The City of Longview

Kt, Max, and I recently moved from Tacoma to the city of Longview, Washington.

By population, Longview is significantly smaller. The city is home to somewhere around 40,000 residents compared to Tacoma which is somewhere around 200,000 residents. On a map, Longview is closer to Portland than it is to Seattle, sitting on the southwest edge of Washington state. Longview is about an hour inland by car from the Pacific Ocean. It is at the intersection of two highways to the coast, one on either side of the Columbia River. On the eastern side of the city, the freeway known as I-5 sweeps by, on it’s way north to Canada and south to Mexico.

Longview is also closer to Mount Saint Helens than it is to Mount Rainier. It is smaller and closer to the coast and the mountains, making it a perfect fit as a home base for our adventuring.

It’s a summer afternoon in July. The lake divides the city center from the residential suburbs to the west. Young families are out riding bikes or using one of a few playgrounds around the city’s main park at Lake Sacajawea. Runners jog around the lake’s three mile track, sometimes with a dog leading them. Cars rumble over the lake’s three bridges. Large trees line the streets around the lake, creating a natural arch over the road with their thick branches and dense canopy. The setting sun beams through the leaves. Occasionally a miniature bridge appears high up over the road, designed for the local population of squirrels to move between trees.

Along the Columbia River side of Longview, there is a small port for shipping, and a number of lumber and paper mills. The city was built by Robert A Long to support his company’s investment the lumber and paper industry. One of the local high schools is named after him. A rivalry exists between the R.A. Long Lumberjacks on the western edge of Lake Sacajawea, and the Mark Morris Monarchs, on the northeast boundary of Longview and it’s neighboring city of Kelso. There is a local community college known as Lower Columbia College, known as LCC for short, and a city library.

Across the Lewis and Clark bridge to the south lies the Columbia River Highway. A sign welcomes drivers to Oregon. A right turn  steep climb provides a lookout over the entire city of Longview. It’s even better at night, when the lights of the mills and the city illuminate the night sky and otherwise dark landscape.

People often wondered why I moved to Tacoma. Sometimes with a note of disdain for the city. They wonder why I would leave the paradise of Australia for a gritty small city life. I can’t argue with them if their perception of Australia is an idyllic postcard of white sandy beaches and sunshine. In Longview, I feel a romantic appreciation for the swathes of fresh cut grass, the smell of summer rain, the sun shining through old and abundant trees, and the early morning fog. I feel more at home, and most importantly, free to adventure.

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Mindfulness

It’s difficult to sit down and have an honest conversation with yourself, because there’s simply so much in the way. There’s interference, distractions, and problems to negotiate. People are by their nature oblivious, and deceitful, especially towards themselves. You might not realize something about yourself until it becomes shockingly obvious. If someone points out a personal truth about you and it hurts, it’s often because you didn’t want to believe it. Our flaws get in the way of an honest assessment of ourselves.

People also have incredible tenacity and endurance. We can endure hardship for longer that we should. Our self deceit takes us off course, and our stubbornness keeps us lost. Adversity also gives us opportunity. Think about the people who’ve bounced back and achieved greatness after a fall. Even if we’re lost and stumbling around in the dark, there’s absolutely no reason to give up.

Mindfulness is something that’s hard to put your hands on. Being aware of yourself isn’t easy with all the distractions and problems. Sometimes you get a break through and realize: ‘I really am stressed out’. Even rarer are the moments when you realize exactly why: ‘it’s because I’m taking too much on’. Then you have the trouble of finding the right thing to do about it: ‘I need to change something, but what?’. And what are the chances we will actually end up making the right change? Instead, we cling to fragile structures with the hope that they will protect us from crashing and burning. A job. An apartment. A credit score. A perception of our own identity.

Today I woke up and decided to focus on having the right attitude. It might not solve problems, but it lets me approach them with a clearer frame of mind. Having the right attitude saves me frustration and prevents stress. I don’t want to waste time worrying over things that don’t change the outcome.

Things I learned at The Revolution XXXIV

The Revolution is a long running local Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament here in Tacoma. It’s held at a local college called Pacific Lutheran University, aka PLU. I competed for the first time as a Blue Belt, and for the first time at a points based tournament. Points are awarded for achieving and maintaining a dominant position on your opponent, such as a takedown or mount. As a white belt I only competed twice in submission only tournaments.

  • I had fun, no matter what the results were. After I lost the first match, as the referee held up the other guy’s arm, I was actually smiling. The consolation match was just for fun.
  • As a white belt I had absolutely no takedown game. About all I did in those previous tournaments was pull guard. This time I landed a couple of takedowns and I think maybe a sweep or two.
  • I let my opponent work from good positions for too long. For example, one opponent had me in side control, and I waited for the opportunity to escape rather than making it happen.
  • I was much more relaxed this time. I wasn’t frantic or nervous. I breathed and thought about my position.
  • Afterwards, I felt like I earned my blue belt out there. I’ve had it for a few months now, but when I first received it I didn’t feel like I was ready. Yesterday I really proved to myself that I’m not a white belt anymore.
  • The team I train with is amazing. From the casual advice to ‘have fun’, training hard in classes, to team support on the day. I noticed other coaches were yelling at their competitors which technique to perform next ‘grab his collar with your right hand’, ours were just giving pointers: ‘stand up and pass’, ‘posture up’, etc. Our coaches let the competitor figure it out from there. I really appreciate that.
  • I’m going to the next Revolution in November.

 

 

Island in the Sun

Today I was driving to the grocery store and Island in the Sun by Weezer came on. I was transported back to Costa Rica in November 2015.

The bottle of Sailor Jerry’s rum sat in the middle of the table. The party had taken off around me with my two friends, a couple with at least eight tattoos of the Canadian flag between them, preppy fraternity brothers appearing and disappearing from a bathroom, and Cristian, the manager of the hostel, was conversing and drinking with them all. Then there was me. Completely sober. I was at the table, or wandering around, people sat and swung in the hammocks. The sun had set, but it was still warm outside. The afternoon rain shower had since evaporated, and the humidity had thinned out.

Cristian announced: ‘We’ll go to a big party later.’

I followed one of the girls down to the liquor store beneath the hostel. She was blonde, from Rhode Island. She talked about prescription drug abuse at some point. She talked about the waterfront restaurants, and how she worked at one as a hostess. Apparently everyone there is on some kind of prescription medication, just to get by. The fraternity brothers were all collectively in love with her. I was sure they spent all those trips to the bathroom measuring their egos to see who would get to make a move.

I don’t know which one of us opened the door, but I remember being in a place with absolutely no value or interest to me. All these bottles of alcohol on the shelves had no appeal to me. I dutifully followed her to the counter. She paid for it, although I don’t know if anyone else contributed beforehand. We went back up stairs. The bottle sat on the table, while they prepared the peripherals: shot glasses, soft drinks to mix it with, whatever else. They didn’t have coconuts or little cocktail umbrellas but the imagination was there. It was at that moment that I found myself staring at the bottle. I had a guitar string in my chest, and someone had just strummed it. I could just take a shot. It’d be fun. My brain started to play tricks on me too. Remember how fun it was to drink shots of rum, back when you were 16 in Germany? That’s when I heard a voice:

‘All this time you’ve spent staying sober. You’d throw all those days, weeks, and months out. That one shot would reset the clock. With one shot, your clean record is wiped. You would have to start all over again.’

The group of us were walking down an unsealed road to the big party. It wasn’t far from the hostel. Cristian announced: ‘I’m lit up like a freaking Christmas tree.’ Everyone laughed and the conversation picked up again. We passed by a couple of police cars, probably doing a routine traffic stop. Cristian positioned himself in the middle of the group and made himself small. He said something about his immigration status. I don’t know if the police even cared that a bunch of drunk foreigners were out and obviously headed to a local club.

We waited at the bottom of a very big set of stairs, and slowly made our way up and into the crowded venue. There was a big pool outside, but it was roped off. The place was packed, and boring. We left after an hour or two.

The next thing I remember was being near the ocean. There were deck chairs and a swing seat. I wandered out to the beach, then pulled everyone out there with me and ordered them all to look up. In the dead of night, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the stars were out in force. I don’t remember the stars very well, but I remember everyone staying on the beach. One of the frat boys and the blonde from Rhode Island were knee deep in the waves. I noticed they were making out, and I looked away. I guess I’d given them a context to be romantic, but that certainly wasn’t what I meant to do. I wanted to feel sublime underneath the brilliant light of nature and existence. They just closed their blurry eyes to all of it.

That was the one time I was ever tempted to really drink alcohol. The voice that persuaded me out of it was my own. I didn’t want to stop being sober, I didn’t want to lose my progress. I really didn’t want to give up on myself, on the commitment I’d made. If I did, the consequences would have been so much more devastating than a headache. I would have broken a promise to myself. I wouldn’t be able to make any other promises and believe that I could really keep them.

I was distracted thinking about this story while I wandered through the grocery store. I’m no longer close to the friends I had back then. I listened to the voice that night, and since then I’ve been living the life I want to, and keeping my promises.

The Return

I went back to training tonight after a few weeks off. The longer I stay away, the harder it is to work back to where I was. I stayed out because I was sick with a cold, and I know that was the right thing to do, for me and my teammates. I needed the rest. I’d hate to be that guy who shows up sick and spreads germs all over the place. Especially when you’re in close quarters combat with people. Training in the martial arts is about spending a very long time doing something to get better at it, and as a result, become a better version of yourself. So a few weeks out of at an absolute minimum of a decade of training? It’s nothing. It just feels like a long time while I’m off the mats.

I also came back to work after calling out sick on Friday, and the long weekend. On Saturday Kt and I went to our annual Sounders game (Seattle vs Portland Timbers). It was a beautifully warm and clear day to march through the streets to the stadium. We had great seats, purchased from a season ticket holder who put them up for resale. The Sounders won 1-0, scoring in the fourth minute of the game. The stadium erupted with cheering. The rest of the weekend was spent at home relaxing.

At work I felt much better and more productive. I think I needed to get things off my chest, and writing that last blog post helped a lot. I also had the chance to fix something today, so that’s a great form of micro-reward. It’s the same thing with work as it is at jiu jitsu. I need to remember that it’s a long haul effort, and I’ll have good and bad days. Over the many years I’ll spend working, as long as I stay true to myself and my passion, I’ll never stop improving.

‘STICK TO THE PLAN’
– Big Sean, Voices in My Head/Stick to the Plan

The Search

As you may already be aware I’ve taken up surfing. Usually down on the Oregon coast (Seaside, Cannon Beach) or out at Westport, WA. I’ll either borrow Kt’s sister’s surfboard or rent one from a local surf shop. I have my own full length wetsuit with a hood, gloves and boots. I’ve had a few surf lessons: my first two were in Costa Rica, and another with Kt in Australia. Other than that, I’ve just figured it out as I go. I just know how fun it is to catch a wave.

I’ve been fighting off a cold for the last two weeks or so. It’s prevented me from being able to train. I think without training I tend to lose my focus and drive. When I take time off work it makes me wonder what else I could be doing in my life (rather than a desk job). That inevitably leads to me feeling pretty unsettled, and sometimes frustrated that I can’t make immediate changes to the situation. There’s bills to pay: I can’t just surf and train every day. Not yet, anyway.

These last few days, I’ve been wondering what my passion really is. I’ve come around to the idea that it’s not what I’m doing right now. Working in an office isn’t my dream. I can’t waste years working on something that isn’t bringing happiness to my life. There are two financial roadblocks: paying off my car, and the credit card. Those two things need to be cleared before I can really seek out my dream: whatever it may be, and wherever it may take me. I have to be okay with my dream changing over time, but I won’t let go of it, and I have to chase it as if my life depended on it.

I’m thinking about film school. I’m thinking about Canada. I’m thinking about Hawaii. I’m thinking about Boston. I’m thinking about the kind of work I want to do, but more importantly the kind of life I want to live. All of this thinking is being blurred by the cold I’m fighting and the medicine that’s controlling symptoms.

This blog has always been about me, and a way for me to motivate myself. Now there’s another person in my life, and we have shared responsibilities and shared dreams together. She’s always encouraging me to ‘quit my job and do what I really love’. I’ve been stuck in a mindset, and this blog is evidence of it, that I have to figure out my life on my own. Kt is by my side, and she can get me out of my own way. She pointed out that I’ve been avoiding the obvious: I need to write. So here’s to the endless search for the perfect wave, and the relentless chase after the kind of life I want to live.

Drive

Last year I made a decision to pursue a Masters of Business Administration (MBA). I applied to an online MBA program. I had to get my Australian bachelor’s degree evaluated for United States equivalency. It turns out that because an Australian bachelor’s degree is a three year program, the US only recognizes it as 3 years of undergraduate study, and not equivalent to a US bachelor’s. So I won’t be able to start my MBA right away. It’s a setback, but it has inspired me. Somewhere along the line I figured out how to handle setbacks like this one.

I felt wounded and cheated at first, like my degree was meaningless. It didn’t help that a course advisor tried to question the value of my degree: ‘how is creative writing going to help you in business?’ I gave her a quick retort that it’s an essential skill. Storytelling is invaluable to managers and leaders to communicate their vision and engage their team. The course advisor also said, incorrectly, that ‘a liberal arts degree is more like a community college associates’.

Out of frustration I started to plot a new course to the MBA. I could go to a liberal arts college, and complete the fourth year to earn a US bachelor’s. I could put off further study for now, and concentrate on professional certificates. I could even start a whole new bachelor’s degree. Having to plot this new course made me reconsider my goal: how badly do I want an MBA? I know I want to study something, but not precisely what, or how the MBA translates to my future happiness. Another big question came up, of where I should pursue my studies: here in the US or abroad?

I found myself once again realizing that I can do anything I want, I just have to do it. I’m finding my drive again, to set things in motion to make serious advances in my life. A big part of that is surfing, and another is studying and training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The third thing I’m going to do is write.

Inveniam viam aut faciam.

I will find a way or make one.