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#humblebrag: Takeaways from 2013

1. Go.

Money spent on experiences is never, ever wasted. I was able to take my great-uncle Jim (who is an absolute champion human being and one of my role models) to see the Chicago Cubs Opening Day at Wrigley Field. Though they’ve been my favorite team since I can remember, I had never seen their home stadium before. Jim and I took the train into the city, waded through the madness that is Wrigleyville, found our (incredible) seats and spent the afternoon cheering, laughing and jeering. The time it took to get to Chicago was longer than the time I actually spent in the city itself, but I will cherish those few hours with my great-uncle for the rest of my life. His stories, his wit, his candor and his character have left an indelible imprint upon me.

Of course, Ireland, New Zealand and Paris have made similarly strong impressions.

2. Getting there is just as important as going.

A large snowstorm in Denver kept me from making my connection on the return flight from Dublin. I slept in the terminal, curling my puffy coat around me and slumping down in a row of chairs. On my “Favorite Ways To Sleep” list, this ranked just above sleeping in the snow. Waking up at five in the morning to get on the stand-by list was similarly enjoyable. As the day evolved and I missed not one, but two planes, my frustration soared (pun intended). After missing the second flight, the customer service agent, no doubt feeling some profound level of pity for me- found three seats on a plane two terminals away. The only problem? They were on a first come, first serve basis.

I cinched the hip belt and shoulder straps of my backpack and ran across the terminal. Ran. Full tilt. I was spurred on by an impossibly large black man- nearly seven feet tall and almost as wide- who shouted as I passed him, “Get it, white boy! Get it!”

It was difficult to laugh and run at the same time. But I managed.

Of course, this is one of the first stories I recall about the trip. The pubs were great, learning the difference between “getting a ride” and “getting a lift” was even better. But the hiccups that occur as we go places- whether down the street or across the country- are the things we remember most. Hard times are good, even though they don’t feel like it at the time.

3. Have a routine.

Woody and I took a trip- well, more like a monastic solitary retreat- to Moab in July. Why I thought that July would be the best time to go to Moab still baffles me. But we went. I rented a small vacation studio there and we quickly set a routine. I woke up at five, dressed, filled the camelbak, made a sandwich and then went hiking with Woody as the sun came up. We returned to the studio at eleven, I showered, had a proper breakfast and then spent the afternoon writing. At five, I closed the computer and played the guitar for an hour to unwind. At six, I made dinner and we took a short walk around downtown. We were in bed by ten each night.

Never have I been so productive in my life.

Beethoven had one, Winston Churchill had one, Ernest Hemingway had one. So there’s got to be something to it.

4. Disrupt your routine.

Traveling is best because of how it disrupts your routines. It pulls up the dregs of your life- the things we settle for as “normal”- and forces us to examine them and the ways we exist.

In short, it helps us to remember, as David Foster Wallace once said, “this is water”.

5. Read. Read and do not feel guilty about it. Keep a list of what your read.

There are many fine pleasures in life. Beautiful scenery, good food and close friends among them. Still, no pleasure is quite so good and orienting as the completion of a good book. Whether you prefer fiction or nonfiction is of no consequence. If you read romance, so be it. If you read literary theory, so be it.

Reading is like spending money on experiences- it is never wasted time.

6. Put the phone down. Better yet, leave it at home.

Though I didn’t think that I was fortunate at the time, I was fortunate enough to go without my phone for several extended periods of time this year. Once because my phone was broken and once because, well, I lost it in New Zealand.

I cannot begin to tell you how much nicer life is without something beeping, buzzing, whistling, ringing and bothering you.

Yes, having a phone is really quite nice- it’s a luxury, in fact. But I had forgotten that I had lived without one for the majority of my life and gotten along just fine.

It was quite nice to remember that.

7. Do not mince words.

This was a painful lesson for me. There were several occasions in which I had the opportunity to tell a person exactly how I felt and why, but I didn’t for fear of hurting their feelings. I was trying to be polite, but in the end was needlessly destructive and hurt feelings far more than I would have had I just said what I meant in the first place.

I’m sorry.

8. Put yourself out there.

Characters in stories do things. They make choices. They contend with life. They put themselves in scary, awkward, unsure and bizarre circumstances and they must. If they don’t, the story stalls and usually ends. A story about a guy sitting in front of his computer and looking at acoustic guitars is not an interesting story. A story about a guy in Ireland who finds himself running after a beautiful redhead in the courtyard of a castle- much more interesting.

And probably true.

9. Volunteer.

I helped to coach a Little League baseball team this spring to help a friend in need. It ended up being one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things I’ve ever done. I would heartily suggest that if you’ve got a passion, you share it with a kid.

10. Have a dog.

It will make your life fuller, happier, healthier and far more fun. Yes, you’ll have hair everywhere. Yes, he’ll hog the bed and steal the covers- but there’s nothing quite like getting home to a wagging tail and a jovial face.

Personal Favorites from 2013 (Because I’m Certain You Were Curious):

Book:
In 2014, I resolve to keep a list of everything I read. Until then, here are the novels that leap out in my memory. Note: many of these were not released in 2013.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid, Runaway by Alice Munro, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Album: (tie)
“Modern Vampires of the City” – Vampire Weekend
I’m sure you’ve heard it, but holy hell is it good. The final chorus of “Hannah Hunt” might be my favorite moment of music this year.

“The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You” – Neko Case
Neko Case is the Alice Munro of music- I’m not sure that she can do anything wrong. If you trust me on nothing else, listen to “Ragtime” and fall hopelessly in love.

Film:
“American Hustle”
I don’t watch many movies, but I walked out of this film completely astounded. Christian Bale has long been a favorite actor of mine, but the real surprise was Amy Adams. Who knew she was such a powerhouse?

Things I’m Embarrassed To Admit (But Will Anyway):

1. I downloaded Lorde’s “Pure Heroine” on Saturday on a lark after resisting it for nearly a year. It’s Tuesday and I would estimate- conservatively- that I’ve listened to it ninety-seven times.

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