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.

Labors

I’ve spent a lot of time living under the belief that I am insufficient, deficient, or otherwise defective. I believed that this was the case because no one was even pretending to be my champion. I lived in such painful invisibility that I acted out in a number of ways just to somehow try and be visible. I participated in things I didn’t care about deeply and spoke half-truths that I really didn’t believe at my core to please people I honestly didn’t like.

I didn’t know how to speak my truth then. Even now, I’m still learning how to do it and do it with compassion for both myself and others.

It wasn’t until very recently that I started to learn what my truth actually sounded like when spoken from a place of self-love and recognition. I was in bed with a partner and was able to communicate specifically what I wanted in that moment, and was able to engage in the behavior that I felt was exciting for the both of us without any trace of shame or dependency. It felt absolutely amazing, and more importantly it felt right. We both emerged from the experience closer and happier.

Earlier in the weekend, I was out with the same friend at a bar and was playing pool against several other patrons there and was able to hold my own for several games. People were making passes at me, which I accepted without judgement on how they looked or their intent and appreciated it for what it was to me: a payment of appreciation for my appearance and personality.

A year ago or more, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this. I would have been hiding behind whoever I was there with, nursing a beer, and just generally being anti-social (but forcing myself to be “social”).

I think it says a lot about how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned about telling my truth, actually hearing what other people have to say, and how much more compassion I’ve been trying to extend to myself. There have been a number of noted spiritual and philosophical thinkers who have had a lot to say about self-esteem and self-confidence over the course of written history, many of them sharing some of the same basic philosophies at their core:

  • Letting go of what you cannot control, focusing on what you can
  • Focusing purely on success diminishes the worth of the effort expended in the pursuit
  • Among the most prescient of ideas that I have come across is the notion that without self-love and acceptance of imperfection, all other points are moot.

“You could search the whole world over and never find anyone as deserving of your love as yourself.”

I’ve also found that thinking about the self-talk that I engage in and comparing it against what might be the reactions of others if they overheard such speak against myself has helped a lot in sometimes breaking out of the black-and-white thinking that I find myself in. It’s helped me to understand and really start to believe that others actually do like me, they do trust me to some extent, and that they genuinely care about my personal wellbeing and growth. It’s still sometimes difficult for me to accept, but I primarily chalk that up to the upbringing I had and the blind eye that was turned to my troubles and experiences.

Growth is slow, and I still hit what I refer to as “speed bumps” occasionally, but they are becoming easier to manage in no small part to the people that surround me in this life I’ve made for myself. I, who came from nothing, am grateful for those who see me and recognize me for both who and what I am: human.

Journal Entry: July 5th, 2014, 8:52PM – Somerville, MA

Long ago, when you or your contemporaries outgrew the morality or the pettiness of your surroundings, you went one of two directions: East or West. You went, and went, and went some more until there was no more distance to travel–or when you were finally alone. These days, there’s no more distance to travel. All of the frontiers have been claimed (except for space and the deep sea), so what’s left to you when you feel like you’re living on the edge of the universe? When there’s no frontier left, where do you go?

When there isn’t any hope or understanding, what’s left for you to do? Who do you go to see? When the sun sets on your weary shoulders, who do you think of? Why?

I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but when I get these kinds of moods I tend not to think of anyone. I tend to see and feel memories from my past in a kind of reverse-montage sort of way. It’s hard to describe the feelings that come up, but I imagine it’s something like bleeding-out and seeing your life play out before your eyes as you edge closer to the end. The sunset today accentuated that particular emotion, and made me feel like I’d lost something important or that somehow I felt “terminal”. As if there were no further distance to go, no further fugues to be played, and no more mileage left in this bleeding heart of mine.

I know for a fact that these feelings are not true, but they’re about as real as anything else I could possibly experience. It’s strange, being apart from it and seeing or experiencing it in an ethereal, detached sort of way rather than being caught in the crushing gravity of it all. I’ll take this perspective, given that the alternative is worse.

If you could imagine peeling back layers of ice, volcanic rock, and metallic armor away from a heart–that’s kind of what it feels like. Necrotic flesh and decaying metal peeled away from a heart that has yet to mend. Though, the more that I think about it, the less I think that it’s a broken heart than the essence of what my younger self is. Cocooned in the cooled anger of over a decade’s worth of jealousy, hatred, and the devastation of rejection, the ice formed from the cold reality of intense loneliness and depression, and the armor formed from the patchwork of identities and masks that were created over time to try and cover the scars and make it seem as though I could tough it out, that I could take it.

It wasn’t the companionship I wanted. It wasn’t even the closeness. All I wanted was to be understood at a base level, to be acknowledged, valued, and accepted for who I was without any reservations or conditions; to be able to trust someone implicitly. I think that particular point is chief among the reasons why I have such a hard time with things these days: trust. I couldn’t trust anyone then, and even now there are scant few people I can say that is true of. To say that I couldn’t trust even my parents was an understatement. I couldn’t trust anyone for a long time. Even when I made friends with the person I still consider to this day my absolute best friend and confidant (you know who you are), I held a lot back. There were many things I couldn’t say, do, or be. Time progressed, and I grew to trust them implicitly, even when it seemed to run contrary to what my gut was telling me. To quite John Cusack’s character “Rob Gordon” from the movie High Fidelity, “I’m convinced that my guts have shit for brains”. But I grew as a result of that deep friendship.

In this stage of my life, I have what’s known as a “good problem to have”. I have friends, and some of them I am working toward granting that level of trust. I still hold a lot in because a lot of what I feel isn’t meant for public consumption, but at the same time it eats me up inside to the point that not letting it out is just as bad. But I’m trying to work it all out, letting people in slowly who earn that trust, and trying my hardest to realize that not everyone entering that space intends harm.

Sometimes trusting means giving someone else the microscope and implicitly understanding that they don’t mean you harm, they’re just analyzing and responding. That’s probably among the hardest lesson to learn out of all of this.

One of the hardest lessons is learning to be able to be comfortable and happy with myself and my struggles. I’ve tried hard to build a life worth living, worthy of respect, one that other people take positive notice of. I’ve labored under the impression for a long time that I’ve always been “deficient” and that I’m always in need of improvement. This mindset isn’t healthy and it’s something that stems from over a decade of rejection and intense bullying. It’s something I hadn’t had the courage to really address in the past, but lately I’ve noticed it popping-up in the worst possible ways. I think the worst of people when I have no reason to, and I fear the worst when there’s nothing to fear.

I have to work on realizing that no one is intending me harm (physically or emotionally), that I am not deficient in any way, and that things are just “okay”. Not necessarily “lowering expectations” or “settling for less”, but easing the pressure on myself needs to be one of the bigger priorities I need to take on before much else. Maybe then I can stop expecting so much of other people (or expecting the worst).

Why?

Lead with it.  It might seem inscrutible, impossible to comprehend the reasons why depending upon what subject is being queried.  But the impossibility of starting with it begs the question itself: why not start with “why”?

Take, for example, an engineer.  Brilliant, but utterly fearful and ineffective at communicating.  Why?

Perhaps that very same brilliant engineer might have been smothered or abused early in their life.  An educator or authority figure might have told them they’d never be able to communicate well.  A parent who could never be placated or pleased tore them down at every turn.  Maybe that’s why.

Maybe moves us closer.  Why gives us an opening to insert insight, perspective, and empathy into the discourse.

When we’re confronted by difficult choices, disagreement, or discontent, we have the agency to ask the magic question.  It’s up to us to dig deeper.

So, why not?