Moved to Denver

, I packed most of my worldly possessions into a truck and drove a thousand miles across the country with my girlfriend to set up a new place to call "home".

Even considering the *ahem* challenges of compressing two apartments' worth of stuff into a single moving truck, the work of moving turned out to be pretty straightforward if not lengthier and more exhausting than anticipated. The exhaustion was equal parts physical and emotional – shuttling furniture and boxes to the truck for hours, summoning every ounce of Tetris mastery in my being to fit it in, making last-minute decisions of what could be considered expendable; saying goodbye to friends I'll only see on Facebook from now on, holding back tears while hugging my parents, getting into the truck and driving away.

But onwards we went, and eventually we made it through and arrived in Denver.

The process of setting up a new life is actually pretty tedious. There are emissions tests to be conducted. Vehicle registrations to transfer. Drivers licenses to acquire. Utilities to set up. Utilities to call support about when the internet doesn't work. Utilities to call support about again when the internet still doesn't work, and apparently requires a visit from a technician to resolve.

There's the inevitable trip to IKEA when you realize your new apartment has almost zero built-in storage and you now have nowhere to put any of your stuff that's just sitting around in boxes. The moment of sad realization at the register when you see how much you're spending. The mundane trips to grocery stores to stock your empty refrigerator. The constant re-arrangement of drawers and cabinets.

Now you have a new address, so you have to update every website you've ever given your billing and shipping addresses. The IRS wants to know you moved. The USPS wants to know you moved.

And then at some point... you look around and realize you're home. This is home now. There's art on the walls, and lamps in the corners, and fewer and fewer cardboard boxes sitting around making you feel guilty.

So here we are. It's been a fairly draining couple of weeks, but now we're all settled in. The weather has been gorgeous – warm and sunny, with the exception of a freak snowstorm on Mother's Day (70°F and sunny on Saturday, six inches of snow on Sunday, with Monday warm enough you could hardly tell it snowed at all). The scenery in Colorado is nothing short of beautiful, with plenty of hiking trails and open spaces for both us and our dog to explore to exhaustion. Even my car gets better fuel economy here.

I think we'll be okay.

In other news, I am now the Web Content Administrator for AORN, a non-profit organization in Denver, a position I'm especially excited to take on. After spending six years in a large corporation, as great as the people and experiences there were, I really wanted to find someplace smaller where each person could make a real difference. It'll also be particularly refreshing to have an income again, so there's that.


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.

Update: I moved to Denver!


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.


Things for Other People

I have no need for a kitchen table. The majority of my eating is done:

  1. From the coffee table while sitting on the couch
  2. From the coffee table while sitting on the floor in front of the couch, because couches are difficult
  3. While staring absentmindedly at my reflection in the mirror over my kitchen sink
  4. From the side of my desk as I try to avoid getting crumbs on my laptop while browsing the internet which I could just as easily do in five minutes once my dinner is done but that’s five whole minutes and it’s so long from now

And four chairs? I have no need for four kitchen table chairs. You know why the table or those chairs exist in my home? For other people. For the once in a while occasion where other people come over and expect somewhere to sit that doesn’t involve pretending they’re in an opium den with no opium. Because society, man. Society.

I looked around the apartment and realized that probably three quarters of my belongings have no reason for existing most of the time. I’m one guy – I don’t need a couch and two chairs and a footrest and a beanbag ottoman. You know what the ottoman gets used for the most? Holding the spare PS3 controller while it’s charging.

Very little of what I own is actually for me. It’s for other people. Chairs for other people to sit on. A tiny little overburdened window-mounted air conditioner so other people don’t die of heatstroke when they walk into my tropical apartment in the summer. Blankets so other people don’t lose appendages to frostbite when they walk into my meatlocker of an apartment in the winter.

There are three different sets of plates in my kitchen cabinets. Three. Different. Sets. Know how many I use? One. One set. One set of four identical black plates. Why are the others there? For when other people come over to eat and don’t want to share plates. The nerve of some people.

I could easily get rid of about half of my stuff and move into a cardboard box but it gets cold here and it’s hard to get a permit to install a proper furnace in those. So instead of adopting a transient nomadic lifestyle, it’s time to start stripping some of this stuff out of my life.

Because it’s just stuff.

Stuff I don’t need. Stuff that exists for no reason other than that other people may occasionally use it. And that’s a terrible reason to own things. Fortunately I’ve always had a pretty strong ability to avoid buying stuff just because I want it – if I don’t need it and it’s not a particularly emotionally compelling work of art, it’s staying on the shelf.

There’s a difference between being able to have something, and needing to have something. It’s important to know the difference. Otherwise you just end up owning things for other people, and those things end up owning you.