On New Year’s Eve 2018, I woke up at 5:30 a.m.

In a way that kind of crystalizes this now ending year.

Back in the day, I slept long after the sun had risen. The nights went late and the days were shorter. Midnight was the creative hour and the sunrise was an accomplishment. But these days, 11 p.m. is bedtime and the creative hours are from 6 to 11 a.m.

Of course, all this has been a while in the making.

Add to that waking up next to my wife, my new wife, in my new home and it kind of completes the picture.

If you really sit down and take a look at what happens over one year, it can be rather mind blowing. And 2018 resulted with all kinds of brain matter stuck to the walls of my life.

Happy holidays from Phil and Rachel!

When you start out with a wedding in April, you figure the rest of the year will probably be calm, especially since my wife and I spent multiple months leading up to the event thoroughly planning and prepping. The event was at our house, so it was all us and a bunch of help from friends and family along the way. Needless to say, after it was all done we escaped to the quiet village of Patagonia to revive our souls in southern Arizona. Never was an escape more needed.

But forebodings were earlier apparent when the most obviously missing guest from my wedding was my uncle Rob. He had been battling illness ever since a double lung transplant around two years earlier. A few weeks after the wedding, he had died.

Rob first had a career in education, shaping the minds of kids, and then one in the pharmaceutical industry. When I was younger he was a teacher, and one thing I didn’t know, until after he died, was that he was the athletic director for the district he worked for. It’s funny how sometimes it takes death to learn new things about those you love.

Later in life he became a Master Gardener, and gardening plots suddenly popped up all over his backyard, and at other relatives’ homes, with his help. The food at family gatherings became organic. Hey, no complaints there! I can’t help but imagine that his deeper relationship with the living plant world around him and his volunteer work as a Master Gardener helped sustain him through his ailments later in life. What a smart man who I was lucky to call uncle.

Rob’s death is more than enough, but in August I lost my aunt Pam, under a shroud of unknowns and unnecessary drama. You know how you see things on the news or from friends of friends and you say, “Oh, that would never happen to me.” Well, Pam died of an accidental overdose, a shock to anybody who knew her. She was pretty much in retirement after a successful career in interior design, with clients the likes of Ralph Lauren.

Some of us knew she had a dependence on the muscle relaxant Soma, but weren’t fully aware of what other drugs she may have been using. The past few years has seen an epidemic of opioid use and deaths due to the drug. Well, the statistics are real and now my family is a statistic. And if you are honest with yourself, your family or a family you know is a statistic as well. That brain matter I mentioned earlier, well, the death of my aunt Pam is there. The problem is that the events leading to her death are uncertain, even after viewing the autopsy. Soon we will have the police report. We do not believe there to be foul play. But there are parts missing that we will likely never know. In a world with information at our fingertips, I can say that a death without answers is one of the worst feelings you can have. When the only witness has passed away, there is nothing but uncertainty.

My aunt Pam was an energy force unparalleled, and I will miss her dearly.

I’m gonna stick with this idea of “it couldn’t happen to me,” so hang tight with me a little longer.

On June 28, 2018, a mass shooting went down at the offices of The Capital, a newspaper serving Annapolis, Maryland. Five employees were shot dead. I can’t help but think that their offices were not unlike the offices of Independent Newsmedia in the Northwest Valley, where I work. These are the times we live in. As a protection against such tragedy, a few months back at work we were taught by health care professionals how to apply a tourniquet to stop bleeding from a gun wound. Yeah, seriously, WTF. I now have a certificate in my desk stating I passed the test. Add to that, the flyers posted to the wall at work warning us against strange packages. Man, all we want to do is report the news.

Despite all this, 2018 was one for the ages. Or maybe in spite of it.

Earlier in the year I hosted a night at the Phoenix Improv Festival. Aside from parties, I’ve never viewed myself as a host. Just move the night along efficiently and expeditiously, that’s what I always say for gigs like those. I try to leave the jokes to the comedians. But it is always nice standing on the stage of the Herberger (I did A Christmas Carol years ago on the mainstage with Actor’s Theater  of Phoenix). There is a point of pride there.

This year also produced another fun weekend at the Phoenix Comicon, well actually, Phoenix Fan Fusion is now the correct name. I’m pretty sure this is the fourth year I have sold my comic at the event, and it was the most successful yet. It is a sign that the work we are doing on this creative endeavor is still generating interest.

I had mentioned how staying up late has kind of become a thing of the past. But not completely. This year I saw some pretty good concerts. Earlier in the year it was Grungefest at the Van Buren featuring fake (but fun!) versions of Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters.

Andrew Jackson Jihad (now called AJJ)  has been a band I have wanted to see for a long time, especially because of their deep roots in the Valley, and I finally got the chance to. Again, at The Van Buren. Bonus points: I met Kids in the Hall legend Kevin McDonald.

Of course there was the normal stable of concerts at the Arizona State Fair this year, including Jacob Dylan. Oh, and I almost won tickets to Garth Brooks! You had to be the 96th caller. I was caller 94!! Damn!

Long-time ostensible bucket lister Smashing Pumpkins was checked off this year. Growing up, the Pumpkins were among my favorite bands and probably spoke to me in a deeper way, more than even my most beloved bands. I was actually pretty lucky to see them. They did a show earlier in the year and for whatever reason, I couldn’t make it. A bunch of friends raved, and I was once again saddened I had missed a Pumpkins show. But amazingly they announced a second show in December at Mesa Amphitheater. I jumped on it and I’m glad I did — it was a transcendent night.

Speaking of music, and bucket list of sorts, Rachel and I took a vacation in New Orleans. Years ago, when I helped my mom move from Florida back to Arizona, we made a one-night stop there and it just wasn’t enough. I promised myself I would come back for a quality, proper trip.

Speaking of transcend — we caught a show at Preservation Hall, venue to some of the most amazing jazz musicians in the world. That’s all you need to know on that.

I do have to say, in years past this list of concerts would have been much longer — sticking with that theme of not staying up late.

 

A few other last minute notables:

— After three years of being a news editor for Independent Newsmedia, I started writing community-minded commentaries for my opinions page. Not sure why it took so long for me to do so, but it has allowed me to better share and develop my voice with the residents of Peoria, the city that I cover.

— After nearly two decades, I had a reunion with two acting teachers whom I credit with the nurturing of my acting abilities. I know this may sound strange, being so deeply connected with a movie that sooo many people consider to be the worst ever made. But the first half of my life was filled with numerous paid acting gigs and I credit Donna DeCarl and Dawn Reilly to my success in that world as a professional when I suited up and showed up to all my calls. But more than anything, acting is a craft that can be of great service to improving your life — if you are open to it. Thanks to both of them for fostering that spark that resides in me.

— I have to say it has been a great Christmas season. Thank you to my wife and friends and family for making it so!

— Oh, and we got a new cat. But that is a completely different blog entry.

We got a cat.