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]

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

Focus

I was scrolling through my blog archives a bit and noticing that you can really tell what's going on in my life by what I'm writing. I know that sounds common, but I rarely use this space to diarize. Instead, I've used the space to give myself motivation by attempting to give you motivation. Those times when I tell you to go out and create? I'm feeling creatively stifled and am really telling myself to go out and create.

So this week, I'm passing along some steps to help you get focused. To help me get focused.

I've been feeling a little...unsettled lately. For the past five weeks, we've been trying to squeeze in some naps as we get the house on the market, get a little outside time, do the work to be raised in Freemasonry, and to continue to grow. Oh yeah, and we're planning that wedding thing, too. Sheesh.

I haven't even picked up a book in almost a month.

Things are finally settling down a touch. We're able to reconnect with the people who matter to us (we even wound up having an impromptu barbecue the other night, with no stressful preparation or cleanup). We're able to get back to activities that matter to us, and to really find a little more time to focus on things like laundry and holding hands, instead of things like painting ceilings and moving beds.

Seek, but also offer, opportunities for redemption

I was out on the golf course for the first time this season with a friend. We're not good golfers. We enjoy the sun and the fresh air and the sound and feel of hitting a good shot, which, you know, comes occasionally. And sometimes that occasional good shot comes after pulling up on the ball and taking four strokes to hit the ball 10 yards. You keep your head down and knees bent and the next swing sends the ball 115 yards to the green.

"This is a great game," I said after such a stretch on the 12th fairway. "There's an opportunity for redemption with every shot."

It got me thinking about things like mistakes, and grudges. That every time we make a mistake, we shouldn't beat ourselves up over it — instead, we should take a deep breath (or two, or eight), and figure out the steps for finding redemption, and then follow them.

And we should learn a lesson from our finding redemption: Offer it to others. If they make a mistake, forgive them, reach out to offer an opportunity for redemption.

Living with others, and ourselves, is that easy.

Becoming a Freemason

One of the more interesting and worthwhile endeavors I've undertaken recently is becoming a Freemason. I'll be raised to Master Mason (3rd degree, for those not in the know) on April 15 – any brothers reading are certainly welcome to visit for the degree ceremony (meeting at 7 p.m., Lodge details here and the usual visiting rules apply, of course).

I have a family connection to the Fraternity: both of my grandfathers were Masons. While I didn't really know my paternal grandfather, Milton Shear (he died when I was 2), I was close with my maternal grandfather, Bernard Tuttle, who I knew growing was a Shriner, but I didn't recognize his connection to Masonry until he died. He was a 32nd degree Mason, and I was recently sent his degree certificate, which is an interesting artifact, as well as an heirloom, which I'll of course have framed.

I also have, through Freemasonry, a connection to some great people throughout history, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, a total of 52 signers of the Declaration of Independence and at least 16 U.S. presidents (including Gerald Ford, who was a 33rd degree Mason, the highest degree).

Groucho Marx is famously credited as having said that he wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have him for a member, and when I was at the other end of that spectrum – looking for a club to belong to that wasn't actively seeking me as a member – I went looking to the Freemasons.

I first wrote to my local Lodge in application over a year ago, in March of 2013. I didn't hear from them for a couple of months, when several Lodge members came to the house to interview me, and then I didn't hear from them again for almost six months, when I was told the initiation ceremony for the first degree (Entered Apprentice) would take place in December. After being initiated, it was again six weeks before I was contacted, and mentored through the degree work; I was passed to Fellowcraft in March of this year.

There seem to be few things, these days, that take preparation, time and work, and largely take place through the mail and in people's living rooms.

Since I've told some friends that I'm undertaking this endeavor, there are two questions I get a lot:

(1) Didn't you at one time actually have to be a mason to become a Freemason? and
(2) Aren't the Freemasons a secret society? Why are you telling me?

To answer the first, yes. Operative masons – people who built buildings – were the first Freemasons, and Speculative Masonry, which is what Freemasonry is today, can be traced back, at least on paper, to 1717, and still uses as spiritual tools common operative masonic tools, like the square and compasses, which are prominently displayed on Lodge buildings and pretty much everywhere throughout the Freemasonic world.

To answer the second, well, kinda sorta not really. Question mark? You can always tell a Lodge by the square and compasses on the side of the building. Masons are not asked to keep their membership a secret. Many of their works are public, from appearances in parades to Shriners hospitals and circuses to (in some states, like New York) the Child Identification Program (CHIP) to places like the Masonic Care Community in Utica.

And there's plenty of information on the Web, and of course in books, many of them written by Masons, so they'd know.

Some people look at the names of Freemasons – Washington, Franklin, Adolf Fredrick (18th century king of Sweden), Salvador Allende, both Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart, James Naismith, Gene Autry, Count Basie, Simon Bolivar – and think with all that power and celebrity, there must be some conspiracy at hand. I looked at the list of Freemasons and said, hey, if all those great people wanted to be a part of this, I want to be a part of it, too.

Anyway, that's the long version. But it's one of the things I'm up to these days.

It’s spring; who’s ready to get outside?

We're starting to be able to get outside here in Central New York. It occurs to me that, with today being April 2, it hasn't actually been a longer winter than others, it's just been a little more brutal — no thaws to speak of, and extra cold.

It also featured something (two things, depending on whom you ask) called a polar vortex. I still don't really understand what that means, but I didn't like it.

Anyway.

It's time to be running outside, waiting on the ground to dry a little so we can get some yard work done, and of course I'm back to watching parkour videos. These inspire me for a few reasons:

(1) While there must be a healthy dose of fear involved, freerunners by and large don't show it. I heard a freerunner say something about a 15-foot gap once, and I look around at my 12'x12' home office and think, "If I had a full running start, I could maybe come close." But to think about jumping between roofs 15 feet apart and 10 stories up is just— I don't have a word.

(2) Although a lot of parkour videos look improvised, the truth is a lot of rehearsal tends to go in, especially for people who cover ground. It's one thing to improvise some railing swings on a wheelchair ramp, but it's another entirely to know what's around the corner or over a wall. You can see some of that practice going on here:

PARKOUR REEL from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

(3) It lends some itself to creativity not only the action, but also in the animation and direction.

[ PARKOUR ] from Tonner Vi on Vimeo.

What's inspiring you this spring?

Some favorite places right now

I haven't done one of these in a while. In fact, my circumstances were different last time I did. Right now, my circumstances are such that the only place I really have to go is the grocery store. Since I work from home, I only leave the house if I want to go somewhere or see someone.

So these are the places I'm going.

Freedom of Espresso, Fayetteville. This is the closest locally owned coffee shop to me, and I consider myself lucky, because it's comfortable, usually not busy the times I'm there (1pm or so weekdays), and has some gorgeous ornamental windows. It's also next door to a walking path, so if it's nice out and I'm not sitting there writing (oh yeah! free wifi!) or reading, I can take my coffee for a stroll.

Tavern at the Ridge. This is the venue we'll be married at in July. Previously a nondescript clubhouse at the Skyridge golf course, my fiance Jenny's cousins bought it, placed it adjacent to a great non-profit for veterans, stripped the clubhouse and rebuilt it as a cozy cabin-style restaurant with amazing food, a nice beer selection, craft bourbons and a very pretty nine-hole golf course. They're open somewhat limited hours until it warms up (Wednesday through Saturday from 4pm until dinner's over), but you should definitely give it a try.

World of Beer. I know, this is surprising. It's a chain, and it's in a mall. But they have an extensive beer list of about 50 taps and 500 bottles — including some of our local microbreweries, both on tap and in bottles — and the staff are really knowledgeable about the products, which is amazing considering the amount of product (and the fact that they can only try so much at a time). Last time we were there, we even let a staffer in on a bottle she'd been hearing a lot about. The food is pretty good, but be prepared to order a lot of it, because portion sizes are, shall we say, a little inadequate if you're someone like me (that is, someone who eats a ton).

What places do you love that I need to try?

Reviewing 2013 and welcoming 2014, taking a right guid-willy-waught

I've had an amazing year of growth.

I don't have anything to lay out on the table here and say, "I did this!" But 2014 is going to be the date on the end of a lot of hard work. Mostly, I think, I've done a lot on my way toward being a better, more well-rounded human.

If I have some stuff to pass along, it's mostly in some reading and experimentation.

My favorite books for the year – and I read 38 of them in 2013 – are all ones I'd recommend reading, and with good reason.

Choose Yourself! by James Altucher. This is a reminder that, while it's important for you to do well by others, if you don't live for yourself first, you're not doing as well by anybody else as you thought you did.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman. Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who was curious about everything. He drew, had a gallery show, played drums in Brazil during carnival and in general spent a lot of time thinking. He said no when he didn't want to do something, and he was curious about pretty much everything.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau. A lesson in doing some things yourself and simplifying where you can. You have to get past some preachiness, but once you do, it's a wondrous tome.

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R. Buckminster Fuller. This is the only book I read every year. It really does explain what we've done wrong and what we need to do to correct our path. It's not so much an operating manual for your soul as it is an operating manual for the physical world, and I fear we've lost touch with that.

I've been writing more of late. There's a reasonable chance we'll see some product in 2014. I'm getting married this year. I have some more tricks up my sleeve, some involving compasses and bibles and live oaks.

I'm brewing beer now. It puts me in a fairly small club, apparently, but there are a lot of beer drinkers out there, and now that I sort of understand how it works, I'm experimenting more. My fourth batch is underway; my best to date is a chocolate jalapeño porter. It's a little more peppery and yeasty than I wanted it – and has a lower alcohol content than I was looking for – but drinking a couple of cases of it is easy.

I hope your 2013 was half as amazing as mine. If it hasn't, let me know how I can help improve your 2014.

And, of course, my annual posting of Dougie McLean singing Robert Burns's "Auld Lang Syne."

And there's a hand my trusty fiere
And gi'e 's a hand o' thine
We'll tak a right guid-willy-waught
For auld lang syne

Christmas, from the outside


Honestly, this is one of a very few songs you might classify as a Christmas carol that doesn't make me want to gut an elf. It's really a song about Christmas, and I wouldn't switch the radio station if it were on in July.

If you're celebrating today, happy Christmas. I've always preferred happy to merry; I think it has to do with what I perceive as solemn traditions like a fire in the fireplace and gathering around the piano to sing.

I start working soon. Whenever someone has to work on Christmas (or even Christmas Eve), I always try to be the first to volunteer. It might as well be the Jew working, right? When I worked for a weekly newspaper, I used to go in for a few hours on Christmas. It gave me time to clean my desk, get some features together and really accomplish something without the phone ringing, without the fax ringing, and without other people in the office.

This year, I'm working for a company that will have multiple deadlines throughout the day; there will be two of us on during the day. I expect, actually, that we'll have a small flurry of stuff to do when we start, and then the basketball games will come on at noon, then there will start to be photo galleries and entertainment stories and the news part won't pick up until people start leaving their family gatherings.

Last year, I worked Christmas night instead of during the day, and we went until almost 5 a.m., it got so busy late.

Anyway, if you want to know what Christmas is like to someone who really is a Christmas outsider – and to be clear, I'm marrying into a family with a secular Christmas tradition – here it is.

I don't really remember Christmases as a child. Yes, I understand that I got gifts on Chanukah because all the Jewish kids were jealous of all the Christian kids generations ago. I remember helping a family friend decorate her tree in early December. I remember watching snow outside the window, playing in the back yard for a little bit, and waiting to see if we got some Chinese food or if a pizza place opened later in the day.

I do remember Christmas with my family as I entered my 20s. We'd make sure we had a good selection from Blockbuster (remember renting videos? me neither) and a couple of six packs of beer, and we'd at least wait until breakfast digested before we started on the beer. Most of the time. Sometimes we'd grab a movie later in the day. You know, because theaters get fired up about the time people get sick of hanging out with their families.

These days, though I've had a few years as an adult spending Christmas with the families of significant others – next year, I get to call them my in-laws, I guess – I still feel like an observer to someone else's traditions. I'm not entirely comfortable with the language of the holiday, I don't have tradition to fall back on and incorporate into this new scene, the way you would need instruction if you came to a Passover seder at my house, even after a few years. The food would be strange the first year, something maybe you remembered the second year, and then it would become a once-a-year novelty that maybe you don't fully understand and still need to be reminded how to eat and what it's made of and why it exists. That's how I feel on Christmas.

Also, this. It's a holiday filled with pagan rituals, during which is celebrated the birthday of an actual human who was born months later. Apart from the tree and the cross, the main symbols are a stranger who breaks into your house and leaves you packages that would get airports evacuated by TSA agents, along with the mutant arctic animals that fly his fat ass around. Call me a Scrooge (who, by the way, came around, if you read the rest of the book) if you wish, but that is some creepy shit.

Do I get offended if you wish me a merry Christmas? No. Expect I won't have one – it doesn't mean the same thing to me that it does to you. But expect I'll only wish you a happy Christmas if I know you celebrate, because this year, for instance, happy Wednesday means more to me, because Wednesday has a different connotation to me.