Saturday, December 30, 2006

ATO Founder's Day 2006

This has probably been a long-time coming (oh, since about April), but I finally got the pictures from Founder's Day/Weekend developed.

You can head to my Flickr account to see all of them, but here's some highlights for ATOs who are interested.

We played the usual wiffle ball game in the backyard, but this year is was all us Old Balls versus the current guys.

Thankfully we had our star picture (and my big bro) John Neff.

We also started up an impromptu poker tournament. Is that Neff looking at my ass?

Driver was so excited about the tournament he...well, he fell asleep. It was probably more because of a bunch of older 20-somethings trying to stay up late like rock stars. This is the result.

Gobble gobble. I don't know why me, Neff and Driver were doing the Wild Turkey salute. That was...Jesus...about seven years ago, and I'm surprised Driver would volunteer to relive such a painful reminder.

Rockin' the Freestyle, it's Gugin, Cowboy and Keith (with Driver hidden in the back) in Neff's very suburban, very domestic Ford SUV. Where were we going? Probably a late breakfast, to moan about our aches and pains from the night before.

Ugly as this is, it's before everything got really nasty. "Piano Man," Alpha Mu style. I was unprepared - I didn't wear my orange boxers, but they'll do. I think this is the first time I've seen Gugin's ass from this angle.

This is the last morning, just before Driver took off for Parts Unknown. He was the big traveler of the weekend, flying up from the southern lands to be with us.

The obligatory "In front of the crest" shot, with all the alumni who made it (except for Jim, Brent, and Nemo).

ATOs - feel free to steal the pics off my Flickr account. I know Gugin and I were always the big picture-takers in the fraternity, and I don't mind playing historian.

Hope all of you have a safe and happy New Year.

Love and respect.

Monday, December 18, 2006

On writing life down

Last night I decided to pick up a much-neglected habit, one that I've been putting off for the better part of a year: journal writing.

If you've ever tried to keep a regular journal or diary, you probably know how hard it can be - how long stretches of time can pass when you don't comment on anything, and much of what you do write is catch-up material.

I've always heard that the best writers keep a journal to put down their thoughts and experiences, a catalog of sorts for a life lived, day-by-day. They could then mine the journal for material. I've also heard that writing can help you to put down thoughts to ease the rambling in your head, and it's for this reason that I took up the practice.

I kept little notebooks - mostly the simple, ruled, spiral-bound kind - through high school, forgot about them through college, and picked up the practice again when I graduated. In fact, the one I found has the first entry marked "7-20-03," the summer after I left Adrian. Sometimes I would write often, sometimes I would go for months without putting anything down, but I dug it out last night just to see what I was thinking - Jesus! - three and a half years ago.

It's remarkable what changes in three years. I notice broad patterns of discussion, subjects that appear, then disappear, only to reappear months down the road. I write about Dayna a lot, because we were dating at the time. And I write about my then-new job (here's one, marked "8-3-03": "At least I have a steady, decent-paying job. My luck may have turned around. For once, things are going okay. A few goals left to achieve, and life will be good.") I write about issues I still struggle with today (at "8-19-03," I rant about my lack of self-discipline: "Usually writing things down helps me. Developing a habit helps even more...speaking of discipline, I need to exercise!").

A journal is kind of like a history for yourself, a written-down reminder of all the events and adventures you've been through. On "9-15-03," I write about first moving in with Don into Granada Apartments: "After having gone to 15 different schools until high school, the prospect of moving again, despite its inherent benefits, didn't seem fun...but I think I'm better now." I document grandma giving me her car, concerts Don and I went to (like coming back from KMFDM on "11-8-04": "On the way home, Don and I saw the Northern Lights. Beautiful! Subtle greens and pinks, and it looked like a quiet daylight at was perfect, a once-in-a-lifetime event!"), the 2004 election ("Bush won, Kerry lost. 'Nuff said."), Dayna and I splitting up (8-23-04, a single line before the split: "Wet eyes red no more.") - it all seems so long ago, but by reading through it last night it reminded me of a lot of things I haven't thought about.

Quite a bit reads like foreshadowing; me glimpsing into the future, or setting a path for myself that I've followed pretty well. On "10-4-04," after the split, I wonder what the heck I'm going to do with my new-found singleness: "Now I'm single again - for the first time in over three years. I must spend more time developing myself, really growing up and seeing what the world has to offer. It seems now is the time to take advantage of my youth, and do the things I've been wanting to do." Little did I know that following spring I would venture off to Chicago by myself, and the spring after that travel cross-country down a mythic highway. "Life's too short," I wrote. "Time to start enjoying it!"

I spot symptoms of behavior that I still feel today. On "12-28-04," I write: "My trip to Ann Arbor last weekend was a symptom of the deep wanderlust I have when life is in upheaval. My dad does it - guess I have some of that bug, too." Some things never change.

Life wasn't any simpler back then, either, such as on "1-27-05": "Between writing for the magazine, cleaning, reading, playing my new acoustic guitar, or other hobbies, I have a steady, always-filled 'to-do' list available." Hey, that sounds like a typical day today.

That summer brought a flurry of thoughts, emotions, reconnections and activities, until the fall when I found all the previous concerns I had written about "are no longer relavent," especially after "winding down a year of exploration."

Then it ends. A year and two months ago, "10-23-05" being my last entry.

After reading through three years of note-taking, I decided to start the practice up again. I struggled this spring and summer to kick-start the habit again (but kicked myself when I couldn't remember the password on the encrypted file on my iMac), but will now stick to pen and paper, and try to see what else I can accomplish in three year's time.

And maybe, years from now, I can look back and remember what life was like for a twenty-something Dave - a Dave probably still struggling with the same issues I face every year.

Maybe I've found life doesn't change all that much, just some of the characters, and some of the places.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The road to self-improvement

Home sick today, after having my top two wisdom teeth pulled out. The experience wasn't a fun one (I nearly ripped the dentist chair's arms off during the procedure), but it had to be done. So this morning I woke up to a bloody pillow, a sour feeling in my stomach, and two less teeth. Joy.

But I did manage to attend my final Financial Peace University Class last night with Suzanne, ending a 13-week long session of self-discovery and budgeting education.

Suzanne's boss paid for her to take the class, and since you're supposed to take it with a spouse - and she didn't have one - she invited me to attend with her. I was pretty skeptical at first. I was thinking it was another one of those get-rich-quick schemes; you know, buying or selling crap, real estate scams, etc.

Now, however, I'm so glad Suzanne invited me. The class has been one of those experiences where you wonder how you ever got along with out it.

Not that I've ever had big problems financially. I've always been pretty responsible, especially since leaving school. Except when it comes to debt, in which case I thought everyone gets in debt while they're at school. Right? Who doesn't have a student loan or a credit card these days?

"The borrower is slave to the lender," Dave Ramsey says, a quote he took from the Bible. Ramsey is the one who instructs the class (via a DVD series we watched at a local breakfast place, every Tuesday night). If you haven't heard of Dave Ramsey (he's got a pretty popular radio show), I suggest you check him out. At times he can be arrogant and tough, but he knows what he's talking about.

His motive is simple: get out of debt so you can use the money you're currently paying to credit card companies to build actual wealth.

And use financial methods our grandparents used. Not so much a can filled with cash on top of the refrigerator (or in the freezer, as my grandpa used to do), but building an emergency fund for those sure-to-come events in life, or buying things with cash and bargaining when the situation fits.

The plan involves baby steps and debt snowballs and all kind of neat (but truly legitimate) tricks to get yourself out of debt. Just the other week I paid off a credit card I've had since college. I even over-paid, so they have to send me a check for the remaining balance. And I'm going to frame that check to document the first time a debt-causing business has ever owed me money. It's a pretty good feeling.

Next will come a few other credit cards I've had, then paying off my vehicle early, then my student loans, and so on. I like the thought of not owing anyone any money, and I really like the thought of the house I could buy with all those saved payments. Imagine what you could do if you didn't have any student loan or credit card payments. I've already started imagining.

The whole thing has been a blast. I've started selling a lot of my crap on eBay, and I'm doing pretty well. With the money I've raised, I can hammer away at my debts. The program also includes budgeting, which I've always strangely enjoyed, and I'm finding that I'm spending less and saving more. That may mean I'm the designated driver a few more nights a month, but I have plenty of fun with the money I have.

Last night we had a nice potluck and handed out "graduation" certificates, but the over-arching theme of the night was people breathing a collective sigh of relief. This stuff should be taught at the high school level, before the credit card companies get to you, but we were all glad we learned it now. Better late than never.

I've also met a few new friends, and found out that just about everyone has money problems of some sort. The trick is, as Dave says, to manage your money - not let it manage you.

So off I go. Ready to pay off another credit card probably by the new year, and then another, and then I can use all the money I was making payment with to make bigger payments on the stuff that's left. It's brilliant. And I can't wait to be debt-free.

Dave Ramsey encourages the class to take the knowledge and spread it to others (free of charge!). I think that I'll save up and buy my dad a spot in the next class, because I know he's never been great with money.

It's probably the best gift I could give him.