Birthdays in a plague year…

Let me start by saying this most definitely wasn’t the birthday I planned to have this year. Like most else in 2020, my plans have been cut down by the Great Plague. There’s nothing to be done about that, of course. It’s the year of grit your teeth and bear it. 

I planned on spending my birthday week happy picking through shelf after shelf of used books, poking around junk shops for long forgotten treasures, and expanding my ongoing search to find Maryland’s most perfect crab cake. Instead, I’ll spend the week splitting my time between working from home and schlepping around a mostly empty auditorium in a surely vain effort to deliver a project that the Gods on Olympus won’t find inordinate reasons to pick apart.

The fact that instead of lost in a world of books and with a belly full of crab cakes, I’m spending the day working furiously on a project that I loathe with the burning passion of ten thousand fiery suns and that I’ve actively advocated killing for years now has not exactly done wonders to improve my mood over the unavoidable cancellation of the previously scheduled week off. It’s mostly just adding insult to injury. And with my general lack of enthusiasm about birthdays that’s really saying something.

In any case, I guess this is 42. Maybe the whole point of your 40s is for the universe to throw down regular reminders that “fuck your plans.” If that’s the case, message received. Seriously. I got it. 

Even with all the insult and injury going around, I really do appreciate everyone who took the time out of their day to pass along your well wishes. They definitely did not go unnoticed or unappreciated, so thank you for that.

The trouble with Washington’s Birthday…

Look, I’m as big a fan of federal holidays as anyone in the country. There’s a problem with Washington’s Birthday, though. Well, technically it’s not a problem with the day itself. It’s more of a problem with what comes after it… which is a long, monotonous, fifteen week slog through spring to the next officially recognized holiday.

Fifteen five day work weeks in a row. Hell might be other people, but that long stretch between holidays gives it a yearly run for its money as far as I’m concerned.

There’s nothing to be done about it, of course, except remember that I have a small mountain of annual leave I have to burn off before the end of the year that I can tap into if things get dire. I’ll do it if I have to, but those days never feel quite as good as the freebies.

Forty and one…

First off, let me say thank you to everyone who took a few minutes over the weekend to text, email, or post birthday wishes. I’m happy to report that the day arrived and passed quietly. As you might expect, fanfare, parties, and being the center of real world attention aren’t really my style.

I don’t think I’ve really “celebrated” a birthday since I turned 21. I’ve noted them, of course, and measured my progress against their passing. I use to hate birthdays, now I just kind of nod in acknowledgment as they pass. Simple. Dignified. And above all quiet.

I’ll admit that 41 lacked the gulping existential horror with which I faced 40. That one was hard to get my mind wrapped around. This latest iteration of the day, not so much. This one was (hopefully) just another waypoint en route to further destinations that are still over the horizon.

Looking not all that far down the line, fifty feels like it could be a real gut punch – though part of me thinks if you’re fortunate enough to hit that milestone maybe your outlook on birthdays starts improving. The “big one” after that is 57 – a long range goal way out in 2035 to be sure, but one that feels a lot closer than it use to. If all the Junes between now and that far off date are waypoints, I’m hoping all of them after that are gravy.

Maybe it sounds odd to spend time thinking about the 50th or 57th so soon after the 41st, but to me it feels like the perfect chance to do a little reflection on what we’ve done, where we’ve been, and where we’d like to be headed in the future… and now that it’s out of my system for another year, we can get back to observing the passing world with boundless snark and cynicism.

The whole nine years…

So today is the big day. We’re celebrating jeffreytharp.com’s 9th birthday. Well, I guess we’re not so much celebrating it as we are simply remarking on the occasion. Celebrating implies sparkly hats and cake and, frankly, sounds just awful.

Unless I’m reminded it’s easy to forget just how long I’ve been doing this. The first five years, of course, weren’t actually here at WordPress (although the whole archive now lives here permanently and you can access al those posts from the links along the left hand side of the screen). I wasn’t quite early enough to claim to be a blog pioneer, but I’ve been doing it for enough time that I feel like one of the surviving old timers. It helps that I didn’t start out expecting to set the world on fire, or turn it into an income stream, or ever really want it to be more than just a collection of whatever thoughts or ideas grabbed my attention on any given day. I expect that’s why I have managed to keep after it year over year no matter whether the views were up or down.

WordPress has given me an open platform to blurt out whatever happened was on my mind without a requirement to categorize it or enter into a discussion. It’s where I can come and simply state that this is my opinion and here’s the thinking that led me there. It’s far more cathartic each evening than diving into a comments section or social media post and screaming at whoever wanders by with a differing opinion.

So, you might be wondering, after nine years where do we stand by the numbers? Since February 2010, we’ve racked up 2,364 posts, 565 comments, and a staggering 702,018 total words. Fortunately, those are statistics that the site keeps for me. There’s no way I’d have come close to those totals if I were asked to take a guess.

Next milestone: June 2021, when we’ll be celebrating 15 years of blogging. See y’all there.

Divisible by ten…

Every year I’m surprised at the end of May when I find myself inexplicably even more irritable than usual. Like salmon returning up river to die, the run up to June comes on without me consciously taking notice of it. Or rather not taking note of it until I sit down and ask myself why I’m dramatically more agitated that normal.

Yes, friends, you guessed it. It’s birthday time again. You see, the fare that accompanies the traditional American birthday is just a little bit of personal hell as far as I’m concerned. A room full of people, dumb hats, forced polite chatter – it sounds perfectly awful. It’s more tolerable when I’m not at the center of it, but I’d just as soon the day slide astern with as little fuss as possible.

It does explain why I’ve largely been feeling “off” this last week or so. Once you’re past 21 – or maybe 25 if you’re really excited about being able to rent a car – the whole exercise of birthday celebrating takes on a decidedly “so what” flavor. Maybe that flavor is even worse this year because it’s one of the big ones divisible by ten.

I take more than a little comfort in knowing it will be past soon and once that happens my mood will improve dramatically if I can go out on a limb and use past performance to predict future results.

Ten…

IMG_0305.jpgWalk up to the average bulldog owner and tell them that you’re thinking about adding one to your pack. I’d be willing to bet that 4 out of every five of them will warn you off the breed. They’re sickly – prone to a list of illnesses as long as your leg. They’re rife with potential genetic abnormalities – their airways are too small, their joints are prone to problems, their skin, God help you, will demand seeming around the clock attention. The most common dog foods are apt to trigger a host of potential allergies for them. Bulldogs, despite their popularity, are a troubled breed and not for the faint of heart or thin of wallet.

Having a bulldog means spending a ridiculous amount of time tending to their needs – with medicated baths, lotions, ointments, sprays, and a cabinet full of medication in addition to their basic care and feeding needs. You will develop a closer relationship to your veterinarian and their staff than you ever imagined possible. If the dog itself is an outsized expense, your medical bills for his care are going to spiral quickly into the five figure range and easily keep climbing from there.

My bulldog turns ten today. He’s been my near constant companion for almost every day of those ten years and he’s been a burning hot mess for almost the entire time. I’d hate to calculate the dollar cost of our time together or the number of trips to the vet for everything from noshing an Atavair inhaler weeping skin sores that erupted overnight without warning to months long recuperation from leg surgery.

I know though, that Fortress Jeff wouldn’t be what it is without Winston’s inquisitive eyes, slobbering IMG_0304.jpgjowls, smiling under bite, and undiluted obstinacy. Reaching his tenth birthday today, I’m acutely aware that I’ve got far fewer days left with him than I’ve had with him already. It’s one of life’s great inequities that the time we get with these animals is so incredibly short.

Any conversation I have about bulldogs invariably starts with “I love Winston more than nearly any living creature on the planet, but there will never be another bulldog…” The truth is, I’d be hard pressed to think of what this house would be like without a bulldog in it. The thought itself feels unnatural. There may well be other bulldogs in the future, but Winston will always be my first and the yardstick against which any other would be measured.

Today, of course, isn’t a day to ponder the costs or the future. It’s a day to give him a few extra ear rubs and chin scratches and marvel at the fact I’ve had so long to enjoy the companionship of this incredible dog.

Today in history…

I had planned for today to be one of those most rare of occurrences where I make two blog posts on the same day. First and foremost, it’s Thursday and regardless of what else Thursday might be it’s a time for What Annoys Jeff this Week. If you came here tonight hoping for your daily does of what three things annoyed the hell out of me this week, sadly you can’t read them because WordPress completely overwrote that post a few minutes ago.

However, all is not lost because in addition to the weekly spectacular that is WAJTW, this particular Thursday is also important for many other reasons.

First and foremost on June 1, 1495 Scotch whisky appears in the Exchequer (tax) rolls of Scotland for the very first time. If that doesn’t make it a red letter date worthy of celebration, I don’t know what does, really.

On June 1, 2011 I made the 879 mile drive from Memphis to Maryland for the last and final time. That was a big deal.

On June 1, 2015 I discovered that the basement of the new house I’d so eagerly purchased leaked like submarine with a screen door in anything harder than a drizzle – triggering ten thousand dollars in unplanned back yard renovation work to correct and landing my plan for fancy new master bathroom on the indefinite hold pile.

More important than any of those past events, perhaps, is that June 1, 2017 marks exactly 18 years until I’m eligible to retire and begin my life as a proper hermit on some far off mountaintop hideaway.

Oh, yeah, and as many of you have sussed out through various means, it’s also my birthday, so I guess there’s that. I appreciate all the kind words and texts and emails and calls. You guys are just the best.

The real celebration…

First and foremost I’ll take this opportunity to thank the many people who reached out to me through Facebook, or text, or email, phone today. Your birthday wishes are, by me, appreciated.

In other news, while I was digging around the site today in hopes of coming up with a suitable message for the day that I haven’t tread too heavily on the previous anniversaries of my birth, I was struck by something remarkable. As it turns out, June 1st isn’t just my birthday. I know. I’m as shocked as you are to learn that anything else of importance might have happened previously on this date. I’m still a little perplexed and amazed by this particular discovery.

Today also marks ten years since publishing my very first blog post. It’s bad. I mean really bad. It’s badly written. It’s badly thought out. It’s just bad in almost every conceivable way. If you don’t believe me, you can dig it up in the archives but scrolling down to June 2006 and hitting the link, but I’m not going to link it directly because it really is just that bad. I even contemplated making the post private rather than remarking on it, but that really defeats the purpose of what I’ve been trying to do here.

Those first posts really are awful. I’m struggling to find a voice and it readily shows. Looking back across those ten years, though, what I also see is upward trajectory of improvement – tighter writing, better reasoning, and the development of ability to tell a bit of a story in just a few hundred words. Still, I like the idea that if someone were so inclined they could map the constellation of things that have rattled through my head from then to now as the posts rattled around the internet from their original home on MySpace (seriously), to Blogger, and finally here to my own site powered by WordPress.

Ten years doesn’t seem like a lot of time until I start thinking about what’s changed from then to now. Looking back on some of the things 28 year old me thought were important enough to take up blog space, 38 year old me would love to sit him down for a nice long talk. There are lots of posts I wish I hadn’t made and some others I wish I’d have had the guts not just to publish, but to nail right to the mast. I like to think I’ve learned a lot about the world around me and even more about myself over the last 2,176 posts.

So unlike many of products that reach their tenth anniversary, there won’t be a lot of changes. I’m not going to go all New Coke or tinker around with the Colonel’s secret recipe. Whatever improvements happen will be organic and develop naturally in the fullness of time. I can only hope the writing is as much improved over the second decade of blogging as it was in the first.

We’ll all have to come back in June 2026 to find out.

Such fine company…

I’m not a big birthday celebrator. I don’t need or really want a party a cake or really any kind of a deal made about it at all. Being an introvert by nature, a lot of glad-handing and forced socialization is less like a party and more of a jail sentence. I’m uncomfortable with the singing and being singled out and the (even small) spectacle of the thing. I’ve made a studied effort at learning how to be in the action without being the center of attention. It doesn’t suit me. Frankly I’d rather just get home, throw a couple of burgers on the grill, have a beer or two and call the day mission complete.

That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to all you crazy bastards who called, emailed, texted, tweeted, or messaged me on Facebook. It didn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated. I’ll do my best to reach out to everyone individually over the next day or two – but in the event I inadvertently miss someone, please, for the love of God, consider this a blanket statement of appreciation.

It’s immensely gratifying to have survived another year in orbit on this strange rock – and to have had the opportunity to do so in such fine company.

3rd anniversary…

I’m approaching today not so much as a 36th birthday as the 3rd anniversary of making a 900 mile drive from Memphis to reclaim my Maryland residency. Frankly, it’s the event that feels more important… and I’ll explain why (of course).

As far as my birth, I had very little to do with that other than being present. While I’m pleased that I’ve managed not to step in front of a bus or be eaten by a shark between 1978 and this morning, a lot of that has probably been simple dumb luck more than anything else. As you might guess, celebrating simple dumb luck isn’t really my style.

What is my style, though, is celebrating a very intentional decision I made to extract myself from what had become a hopelessly toxic situation. That’s a real milestone event for today. It’s one of the few decisions I’ve ever made without having doubts or second thoughts after the fact. Coming back to the good soil of my home state was arguably the single best decisions I’ve made to date. That’s not to say that everything is puppies and butterscotch, but at least as I’m sitting here looking out the window writing this post, I know I got the geography right this time. Human beings are generally a resilient bunch, but I’ve long suspected that we are each best suited for and thrive in a particular place… and even as I rant about the out of hand taxes and lunatic nanny government here, this place seems to be it for me. No matter where my travels have taken me, I always seem to come around again.

If nothing else, I can say with certainty that enjoying this fresh-brewed Kona in the rental kitchen is superior in every way to being just past Nashville and screaming east at 90 miles an hour with two dogs and a truck loaded to the gills. I appreciate and thank you for the birthday wishes today friends, but what I’m most proud of on this June 1st is my 3rd anniversary.