Honestly, I don’t expect anyone to read this post, which I’m publishing on the barest of pretexts, and mostly just so I have it down myself. But maybe you should think of doing something similar, yourself.
Barest pretext: I’ve been indulging in rock biographies lately—first of Jim Morrison, then of Jimi Hendrix and currently of Janis Joplin. How did these people all die by 27? 1. They were crazy as shithouse rats. (Hendrix the least of the three.) 2. Like so many other musicians who gobbled uppers to get up for shows and downers to sleep after, they had impossible schedules (a new city every day and often two concerts a night) and thus, totally jangled lives.
Recently on an airplane, scrolling through my photos from a few years ago, I discovered that my 2016 must have been the most Morrison/Hendrix/Joplin year of my own life.
The countdown began toward a legal deadline to purchase the company I had been running, from one publisher—and prevent it from being purchased by another publisher. The price was dangerously steep, my fear was so intense that I almost stopped drinking because I couldn’t hack the jagged anxiety that came with hangovers. This sleepless financial/legal contest lasted through February. Bad setbacks and big breaks, nose-to-nose negotiations, pants-pissing chess moves made, and endless waiting games for moves to be made back. Truly the scariest period of my life. Felt like: Livelihood, yes or no.
The panic of starting a company. Anyone who’s been through it knows; anyone who hasn’t doesn’t have time to listen. Owning a company isn’t that hard; but starting one sure is. My accountant put it best when he talked about the feeling of “floating helplessly in the middle of the revenue stream.” A thousand life-or-death decisions a day, or so it felt. Out-of-control emotions, no perspective—and lots of operatic drama down at Chicago’s Main Post Office. To cope, I used to pretend I was being filmed for a documentary about entrepreneurship.
Due to a previous contractual arrangement, I emcee’d a conference put on by the very company that I’d just fought like a wolverine to wrest my company from. Late in the month, there was also a three-day bender so exuberant and mad that it ended in a near nervous breakdown when my car got booted in a liquor store parking lot, on my birthday.
Ran a 10-mile race in Chicago.
Ran a half-marathon in Des Moines, Iowa, the day after Muhammad Ali died.
Next night, learned my wife got laid off from her teaching job—that steady thing with benefits that made owning my own company financially plausible, if only barely.
A young Danish speechwriter came to stay with us in Chicago for a few days. Her sunny presence not wholly appreciated by my wife, who sat at the kitchen table working on her résumé in a hoodie, while the speechwriter, also a concert trumpeter, played scales on her brand new cornet. The Dane attended the first official event the Murray-owned company staged, where I cleared off the food table in the back—only to realize I’d just thrown away the whole class’s afternoon snack.
That sort of thing.
Off on my motorcycle to a profound Detroit reunion with my Aunt Joan, estranged for about three decades for reasons we shan’t go into now. Then onto Cleveland, for the Republican National Convention, to which I had secured a press pass. A gonzo week of bomb threats, pundit hobnobbing and political terror—
—and some of the best deadline writing I ever did, in the ink black night on a picnic table outside a boathouse in Rocky River, Ohio. Oh, and after that, a quick moto-sortie another couple hours east to Pittsburgh—and a ride home on which I was nearly decapitated in a tornadic country typhoon by a flying Trump 2016 sign.
A golf outing on which I also drank far too much; luckily one other guy drank even more and got all the attention. He’s now known as “Tito.”
I don’t remember September—likely, because it was mostly spent frantically preparing for the first gigantic conference I ever put using on great gobs of my own money. It was slated for October, in D.C.
I do remember that my wife got a job at another school a day or two before school was to start.
This is when things started getting busy. We held the conference, which was a big success despite the fact that the totally safe, known-quantity keynote speaker came across as so loathsome that I retired to the restroom in the middle of his shambling speech and asked the mirror whether the man in it might actually be cursed.
Later this same month, there was a family wedding in Colorado, at which I found myself among a bunch of related Rockies fans who were rooting for my beloved Chicago Cubs to lose the first World Series in which they’d appeared since 1945.
Our company hosted another important professional gathering in Chicago. Had a big party for some of the participants, at our house.
A few days later, I drove to Cleveland to see Game Six of the World Series, at the demanding invitation of my old college roommate.
The Cubs won, and after staying up the entire night, I drove back to Chicago in time to see Game Seven. The Cubs won again, and I stood out on Western Avenue with my seventh-grade daughter, laughing and crying and saying over and over again, “We won!”
Later that week I took my daughter and her best friend down to the victory parade, but we fled from the terrifyingly dense mob, under a cloud of choking marijuana smoke.
Trump won the presidential election, and when my daughter came downstairs and asked, “What happened?” I burst into tears.
The next week, a dear pal came to town and we very nearly got into a barroom fistfight over his feeling that I was overreacting about Trump.
There’s a bunch of stuff I’m forgetting.
But if I survived this series of events—and even lived to look back on much of it fondly—I reckon I can face down a lot more, if need be.
That’s good to know.