11 November 2017

Preface

As my first piece of writing since 2016, this post will be the last long-form piece I write. After today, the blog will be returning to its original design and purpose as something that provides a bi-monthly snapshot of life for me to reflect on in the years to come. I will also be splitting all future posts in two parts: the first, an overview of life, similar to past posts, while the second part will be a descriptive listing of the most impactful songs, podcasts, movies, and books that I have absorbed. This second part will be really important to me in the future because I often forget the titles or names of the creators/artists/authors.

For this post, part one is an overview of life from June 2016 to November 2017, while part two is a Veteran’s Day reflection on narratives that poignantly depict the horrors of war and the loss of man and generations.

Part ONE

A Rookie Mistake and a Reconnection

As of today, I have 13,603.11 in credit card debt and less than $1,000 cash on-hand. That’s the bad news. I know, you’re probably thinking, “What?? That’s as much as a small car!” The good news is that if today, I decided to not invest a single dollar more into inventory and I decided to just let everything sell off, by August 2018, I’d have $88,300 in cash on-hand minus taxes (so, probably like $61,000 after taxes and minimal expenses). So I’m not really stressed but I’m also not where I want to be and the reason I am where I am today is because of a decision I made on July 31, 2017.

Since 2012, I have had a healthy business relationship with SOCOM (aka Navy SEALS). They were my very first profitable order in October 2012 and that order was major motivation for me in the early days. So when I received a call on July 31, asking for a $3,300 order, I said, “Well, I have half of the products you want. I’m not planning to produce the other half of the products you want.” The logistics officer replied, “Well, all 8 SEAL teams are going to be placing orders for $3,300, so if you want our business, you should get the product. By the way, we need it delivered 6 weeks from today.”

“Shit” I thought, “it takes me 4.5 weeks to manufacture the product and another week to ship, so…. I need to start, like, yesterday!” And so I did. That afternoon, I sent the first payment to begin manufacturing $37,000 worth of product, enough to cover all 8 orders from SOCOM and included the product that I had not intended to ever manufacture again. It was nice. I played video games for 3 days in a row and assured myself that in 6 weeks, I would be debt-free and have enough money for a substantial down-payment on a car.

Three weeks later, I learned that the original logistics officer I spoke with was wrong: only four of the eight teams would be ordering. A blow, but not a huge deal, as I’d still have enough cash from those 4 sales to cover the other 50% of my manufacturing costs. Another week passed and production was nearing completion when I found out that of the four buyers, only one was actually ready to order. Uh oh. I had to somehow come up with $5,600 in less than 6 days. How fun.

Over the next six days, I worked my ass off. I upped AdWords expenses, I sent emails to frequent buyers with special coupon codes, I did everything I could to move as much inventory in 6 days as I possibly could. My mom offered a loan, but I declined; I’d make this work. After 6 days, I somehow managed to pull in $5,874 in an off-season month, just enough to cover my final payment to my manufacturer and to cover the wire transfer fees. The inventory arrived, I shipped the orders out, SOCOM was happy, I was exhausted. My bank account was at $301, my credit cards were maxed out, and winter was coming. I had $18,600 cash tied up in inventory that would not move for the next 8 months. “I need a job,” I told myself.

After being completely self-employed for 28 out of 34 months, my resume was outdated and ill-designed. I begged my girlfriend to redesign my resume (she is a graphic designer after all), but it was a tough ask to make of someone who was already working 45 hours a week in a corporate office while I got to stay home all day with Indy. She asked, “Why don’t you ever try reconnecting with your old mentor? You talk about him constantly and how much you wish you could work for him again. Just ask.” I think she just didn’t want to have to work on my resume, but she would never admit that.

I sent him a message on Facebook expressing my interest in working for him and I offered to pick up the tab for lunch. He agreed to meet in two weeks. How slowly those two weeks passed. When we met at Chipotle, he seemed genuinely happy to reconnect. I was nervous as hell, hoping the spazzing in my hands wouldn’t be noticeable as I took each bite. We talked about both of our businesses and he said that he didn’t have any need to hire anyone at the moment.

Realizing that my chances of landing a job might be off the table, I decided to just get some stuff off my chest. My whole life, I’ve rehearsed conversations in my long morning showers about what I’d say to someone if I had the chance, running through hundreds of scenarios with deceased loved ones, old friends, old enemies, people I’d been a dick to, etc. So I just gave the shower speech I’d already given dozens of times in my own head. I recounted all the things I messed up, how I regretted the way I had handled issues in time management and communication, and how I wished I had been more mature. His demeanor changed a bit and he said he had an idea and would get back to me in a few days.

That was two months ago, and today I’m working full-time researching and developing new products for the same business I started on 5 years ago as well as products for a newer business that was started after I left. It blows my mind how much has changed in the industry in only 3 years, but it also feels like I’ve gotten into a time machine and gone back a few years. I literally feel years younger every day that I go into the office.

This job gives me so many opportunities to learn and make up for my past mistakes. It also takes a lot of pressure off of the business I own. Now that this job can fully cover my cost of living, I can invest every dollar the business earns back into its growth instead of sucking it out to pay for my own salary. For these reasons, I plan to make myself useful in this job for the foreseeable future and learn for as long as I can.

Indy’s First Day at the Office

Goodbye, Hello, Hello again

Losing my beloved dog, Scrappy, was really hard. I first met Scrappy, a Shetland sheepdog mix, when I was six years old and she was six months old. She was such a puppy then. By age 15, she had lost her hearing, and her eyes – once deep pools of brown – looked more like glassy, frozen ponds. The last two years of her life, I really struggled with knowing that she would not die of natural causes and that it would be a decision that I, her trusted human, would have to make for her. Walking to my car on a day far too hot for November, I Googled local euthanasia clinics. It was the first time I’d considered it. I cried. I dropped my phone on the sidewalk. It didn’t break but I wouldn’t have cared if it had at that point. I couldn’t do it and my family knew it, but she wasn’t getting any better. Two weeks later, on the first day of my new job, I said good morning and goodbye to Scrappy and left the house. I didn’t know it would be the last time, but it was good that I didn’t know.

After a year, my girlfriend, who sent me daily screenshots of adoptable dogs from the Arizona Humane Society sent me a photo of Franklin, a 1 year old Anatolian Shepherd/Australian Shepherd rescue. I’d seen hundreds of screenshots by this time, but his tilted head and red bandana gave me pause. I agreed that after Ottilie returned from work, we could go visit Franklin together at the AZ Humane Society adoption store. We raced to the store but arrived to find that the hours listed on Google were wrong – the store had closed over an hour earlier. Through the darkened windows, we spotted Franklin sleeping in his pen. He looked even cuter in person and I told Ottilie that I’d return at 10am the next morning.

I met Franklin in a private room. From the furthest corner, he sat and stared at me, his head tilting from side to side. “The hoarder hit him,” the employee said. I had time, I replied. Over the next hour, Franklin inched closer. My phone’s hard drive was quickly running out of space from all the photos I was taking and my thumbs grew tired of texting every little development of the visit. After an hour, he let me pet him, and once I did that, he laid down under my chair and fell asleep. I texted Ottilie, “I think we should bring him home.” She agreed. “He’s a little explorer,” the employee said as I signed the papers, “he really likes sticking his nose in bushes.” It seemed fitting, considering that Ottilie and I had already decided in advance that any dog we adopted would be named after George Lucas’ dog, Indiana Bones.

I still miss Scrappy, but I am a firm believer in the idea that dogs pick up the traits of their owners, and in the eight months that have passed since we brought Indy home, I’ve experienced a lot of joy in seeing some of the same quirks and personality traits in him that I saw in Scrappy. He is the continuation of her spirit, I think. Though sometimes obstinate (he is an Anatolian, after all), he is the most well-behaved dog I’ve ever had. He love car rides, he never barks, he is great off-leash, and he enjoys going to dog parks and dog-friendly restaurants. Every morning, he wakes me at sunrise, and every night, he falls asleep at the foot of my bed, just like Scrappy did.

Indiana Bones

Big City, Small Town

When we first looked for apartments in January 2016, I had specifically wanted a third-story apartment and the one we ended up finding was really perfect. Being on the highest floor of the highest building in the complex and set on the side of a mountain, I could gaze for miles across all of North Scottsdale and as far north as Carefree. New Year’s Eve and 4th of July celebrations presented an entire valley of fireworks displays to watch from that wonderful perch.

However, after adopting Indy, the apartment life was less of a dream and more of a frustration. Each morning, afternoon, and evening required a 20 minute walk for Indy to do his business and, while fine in February and March, I knew it would not be sustainable in July and August – Indy needed a yard. So, the search for a rental house began. We spent weekdays on Trulia and weekends calling management companies. It was significantly more time-consuming and challenging than expected and we were nearly to re-sign our apartment lease for another year when we learned that Ottilie’s parents had purchased a fixer upper and would be renovating it over the next couple months with the goal of renting it and holding equity in the property. They offered to let us rent the property at reduced market cost (rentals in the neighborhood were ranging between $1800-2400/month and were well outside of our budget) if we agreed to help significantly with the renovations and maintain the property’s value. Seeing as I had a totally flexible schedule and ample time to help, we quickly agreed and soon I was spending most of my weekdays sanding drywall, putting together kitchen cabinets, and prepping floors for tiling, and my girlfriend and I were spending our weekends together painting walls and ceilings. From essentially bare studs, my girlfriend’s stepdad rebuilt the entire interior of the house with a level of expertise that left me standing in awe 99% of the time. In 5 months’ time, he turned a mess of a house into something truly incredible and beautiful.

In June 2017, we moved into the house and made it our home. Surprisingly, my favorite thing about our new home is the neighborhood. Though bordering Phoenix’s financial district, the neighborhood, which was built between 1951 and 1962, feels like a small town all by itself. On the west end of the neighborhood is a Catholic church whose bells ring every hour and in the mornings, when I close my eyes, I can imagine the bells sounding like those of a small village in the French campagne. On the east end is a public high school football field and every Friday night brings about a rush of activity and exuberance from the bleachers. The old oak trees of the street, having recently celebrated their 60th birthdays, tower 45 feet above the streets, casting massive shadows across the yards and sidewalks. Even the sidewalks bear markings of the original concrete contractors who poured them in 1962 and the hand-prints of children who struck their palms into a handful of freshly-poured repair slabs in 1986 and 1992. Having grown up most of my life in neighborhoods no older than I, the idea of walking on sidewalks older than my parents and that existed when JFK was president, when the Vietnam war was still a minor conflict, and when man had just entered space for the first time, is something that never fails to fascinate me on my morning walks. I really love this place and I’m really grateful for the opportunity we have been given to live here.

Home

Part TWO

Narratives for The Fallen

“But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”

Erich Maria Remarque, German soldier and author

2017 marks 100 years since American entry into the First World War, a war which cost the lives of 18 million people including 116,708 American service members. Today, nearly 100 years after the Armistice, Americans remember the dead of war on this 99th Veteran’s Day. However, it is hard to say how many Americans will reflect today on the horror of the wars that caused those deaths. These past few months, the idea of war and the option of war has been on the minds and lips of many politicians and pundits, and I feel that the long Pax Americana and the physical and mental distance from the realities of war have insulated us from the horrors of it. So, this Veteran’s Day, I want to reflect on the loss of man and the loss of generations as reflected in the words and songs of those who remain.

Green Fields of France

Written as a ballad to a fallen Scottish soldier, the narrator sits at the Scottish soldier’s gravestone and ponders how he died and how the world remembered him as the soldier rests in the ground, still in the No Man’s Land that is now a military cemetery mostly void of the living. This profoundly poignant song was written by Scottish songwriter, Eric Bogle, in Flanders in 1976, a time marking the twilight of the World War I generation.

The sun, now it shines o’er the green fields of France
There’s a warm summer breeze th’ makes the red poppies dance
And look how the sun shines from under the clouds
There’s no gas, no barbed wire, there’s no guns firing now
But here in this graveyard it’s still no man’s land
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man
To a whole generation that were butchered and damned.

I recommend the cover by The High Kings, available to listen here on YouTube and also available on Spotify.

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Also written by Scottish songwriter, Eric Bogle, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda is narrated from the point of view of an Australian commonwealth soldier as he proudly boards a troop transport destined for the shores of Turkey (then the Ottoman Empire) while the band ashore plays the famous Australian patriotic song, Waltzing Matilda. After losing his legs and his comrades on the sands of Gallipoli, the Australian soldier returns home and is carried off the ship on a stretcher, only to see that the Australian people have turned their faces away from him and forgotten his sacrifices.

And those that were left, well we tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive
Though around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I woke up in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well I wished I was dead
Never knew there was worse things than dyin’

For I’ll go no more waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and free
To hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

Available to listen here on YouTube and also available on Spotify

The Soldier and the Oak

Set in the Civil War and years after, this recent story from American songwriter, Elliott Park, is narrated from the view of an oak tree, the final resting place of a mortally wounded soldier, recounting the arc of its own life and the impact of the soldier’s death upon it. Being told from the view of the oak tree, it does not really reflect the horror of death, but it is still a rather beautiful story and very different in that it is narrated by an inanimate but living entity.

This is a story that began long, long ago
I was a young oak tree in dark Missouri soil
And like all other saplings I had dreams of growing
Strong and tall

But one day a rebel with a bullet in his chest
Hung his rifle on my limbs and laid to rest
And there beside me as the blood soaked to my roots
The soldier sang
A song of grace

The heavy rifle bowed me over to the ground
Two years I stayed this way until the rifle fell
And in this manner for a hundred years I grew
All my dreams
Not meant to be…

Check out the rest of the song on YouTube or Spotify