Different

Things have been markedly different the last few weeks.  Besides the weather being all over the place, there’s been a significant amount of tumult.  Winter injuries, relationship changes, seasonal depression, social and political news taking their toll – you name it, it’s happened.

The weather finally broke a bit this last week.  A near-tolerable weekend day at about 50 degrees gave me the opportunity to do something I’ve never done before: an oil change on a vehicle I own.  I’d always thought about doing it and dreamed about it, but had never gotten the gumption up to do it.  Got a bunch of tools, got a friend’s help, and got to work.  Never thought it’d be that easy.  No reason to go to a shop for something so simple anymore.  Grabbed a digital rotor measurement caliper, too.  Just need to find the appropriately-sized floor jack and stands and I can start doing my own brakes and rotors too.  Amazing what you can do with a little bit of information off the internet and some warmer temperatures.

Still not ready to talk about the project publicly.  Got a long way to go before it’s ready for prime-time, but I think the wait will be worth it.  Stay tuned.

Injuries this year were an absolute nightmare.  Tweaked both knees at least twice while snowboarding, and I’m fairly sure I’ve damaged the meniscus as well.  Need to get an ultrasound and a physical soon anyway, so I suppose that’s not that big of a deal.  I’ve definitely had to slow down on my training plans though.

Speaking of that specific point, I’ve had to grow into a different mindset as of late.  Since I don’t have anybody to climb indoor sport with where I live, I’ve circled back around to bouldering.  It’s kind of nice to be able to come into the local gym and climb at my own pace again and really work on sequencing, strength, and form.  I’ve missed a lot of it.  But the largest problem has been the fact that I’ve been unable to ramp right back up to the level I was at before I left for Portland, OR earlier this year.  I was climbing indoors at around 5.11+/V5+, and having been out of the gym for almost two-and-a-half months, I’m only really back at a V2/V3 level.  It could also be the change in gyms and the huge change in setting, but I’m definitely not able to climb what I was before.

I’ve had to begin growing into a kind of mindset of realism and acceptance.  I’ve had to accept that I’m not as strong as I was, I’m just as strong as I am right this second.  I’ve had to accept the reality that I only have conscious control of a very small number of things.  I can’t control when a hold is terrible, when a foot is greasy, or when my skin decides to rip–I can only control my reactions to them (and maybe brush the holds off a bit).  I have had to accept that I have injuries, and it’s perfectly fine that I can’t squat what I used to squat, climb what I used to climb, or lift what I used to lift.  I can only put in the effort, and I just have to be happy and okay with that.  All of this has been hard for me to merely be okay with, much less accept.  But, it’s getting better by degrees.

I’ve also largely been taking time away from social media.  I’ve gotten tired of the click-bait shenanigans and partisan shouting matches on both sides.  I’m tired of constantly being deluged with negativity and people screaming at each other.  I’ve gotten to the point to where if I don’t know somebody personally, I’m much less likely to invest emotionally in their story or to try and understand their point of view.  That might sound like I’m closing myself off, but I have to be able to have the energy to be able to give a damn about myself and my situation ahead of anyone else’s.  Especially when I’m still fighting PTSD and depression symptoms every day.

Been tempted to shut it all off.  LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, all of it.  Just close it all down and just focus on the relationships and friendships right in front of me.  I figure most of the people that aren’t reaching out to me directly via email, text message, or responding to this blog directly really aren’t interested anyway… so what’s the point of letting someone else make money off of my data and wasting my time clicking “Like”?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  Maybe I’ll do it.  Who knows.

Transitions

The last couple weeks have been a whirlwind of activity and change.  Haven’t been able to really spend time on writing anything as a direct result, but at least it hasn’t been boring.

First, I finally have a new vehicle.  I’m not divulging what vehicle I have publicly yet – just suffice to say that it’s another project.  I’ve said it before, but I’ll reiterate: talking about your goals and projects rather than just chiseling, hammering, and grinding away at them saps the energy out of it and gives room for haters and naysayers to throw static your way.

Best advice?  Ignore them.  Stop broadcasting it.  Get to it.

I’ll talk about the project.  Eventually.

I’ve been winding-down my participation in group and individual therapy in Boston.  It’s become prohibitively expensive and now that I’m living an hour North (in New Hampshire), it’s become even more difficult to ensure there’s ample room in my life for it.  I’ve gotten a lot of out of the process and out of interacting with other people going through the process, but I think it’s time I break away and integrate what I’ve learned and see the difference that the last few years of therapy have made.

Re-adusting to life in a new place has given me a plethora of challenges.  Loneliness and isolation are two of the hardest, but I’ve been working to improve the situation lately.  Met a few new people, been spending more time snowboarding, splitboard touring, and I plan on spending time this season doing a lot more outdoor bouldering.  I’ll probably be dialing back how much indoor leading I do since I don’t have a steady climbing partner in New Hampshire yet, but I want to make sure I stay strong in that respect.  Guess we’ll have to see how things shake out.

Spent time this weekend snowboarding and splitboard touring as well.  Took Friday off, spent time at Killington, VT getting laps in on steep trails and discovered that I’m actually a lot better at navigating steep terrain than I originally thought.  Saturday was spent at Gulf of Slides getting some time in on the ski trail there, which was glorious.  I’d never ridden a trail like that and had such an amazing experience doing so.  I’m stoked to do more of that next season.  Spent Sunday up at Sunapee with a coworker and his friend getting some high-speed groomer runs in and working on getting more comfortable going over low rollers and short knuckles.  I’m actually getting air now and I’m way more confident than I was last season, which is a huge win in my book.  After having dislocated two ribs a few seasons ago and having the psychological fear of injury hanging around in the back of my mind, I’m happy that I’m making progress again.

Going to also work on getting rid of my Facebook account (again).  Recent revelations around data obtained by a Brexit- and Trump-aligned company called Cambridge Analytica have underlined the need for me to make sure that I’m more diligent in what I participate in and share online.  The fact that someone is able to create such detailed profiles by mere inference based on information gathered from adjacent individuals’ social media information should scare anyone that cares about privacy and surveillance.

Reading a lot of books lately and keeping myself informed and entertained through that.  Dropped out of playing video games and scrolling through social media aimlessly.  It’s hard to not fall into old habits, but hopefully things will continue to change in a meaningful way as time goes on.

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.