Welcome to Lap42: What It’s All About

Welcome to Lap42.

42 SnailsTo celebrate the milestone of my 41st birthday, I decided to establish this blog as a personal project that might also help others and even perhaps create a community of likeminded bloggers. But, starting simply, it’s meant as way for me to keep a diary and learn some tricks of the blogging trade along the way. I’m committing to one entry for each of this leap year’s 366 days – the journey that is my 42nd year on this planet.

Lap42 is basically an open journal in which I’m logging bits and pieces of each day, adding in links to relevant (or just fun) material, and going along with a bit of stream of consciousness. It’s also a straightforward commitment to rising and shining at sunrise every day of the year. My plan is to wake up every day at sunrise (even if just briefly) and revel in what I might find out – about myself, about the places around me, and about unforeseeable possibilities and patterns. Hopefully I’ll become just a little bit more self aware. Ideally, others can learn a little from me, too – or see a bit of themselves and their daily struggles and triumphs reflected here.

The idea here is relatively simple, but I’ve tried to infuse it with the quirks of my personality and tastes, particular talents, best qualities, flaws (too many to count), and lots of linked references. Now I’ll take you on a winding journey to explain more about my proposed format, the goals of this blog, and how some elements of it all have taken shape:

I expect the public nature of blogging to keep me accountable to sticking with a routine that involves daily writing and waking up to snap some sort of selfie to document my state of mind and appearance, however unflattering, at sunrise every morning – along with photos of my surroundings whenever I’m inspired or notice something new at that golden hour. I hope my readers can relate to my musings. I aim to keep each post fairly short (unlike this first one!) but expect to generate ideas for longer form posts that I’ll link to and host at my original (attention deprived!) blog project, “Soul Searching Papá,” whenever it makes sense and I make the time.

I got the idea for this little project when planning my 4th annual camping trip to Acadia National Park’s Seawall Campground with my daughter, Alana (currently age 10) which we’d planned around my birthday. Knowing that the sunrise is visible from the summit of Acadia National Park’s Cadillac Mountain before just about anywhere else in the USA on any given day of the year, I resolved to check it out with her – an experience she wasn’t likely to forget – and start off my new year in inspired fashion.

image Then I thought about how cool it would be to commit to a routine of celebrating daybreak for the entire year – even if in more mundane settings like my back porch or the nearby Arnold Arboretum in Boston’s most excellent Jamaica Plain neighborhood. I’d tried this in one-off fashion back in the winter of 2007, when I took my dog Shenandoah (Doah-dog), out at 3AM to the Blue Hills for a snowy sunrise hike. I’ve often thought of establishing a routine to drive over to the beach on a regular dawn patrol basis, try my hand at surfing and open water swim training, then drive back to work. Life and logistics have just gotten in my way somehow for that kind of thing, though I’ve remained fairly consistent over the past fifteen years in running or biking in the mornings. So I know I have what it takes to some degree. But there’s just something about those mini-road trips that breathes life into my day more than a run out my back door can do. Perhaps it’s the novelty or the knowledge that not too many others are even awake yet. Or perhaps it’s the chance to blast a Foo Fighters (or other) band in the car to get my blood flowing. In any case, I’ve always been a morning person. The calm of the early morning hours is almost spiritual for me, and my brainwaves are noticeably less choppy than later on.

Once I started thinking about this stuff, I realized the significance of my 42nd year could add a nice level of depth and familiarity to my writing. First of all, one of the things I can’t help dwelling on as I get older is how close I’m getting to the age of my mom at the time of her death in 1995 from breast cancer. It’s not that I see my life as ticking clock that’s counting down. Far from it. She was just so young, now that I’m nearing that age, it blows me away. Partly grips me with fear. Partly emboldens me to seize every day. I think I’m not that old, but then I’m faced with the reality of how close I am to her final age, and it kind of freaks me out. It’s like the experience that so many of us have (stopping and thinking, “hey, wait, this doesn’t feel old, why did I once think 40+[or even 30+] was so over the hill??) but infused with more haunting gravity given that my mom didn’t make it out of her forties. My own brother recently reached the dreaded milestone (age 47), and though I’ve never asked him, I can only imagine how much it must have weighed on him on his birthday. Then thinking more about my mom, which I do every day one way or another, I realized that this 42nd year represents the point at which I’ll cross over to having lived half my life without her around. She died when I was 21 and my sister was barely 19.

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When I have tough days, I miss my mom the most. Or when I’m seeking parenting advice from her perspective or when I get back in the pool or stand on the pool deck or organize a carpool as a swim team parent. I spent the majority of those first 21 years with my mom as my biggest fan as I swam countless laps and tasted success as a competitive swimmer. Then I start thinking about how fast my kids are growing up, with Alana likely having already passed the halfway point of the time she’ll live at home in her life (she’s almost 10 and a half). And I have a choice between being frozen in fear or to get moving, making sure I don’t let too many of my dreams and ideas end up unfulfilled. In part, that’s what this blog is about. Making sure I seize this year and all it has to offer now, and all of the things I have the potential to set in motion or focus on now to pay dividends later. Whenever I meet my end, I intend to be able to look back – or have others look back on my behalf – and know that I lived life to the fullest.

This all led me to thinking of my 42nd trip around the sun as a kind of lap. One heck of a long lap. But life isn’t a sprint, it’s a long marathon of successive training laps, sometimes mindlessly staring at the black line on the bottom of the pool, other times shouting and cheering on teammates (and sometimes they have goofy shaved heads) with raw, full throttle emotion. I think my mom would really like that.

She might also like to know I haven’t lost my middle school goofiness and odd sense of humor. Incidentally, Douglas Adams, author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the few authors I enjoyed in my middle school years – emphasized the importance of the number 42 – and towels – in his book Life, the Universe, and Everything. On the surface, the book, and the notion that 42 is the magical answer to the meaning of life, is just silly, dry British humor (which I love). But if you take the time to understand what Adams was driving at, I think it’s got potential to provoke much more serious thinking while also helping you keep things in perspective and not take yourself too seriously, which is something I try hard not to do amidst all this intentionality and reflectiveness and mission-driven work that I do day to day.

Life’s funny, weird, and mysterious and requires, at least for me, a strong dose of goofy humor and playfulness to keep things light. Try googling “Douglas Adams” and “philosophy” together, and you’ll turn up hundreds of relevant web pages discussing Marvin the Paranoid Android (exploring artificial intelligence), the Vogons (extreme cultural differences) Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolonged (immortality and its pros and cons) – many of which refer back to this fantastic book, Nicholas Joll’s Philosophy and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2012).

Now back to the structure and basic fabric of my posts in this blog. As I write this intro post, I’ve been listening to Pandora, and the Foo Fighters’ song “Home” has popped on after one of the less annoying Geico ads (actually, I love Geico ads, especially the quirkier ones with the driest humor… I wonder what it’d be like to work at the ad agency responsible for them). Anyway, songs like this make me think about my mom, who, I’m guessing, probably wouldn’t have liked Geico ads too much. She had a great sense of humor and spirit, but my dry sense of humor comes more from my brother and early exposure to late nights of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Anyway, I was lucky enough to see the Foo Fighters concert at Boston’s Fenway Park this past July with my brother-in-law, Brett. So many of the Foo’s songs have themes / lyrics that I expect will resonate with me as I travel with y’all around the sun over the next 11+ months – plus a lot of them are just good and loud. I like that. Loud, in your face, provoking some discomfort, and – even if my daughter disagrees sometimes – the Foo Fighters are just plain cool.

But in the Foo Fighters concert in July, there was a point when I stopped feeling euphoric and connected to all the thrilled, chorus-chanting concert-goers and instead felt melancholy and pensive, suddenly alone with my own thoughts, remembering my mom and the mystery of death and what lies beyond. During the song “These Days,” with the line that one of these days your heart will stop and play its final beat, I found myself transported back in a breathless flashback to that October morning in Florida 1995 when my mom took her own final breath just after I had made it home from New Hampshire (Dartmouth College, my senior year) the previous evening. Perhaps the Foo Fighters aren’t the deepest of all bands, but that concert flipped a switch for me, giving me a sense of Resolve to live every day with passion and energy, not unlike Dave Grohl (playing to the sold out crowd with a broken leg, clearly loving what he does and how he lives his life as a genuine, authentic rockstar – and father).

So I decided that my daily blog posts would also need to highlight a Foo song or two, with a brief explanation or note, whenever possible, of why a particular song, chorus, or even guitar riff resonated with me that particular day.

I expect this Lap42 journey, like any year, to be full of surprises, and the post format itself to evolve (reader take note: feedback and ideas are always welcome). But by tracking each day, I hope to be able to live life a little more intentionally and mindfully, with heightened awareness of conditions around me, encouraging myself to follow my sense of curiosity and be a little more spontaneous. I hope to identify some of my own behavioral patterns and be a little more systematic about changing habits with micro-experiments, take steps to realize (or let go of) long-held dreams, generate new ideas, simplify life a little, and focus / re-focus my attention on what matters in a world that we’re only visiting for a short time and with kids who grow up way too fast. I’ll also have in hand a visual and narrative record of the kinds of day-to-day changes that are hard to perceive until you get a surprise once-per-decade visit from dear old Aunt Gertrude who is all too happy to note the way hair is lost in some places and somehow appears in equal measure elsewhere.

When I set my alarm each night, I’ve gotten into the habit of setting the stove timer in the kitchen as a backup in order to force myself to get up and out of bed. With Lap42’s focus on sunrise, I have to be aware of the time of sunrise on the coming day and am forced to reckon with how much time I’m allotting for sleep. I used to pride myself on only getting 5 hours of sleep, but not so anymore! Older, wiser, tired-er J. Self aware and in tune with the seasonal changes. I like that idea.

As I go through my regular days working in an office, what often excites me the most (aside from the bike ride in and out of work, when I pretend to be mountain biking on some small lip of gravelly trail in the Fenway area, not far from that awesome Foo concert …) is the ability to take time out of routine and notice things that others might not. Or even to look behind the curtain a bit whenever I see a new website or app, to see who’s developed the concept, what they’re all about, what platform they use, what drives them and their company or organization, etc., and to derive insights from stuff that’s hiding in plain sight and only requires a little extra effort to check out. And to find something goofy – a giphy meme or YouTube video – to share with my officemates and brighten their day. This kind of structured curiosity is something I aim to be more intentional about over the next year with this project without losing my sense of humor.

So, to summarize, my basic framework for daily posts includes a selfie at sunrise (or, if I’m with others, a group selfie – need to get myself a selfie stick!); notes and photos representing my day with links to other sites and media that might bring it all to life or add some flavor and fun; links to longer form blog posts on my Soul Searching Papa blog; some text or notes paying homage to the wisdom and wit of Douglas Adams; the title of a Foo Fighters song or two to represent my day; musings on the number 42; and thoughts on parenthood, growing up, and ways I’ve harnessed discomfort and intentionality to better myself and be a better husband, father, colleague, and friend while keeping it light and a little weird.

Life’s just too short to be quiet and comfortable and normal all the time or to wander through it like a zombie. I may continue to become less and less cool in my daughter’s eyes no matter how hard I try, and I’m certain (based on experience with my own dad) that my jokes will seem cornier and cornier by the day, but that’s all okay. I’m still moving forward, having fun, building a unique life with my family and friends. Round and round we all go in slow but sure laps around the sun, day by day, year by year, paso por paso 🙂 Wouldn’t want it any other way.

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