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A secret no more

Here and there, now and then, I’ve been dropping frustrated tweets about a secret I wasn’t keen on keeping. It feels like it’s been months. I think it HAS been months. But starting today I don’t have to keep it secret anymore.

Cheryl got a BIG promotion a couple months ago, but couldn’t tell anyone. She’d been promoted to a pretty high position, but the telling was reserved for someone higher still: the Secretary of her department in State Government. That was when we began to plan our latest move: to Gainesville, FL – a college town in north Florida, and home to our alma mater: The University of Florida. I started working on a transfer within my department, which I got… with a start date a week and a half ago. That’s why you may have seen an increase in the number of pictures posted by me on Facebook. You see, I’m a wee bit excited.

So, that’s the big secret. Only half of it has been much of a secret, with all those pictures I’ve been posting. But to a couple humble civil servants, Cheryl’s promotion is a big deal, and thus a big secret to keep.

Yesterday, she finally got word the move was official. Cheryl is due to report to her new office in early July. It caps a series of moves, promotions, and relocations for Cheryl and our family, which started eighteen months ago when we left the only home our kids had known in Dunedin.

I’m extremely proud of her. She’ll be managing her agency’s operations in the six counties of Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit. She’s gone higher, faster, than I thought possible – rising to a position in state government where you don’t submit an application – you’re appointed. (Something not common in Florida.)

Around the time we left Gainesville after graduation – as chance would have it, for Orlando – the talk about returning one day started. I’m not going to say it was our “dream” to return. It wasn’t, exactly. We thought it would be a cool thing to do, but something which wouldn’t be realistic for many years – if ever.

Now we’re here. We’ve returned to a place with special meaning to us. It’s the place where our relationship really stared – and blossomed. It’s the only town I’ve lived in Florida with it’s own sense of place. We’re leaving the congestion of central Florida and the I–4 corridor behind, replacing it with a liberal college town, surrounded by miles of rural roads and great bicycling. Hell, there are even hills here. It’s the first time the altimeter on my bike has registered three digits. Yes, I have an altimeter on my bike. Laugh with my blessing.

Life is not perfect. It never is. We’ve left family and friends behind before, and we’re doing it again. We left almost everything we had behind when we left Dunedin, and it feels like we’re starting over from scratch in Gainesville. I’m pretty damn excited though. Many people fear change, and to be honest, change hasn’t always been my friend either. But this change feels different. This move feels like the moves of my youth… an adventure. People talk about their youth in the context of life’s prime. I don’t. I didn’t come to accept who I am until these last few years. I didn’t come to accept some parts of my past, or my health, until this year. I think our prime may be right now.

Now you know.

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I’m shocked!

I’m shocked I tells ya! Shocked! And if iOS 8 auto-corrects my slang one more time I’m gonna give it a heave.

I talk about depression a fair bit, especially here, so you can imagine what my self image is like. Well, today someone called me “happy-go-lucky.” Let me tell you – that doesn’t fit my self image.

I think I mentioned trying to be positive in one of my previous posts, and how tiring it can be when I’m depressed. But I wonder. Maybe I’m so tired because I’m not just trying to but up a brave, positive front – I’m acting out a fully fleshed out role. Maybe I’m putting on another personality for a third of my life, while I’m at work.

I’m not sure if this is good or bad for me personally, but I’m glad someone sees me this way. I don’t want to be the mope – the buzz kill in the office. I’m glad I’m not, for everyone anyway.


John moves on

An open letter to my coworkers at the Largo CSE office:

It’s Sunday morning, December 29th, and I’m sitting in my new home in Orlando. We’re mid-move and I’ll be driving back to Dunedin this afternoon for one more week of work in Largo, but I’m already feeling nostalgic.

I drove past a vacant building this morning. It used to house a non-profit job training program, and my first job out of college. It was my only job since college, besides the one I’ve done for CSE the last eighteen years. It fit my mood. Part of me feels vacant. Part of me has already moved on… imagining a life where I don’t live or work in Pinellas County, and it leaves a void – you.

While there are reasons to look forward to the move, I will miss you. I may move away from home and make new friends, but you are my CSE family. I came to you as a twenty-three year old kid. You celebrated with me when my wife and I bought our first house and had our first (and second) child. You counseled and supported me through injury and illness, hospitalizations and surgeries. You helped me believe in myself. You helped me reach every success or award. These things don’t merely make you important to me, they make you irreplaceable.

With some exceptions, I don’t think I’m known as a talker. (If only you knew ;-) Because of this, the timing of our move (during the holiday season), and my transfer going through much faster than I thought, I haven’t had the chance to speak to nearly enough of you in person. I’d much rather say these things to many of you face to face, and maybe we’ll get that chance in the next week. But if we don’t, please know this: despite fatigue and discomfort from illness and injury during recent years, which dampened my enthusiasm, the time I’ve spent with you and the things we’ve accomplished together are precious to me.

My only regret is I didn’t work with more of you – that I didn’t know some of you as more than another friendly face passing in the halls. But in either case, thank you all so much – with all my heart. You mean more to me than you may ever know. I hope I’ve given each of you a fraction in return for what you gave me.

I leave you all with these final thoughts. I wish all of you the best. May your endeavors bring you everywhere in life you choose to go, and may you have a good time getting there.



I looked up on my way out the door this afternoon. There’s an exit sign pointing to the parking lot as you leave my office.

“Tomorrow will be the last time I look up at that sign.” I thought to myself.

Tomorrow will be my last day at work in Clearwater. I’ve worked there since the fall of 1996. Seventeen years wouldn’t give a lot of folks pause, but if you were to look through my eyes it would seem like forever.

We didn’t have kids. We were a month or more from learning Cheryl was pregnant with our first. We lived in a small, two bedroom condo we rented from Cheryl’s parents. I still drove my first car purchased with my own money. The adventures of George Bush were safely contained in Texas, and he and his pal Karl had yet to be inflicted on an unsuspecting nation.

But the most startling thing of all: a Democrat was Governor of Florida – good ‘ole Walkin’ Lawton Chiles.

It’s not like I’m quitting my job though. I’ll still be working for the State of Florida on Friday, in the same capacity I’m doing so now. I’ll just be doing it from a drab, state owned building in Largo. We’ll be trading old-growth oaks, shade, and a view of Tampa Bay for pavement, concrete, and lots of pink stucco.

A Judge I worked with years ago used to ask me, “Do you have to pay the State to work here every day?” Despite the location on the water, the buildings themselves weren’t kept as well as others might, which made the lease affordable for a government agency – even in Florida. Still, I’ve always thought we had it made.

You can’t put a price on a little bit of peace amid the chaos our jobs can be.

Well, I suppose you can if you own the place.


The disappearance of John

It’s been a while, eh?

In terms of writing and this blog, I’m in a funny place. I know a lot of people who are sick, injured, or feeling the pain of life beating them down. I say “a lot,” but it’s not… exactly. Everything’s relative, right? But whether we’re talking raw numbers or just percentages, I’d like to be a voice of reassurance. I’d like to be strong, spouting words of inspiration capable of changing lives.

Aim a bit high much?

When other folks are down I don’t want to hitch my car to the train. I don’t want to be a “me too” every time someone faces adversity. Mostly, I don’t think I deserve the same attention. I don’t think my problems rise to the same level. I don’t want to devalue other people’s suffering with my little problems. I don’t want to be the little boy who cried woe.

However, it occurs to me tonight – as I’m not sleeping – I’m doing neither. I’m not whining or inspiring. I start posts with a couple sentences and stop cold, my heart miles from my words. The Facebook app on my phone becomes an icon of guilt… the feed reader app a convenient victim of forgetfulness. Instead of talking or writing I’m disappearing. This can’t be healthy.

So, what gives? This year has been a series of little things piling up and weighing me down, creating a little snowball in my mind that not only gets bigger but makes use of every berm or rut on its way downhill to avoid all obstacles. These little things shouldn’t amount to much, even taken together.

A change at work.
The almost inevitable distance that grows between former coworkers.
A dislocated thumb.
Unflattering stories in the news involving my employer.
Cheryl taking a second job so necessaries don’t have to join discretionary spending.
A political climate that mistakes anything resembling compassion for a compromise of “American Values.”
A pesky problem with my neck.

This stuff is so mundane I’d be bored if I were you.

If Cheryl was awake she’d tell you the word pesky does not apply if I’m seeing a neurosurgeon later this morning, but I like the word. Pesky. Maybe it’s just the repressed Red Sox fan in me (Go Rays!).

Whatever the reason friends, please forgive my absences. All evidence to the contrary, you’re rarely far from my thoughts.


Life changes

Catching up…

How long has it been since my last post with substance? By any measure it’s been a while, so I thought I’d bring you up to speed on my life (a melodramatic adventure sure to keep you reclined in your seat).

If you want to skip the whining, I don’t blame you. Skip down to where it says: “The Good Stuff.”

Relative to my life, there’s a lot of change going on these days. They’re the kind of changes you see coming months down the road, so there isn’t any shock involved. I don’t consider myself afraid of change, but I am saddened by some of them.

Seeing it comimg, I’ve spent the last several months feeling a little melancholy.

Nothing is changing as much as work. Just about everything is changing except the person signing my checks. No, work isn’t my whole life, but I do spend a lot of my life at work. I’ve worked with my team for almost seventeen years.

Dear Lord, seventeen years. In many ways I don’t feel far removed from being seventeen. Working for a single employer this long seems unheard of, let alone within the same organizational unit. Maybe change is overdue.

We’ve changed some in that time. No organization goes completely unchanged for that long. I’ve been promoted, we’ve changed locations, and our team’s responsibilities have evolved. But this week we’re essentially blowing the whole thing up and starting over. (Looking at the big picture, this will be a good thing for the people we serve). Me and most of my coworkers (some for the entire 17 years) will scatter to the winds.

These folks have been my friends, counselors, mentors – my family – for a long time. I’ll miss them all terribly.

Speaking of work, our health insurance is changing, though not to the extend things are at the office. This is (hopefully) a tweak to our coverage – another move by state leaders to balance the budget on the backs of those with little political pull. It appears nothing of consequence is changing, but healthcare is one place I DO fear change.

Speaking of insurance, we were dropped by our homeowner’s insurance provider – like many of our fellow Floridians. We’ve never made a claim, our property has never been damaged by storms (from the time our house was built), we’re not in a flood zone, and we’re at a relatively high elevation for living on the world’s largest populated sandbar. (Note: I don’t know if that’s in any way true.) Gosh darn it, we’re good people too!

Like many Floridians, this leaves us at the mercy of the insurer of last resort: a semi-public organization that until recently was forbidden by state law to charge less than the private competition. (I think there are still some restrictions, but until now I’ve had little reason to pay close attention.) Heaven forbid! That’s right: even if all the private insurance companies in Florida didn’t want our business, the state is forbidden to do it cheaper – even if it could.

It gets better. State leaders, under the guise of “doing something about rising insurance rates,” did what good Republicans do best: they made it easier for big business to fuck us. Insurance companies are no longer required to provide sink hole coverage as part of a standard homeowner’s policy. Of course they can write separate policies for sink hole coverage at rates dictated by “The Free Market (R).” The best part of this is we’ll be paying twenty-five percent more for coverage without the sink hole coverage.

Three cheers for the Florida Legislature!

Some of you may be wondering, “why should folks be forced to buy sink hole coverage?” Some of you may wonder why we’re required to carry auto insurance if we drive. Some of you may wonder why it “only takes one time” to have a child.

OK, that wasn’t fair. Even many Floridians don’t know why we have sink holes in Florida. Google “karst topography” and/or the Florida Aquifer. You’ll find a much better explanation than I could give. For now, just take it on faith – we get a lot of sink holes in Florida. Not having sink hole coverage is like not having collision insurance for the left side of your car.

Actually, that’s probably not fair to auto insurance. Claims involving sink holes are the most common among all claims on homeowner’s policies in Florida. (In the interest of full disclosure I’m not sure that’s true.) I’ll bet cars are stolen or rear-ended way more often than they take a driver’s side T-Bone.

Yeah, WAY!

Anyway, that’s all I have in the way of self-pity for now. That wasn’t too bad was it?

** – – The Good Stuff – – **

The good news is the depression has been mostly under control for a while now. I’ve had little tastes here and there, but it’s been short term stuff – not the weeks/months of hopelessness that have consumed me in the past. I don’t like drugs, but I like depression a LOT less.

The leukemia remains in the shadows. It’s not in remission, but it hasn’t been for two years now. We’re still waiting for the symptoms to be worse than the cure, and we’re still not close.

Now THAT’S chronic baby!

Beth is continuing her tear through high school. She brought home yet another semester of straight A’s this month. It’s getting to the point I can’t remember when she last got something other than an A. In fact, she was exempted from mid-terms for her efforts, so she got extra time tacked onto Christmas Break.

This is where Cheryl tells you I can’t remember this morning, so don’t be too impressed.

If Beth is on a tear, Adam’s using a wrecking ball. I think I’ve signed (maybe) two tests where he missed one question since he started first grade in August. Part of me worries it’s too easy – that what he’s primarily learning is he doesn’t have to try.

Leave it to me to worry after only a few months of first grade – because his grades are TOO good.

Cheryl and I started doing things without the kids again, thanks to slave labor Beth’s increasing maturity and responsibility. It’s been a long time since we did things together on a regular basis – too long. We’re fixing that now.

It’s my favorite time of year in Florida. We can go outside without a gallon of fresh water for every hour we’re out. It’s not as cool as I’d like, but it is still Florida. We’ve been skating, hiking, walking, and generally enjoying outdoor life.

Where ever you are, I hope you’re getting plenty of chances to enjoy life too.


Thankful for Thanksgiving

My glass is a third full this morning and do you know what that means? Yep, I’m giddier than a tweener with a back stage pass to meet Justin Bieber.

It’s Thanksgiving week and that means I’ll be enjoying my longest stacation in a year. Vacation, you ask? What does THAT mean?

I’m working this week, so I’m one of the lucky few to enjoy open roads and incredible parking opportunities.

Kinda makes you want to work this week, doesn’t it? Admit it. The combination of low traffic, parking, and low productivity expectations make this week (commonly referred to as Christmas Prep Week) one of the best work weeks of the year.

Come to think of it, I take it all back. Stay home, or go on your silly little vacations. Leave the simple pleasures in life to those in need.

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Feeling safe until I don’t

Work is a safe zone. It’s one of the few places I can speak freely. It’s one of the few places I feel competent, where I can act and speak with confidence. But it’s fragile state. It’s not just the people I work with, though they are great (my second family). It’s the setting. It’s the subject matter of most discussions, or the ones most likely to come up. It all combines to create a comfort zone that exists in too few places in my world.

Every three months we’re allowed to take a long lunch as a team. It’s our quarterly luncheon. It consists of most of us (since all of us usually can’t get away from court on the same day), a restaurant, a meal, a brief meeting, and time to just hang out away from the office. It is not a safe zone. Take away the office and it’s like any other social setting. My mere presence requires effort, which requires energy, which slowly drains as time passes. I can feel my silence physically. It hangs around my neck like a heavy sign that says, “pray for me, I’m a doofus.” Words don’t just fail me, they abandon ship, and without them I sink.

It’s quite a transformation and it exposes one root of my shyness. Unless I’m extremely familiar with the people AND the topic discussed, I feel inferior. What’s worse, this feeling creates a feedback loop, decreasing the likelihood I’ll have something to say exponentially. I feel inferior so I don’t join in right away. Then I feel self conscious about my silence which leads to anxiety, which in turn leads to greater feelings of inferiority.

The effort I talked about before comes into play at this point. This is where I maintain the front. The front is calm, cool, and collected. The front doesn’t sneak away to hide someplace safe. The front tracks the conversation with eye contact and appropriate facial expressions. The front erects a shell of comfort while the interior is anything but. The front is exhausting. Sometimes I wonder if my friends or family recognize the front when it’s present, if they realize how paralyzed I really am, or how often.

Work isn’t my only safe zone, and for that I’m very thankful.