small reminders for the morning.

7 December 2014 § 2 Comments

do your self a favor: be aware that your actions and every shred of your energy are yours alone: manage them well. be careful and dignified within. seek counsel from the wise, and be slow to accept advice. your energy is sacred; giving it away frivolously will only harm you. some will try to help themselves to it: you must decrease the interval between the present moment and your highest response. use all of your senses during interactions, and know that what is being communicated is seldom with words at all, but with the subtleties of body language and intention. how you carry yourself will determine how you are treated.

that which you found yesterday has been you all along. welcome to yourself. welcome to how you show up in the world, and relate to others. intellectualize it, avoid it, and you will never be satisfied. fear is a series of obstacles between you, and the outcome of your desires.

you are the sole proprietor of your fear. own it, take responsibility for it; no one else can, or will. as with your creativity, forgive and thank those whom inspire it.

what is within begs to be without. so let it out, and let it be. you cannot unring the bell.

congratulations. you have arrived at the beginning, and everyone is watching. no – they are aware. they react to your energy, as you react to theirs. these ripples ebb and flow only with your awareness. only in authentic action can we truly serve another.

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The Settling

1 October 2014 § 3 Comments

I’ve lost track of you. As an individual, as a group. Grand-scale socializing for this introvert peaked, and not even the trusty iPhone kept up. If we’ve connected recently, and the ball is in my court to get back to you, picture me dropping the ball, distracted as ever by the pulsing energy flying past.

Maybe I’m not supposed to “keep up.” Maybe I’m caught up in the relationship reciprocation game, the social network, the outstretched hand. Maybe conversations continue, and there is no end. Maybe I’m missing the jagged shimmer of turmoil.

In third grade, I was caught by the recess duty trying to set ants of fire with my eyeglasses. My energy now is focusing like that sunlight laser beam. Things and people are falling in and out of focus. For better or worse, something’s about to burst into flames. Steady hands, steady heat.

I’m back in university as of yesterday – a two year gap – and grateful for the first go-around. She said once, if you don’t start now, you never will. And I wouldn’t now, if I had to start from the beginning.

But I don’t, because I’m past the beginning. Past the bright and shiny, brain-drug phase of life where each smile feels like forever and always, and each heart prod is still an experiment with assumed-yet-unknowable results. I’m making peace with the new peace, the change, the acceptance, the settling. The settling. Not so suddenly, SETTLE no longer means or implies DEATH. It means, listen. Observe. Participate. Be yourself. Understand and love your Self. Your self – my self – is not a product of another being, though we can be driven by inspiration; love is not determined by another, though it often seems dependent. The Settling is not about place, time, or giving in. It is about steady hands, an internal knowing: one palm on my heart, the other open, upward.

I’ve lost all your coordinates, all your stars. But I’m beginning to find my own.

enlightenment in the cars

29 May 2014 § Leave a comment

On the Coastal Starlight Amtrak, yesterday morning, observation deck.

Is this seat taken? a man asked. Shane stood at the edge of my base camp, a corner of the lounge car littered with books, pens, shoes, socks, a laptop on the floor, next to a jacket-pillow.

Nope, I said, and removed from the next seat a kitchen of hummus, cheese, and a dive knife sitting on a plate/cutting board/storage bag of the best homemade tortillas in the world.

You look like you’ve been enlightened by travel, he said.

Yes, I replied, enlightened to a world of things I don’t know anything about.

<<>>

Train culture fascinates me. Indeed, all culture fascinates me, but trains in particular – the blurring of socio-economic lines in public areas; the potential for someone to sit next to you with whom you may have everything, or nothing, in common; that everyone, no matter how rich or poor, who chooses to dine on the train, eats the same microwaved, overpriced garbage. Even a recluse can make friends on a train.

Shane and I stumbled through the first minutes of shallow travel talk as the guide on the PA announced a contest: whomever counts the correct number of tunnels we pass through in the Oregon Cascades gets a prize.

In the uncountable dark tunnels, lit by tiny track lights in the ceiling, we traded stories of big hard lessons from the road, and what it means to have multiple homes. He spent months in a Russian prison circa the fall of the curtain, accused of spying. I told him about hitching in European blizzards, and in the Alaskan winterdark. How we got out of our predicaments: other people. Connections, loved ones.

You remind me of that guy in that movie, he said, you know, he went to Alaska, and he died?

Into the Wild was required reading for me in high school, I said, but I think I’m done hitching. I’m tired of sleeping at truck stops, under bridges, with the mice and mice of men.

I’ve been compared to Alexander Supertramp more times than I care to admit. At first, I felt complimented. I admired his idealism, his thirst for adventure. I wanted to push as many walls over as I could, whilst listening to the real Alaskan bushmen, hunters and fishermen and roughnecks, the fathers and uncles of my teenage years. They said he was an idiot, a moron, unprepared. The wilderness gives two shits about you, they said. Alaska will spit you out. He deserved what he got. 

When I moved back to Alaska in my mid-twenties, I connected with the outdoors far more than with people. I packrafted glacier-fed class 3+ rapids in rain slicks, a brand-new hobby, and one I learned by trial and error alone; I bagged peaks in the Chugach and Alaska ranges without any real training or background in mountaineering; I hitched across the state, and took multiday backcountry adventures, sometimes in late fall or early spring. Conditions which, if anything went wrong, could have killed me.

To top it off, I never told anyone where I was going. I lived with my mum, who worked often. I never left notes, rarely took pictures. Often I didn’t know where I’d end up until I got to an out-of-the-way trailhead. My car was registed to a fake address half the state away, and I didn’t carry identification on my person – the useless card would weigh me down, I reasoned.

Maybe I wanted to be like John Muir, to toss some bread and tea into a sack, jump the proverbial fence, and walk into the wild unknown. But Alaska doesn’t really have fences. For two years, my mum’s place as base camp, I trusted my balance, resourcefulness, and growing experience to carry me through my adventures. In retrospect, I’m fairly certain that I didn’t really care much if I died out there.

Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours hit theaters in 2011. Adventure movie by the director of Slumdog Millionaire and 28 Days Later? Inspiration? Please! Sure, I’d thumbed through Aron Ralston’s Between a Rock and a Hard Place amongst mountaineering literature in bookshops, but never read it. The message reached me anyway.

In 127 Hours, the main character – played by James Franco – falls into a slot canyon in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, and his hand gets wedged between the wall of the canyon and a rock roughly the size of a refrigerator. He goes through his gear: climbing rope, flashlight, camcorder, a bit of water; and imagines what it would take to get out of his predicament: eight strong men – who in the film appear as shadows in the relentless desert sun – pulling in sync on a line which might free the stuck young man below.

I pictured myself at the bottom of a whirlpool rapid on Alaska’s Sixmile River, or Sheep Creek (rivers I had no business running alone), or breaking an ankle near the summit of Bold Peak. I imagined facing off with a brown bear in the empty tundra of the Talkeetna mountains, and losing. Realistic situations, given my ambition. Then I envisioned the shadows of eight strong men, willing and able to help, playing cards back in Anchorage, because no one knew to look for me.

The point is that since the dangerous, unlikeable age of 23, I’ve learned some boundaries. My risk assessment is different now: why would I jump from the top of a fifteen-foot boulder, if I could walk nimbly down the other side?

If travel and adventure have enlightened me to anything, as Shane suggested, it is to the fragility of life. We humans are at once resilient and adaptive creatures, capable of creation, destruction, and healing. Yet it takes a relatively insignificant decision to alter the dynamic of life: half a second on a motorcycle, a moment’s hesitation on a mountain, saying a terribly inconsiderate – even if true – thing at the worst possible moment. Perhaps one reason we are so incredibly adaptive is that we are extremely sensitive to set and setting, and those who listen are the ones who learn, and thus, survive.

We’ve got work to do.

22 May 2014 § 2 Comments

Sometimes we tell stories over and over again to find out their significance to us. Just as it is common to see something new in a film one has watched multiple times, a connection which binds the characters closer may reveal itself in the hundredth telling of a story that didn’t seem to exist before.

The audience plays a large part in the development of story: pertinent questions, feedback, and criticism reflect holes, irrelevant information; it can help connect important, but perhaps misplaced, fragments. Pieces gathered during immersion.

Any story can be told from an experience. A picnic can be a sweetbitter serenade, or it can be a vicious slaughter of the ant-thieves. An arduous mountain ascent can be a reconciliation, or a cold lesson in compassion. To misquote the Beatles, perspective is all you need.

For months, I’ve been telling the same story over again, as if it was the only one. Every telling has had the same ending: I don’t know.

Which isn’t much of an ending at all. It’s a clue, however, that I’m still in it, still discovering characters, their roles, and the story’s plot points.

In this particular narrative, character becomes audience, and becomes character again. Insists that his input is important to the story, “so put it in the story!” The character wants to know why the narrator is there. Narrator as character: first person.

I imagine Ed Gish saying, does the architect reveal his plans? No, he builds the fucking building, and lets everyone marvel. No one cares what nails were used, how long the concrete took to dry, or which trusses support the heaviest loads. They care about having a place to live or work, and if it looks good, that’s great. If the building is energy efficient, made of recycled materials, or wins design awards, those are bonuses. The building is the point.

The story is the point.

This is a terrible time to write! The concrete is still being poured.

eight days, and counting.

28 September 2013 § Leave a comment

In eight days I’m to marry the only woman I’ve met who is not only willing to tolerate my shit post-poetic charm, but professes to love me regardless.

She’s the kind of storyteller who speaks joy and inclusivity to the point where you might think, if what she says is not true, it should be. She’s human, and knows it. I hold that secret too, and tell myself in the mirror. Learning to be more so daily. We’re earning PhDs in Each Other, and some of the vocabulary words run off to be alone in the midst of planning a wedding. Later, to pout or cry in front of old friends.

Today was the first time in the two years since we met that I questioned whether, at the end of the day, I would still want to be her lover.

Engagement is not proving to be easy. I heard somewhere that we’re supposed to be at our most happy now, and I’ve experienced but bookmarks of bliss since we returned from fishing in Alaska this past summer. Then, the lesson was that our opinions of a ‘fantastic season’ differed.

I’m picking up words of a new language hourly – those of Love, of course, and it is everything it’s made out to be: mysterious, even when you know each other’s bodies like the route to the restroom in the dark; deep in the way that sub-sea level trenches cannot be trawled. They’re old explanations, yes, but once again, I’m in the Rite of Passage of Discovering Truth in Cliché, and writing, for me, has never been easy in these moments. I despise appearing within throwing distance of the normal way of doing things, and speak absolute truth less often than I’d like to think. Choosing the words of others to describe my emotional vortex does not work for me.

Ed Gish, the 85-year-old reason Heather and I chose life together in the same hemisphere, recently re-entered our space. He’s the officiant of our ceremony. Speaks Human, Potential, Spirit and Hollywood in the same paragraph. He’s the man I manifested from wanting to attract into my life a great storyteller from whom to learn. His greatest lesson for me? Be with the story; stand upon that makeshift stage, and tell it the thousandth time like it happened yesterday.

When counting to a number like a thousand, I’ve learned that each number likes to be remembered. Sometimes made up nicely, even tailored. The fine lines I color outside with my speech are the blurry limits of truth, which changes form as I learn more from the experience. What was truth for me in the month I spent walking through Scotland is different from what I’ve learned from the trip since. Now I’ve seen the world from the meanwhile perspectives, and can speak for all of them. I will tell the story our conversations needs most. We all know that this can border on what we do while sleeping.

I’m not sure of the money I’ve spent on this nearly-marital education. Today at the JazzKat Café I daydreamed, and pictured myself sometime in the future telling a woman the story that I was once almost married, once almost strong enough to face my true reflection, once almost loving enough to give everything for this thing I’ve wanted for decades, for which I’ve traveled thousands of miles – and over again, just to see – and kissed dozens of lips with hope and often envy. When I came back from the dream, I tried to remember how old I felt – was it close to now? Will I, in a weak moment, fall into the role of Wandering Traveler, who runs for the sake of running, because he was Once Almost, and needs to find himself again?

I’ve learned this before – I’m right here. A passport stamp will not change this. New photo albums and facebook friends, plane tickets and full moleskine notebooks do not carry me away from the life I’ve created. If there’s anything I can teach, it is this.

My heart knows small things. Like that when a man like Ben Kaplan-Singer calls me to express that in lieu of his presence at my wedding, he offers lifelong friendship and accountability, my only option is to accept. He is one of those men whom, if I could have one person witness the ceremony of my life, I would choose without hesitation. My posture improves on the phone with him.

To my proximity to influential and desirable men I have succeeded in a short time looking. I am honored by that the above paragraph could apply to any of two handfuls of men whom I consider brothers, fathers, and revered elders. In another life, some even lovers.

This morning, Heather discovered my secret that ‘Home’ is an idea that changes within me all the time. In consideration of her biological processes that are now thinking that she has found a mate with whom to nest and procreate, I understand it may have been a difficult notion. And, the idea impacts the world to which I wish to contribute; for example, one of clarity.

One year, five months and eleven days ago, in my flyest outfit and charm, I walked out of my hostel in San José, Costa Rica, hyper-aware that my last night of seven months in Central America was nigh. At a Mexican restaurant where she made forty cents a day, I met a nica named Dayra, and waited outside until she finished her shift. In the moments before she got into the taxi (for which I paid), I wondered if I’d ever hated myself more, or if my actions would convince Heather to do the same.

In eight days I’m to marry the woman for whom, since returning the the States, I’ve learned to manage and focus my energy, even when we don’t seem to know how to communicate desire.

Readiness is not the question; I am more prepared than ever, more inside the knowledge that this will be exactly what we create, and nothing more or less. To this extent our sway has no boundary.

Eight days until we begin again. My confidence in our strength grows, even on days that seem more like apocalypse. I wonder, how common is this?

food and the sea.

29 July 2013 § Leave a comment

On the water my daily calorie count reached five digits, and only once I mistook and tallied them. It was a bad move because Emily’s eating disorder still haunted me; some days on land I’d eat only carrots, celery, and mustard and weigh myself every morning after I’d pissed and shit and before I drank any water. At lunch I’d tell my friends I’d already eaten, even when we’d made plans prior. Instead I ate alone, sadly and obsessively, pinched the skin on my stomach to decide how much I would eat that day.

These things don’t fly on fishing boats. Not when you burn more than you eat no matter how many brownies, handfuls of trail mix, snickers, or servings of mystery curry and rice you wolf down. Commercial fishing is a dietician’s nightmare; an eating disorder’s daydream. Many fishermen arrive to the boatyard plump; by season’s end our arms are sinewy and strong, our stomachs hard as bin covers. “It’s the once-a-year workout plan,” said Max this summer. As long as the fish show up.

When they do, and we’re enter that blurry stretch of time called peak, when fifteen minutes of sleep feels like hours, and your hands look and feel like lobster claws, brushing and flossing become privileges. You’re not sure how long it’s been but your sandpaper teeth say it’s been ten meals too long, like yesterday, which in Bristol Bay time is last month.

Self-care falls by the wayside, to say the least. Lucky for me, so does self-destruction. If I require a certain amount of animosity to get through my day, which sometimes is the case, it may arrive in the form of a screaming skipper, an insolent crewmate, or 65 knot winds and enough fish to feed Detroit’s hungry children for weeks. The sea provides. more than I can ask for, or give myself. So the day I ate 14,600 calories, then felt guilty and refused to think of her (and therefore did so constantly), instead of hating my consumption I thanked it. Before each bowl of granola or curry, candy bar, piece of jerky or dried mango from the sugar shack, even before that abominable Progresso clam chowder, I closed my eyes and prayed until I was made of gratitude. My adopted disorder a disowned, petulant child who knows well that I haven’t weighed in morningwise in two years quieted as we drifted up and down Ship’s Channel this summer.

By the time July hit, I’d fished two full seasons in two months, and everything inside me was done. Tired and Finished. Tolerant and smart enough to endure the bullshit: “Straight to bed with you,” said the skipper, “you make money, and you sleep.” His implications obvious: Don’t you dare write in your little book, Sean, said his sharp baby blue eyes, you’ll be back on deck before you have a chance to dream.

This is my sleep, mu’fugga. Two sentences later, handwriting the shape of snores and shredded nets, I feel asleep pen in hand.

the beginning of all things to end

2 April 2013 § 2 Comments

A viscous yellow dawn lit up the prairie desert. As far as we could see, pale grass and cacti were all that inhabited the earth. Occasionally a dirt road perpendicular to the highway scratched into the unknown. Out my window, north, as foreign to me as the recent past. The rising morning sun, nowhere to be found, warmed nothing. The Greyhound bus rolled at the same fifty five miles an hour it had since San Antonio.

Behind me near the toilet we weren’t supposed to use, three men who’d just been released from Leavenworth gambled candy bars and coins over a deck of cards featuring Playboy models from the 80s. I picked one up from the aisle. “I haven’t seen titties since 1994, son,” one of them said as I handed him the queen of hearts. He should’ve been wearing a shiny purple fedora and diamond studded glasses to match his gold teeth. I returned my headphones to their rightful places and turned up the volume on my discman.

Hey, I ain’t never coming home
Hey, I’ll just wander my own road
Hey, I can’t meet you here tomorrow
Say goodbye, don’t follow.

On Texas highways tears dry quickly. Keeping track of them has for me always been a useless trade. The afternoon before, I’d departed my father’s house. Another home, another family. My pace was quickening. Six months before my mother’d said, energetically, conform or leave. I left. A few weeks before the bus trip west, my father picked up the phone just as I said to a girl that Kansas was a pit of foolish racism and self-hatred, and that I was leaving as soon as possible. He took me to the bus station himself. I climbed into the air-conditioned coach, a final reprieve from the oppressive Midwest swelter. My father stood and cried where we’d hugged.

Many of the moments by which I’ve defined myself have looked like this. Sometimes they take place in airports, other times gas stations. Rarely a smoke filled Waffle House at three a.m. My favorites are bus stations and depots. Always with different people, most of whom I’ve loved. Chances are I love them still. For me there’s nothing like leaving, departing, moving on, embracing the Next, especially when it’s the unknown; a peaceful fear washes over me, and I am left with a sense of balance. Will I see this person again? Will I return? When? From where else will I go?

The feeling used to seem like an oxymoron. Fear does not at once seem peaceful at all – it seems wrenching and panicky, like cowardice. Something to regret. Since that Greyhound bus on the desert highway, I’ve done all I can to say goodbye without looking back. It seemed weak. I wanted to embrace the next step, and honor whom and what I’d just departed because inside I was gone, already giving my whole self, nervous knees and short breath, to the Unknown. From a perspective that says unabashedly and inconsiderately it only gets better from here, looking back for me is a counterproductive burden. If my presence is my greatest gift, then I have given all I can. Thank you for being a part of it. A part of me.

So, to Portland, home of my savasana winter; to the communities I’ve orbited; the playgrounds on which I’ve learned how to manage my energy; friends, tribe, and family, all of whom I love for your contributions to the world around you, for your willingness to do the work it takes to grow and go where necessary to make it to the next step, the unknown – thank you. I’m headed off for my circuitous adventure, another enamoured summer on the seas along Alaska’s broken coastlines. See you on the other side.

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