Much gratitude to Benjamin Faust for his awesome photo on Unsplash.

To Hell With the Old Gutterball Loop

Start your new year with an early morning routine that embraces daydreaming, planning, and joyful expectation

Michael Maupin
Jan 5, 2020 · 4 min read

Fear is my gutterball.

It probably has been from a very early age.

And I sure as hell have been throwing my share of frames’ worth lately.

I’m coming out of a fog of holiday dread and confusion, worried about the state of the world as well as that of my own friends and family. Aging brings health worries added to economic worries, which become a pile-on of anxiety that would rattle the steadiest of us.

It hurts to admit this, but the frustration has reached the point where I needed to slow down, breathe, focus on the pins in front of me, and center that ball straight down the alley. Even after multiple gutterballs.

It’s a weekend morning, but even so I got up early — just like my late father, Paul, used to do, even on mornings when he didn’t have to go to work.

I can still hear him happily humming to himself while making coffee in the kitchen, before disappearing into his inner sanctum — the den — to switch on the radio, listen to news and music, and generally plan his day. I was then in my early teens and, as teenagers tend to do, I was a night owl and hugely put off by Dad’s early morning routine. Even though I loved the smell of coffee brewing and Mom cooking breakfast, the whole “up before sunrise” thing was a bridge too far.

Now that I have the perspective of years (I’m now older than my father was in the early 1970s), I see now how vital Dad’s predawn ritual was to his mental well-being and overall productivity.

This became clearer to me while chatting with a friend recently, when I told him I was feeling down over the holidays. “Are you focusing on today?” he asked, “Or thinking about the future?” I was dwelling on unknowable what ifs and feeling overwhelmed — even a bit defeated — by them.

“Just think about the day ahead,” my friend said. “Only do what you need to do … what you can accomplish now.”

It was great advice.

So I’m acting on it here, now.

Being it’s January 2020, that advice dovetails perfectly with Dad’s daily practice. His was a form of simplicity, actually: One foot in front of the other, one step, one quick survey of the road ahead.

That’s all you really need to do.

But beyond simplicity, it’s also an attitude: being cheerful, feeling gratitude, even joyful expectation — things I think the world is sorely lacking these days.

Lately I’d been dwelling on that fact, which accounted for my fear and dread. Letting those feelings fester only enables their growth — like a metastisizing cancer that grows until it negates life’s vital signs, like the ways a hospital registers a patient’s health: making goals, focusing and maintaining attention, building strategy and planning ahead, or just enjoying the happy expectation of what the day ahead will reveal.

Dad used to sketch and draw while he listened to the radio and planned his day. I wouldn’t have agreed with this back then, but it’s true: he was probably more of a dreamer than I was — the “lazy, dreamy, spacey kid” — shamed into believing that, truth be told.

My father seemed to instinctively know that if he front-loaded his days with a dash of daydreaming, goal-setting, and a hopeful attitude, the rest would fall into place. And they generally did, as he had more successes than failures.

And the failures? He brushed them off and got up to try again.

So I’m no longer standing there in the bowling alley, trying to throw strikes, petrified.

I’m back to aiming that ball dead center.

It’s time to ditch the gutterball loop — because failure seems to make more of itself than it’s worth regarding: like a sad comedy reel playing over and over and over. “Success” to a failure mindset is a fluke, a rarity, or a wildly unattainable thing.

But that’s not true for anyone. Truly.

So my friends, here’s wishing you a joyful and exciting start to what will be your most productive year — 2020. Thanks for sticking around.

Michael Maupin is chief storyteller at StoryShed Learning & Media LLC, and blogs from Minneapolis, Minn. A recovering screenwriter, he launched his WordPress blog Completely in the Dark ( in 2001 to explore narrative in filmmaking. In 2008, however, his parents died, so he switched the blog’s focus to family stories — trying to make sense of life while still being “completely in the dark.”

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Michael Maupin

Written by

Writer, editor, and media maker. Blogs at Completely in the Dark ( and lives in Minneapolis, MN. I notice things.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +786K followers.

Michael Maupin

Written by

Writer, editor, and media maker. Blogs at Completely in the Dark ( and lives in Minneapolis, MN. I notice things.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +786K followers.

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