It’s me, delivering psychosis
Over the phone to you
I’ve colored your world blue
Ten thousand miles from you
I’m sinking all alone
Treading new waters
Where is my buoy?
“Sleep” by Lagwagon

I’m not entirely sure Kristin and I have finished a conversation with each other in more than a year. When you’re the parents of young children – ours are now just over a year, and a couple months shy of three – you don’t so much talk to each other as you more or less bark sentence fragments at each other over the din of the constant noise around you, like you’re trying to audible into a nickel defense in December at Arrowhead or something.

So there will be times I’m sitting at the dinner table where I get four seconds to think about something other than whatever immediate crisis is in front of me, that I’ll look at my wife and it’ll feel like she’s ten thousand miles away. We’re in the same room, we’re on the same team, we’re treading new waters together… yet, she feels so far away. Where is my buoy?

Awhile back we were sitting on our patio after a long day and the conversation drifted to the time we drove to Durango for the Ska Brewfest, and we were both amazed at how we got a Reel Big Fish concert as part of our entry fee. It was probably the most fun either of us had had at a beer festival before or since, and it came amidst an absolutely brutal stretch for me at work. But we were lucky enough to steal away for a weekend with minimal headache.

I thought about the level of coordination heading to Durango for a weekend would entail in my current life and it nearly gave me a panic attack. Figuring out childcare, coordinating who would give our diabetic cat insulin twice a day, dropping everything that’s going on with our businesses, etc, etc, etc. I became nostalgic for my pre-kids life because I find myself missing my wife when she’s sitting right next to me.

Marriage evolves remarkably when you have kids, which is why I’m always amazed at the audacity of couples who have kids right after getting married. My friend Russell, who now lives in DC, visited here recently and remarked how Kristin and I seemed to be sharing one brain when we both shouted toward our daughter not only with the same word (or words, I honestly can’t remember at this point), but the same cadence and inflection as well.

It’s only through years of bond-building, inside jokes, and exploring each other that successful parenting even seems possible, and even then, it’s still hard as fuck. It’s by far and away the most difficult endeavor I’ve ever undertaken.

The lyrics I quote in the lede are the chorus to one of my favorite Lagwagon songs, and one that’s taken on new meaning for me recently. Because while ostensibly about how the monotonous grind of playing your music in town after town after town leaves you busted, lonely and exhausted, I realized while blasting it one day on my way to a client meeting, it might as well be about parenting. Check out these lyrics from one of the verses:

The van smells like a dirty sock
Everyone has got the flu
I’d rather be just sick of you
I’d rather be asleep

If that ain’t a perfect snapshot of how it feels to be a parent, I don’t know what is.

This has been, without question, the most challenging year of my life in so many ways. I’m told by parents who have traveled this road before me that kids get less challenging as they get older from a purely physical perspective, yet continue to grow more difficult emotionally as they take shape as functional human beings. That makes sense, although fills me with a certain level of existential dread as my extreme level of self-awareness (which my therapist was so kind to point to me) begins to fret and nag at my gut as I brace for the highest levels of perpetual emotional discontent for years to come. Neat.

Yet I get glimpses into the future, and it’s the little things that make me light throughout the day. The other morning I made the bed while I got ready. Previously, I didn’t have the 90 seconds this task takes, so it sat unmade unless company was coming over. Now I do. So I made the bed, and that little thing that was previously impossible and now wasn’t, made me feel good.

As I’ve said before, I’m naturally wired for anxiety, so learning to accommodate and re-direct it into a positive direction isn’t just a nice life skill, it’s a goddamn survival strategy. Having now been self-employed for more than two years, some of the novelty and accompanying adrenaline of freeing myself from the shackles of corporate culture have worn off my situation, and like anything else, many of my days are a grind.

I still can’t imagine wanting to do anything else, and it’s hard to envision ever working for anyone else ever again, but the level of effort required on a day-to-day basis keeping my business flush and moving in the correct direction, is undeniably intense. It’s easy to coast in a large company, whether it feels that way while you’re in it or not.

My friend Stephen used to be a high school math teacher, and he told me just what mental grind that profession is. He left after I think 3 years and started a job in the private sector. But when we had this conversation and I protested with assertions of my own levels of activity (I worked at the PR firm at the time), he said, “Yeah, but think about if you’re hungover. You can probably go in your office, close the door, and answer emails quietly all day, right?” This was true, and he had me. But he continued, “You can’t do that when you’re standing in front of 6 different sets of students every day. You HAVE TO be on. You HAVE TO engage. It’s thoroughly exhausting and harder than any job I’ve had before or since.”

Having my own company, my own podcast, and two little girls who are simultaneously the most wonderful things in my life, and almost certainly the most annoying, I now understand better what he was talking about those many years ago. Everything in my life is basically me standing up everyday being on, being engaged, and being thoroughly exhausted.

Which is also why blowing out my back in April was so thoroughly devastating. I’m better now, and I’ve covered this in some depth on a solo episode of my podcast, but I had pain that prevented me from hardly getting out of bed for a week, screwed up my mobility for another two, and forced me into wearing a dorky AFO brace for an additional three because in addition to having hot pain knives shooting down my sciatic nerves nearly all day every day, I lost feeling in my right foot and am still trying to rebuild the strength in it.

I went from maximum effort every day, to not only NOT contributing anything to our household enterprise, but actively needing assistance, which nearly murdered Kristin with how much effort she was now required to exert.

The pain will flatten you, but the shame and despair of your uselessness will nearly destroy you.

Since my body does not react well at all to pharmaceuticals (Sidenote: Given the opioid crisis the country currently finds itself in, in a weird way, I’m happy my body hates Vicodin, Percocet, and all the others with such ferocity. I just feel like shit on these, which I think is a positive, overall.), I managed my pain by smoking a shitload of pot, and got to work with physical therapy sessions at least twice a week.

When I went for a consultation with a back surgeon, they were surprised (more on why in a second) by my progress, and asked what I did for a living. “I’m self-employed,” I told them. The surgeon said, “I could’ve guessed that. People who work the hardest to avoid surgery are almost always self-employed. They don’t have time for surgery recovery, or even to feel shitty.”

As to why they were surprised at my recovery… Upon seeing my MRI, one of the surgeons told me I had “the biggest disc herniation [he’d] ever seen.” I laughed. I mean, what the fuck other option was there to respond with? He and the other surgeon told me it’s counterintuitive, but that the degree to which it was herniated made me a bad candidate for surgery. Why? Because when something goes that wrong, your body tends to work overtime to fix it. Combined with my physical therapy diligence, it meant I was well on the road to recovery.

On one hand, it was sort of gratifying to hear it was “the biggest disc herniation he’d ever seen” because that almost retroactively justified my pain. I don’t know if this is everyone or just me, but I’ve always been afraid that I’m a pussy. That I’m S-A-W-F-T. But talking to that surgeon galvanized my confidence and put me in a good place mentally. He said “you must be tough” when I related the entire story of my blown out back, and I lived on that statement for a month. I want to be tough, and I hope that I am… getting an affirmation of it helped.

So now it’s back to maximum effort. Parenting is brutal, self-employment is relentless, and hosting an hour-long show that I put up three times a month is like having a pet monster that you have to feed all the time that never gets full.

Which isn’t to say I haven’t been successful. My girls are healthy, beautiful, well-fed, thoroughly charming, and, as noted earlier, incredibly annoying. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My company is on track in terms of monthly billings to have its best year ever. And my show won Westword Readers’ Choice for Best Denver Podcast.

And if there’s one unifying theme to my show it’s that the people who find the most success are the ones who are most willing to dive in and do the fucking work. That’s all life is. It’s probably the biggest differentiator between successful people and everyone else. Life is won in the trenches. Waking up everyday, putting your shovel in the goddamn ground and digging toward whatever life you’re trying to live is the only way to get there.

It’s exhausting. It sucks. And it’s totally beautiful. But sometimes I miss my wife, and all I want is what Lagwagon says at the end of “Sleep.”

I’ll take you out for breakfast at night
And then we’ll go to sleep

When does that get to happen? Almost certainly not at 36. Probably not at 46. Maybe at 56.

Whenever it is, you can rest assured I will have earned it. I’m proud of the life I’m creating, and I’m not afraid of the work that lies ahead. May you have another prosperous and diligent year yourselves.

Here’s this year’s mix, and the random crap about it…

  • I’m grateful for my friendship with Denver Post reporter John Wenzel for many reasons, but I note it here because it was at his birthday party in City Park that I noticed amazing music played. This is what happens when people of culture and taste get together and hang out. So I asked John who it was, and he said, “It’s a Spotify playlist, and when I asked the guests what they wanted, with near unanimity they all said Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings.” So I Shazamed it so I wouldn’t forget it, and lo and behold, it’s fucking awesome. I own a lot of her stuff now.
  • When I make these things every year, I get to August and start putting them together. I usually have a draft done a week before my birthday that I think is good. Then I listen to it. It is not good. And without fail, I’ll end up adding 1-4 songs that weren’t even under consideration until that last week that end up making the mix good. This year those songs we’re “Every Day’s the Weekend,” “Favorite Liar,” and “Feel It Still.”
  • The bullet above happens LITERALLY every year, yet every year I still freak out about it. I’m an idiot.
  • I had a rental car for a brief time earlier this year, and it had HD radio, which is a thing I didn’t know existed. KTCL’s HD channel is called “Punk Tacos,” and it’s fucking great. Just wall to wall punk rock – old stuff, new stuff, obscure stuff, semi-mainstream stuff – it’s incredibly well-curated. Anyway, one of the bands they played was Bodyjar which was a time machine for me since I hadn’t thought of them since probably 2002. But during that time, I listened to them intensely, so when “Not the Same” came on out of nowhere on Punk Tacos, it hit me right in the nostalgia button. It’s a great song, so I’m glad to have it memorialized here.
  • The new Rancid and Rise Against records are great. Go buy them.
  • The Shelters make music that sounds like it could fit easily now, or in like 1967. Just awesome stripped down rock that’s wildly fun to listen to. They’re the only artist to appear on this mix twice. Them and Sharon Jones alone have made this a great music year for me.
  • It’s odd even to me that Alice In Chains is on here considering all things being equal, I hate them. Plodding, dour complaint rock every step of the way. And it doesn’t rock the way their fans think it does. Yet I was listening to Lithium on SiriusXM, and Matt Pinfield (yes, the bald guy who used to host 120 Minutes on MTV) told some story about the meaning behind “Got Me Wrong” which I didn’t really give a shit about. But the song started and I remembered it from Clerks, and I was able to play the scene in my head flawlessly. Great soundtracks are so underrated. And then I watched Clerks again on Encore, and it’s still funny as hell, which paradoxically made me sad because I largely find Kevin Smith insufferable now.
  • Turns out I will never outgrow punk rock, and I’m very much ok with that.
  • Here’s the mix:
  1. Every Day’s the Weekend – Alex Lahey
  2. Telegraph Avenue – Rancid
  3. Never Look Behind Ya – The Shelters
  4. Favorite Liar – The Wrecks
  5. Sleep – Lagwagon
  6. House on Fire – Rise Against
  7. This Land Is Your Land – Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
  8. Wish I Knew You – The Revivalists
  9. Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man
  10. Ego – Milky Chance
  11. PHILOSOPHY! – Baio
  12. The Run and Go – twenty one pilots
  13. Dashboard – Modest Mouse
  14. Not the Same – Bodyjar
  15. Untitled – The Darlings
  16. Birdwatching – The Shelters
  17. Got Me Wrong – Alice In Chains
  18. This Crooked City – The Record Company

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