What we missed about Trump’s win…and what we need to do about it

What we missed about Trump’s win…and what we need to do about it

I’m a vocal #NeverTrump Republican with a background in GOP politics. I’m a Seattle-area native living in New Orleans and have many friends from Seattle, college, and other paths in life that are staunch Democrats. I’ve seen the complete gamut of responses to Donald Trump’s electoral victory. And I’m here to tell you almost all of us missed something.

To my left-of-center friends, I share your dismay in a Donald Trump Presidency. To my right-of-center friends, if Republicans don’t deliver for the key voters that made Trump President, Democrats will come roaring back. Either way, we all have work to do.

Here’s why: as much as many people — myself included — lamented the complete shittiness that is Donald Trump’s treatment of most of humanity, especially women and minorities; many key voters that turned the Rust Belt from blue to red saw that too…and still voted for Donald Trump.

Why?

Racism? No.

Of 676 counties across America that voted for Barack Obama twice, 209 of them voted for Trump. Seems like the racists had their chance to vote on that factor in 2008 and 2012. Meanwhile, liberal writer Kevin Drum cites data that disproves the idea of “whitelash” as a major factor in the election.

What about misogyny? Probably not.

70% of respondents to exit polls said Trump’s treatment of women bothers them. 29% of them still voted for Trump!

In fact, there is a critical mass of voters that saw many flaws in both candidates. 14% in the exit polls said neither Clinton nor Trump is qualified to be president. Those voters went 69% to 15% for Trump!

So, if some people that recognized Trump’s behavior, including towards women and minorities, is a problem, why did they vote for him?

A big hint: in those same exit polls, 29% of voters said their financial situation is worse than four years ago. 78% of them voted for Trump!

Much has been written already in the last week of what would prompt voters across the Rust Belt to vote Barack Obama followed by Donald Trump (examples from the Washington Post and the Harvard Business Review). Michael Moore — yes, that guy! — has had some insightful things to say as well, such as this unprecedented 45-minutes-with-no-commercials segment on Morning Joe, about why working class folks in the Midwest flipped this election.

What were those folks looking for? Back to those exit polls: 39% of voters picked “can bring change” as the “candidate quality” that “mattered most.” 83% of them voted for Trump.

There you go.

As troubling as President-elect Trump is, there is a reason it happened. Thousands upon thousands of white, working class voters who previously voted for Obama said, “I’m not happy with how I and my community are doing. We’re being left behind by this economy and our government, and mocked by popular culture. Both these candidates suck, but I’ll vote for the guy who says he’s going to blow it all up. It’s worth a shot.”

Visualizing the shift is valuable in understanding what happened. This work by the New York Times shows how counties shifted their votes from 2012 to 2016, with big movements toward Trump in some parts of the country, as indicated by a red arrows. The bigger the arrow, the bigger the shift. This view however is startling in the concentration of where votes shifted the most:

image1

Boom, there’s your election.

I remember watching CNN on election night, hearing John King zero in on how blue collar counties in the Midwest were moving from pro-Obama in 2012 to pro-Trump in 2016. Two of the many King cited that jumped out to me:

  • Blue collar Erie County, Pennsylvania shifted from 58% – 41% for Obama to 49% – 48% for Trump, an 18 point swing.
  • Union heavy Macomb County, Michigan, home of the original Reagan Democrats, shifted from 52% – 48% for Obama to 54 – 42% for Trump, a 16 point swing.

Sobering.

And since both major parties are coalitions, neither party can abandon working class, white voters in the Midwest any more than they can abandon suburban voters if they want to win nationally and build a governing coalition.

For Democrats: yes, some Trump voters are racists, misogynist, and generally awful people. Bad news: awful people exist on both sides of the aisle, only the particulars of their insanity, intolerance, and anger vary. No one should spend time wooing them or accepting people like the alt-Right in polite society (we should fight that scourge vigorously!). Yet, the reason we have President Trump is that many voters that chose Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 voted for Cheetoh Jesus in 2016. They don’t believe the Democratic party helped them these last several years. You have work to do.

For Republicans: yes, the party now controls the White House, Congress, and a huge tide of Governorships and State Legislatures. But, voters that picked Barack Obama then Donald Trump clearly aren’t wedded to conservative governing principles. If you don’t help these voters, they have no allegiance to you either, nor perhaps a whole lot of patience. You also have work to do.

Some policy options: better education, more retraining assistance, more policies that support families, including health care and child care, and economic growth that reaches these communities. No party has a monopoly on ideas to address those challenges.

Publicly  getting out to visit and listen to these parts of the country would be damn wise too. These fellow Americans need to be heard, and know they’ve been heard too.

I confess my own biases. I grew up on the West Coast, in the suburbs, and spent most of my life in such environments. I choose to live in an urban area now. I’m a white-collar professional. I eat a plant-based diet. I practice yoga. I don’t instinctively identify with a blue-collar, union household outside of Detroit, Michigan or Akron, Ohio.

A lot of us are in that boat. And we better start listening.

Add up the indicators from this election season, then combine that with the recent trend of increase in mortality rates among less educated whites:

Late last year, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that middle-aged, white Americans have been getting sicker and dying in greater numbers, even as the rest of the world is living longer and healthier.

The authors of that study attributed the trend to what we called “despair deaths:” mainly suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related liver disease.

This is not just a political issue. This is a societal issue. The despair and frustration that leads thousands of people to say, “Yep, I know Donald Trump is a walking disaster zone, but he’s still my best choice because of where things are at” is also driving people to alcohol and other drugs for solace. To the point they’re killing themselves. Vote shaming and protests in the streets of large cities won’t solve this problem.

Combine the election of Donald Trump with Brexit and the rightward shift in European politics as a whole you find another indicator: segments of Western society as a whole are struggling to cope with our rapidly changing modern world. Rightly or wrongly, that’s reality.

We can lament the racism, classism, or whatever other “isms” that might associate with such movements, especially on the fringes. The David Dukes on the right and the anarchists of the left should be welcomed by no one. Meanwhile, as much as there are many other factors in this election — and issues to lament (hello, mainstream media!) — white, working class voters in the Midwest swung this election. Neither major political party will be a major party in the future if they ignore that.

We all have work to do.

Letting go before the final leap to New Orleans

This move to change our lives is happening.

I leave for New Orleans this morning. My son, Joseph, and I hit the road straight from my last day at work to drop his car off for college in Montana, then it’s on to the Big Easy to join my wife, Stephani, and daughter, Sophia, who have been there since July 23.

This is exciting…and scary.

Let me tell you a secret: this transition from Seattle to New Orleans has been hard. It has been emotional. Sometimes it has been downright fucking painful, including because I made things harder than they needed to be.

Why?

The stress of this cross-country move has been real. It ebbs and flows and has different flavors: the finances of paying for it all, the logistics of moving our stuff across the country (or not) in phases, and exiting our home in the Seattle area.

There there’s the pain we experienced in the Pacific Northwest we remained in for months between the decision to move and our final landing. The joyless existence of living in the rental house that daily represented the life we no longer wished to live, including because the house was sparsely furnished after buying our new home in April and moving things down to set it up on Airbnb.

The unknown of buying a house before I have a new career lined up in New Orleans has also weighed heavy on me (see the part about paying for the move!). Being a professional in transition, both at my current employer and looking toward by future in New Orleans, has not been easy.

Throw in the rest of life: being a spouse. Being a parent. Being a professional. Finding time to take care of yourself.

Now throw in my faults as a human being and I made mistakes. I didn’t show up how I wanted or my family needed. Other people got hurt. I got hurt. It was not fun.

I’m still a work in progress. Yes, I had a huge transformation, but my character defects  didn’t magically disappear when things changed a few years ago.

I have not been the picture of zen and serenity through this, especially inside. Sometimes I’ve been a cranky bastard with a short fuse and the adventure definitely has its lows because of that.

I’m an over-thinker and a worrier. Someone who retreats into himself rather than bare my soul when I’m stressed. And there has been a lot of stress.

I learned that lesson about how we can make our own lives more difficult than it needs to be. And because of that, I learned I have more work to do.

Almost everything about this move has now required me to let go in new ways.

  • Letting go of the idea that landing a new job needed to precede our move.
  • Letting go of knowing where the money for this transition was going to come from.
  • Letting go of the unrealistic expectations of what our house in the Seattle area would look like during the transition.
  • Letting go of all the painful emotions that moving in this way, including going through — and in many cases discarding — memory-inducing possessions, reveals.
  • Letting go of the idea that I have or need to have all the answers as we make this transition.

Problem: I’m not very good at letting go. It’s not my natural state. It’s not how I’ve lived much of my life.

Something happened at the end of June that began to shift that. We had the chance to escape to Breitenbush Hot Springs in the midst of this madness. That meant five days and four nights of no cell coverage and no WiFi in the mountains of Oregon. Sophia finished yoga teacher training at a retreat there. Stephani and I tagged along for the ride to make it a personal break while supporting her (and yes, Sophia finished her training and is now a certified yoga teacher at 16 years of age…awesome!).

Stephani bought me a book, The Untethered Soul,  during a stop in Portland on the way to the retreat. A Tibetan shop-keeper recommended it to her for me (while I sat on the top of a double-decker bus turned coffee shop drinking Turkish coffee after filling our bellies at our favorite restaurant in Portlandia). This was not a coincidence.

The book was just what I needed at that time, in that place. I paced my way through it in the relaxing quiet and tranquility of Breitenbush, finishing right before we packed-up to leave (also, not a coincidence).

There’s an entire chapter on “Pain, the Price of Freedom.” Yes, indeed it is the price. And the pathway to the freedom we’re seeking to create in our lives in moving has very much had it’s pain, no small part of it caused by my reactions to stress rather than anything else.

Pain isn’t the end of the world, but it can cause problems. The author says at one point, “If life unfolds in a way that stimulates your inner problems, then by definition, it’s not okay.”

Problem: a lot of my life during the last few months have been filled with things that stimulate those inner problems. That hasn’t been good for me. It sure hasn’t been good for my family. Mission #1 for me in New Orleans: get in a rhythm and flow that stimulates the best of me, not the worst.

Yet, however, much I try, I know none of us can fully escape those ingredients that cause us problems. Thus, slowly I’ve been working the last few weeks to increasingly follow the book’s counsel: “relax, then release.” It’s a simple phrase that encapsulates much of the work’s theme of different aspects of letting go of the things we have weighing us down. A simple phrase with a lot packed in to the book (which if you’re intrigued by these concepts, you should read!).

Friends, I’ve had a lot of things weighing me down recently. It’s time to let them go.

This past couple weeks I’ve done a lot of sorting through old things. Things filled with memories from my childhood, college, and my life as an adult. Many pleasant memories, many not, including in reflecting how I showed up in them. Ultimately, a lot of things that stirred emotion…and some deep fucking pain.

 

That’s a big part of why it’s time for me to let go. It’s not always easy or instinctive for me, but I don’t have a choice. The alternative is not the life I want to live.

This drive for New Orleans will be a splendid, father-son road trip, taking us to parts of the country we’ve never experienced before. A new journey to start a new adventure, whose foundation has to be for me about letting go of the past so that what’s possible and waiting for me in the future is allowed to be…and flourish.

That IS the life I want to live.

Time to let that happen.

 

It’s Time for White People to Speak Up

More specifically: white, middle class people, from outside urban areas…and especially those that consider themselves Republicans or conservatives.

Because what happened with black men getting shot recently in Louisiana and Minnesota is not ok.

The subsequent violence against police officers — especially the horrific murders in Dallas — is equally not ok.

Here’s the problem: lots of people like me, middle class, white, not-urban…and conservative…had comparatively little to say about what happened to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, but much more to say when innocent cops started dying in Dallas .

That has to change.

Both were terribly wrong. Scenes like people lining up to hug cops in Dallas are a sign there is hope. But, real hope won’t come from hugs. It will come when white people who have heretofore been silent about such issues start speaking up to demand change.

Newt Gingrich was right (yes, I said that…and may not say it again for quite a while) in his Facebook Live chat with Van Jones. Most white people don’t understand what it’s like to grow up black. Especially grow up a black male.

We middle class whites have many reasons to not identify with or empathize with the black experience. We, especially outside the South or major urban areas, didn’t grow up exposed to black communities, including the experience with economic want that pervades too many black families. Our opportunity at a high quality education was often dramatically different. And we didn’t experience the direct and indirect racism they’ve encountered in their lives.

A perfect example of that difference in experience:  Ron Sims tale of  living and driving in Seattle while black. Ron is a former King County Councilman, King County Executive, and Deputy Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He’s an upstanding, leading citizen in our society. Ron’s been stopped by police eight times in Seattle, with the consistent theme that he’s guilty of driving while black. There is no other conclusion when he is never cited but always asked where he’s going and does he live in the neighborhood.

Not. Acceptable.

Ron’s tale via words on Facebook is helpful, but it is the combination of video and social media that will likely truly change our understanding. Conservative political pundit Matt Lewis nailed it in describing how social media and video has transformed how we understand and think about this issue, by increasing access to images we wouldn’t otherwise experience in our lives, and images that dramatically expand our understanding of the issue.

Newt said many whites “instinctively under-estimate the level of discrimination” black people face in America. Lewis says why the under-estimation is starting to change. Correct. Because watching Alton Sterling and Philando Castile bleed out on video doesn’t leave you a lot of options if you’re intellectually honest about the horror unfolding.

I stand guilty as charged throughout much of my life of that critique of of middle class whites. I’m white, grew up in an upper-middle class home in a suburb of Seattle, and went to private high school as well as a highly selective liberal arts college back east. I’m also a Republican — though far, far from the stereotype (and virulently anti-Trump) — who has worked for Republican elected officials and knows many conservatives because of my past professional life and political experience. For years, I consistently underestimated the discrimination black people experience.

What changed for me on this issue? Increased exposure to video of police misbehavior is a contributing factor. So to was a recent diversity & inclusion training I took that led me to re-think a number of my assumptions and beliefs. And I think moving to New Orleans soon plays a big role too.

I went to college in Virginia and have traveled through parts of the South. I’m a history and political science major who knows quite well our national past on the issue of race. I know things are different from the Pacific Northwest I grew up (above and beyond Ron’s troubling experience in Seattle). But visiting New Orleans several times in advance of our final move gave me a new and deeper perspective on race issues.

New Orleans is in the Deep South. For all the welcoming and funky vibe of the Big Easy, racial tension is palpable. I’ve observed it in white people. I’ve observed  it in black people. I’ve been on the receiving end of it when it was loudly and visibly clear my white family wasn’t welcome where we were at in one neighborhood (conversely, we feel delightfully welcome in the predominantly black neighborhood we choose as our home).

Talking with others from New Orleans about that topic and thinking about it further led me to the same conclusion as Newt Gingrich. I have in the past “instinctively under-estimated” the discrimination black people have experienced, especially when that experience spans generations of white-black racial tension that is embedded into some communities.

At the same time, I have friends and others I know, love, and respect who are currently or formerly in law enforcement. I trust and respect them for all the reasons the police are traditionally respected in our country. They’re good people, risking their safety to serve our communities.

Yet for all the good cops out there, there are also bad and indifferent ones too. And those bad or indifferent cops need to  be held accountable, learn some empathy and compassion, or find new employment.

What can white people do about all this? Demand that empathy and accountability from law enforcement and the elected officials who oversee them.  We should want more of this cop who brought food to a woman caught stealing eggs to feed her kids and less of incidents like this past week that spark further violence and rage.

The officers responsible for those murders in Minnesota and Louisiana need to be held accountable. They could also learn some basic empathy. You know what was missing from each situation after shots were fired? Any serious attempt to treat the now disabled “suspect” who is bleeding to death in front of them. What the actual fuck is that?

One gets the impression from such videos that cops are taught empathy at the police academy about as much as doctors are taught in medical school about how to have a serious conversation — rather than just prescribing some pills — with a patient whose diabetes and heart disease is a result of their grossly unhealthy lifestyle. Meaning: precious little.

That has to change. We can’t really on the empathy police cadets enter the academy with, because humanity is too imperfect.

Where does that change start? I wish I knew exactly, but for all of us it probably starts by showing a little more compassion, a little more love, a little more empathy, a little more effort to think about what the shoe is like on the other foot.

Beyond that, when the opportunity comes, it’s on us to speak up for police accountability and empathy. By us, I mean middle class whites, especially conservatives. We’re the critical mass that can have an impact on this issue. Liberals and other activists have already been having their say, with modest effect on some of these topics . We don’t need to have the exact same policy goals at this point. Just a shared commitment to a decent society with a little bit of compassion. It’s gotten that fucking basic right now.

It’s time.

We live in a beautiful country, my friends.

The Chugach Mountains rise out of the forest surrounding Anchorage.


Our country is beautiful beyond words. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton can’t change that.

“Beautiful” is probably not what comes to mind when you think of our singular national event this year: the Presidential election.

The phenomena known as the candidacy of Donald Trump is anything but beautiful. Perhaps intriguing in its defiance of the known laws of politics…basic decency, the remotest sense of competence, coherent intellectual thought, etc. But, definitely not beautiful.

And if there was no Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton would be Donald Trump, the major party candidate with astronomically high negative ratings. No beauty there either.

I’ll tell you what’s beautiful about America. The diverse, majesty of our country is beautiful. Something neither the madness of Donald Trump nor the deplorableness of Hillary Clinton can take from us.

I’m on a plane from Anchorage to Seattle as I typed most of this, completing a turn and burn trip for work. Meanwhile, I’ve been travelling to New Orleans in preparation for my move there. I’m getting a fascinating view of our nation. And if there are two more different parts of country than Louisiana and Alaska I’m open to offers, but you’ll have trouble making the sale.

There’s something you should know about Alaska: it’s big. Gigantic. Huge. This geography geek’s visual proves the point. When you say your state is big, Alaska laughs, pats you on the head, and says “bless your heart.”

Even a simple trip to Anchorage proves the point. Look out the window of the plane riding over the coast of southeast Alaska on the way north and you can’t miss it. Mountain after glorious mountain. And I mean mountains.  Not what passes for mountains east of the Rockies.

Mountains. Covered with snow and glaciers throughout the year. Majestic. One after the other. Row upon row. Rising towers of rock above the earth. Like something out of Lord of the Rings (Tolkien geeks: think of the scene in the Return of the King when the beacons of Gondor are lit to summon aid from Rohan).

Everything is bigger in Alaska. Even the mudflats where sea meets land can range for hundreds of yards, with their own network of rivers and channels. And the forests. Green upon green, for as far as the eye can see. Covering the landscape, including huge islands where no human treads, no road roams. Where miles of pristine beach stretch untouched, for lack of humans to reach them.

A view out a building of even modest height in Anchorage shows all these things. The ocean. Mudflats. A sea of trees. The glorious mountains of the Chugach, in near inconceivable proximity to a major US city. Hovering over life on the edge of the world.

And the edge of the world it is. Even as there is much further north to travel from Anchorage to the reaches of Alaska, far to the coasts of the Bering Sea, the desolate North Slope, and the deep isolation of the soaring mountains, endless forests, and sprawling tundra of the Bush. Even in Anchorage, you know you’re far from the rest of the country.  On this last trip to Alaska of several I have taken for work I noticed for the first time: a Blockbuster Video is still in business.

Even a short distance from Anchorage by car can show you the edge of the world, such as the majestic Turnagain Arm, a fjord-like intrusion of water into the heart of mountains that spring from the sea. Mountains that when you ascend near the top to view the world your heart will nearly crack with wonder at the glory of this creation in which we abide.

What I’m describing is not the United States many of us know. It’s unique. Different. And so very, far away.

In Anchorage you know you’re far from everything else. Over 3 hours by plane, sharply northwest from Seattle, itself in the far northwest of the Continental US. Anchorage is a modern city in one of our United States. Yet, it is an outpost. The urban hub in a place where the state capitol (Juneau) has no paved road leading in and out because of its geographic isolation. Home to industries of oil and natural gas as well as the harvesting of sea life, where people live by extracting natural resources for the care and feeding of the distant, congregated masses of the nation.

Life in Alaska is hard. You can see it in the people. They look the part. Rugged. Weather-worn. Tougher than many of us care to know or understand.

People assembled to perform that extraction at the hard edges of the world. People living in conditions most of couldn’t tolerate year around. Extreme weather. Extreme daylight and darkness. Extreme isolation.

The buildings in Anchorage tell you life is hard. The country is beautiful. The buildings of the city are not. Many are downright ugly by many standards. They’re not built to be pretty. They’re built to protect you from the weather and to allow you to do what you need to do indoors.

In strong contrast, the buildings of New Orleans are endlessly beautiful. Not in a brand new construction, everything is in splendidly perfect order beautiful. In bright, bold colors with indescribable historic charm and glory that delights just as much as the raw physical beauty of Alaska. It is the oldness of the soul, nestled in the Deep South, as Alaska is to the newness of the soul we explore the ends of our world.

In New Orleans, there is a magic, woven into the layers of the historic, beating heart of the city. To be in the Big Easy is to understand this. To understand the lovely compilation of the old South and the rest of our nation. And when you find it, it will call to you. Call you to a place where there is always a party. A parade. Costumes. Beads. Always something to celebrate in this thing we call life in a community that will offer you a friendly embrace because that’s who they are.

You will find nothing of the sort in Anchorage. No such never-ending party. No such colorful joy. But, you may well find something else  in Alaska: a bold, majestic natural beauty that may speak to your soul and call you deeper into its reaches.

This is the dichotomy, and beauty of our nation. From Anchorage to New Orleans, and everything in between. We’re Americans.

From the wonderfully friendly and fit people of Utah as I passed through Salt Lake City to the pleasant, amiable – if chubby – people of the Midwest as I passed through St. Louis, I’ve seen other pieces of the puzzle of our nation as I’ve travelled in recent weeks.

We are a glorious, diverse lot. We live in a beautiful country.

A country with a system of government delightfully (and mercifully in light of this year!) designed to de-centralize power. A President Trump or a President Clinton is not likely to be pleasant.

But, there is only so much they can do.

While our national visit from the fuck-up fairy seems rather severe right now (and indeed it is!), Trump or Clinton have to deal with Congress and the Courts whom our Founding Fathers intentionally desi1gned to thwart the designs of power-hungry leaders. Thank you Madison, Hamiltion, et. al.!

Even as we inevitably put that separation of powers to the test, we can also take comfort in knowing the ugliness of our politics will not permanently harm the beauty of our nation and its people. From the natural glory of Alaska to the eclectic assemblage of humanity in New Orleans. There’s nothing a horrific and lamentable Presidential election can do to change that.

Thank God.

I’m out.


Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand and hold to it. The consequences may become unpleasant, muddy, and at times painful. So be it. Holding to principle and respecting your own integrity may require it.

Donald Trump is just such a line.

My thoughts on the Donald are already in writing. Put more succinctly: no fucking way.

I’m a Reublican who will never vote for Donald Trump; #NeverTrump to the end, and proudly so.

My previous post on the topic provides the case for those interested in rehashing the many reasons to oppose the short-fingered vulgarian. The animating reason remains this: he is wholly unfit to occupy the Oval Office.

I worked for a Republican US Senator and a Republican President, in sum for nearly 10 years. Almost a quarter of my life.

I worked for them because I believed. Not that they were perfect, they weren’t. But for whatever faults the public perceived, they were honorable men. Men of intellect. Men of principle. Men of dignity.

Donald Trump is none of those things.

Man or woman, of any political affiliation,those attributes should be a basic requirement to serve as President  of the United States.

I will neither vote for Hillary Clinton. While not the same threat to the Republic as Trump, her flaws are also too many. I’ll vote 3rd party or pass on over the race for President when voting.

Why? Especially when it comes to the Donald, I can’t look my kids in the eye and say “yes, you might not agree with the President but respect them and their team. They serve our country.” I worked for George W. Bush. And I respect President Obama and his team for their service, politics aside.

Not with the Donald. Not with his ego-uber alles approach to life.  Not with his clown show of thugs, sycophants, and the grammatically inept around him.

Let us respect instead the people in Congress and the Courts who will serve as a necessary check against the excesses of a Trump Administration. A Clinton Administration reprise would likely be only a milder, less tabloid headline-rich version of the same.

And for God’s sake, let’s do better in 2020. Republican and Democrat alike.

We have a house in New Orleans now…and why we’re moving there

So, I own a house in New Orleans now. This is getting real.

Lots I could say about this part of our adventure, but I’ll focus on a  few key things:

  • Moving out-of-state isn’t easy, but totally manageable if you go with the flow. A lot of things didn’t go as exactly as planned in our whirlwind of buying a house and getting it set-up to rent on Airbnb until we move south for good this summer. Check out links here and here for more on this adventurous part of our tale. The process is definitely more fun if you accept what the universe is offering rather than insisting on your plan being the only way to get there. I’ve tried the latter approach before and don’t recommend it!
  • All the little things point to something that was meant to be. The link above about how crazy day of “oops-we’re-not-buying-this-house-let’s-buy-this-one-instead” has a lot of that. We ended up with a better home because of it. Here’s a couple more examples of how this was meant to be:
    • Everything has come together with the myriad appointments at the house we’ve had to have in handful of days between getting our keys at leaving town: cable, gas, alarm, housekeeper (for Airbnb turnover), handyman for some additional repairs we wanted done, etc. All not easy to coordinate, let alone in a way that didn’t have us trapped at the house waiting for people, but the pieces of the puzzle came together because we let things happen, and didn’t freak out when something went awry.
    • Many of my books we brought to help decorate the house are so inadvertently fitting of what we’re doing in New Orleans. There are copious books on Civil War history…because it’s in the South! There are books on our Founding Fathers…who bought Louisiana! There are books on the Napoleonic era…because New Orleans has deep French roots (to the point there are streets named after famous French victories in the Napoloenic era, such as Marengo, Jena, and Austerlitz). These are all areas of history I have loved through the years. They all happen to fit perfectly in New Orleans. Coincidence? Probably not.
  • Then there is our real estate agent. Yes, our real estate agent, Karon Reese. I grew up in a home where the residential real estate business was my parents’ primary income. I can tell the BS artists from the real McCoy. And my God, is our agent legit.
    • We found her on a seemingly random referral from the owner of a yoga studio where we took a class on an earlier trip to NOLA. The studio is in a splendid, old walk-up apartment converted into a combined yoga studio & living space. The owner is Karon’s daughter. Karon helped her find that space, and obviously came highly recommended. There are indeed no coincidences, because Karon helped guide us through every step of our home-buying roller coaster (including details I haven’t taken the time to list on the blog). It wouldn’t have all worked out, especially on the timing we needed, without her…and with way more work than she could have been reasonably expected to do for a rather modest home purchase.
    • Here’s the deal: for all that, I love her for more he genuine authenticity in welcoming us to New Orleans than anything else. There’s “thanks for being my client” and there’s “I’m thrilled you’re joining our community!” The latter is what we got from Karon, to the point I kinda teared up when I read the card that accompanied her gift to us when we closed on the house, and why we now consider her a friend.
    • Karon’s also a symbol of the genuine warmth with which we’ve been greeted in New Orleans. Yep, the weird, hippie Seattleites already feel at home in NOLA because people are so friendly and welcoming.
  • Here’s the biggest thing I noticed: we come alive in New Orleans. A co-worker and Facebook friend commented on a photo I posted from New Orleans noting how “alive” I look. Then there was this Facebook post from my bride:

    Up at 4 am, sitting on my porch listening to the thunder after a Deep, quality, dreamless sleep. The sleep that’s eluded me most of my life.

    My feet are filthy from stomping around in my backyard barefoot. I found some old cinder blocks back there, and decided to paint them and build a bookshelf out of them.

    I forgot to put on a bra or change my clothes yesterday.

    I couldn’t find a picture I liked for my bedroom, so I painted one.

    I’ve barely been on social media. I’ve been cooking. I’ve been cleaning, creating, decorating. Living.

    My brain works differently down here. It works better. Way better.

    I’m awake.

    I’m home. NOLA

Yes, this has been an interesting adventure. And that’s cool. But, our move is about something different.

People ask why we’re moving to New Orleans when they hear they news.

The answer is that post from my wife.

That’s why.

Because finding the place you can be alive and be the person/people you were meant to be is so very worth it.

I realized on this trip to the Big Easy, after reflecting on being there and my time at school in Virginia that I’m meant to be in the South. It’s where I feel most comfortable. I’m still not normal. I still don’t fit a stereotype, but it’s where I belong.

That’s why we couldn’t be more happy with both the home and the community that is waiting for us in New Orleans now.

Be the droplet of water, that ripples through the years

While buying and setting-up a house in New Orleans this week, something has been on my mind.

A fellow who swam at my alma mater passed away recently. He graduated in the spring of ’93, with a cohort of fellows who were the stuff of legend among the upper class Mary Washington College Eagles I joined my freshman year in Fredericksburg, VA the fall of the same year. His name was Josh Lontz. I met him though never had cause to know him well.

Yet, the emotion I’ve seen upon his passing from my fellow Eagles on a Facebook group for Mary Washington swim alums struck me. Our college days were from the pre-cell phone era, so old photos are now being posted in the group to commemorate Josh. The posts are emotional, amplified for me by the photos being from the pool deck and other scenes around Mary Washington and its swim team that I know and love.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on why this was all sticking with me. Then this morning, one of that cohort of fellows, Adam Owings, posted the below text on Facebook as a tribute to his friend Josh and some thoughts on why swimming still matters to him.

Many of themes will be familiar if you’ve been reading this blog. The power of being part of things you love. The fact there are no coincidences. The ability of a higher power in the universe to deliver, often at just the right time (and especially when you let it happen!). The powerful, formative, and emotional impact of being part of a team you love.

What Adam wrote resonated so much with me I asked if I could share it more broadly. He said yes. Here are Adam’s beautiful words:

Some things happened this week to remind me how much swimming has meant to me, and how much it still does.

It started with somber news: a college teammate and friend, Josh Lontz, died last Tuesday after a long battle with brain cancer.

At 6’8″, Josh stuck out in just about any crowd. And his height wasn’t the only reason: he was one of the most affable people I’ve ever known – in or out of the pool; an extroverted introvert. A gentle giant with a kind heart, open ear, and ready hand. I don’t know that I ever heard Josh speak an unkind word about anyone, and I don’t think I ever heard him curse.

He was as tall as he was goofy, and insisted there was one sure-fire way to make any movie better: more explosions.

He lived in Atlanta, with his wife, Alison. Josh was an urban planner and helped design the town (the town, people!) of Sandy Springs. I always thought that was so cool.

I wasn’t as connected with Josh during his last few years as I wish I’d been. He was never far in my thoughts. He was a good man. I should have told him.

I was thinking about Josh during my Saturday morning swim. How it’d be great to joke with him on the wall again between sets. The universe seemed to hear me. The guy in the next lane at Claude Moore asked if I was swimming Colonies Zone Masters this weekend at George Mason. (I’m not; it’s the third year in a row I’ve wanted to, but missed it due to family or personal obligations.)

We started talking. Turns out Bob swam at U.T. Austin in the 70s. We’d both gotten back into the pool following long hiatuses. He’d been a breaststroker and IM’er, like me. His team’s sports psychologist was Dr. Keith Bell; my coach and team used Dr. Bell’s swimming-specific psychology book, “Winning Isn’t Normal,” to turn off our brains and let our bodies do what we’d trained them to do: swim fast.

Bob and I agreed there was nothing quite like the contented exhaustion (and lingering smell of chlorine) that follows a good swim.

Like me, some of Bob’s closest friends today are his college teammates. And we talked about the remarkable positive influence the sport – and swimmers – can have, from childhood on. The first person I met when I moved to Pennsylvania in 1985 as a shameless-sack-of-bones teen was a kid on the swim team. Three decades later, we’re still friends.

I was flabbergasted by my connections and commonalities with Bob, nearly overwhelmed in the moment by a flood of emotions. The universe is a funny place. I kept swimming.

Friendship, camaraderie, and coincidence swam through my head during my daughters’ Saturday afternoon swim meet. While I would love for my kids to love swimming as much as I did and as much as I do – for the friendships and fitness and competition – they need to love it. I can’t love it for them.

They seem like they might be on that path: between the two of them, they dropped 21 seconds across three events; snagged two heat-winner ribbons; and won one event overall. They also smiled and giggled and joked and jabbered with friends, old and brand-new. And it struck me: they might know some of these kids for the rest of their lives.

Josh’s mom died last year. Reflecting on her remarkable life, he likened her to a water droplet. It was an apt comparison. She had taught hundreds (thousands?) of kids and adults to swim. If she were a droplet, and Josh were a ripple, then surely each of us is both a droplet and a ripple in the lives of others.

Josh’s words about his mom apply equally to himself:

“[He] lived and loved doing it. I was so very lucky to be part of this droplet put here into the water.

I am still part of this drop of water. It quenched so many and the ripples from it will be reverberating for many, many years.”

josh and adam

Adam (right), with his friend, Josh, (left).

My thanks to Adam for letting me post this. He’s one of those people that you meet over social media and wish you had had the chance to be friends in person. He’s a good man.

I think Adam would also join me in recommending those books by Dr. Keith Bell to anyone looking to get out of their own head and increase their performance. Swimmers in particular will like them, but the lessons apply in many ways. Adam’s post reminded me I need to load them on my Kindle. Great lessons, and great memories from those days on the Mary Washington College swim team. A team for which I’d still run through brick walls, for all the reasons Adam captured.

Those books are a drop that becomes a ripple. Josh was too. Adam’s post has now accomplished the same thing. I hope you find a way today, this week, or sometime soon to be the drop that becomes a ripple too.