Moving On: The Year of Losing Dangerously

HeadshotToday I am two years sober. I am also one year out of a job, nine months without benefits, three months off probation, and two weeks from the cut-off of my unemployment. Given the circumstances, it might be easy to assume I had one Rob Ford of a year. Only that assumption would be incorrect, in large part because the aforementioned factors had very little to do with what I set out to accomplish during 2013.

And so what was that, exactly? Good question. Here’s the answer: On December 16, 2012, I published a very loose set of goals – “What Might Be Cool in the Year Ahead” was the actual heading I used. There were 27 items in all, and what follows is a comprehensive breakdown of all 27, with a primary focus on how successful – or unsuccessful – I was at achieving each one (additional commentary immediately after):

1-6: The Heavy Lifting (Tasks That Required a Considerable Commitment of Time)

1. Improve Chess Game (Done). I own an electronic chess set which I used to hone my skills this year. Over the course of 11 months I managed to beat that set on the first 35 of its 72 levels (If you think this sounds easy, I would welcome you to try). It should go without saying that I lost a lot more games than I won. Every time I found myself at an impasse, I’d head back to the drawing board, teaching myself a variety of old-school openings – both the King and the Queen’s Gambit, The Grunfeld and The Sicilian Defence among them. I studied a handful of Magnus Carlsen’s games, watched a few lectures by two-time U.S. Women’s Champion, Jen Shahade. I played well over 200 games in total, and I’m proud to say I haven’t lost in head-to-head competition since last April. I enjoy playing with the old dudes down in Washington Square, but, alas, outdoor chess has become a booming business. As such, shortly after you sit down, you better believe one of those hustlers is gonna hit you up for money (the going rate runs anywhere between $3-5). Savvy hustlers might refer to this as a deposit, while the less savvy might refer to it as the cost of a good education. Anyway, the point being, I’m always in the market for some rent-free competition.

2. Mine the Work of Great Writers (Done). I read just under 50 books this year. What I’ve included below are the books that were written by authors who I have no qualms with considering “great”. Keep in mind, I may have previously read other work by a number of these authors, which explains why I’m left scraping the bottom of those barrels. I’ve also included any individual essays I read over the past 12 months by authors whose books appear on this list:

3. Visit More Museums/Exhibits (Done). Here is an alphabetical list of the museums and galleries I had an opportunity to visit this year (36 of them in total): Ana Cristea Gallery, Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, Bertrand Delacroix Gallery, Cheim & Read, City-Wide Open Studios of New Haven, DC Moore Gallery, Dillon Gallery, First Street Gallery, Fischbach Gallery, Gagosian Gallery, Gallery Henoch, Governor’s Island, Guggenheim, Howard Greenberg Gallery, International Center for Photography, Jewish Museum, John Slade Ely House (Center For Contemporary Art), Jonathan LeVine Gallery, Lawrence Miller Gallery, Lyons Weir Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Art, MIT Museum, Monticello, Montpelier, Museum of Modern Art, Museum of The City of New York, The New Museum, New York Foundation For The Arts, New York Transit Museum, Park Avenue Armory, Peter Blum Gallery, Princeton University Art Museum, Steven Kasher Gallery, Von Lintel Gallery, The Whitney Museum and the Yale Center For British Art.

4. Learn more about Transcendental Meditation (Done). In addition to reading a considerable amount about TM, I’ve also worked the practice into my regular schedule (15-20 minute sessions on average, five days a week). Come mid-summer I began acting as my own guide, practicing TM at the tail-end of my runs. The benefits have been outstanding. I find myself more patient, present, focused and productive. More importantly, I find myself more grounded, which is critical, given I suffer from constant – sometimes even debilitating – bouts of anxiety. In addition to TM, there are two essential tools I use to counteract my anxiety. One is a 20-miligram dosage of daily medication, the other is long-distance running. Throughout 2013, I averaged 30-35 miles of road distance a week, at one point knocking out a mile in 5:04, which – while not my fastest mile – is certainly admirable enough for 39 without any speed work. My distance runs took me all over the island, at almost every hour of the night and day. It is for this reason I can tell you – in sheer terms of runner’s high – nothing beats setting out from my apartment shortly after 5 am, starting at a brisk jog southwest toward Central Park. It is still dark out at this point, and the morning workers are busy spraying down dank sidewalks. By the time I hit The Plaza, I can see scant traces of light, can smell grilled meat and eggs on every corner. From there it’s down and through Times Square, past Penn Station, past the Chelsea. Twenty blocks until the red bricks south of Houston, then due east along the Freedom Tower. I am entering the final chute now. Half-a-mile down to Battery, at which point I break into a sprint, barreling out toward the southeast corner. No more sidewalks, no more island. Nothing left but placid water … placid water and the sound of New York City, wiping sleep out of its eyes.

5. Study Some Form of Martial Arts (Done). I started by learning – and then practicing – the five basic blocks of Shotokan (i.e., age-uke, soto-uke, uchi-uke, gedan-barai and shoto-uke), which means that while I may not be capable of kicking your ass, I can significantly prolong the process of you kicking mine.

6. Write something that either connects with people or has a social impact (Done). I’m really in no position to judge, but assuming all the emails and positive messages I’ve received are sincere, I think it’s safe to conclude Moving On has found its audience. With three of its eight seasons now complete, the writing has evolved. In fact, I’ve actually begun “remastering” the first two seasons, knocking out a great deal of loose clutter. Season Four is next up on the horizon.

7-14: The One-Night Stands (Tasks I Was Able To Complete 24 Hrs. At a Time)

7. Mountain Climbing (Done). I scaled three mountains this year (with elevations of 3,300, 2,900 and 1,800 feet, respectively). These climbs were much more a matter of endurance than daring. There were a couple of tight ledges, but nothing outrageous. I took pictures. I enjoyed the view.

8. Hiking (Done). In addition to the expeditions mentioned above, I also hiked a number of flat trails in both New Jersey and Virginia.

9. Bodysurfing (Done). I hit the beach on two separate occasions, as the tide was nonexistent during my first trip in mid-August.

10. Visit Cambridge (Done). As a matter of fact, I wound up visiting Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale. I’m calling it my whirlwind tour of the Ivy League.

11. Enter a Contest (Done). I’ve entered – and lost – every New Yorker caption contest since Roger Ebert died. I also entered the State of New Jersey’s Shore Calendar Contest and submitted photos to one gallery’s open-call competition.

12. Do a Public Reading (Done). I read at The Philebrity Salon on Tuesday, November 26th. I look forward to doing more readings in the months and years ahead.

13. Learn to Cook a New Dish (Done). I learned to cook St. Louis Toasted Ravioli and Breaded Seitan. I will never eat breaded seitan again. Store-bought seitan takes like cardboard, and breaded cardboard tastes like shit.

14. See Half-a-Dozen New Musical Acts (Done). Please note, while only one of these acts is actually “new”, it was the first time I’d seen any of them performing live. Alicia Keys, Courtney Love, Kurt Vile, Laura Marling, Shuggie Otis, Unlocking The Truth.

15-22: The Also-Rans (Tasks That Got Completed Without a Great Deal of Fanfare)

15. Do Charitable Work (Done). It would defeat the purpose to include a major breakdown here. Rest assured, I dedicated my time, effort and what little money I have to several causes I thought were worthwhile (You know who you are).

16. Reduce My Student Loan Debt (Done). The Good News: I made close to $4,000 worth of student loan payments this year. The Bad News: I still have approximately 10x that left to go. Which brings us to …

17. Invest In Something (Done). After consulting with a number of people and looking into several mutual fund options on my own, I kept coming back to one piece of advice: “Do not begin investing until you’ve eliminated all your personal debt.” It seemed to make sense, which is why I recently made a significant lump sum payment toward the remaining balance of my student loan. This payment allowed me to bring the balance down below $40,000 – one small step toward diminishing the only remaining piece of toxic debt still lingering over my head.

18. Increase Website Traffic (Done). I nearly tripled it (with fewer posts).

19. Improve My Diet (Done). Those who know me will attest to the fact I have the diet of a six-year old. In fact, it’s almost as if I never really adjusted to eating right at all. I gorge on junk food, I starve and then I binge. Fortunately, I kind of got the hang of things this year. Nowadays, I start out with a banana and yogurt for breakfast, some type of sandwich/soup for lunch, then a sufficient – albeit unbalanced – two-course meal for dinner. I also cut out my beloved Cheez-Its (with the exception of an occasional box as personal reward). My body thanks me. My
palate hates me.

20. Strum My Guitar (Done). I taught myself a handful of new songs this year, some of which I’ve already forgotten. That aside, I need to devote more time/energy to my guitar-playing. It’s the one personal hobby I’m certain I’d enjoy if only I could commit to it.

21. Visit Virginia (Done). I spent a week in Virginia, in a big ole’ house along the west side of a mountain, all of it thanks to a generous offer from my mother, my brother, my older sister and
my aunt.

22. Learn More About Photography (Done). In addition to doubling the number of personal photographs I shot, I also studied the work of Fred Herzog, Joel Meyerowitz, William Eggleston, Bruce Davidson, Vivian Maier and many others.

23-27: The Near Misses (Tasks I Never Quite Got Around To)

23. Win an Award. I won no awards. I lost. I am a loser.

24/25. Study Poker/Pool. I read about both, watched tutorials and televised competition. But I never raised a cue or played a hand. Gotta work on that.

26. Have My Work Appear In a New Publication. I could defend this failure a thousand fold, using any excuse from “I was too busy posting via my own site,” to “Dude, my shit’s been reposted, like, a thousand fuckin’ times,” but the reality is I only wound up pitching two ideas (both to Gothamist), and they were long shots, to be sure. Never heard back. Never pursued either idea any further.

27. Meet a Girl. No … no, I sure didn’t.

Final tally: 22-5

Not bad for a blue-collar schlep running low on good fortune. And yet, what does it matter, really? I mean, one could insist that it unequivocally doesn’t, that any schmo with “an entire year worth of nothin'” could’ve accomplished the same thing. As a matter of fact, one could adopt the stance this entire post amounts to little more than petty boasting, which, while true, comes counterbalanced by the fact we live in a culture that consistently rewards individuals for rushing online to seek validation, often for the most banal – if not completely infantile – of reasons. At its core, the overriding message reads like this: “I am a consumer. I am a maker and a spender of good money. I am a goer of places and a doer of things. All I ask is that you love me, please.”

In a culture such as that, I’ll take my kicks where I can get ’em.

Perhaps 2013 represented some type of fuck-you-40 moment for me, an ongoing 12-month stretch during which I bucked long-time convention, behaving a lot more like an apt reflection of the virtues I admire. I have no idea where it is I go from here, I can only assure you that whatever it is I do with the next 25+ years of my life, it’ll include some opportunity to teach, help, heal or inspire; to aspire to something more worthwhile than simply sticking decent people with a goddamn bill of sale.

Perhaps it’s time to fulfill a lifelong dream, set out upon a cross-country road trip. I think I really cotton to the idea of getting lost inside the Dustbowl, sleeping ’neath the sky in west Montana. Can you dig it? If so, feel free to get at me.

Enough of this penny-ante bullshit. It’s time to trip the light fantastic.

Day 730

(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)

©Copyright Bob Hill