Every September, my phone dings and reminds me to reflect on the past year. Whoa, boy, has this one been a doozy.
The first thing that comes to mind is the death of my step-father, Gene, who came into my mother’s life six or seven years ago and changed everything. My mother raised me and my brother on her own after a too-lengthy legal disentanglement from my abusive father. For most of my life, “family” meant the three of us, against the world.
Gene arrived bombastically and became the fourth leg to our family table. He and I were far too similar for our differences to stay quiet, and we butted heads on more than one occasion. That is to say - we loved each other aggressively. He lived with a certainty that I grew to admire and a naked honesty I aspire to.
At his memorial, it was said that nobody ever met Gene in passing, because when he spoke, you felt like the most important person in his world. I miss mattering to him and being loved by him. I miss being pulled in close for a kiss on my cheek every time we parted, and regret feeling awkward about it. I miss his laugh. I’m so grateful for the time I had with him. More than anything in the world, I’m grateful for the deep-soul happiness he gave my mom, even as its absence brings pain.
Gene threw so much light on everyone he met. Life is colder and darker now. My mother and my brother and I have struggled to support each other under the weight of our individual grief, but we move forward together, as he would gruffly instruct us to.
As of her birth last week, my thoughts of Gene automatically bring thoughts of my second niece, Lauren Emmylou Calhoon. Gene loved my first niece, Norah, deeply, and called her his “little Emmylou.” We don’t know where this came from, but I smile every time I think about it. I’m proud to be an uncle, and to watch my brother be a father. He and his wife are spectacular parents.
Thoughts of expanding family bring to mind the unexpected and undeserved force that is my girlfriend, Heather. She swept into my life at an inopportune moment when I was flailing in the depths of a post-breakup depression, a living lifeline I was terrified I’d snap with my desperate clutching. I’ve learned, however, that there’s no “right time,” and we’ve grown into a team that feels unstoppable. She is the rightest time I’ve ever lived.
I’m so amazed by Heather’s tenacity, brilliance, creativity, and character. She sets a high standard that I work to live up to. She lives her values, which is good because they’re tattooed on her fingers - “SWBK,” or Stay Weird, Be Kind. One of my colleagues once said that in every relationship there’s a reacher and a settler, though the roles may switch back and forth. I feel very much like the reacher. She comes from good stock, and I’ve been so touched to have been brought in by Heather’s family easily and automatically.
Thoughts of Heather bring thoughts of our impending Move. I grew up in Oakland and have wanted to move back since I left ten years ago. This week, Heather and I will become residents of my hometown, and I’m terribly excited to rediscover it with her. But holy shit, do I hate moving…
Thoughts of the Move bring thoughts of its impetus, which is a new full-time emergency job in the South Bay. The opportunity, like many of the best things in my life, landed out of the clear blue sky. One day, I had a cobbled-together career doing relief work, and two months later I’m changing the location and direction of my life. The new work is invigorating and challenging. I enjoy being exposed to more varied and challenging cases, including their intense emotional and communication demands. I’m fired up.
Coincident with the new job, I got off my ass and started writing. I was partially motivated by jealousy of Heather’s spectacular wordsmithing, but moreso by how her writing connects her to other people. My blog is a reconsidered iteration of a previously procrastinated project that I’ve enjoyed in surprising ways. I was surprised to be so tickled by the collaboration of putting imagery to my writing. I love watching my work go through another person and reflect back in a completely unexpected way. I enjoy the challenge of using creative introspection to connect with people. This new work provides a soul-enriching anchor to the high-flying of emergency work.
Thoughts of new work bring thoughts of the future. The specific picture of what my career would look like has changed many times since the day I decided to become a veterinarian (getting picked up from kindergarten, when I asked my mom what the word meant). I always knew my professional life would remain pinned at the intersection of animals, people, and education. I don’t believe there will ever be an endpoint to that pursuit, but I’ve become passionate about entrepreneurship being the next major phase of it.
I’m committed to developing a veterinary practice model that brings together the best of what I’ve seen in the thirty or so practices I’ve worked for. My personal answer to the question, “Why are we here?” is, “For each other.” I want my work to expand our our circle of “us” in “us vs. them.” We are here to enrich and fulfill one another, and that includes the non-humans we share our lives with. As a team, we can work within the veterinary-patient-client relationship to make life better for everyone. The human-animal bond will be our central focus and guiding consideration. The model will improve my beloved profession and the world beyond it. It will also be profitable and scalable.
Details to follow, perhaps when my phone dings in 2017...