Sunday, August 7, 2016

The 10 Pop Punk Albums That Most Need a Vinyl Pressing

As I promised in an earlier post, I intend to use this blog to speak about my passions as much as I use it to write about the heavier things (e.g. last post). If you’ve known me at any point in the past 15 years, you know that I never grew out of being a pop punk enthusiast. If you’ve known me at any point in the past three years, you also know that I have become an avid collector of vinyl records, with a collection that spans nearly 200 records as of this post. As much as I can appreciate the convenience of having my music digitally, I love vinyl. I like having something tangible to hold onto, and I have made it a point to try to collect all of my favorite albums in that format. That said, there are a number of albums that I absolutely adore that have not yet been pressed to vinyl. If any bands or execs are somehow reading this, get on it! Here are (in my opinion) the ten pop punk albums that most need a vinyl pressing.

10. Go:Audio – Made Up Stories (2009)
The Argument For:
Admittedly I do not have much of a leg to stand on here, as this album was the band’s lone output and was not received to critical acclaim. However, it has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. The British pop punk boom of the 2000s that started with Busted and McFly and carried on to Eliot Minor and You Me At Six reached a poppier destination with bands such as Go:Audio and Twenty Twenty. Made Up Stories features a steaming bowl of melodrama and heartbreak (“She Left Me”, “Made Up Stories”… well, if I’m being honest, pretty much everything), complete with British accents. It might not be the best, but this is my list and I’m keeping it on here!


9. New Found Glory – Catalyst (2004)
The Argument For:
Recently I read an article that referred to New Found Glory as a “Wal-Mart version of Blink-182”. I hate that assessment. The difference between NFG and Blink is that NFG didn’t need to resort to snot-nosed immaturity to get noticed. While their self-titled output and its successor, Sticks and Stones, put the band on the map (and let’s face it, what teen *wasn’t* singing the chorus to “My Friends Over You last decade), Catalyst is the album that took NFG to its greatest heights. While I am a bigger fan of its successor (SPOILER: it will also be on this list), this is both a fantastic and important pop punk album.


8. Hawk Nelson – Letters to the President (2004)
The Argument For:
As pop punk was finding its place on the mainstream market in the early to mid-2000s, there was also a boom for the genre within the Christian market as well. One band that benefited from this boom was Canadian pop punk outfit Hawk Nelson. Their debut studio album, Letters to the President, was everything my high school self wanted in a pop punk album. It was catchy, positive, and relatable. As other primarily (or even nebulously) Christian albums are starting to receive the vinyl treatment, it’s time this album gets noticed as well.


7. Forever the Sickest Kids – Underdog Alma Mater (2008)
The Argument For:
Having actually met these guys, they’re fantastic and genuine people, and people want to hear songs that are not only relatable but come from a place of sincerity as well. FTSK’s following two albums are pressed to vinyl, and neither of those albums put them on the map in quite the same way that Underdog Alma Mater did. It’s got a brighter sound than many of its contemporaries from the same time period (Set Your Goals, A Day to Remember, Four Year Strong), and while the sound of those other bands is probably what will be remembered from that time period, it would be a shame if FTSK didn’t get the love they deserve as well.


6. FM Static – What Are You Waiting For? (2003)
The Argument For:
A side gig for members of Thousand Foot Krutch, FM Static was another band that rose to prominence on the Christian airwaves during the pop punk boom of the middle of last decade. I cannot begin to tell you how much I played this album my senior year of high school. If you want adolescent heartache and heartbreak (here’s to you, “Definitely Maybe”, and hey, isn’t that what pop punk is all about?), few albums do it better.


5. Simple Plan – Still Not Getting Any (2004)
The Argument For:
Simple Plan is everything about the genre that people outside the genre hate and people inside the genre love. They’re a bit overly dramatic. They want to remain young. They will take everything they’re feeling and hit you in the mouth with it. For those reasons, they didn’t explode into the mainstream like contemporaries Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco did because they were much more reticent to evolve. This band, this sound, and this album represent a specific time period for the genre, and it would be a shame if that were to be forgotten.


4. We the Kings – We the Kings (2007)
The Argument For:
While not groundbreaking in the slightest, this album is perfectly pleasant. People may have tired of “Check Yes, Juliet” by now, but back in 2008 it was a banger. As catchy as that song was, there are probably three or four other songs on the album that are even catchier. As Boys Like Girls’ self-titled and Hey Monday’s Hold On Tight have been pressed, We the Kings’ debut effort deserves that same treatment as well.


3. Mayday Parade – Anywhere But Here (2009)
The Argument For:
For some inexplicable reason, this is the only album in Mayday Parade’s discography that has not received the vinyl treatment, which should be reason alone to put it to wax. If that is not reason enough for you, let me also state that this is my favorite album in the band’s catalog. It certainly differs from its predecessor as it was the first album to not feature Jason Lancaster, but this album showcases Mayday Parade doing what Mayday Parade does best: alternating between breaking your heart and breaking your neck with its energy. One of these songs was even featured in a commercial for Frozen.


2. Sum 41 – Underclass Hero (2007)
The Argument For:
Concept albums when done well are some of my favorite things in the world. The flow and clarity of a concept album truly enables the listener to focus and be immersed. This album is a concept album that covers Deryck Whibley’s views on life and relationships, and while I cannot say that he and I share the same views on everything, I have to say that this album is masterfully done. While more hardcore fans of Sum 41 don’t necessarily appreciate this album in comparison to the band’s earlier catalog, the reality is that bands as well as people grow and mature. If I were to recommend a pop punk concept album, I would look no further than this album.


1. New Found Glory – Coming Home (2006)
The Argument For:
New Found Glory decided to grow up for this album, and what resulted was what I believe to be the band’s finest work, an album that took everything we knew about the band and turned it on its head. To me, this album represents growing up and making things work whilst not losing the very essence of what made you special to begin with. The grouping of songs is magnificent as well, as “Love and Pain”, “Familiar Landscapes”, and “When I Die” take the listener on an emotional journey that must be listened to be understood. New Found Glory has never quite reached the heights to which they ascended on this album ever again. It’s time this album gets immortalized the way it deserves.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Dismantling the Bomb That Is My Life

One aspect of being Jakob Duehr that is a two-edged sword is the constant introspection. My mind is never shut off. I am always trying to figure out what isn’t working and subsequently attempting (admittedly, not always succeeding) to fix it. This summer I have had the opportunity to do a great deal of introspection, and I have to confess that there is a lot I do not like.

I live my life within the confines of timeframes and deadlines. My life feels as if it is a constant race against the clock, that if I do not accomplish this specific thing by this specific time, the clock will run out. As a result, I often feel as if living my life is akin to attempting to dismantle a bomb. If I do not succeed within the timeframe to which I have allotted myself, I fear that everything will blow up in my face and that those things will never happen.

This particular struggle has been stronger this year than ever as I stare down the end of my 20s and prepare to enter my 30s. Put bluntly, I am not where I thought I would be at this point. Perhaps I didn’t view things from a realistic lens, but adulthood has presented greater and more numerous challenges than I was prepared to encounter. I have felt a much stronger sense of urgency this year, as I try to knock out so many things that I felt I should have accomplished by now.

The problem with this line of thinking is that dismantling a bomb, though it must be done within a certain timeframe, takes a great deal of patience. Those who know how to dismantle bombs recognize that certain actions must be done in a specific sequence, and one small mistake can cause the entire situation to quite literally blow up in their face. I would be awful at dismantling bombs. In fact, I believe it would be safe to say that attempting to dismantle a bomb would be the death of me. When I feel that I am up against the wall, I start to press, to push harder and more quickly. I initially act impulsively and without much thought. I spend more thought time kicking myself for acting impulsively and erring than I do in actually thinking out the best course of action to make things happen. My fear of time has been one of the greatest factors in many of my failures.

It didn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t have to stay this way. Too often I find myself asking “Well if not now, then when?” Urgency in and of itself is not a bad thing. However, there is a time and a place for urgency. A football team that runs the two-minute drill for an entire game is going to be worn out by the time that the actual two-minute drill would be needed. Likewise, I wear myself out so much by pressing about anything and everything, that when it actually *is* crunch time in my life, I don’t have the energy or the clarity of mind to attack it appropriately. I have to remind myself that it is good to be driven, to have dreams, and to wish for more. But things do not always happen within my own arbitrary limits. Even though I have not accomplished everything I thought I would by the age of 30, I still have accomplished many things. 30 does not signal that the game is over. I still have time to accomplish the rest. With greater focus and patience, I will probably have an even greater chance of ascending to the heights to which I aspire. I just cannot continue to get in my own way and be the cause of things blowing up in my face.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Redesign. Rebuild. Reclaim.

As I emerge from what has to be the lengthiest writing hiatus I have taken in my adult years, I find myself in the unique position of having a lot to say but a hard time expressing it. That said, I find it important to my own well-being to challenge myself and channel creativity through this outlet, so I guess I will work out the kinks as I go along.

By this point, I am sure the vast majority of you are well aware that I am a man of many interests and a few passions. One of them is pro wrestling. Before you exit this post and run for cover, rest assured that this post will not be about the WWE or any other form of wrestling. That said, the inspiration for the title did come from there. Back in the fall, the champion at the time, Seth Rollins (a guy with whom I share many interests and a similar Midwestern background) incurred a freak injury in the ring and was pronounced out for an extended period of time. Soon after, he took to social media with the phrase “Redesign. Rebuild. Reclaim.” I found that title the perfect place to start my writing again. Each of the words in that phrase has particular meaning to me and my personal journey, and now is probably as good a time as any to share where I have been and where I am going.

REDESIGN
A year ago, I was teetering on the edge. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. I really could have gone either way. I could either recapture the reins of my life, or I could be lost for good. Fortunately I was able to find inspiration from my failures and use them to refine me into a better man. I learned that it was okay to fail, that I had to face the reality in front of me, and that if I wanted better, I had to be better. I consider it a miracle that I came out of things a better man than I was. As things in my life began to fall into place (the job, the car, the busier social calendar), I realized that the changes I had undergone were just the beginning.

“If I dare open my month, it’ll just be to bite my tongue…”

One of the most humbling things in the era of social media is the “On This Day” feature on Facebook. For those of you unfamiliar with the application, “On This Day” shows you the posts you have made on that date over the duration of your time on the site. I would love to be able to say that I’ve been an awesome guy for a long time, but that quite honestly is not the case. I have been humbled to see that I have been needy at best and completely obnoxious and borderline abrasive at worst. I am too old to act that way. I’m going to be 30(!) next year. To become a man is to leave childish things in the past.

I have always taken pride in being an honest person. If someone asks me a direct question, I am going to give them a direct answer. It is how I was raised. That said, there is a difference between being a man of integrity and being an opinionated blowhard. Unfortunately my history of honesty is accompanied by a history of social media rants and meltdowns that occurred as a direct result of some disappointment or perceived slight in my life. I have burned bridges, damaged friendships, and hurt people I legitimately care about. I took a take me or leave me attitude with people. In hindsight, I don’t blame those who did leave me one bit.

Social media can be a great thing. It allows friendships to continue in the face of time and distance. It also allows new friendships to bloom. This year alone, I have gotten the opportunity to spend time with Shannon, Ken, Tiffany, and Kim in person. I met each of them through various social media and likely would not have met them otherwise. I had no desire to give up social media. However, I had to reinvent or redesign my approach to it.

A lot of people have made comments to me about my diminished presence on Facebook. That has been by design. The world has little use for my opinions. If I have to make the choice of “maintaining a presence” whilst simultaneously sucking as a person or turning off the microphone so to speak, I am going to choose the latter. For that very reason, my blog has been dormant for a while as well. I have learned that the weight of your words is inversely proportionate to the quantity of them. When there is something to say, then say it. Use discretion and discernment to determine what is indeed worth saying. It’s okay to have opinions, feelings, and passions. However, it is not always appropriate to share these things. I have probably learned this lesson later than most, but I am a better person for it.

REBUILD

We built this blog on words and words.
I never had any intention of giving up writing completely, but the longer I went without writing, the harder it was to get back into the routine. In the past, it was commonplace for me to sit down at my computer with little more than a title and a basic idea and emerge 20 minutes later with 2000 words and a piece of writing of which I was fairly proud.

It is my sincerest intention that my writings have never read as overly opinionated or preachy. My sincere intent is to provide an honest look at my life as well as the lessons I have learned. The teacher in me desires for no one to have to make the same mistakes I have made. I see myself as a 29 year old who still has some potential left in him, but as someone who better get moving to reach that potential before that potential vanishes into the night. Because I am hypersensitive to not trying to preach at you, I do intend to change the scope of this blog a bit. The lessons will be there, but the heavy stuff won’t be the bulk of what I say, at least not for this season. I am a man of many interests and passions, and I intend to write about them. For the longest time, I was hesitant to do so because I feared that nobody would read them because nobody cared about the things I care about. I’m going to do it anyway. If I can share my passions with you, I can hopefully give you a better glimpse of the complete Jakob.

Some things we rebuild are more abstract.
We are all shaped to some extent by disappointment, but I personally have allowed disappointment to shape me into something that is not good. People have a prerogative to do what works for them. Sometimes, whether they intend it or not, it will have a negative effect on me. That’s a side effect of living on this planet. I do not have to like every bitter pill that is handed to me. Some of them I do not even have to accept. That said, it is not my right to lash out. I have had to rebuild many relationships over time because of my inability to recognize this. I’m learning.

Another cruel reality of living is that figurative storms will come and destroy what you have built with little warning or little you can do to prevent the destruction. In March, one of those hit my life. I hate being coy, but it’s not the right time to go into detail Someday, I will. It blindsided me and was very damaging to the confidence I had built in both life in general and in myself. It would be extremely easy to simply tap out, and I would be lying if I said the thought did not linger in my mind.

Rebuilding is not an easy process. It means that you built something and for one reason or another have to build again. But remember this (and I have to remind myself this constantly), to be in a rebuilding stage means that you were able to build something once. If you were able to do something once, you can do it again!

RECLAIM
You may want to sit down for this part (if you are not already sitting), because there is going to be some harsh reality coming. I find that with each passing day, I am completely sickened to be a part of this world and a part of this society. Some days I do not even know where to start. I feel like Elliot in the pilot episode of Mr. Robot in which he goes on an intense diatribe (within his head) to his therapist about the things that bother him about the world.

I am embarrassed to live in a country that can’t get along about anything. Every day seemingly presents a new issue to divide the masses. Part of the reason I post infrequently on Facebook is because I have no desire to add to the mindless drivel I see on both sides of the line. I see the Religious Right acting less like the hands and feet of Jesus and more like the mouth of the Pharisees. I see the Social Justice Warriors of the left taking umbrage at every perceived slight. There is no love anymore, just love buttons on social media. It is okay to have opinions. It is okay to disagree. But it is imperative that love stays a part of the equation, or these wars of words and ideologies will create irreparable damages. Can people at least TRY to understand one another?

I hate that I live in a world where it is increasingly impossible to live out of desire but instead there is an indentured servitude to the daily grind. We do things out of survival. We work our 9 to 5 jobs just to have enough to do it again for another two week turn. It bothers me to no end that the rug is constantly pulled out from under those who seem to actually succeed and build momentum, whether in the workplace or in our joke of an electoral process. I loathe the media and the role it plays in creating a hivemind that is not rooted in reality but rather a warped “reality” backed by whatever group decides to line that network’s pocket.

In this vast network of sharks and minnows, where the minnows outnumber the sharks a million to one, why is it that we have yet to converge, to take on the upper hand? Why have we been so scared? Well, not today, not anymore! This is us, growing up, still young but no longer impressionable.
The worst thing I could do is take all of the things I said above and passively resign myself to the notion that things are what they are and that is all they will ever be. Yes, it bothers me that this is the world that Hadley (my niece) and my future children will enter. For lack of a better term, things suck. But I am not about to take it lying down! There are enough of us out there, the intelligent, the young, the hungry. We can do something to reclaim this world and make it a better place not only for us but for the younger ones who do not deserve to enter a game that is rigged for them to fail. We don’t have to agree, but we must work together!

Now is the time for us to get our act together. We are at a point in history like I was last summer where we can go either way. Be smart. Be informed. Inform others without being preachy or judgmental. Find your cause, but only fight about the things worth fighting for. If it doesn’t affect you negatively, why fight against it? Have real conversations. Work together. Whether it’s your house, your school, your neighborhood, your workplace, or something on a larger scale, work to make it better. It is ours to reclaim, and I for one will not go down without a fight.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in Review

Many traditions come and go. However, some traditions stand the test of time. As I have grown, I have relinquished many of my personal traditions. However, my “Year in Review” post still stands. Though there was an unexpected delay in posting, this is the 12th (!!) edition of this post, and it remains an important exercise in introspection. 2015 was a unique year. As usual, there will be a month-by-month rundown of the year with some closing thoughts about the year as a whole

January: 2015 displayed its bipolar nature almost from the start. I had the opportunity to see my friend Dan for the first time in nearly three years, but I also got sick twice over the course of the month. For a few days I was virtually without a voice. Mrs. Balfour and I were informed the day we returned from break that we were going to be moved into a special education classroom. The rapport we had built with our students for an entire semester was gone, and we were forced to start from scratch. The Seahawks completed an improbable run to the Super Bowl by making one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history over the Packers. I officially completed grad school and achieved my goal of graduating with a 4.0 grade point average. It felt like things in my life were about to fall into place (from a personal standpoint, at least).

February: February could not be classified as anything less than a massive disappointment. My Seahawks were in position to win their second consecutive Super Bowl were it not for a poorly called and executed play that lost them the game. My obsessive nature put perhaps the final nail in the coffin of a pursuit with someone I cared about very much and thought I was going to date. Work was physically and emotionally draining.

March: I wish I could say that this month was the month that I got my act together and turned things around. It wasn’t. However, some very good things happened. My sister gave birth to an absolutely beautiful baby girl and I became an uncle for the first time. Since my parents went out to North Carolina to spend a few weeks with them, I was the only one from my immediate family in Illinois for a few weeks. I was pleased with myself for how well I handled responsibilities and independence. I met a number of new people this month. Unfortunately, I also injured my knee when I was chased by a dog during one of my runs. This injury completely threw off my workout regimen and I gradually got out of shape. However, the month ended on a strong note, as I had the opportunity to watch WrestleMania with my uncle and aunt and took a road trip to North Carolina to meet my niece for the first time.

April: I know that people were beginning to worry about me at this time, and in retrospect, I really could have gone either way. My obsession with life having to go the way I wanted it to go was beginning to consume me. I had fun times this month, such as dinner with Merrill, a day in South Carolina with E~! and Matt, and WWE Extreme Rules. Yet, because I was so consumed with my pursuit of Kim, I could not derive real pleasure from any of these experiences. I didn’t even enjoy my birthday because all I could do was sit around and hope that she would remember. When all I got was a “Happy birthday” on Facebook (no punctuation and not even a capitalized “B” for Birthday), it crushed me. Things had to change. I had to change. I wasn’t ready to do this yet, however.

May: I wrapped up what would (spoilers) eventually be my final year at AAA Academy by actually getting to watch the graduation instead of guarding the far door. That evening, I flew to Portland for the wedding of one of my longtime friends, Zach. I can honestly say that wedding was a once in a lifetime experience and that I will probably never experience another wedding quite like that. Following the wedding, I finally had the opportunity to meet Victoria for Voodoo Doughnuts (a Portland specialty). The following day, I drove up to Seattle to see Rob and Rex. For one day, I felt like I was a kid again. Even though my flight was cancelled and I had to spend the night at the airport in Portland, my heart felt full for the first time in a long time. I had my first interview for a job for the following school year, and even though it did not go my way, I was excited and encouraged for what was to come.

June: This month was full of job interviews. I knew that my Master’s Degree was paying dividends, as I had significantly more interest from schools as a teaching candidate than in previous years. It was fascinating and insightful to see how different schools conducted their interview process as well as the qualities that they were looking for in their future employees. I also had the opportunity to catch a baseball game with the Prosapio family. It was an amazing experience to sit back and tell stories about Katie and how much she meant to me as well as where our lives have taken us in the past few years. I also had the opportunity to take a trip to Minnesota to see my friend Shannon, who I had not seen in five years.

July: July 4, 2015. That is the day my life changed. I mentioned in April that I was starting to show signs of cracking. Though I didn’t mention anything about that in May and June, I had not really made any great improvement. Kim wasn’t interested in me. She moved on to someone else. I had to accept the reality that was in front of me. To that point, I wasn’t ready to accept my reality. I finally realized that in order to rebuild myself, I must first be broken. I engaged in one of my infamous Twitter rants because I needed to be freed of all that. Should I have been hurtful? Absolutely not. However, I did what I needed to do for myself at the time. Once I learned to not fear failure, my life turned around. I had more job interviews and finally obtained the public school teaching job that had eluded me for the better part of a decade. I attended the graduation ceremony for my completion of grad school. I went back to North Carolina to see Heidi, Randy, and Hadley and had all the fun I didn’t allow myself to have when I went in spring. I saw Merrill as well as E~! and Matt, and I really allowed myself to enjoy myself.

August: I got started at my new job. I hadn’t even unpacked from my Carolina trip when it was time to go in for an orientation for new teachers. That was a long and exhausting week, but it introduced me to many colleagues with whom I legitimately enjoy working. I learned more about the teaching position and the job I was supposed to do. The course I teach is only a nine week course, so I got my first batch of students that week. I can honestly say those students were a pleasure to teach, and they helped me get my feet wet at a new job.

September: I said goodbye to an old friend whilst simultaneously continuing my ascent in the world when I traded my 2005 Chevy Cobalt for a 2015 Kia Optima EX. I finally had an “adult” job, so it was time to get a vehicle that matched. I began to allow myself to be open to whatever life was going to throw at me, so I actually started dating again. Though the dates did not ultimately lead to a relationship, it was good to get back on the saddle.

October: I finished the first quarter and got a new group of students. The Cubs made the playoffs, and I enjoyed watching their games. I went to Six Flags for the first time in a number of years (on one of the aforementioned dates). Perhaps what I am most proud of is the fact that I allowed someone back into my life that many of my friends were afraid was going to ruin all the progress I had made. However, I knew that I needed to know if I had truly grown and the best way of doing that was by testing myself. Ultimately, I know that I passed that test with flying colors. I no longer look at life as what I wish it would be. I recognize the reality that is in front of me. When that reality can be changed, I challenge it, but I am cognizant to my limitations and aware that some battles are not worth fighting.

November: I had the opportunity to see Shannon again, this time in Chicago. It is always a great time when we spend time with one another. For the first time in my life, I spent Thanksgiving outside of Illinois, as I drove with my parents to Maryland to spend the holiday with Heidi, Randy, and Hadley. It is amazing to watch my niece grow and see how intelligent and intuitive she is. She definitely will not need to get by solely on her looks; she has a brain to match. The Seahawks finally started to turn things around and ended the month by beating the Steelers in a victory which proved quite profitable to me.

December: I wrapped the calendar year on a relatively high note. Christmas did not wind up being what we thought it was going to be, but it was an enjoyable Christmas nonetheless. My sister’s family wound up coming back to Illinois for the holidays, and it was great to spend a week with Hadley and see how much she had grown even in the three weeks since Thanksgiving. My computer unfortunately died on Christmas Day, and as I was foolish and did not have my hard drive backed up, I lost everything. While that part was frustrating, I had my health. I had gained some weight over the course of 2015 due in part to some nagging injuries but also due to declining motivation thanks to other frustrations and disappointments in my life. I finally took control back and found my motivation within. Physical fitness is always a process, but I can proudly say that I have worked myself into better condition than I have been in a long time.

Closing Thoughts
2015 reminded me of 2008 in so many ways, from the initial romantic failures to new jobs to cheap gas prices to about a dozen things in between. 2015 had some crushing defeats, yet I look back on this year and see it as a distinct victory. Things in my life finally began to happen. I got that job I waited so long for. I got a new car. I wrapped up another degree. But most importantly, I regained control of myself. My job can be stressful, but I feel less stressed than I have in years. I no longer feel like my life is this race against the clock, where I have to reach certain milestones by certain checkpoints or my life is a waste. I am content to let things in life come to me when they supposed to instead of relentlessly pursuing them and exasperating myself and others in the process.

Being an uncle has definitely mellowed me out. I find myself not saying or doing a number of things that I would have done in the past because I want Hadley to see me as someone to be proud of. I absolutely enjoy being her uncle, and I can say that having her around is the best thing that happened to me in 2015.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank a number of people this year. From my immediate family for putting up with me on a daily basis, I have to thank Ken and SJT for reading all sorts of nonsense and enduring all the times I tried to read into things. I thank everyone who took the time out of their lives to spend time with me this year: Dan, Rex, Rob, Merrill, Victoria, Erika, Matt, Shannon, and Brittany. Thank you to Zach for thinking enough of me to put me in your wedding and to my Aunt Dianna for the many dinners and hours of conversation challenging me to extend myself farther than I believed I was capable. And thank you Jannelle for always allowing me to be part of your life and making me feel special

Thank you to all the new people in my life, both those I’ve met online and in person. Thank you to Lindsey for being a good workout buddy and better friend. Thanks Maegan for letting me sit by you at the reception (you have great taste in baby names, by the way). Thank you Missy for helping me put myself out there again. Thank you to Myrna, Jenn, and Ashley for teaching me that amazing people can be found virtually anywhere, and thank you for believing in me as much as I believe in each one of you. Thank you Michael for giving me that work camaraderie that I have not had since my days at Target.
I don’t know where 2016 will directly take me, but I’ve got big plans. Life is ascending, and I’m ready to launch into something even greater.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 in List Form

Another year is in the books, and to be honest, this post in particular is always done more for my edification than for yours. I always like to be able to go back in time and see what interested me, what captivated me, and what moved me. This post would usually hit this site earlier but I was temporarily without a computer. Here are the things that made up my 2015.

Songs
1. State Champs – Around the World and Back
2. Millencolin – Perfection is Boring
3. Frank Turner – Mittens
4. Strung Out – No Apologies
5. All Time Low- Cinderblock Garden
6. The Brevet – Hold On
7. Sufjan Stevens – Death with Dignity
8. The Mountain Goats – Heel Turn #2
9. Death Cab for Cutie – Everything’s a Ceiling
10. As It Is – Cheap Shots and Setbacks
11. Silverstein – Face of the Earth
12. Mat Kearney – One Black Sheep
13. Bring Me the Horizon – Doomed
14. Major Lazer – Lean On
15. Albert Hammond, Jr. – Losing Touch

Albums
1. All Time Low – Future Hearts
2. The Mountain Goats – Beat the Champ
3. Millencolin – True Brew
4. State Champs – Around the World and Back
5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
6. Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People
7. Seaway – Colour Blind
8. Silverstein – I Am Alive in Everything I Touch
9. Imagine Dragons – Smoke + Mirrors
10. Four Year Strong – Four Year Strong

TV Shows
1. Mr. Robot
2. NCIS
3. NCIS: Los Angeles
4. Suits
5. Liv & Maddie (don’t judge me!)

Sports Moments
1. Seahawks come back to defeat the Packers in the NFC Championship game
2. Cubs defeat the Cardinals and advance to NLCS
3. Cubs oust Pirates in Wild Card Round
4. Seahawks defeat Steelers in an epic matchup
5. Attending WWE Extreme Rules (in the 3rd row!!!)

*Since my favorite places to eat very rarely change, I decided to omit this section this year.*

Personal Moments

1. Becoming an uncle, March 11
2. Finishing Grad School, January 11
3. Getting hired at PHJH, July 17
4. Seattle with Rex and Rob, May 24
5. Portland for Zach’s wedding, May 23
6. Extreme Rules in Chicago, April 26
7. Masters Graduation, July 10
8. Maryland for Thanksgiving, November 25
9. North & South Carolina to see family and friends, July 25-August 2
10. Bavarian Lodge with Dan, January 3

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Annual Expression of Gratitude

It’s easy to dwell on what we don’t have. It’s even easier to dwell on the things we used to have that have since slipped from our grasp. However, that mindset is unproductive at best and toxic at worst. If we ever want to get to where we want to be, we cannot fixate on where we used to be, where we thought we would be at this point, or where we could be had the ball bounced differently. We must actively focus on how far we have come and the blessings we have accumulated during the journey.

At this time last year, I was on the verge of a breakdown. I was fortunate enough to have a job, but my employment there was always tenuous at best due to factors beyond my control. To make matters worse, the job was horrendously stressful. I was fearful for my future, for though I desperately wanted to move to another position at another school, I had no prospects. All I had ever met to that point was disappointment. I had to have knocked a thousand doors without a single one of them opening. My friends were all out of the picture due to factors such as work, location, relationships, or just plain growing up. My love life was in shambles. My sister had moved away and had gotten pregnant, and while I was happy for her, there was still a feeling of “woe is me” in my heart because nothing in my life was coming together. I feared that whatever potential I did have was on the verge of being wasted.

As you know by now, things turned around in my life. I work at a different job. I have a new car. I have a greater security in my friendships despite the fact that many of my friends still live at a considerable distance from me. I have made new friends as well. I have a niece that I absolutely adore. The love life didn’t exactly turn out as I had hoped, but doors closing led to a change in my mindset (so all in all, it’s a net gain).

You might have read everything to this point and asked yourself “Jakob, where are you going with all of this? Is there a point to this history lesson?” There is. I am thankful for my successes this year. I have done things that I would have never dreamed of accomplishing this year. But above all, I am grateful for my failures.

I have failed spectacularly and epically in the past year. I’ve made mistakes in virtually every facet of life. Some of them I can already laugh at myself for making. Others are a little more difficult to tackle. However, I take solace in the realization that I would not have succeeded had I not fallen. I obsessed in my love life. It left me with a steaming pile of nothing. That failure woke up a part of me that I did not know existed. Today, I no longer fear failure. I survived some pretty low depths. I may not always succeed. I’m going to make mistakes (though hopefully not the same mistakes as before). But failure does not and will not define me, and it will not end me.

For the first time in my life, I am living without a plethora of self-imposed deadlines. A significant portion of my frustration and dissatisfaction with life came from the idea that I had not reached the life checkpoints that I thought I should have arrived at by this point. I had all these things that I thought I would accomplish by the age of 30, and while I have put a dent into that list, many items still remain. If I don’t get to them, it’s not as if I no longer have the right to live. I’m young. I have time. Things will happen as they are supposed to happen.

I write all of that to implore you to be thankful this year, to take stock of what you do have and to find joy in your journey. I am thankful for that which I have accomplished, the people who have stayed by my side along the way, and for the failures that refined me and woke me up.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Out of the Ashes

Forgive me if I’m rusty. It’s been a while, after all…

Yes, I do still exist. After engaging in the longest writing hiatus I have taken in years, I think it’s about time to catch you up on everything that has happened. A lot has transpired since I last wrote. I’m not even sure where to start…

The Job
My third year at AAA Academy was by far the most challenging. The entrance interview at the beginning of the year set the tone when my boss, without a hint of irony, says to me “Jakob, you can’t begin to imagine how many times last year I wanted to take you up to the roof of the building, put a rope around your neck, and throw you off the roof.”

In the middle of the year, right around the time I felt like I finally had a grip on my class, my co-teacher and I were informed that we were going to be teaching a different class for the second semester. I found myself working as a special education teacher (despite having no training or certification to do so). I can honestly say that I loved those children, but I have to admit that it completely drained me. I knew that if I had to do it for much longer, I would have completely burned out of the teaching profession. Somehow, I had just enough in me to make it through the school year.

I entered the summer once again in search of that elusive full-time teaching position in a public school. I had one more tool in my arsenal this time around, however: my master’s degree. That degree immediately paid dividends, as I had exponentially more interviews than I had in previous years. One interesting thing I discovered was that each school and district had vastly different interview processes, from the number of rounds to the interviewers to the lines of questioning. After six years, I can proudly state that the long wait is over. In July, I was offered (and subsequently accepted) a position as Reading/RTI Instructor at Prairie-Hills Junior High. I can’t begin to express how much better of a situation this is for me in virtually every way, and I am excited to make my mark in a new school. While I am grateful to my previous employer for the opportunity to get my feet wet in education, it was time to pursue new opportunities. Onward and upward!

The Family
In March, I became an uncle for the first time. My sister gave birth to a little pocketful of sunshine named Hadley Rose. To say I absolutely adore this child would be an understatement. I’ve already told Heidi not to have any more children because Hadley is going to be my favorite. There’s just something special about her. I know I’m not the only family member she has wrapped around her finger.

Confession time: Even though I was extremely happy for my sister and brother in law when Hadley was born and completely fell in love with Hadley when I met her for the first time, I have to admit that I suffered from some mixed emotions at the time. I looked at my own life and got really frustrated by the lack of wife and children. I couldn’t escape the thought, “When is it going to be my time?”

I struggled with that for a little while, but if there’s one thing I’m starting to *finally* get a grasp of in 2015, it’s that life does not operate by my timeframes and schedules. I’ll be a good parent someday. I’m not worried about if or when it happens. There is plenty life to be enjoyed in the meantime.

The Girl

For close to two years, the space in my heart reserved for romance was occupied by one young lady. If you’re reading this, you’re probably rolling your eyes because you know exactly to whom I am referring. Since I can guarantee there’s virtually no chance she is reading this, let’s call her Kim.

Kim and I had a tumultuous relationship with one another to say the least. I was so desperate for her adulation and approval that I changed over time into a shell of who I was and a far cry from the person I was capable of being. I thought I needed to do everything in my power to let her know I cared to the extent I actually started caring about Pittsburgh sports teams (ugh). Everything I did for a long stretch was done with her in mind. At times, it looked like things were paying off, but every time I got close to succeeding, the rug got pulled out from under me. For the longest time, I blamed myself for it. I thought If I started doing this or stopped doing that, it would be enough. Unfortunately, it would never be enough.

Eventually I got tired of it. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to walk away from her completely, so I said some things that I knew would make her want to get rid of me. Was that necessarily the best course of action? Of course not. Do I regret it sometimes? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But I finally realized I had to get to a point where I didn’t base my own self-worth and enjoyment of life on someone else.

I have found so many similarities between 2015 and 2008. Both were years of major transition and new opportunities within education. In both situations, I was probably at my worst when it came to women. I wish I could say I learned my lesson from 2008, but I didn’t. There are so many parallels between how things were with Kim and how they were with Stacie back in 2008. In both cases I pressed too hard trying to make something happen. Unfortunately, in life you do not always get out what you put in. Mr. Maday’s function machine does not relate to interpersonal relationships. Nothing I did was ever going to be good enough for Stacie to give me a chance. I should’ve accepted that. It took her taking the steps to delete me from her life for me to get it.

Things were even worse with Kim. What she said and what she actually did were two very different things. Because I so badly wanted things to work in my favor, I decided to ignore how things were and clung desperately to the hope of her words. As time went on, she had no intention of meeting me or of giving me a chance. I let her string me along. It took me a long time to realize I’m better than that.

Kim broke me, yet I am not a broken man. That season of my life broke me of a number of bad habits, of obsessive tendencies, and of the belief that something HAS to happen simply because I want it to happen. Things are going to work out with whomever they are supposed to work with when they’re supposed to work. I’m not sweating it. I know my worth, and I’m not about to waste my time on someone who doesn’t. I don’t feel the stress that I had felt anymore, and there’s a weight lifted off my shoulders.

I stand today because of all the times I have fallen
When you get hit hard, it can be difficult to force yourself to get back up. When you are chronically failing, giving up seems like an increasingly palatable option. I say this as someone who needed an elevator to go UP to rock bottom. Before I got this job, I had to have filled out close to 500 job applications. I had over two dozen interviews. Doors consistently closed in my face, and I had no idea what to do to change my situation.

When I was younger, I had a paralyzing fear of failure. I couldn’t bear the thought of not being good enough (whether in my own mind or in the opinion of others), and it really held me back from going for things. The older I’ve gotten, the more I have realized that defeat isn’t the worst thing. Adversity doesn’t ruin you; it simply means you’ve been battle tested. Each defeat has made me a little stronger, a little smarter, and a little savvier. I am a better man today not because of the good I have done, but for the times I was not quite good enough.

While I was obsessed with the idea of spending the rest of my life with Kim, I took a number of steps back as a person. I am not blaming that on her. My regression was my doing. I apologize for wasting the time of those who had to talk me off many proverbial ledges, but ultimately I’m a better man for it. My failure with Kim broke me of habits and mindsets that should have been broken long ago. The lady I date next will get a better Jakob as a result.

If you are reading this and are frustrated with your current lot in life, all I can do is encourage you to keep going. Things won’t be easy. As a child, I had this idea that life wouldn’t be challenging. Unfortunately, for most of us, life doesn’t come with an “Easy Mode”. Fight hard. Accept your failures. Let them mold you into something better.

I’m not at the top of the world yet, but I’m ascending. I certainly don’t mind the view from up here.