Life

#theyearofhappiness

Posted by | Life, Time in service | 9 Comments

The 4th day of the new year is winding down. A couple fingers of bourbon. Leif Vollebekk singing Cairo Blues. Two dogs vying for heat-run space and my attention. A crockpot full of brisket filling the kitchen like the recitation of a long-simmering poem. My wife will be home from work soon. The kids are with their mom. And I’m sitting in the midst of everything thinking about everything. Writing some stuff down.

Earlier this morning I dropped off a dear old friend at the airport who I was stationed with in Germany. He flew in from Portland on a last minute invite and serendipitous timing to visit and celebrate New Years with us. The last time we saw each other was in 2010 when I flew out to Portland to meet him and fish the Fall, Dechutes, and Metolius Rivers together. Prior to that was 1993 when my tour in Germany (and our tenure as roommates) ended and my boots pointed toward Ft. Benning, Georgia for my next duty station. We were teenagers. Army Privates who were a long way from home. A few of us became close friends, as happens when the world is suddenly far bigger than you’ve known and you need to rely on others to help keep your shit straight. Thankfully, he and I have managed to actually stay connected beyond Facebook likes and comments on pictures of kids, fish, or new vehicles.

During his visit, Josh reminded me of the substance of our late night Pendleton whisky talks from my 2010 trip west. We spent two cold April days up to our nuts fly fishing in unproductive water and two cold April nights crowding a riverside campfire before climbing into a thin nylon tent and 30-below fart-sacks, and then a couple better days of fishing and nights lounging in a yurt at Tumalo State Park outside of Bend during a snow storm. I wasn’t happy in work or my marriage, and wasn’t very present as a dad with my three kids. I hadn’t been for a while. He was trying to navigate a divorce and the intricacies of a tough dating scene while being a great dad to his (then) 6 year old boy.

We were back in a world far bigger that we’d known from both a personal and a camping-in-Umpqua-National-Forest standpoint, and needed to lean on each other to keep our shit straight again. We bared our souls and spilled our guts. We listened and empathized. We raised glasses to the things that we loved and middle fingers to everything that was wrong. We both just wanted to be happy, and find an even keel. On the last day of our trip we hiked up to the headwaters of the Metolius, a small garden of quiet, unassuming springs in the shadow of Black Butte, and Josh asked me this question: why don’t you just do what you need to do to be happy?

That question started the atrophied wheels of my motivated, idealistic, hungry-for-life younger self in motion. Far more than I understood at the time. Over the next six years it sparked my move to freelance, inspired Deliberate Life, helped me come to terms with ending my marriage, and strengthened my love and involvement with my kids, family, and friends. It also led me to a place (mentally/emotionally/physically) where I was ready to meet the woman who I just married this past August.

When Amanda and I started dating and sharing photos on Instagram we created the hashtag #theyearofhappiness to accompany all the big and small moments we captured and celebrated in our life (it seems to have caught on a little). And even though we’re well outside of that first year, it still lives on. It lives on because the year of happiness is not a finite period of time. It’s a state-of mind and being. It’s a reminder that you can, in fact, do what you need to do to be happy, and that we found each other because of our individual pasts, not in spite of them. Happiness is a choice that we are all capable of making.

I was extremely sad and nostalgic on the drive home from the airport. Saying goodbye to a brother after so short and meaningful a visit is never easy. The car was packed with the ghosts of the full expanse of our shared experiences, meandering pasts and mindful todays, our choices and the failures and successes born of them. We had so much more to say, so much more ground to cover than time available. But I’m grateful that we’ve stayed in touch and that Josh was here with us to close out the end of this particular year of happiness, especially since he played a significant role in making it possible. I know we’ll be making a point of not letting so much time pass before our next visit.

To that end, I wish you all #theyearofhappiness many, many times over. Hashtag the shit out of every one of them.

THE NEXT SEVEN

Posted by | Life | 16 Comments

This past September fishingpoet quietly reached the 7 year mark. There’s nothing really noteworthy about year seven. There’s no precious stone, metal, material, or heavy-weight paper associated with it. And it’s not a milestone like my 21st, 30th, 40th, or (not-so-far-off) 50th birthday. But it is a seven year (and counting) journey of stories in various forms about my experience on this earth. A perspective shaped by family and friends, fortunate adventures, the sting of mistakes and rough life changes, the love of an amazing woman, and the necessary medicine of the outdoors. Surveying the Ranch - Henry's Fork And it was this blog that initially motivated me to start making some changes in my life. Going independent was one of them.

When I made the decision to leave the ad agency world to be an independent writer, I had no idea how many other aspects of my life would change because of a change in vocation. Honestly, I think that step was a subconscious acknowledgement that there were a lot of things that I knew were wrong, or that I was struggling with in my life personally and professionally–but didn’t want to admit.

Heading out on my own wound up forcing me to finally face those problems: just how soul-less work was, that my (now ex-) wife and I were on irreparably different paths, that I was a lousy dad, that I had pushed my family, friends, and passions away, and that I was the furthest thing from being happy. But heading out on my own also showed me that I am fully capable of correcting my trajectory. And while it was downright painful, frustrating, and scary at times, I discovered that it’s ok. Those things don’t last. The things that matter do.

Personally, in the last 5+ years as an independent (and 3+ years since my divorce), I’ve become a better dad, son, friend, and recently, a husband again. I’ve always known the importance of keeping what’s important foremost in my life. Living a Deliberate Life. But I’m finally realizing the happiness and fullness that comes with actually following through on that sentiment. Talking about it and doing it are two drastically different things. Sometimes it takes a little while to grow into those shoes.

Professionally, I’m still writing ad copy to pay the bills, but I’m also a staff writer for a local magazine, produced a couple short films, and teach a class in Literary Magazine Publishing (which actually publishes a national lit mag) at our local Junior College.

I know that I’m lousy at following the expected or prescribed path. Before my professional life congealed around writing, I had a work history that reflected just how hard I was searching for my direction. Any direction. Even now, I still keep my vocation diverse. Some of that, I’m sure, is due to my Tourette Syndrome and the OCD/impulse control issues/depression/anxiety that it comes with. But to me, life is not set in stone. It never was. It’s fluid and full of color and sound, chance and passion.

I’m not living capriciously, or simply following whims. What I am doing is looking for ways to be a better human in this life. More present, grateful, and empathetic–be it personally or professionally. People call it reinventing themselves. I like to think that it’s less reinvention and more evolving and adapting. I’m a husband, father, and friend. I’m a storyteller, outdoorsman, and teacher. At the end of the day, I’m not changing any of those things. I’m finding different ways to re-balance them so that I’m able to pull the lot together into a greater whole that makes a difference in the lives of others.

So, that said, I’m re-balancing things. Starting with this blog, which I’ve sorely neglected this past year. I’m getting back to storytelling on a regular basis and I’m expanding my range to include the stories of others. I’ll still write about my travels and time outside with my wife and kids. I’ll still have poetry, photography, and maybe the occasional video. But I’m going to start bringing to life the stories of others. People that I admire, that I want to know more about. Well-known and unknown. People whose stories I feel you should hear because they are valuable.

There will be some from the fly fishing/hunting/conservation realm, but I want to push myself, and you, my reader, to see the field more. I feel like sometimes all I see or read or hear has to do with fly fishing or hunting (and lately, the hatred that has surfaced since the election). This is not a complaint, just an observation that Social Media really spoon-feeds us the content it feels most relevant. We’re not one-trick ponies, so I want to challenge that. Get my head back on a swivel and be deeply curious again about this world and the wealth of stories and experience that people hold. It’s about understanding and celebrating just how different, and yet the same, we all are. And I’m hoping you’ll stay saddled-up for the ride.

While I do my “recruiting” for the first run of people I have in mind, I’m going to start posting interviews that I’ve done for POST Magazine with a really cool range of people in the Rochester area. They run the gamut from one of the most revered jazz/pops conductors in the world to a craftsman that builds Adirondack-style canvas canoes to an airbrush artist that specializes in high-end chopper graphics. And I hope you take something away from each as a reader, as I did spending time with them.

I very much appreciate your readership. Always have.
Here’s to the next seven. And everything after.

 

GIVE ME TRAILS

Posted by | In the woods, Life, Poetry | 16 Comments
[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/153948513[/vimeo] Over the course of a summer of running trails in my favorite park in upstate NY, I had pretty much written a poem in my head. When I finally took the time to get it on paper, it showed up in a heartbeat. I called my friends Denver Miller and JR Kraus (both talented directors and cinematographers) to see if it was worth shooting a short video to put the words with. Something done for the love of what we do – storytelling. And, to be honest, to show to prospective clients as well. After just a few hours of scouting the park, this, too, showed up in a heartbeat.

And for those who’d like to read the poem, here’s the original:

Give me trails.

Needled whisper-paths through the pines and their sharp jabs of busted spokes and whirls at shoulder/hip/head height.
Tangled close-crowded paths through gullies and shadowed low places. The willow-swing of thornbrush gripping my shins, forearms and biceps.
Glorious muddy stretches that try to swallow my feet alive.
Give me sudden right-turn uphills and skittish, greasy downhills and roots like the backbones of some long-gone earthen civilization rising if only to keep me paying attention.
Give me wipeouts and grit in my teeth. Sweat-salt in my eyes.
Give me deer that don’t hear me coming or going, fox that go on about their meandering way, geese, woodpecker, hawk, jay, blackbird.

Give me trails.

I run solo but I’m not alone.
It’s in my blood. My Blackfoot ancestry. I feel them running with me and the hair on my neck and forearms stands on end. I hear them in the wind off the lake and in the song of leafed braches overhead.
I was given endurance and two legs that respond when I say go.
I was not given excuses.
I run because I can and carry everything on these two feet and shoulders, until I carry nothing.
There’s no machine stride in me, just my heart and will and these woods.

Here I am, mortal.
Here, I will live forever. Native.
Here I outrun my heart and scramble from insane to sane. Here I am honest and unflinching and vulnerable.
I run toward pain, through it, from it.
I run heartbroken and hopeless and swearing into the hungry green.
I run whole and happy and singing into the hungry green.
I run thirsty, my tongue tasting like copper and blood and a life that is alive.

Alive.

I am alive.

Give me trails so that I can run.

GRAVITY

Posted by | Life | 27 Comments

Tuesday morningTuesday morning could’ve turned out to be something entirely, brutally different.

It was clear and cold. New snow had fallen overnight and the morning sun seemed to light it from beneath the blanket. I woke at 7:30 or so and lied in bed till almost 8, listening to my girlfriend’s soft breathing next to me in the morning’s stillness, both filling the long pauses between the distant sound of passing cars on Main Street and the furnace kicking on and off. The kids were with their mom. It was a slow morning, and I couldn’t have been more thankful for it. 11 hours earlier I was in an ER bed at Thompson Hospital being evaluated for a possible Stroke or aneurism.

Rewind to 6:30 the night before. I had just arrived at Bristol Mountain to meet my middle child, Cam, for ski club. I was going to make some turns with him, let him run with his pals while I ran solo looking for good snow in the margins, and then give him a ride back to his mom’s so he didn’t have to ride the bus. I saw him for about two seconds before he boogied with his friends, but managed to coordinate our meet-up at 8 at the lift. I headed up the mountain.

My first run was good. Given that I’m still breaking in new telemark skis, bindings, and boots (as well as still breaking in telemark technique), I was happy that my gear was actually starting to feel right under me. Mid-mountain I stopped to get a breather and my head was pounding at the base of my skull. Figuring I just needed to warm up some more, or stretch, or just push through it, I set my jaw, finished the bottom half and grabbed another chair to the top.

Four turns into my second run the wheels came off. My head hurt so badly that gave up trying to make the signature kneeling telemark turns and simply made wide, easy S-turns, stopping again mid-mountain. The edges of my vision stared to narrow. The back of my head pounded down into my neck. At this point I knew the whole deal was going to shit. But I told myself You’re not going down on the fucking mountain, Matt, thus committing to reach the bottom and the lodge.

I could see, but nothing really registered except the gravity of my body on the hill, so I finished the bottom of the hill largely by feel, eventually sliding to a slow stop as it flattened out. I couldn’t swallow. I was standing, half-inert and completely limp inside, held up by some sort of instinctual defiance. I’m not fucking going down here. I felt the need to cry, but I couldn’t get it from thought to action. Death-thoughts started to creep in. No. No. No. I’m going to be here for Cam at 8:00. It took everything I had to lean forward and release my bindings. I was now operating on sheer will. It was 7:10.

I managed to get my gear off and into the car, and walk back to the lodge. I texted my girlfriend, Amanda, that I was done skiing because of a blazing headache. She offered to come out and get us, but I said I’d be ok. I just needed to sit for a while. Upstairs, I sat alone at a table in the bar area (the only place not over-run by high school ski clubs from 10 different school districts) and blindly stared at the Alabama-Clemson pre-game coverage on a TV across the room. I couldn’t get words out audibly and reminded myself to keep breathing. My head was immense and so damn angry. I still couldn’t cry. Sitting still calmed me some and I kept running through a mental inventory, wiggling fingers and toes, blinking, raising an eyebrow, clearing my throat, and rolling my neck a couple times. I just need to get Cam home and get home. In spite of the pain, I was fierce.

At 8 I picked my way back out to the lift and ran into a close friend who also offered us a ride, which I declined, saying Naw, I’ll be ok. Just need to get home. I corralled the boy and we loaded up for the ride home. He knew I was hurting and chatted with me about everything that came to him — school, friends, antics on the mountain, his dislike of his Health teacher. I couldn’t get a word out but everything else functioned, so I smiled and nodded and patted his leg and head. I felt so bad for being so unable to respond. He stayed calm and ran distraction for me while I got him home safe. Aleida, my oldest, came to the door when we arrived and with one look knew something was up, too. A strong hug and I love you, dad and I went home. Now the tears started to come. Hot as hell.

As soon as I walked in the living room Amanda had the same immediate reaction as Aleida, listened to my symptoms as I piled onto the couch, and told me we need to go to the ER. And that she was driving. The triage desk moved me immediately to the intake room, where I was asked a few cursory questions, given a wheel chair, and then ushered to an ER room with Code 12, room 15. Code 12, room 15 echoing from the all-call PA system announcing my arrival on the floor. The nurse, a PA, and two assistants were already there waiting.

Then everything went into full-speed. Shirt off, gown on, a lot of things are going to be happening very quickly — we’ll talk you through each one, don’t worry, heart monitor points stuck to my chest and legs, wires hooked up to them, IV hooked up, blood drawn, temperature check, we’re going to be taking you back for a CT scan and angiogram so we can get a look at your head and neck area, heart monitor beeping, numbers reported, orders given, we’re going to be checking for signs of Stroke or aneurism, ER staff in and out in a perfectly choreographed flow of every-second-matters, curtain open, curtain closed, tell me what time your head started hurting, Amanda in a chair three feet away, wide-eyed, holding it together and texting updates to my mom and sister, and then my bed being wheeled down the hall for my close-up.

After everything was said and done, after the scans, dye injections, touch your finger to your nose and then my finger, reading simple sentences and identifying pictures of trees and birds and kids raiding the cookie jar, people in and people out, the Doc came back with a couple final motor tests and the news that all the tests came back negative. Everything looks good, he said.

Negative. Holyshitthankgodnegative. My kids and family immediately flooded my head. I looked over at Amanda and thanked God for her, too. Their estimation is that it was likely a perfect storm of elevated heart-rate, low blood sugar, dehydration, latent headache, adrenaline, and cold weather. A freak occurrence. Better to be safe than sorry, they said. But I am sorry, regardless.

Tuesday morning turned out OK, but Monday could’ve gone wrong in so many ways. And even as scared as I was, in as much pain as I was, facing the realities I was — the terrible gravity of the whole situation — I was still too prideful, stupid, and bull-headed to accept help or admit weakness. I had nothing to prove, but I chose to gut it out and be tough as I always do when I’m hurt, or on the rare occasion I get sick. I don’t have time for down-time. As my mom scolded me after, just like your father.

Therein lies the reason I’m recounting this story. I know I’m not alone in thinking that I’ll recover easily if I get hurt, that I live a very active life and and eat pretty well therefore I’m healthy and won’t get sick, that bad things won’t knock at my door because, well, they just won’t. Worst of all — when I am sick or hurt, it’s best to just soldier on. All of that couldn’t be further from the truth. And I want my people to know that. You, dear reader, included. Some shit simply shouldn’t be soldiered through. Especially when considering your own mortality.

As excruciating as it was, I was given a gift. And it got my attention. I’m making some changes. If I’m going to be around for the long haul, it’s time. For me and my family and friends. Not off-the-deep-end shit, but I’m most definitely taking steps toward a more mindful, present, healthier life as a whole. To take better care of myself. And that includes listening to those I love when they’re trying to take care of me.