Hello friends and family,

As you might have guessed, I didn’t really manage to send out Christmas cards or write my annual Christmas letter this year. I could waste a lot of time and energy with excuses for my failure to do so, but I just mainly didn’t want to. Plus, let’s be honest: a Christmas letter about a single, middle-aged man and his dog is rarely interesting enough to justify the paper on which it was printed, let alone the cost of the stamp to send it.

So, here we are. We’re halfway through January, and I thought it might be a good time to see if that blog I hosted on my own domain name still actually worked.  (Turns out it does!)

I know it’s going against the general population, but I’m going to have to go on record as stating that 2016 was one of my least favorite years. Ever. I’m generally not one to go around feeling “seriously so blessed” even in the best of times, but 2016 has my direct invitation to go lay down in traffic. This year was a slog.

The year started off uneventfully. We had a wonderfully warm, early spring, which resulted in a lovely green lawn and tulips in bloom by Valentine’s day. Things at work were coming to a head, though, and at the end of March, I was laid off from my job. I had been with the company for six years, and the layoff wasn’t a huge surprise. (I suspected layoffs were coming, and had approached our VP of HR about three weeks prior, volunteering to be one of those to go if they happened.)

I spent the next six months looking for work. During that time, I was able to put in many hours of work on my landscaping and gardens.  I tilled and planted a 600 sq ft. space in the back yard for vegetables, and once again proved why I should not be allowed in garden centers without adult supervision, as I undertook a personal mission to plant at least one of everything that will grow in the Pacific Northwest in my flower beds.  The results were pretty impressive, even if I say so myself.

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This was taken about June. It got much prettier later in the summer.

One of the other great things about having some down time was that I was able to spend it with my fuzzy yellow monster, Luke the Dog™. Luke turned the big 1-0 this year. I’ve had him since he was nine weeks old, and for the last nine and a half years, it’s been pretty much just him and me. He’s getting older, though, and I know our time together is not as long as I would wish. He’s starting to get a white face, and his teeth are starting to wear down a little bit. He can’t play as hard or swim as long as he used to be able to, but he’s still smart as a whip, mischevious, funny, and can hear the sound of a potato chip bag rustling from three counties over. He also re-discovered how much he loves plucking produce out of my garden. I had to shoo him out of the strawberries, peas, beans, tomatoes, and even zucchini (as evidenced by the snapshot below.) As difficult as it was for me to be unemployed for so long, I relish the opportunity I had to spend so much time with my boy.

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And in case you were wondering, yes. He did eat that whole thing. In about four bites. No tummy troubles resulted.

Over the summer, I also learned the joy of coffee. Now, you may be asking, “Why are you, at the age of 38 just now learning about coffee?” Well, as most of you reading this know, I grew up Mormon, so I was never really around coffee. When I stopped attending church and came out, I just never bothered starting to drink. Everyone in Seattle drinks a LOT of coffee, especially in the winter, so my obstinant contrarianism kicked in and I tried to be different. But my desperate desire to get out of the house every now and again led me to one of my seven Starbucks within a 2-mile radius of my house to work. My Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine should give you an indication of how that all worked out.

I particularly appreciate the irony of the BYU mug sitting on top of the machine.
I particularly appreciate the irony of the BYU mug sitting on top of the machine.

The job hunting process was grueling. It was the first time in my life I had ever really struggled to land a job. But the higher up the corporate ladder you go, I am coming to learn, the more difficult it becomes to find the right fit. I have never handled rejection particularly well, of course, but six straight months of knowing you have the skills to do killer work, but not even getting so much as a response to the literally hundreds of customized resumes I sent out wore down my self-confidence. The novelty of being home all day long every day was eventually replaced with a persistent, low-level sense of frustration and depression.

In February of this year, I traveled to Los Angeles for only the second time in my life to attend the LA Pen Show. Then, I came home and wrote a rather unpleasant journal of my trip and posted it on the internet (I hadn’t had the best time there). It caused a bit of a ruckus in the pen community. In May, I drove down to Utah to visit my family and attend the wedding of my cousin. In August, I traveled to Washington, DC to attend the DC Fountain Pen Supershow. It was my second year attending that show, and I enjoyed it. This time, I spent most of my time at the show working the booth of some friends of mine rather than wandering the show and spending all my money.  In late August, with nothing better to do, I decided on the spur of the moment (which is REALLY not like me) to drive to the San Francisco pen show as well, and I helped work the table of the same friends. As I was driving back from the show, I received word that I had been offered a position as a Sr. Product Manager with the Digital Services team at T-Mobile.

I started my new job in late September, and was immediately thrown into a huge project–one much larger than any I had ever worked on before. It’s been an exciting (and at times, overwhelming) experience so far. There is still a whole lot left for me to learn in this new job, which I relish. After so long without a weekly schedule, it was a bit of a struggle to get used to the daily commute again, but the job is challenging and I appreciate both the learning opportunities it is providing/will provide, and having a regular paycheck once again!

This year, I have narrated a few audiobooks (most of them romances, I just realized…), recorded a lot of pen-related YouTube videos, worked on a couple of song covers, cooked a lot of great meals, canned peaches, pears, and tomato sauce, written letters and in my journal, started watching television again, started swimming, and started and stopped about 15 spurts of “healthy eating.”

I redecorated my bedroom, including doing a striped painting treatment that I, while I love the final results, I am confident in saying I will never attempt again.

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Seriously. Two 14-hours days just to paint a single wall. HARD PASS. I’ll just use wallpaper next time.

With the new job, I was also able to finally purchase some furniture for my living room…something that has been over three years in coming.

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Well, at least nobody can say that I’m afraid of color or pattern.

In December, I flew down to Utah, as I do every year, for the Christmas holiday. The whole family wasn’ta ble to get together this year, so it was a subdued holiday compared to years past. Subdued, but still nice. It began to snow on Christmas Eve, and we awoke to a Christmas morning with 11″ of fresh snow on the ground. Christmas Day was spent with family, lounging in the hot tub, sipping wassail, and in a fit of insanity that can only be caused when siblings start to throw around the word “dare,” a quick jaunt from the hottub into the snow to do snow angels, and then shrieking back into the hot tub, wondering how, at nearly 40 years old, you managed to talk yourself into doing snow angels while dripping wet in nothing but a bathing suit.

2016 was not a great year for me in regards to my personal goals. I won’t rehash them all here, but let’s just say that I’m grateful for the opportunity to have the milestone of a new year to reset my goals. I’m going to share some of my 2017 goals in a later blog post, I suspect.

2016 is the year that I deleted the Facebook app from my phone and tablet. Hopefully for good. It was the year that I became obsessed with colorful socks. It was the year I launched my own line of fountain pen-friendly notebooks. It was the year when I invited my eldest niece to come visit me as a Christmas/Sweet 16 present all by herself. It was the year both my parents came to visit me at the same time for the first time since I moved here in 2007. It was the year I finally bought that patio table and chair set so I could have people over for summer barbecues and sit out in the back yard writing letters while I watch the sunset. It was the year I started feeding the hummingbirds, and I learned that Washington has a breed of hummingbird that stays around all winter. It was the year I attended my first-ever stand-up comedy show. It was the year I reconnected with two old friend I hadn’t talked to in years.

Most importantly, I think, it was the year that I made some important choices about who I am as a person, and what kind of I life I hope to lead going forward. I continue my never-ending quest to learn how to be more comfortable in my skin, and how to love myself. I’m not there yet (it’s going to be the work of a lifetime, of course) but the pains and struggles of 2016 did help me become myself just a little bit more.

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So, from me and Luke, welcome to 2017!  Here’s to the possibilities of the future.

  • Paul Roodenburg

    Dear Matt, What a year you have had. But you hung in there.

    Just to let you know. Your presence with penhabit colored my year and the same goes for your Facebook posts.

    I will miss those but I so understand your decision to cut that particular umbilical cord.

    I am glad that you have found yourself again after a turbulent year and you deserve al the happiness.

    Here’s to a great 2017!

  • Neil Pollock

    Dear Matt… You are not alone… Your beautiful story is heartwarming, and when we look at our own stories we see the similarities, and the struggles as well as the virtue to continue. It’s as if you held a mirror up to many of us. We see ourselves in you, and have shared a similar journey. I hope yours continues to be a blessing.

  • Sue Anderson

    Dear Matt,
    Sorry your year was so bad. Sounds like things are getting better for you.

    Luke looks like a great companion. I feel the same way about Joey, my parrot. Overall, he is great to have around, although he is very stubborn. He will be 19 in a few days. He was four months old when I got him.

    Just wanted to touch bases.

    Take care — Sue