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Category Archives: Ponderings

Deeper, more thoughtful musings.

Reflections: 2012 Edition

I hadn’t planned on doing a year-end blog this year. But as I sit here at my desk on New Year’s Eve, it’s hard not to reflect on things. 2012 seems to fit the mold of the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” So, I figured I’ll go ahead and do a brief retrospective.

The Maley kids continue their tendency of growing up way too fast. 2012 saw my oldest two finish up at elementary school and being their sojourn in middle school. My youngest three are now in third grade (the twins) and second grade (Alyssa). The boys enjoyed another season of baseball this year, while Alyssa became a cheerleader (though I’m pretty sure she was one from birth, and merely formalized it this year with a uniform).

I finally decided to get off my arse and back behind a camera, as my web series, “Shepard,” finally began to take shape. Auditions began in May and continued into June. In this, I was blessed with tremendous good fortune. The cast is stellar, better than I could have hoped for. We began filming in late July and continued on through August and September. Filming on the first season will complete in the spring and we will hopefully be able to release the season shortly thereafter.

This year wasn’t without loss, either. We bade farewell to “Grandma” Barber and her sister, Betty. Isabelle Barber was a strong and forceful presence, who was never afraid to let you know what she thought. I’ll never forget the early days of my relationship with Kim, how she was constantly sizing me up to see if I was good enough for her granddaughter. She was less than impressed at first, I think. Even so, she and her husband invited us to various functions with their church, and took us to Tionesta for the Indian festival. I’ve got a lot of fond memories of her, and she and Aunt Betty are both very missed.

2012 was also a year where I struggled with some things. A lot of times, these struggles went unnoticed by the world at large (and I’m sure Mrs. Grimm wishes they could have gone unnoticed by her, too). I won’t bother with the details here as they are of a personal nature, but I’d like to think I’ve made some progress and growth as a human being this year. I’ve let go of a lot of selfish inclinations, and in doing so I have come to realize how truly self-centered our culture is.

As I’ve struggled to become a better person, I’ve also accepted the fact that the world in which we live has changed dramatically for the worse, and will continue to do so. I’m not talking about the tragic, horrid shootings in Newtown, CT or Aurora, CO. Those are heinous and evil acts, but such things have been with us forever.

I’m referring to the fact that our nation has decided to turn its back on long-standing values in favor of systems and ideals that have never, and will never, work. We are marching boldly and foolishly towards our own demise, gladly begging the government to take care of us, feed us, and cloth us, because it’s easier than doing it ourselves. We no long value hard work, commitment, or anything that doesn’t give us something tangible and immediate as a reward. I shudder to think of the kind of world my kids are going to live in when they’re adults. We’re trying to demonstrate the value of hard work, of not getting a free ride, of taking personal responsibility for your own actions, treating others with respect even when you don’t feel like they deserve it. By the time they’ve grown into adults, those concepts may well be utterly alien to this entire country. The world may not have ended in 2012, but this country is on the right path.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” This is happening, right now. Some want to call it “progress” but it is not. It’s a culture of entitlement, arrogance, and failing morality. It’s “what I can I get” and “I deserve it” – with none of the work, effort, or courtesy and decency to other human beings. These are ideals that our nation is embracing, and it will eventually do just what Mr. Lincoln foretold.

But, this is a year-end retrospective, not a political sermon. As pessimistic as I am about the direction of our country under its current leadership and its woefully naïve, self-absorbed, uneducated citizenship, I do feel a degree of personal optimism. I feel as though I’ve made some decent progress with all the hats I wear: dad, husband, writer/director, Christian, and human being. I’ve grown in each of these areas, and more, and have become truly grateful for what I have.

2013 holds a lot of things in store. The Maley clan heads to Florida in March for a greatly anticipated visit to every kid’s paradise, Disney World. We’ve been trying to go for years now, and are finally able to make it a reality. My current contract ends in July, leaving me with new and exciting opportunities to explore. Shepard’s first season will completely wrap, and season two will be filmed, along with a short I’ve been working on.

And of course, I’ll also be memorizing a new series of kid-ages: 12, 11, 9, 9, and 8.

It’s hard to say what else may in store. And while I don’t look at New Year’s with the same blind, naïve optimism I’ve had in years past, I am grateful for the opportunity to try and make things better next year in whatever ways I can, for myself and for others.

I wish everyone a happy and safe celebration tonight, and a great start to 2013!

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To the Grave

Well, here we are.

Doomsday week. images

Is everyone ready for Friday? Evidence to the contrary, this is the date most crazy people whackadoos nutjobs people of questionable little no certain intelligence have earmarked for the end of the world, as foretold by the Mayans.

It grieves me a little, that so many accept so much on so little evidence. It grieves me further when those many, can’t even be bothered to get their own facts straight.

For the sake of argument, here’s a crash course in the Mayan calendar system. It’s way more complicated than the calendar we follow. Think of it more like an odometer than a calendar. Unlike our simplistic date system (MM/DD/YYYY), the Mayans had a whole string of numbers that represented things like baktuns, katuns, and plain, simple tuns. An example Mayan date looks like this: 12.19.19.3.11 (for the record, that’s March 7, 2012).

If you follow those numbers through to their natural progression, guess what happens on December 21? The odometer rolls over. The date on Friday will look like this: 13.0.0.0.0. That’s it, folks. In layman’s terms, what people are so afraid of is the Mayan version of Y2K. Fortunately, no computers run on the Mayan long-count calendar, so there will be no technological meltdowns, like we experienced on Y2K.

Oh, wait…

My morning reading today was replete with articles about people indulging in luxury bunkers, contemplating suicide, even contemplating killing their family to “spare” them the end of the world.

On a normal day, we might look at these people like they’re nuts.

But three days after a roomful of little kids is shot to death by a very sick individual fucking psycho, I think the mental state of these people warrants a closer look.

My wife and I have five kids. We know there’s not a parent on the planet that doesn’t want to reach out and hold onto the parents of Newtown, CT. My heart has broken a hundred times for each precious little child lost, and for the six brave adults who tried to protect them. It has also broken every time some idiot politician wants to talk about gun control. Of course something needs done about this. But other things need done first. Like grieving. Burying those who perished.

There’s something wrong with people. Something very wrong. And we, as a culture, as a society, as a race of people, have ignored it for too long. The root cause of this destructive, evil, senseless behavior is not going to be handled by taking away weapons or buying bunkers. It won’t be achieved through fear-induced mass suicide. The problem is depravity of spirit. People value other people too little, and value themselves (and their “stuff”) too much.

You have only to walk out your front door to witness firsthand the atrocities that humans commit against other humans. How many people in cars tailgate you until you move, then speed by and flip you the bird? What possible reason could they have for being in such a hurry? They don’t need a reason. That they’re in a hurry is sufficient, and damn the poor fool who gets in front of them.

How many battles have you waged to find a parking space in the mall, especially at this time of year? Hell, how many times have you been walking towards the door to Target, and suddenly people rush past you, so they can get there first?

Our culture is incredibly self-centered. Community doesn’t matter anymore. People don’t matter. All that matters is the list of things we need to cram into our busy day. All that matters is meeting our own needs. And if you get in our way, screw you. Because we are entitled to be happy and to have the things we want for ourselves.

Yet for all the cool stuff we have, I’ve never seen a more miserable, unhappy, depressed group of people than those out there, right now. Depression. Anxiety. Mental health issues. These things are rampant – rampant! Take stock: how many people do you personally know who take some kind of anti-anxiety medication, or anti-depressant? Who knows the difference between Zoloft and Ativan? Who has taken one or the other?

We have created a world that is morally ambiguous, bereft of any higher meaning or calling than our own self-interest. Where we place such importance on meaningless work and the meaningless acquisition of meaningless stuff, thereby creating a value system that is – you guessed it – meaningless. We open the door for people to feel stress, anxiety, and depression when life doesn’t work out like they think it should, because it is impressed upon us that we are entitled to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.

And these days, it’s worse. These days, we love to flaunt our wealth and happiness all over the internet, don’t we? And those who haven’t achieved what they feel they should have, those who don’t have what they think they deserve, get even more depressed looking at photos of their friends, colleagues, and former classmates on beaches and in exotic locations. We paint a picture of ourselves that makes it look like we have it all – even when we don’t. And many of us get depressed over seeing the “success” of others. Gee, I wish I could go to Hawaii. I wish I had a house that nice. Why can’t I take trips to Florida every year? Those folks fail to realize that pictures are a moment in time, and having stuff or going places doesn’t mean someone is happy. Smiles are easy to fake.

I’m not trying to assault those with depression or anxiety. In fact, I’m one of those who suffer. My anxiety is health-related, not stemming from Facebook envy. I wish my friends every success and honestly, I hope at least half of them are actually as happy as they make themselves out to be. Personally, I’m comfortable with where I am. Don’t need to flaunt. But I have major anxiety problems, mostly health-related, that have ironically led to actual health problems. I’m not ashamed of the anxiety, but I am frustrated with the world that has allowed such things to take root. I empathize with those who suffer, because I’ve spent many years suffering. To a degree, I still do.

Which is why I feel I’m uniquely qualified to point out that, hey, these things are real. As real as cancer, as real as heart disease, as real as influenza. Which means they are also treatable, when they’re identified. Therein lies the rub, though. Most people are content to explain away strange behavior in loved ones. Most people wait too long to seek treatment, or to intervene and recommend treatment for someone they know is having problems. “Oh, it’s just stress.” Well when “just stress” is left unchecked, it can push people into developing real health problems. Or push people into taking a weapon and taking a life (including their own). But we are content to ignore it, until it’s too late. Which shows that we have not yet reached the point where it is socially acceptable to have a mental illness.

Folks, there are people out there in this country, maybe in your town, who are thinking about ending their lives, and the lives of their families, THIS WEEK! This. Week. Because they are afraid. And they are depressed. They have no hope. And there are others out there who are contemplating taking a gun into a crowded place and opening up on people (already there have been 2 incidents since the awful tragedy in Newtown, CT. One was an averted crisis, the other took place at a shopping mall [no deaths, thankfully]).

This isn’t about weapons. It’s about a broken world. A broken race of people whose priorities are so skewed and distorted, that the idea of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a luxury bunker to assuage their own paralyzing fear, is more important to them than the suffering of an entire community whose children were just brutally slaughtered. In the midst of a very real, heartbreaking tragedy, in the midst of death and pain, people are still thinking about themselves. About killing themselves, or others, to avoid some imaginary apocalypse, popularized by self-absorbed, fear-mongering idiots and spread like wildfire by a culture over-exposed to information without context and obsessed with only looking out for themselves.

The human race is sick. If you are a believer, you know what that sickness is. You know it has a name. If you’re not, then perhaps it shall suffice to simply say, that it is sick. People do not value other people. They only value themselves, their own happiness, their own gain, their own safety. Community, unity, brotherhood are failing, replaced with “I’m entitled. It’s my right.” For those who disagree or stand in the way of what I believe and what I want, there is no compromise. There is only hatred – cries of heretic and traitor and idiot and how dare you! If your beliefs don’t align with mine, you’re a moron unworthy of life, and I hope you die. I’ve seen comments like this. Heard them. It’s disgusting. Self-focus in the extreme, often disguised as being “progressive.”

This is hard for me to write. I’m a product of this culture, too. I’m self-centered. I hate crowds. I tend to think people are idiots unless they prove otherwise. But you know what? That’s not a healthy attitude. It’s the predominant one, but that doesn’t make it healthy. It’s arrogant, pretentious, and judgmental, and it says a lot more about me than it does about the people who feel its wrath.

We once thought it was better and nobler to take the high ground, to be kind to others just for the sake of it. How much more noble is it now, that so many take the easy road? Anyone can hate. There’s nothing special there. But it does take something special to show kindness when you are shown none. To show mercy when none is granted you. To show love to those deemed unlovable. Because even that fucking psycho very disturbed person once sat in a Kindergarten class room, and came home to his mommy and daddy to tell them about his day. Would gun control laws have stopped him, as an adult? No. But maybe understanding what was wrong with him could have.

We are a sick nation, and right now we’re a grieving nation. These little ones deserved better than to be cut down at the very beginning of their lives. Those six adults demonstrated that more noble ideals do still exist out there, laying down their very lives for their beloved students. And our brothers and sisters on this rock deserve better than to be scared out of their wits by a fictional apocalypse. We’re all humans, for crying out loud. We’re all people. Fellow travelers toward the grave, as Dickens so eloquently wrote. We have to watch out for each other.

Just days away from the end of the world, and you know what? Things are looking pretty dark. Maybe it really is time for the end. After all, what is an ending, but a new beginning? And what better time than Christmas, a season that for many denotes the birth of new life?

Even the contemporary Mayans (yes, they still exist, and they’re laughing at the doomsayers) look to this Friday as a day of renewal. The start of a new cycle, and the end of the old. It’s an important time, yes. But not because it’s the end of all things. Rather, because it’s a new beginning for all things.

So, yes. Perhaps it’s time for the world to end. Perhaps it’s time for the people of this rock to start thinking differently. Because this sickness is killing us. This self-centered, ego-centric, “don’t care about anyone but me” attitude is going to destroy this country and this world eventually.

So, let the world as it is end. And let us have a new beginning, where people matter to each other. Where we watch out for each other out of respect, and can coexist as people with different ideologies and faiths. Reach out to those who are hurting. Remember the parents of Newtown, whose Christmas morning will be the hardest they’ll ever face. Remember those who face this weekend with fear. They don’t need our ridicule for being stupid, they need our support to heal and understand. Start recognizing that mental illness is real illness, and that those people need help – BEFORE it comes to shooting up a roomful of children, or teenagers, or a campus of college students, or themselves.

There will always be evil. And preventing every tragedy is impossible. But in the world we’ve created for ourselves now, without a moral compass, without absolutes, is a world in which evil can thrive more fully. Remove that, and you remove much of its power. And the only way to do that is to realize that the thousands of faceless people you see every day are just like you – they have their own lives, stories, and struggles. They are not worthy of your scorn or irritation. Their lives are more valuable than your Christmas list and your to-do list and your fancy new car with leather seats and a built-in MP3 player with GPS. Even though you’ve never met them. Even though they may not have even existed to you five minutes ago. Even though they may disagree with you on religion, politics, or any number of other things, their lives are still precious. Even if they don’t hold the same courtesy towards you.

Perhaps this is a tall order. Perhaps the dream is too big. But it is Christmas, and I’m just a big kid at heart. And kids dream big at Christmas. (Trust me, I know, I’ve got 5 of them dreaming bigger dreams than we’ll ever be able to afford!) Besides, when we aim high – even too high – the mark we do hit is much greater than when we lower our standards. So, let the end of the world (as we know it) commence. And if, all evidence to the contrary, the apocalypse does come on Friday, at least we’ve all got a front-row seat to the end of it all. That’s one hell of a Christmas gift.

Merry Christmas to those who observe it, happy holidays to those who don’t! Here’s a little parting gift to my more conservative-leaning friends. Enjoy!

Mayan_Cartoon3

 

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Divergence

Where will you go when the road splits before you?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference

Robert Frost

I have to admit, it’s been years since I’ve thought about this poem.  As a literature nut who has straddled two worlds for most of his adult life, one would think I would have kept this particular piece a little closer to my heart.

At times, it seems like it’s a never-ending battle.  What do I want to be when I grow up?  The problem with that question is that I am, in fact, grown-up.  And all I can say that I am for certain, is indecisive.  I am not unique in this, nor am I the only one who has ever, or will ever, face these kinds of choices.  Left or right, fight or flight…such ponderous questions inspired one of the most well-known and memorable poems in all of literature.

My paths in the woods are career paths, specifically technology and entertainment.  I’ve walked this line for years, content to keep one foot on the tech path, and one foot on the entertainment path.  I write in my spare time, and work a full-time job in Information Technology.  I have a degree in computers, but I also am earning a degree in film.

It’s a curious combination, since scientifc, technologically minded people tend to be more left-brained, and creative people tend to be more right-brained.  Yet I’ve managed to straddle this line for over a decade of professional life, and the end result thus far has been a spectacular display of mediocrity.  Let’s take stock, shall we?

On the tech side of things, my career has been remarkably bland.  Oh, I have proven myself to be a hard worker, a self-starter with a talent for effectively managing processes and procedures and implementing improvements that save time and money.  I flourish in environments where I can contribute, and where my ideas are heard.  I have a good handle on technology and its practical applications in the business world.  Yet my I.T. career has been one stellar support job after another.  It is only now that I’ve earned a position that is more specialized and focused.  I’m comfortable here, to be sure.  And I’m drawing a terrific salary (especially in light of the few years in my twenties when I left I.T. for awhile).  Yet, things are stagnate, because there aren’t enough hours in the day to fervently pursue an I.T. career, manage home life, and continue with my “other half.”

On the creative side of things, there is no career to speak of: just a series of side projects, many of which have languished in “development hell” for years.  The efforts I have put forth, when I do put them forth, have been great, and very well received.  My virtual series, Frontiers, was at one time one of the most widely read fanfic series on the internet.  Yet, we’ve been releasing Season 3 since 2008.  I’ve begun several film projects that ended up being cut short due to various complications.  I’ve written several promising prose series that have a pretty big reader base, but they are stalled out early in the run.  Yet here and now, I’ve got a great web series off the ground, I’m planning my next short film, and things more moving with my classes.  But things are still stagnate to a degree. Why? Because there aren’t enough hours in the day to fervently pursue a career in writing or film, manage home life, and continue with my “other half.”

It takes a special kind of talent to straddle two sides of the fence.  It’s given me insight into reconciling different and opposing viewpoints over the years, making me something of a peace maker.  It’s allowed me to coax reluctant people into joining me on whatever damn fool crusade I’m embarking on.  But when it comes down to it, you have to take a side.  To walk that line forever is foolish and impossible.  One cannot serve two masters, at least not reliably.

I’ve never been more capable of venturing down one of those roads or the other.  Never been more prepared.  Will I have the steadfastness to choose technology and let go of my more creative nature?  Or will I have the courage to leave the relative safety of the familiar and embark upon that road less traveled?

In the end, it’s never really been about which I would choose.  It’s been about how long I could keep them both up.  How long I could kid myself into thinking it’s possible to keep it up forever.  How long it would take me to find the courage necessary to finally, fully commit myself. 

For me, there’s only ever been one thing I love, one thing that keeps me up at night, one thing that makes me giddy every day before work.  And my only regret, is that it’s taken me this long to realize it.  I’ve always “known” mind you – but the true epiphany, the true, self-permeating realization that I cannot possibly do anything else…that’s a little more recent.

I always thought that making this choice would be some epic event.  But it isn’t.  It’s a calm, quiet, private moment where something inside of me finally says, “Yes. Yes, you idiot, you’ve finally accepted it. Now go on and live your life. You’ve got a lot of wasted time to make up for.”

Two roads diverge in a wood, and I —
I will take the one less traveled by
And that will make all the difference.

 

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No, Really

I have to laugh when I think about how many times I’ve sat at this keyboard, or another, and swore to myself that I’d really start blogging more regularly.  My last post was from March, and detailed the travesty that was the Mass Effect 3 ending (which was, in fact, rectified in recent [free!] DLC – thank you, Bioware!).

So here I sit once more, having re-read a great many of my previous posts, wondering if this sort of thing is worth maintaining.  Do I have frequent flashes of insight substantial enough to offer more regular posts here?  Do I follow pop culture closely enough to make relevant observations?

Who knows?

These “I want to post here more often” posts crop up once every few months as some kind of desperate attempt at getting myself “back on track” when it comes to my writing.  The fact is, I am a writer in every sense of the word.  Filmmaking is a hobby of mine, but writing is my passion, that thing I must do or else I will eventually drive myself insane.  It affords me the chance to express feelings otherwise bottled up, the opportunity to share my often unusual opinions, and the satisfaction of getting the various worlds and people in my head out onto paper, to be consumed by others in some form either written or visual.

So, I guess I’m going to get more serious here.  Categorize things better.  Post more often.  And you know it’s going to work, because it’s not a New Year’s resolution.  It’s a new…uh… week?  No.  Y’know what, it doesn’t need a name.  Just some action.

Speaking of action, I’m making a web series.  Yep, already into production on it.  More on that next time.

No, really.  Next time.

 
 

Every New Beginning…

From the ashes of the old, the new is born.  So it is with this yearly cycle we celebrate every December 31st.

2011 was definitely a year of personal change, introspection, and growth.

I’ve heard it said that a man truly becomes a man when he loses his father.  I never believed that, until I lost mine in February.  My dad’s unexpected passing has had a profound impact on every aspect of my life, and it’s been a tremendous struggle to move beyond it.  When I was a child, I lost my step-dad Bill.  In my late 20’s, I learned my biological father, whom I had never met, died in a motorcycle accident.  Dan Maley was the only man I knew as “dad’ from childhood to adult.  He was a kind, generous, and giving soul, and his life has truly inspired mine.  “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” he used to say.  It’s something I have tried to take to heart.

We also lost our beloved pet, Tigger, just two weeks prior to my father’s passing.  This Christmas, the absence of his little doggy stocking alongside ours cut a pang of sadness through the holiday cheer.  And, as my oldest son Justin observed, “It doesn’t feel like Christmas without” his grandmother, “Pap” Lenny.  Lenny passed away just before Thanksgiving this year.  In the face of such losses, one would think the Christmas spirit in our home would be dampened.  And perhaps it was, early on.  Yet we celebrated what was probably our most joyful and satisfying Christmas in years.

One of my final creative projects for the year was a video compilation of images that honored those we have lost, not just this year, but in years past.  My step-dad, grandparents, and many others were there; as were Kim’s lost family members.  I felt compelled to do this, not so much as a Christmas gift (though it did become that), but to finally lay these things to rest.  My entire life I’ve been careful to remember the people I’ve lost, to the degree that maybe it became detrimental to really healing from it.  I tend to love deeply and without reserve, so when I lose someone, the loss cuts deeply.  This collage is my farewell to those I love, and to my childhood in general.

I’ll always be a kid at heart.  I’ll always love video games, and always love to go to movies and pig out on overpriced candy and popcorn.  But this year, I grew a lot. Emotionally.  Spiritually.  And physically, though I wish that weren’t the case. (Can we say Weight Watchers in 2012? Yes we can.)  My priorities have shifted.  My thoughts and opinions on a great many things have changed, matured.  I have left 2011 a very different person than I entered it.  I feel those changes were for the better, but that remains to be seen.

I generally don’t make “New Year’s Resolutions” per se.  But I do resolve to do a few things differently this year.  First: lose weight.  The oldest and most easily abandoned of resolutions, I’ve come to realize that I have no time left to waste.  For 33 years now, I’ve allowed my life and my own self-perception to bend to the whims of my weight and appearance.  I’m sick of it.  Someone once said, “Change will not happen until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.”  I’ve reached that point.  I know I’m better than this.  I just need to act on it.

Second: Writing.  Folks, it’s time to get serious.  Because I haven’t been, let’s face it.  Who else lets a virtual series linger in oblivion for four years because he just doesn’t feel like doing anything with it?  Who else starts a dozen projects and finishes none of them?  I love the act of writing, but due to how challenging this year has been, I’ve not dedicated myself to it properly.  I’ve skated through my classes (earning high marks, but not really absorbing much).  To quote one of my favorite films, it’s “time to nut up or shut up.”

Third: finances!  Another one that’s easily forgettable.  We’ve got a great plan in place that we’ll acting upon within weeks.  I’m excited to start it.  We’ve been blessed with an increased cash flow, but it’s still tight with 5 kids.  Yet we will make it work, and we’ll make it work better than before.

Basically, these three things can be summed up in one: I’m going to take control of my life.  Time’s wasting.  33 isn’t old by a long shot, but it’s definitely not 25 or 21.  I don’t want to be 35, 45, 55, wondering what happened to these next few decades, why things turned out so poorly, why I have so many health and weight problems.  The time to act is here and now, and I’m excited about it.

Of course, it’s easy to get excited.  Staying excited is the true test of character, and that particular story has yet to be written.

Welcome, 2012.  I greet you with open eyes and arms, ready to make the most of each opportunity.