savannah, Georgia.

Many of our friends know we've been eyeing Savannah for a long time. We expected we'd be down here sooner, and we expected we'd have more time to say our goodbyes.

Our house didn't sell, but we got a lot of rental interest from a Craigslist ad. And the couple who wanted to rent from us had to be out of their house in Kentucky on Nov. 13. That was too quick for us, but we signed the lease Nov. 4 and told them we'd be out the door by Nov. 17.

In the world of packing up a house, reserving a truck, getting a driving route, booking hotels and still figuring out where I'm going to be able to work, since they need me, too, this is not a very long time. It's barely even enough time. In fact, we're unloading into a storage unit because we had to be out of the house before we were able to scout out places to live.


I came to Syracuse in 2003. While I had some built-in connections in my grad program, it was a very specific group of people and we had a lot of work to do. There was very little socializing, and no one knew anything about the city.

So I went out and I found communities. One person I befriended, who eventually left town, had grown up in Syracuse and thought there was nothing to do.

As a gay black man, maybe that was true until he was an adult in mainstream society. Until I walked into his cafe, he didn't know there were brewpubs in town. He had never sat in the bleachers at a Chiefs game.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to show the lifers what's going on.

I got involved in a lot of stuff. A poetry reading, 40 Below, CNY SPaRC, the Future Fund, Alchemical Nursery, SyracuseFirst, some recreational sports leagues. Probably a few other things I'm missing. Someone nominated me for and I won a 40 Under 40 award.

I've made a lot of friends, who are all very much my local family, with my blood relatives scattered throughout Massachusetts, South Carolina and Texas, and wherever else all the distant cousins went.

I became a Freemason in Central New York, something which has provided me with some amazing friends as well as a sense of focus and purpose I didn't have before.

Central New York and I have given each other 11 years. It's hard to say how much of each other we've taken, though I am removing with me my lovely wife, so either way I'm the winner there.

Her family is all in the Syracuse area, so we will, surely, be back several times a year. It's not goodbye, just see you later.


What's in Savannah? We don't know, really. We've met some people already. We've seen the city; it's lovely. Palm trees, live oaks, beaches. People who are generous, friendly and still somewhat guarded about themselves and their city, but welcoming anyway.

There are lots of people our age starting things, there's an art and design school, there's a TEDx contingent. There's a tech movement and a maker movement. There are lots and lots and lots of parks.

We're hedging our bets a little, going down to rent, figuring if we end up not liking it, it'll be easy enough to pack up and move on without dealing with trying to sell another house. And we're already done with the wedding, so planning that is off our plates, too.

I'm sure over the next month or two there will be a lot of posts in this space, some of them dealing with culture shock, some of them dealing with things we've discovered. Maybe some photo essays.

Here's to new starts.

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On hurrying, time, and relaxing

I mapped out my errands so that I could be home to greet some friends for lunch Sunday morning. But then I looked at my list and thought, "Hmmm, I should check to see what time the office supply store opens."

I had the office supply store first on my list, figuring I could always cut my workout short if I had to, but then I discovered that the office supply store didn't open until a half hour before I was to be home to meet our friends.

Clearly, that couldn't be my first stop.

So I rearranged my schedule, left the gym ten minutes before the store was to open (it's a five-minute drive). On my way, people were driving so slowly, and some were even stopping at places they didn't have stop signs.

I found myself irritated, which is unusual for me. I also think it was strange I was irritated, since (a) those things don't usually bother me and (b) the store wasn't even open yet.

It's then I figured out that I would rather hurry up and wait than wait and hurry up. "What's the difference?" I hear you ask. "That sounds commutative, kind of like addition."

The difference is, if I can't just do everything at a moderate pace and finish exactly at the time I want to finish, I would rather front-load the work and then get the chance to relax, than to relax and then be rushed at deadline.

In this case, I'd rather just get to the office supply store and be able to reset my brain before I walk in, and then get home in plenty of time to start making lunch as my friends arrive. The alternative was to be irritated and get there in a rush, not have my list straight in my head, and then rush home to greet everybody.

I feel this way about a lot of deadlines. Get the work done, then enjoy the time without a deadline looming over your head. And hey, if turning something in early means more work, by all means, finish something and hold onto it until your deadline. It's so much better than enjoying your time and then having to pound something out ahead of deadline.

Hurry up, and then enjoy the wait.

[photo credit]

The universe isn’t out to get you

I was going to title this post, "The universe doesn't give a shit about you," but then I thought, "I'm probably stealing that from somewhere." I was close with that thought. The universe might give a shit about you, but it does not give a flying fuck.

Look, the universe is busy dealing with entropy and eventually collapsing on itself. There are stars blowing up every day. Let me repeat. There are stars exploding every single day. There are comets careening around willy-nilly.

The universe could give a rat's ass if your power goes out while you're trying to make dinner, or the cable's on the fritz at kickoff, or if gravity took a beer glass from your hand and pulled it to the floor. I mean, gravity, for fuck's sake. It's keeping you on the planet, stopping you from floating up in the air and having your head blow up because it can't take the pressure.

You know what? If your head blows up? It's going to leave a hell of a lot less crap floating around the universe than those exploding stars. The universe isn't even concerned if your head blows up. It's not hiding your car keys, you just didn't put them on the hook when you got home yesterday.


Check this out. Seriously, you think the universe gives a shit that you missed the fucking football game?

The universe is definitely not out to get you. You're simply not that important to the universe. You know who you're important to? You, and the couple of dozen people closest to you. And your dog. But even your dog will learn to love someone else. I know that because my wife and I adopted a rescue, who was well-loved but who couldn't move with the family who gave him up. He loves us just fine.

Do you have a small coin nearby? A penny, perhaps, or whatever a small currency is wherever you live? Or a thumbtack, something like that? Put it on the table (or desk or whatever) next to you, and look at it.

That's you.

Now, next to it, envision 100 more just like it. Those are the people who were at your wedding, or your bar mitzvah, or your first communion or whatever. Double the size of that pile. Now it includes all the people who couldn't make it or you wish you could have invited but didn't have space/money/whatever.

Take that pile of 200, and double it. Then double it again, then again. There are 1,600 pennies or thumbtacks or whatever there now. That number doesn't mean anything. It's just a really big pile of stuff next to you. Now multiply it by 10.

At 16,000 in a pile to your 1, you're already losing perspective and scale. Now add four more piles just like it. You already look really insignificant, and you've finally surpassed the number of people who went to the Michigan vs. Michigan State football game this year.

Can you imagine what you're like among the billions of people on earth? No, really, I don't think you can.

If you're insignificant next to the number of people at a single college football game, you are nothing in the eyes of a planet, or the universe.

But, you can be important to you and the people around, and that's what you should do. In fact, you can make real change in your life, and in theirs. If you write some life-altering book, you may even have a small effect on millions in your lifetime.

But really, you just need to focus on you. Be you. Be the best there is at being you. You are not who you came from or who you spend time with or who's around in the place you happen to live or eat lunch. You are you, and you can pick which bits and pieces you take from everyone.

We're all just making it up as we go along, no matter how confident we appear. Just try not to be too much of an asshole along the way.

It turns out I write about this kind of stuff a lot, so...

Related posts:

6 tips for getting on with your miserable fucking life
Intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic motivation
3 things you can do to live happier
Commit to a process and let yourself fail
Allow your plans to change
Do it like it's your life, not your job
How do you plan for success?
4 steps from "I'm gonna" to "I am"




 

Working the tools: Six months with the Craft

The night after we put the house on the market in April, I was raised, as they say in Freemasonry, to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. It was one of the more interesting and meaningful journeys I had taken to that point.

These have not been the easiest six months in my life. Not that they were particularly difficult, just stressful. We had a wedding, a planning process I was not prepared for. I spent three weeks laid up with poison ivy (they gave me steroids and everything). The house didn't sell, and now we're going through the process of trying to get it rented and figuring out our next chapter.

There are other things, too, perhaps more personal, that I won't get into. At any rate, things in the Shear household have been largely chaotic for a while, and to this point, the lessons of Masonry have been a good focus.

I have a long journey ahead in the Craft. I've delved into some local Masonic history. I've read some old books. I've held some old documents. Looked at the minutes of meetings of my Lodge from right about the time of the Civil War. I've spent most days this week at the lodge building, digging through the archives, sorting through piles of history that have been shoved in drawers and forgotten. I folded a flag with 45 stars (that puts it between 1896 and 1908). I hung an apron worn by a brother who was raised in 1912.

With the wind and the rain and the leaves and the cinnamon of the season, the dust feels warm, and being alone among the artifacts is a good reminder in a fast-paced, post-Empire world crying for novelty, adherence to ritual is just as important.

Without going too deeply into the more mundane details, Freemasonry, or speculative Masonry, uses the working tools of operative stonemasons to help us be better humans. The tools offer great lessons, and I've needed them a lot these past few months. The two-foot ruler reminds me to set aside time for the important things. The common gavel is used to chip away the stuff I just don't need. The square, to remember to be fair to everybody, especially in this time when we're trying to transact business.

"But what about your secrets?" I hear you cry. Here, give last week's Whence Came You? a listen. You needn't be a Freemason. You needn't want to be. I think it has great life secrets for all.

End-of-summer-to-Thanksgiving fitness challenge Week 9

2014-weight-loss-009Not much this week. It was a high-creatine, high-caffeine, high-stress week. I wound up taking two rest days, but by and large managed my food well (though I had to muscle through a 10-minute run one day).

It turns out this challenge might wind up coming up a couple of weeks short of my original plan; we have some personal scheduling going on that may preclude things going all the way; at any rate, I've learned something about the difference between wanting something and being motivated to get it. For all the times I've tracked and/or gamified my fitness, I think it's now enough of an ingrained habit that I'll only do it again if I have an extended period away for whatever reason.

I find myself hating rest days, getting cranky when I can't get at least a 15-minute workout in, and I don't need to convince myself I'm capable of a run, even on a crap day.

Anyway, onward.

Weight Miles 2-minute pushups Pullups 3 sets to failure (total)
8/25/2014 163.2 N/A 63 23
9/1/2014 161.6 10.03 N/A N/A
9/8/2014 160.2 13.41 72 30
9/15/2014 159.6 9.5 N/A N/A
9/22/2014 159.4 20.63 79 34
9/29/2014 158.8 4.74 N/A N/A
10/6/2014 158.8 5.24 71 31
10/13/2014 157.6 8.4 N/A N/A
10/20/2014 156.4 9.11 78 35
10/27/2014 156.2 5.47 N/A N/A
11/3/2014
11/10/2014 N/A N/A
11/17/2014 N/A N/A
11/24/2014

The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss: Books that will change your life, and how to use them

Tim Ferriss is, by now, well-known for the 4-hour franchise. His first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, was famously rejected by dozens of publishers before becoming an overwhelming hit, having been translated into thirty-something languages (as of this writing) and sending a lot of people into entrepreneurship.

That book was basically a collection of productivity hacks for people with a product to sell, giving them the opportunity to cut down drastically on the amount of work they had to do while keeping their revenue streams up.

The message for me from The 4-Hour Workweek that sticks, though, is not the main message of the book, which is essentially how to get rich while other people handle the tough work for you. It’s that it’s an instruction manual for stuff that Ferriss tried himself, using his own business to experiment on.

And so we pick up Ferriss’ second book, The 4-Hour Body, a 600-page book about changing your body. Ferriss writes about losing fat and gaining muscle, both quickly and over the long term, including doing so while more or less ignoring every dieting “rule” you’ve ever heard. He writes about having better sex. He writes about supplementation (read: drugs). He draws from the experiments he’s performed on himself (and a few other willing subjects).

That brings us to the punchline, about how this book really does change your life.

The takeaway: It’s OK to experiment on yourself.

Sure, it’s nice to have a physician available, especially if you don’t understand the chemistry at play in your body and in certain drugs. And if you are trying new stuff for the first time, having an urgent care or emergency medical facility nearby is a good thing (and maybe you want to have a ride available, just in case). But to be honest, while the body can be a fragile thing, it’s also really resilient, and it lets you know when you’re taking it too far through pain or other reactions (like swelling, for example).

But in general, you should really learn to be comfortable trying new things, and also observing how they affect you. This applies to food, activities, sleep and pretty much any part of life you want to apply it to.

To observe correctly, however, you must measure and document. Ferriss has done pretty much all the work for you. If you want to lose 2% body fat in two weeks, he’ll give you the shortcuts. If you want to put on 18 pounds tomorrow, he’ll let you know. But he also lets you know how to measure and document your progress, so you can see for yourself, and that’s the part of The 4-Hour Body that’s most interesting to me.

Why it’s important: It makes you the expert.

You don’t need a personal trainer, or a dietitian or a scientist. You record what you eat, you record how you feel, how it changes your weight, etc., and you do it again under the same conditions at another time to see if there were any extraneous factors (that is, to see if it’s replicable).

You would be the best expert on you, if you were to pay attention. And, the punchline here, is that you can extrapolate all you learn to other parts of life. The observation, data collection and other skills certainly translate outside of eating and running.

How to use it: Ferriss himself leaves instructions for how to use the book. Pick a couple of chapters that are relevant to you, and read those first. Utilize the tips. Do your experimenting. Then read the rest of the book if it’s interesting to you.

End-of-summer-to-Thanksgiving fitness challenge Week 8: Finding a groove

2014-weight-loss-008Well, turns out the higher-carb, moderate-fat diet is working for me. I've regained some of the energy I'd lost a couple of weeks ago that eventually led to some declines in my "fitness test" weeks — and, to be honest, this week was tough. We have some stuff going on at home that entirely blew one or more of my workout, eating or sleeping plans at least three times this week. And I still lost some weight.

Onward and upward. I'm looking forward to some chill time this week. I've pre-written some of my other writings, I've planned an afternoon and evening just hanging out in a different town, and I have a bit of a presentation to do tomorrow that I think will be really fun.

And then, charging ahead. Later in the week, I hit high gear. I'm not going to talk about it here, it'd be way off-topic for this series, but WOW, so much spinning in the old noggin. Runs might get longer to give me some time to think and architect.

Until next time...

Weight Miles 2-minute pushups Pullups 3 sets to failure (total)
8/25/2014 163.2 N/A 63 23
9/1/2014 161.6 10.03 N/A N/A
9/8/2014 160.2 13.41 72 30
9/15/2014 159.6 9.5 N/A N/A
9/22/2014 159.4 20.63 79 34
9/29/2014 158.8 4.74 N/A N/A
10/6/2014 158.8 5.24 71 31
10/13/2014 157.6 8.4 N/A N/A
10/20/2014 156.4 9.11 78 35
10/27/2014 N/A N/A
11/3/2014
11/10/2014 N/A N/A
11/17/2014 N/A N/A
11/24/2014

Can we talk equality for a minute?

I get ambivalent about participating in Blog Action Day most years, because, while I always think it's relevant to the world, the topic isn't typically something I'm passionate about.

But I can say something about equality. It's a topic I've given up on more than once. On the one hand, the fact that you bleed red, I bleed red, whatever, is obvious to me. On the other hand, you just can't change some people's minds.

inequalitywordcloud-smThere's so much to talk about, overall. Some of what's going on in the world...

Gay marriage
I can't believe we're even still talking about this. Sanctity of marriage? You know what's bad for the sanctity of marriage? Domestic violence. You know what else? Divorce. You know what the rates are among gay couples? I don't either, but I'm betting in both cases, it's substantially lower than straight couples. Look, you have a religious issue? No problem. We have a separation of church and state in this country. How about we just allow marriage to be a church institution, and call the legal bit a civil partnership?

Sexism
Here's another one I can't believe we're still talking about, but sadly, we are. Women on the whole still make less than men for the same work. Women are still notably absent from positions of power. And while there are a growing number of associations to help support female business owners, we still need associations to help support female business owners.

Look, 50.8 percent of the U.S. is female, we should be seeing something like that in terms of female leadership in corporate America and the like. Don't give me anecdotal evidence as "proof" that we're making progress. The fact is, we're really not.

Racism and white privilege
"People think Dr. King gave his speech and racism was over," Chris Rock tells Ice T, continuing on to say that white folks didn't even really start to watch what they said in public until 1978 or so.

Look, there is never going to be a time when we don't look at "other than me" suspiciously. It's hard-wired into us, and it's the same mechanism that keeps us glued to news about murders and robberies even though our mouths say we want to hear good news instead. But we have the ability to make our actions pair with our beliefs (or what we claim as beliefs), and treat everybody with respect.

I'm sure that many of you have read the essay Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, but if not, take 10 minutes to do so, and, particularly if you're white and haven't thought about it before, do think.

Class
I struggle with this more than any other, I think. I grew up in what I think is what is called a high-diversity school system. While I've never spent much time in "up-and-coming" neighborhoods (that means a place where housing is dirt cheap and you may not want your kids out after dusk), I find higher-end suburbs uncomfortable as well.

I've never had to live eight to a home, but there were times my parents worked multiple jobs.

I also happen to think a lot of racism is tied up in poverty, making it really a class issue.

If you need your eyes opened to class inequality in the U.S., listen to Ms. Pat school Marc Maron. Maron's reaction is of genuine surprise.

If you need your eyes opened to class inequality across the globe, check out Kevin Rose's interview with Scott Harrison. Harrison was one of those guys companies used to pay just to be seen in public drinking their products, and then he went on a trip and discovered there are children in this world dying horrible deaths because they can't get clean water. And then you can go give to Charity Water because you will totally feel like a selfish ass after you hear it.

Religion
While Christmas generally makes me uncomfortable (though I don't begrudge anybody their holiday), I'm becoming a little better with ritual.

But we still live in a world where we're killing in the name of (insert whatever you call the deity here). All the time. It's been that way throughout recorded human history.

And in a world where even the NFL has to reclassify its player fines because someone in the organization doesn't understand religious expression if it's not their religious expression.

Come on, people, rise above, eh?

Your comments are appreciated.

End-of-summer-to-Thanksgiving challenge Week 7: Back on track

2014-weight-loss-007OK, so we're halfway through our challenge and nowhere near halfway to our goal. BUT we're back on track losing some weight.

I ran mostly short distances, but more frequently — the farthest I've run since I made it to 20 miles.

We're on the right track, I think, and I'm paying more attention to things like form; I heard Keith Weber and Joe Rogan discuss form, and, especially since I've been wearing my minimalist shoes less (I lean toward Saucony Hattori — which appear to be out of production — and on occasion Vibram FiveFingers).

This week's tracking sheet:

 

Weight Miles 2-minute pushups Pullups 3 sets to failure (total)
8/25/2014 163.2 N/A 63 23
9/1/2014 161.6 10.03 N/A N/A
9/8/2014 160.2 13.41 72 30
9/15/2014 159.6 9.5 N/A N/A
9/22/2014 159.4 20.63 79 34
9/29/2014 158.8 4.74 N/A N/A
10/6/2014 158.8 5.24 71 31
10/13/2014 157.6 8.4 N/A N/A
10/20/2014
10/27/2014 N/A N/A
11/3/2014
11/10/2014 N/A N/A
11/17/2014 N/A N/A
11/24/2014

Introducing The Bearded Brain

in-the-earsYou may have seen me, over the past couple of weeks, posting on social media about The Bearded Brain, a new email newsletter I've put together.

Just a little bit about it: It's a collection of some interesting stuff I've seen, listened to, and, sometimes, discussed with friends throughout the week.

It's free, it's weekly (I send it on Tuesday), and I think you'll find it interesting.

You can see an issue here, so you know what to expect.

It's off to a good start, and I'd appreciate you trying it out for a couple of issues. I use a third party tool, so you can do your subscribing through them, and later unsubscribe with them if you wish, so there's no awkward, "Uh, Josh, I think I'm good" moment if you don't like it.

You can sign up here.

Thanks for checking it out!