Generations

Someone came before you. A hundred-thousand-fold came before we were even close to being present. Some would argue that many of us aren’t even “present” now: staring at our phones, our televisions, our computers–anything but each other. Which is a shame because the immense miracle that is our history on this planet is a tale that is worth remembering.

This planet formed as a consequence of the inherent mayhem of the universe. Millions of stars have gone before us, forming the dense matter that permeates our very bodies to our core and forms the basis of life as we know it. That life was borne into pools via simple forms like bacterium and viruses, and slowly we evolved from the millions of other species that evolution provided and the chaos of the universe saw fit to sweep aside.

From our earliest days on this Earth, we have survived and thrived. We have struggled and adapted: tools, agriculture, culture, technology, and ultimately civilization. What we fail to remember is the untold generations that lived and struggled and fought to bring us to where we are today.

I would hope that if there is an afterlife, and my ancestors can see me and know my story, that they would be proud of me. Just as I hope that yours would be proud of you. You are wired for struggle. Embrace it. Lean in.

Teach them well

You’re a parent even if you don’t realize it.  A parent to friends, coworkers, others’ children, maybe even your own children.  A parent to your own inner child, even.  I wish someone (anyone, really) had been a better parent for me—including myself.  I say and do things that aren’t the least bit flattering to observers.  I berate myself for small mistakes, I don’t give myself even the slightest leeway in creative or physical pursuits, I am unable to be a hundred percent present.  All of which might understandably give someone the impression that I’m an angry and uncompromising person one-hundred percent of the time, which isn’t always true.

There are an incalculable number of things I wish I could have done to make things better, a huge number of lessons I wish I could have imparted on the people I’ve met throughout my life.  Allowing the children you see to have a sense of mastery and purpose, fostering a sense of purpose, granting them the space to explore themselves and their surroundings, uninhibited, in the inseparable interests of discovery and growth.

Let them have the opportunity and space to fail.  They’ll ask for help when they need it.  They’ll surprise you as they learn to do what may have taken you years to learn, and you might even surprise yourself.  I wish I could have discovered earlier that what drives my criticism of other people is the intense criticism I hold for myself.  Failure was either too expensive or criticized ruthlessly by parents or peers.

Grant them the courage to ask the hard questions and speak on their difficult and thorny truths.  The worst that you can do to them is to stifle their ability to tell you how they feel by making them feel unsafe.  I wish I would have had the space to be able to say “you make me angry because you live such a small life and it doesn’t seem like you really try”.

Don’t just be a bystander–be involved.  They’re in your life for a reason, and it’s your job to figure out what that reason is.  Similarly, you’re in their life for a reason–and it’s your job to help them find their joy and to be present with them in it.  I’ve had to struggle with the fact that I never had someone involved in the things I was interested in or anyone to encourage me growing up.  Having to find my own motivation for things and struggling with finding validation outside of myself instead of having my own validation and a sense of fulfillment.

In short: be the person that you would have wanted others to be.  Be the parent that you’d wished you’d had.  Be the friend that others see you as.

Splitboarding

Splitboarding is probably the most interesting activity I’ve ever engaged in.  Ever since I first saw one and saw its potential for what it could make available to me in terms of terrain and travel options, I wanted to try it.  Watching movies like the Jeremy Jones Trilogy (Deeper, Further, and Higher respectively) gave me a yearning for being able to make turns and have adventures like that.

I never realized how fucking difficult splitboarding really is.

I got my first splitboard kit, a 161 K2 Panoramic Split, from an online sale last Spring.  I couldn’t believe the price, and I also couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that I wouldn’t have to buy special boots or bindings unlike my friends who are mostly skiers.  I was giggling like a five-year-old kid when it shipped to my apartment, and I spent the better part of two hours reading about how to get it set-up.

Fast-forward to Winter 2017.

I’d been doing a bunch of lower-body training to try and get my legs ready.  I’d been searching for places near my new apartment in New Hampshire where uphill travel was allowed so I could practice during the early season.  I bought books, read blog posts, signed up for AIARE 1 (in March), and asked almost every friend that I knew who’s gone into the backcountry to share their insight with me.

And still, I’m struggling.  Either I’m not strong enough to make turns in East Coast conditions, or I’m clearly not good enough at snowboarding yet to make splitboarding a worthwhile investment of time.

And it’s kind of getting in my head a bit.  Let me rewind a little bit and talk about some of the tours I’ve been out on and maybe that’ll help fill some gaps.

I started by doing the AMC Winter School back before I had a snowboard.  I acquired snowshoes and a backpack capable of handling winter sports, signed myself up, and spent the weekend getting my ass handed to me.  I thought I was in good shape, but clearly I was sorely mistaken.  I couldn’t make any appreciable turns coming down from Firescrew Mountain on the Duke Ski Trail, broke a trekking pole on the way down, and had to snowshoe my way back out to the cabin.  The second day was only marginally better, where we ended up taking the Kimball Ski Trail up to Bowden Hill and doing some tree runs.  I actually made turns in the trees, but the weekend utterly wiped me out.

I started working on building my endurance after that weekend.  I thought I was improving–emphasis on thought.

I started this past December fairly strong.  I started using my Loon season pass and making use of the Uphill Access Policy there by skinning my way up to Loon Peak and then snowboarding the rest of the day.  I started getting my overall times under an hour and forty-five minutes.

At this point, I was invited to tour Mount Cardigan with a friend I’d met on Facebook.  It had just snowed eight inches overnight and was continuing to snow into the morning, so I said “sure, why not”.  Turns out the snow was extremely wet and heavy, which made riding for me exceptionally difficult as well as for my newfound friend’s wife.  In addition, we also fought freezing-rain all the way up to the peak at Firescrew Mountain and flat-spots all the way down.  Freezing and soaked to the bone, we limped our way back to the cabin.

Round two was today.  Instead of freezing rain, we instead were dealing the fallout of the “bomb cyclone” that had just ravaged the entire East Coast of the country from Florida all the way to Maine.  Temperatures were already below-zero and the addition of winds topping twenty miles an hour removed another dozen-plus degrees Fahrenheit from the air.  We decided to do Duke Meadows a couple times to get a feel for just how bad it was going to be and then re-evaluate.  I made one run down, tumbling only a dozen feet from where I’d started due to an unseen wind-drift, and tried to go back to touring mode to get a second run.  I discovered that my skins were iced-over and I was going to have to boot-pack my way out of the meadows back to the cabin’s boot-room to dry things off.

My friend (sans wife for this trip) hooked-up with a couple of other skiers who were headed all the way up Duke Ski Trail to the peak at Firescrew, so I booked it for the cabin.  Spent a half-hour or so there waiting for my skins to dry enough for me to be able to get back out to Duke Meadows and get another run or two.  In the interim, I moved both sets of pucks as far back onto the tail of the board as I was physically able, thinking that it might help me keep my nose above the snow.  I figured the rest of the day was going to be a “gear shakedown day” for me, but my friend had other plans.  He apparently had already been up to the peak and all the way back to the cabin somewhere in that time, and radioed me after my second run of Duke Meadows and asked if I’d want to skin up the Alexandria Ski Trail all the way up to Mount Cardigan’s peak with him and the pair that he’d hooked-up with earlier.

I (stupidly) fired off a “Sure! Be right there!” to my friend.

Don’t get me wrong: Alexandria Ski Trail is beautiful.  Sweeping lines, huge rollers and nice elevation-change among the trees makes for a very interesting trail to ride down.  However, if I’d have thought about it more, I would have recognized several things:

  • I was tired as hell.
  • I was already pretty damn cold, touring for another two hours wasn’t going to help.
  • My patience (with myself mostly) was already absurdly thin.
  • My skins had already iced-over once.
  • Snow conditions were terrible for me.

The first and last points on the above list are what were the most prescient in retrospect.  The snow was a mixture of ice/hoar at the lowest layers, wet-and-heavy snow with a frozen layer about an inch thick above that from the freezing-rain event I described earlier, and on top of that was anywhere from a two-inch to ten-inch thick, wind-blown layer of ultra-dry powder.

The snow conditions played merry-hobb with my ability to make turns, especially with the route the skiers chose to ascend.  Heading directly onto the trail we were going to ride down, we ascended and switchbacked several steep sections that depleted my energy reserves and made riding safely impossible.  I tumbled at least twice, once into a downed sapling’s boughs (from which I now have a dollar-bill-sized bruise on one hip and several other quarter-sized bruises on various surfaces) and another because my snowboard “snow-plowed” into the aforementioned mixed-layer snow and caused me to flip end-over-end (also known as “tomahawking”) and tweak the utter hell out of my left knee.

To cut a long story short: the ride down was hell, the hike out was a worse kind of hell.  My skins were still iced-over, which means they weren’t going to stick to the splitboard even if I’d tried.  In retrospect, I recognize that I need to buy a couple adjustable straps to make skins remain attached in an emergency.

Which brings me to my current pickle: I’m frustrated, and I’m not sure if it’s me (my skills, my decisions, or my fitness) or if it’s just me being absurdly unlucky in conditions and minor injuries.  I honestly want to love backcountry snowboarding, I really do.  But the fact that I’m getting this worked just skinning up to an objective and being unable to make any good turns makes me think I need another year of strength and endurance training before I really try again.

More stuff to think about, I guess.

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Manhood

I’ve never thought of myself as a “man”.  Not in the sense of gender, but in the sense of title or age.

I hadn’t thought about the fact that up until recently I had always thought of myself as a “boy” or a “guy”–never a man.  To me, that was a title, something that was bestowed or achieved in some great accomplishment or recognition amongst peers.  Marriage, career, property, hobbies, pursuits… something in that cadre of the unobtainable (for me at least).

Or so I thought.

It dawned on me that I didn’t have any recognition or rituals to mark the passing or transformation of the “boy” into the “man” that other people seem to see me as these days.  Much like how some Buddhists seem to believe that enlightenment ebbs-and-flows, I’d had fleeting glimpses of it.  Just enough to give me some kind of idea as to how things could be different.

Just as soon as I’d seen it and recognized it for what it was, it would always fade.

Back into some sort of drama.  Some kind of waking-nightmare.  Something I’d gotten myself entangled with or been sucked into.  I admittedly wallowed in the bleakness of it all, feeling miserable for myself and spreading it to everyone else.

I realize now that though there were no celebrations or rituals to mark that transition, I think I found my own.  No rituals involved, no libations, none of that stuff; just the simple recognition that others see me as a more complete and responsible person now.  That in working so hard to be responsible and take responsibility–that in itself marked the change.

No transits of celestial bodies, no ritual sacrifices, no wild hunts or orgiastic, Dionysian calamities (though, that might have been fun a decade ago)… just a simple set of practices that became not just rote, but embedded in who I am.

I had to find that on my own.  I had to figure out how to fix a car, how to pay bills on time, how to make sense of the world, what my values were, and the kind of person I wanted to be.  I didn’t have a father figure to look to–mine was too busy working his ass off trying to put food on the table and distract himself.

I had to figure all of this out on my own, from my own volition and perseverence.

If that’s not proof of hard work, strife, and growth… then I don’t know what is.

30 Things I’ve Learned

I can’t believe it–I’m thirty.  That realization still hasn’t fully sunk-in for me–the fact that I’m this old or the fact that I’ve made it to this point in my life.  I didn’t have any expectations that I would make it this far, and I honestly believed that I wouldn’t live to see this day.  Goes to show how life can surprise you and how much things can change, I guess.

The last few years, I’ve made an effort to put up things that I’ve learned that have had a big impact on my life over the course of the previous year.  I’ve learned a lot this year and changed a lot as a result.

I’ve grown to understand that not everyone will know or understand me, and being that one of my worst issues centers on the fact that I seldom feel valued or wanted, that unmet need arises in the worst ways.  The fact that I also don’t know how to value myself or be happy outside of achievement and external validation has made some aspects of my life difficult.

But in the last couple of months, I’ve spent more time trying to understand what makes me happy and I’ve tried to become more comfortable with myself.  The idiosyncrasies, the nerdiness, the weirdness–all of it.  I won’t always be liked or understood, and I’ve been learning how to accept that.  I won’t lie: it’s hard.  Harder than a lot of things I’ve tried to do for myself, but one day I hope it’ll be automatic.

Here’s 30 things that I’ve learned this year (or I’ve been reminded about):

1. No one will advocate for you except you.

There isn’t anyone else on Earth that knows you nearly as well as you do, and they don’t know your life any better than you do.  If you don’t advocate for yourself and for the things that you want, no one will.

2. Trust is not given, it needs to be earned.

Some people will go out of their way to ingratiate themselves or work at appearing worthy of your trust and time–most of the time, these are people who, whether unconsciously or not, become emotional sink-holes and perpetual time-sinks.  If people aren’t showing up, aren’t proving themselves worthy of trust, and aren’t able to give you the kind of experience you’re looking for, just drop the expectations on the floor and walk away.

3. Lives are not lived in vain–so get on with living.

There will be naysayers, doubters, and downers throughout your life.  The worst of them will try to actively sabotage your success and your excitement.  Others just won’t get it and will try to discourage you.  But here’s the secret: don’t let them.  Your volition is your own, and anyone that would diminish your energy or downplay your interests deserves neither your time nor your attention.  Do what makes you happy without compromise.

4. The truth is often more complicated (and damning) than you might think.

Whether it’s digging to find the truth about abuse in the family, a search for meaning and purpose, or struggling to make sense of the world, the truth is often complex and multi-faceted.  Allowing for perspectives other than your own and trying to see things from one other than your own can help bridge gaps and build relationships.

5. Know your worth (and don’t let other people dictate it).

Your worth is not dictated by your job, your car, your clothes, your hair, or your body dimensions.  Your worth is exactly what you believe it to be.

But more specifically, you need to know your worth in relation to the journey you have been on–how far you’ve come and how far you have yet to go.  No one’s journey is pre-ordained or set in stone, and expecting your journey to mirror someone else’s will only make you unhappy.

6. Your journey is unique (same as everyone else’s).

Every individual’s journey is going to contain its own set of circumstances, its own side-paths, twists, turns, thrills, chills, and–you get the idea.  Nothing is predictable or set in stone, and as a result your journey will change wildly.  Sometimes right before your very eyes.  Sometimes it’ll be happy and ecstatic, other times it might feel as though a star is collapsing in your chest.  Sometimes you have to just let it go and recognize that your journey will often change directions and will change you in the process.

7. Be okay with just ‘being okay’.

It’s hard for a lot of perfectionists and go-getters to understand or accept, but sometimes you have to be okay with just being okay.  Some days you won’t be able to lift that weight, to carry that load, or bear that burden–and that’s okay.

8. Don’t settle.

Settling is a tricky business.  On the one hand, once you know you’ve found something that makes you happy it can be comforting to settle into a rhythm or a routine or to finally feel as though you’ve “arrived”–and that’s okay.  We all seek it to some extent.  But what keeps us growing and keeps life fresh is change, challenge, and the unknown.  Throwing yourself headlong into something new and recognizing that you will be okay on the other side is one of the easiest ways to experience it.

9. Experience life.

Try everything.  Literally anything.  If there’s an introductory course, a class you can audit, an interest, a hobby, anything–run, do not walk, toward that experience.  A life spent in simplicity can be rewarding in its own right, but at this point in history there’s no reason not to try.

10. Fear is not a motivator.

Negative reinforcement and consquences fail more often than not for kids and animals, so why do it to yourself?  Energy spent on fear is better spent on anything but.

11. Love is the ultimate motivator.

Love people, love food, love challenges, love yourself, love as much as you are capable.  When your life experience is colored and motivated by love, you’ll often find that you spend less time playing the blame-and-shame game.

12. Self-care isn’t selfish–it’s essential.

Sometimes it’s a night in, other times it’s a day out.  Whatever recharges you, lets you be your truest self, and gives you a sense of flow, center, or purpose to your life, chase it.  Or don’t, your call.

13. Surround yourself with people that you know and love.

This shouldn’t have to be said, but I’ve had to re-learn this particular lesson a lot over the last year.  There are certain people that can be beneficial, and there are others still that you’ll find will need to be walked away from.  That distinction has been hard for me to figure out, but it’s been utterly indispensible in finding the people that I’ve needed in my life.

14. Stop tolerating toxic people.

You know the type: always telling you what you can’t do, telling you exactly what your problem is, trying to talk you down from your ambitions.  The people spreading negativity without any reason to.  The people perpetually stuck in the past.  The ones who just can’t seem to let go.

Those are the ones you need to let go of.  The ones you should have the courage and the respect for to tell them right to their face how toxic their behavior is and how you love them enough to want to see them move past it.  It’s hard, but worth it.

15. Love and respect people enough to tell them the truth.

How you feel, how they make you feel, how they act, how you act, how their behavior harms or helps you or them–none of it should be taboo or off the table.  A relationship of mutual respect and love is what really delineates a full life and one left yearning for more.

16. Get organized.

Everyone has a phone or computer capable of using the internet with access to things like Google.  There’s no reason to not have a calendar, to not set reminders, to not set your bills to auto-pay, and to not know exactly what you owe or are owed monetarily.  There’s no reason not to be able to know when you’re committed to something and when you’re not.  And there’s certainly not a reason to not get organized, not when it’s free.

17. Curate your life ruthlessly.

Don’t love it?  Don’t keep it.

That clothing you never wear?  Donate it.

That piece of outdoor gear you’ve never used?  Sell it.

Those CDs you never listen to?  Rip them, then sell them or donate them.

Those books you’ve already read or never seem to get around to?  Donate them.

Those events you keep getting invited to but never seem to go to?  Unsubscribe.

In short: if you don’t absolutely love it, don’t keep it.  There will be less things to clean-up, less things to look after, and less reason to fret if something happens.  You’ll also find that you have more out of the deal:

More space to breathe and stretch.

More time to think.

More time do what you’re really interested in doing.

More freedom.

18. Be okay with not being okay.

The state of “not being okay” is more-or-less the default.  Discomfort, distress, and discontentment are the hallmarks of a life lived with introspection and understanding, not marks of weakness or moral failings.  I’ve found that the more work that I do both on myself and in the physical world, nothing is “okay”… and that’s perfectly fine.

19. The rest of the world falls into two categories…

  • People who know who you are and care about you.
  • People who couldn’t give less of a damn who you are or why you’re alive.

Ignore the second category, and carefully curate the first one.  You’ll thank yourself later.

20. You are not:

  • Your job
  • Your title
  • Your socioeconomic class
  • Your car
  • Your sport
  • Your interest
  • Your hobby
  • Your condition
  • Your illness
  • Your disease
  • Your fucking khakis

21. You are:

  • A living, breathing human being.
  • Act accordingly.

22. Don’t neglect your health.

Mental health, dental health, ocular health, bodily health, spiritual health–any of it.  The more often you check in with yourself and take care of your health, the better off you’ll be.

23. Stick to the basics.

Doesn’t matter if you’re packing for a trip, getting groceries, getting a car, finding a computer, or a new job.  The closer you stay to the absolute basics, the less complicated your life becomes overall.

24. Pay your debts (and try not to accumulate any at all).

This country is absolutely turgid with resources that it should be a crime to pay full price for anything, but people seem to do it anyway.  Buy used, buy refurbished, buy from friends or neighbors.  Rent when you can, buy when you have to.

25. You’re weird and unique–just like everyone else.

Whether or not people actively cultivate that label or image, everyone has their idiosyncrasies and “rough edges”.  You have a bunch of them too, they just might not be as obvious to you as they are to other people.  Learn to love them, and you’ll find yourself.

26. Sometimes the thing you want the most is the worst thing for you.

Struggling to make friends?  Work on being happier by yourself first.

Finding it hard to find meaning in your life?  Get out and travel.

Sometimes what you’re striving and straining so hard to obtain or achieve is actually the opposite of what you actually need.  Go the opposite direction and ask the hard questions first, then revisit your wants.  I’d wager you’ll find something different there when you come back to it.

27. Never stop learning.

We live in the most information-rich period in human history with instant access to nearly any topic imaginable and resources to calculate and ask for the answers you need.  There’s no excuse to avoid learning.  YouTube, WikiHow, and even just performing a Google search can get you on-track to completing a task or learning something new.  So what’re you waiting for?

28. Read.

Poetry.  Science-fiction.  Fantasy.  Trade magazines.  Medical textbooks.  Anything.

The more you read, the more knowledge you have at your command, and the less ignorance will keep you from doing what you mean to do.

29. Not everyone will understand (or even like) you.

Like a lot of art forms, sometimes your target audience isn’t who you expect.  Not everyone will “get you”.  Not everyone will enjoy your company.  Not everyone be there for you.

The sooner you recognize and accept this, the easier life gets.

30. It’s not about you.

That argument.  That misunderstanding.  That fear.  It’s not about you specifically, it might be about what you represent or the identity you bear.  The ways in which people might respond to you might not be about you at all and instead might be reflections of what’s going on in their own heads or hearts.  It’s not necessarily your fault, and it’s not about you.

Blank Spaces

When you divorce yourself from the fickle opinions of critics and passive observers, you free yourself from a form of psychic tyranny.

When you dismiss the cynics and only recognize the opinions of people who have earned that privilege, you find yourself with a significantly larger amount of mental bandwidth.

When you stop worrying about what other people think and about impressing them, what does that leave you with?

That blank space is yours to fill.  What will you bring to it?

Realities

There’s a realization that I’ve had to spend time getting eye-to-eye with.  An inescapable fact.  It’s ugly and painful, but I think it’s about as close to a truism as I think I can really get.

95% of the time, people won’t show up for you.

4.9% of the time they might because either you’ve coerced them or their interests and yours align.

The remaining 0.1% of the time is complete happenstance or someone actually being a Decent Fucking Human Being.

“The work”, then, is to find as many people that fit into that 0.1% as you can.  Disregard the rest.

Because spending your time on the 95% of “no’s” and 4.9% of “maybe’s” is a waste of time, and there’s enough time wasted in our lives as it is.