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What if I don't drop dead tomorrow?



I have a Substack, and lately, I write there more than here.


Over there at my Substack, I started a new monthly series that combines my fiction writing with my songwriting. Once a month, I'll write a 500 word (ish) short story and a song to go with it. In February (for Valentine's Day), I posted a love story about Sam and Nora, epidemiologists, because every good love story starts with numbers and disease. You can read that and listen to "Love Anyway (Nora's Song)" HERE.


I have studio time booked in the middle of March. I'm actually going to finish the damn record I started 5 years ago. It's been "almost finished" for 4 years. Some songs need nothing but a saxophone. Some need nothing but a violin. Some need nothing but a harmony. And they've all just been sitting in the "nothing but" corner for years.

I've been really tempted to let it all go, let the songs stay in the corner, let the dollars I already spent go to the lessons-learned bank, let the time mark itself. I've been saving money the last several months in order to finish the record, and now that it's time to spend it, I look at all the chipped and peeling siding on my house and wonder if maybe I should prioritize other things. Nobody needs the record. And I don't mean that in a self-deprecating or woeful way. It is a simple and objective fact that the world will continue whether my song "Old Tricks" ever occupies a 3 minute 42 second space on Spotify or not.

But can't we say that about everything? That the world will continue whether or not A or B, whether or not F or G, whether or not X or Y? My day job in schools sounds impactful, sounds purposeful. I'm a school psychologist. So important, right? But is it? I don't mean to sound cynical but sometimes my work in our chronically impaired and underfunded public school system feels like showing up to play tennis with a broken racket on a cracked court and with no ball. And we're in the middle of a crowd of people shouting that we suck at tennis. Oy vey.

Anyway, considering it all, I decided that making stuff that no one needs is just as good a way to spend time as anything else. Tennis makes me tired, anyway.


I read a short snippet of a personal finance book a while back -- couldn't name it if I tried -- that talked about money in a similar way that James Clear talks about habits (Atomic Habits). Each unit of time, energy, (and money) spent is like casting a vote for who we want to be and how we want to live. Depending on the day, I either want to cast all my money and habit votes toward writing and music and making things (A Creator) or I want to cast them all on fixing up my house (A Responsible Middle Class Adult) or I want to cast them all towards getting my body back in order (A Fit and Healthy Human) or I want to cast them all towards playing escape room games on my phone while watching Master Chef on Hulu (A Numbed Out Space Taker). I have no consistency. And I guess that's why my record is unfinished and so are my stories and novels. I guess that's why the paint is peeling off the rotting siding and my pants don't fit. House divided. I keep casting contradictory votes, depending on the day.

Bless us.


Ironically, the one thing in my life I do with absolute, unwavering, feverish consistency is track my behavior with colored circles on the refrigerator calendar. Am I fixing my behavior? Improving it in some way? No. But I sure am noting it as it passes. I've been doing this for 3+ years. Does this sound crazy? Maybe so. It is an absolute compulsion.

I track 4 things:

(1) Exercise. If I get some intentional exercise, I get a yellow circle.

(2) No late night snacking. If I refrain from shoving food into my face hole after dinner, I get a pink circle.

(3) No alcohol. If I skip the booze that day, I get a green circle.

(4) Write. If I work on a writing project for at least 15 minutes, I get a blue X. Journaling doesn't count.

I've thought a lot about this habit lately. There is nothing else in my life, save carbs and red wine, that I do with such compulsion. And I think it's about keeping track of myself in space and time. When I look at my calendar and see colored circles, I know that I am still here and doing things. I know that the days are still coming and going and that something is real-ish.


I'm turning 50 in May. I can hardly believe it, but it's true. Fifty. I've noticed that as I age it's harder to keep track of where I am. I'm not talking about dementia and Google Maps. I'm talking about floating through space with a compass that spins. And all the clocks are broken. Or maybe they're not broken. Maybe it just feels like the same 24-hour period going on forever and ever. I can't tell where anything starts or stops, including myself.

Does any of this make sense?

My 20s feel like somebody else's life. And I don't know how far ahead my future stretches. If a lifetime is a trajectory with a defined start and stop, I don't know where I am along the in-between. I find that disorienting.


I had what felt like a big realization at a stoplight in front of Wal-Mart a few months ago. I was thinking about the record and whether or not I really cared enough to spend the energy and money to finish it. "I could drop dead tomorrow," I thought. Is this how I want to spend my end days?

Then I pulled up to the stoplight, and a voice in my head as clear as anything has ever been clear said, "But what if you don't drop dead tomorrow?"

What if I live to be 100 and I'm only just now about to hit the halfway point?

And then I asked myself what amount of time would be enough to "justify" which amount of effort?

And then I laughed because it was a stoplight and Wal-Mart and what is anyone doing ever? and I'm so small and I forget it all the time.

"Just chill out and make stuff, Dummy."


All of this to say...

I'm writing at Substack these days.

I'm finishing the record.

I'm still here.

So are you.

I was in a long meeting this morning and everything felt bad, so I doodled the word DOOM in my notes with flowers and pink chainsaw blades, and then I felt better.


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