Moving to Denver

In two weeks, I'll be packing all my worldly possessions into a truck and driving across the country, a thousand miles from the only place I've ever really called home.

I've lived in Milwaukee pretty much my entire life. With the exception of my time away at college, this city has been home. And even then, Milwaukee was still home in a way that the cinderblock dorms and cramped off-campus housing never was. I grew up here, made friends here, have friends here. But it's time to move on.

When my last job ended, I knew it was an opportunity that would probably not present itself again for a while. I have no real estate to sell off, no children to pull out of schools, no real concrete reasons not to pack up and go try something new somewhere else.

So we're moving to Denver. My girlfriend Sarah and I are packing up everything we own and moving from a great city on the coast of a beautiful lake to a great city at the base of a gorgeous mountain range.

Why Denver?

Why not? It's beautiful in Denver. You can see mountains from just about anywhere. Seasons don't try to kill you. In Wisconsin, winter lasts nine months, during which the snow never melts and you forget how to be warm. Summer lasts maybe three months, during which the sun has a personal grudge against you and you forget what it's like not to sweat. Spring and Fall are myths.

We thought about a few other places. Portland is weird but has never seen the sun first-hand. San Francisco is amazing but has no concept of personal space. Denver has a great climate, tons of places to go hiking, and won't bankrupt us within days of arrival. And, perhaps more importantly for Sarah, it has tons of good breweries.

Sarah and I spent a week there earlier this year to figure out where to live, get a lease in place, and get our bearings for where we'll be spending our time. It turns out the housing market is insane, and the rental market specifically is worse.

We were originally hoping to find a nice two-bedroom rental house with a fenced yard for Sarah's — scratch that, I've been informed the correct pronoun is our — dog Tiki and maybe a garage. That dream quickly devolved into "let's just find somewhere we can be afford to be not-uncomfortable." We settled on a very nice apartment complex, which isn't quite what we had in mind but is nice enough and affordable enough to make do for a year while we find somewhere closer to our ideal.

The physical preparations

The physical side of this process has actually been remarkably easy, if somewhat tedious. You're forced to step back, really evaluate the things you own, and decide just how important your stuff truly is. You have to look at every possession and decide whether it's really worth it to pack it up, load it into a truck, unpack it on the other end of a long drive, and find somewhere to keep it. A lot of the time, the answer is "not worth it" and you find yourself making routine trips to Goodwill and finding friends and family willing to buy or just take the rest. (It helps when you know there's very limited storage space on the other end of the trip and can use that as a perfectly legitimate excuse for why you're trying to get rid of things.)

After months of preparations and waiting, it's down to the last two weeks, and now there's this need to be done with it, to get it all over with. Everything that can reasonably be packed has been packed. Everything that's left out either can't be packed (big bulky items like furniture or my vacuum cleaner) or is needed until right before the move (clothes, some kitchenware and the like). I keep looking around my apartment trying to find something that can be put away, yet finding nothing.

Every unsealed box is radiating a sense of incompleteness. Anxiety incarnate.

My spare bedroom is a study in ordered chaos. Mostly-full cardboard boxes and plastic storage bins sit on the floor and atop a desk along one wall. Empty boxes and packing materials lay along the opposite wall, waiting their turn to join their friends on the other side of the room. Boxes that were once taped shut are pulled open to give access to some item previously thought safe to pack away.

There's also the process of shutting down one life before starting a new one back up elsewhere. There are utility services to be cancelled, change of address forms to be filed, insurance policies to be transferred and apartment showings to conduct. The pantry and fridge need to be depleted. The chest freezer needs to be emptied and defrosted. A truck has to be rented. Each individual thing is easy enough, but it makes a formidable to-do list.

But at the end, it's all just stuff, so it's not so bad.

It's the not-so-physical part of the move that's difficult. But that's a subject for a later post.

Delayed Reaction

I’m moving in a few weeks. Tonight a lady came to see my apartment. She looks in the spare bedroom and sees my chest freezer in the corner. “Whoa, a chest freezer, what do you have in there, a dead body?”

I laugh with her and mention something about cooking a lot.

Only an hour later do I realize what should have been the correct answer.

“Not right now.”

Lessons from a Funeral

Today we buried my grandfather.

Grampa Henry

While we were never close, it's still difficult to watch someone getting ever closer to the end of their time, when they cease to be a living breathing person and become just another memory in the minds of those around them. To see the loss and pain in the faces of those they were close to, their family and friends.

His passing has helped remind me of some important ideas that we often ignore or neglect to consider.

We are not immortal.

We are part of this existence for a short time. On the timeline of the life of this universe, an average human lifespan is practically nothing. We come into being, we spend some time making the best of our situation, then we're gone, and the universe marches on unaffected. Yet in the years we have, it's up to us to do our best to change that – to make sure that when our time is up, the universe isn't unaffected. It's up to us to do something meaningful, leave something behind, make our mark on history (as relatively short as human history may be).

We are not our possessions.

Particularly in his later years, my grandfather was fairly private and protective of his things. It was his life, and he didn't want anyone else getting their hands on his stuff. No one else had any right to be looking in that cupboard, or that room, and if they did they were obviously trying to steal something. (This caused some drama.)

Yet, now he's gone, and soon his family members are going to be going through his house. Going in every room, opening every drawer, deciding what to do with everything he owned. He can't protect any of his secrets or his possessions. Now they're all just stuff for someone else to deal with.

No matter how hard we try to make ourselves happy by owning things, it's all just stuff. No matter how much we accumulate during your life, it all gets left behind. We can't take anything with us. It stays here. The pharaohs of Egypt tried lining their tombs with fancy clothing, jewels, food, chariots... and eventually all those things were stolen or put into museums for strange people to look at centuries later.

Our own stuff probably won't end up in glass display cases in fancy museums, but we won't be getting any satisfaction from any of it once we're gone. Other people aren't going to remember us for how much stuff we had (unless you're a crazy hoarder, in which case that's probably going on your epitaph). They're going to remember us for who we were, how we spent our lives.

We don't have to be afraid of death.

I went with my family to see my grandfather in hospice care a few days before he passed away. In the few moments when he was awake and lucid, one of the things he kept mentioning was that he wasn't afraid to go. He'd lived a long life, he knew his time was coming, and he wasn't afraid.

Whether this was due to his religious beliefs or not, I don't know. But it's worth noting. Many people fear death, they're afraid of what's on the other side, they're afraid of leaving things undone, of what their absence will do to the world. But in the long run, that fear changes nothing. We can't outrun death, we can only make the best of our time before it catches up with us. Whether we believe in an afterlife or not, death will claim all of us. The only purpose fear can serve is to motivate us to make the best of our time. What happens after (if anything), will happen regardless of how afraid of it we are.

We are social creatures, whether we like it or not.

I mentioned my grandfather and I were never close. It was just one of those family things, where various bits of drama and tension over the years between the various generations added up. We saw them for Christmas, maybe Easter, for Thanksgiving dinner sometimes, and that was about it. He was a fairly terse man, so whenever we did see him it wasn't a particularly emotionally-fraught event.

But lying alone in a hospice bed apparently made him think about family and people he'd like to see. He asked to see my sister and me (among others), despite generally having not had much to do with us in years past. At the end, faced with his own mortality, he wanted one last chance to see his family, to be surrounded by those who should care for him.

Too often we focus on the negatives around us, all the things that have gone wrong, the bits of life we don't like, the anger and bitterness and drama, when we should be taking every opportunity to focus on the bright sides. The people we care about, the relationships that matter. We don't have to leave this world lying alone, regretting the bridges we burned behind us. We can go out surrounded by people who care about us, people whose lives we've touched and whose lives have touched us.

But we have to pay attention to those relationships during our lives, like caring for a garden. If we leave them unattended until the last minute when we suddenly decide they do mean something after all, it'll be too late.

Life is too serious to be taken so seriously.

No matter what we do, we need to enjoy our time here. We do no one any good by slogging our way through life scowling at everything and enjoying nothing. Take the time to smell the roses, as they say, even if you get pricked by a few thorns along the way.

Opportunity and Chaos

Today is my last day at the company where I've spent the last six years. Tomorrow is my first day of exploring a world filled with potentially terrifying opportunities.

As part of an organizational restructuring within my department, the work I've been responsible for over the last two years was merged into a different role. I declined to pursue any of the other positions available, having decided they weren't good matches for my abilities or – more importantly – my interests. So it happens that today, September 30, 2013, is my last day. I leave knowing my experiences at the company, both good and bad, have helped shape me and my career, helped focus me.

The first question everyone asks when they find out I'm leaving is, "where are you going?" The assumption is always that there's a definite plan, that there's something already set up and waiting, that there's another cubicle waiting to be filled somewhere the next day.

Except, there isn't.

What will I do? At first, sleep in. No bleating of an alarm clock to intrude on my blissful sleep, no status meetings, just me and my pillow. Then I'll be taking some time for life – travel, exploring, seeing places I've never seen before. Catching up on my reading list. (Read: roadtrip!)

After that is a vast expanse of The Unknown. There's no defined plan. No clearly-marked path of life to point to and say, "yep, it's all plotted out neatly." The answer to everyone's question is "I don't know." And that seems to freak everyone out. It freaks me out too. But that's okay. It needs to be okay. We need to learn to cope with the unknown in ways that don't always involve fear and panic. There will always be unknowns in life, some bigger than others, some more easily negotiated, but ever present. On the grand scale, changing or losing jobs is pretty insignificant.¹

So no, there's nothing slated to immediately fill the void. But it's amazingly liberating.

I can do anything.

I can stay here. I can (actually, will) move away. I can find another job just like the one I had, or I can find a job in a completely different field. I can lay on the couch for a week straight downing pizza rolls and Mountain Dew, or I can go to the gym every day and explore the limits of my fragile physical existence. I can take up yoga. I can learn the finer points of the Elvish languages.

Life becomes all about possibilities, which feels like a better mindset than outright panic. (Though I'll admit to my share of anxiety over the last few weeks.)

Today is the end of one opportunity that opened six years ago, and the beginning of a whole new slew of opportunities that may be perfect or may just be stepping stones to The One True Thing.

There's no plan. And that's okay.


¹ I don't wish to belittle the hardship of losing a job, particularly in the current state of the economy when many are struggling. I'm by no means rich, but through a combination of good fortune (getting out of college with no student debt) and common sense money management (mainly, spend less than you make) I'll survive.

My Neighborhood

Today, I’m sitting at the park, enjoying the fresh air and soaking in whatever small amount of sunshine is left at 5:30 in the afternoon in late September. Not paying much attention to anything other than my Kindle and the cloud of gnats that keep harassing me.

Then.

A couple of guys that look like they’re in their late twenties pull up in a big black Escalade 25-30 feet away, hold up a little bag that appears to be filled with white powder, and yell “want any drugs?” (No salutation… kids these days.)

I should note here that they’re currently holding up a line of about 15 cars behind them while this takes place.

I shake my head, mostly in disbelief. They yell back “no problem, have a nice day!”, wave and drive off.

This is my neighborhood.