An Open Letter to 2022

Dear 2022,

This letter is late. I’m sorry. Thanks for your grace.

The first day of the New Year, 2022, I woke up hungover. Thankfully, now I know: Champagne and Scotch are in different parts of the world for a reason. Best to keep them separate.

Starting the year sick got my attention like a wake up call from the front desk. The call was unexpected, but I embraced the message: stop drinking. Stop/did, quit/did not. Clarity offered reflection on my relationship with alcohol. Though the fast was broken when Mom and Dad abruptly retired in March. Everyone raised a glass.

This was another year spent living through the pandemic working toward normalcy. Marked by more activity in public with the public. The first year, 2022, in a few years where I’ve actively participated in living as part of society. You know, doing the basics: leaving the house and encountering others doing the same. More activity brought more introspection. Perhaps this is why the song I listened to the most on Spotify was Elvis Presley’s Stand By Me

As such I spent a lot of the year, 2022, contemplating fear. The concept, feeling, and hurdle. How fear’s suffocating grip prevents action and change. Things I didn’t know how to do or things I was afraid to do. I fretted over practical things, the hows to: frame out a fence, build gates, construct flowerbeds, trench a French drain, lay a patio, repair stucco…

I didn’t know how to do those things when you started, 2022, and some would say I still don’t

Sure, mistakes were made pouring sweat equity (and money) into the 1928 charmer. At this point, those “mistakes” are what make the property a home. The fear of doing it “wrong” and making those mistakes can’t prevent forward momentum.

Unless it’s gas or water. Or skid-steering. I’ll call somebody for those.

There were other kinds of fear this year, too. Like returning to the theatre to portray a character I was afraid to play.

In early spring I appeared in All American Boys which follows the lives of two high-school boys, one black and one white, that powerfully intersect after a violent act of racially motivated police brutality. The character I played was the cop who hospitalizes an unarmed black boy.

Playing this role in the same community where George Floyd (among others) was murdered intimidated me. There was a lot of reflecting and research to attempt to understand the world this story takes place. Most nights after rehearsal, I’d put on a record and let the tears fall.

It was helpful and grounding that before beginning each rehearsal or performance, the cast took time to learn about the life of someone who was killed by the police. Then we dedicated that rehearsal or performance to their memory and honor. It was during this process I realized in order to tell these stories and do them justice, we couldn’t be afraid of them. We had to be stronger than our aching hearts.

Another story I was afraid to tell involved pretending to be drunk in public…

Late spring I was cast as a Pseudo-Intoxicated Data Collector for the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health Alcohol Epidemiology Program. This was a part-time gig where two actors, one (acting) “visibly intoxicated” and the other not, visit a bar or restaurant to study whether or not alcohol would be sold to an obviously intoxicated person. This wasn’t a sting operation affiliated with law enforcement, we were only collecting data.

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings we’d visit 10 different places pretending to be drunk among people who are actually drinking. Now in most acting scenarios, on stage or in front of the camera, everyone involved in the production knows the performance is for show. However, in these instances, the customers and staff weren’t scene partners or an audience, though they unknowingly become a bit of both.

The first night I had to appear in a bar down the street from the children’s theatre where I was working. What if I run into someone I know and they think I’m drunk? Or some intoxicated patron wants to tussle? After visiting some 200+ bar/restaurants, I can happily report these real fears never materialized while playing pretend in the wild.

However, new fears arose, like the common occurrence of bartenders serving alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person… Ironically, the data is sobering. Saddening. More opportunities for training should be provided and while we’re at it, let’s ensure everyone’s making a living wage, too. This way no one is incentivized to over-serve in hopes of a large(r) tip. (So much more to say here. I found this gig so interesting!)

Two moments standout, 2022, where fear should’ve appeared, but didn’t.

One occurred near the end of August, when SRR and I took some time off to go camping and inner-tube down the Root River with my folks. Yes, I wish there were pictures, too — but I left my camera in the car — which is just as well, because I later capsized, cut my leg, lost a sandal, and emptied our cooler in a swift body of water… It sounds bad, but the memory of floating on the river with the most important people in my life comforts me.

After we dried off, we headed north toward Grand Marais. Along the way we stopped at a logging camp north of Duluth situated on a sliver of land between old 61 and new 61. Just as we were preparing to leave, I saw a truck towing a boat pullover on the northbound side of Highway 61.

There was smoke coming from the truck. Initially I thought the vehicle overheated. However, the smoke wasn’t white, it was black. The truck wasn’t overheating, it was on fire. I called 911, gave the location, and explained what was happening.

That’s when I noticed the driver of the truck, a man in his thirties, exit the vehicle and run around to the passenger door. He opened the truck door and sitting there are two small girls, arms reaching for their daddy, waiting to be lifted out of the cab.

Seeing this man struggling alone struck a cord. To see those kids so close to danger shot me full of adrenaline. I ran to the truck and helped move the girls away from the vehicle. Then ran back into the logging camp to get a fire extinguisher. We were able to extinguish the flames before first responders arrived. The father thanked us for our assistance and we continued northbound.

Near the end, 2022, other opportunities presented themselves and I was pretty nervous about them, too.

Early October marked a return to officiating wedding ceremonies. Thankfully the couple I was working with showed me the same patience and grace they share with each other. The love and kindness they gave lifted me up and reminded me of the passion I have for telling love stories.

In mid-October a long lost friend, Ehryn Jordan-Peterson, from the Duluth theatre scene and I reconnected. He invited me to appear as a guest on his podcast, Growing Up With Ehryn, where he reflects on the influence media in the 80s and 90s has/had on his life. Somewhere along the way Ehryn and his co-host/BFF, Lisa, extended the invitation for me to become a permanent co-co-host. It sounds exciting, but I’m forever fearful listeners will soon realize what I already know: I’m a buffoon.

Near the end of 2022, Ehryn asked for my thoughts on the year. This is off the cuff:

“It’s difficult for myself personally to be in the world. Despite trying to put on a brave face and go out and do it. But each day is a choice and I got up and out of bed most of these days and that’s what matters. I have not totally given up.”

See what I mean, 2022? Buffoon.

(Which is just as well, because not only is the answer the truth, it also makes me laugh. The fact I haven’t given up — despite all the fear –makes me quite happy. )

In November I began another side gig with the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Spotlight Education program. As a trained theatre professional I attend the rehearsal or performance of a high school production and share feedback with the students. Accepting the gig was oddly triggering…

Robbie, Annalisa, & me

Over twenty years ago, when I was a high schooler, a friend (Robbie Maiers) was appearing in a neighboring high school’s production of The Wind in the Willows. I was asked to attend, which I did, and then after the performance Robbie invited me to the opening night cast party at a Perkins restaurant. (I protested crashing the party, but Robbie and his friends in the cast wouldn’t accept the ‘no thanks.’)

So, while seated around a long table in the private dining room at Perkins, the cast asked me what I thought of their show. Now as a general rule, actors don’t give other actors notes. I shared this sentiment with the cast. They, however, persisted and encouraged me to share. I obliged, opened my notebook, and started reciting what I’d written during the show.

The next Monday at school, I was called into the principal’s office. Already inside the office sat both our school’s drama directors, Lenore Larson and Douglas Voerding. I thought I was receiving some sort of drama award and I was elated. Until I saw their expressions and registered the meeting as not celebratory.

Apparently, over that weekend a call was received from Barb Roy the director of The Wind in the Willows. She was not happy I shared notes with her cast. The principal was incredulous, “Why would you take notes during a performance?!” Apparently the principal never heard of critics or constructive criticism.

Now 20+ years later, I’m doing exactly what I was doing then, except more conscientious of the feedback shared. Which is probably why this side gig is one of the most difficult jobs I’ve ever undertaken. Simply put: it’s difficult to interpret someone else’s art and then put it into words.

The last standout scary thing I did, 2022, was act as the master of ceremonies for Frogtown Community Radio’s annual gala which brought in over $10K in donations. The event was a bunch of fun! What I found overwhelming though was the love in the room both for programmers and the community they serve. Such a great evening with so many amazing individuals. A wonderful reminder that we’re better together when we’re working toward a common goal. The folks in attendance not only get it, they live it. It’s inspiring.

Finally, while I may be the only person keeping score, it’s important to note I added ten pounds of weight to my body in 2022. I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the standout dining experiences which contributed to these curves: Bark and the Bite (RIP), GusGus, and The Nook. Sure, I could’ve done it without you, but I’m thankful to have your help.

Also, quick shoutout to the death of my youth / favorite purchase for the year: a set of plastic deli containers.

There were things I didn’t accomplish in 2022, but considering all the fear I felt throughout the year, I’m satisfied with what I did accomplish and overcome. We’re fully in 2023 now and I’m working toward tackling a whole new list of intentions. One day at a time, little by little. Onward, friends!

1 Second Everyday Video Diary

Enjoy this snapshot of 2022 one second at a time. See if you can count all the firetrucks and trains (seven and two, right?)!

Enjoy!

(No matter how many times I rewatch this snippet, laugh every time. Thanks for being such a great sport, Matt!)

Noted Happenings & Intentions Met in 2022

  • Applied to and was a finalist for an artist residency
  • Submitted to the Institute for Digital Humanity and the Institute of Aesthetic Advocacy’s online storytelling archive: “All Bullets Shatter: Uncounted Stories of Gun Violence and Trauma”
  • Joined the board at WFNU 94.1 FM – Frogtown Community Radio
  • Submitted 18 voiceover auditions and booked one; submitted nine on-camera commercial/film/industrial auditions and didn’t book any
  • Appeared in a full length play, a staged reading, and a play-in-a-day
  • Saw a bunch of standup with a sassy group of standouts
  • Returned to the theatre to see dozens of plays (The Love of Three Oranges & the special 21+ late night performance of The Trail to Oregon standout.)
  • Experienced teppanyaki with a neighbor I’ve grown to love as a brother, charting his course and I couldn’t be more proud
  • Visited a restaurant featuring a conveyor belt moving sushi…into our faces
  • Mom & Dad retired, remodeled the kitchen, and celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary
  • Added two exceptionally interesting part-time gigs to the resume: Pseudo-Intoxicated Data Collector for the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health Alcohol Epidemiology Program and Evaluator for Spotlight Education with the Hennepin Theatre Trust
  • Had a root canal, two crowns replaced, along with a cavity drilled & filled
  • Paid off the car
  • Abstained from drinking alcohol (for a few months)
  • Received both doses of Covid-19 boosters
  • Visited Rachael & Micah thriving in their new hometown of Denver, CO
  • Stayed quit smoking cigarettes – 4 years and counting!
  • Andrew and Kylie got married, Chris gave a great speech, and I got dance with my aunts and cousins
  • Volunteered as a precinct election judge in 2022 primary and general election
  • Listened to 3,747 songs totaling 33,136 minutes of music on Spotify
  • The song listened to (and sang) the most/103 times is “Stand By Me” by Elvis Presley
  • Walked 132 miles playing 65 rounds of disc golf and in the process scored an eagle and reduced the average score from 6.43+/par (2021) to 4.7+/par (2022)
  • Haven’t let Covid-19 catch me

What were your intentions in 2022? How’d you do?

And what are you most looking forward to accomplishing in 2023?

THOUGHTS?