2016: Year of Loss

A common theme that resonated across social media towards the end of 2016 was that 2016 could “suck it”, that we’d lost too many great people this year.  It certainly did seem that way.  A friend and I were recently talking about this, and we realized this probably has to do with our age, that being smack dab in the middle of Generation X, we’re finally reaching that age where all our heroes and favorite entertainers are starting to die off, given how much older they are than us.  For me personally, 2016 was a year of great loss not just because of losing some of these artists that meant something to me, but also due to other personal loss that really hit deep.  Following I’m going to write about the combination of these losses; in order of chronology, not importance.

January came out swinging, hitting us all with loss of David Bowie.  His death hit me far harder than I would have expected.  I’ve long been a David Bowie fan, have a handful of his albums and really enjoy all his work, but don’t know that I necessarily would have called myself a “super-fan”, collecting everything he ever did.  However, as I thought about it, processing why I felt like I was grieving almost as if a personal friend had died, I realized something: he had been a large part of the soundtrack of my life.  His music was around from before I was even born, and with every new genre that got spawned within rock throughout my life, he was usually at the forefront, practically creating it.  When you look at how often he reinvented himself throughout his career, always keep himself interesting and relevant, it really is amazing.  He was always there, always pushing us.  The day before he died, my wife and I were listening to his latest and last album, “Blackstar”, which I had purchased when it came out the day before.  As I was listening to the lyrics of some key tunes, I said to my wife, “I hear a man who’s nearing the end of his life, and just doesn’t’ care about fame and all that crap anymore.  It all means nothing.”  The next day we found out he died, that he had kept this big secret of his liver cancer from everyone.  He was telling us, though, if you really listened, through his music.  He still continues to have a profound effect on me long after his death…

March brought the defining, brutal loss for me.  On March 12th I lost one of my best friends back in Colorado: Jeremy.  He was only slightly over a month away from his 45th birthday when he surprisingly died from a heart attack that was triggered by an infection that traveled from elsewhere in his body.  He had no health problems that brought it on; it was just a fluke thing.  Just a week prior I had been discussing with him plans to go out to Moab with him and some other friends of his for a mountain biking trip to celebrate his upcoming birthday.  He was a great guy, loved by everyone who knew him.  I flew back for his memorial service, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a room so packed with people to grieve for and celebrate someone.  We’d all get together again a couple of months later for a little concert festival to raise money for the family he left behind, and once again, it was amazing how many people came out for him.  There hasn’t been a day since his death that I haven’t thought about him, and I still miss all the future conversations, outdoor outings, parties, and good times we now never get to have.  I’m now 42, and that just seems too young to already be losing my friends to natural causes.  I’m tearing up a little just writing this, so moving on…

April…  Now Prince!  Are you fucking kidding me?!  Now it was a trifecta for me.  As with many from my generation, Prince was one of the first artists I really got into as I grew out of childhood into adolescence, one of the first artists that was creating my soundtrack by my own design.  Also, his death carried a little extra weight for us Minnesotans, as he’s always been much more of a cultural icon here.  So many entertainers that hit it big leave Minnesota once they do, heading for the coasts, but he chose to stay with us, still loved us and this place we all share.  In the Minneapolis metro area, that was especially significant.  If you went to First Avenue downtown the first couple nights after his death, it was crazy to see the amount of people that came out and flooded the streets to honor him.  Same thing at Paisley Park down in Chanhassen, where they actually had to close down the road to traffic due to all the people there.  The feeling of unity among fans was really something.  But back to the loss, this was like a hammer to the head after I’d already been punched in the gut and the face.  I was pretty down after Bowie, flat-out depressed after Jeremy, and now comes Prince, too.  And the thing that really hit me about Prince’s death – it was on Jeremy’s birthday.  So I’m already sad, thinking about my friend, and then get hit with this - the twist of the knife.  I already felt done with 2016, and we weren’t halfway through…

September – loss in pride of company.  In September my company was rocked a very public, national scandal.  I try not to publicly write about my employer, especially in the negative, but I’ll just say “phony accounts” and you’ll know whom I mean.  Then it was also revealed that whistle-blowers who tried to expose the problem early on had been fired.  A couple months later there’d be an addition of unauthorized insurance accounts being opened, etc.  It was a slew of stuff, and I won’t pretend that it compares to a death, but after you’ve worked at a company for a long time (which I have), it sort of becomes part of your identity, and to see that part be exposed as a massive fraud – well, that hurts.  It hurts when you no longer want to utter your company’s name when people ask where you work.  It’ll resolve in time, but a broken glass never really goes back together perfectly; it’ll always look a little different after broken.  The bright side, if there is one, is that at least the area I work in wasn't involved.

November – loss of country.  Now, Trump supporters might get all upset here, but this is a post about how I feel, so they can’t tell me I’m wrong.  When America elected Trump, even if it was with the minority of the popular vote, it essentially validated all the hateful and fascist things he spouted for those who agreed with him.  If you’re on social media much, or ever read comment sections at the end of news articles, you’ve likely seen the rise of racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Islamism, and just all around white supremacist behavior that has accompanied his rise.  It’s been quite astounding to me, the sheer volume of it.  It was always there, under the surface, but now there’s apparently no reason to hide, as they have a champion heading to the White House.  Not long ago, you had to try to hide your racism, as it was generally accepted as a societal wrong and you wouldn’t want to expose it.  Now, though, with a prominent racist at the top, people are exposing it with PRIDE.  It’d be one thing if it were just hateful online comments, but sadly there were also many physical attacks against people in these groups in the weeks immediately following the election.  Many people who voted for him claim, “I’m not a racist, and I voted for Trump,” and knowing these particular people, I believe them.  However, knowing that these attitudes were part of the package, if you still voted for him you might not have been voicing hatred for all the affected minority groups, but you at least said you didn’t care about them, as you were willing to risk their safety for whatever your reasons were to vote for him.  Anyway, the result of this election has me feeling like I don’t recognize my country anymore, like we’re about to step about a century back in terms of social progress.

As a side note for November, I’d also like to note the loss of Leonard Cohen.  I didn’t really start following Cohen until maybe 5-7 years ago, but in that time I’ve really come to appreciate his work.  His lyrics really spoke to me.  I think above all else he was a poet; he simply put his poetry to music.  His lyrical depth is right up there with Bob Dylan, in my opinion, and I appreciated how he was willing to explore darker themes.  He wasn’t a lifelong, defining musician for me in the way Prince or Bowie was, but I’ve really come to appreciate him in these later years, and regret that we’ll no longer have his unique voice providing us new perspectives going forward.

December – loss of stuff and a cultural icon.  December was going by largely without incident, seeming like it might ease 2016 out in a nice, easy fade.  And we had the new Star Wars movie, “Rogue One”, coming out, which I was very excited about it! [side note: it kicks ass]  If only that were the only Star Wars news we’d be getting that month, though…  Sadly, as I’m sure everyone reading this knows, we lost Carrie Fisher on December 27th, just a few days after her heart attack.  For many, Ms. Fisher was never anything more than Princess Leia.  She was so much more than that, though.  Besides acting in many other great films, she was a very accomplished writer, stage performer, and brilliant crusader on issues like mental health and drug addiction, both of which she suffered herself.  What I really admired about her was how open and honest she was about her own tribulations whenever she spoke publicly.  I think she honestly disarmed many interviewers, as they didn’t have to probe to get to any secrets because she just threw it all out on the table.  She was a brilliant woman, and I think the world’s a little darker with her absence.

The loss of stuff was the burglarizing of our house on the night following Christmas.  I won’t go into detail about that, as I already wrote very recently about that.  That happened pretty much the day before Ms. Fisher died, so that was a nice one-two punch that week.

OK, so 2016 sucked, right?  No!  I’d never say any one year is all good or all bad.  Yes, there were some bumps in the road, but there were also some great times, including a few fun trips I haven’t even had time to write about yet.  I had a great cross-MN bike tour (from IA border up to Lake Superior) with my friend Morgan, had a fun beer tour trip with my friend Gene out in CA (though it was on that trip that I got the news about Jeremy), had some fun camping/hiking trips with my family at various MN state parks, had a fun backpacking trip with my friend Mark back in CO, and much more.  As you see new images pop up on this site, they’re all from good times I had throughout the year.  This year just had a little more on the loss side than most years, so I felt I wanted to write about that.  Overall I can’t complain, though, and look forward to continue plowing ahead in 2017.


The Freelance Economy and the Potential Rollback of the ACA

I just read this article on the Star Tribune website about how the potential rollback of the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") could affect the "gig economy".  I invite you to read that article before reading the rest of this post.  The gist of the article, though, is that the gig economy - that part of the economy that involves freelancers and other workers that don't earn their income via traditional 9-to-5 employment - is now a much larger part of the economy now than it once was, and repealing the ACA could have a tremendous (negative) impact on those workers.

The effects will be felt not just on freelance workers like Lyft/Uber drivers, IT contractors, etc., but also on any artist or other creative professional, small business owners, etc.  Often, taking the risk to strike out on one's own is dependent on what healthcare costs will be for him/her and his/her family.  I know this has been a critical part of my calculation as I've considered leaving the corporate fold and striking out on my own in freelance capacities.  The discounts (insurance discounts via tax credits) that would be afforded me in the early year(s), as I likely make a far reduced income, are critical in those calculations as to whether I can realistically consider making such a move.  Being that I'm buying insurance for a family of five, affordability is a key factor when I look at a large initial income drop.  Seeing this huge uncertainty on the horizon, it has changed my calculus.  I don't see anything changing immediately for 2017, as the government machine can't turn quite that quick, but this could mean huge changes for 2018, and I'd hate to be staring down that barrel only a year into my new paradigm.

I've been lucky in that my employer, thankfully not wanting me to leave, has agreed to let me take a sabbatical of a few months this year instead, so I've withdrawn my resignation, won't be leaving the corporate fold quite yet after all.  Instead I'll simply be using this time away to accomplish some of the goals my planned exit from Corporate America was intended for anyway, and then I can see what happens after this first year into the new Presidency, reassess my long-term strategy.

 For those that don't have this option, though, or perhaps simply don't want it (they just really want to get out and be their own boss), I fret for how much harder this might make things for them.  My hope is that President-Elect Trump and the Republicans come to their senses and realize that taking away affordable healthcare options for millions of Americans is not a wise thing.  Indeed, even many of the people who voted and campaigned for him are now pleading that he please not take away their healthcare, so I have a slight bit of hope.  Not too much, though, as repeal was a campaign promise of his, and the rest of the party has been trying like hell to do so ever since it was originally passed.  I guess we'll see what happens...


Picture Dump: Autumn on the North Shore

Lake Superior, seen from one of Oberg Mountain's many scenic overlooks.

Back in October I took a quick up the North Shore to get some Fall color photos, the same trip I recently wrote about in this post.  That first night, when I shot those nightscapes, I was hiking up on Leveaux Mountain.  The following morning I packed up my camp over by Leveaux, hiked back down to my car in the parking lot and dropped off my pack, then walked across the road to hit the trail that goes up and around Oberg Mountain.

Looking out into Minnesota's "mountains" from one of Oberg's overlooks...

The Oberg Mountain loop is a trail that spurs off the Superior Hiking Trail, ascends quickly to near the summit, and then loops around the broad summit area (mountain "peaks" here tend to be broad, rounded tops as opposed to the steep, jagged mountain peaks you see out west).  I think there are eight scenic overlook points, if I recall correctly.  From the first overlook point I stopped at, I got the view above, looking away from the big lake into the mountains, and also this view below, looking across at Leveaux Mountain, where I had climbed the previous evening:

Leveaux Mountain, seen from overlook on Oberg Mountain.

And of course, there were great lake views, too; including Lake Superior, which you can see in the photo at the top of this post and a bit in the photo above of Levaux; and also lovely views of Oberg Lake, which lies below on the other side of Oberg Mountain, and which can be seen here:

Oberg Lake, seen from Oberg Mountain.

As you can see, the views were great all around, no matter which direction you looked.  This is probably one of the most popular Autumn hikes along the North Shore, so you won't exactly be alone if you choose to hike this trail during peak colors, but at the same time, I never felt crowded either.  Some people would come and go while I was stopped at the scenic overlooks, but then when I got hiking again, I was usually alone as I set my own pace and just carried on.  This is a trail I'd highly recommend if you want to see some of the best views and colors northern MN has to offer in the Fall.  I'll probably go again next year, this time with the family in tow.


p.s. photos can also be viewed in my Minnesota Landscapes gallery.


Well, it was a Merry Christmas indeed...  We spent a couple days out of town over Christmas, visiting my family for the holiday.  Monday morning, still out of town, we woke up to see that we had missed calls overnight from our home security company.  I called in, and it turns out the motion sensor and back door sensors had both gone off...

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