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.
So this weekend Kt, Chad, Max and I went hiking to Wallace falls (see instagram). It’s a state park and as it was MLK day, the park had no entry fees. There was a fold out sign placed in the middle of the path, right at the trailhead, as well as a notice board with park rules and a large map. The fold out sign on the trail itself highlighted one rule in particular: ‘Pets must be leashed’ and that the consequences were a $99 fine per WA state law. (Other posters throughout the park stated an $87 fine, so I’m assuming it was recently increased). One poster even explained ‘Six reasons why you must keep your dog on a leash’. It featured a picture of an injured dog receiving treatment on a stretcher. We kept Max on leash all day long.
We met a couple with two dogs who were well behaved and even played with Max for a minute. Both were off leash. The best one, though, was a lady running down the trail in jeans with a full grown Rottweiler galloping behind her. The trail isn’t wide or paved: it’s a narrow and rocky dirt path cut into the side of a hill, with switchbacks most of the way up. At the moment this lady decided to come hurtling down the trail, yelling ‘I’m coming up behind you!’ like a semi truck blasting it’s horn, two other groups were passing each other, using up the limited space on either side. We politely stepped out of her way, and so did the group coming up the trail, and she just barreled past us all, big dog in tow. Off leash.
I was a bit irritated by that behavior. She was obliviously inconsiderate. If anyone deserved a $100 fine, it was her. We ranted about it half way down the trail, about following the rules. Even if a particular institution isn’t perfect in its application of rules or enforcement, the fact is they are not optional. If you consent to being a part of the community (state park users), even just by showing up and being at the park, then you have a responsibility to behave in accordance with the rules established for that space. There are consequences if you don’t. The least of which is being written about on this blog.
Despite the minor inconvenience of someone being rude, we had a great hike. It was beautiful, clear weather, challenging enough, let us talk, and reconnect with nature. All the reasons why we go hiking in the first place. I’m only concentrating on the negative observations to process them for myself, and consider thoughts about how people behave in certain contexts. A simple example is how someone talks on the phone versus how they talk in person. There’s a big confluence of factors that can explain someone’s behavior, and whether it’s caused by internal or external forces. An internal force might be your personality, an external force might be a sign on the wall that says ‘no cell phones’. It all comes back to our incredible capacity and potential. If I can do anything I want at any moment in any location, what combination of mysterious forces enable and restrict my actions? What causes me to decide to follow the rules, while other people feel entitled to ignore them?
Kt and I are moving! The one bedroom we live in today switched to month-to-month while we were on vacation, and with the additional cost we have to move. So we’ve applied for 2br 2ba places and invited Kt’s brother Chad to join us. I’m really excited. I think we’re going to have a blast living together. Adventures all year long!
We had to do some housecleaning on our credit reports. It was a little stressful at times to fix those things (some items we paid, but were sent to collections without informing us?!). It ended up being a really a good story. We’re making solid financial decisions and taking ownership over that part of our lives. Decluttering isn’t just about clothes and stuff, it can be applied to other parts of life as well. I’ve always appreciated minimalist style (see future blog post) and Kt found it’s exactly what she needed to bring things in order. So we decluttered our finances a little, and are healthier for it.
I also had a long conversation with my parents the other day. It was important because there were things I was holding on to from moving to the US, and that have happened while I was here. It was cathartic and long over due. I’m feeling empowered to clean out the suitcase of emotional clutter I’ve been dragging behind me for three years.
The hardest part is dealing with people. There’s a kind of toxicity in people, even if their intentions are great, and they aren’t bad people. They just aren’t right for you to be around at the time. When you are feeling passionate and fired up, it sucks being around someone who is, at that moment, acting like a wet blanket (for their own legitimate reasons). People who are consistently off balancing you, pulling you off course, or getting in your way are ‘toxic’. It’s made difficult because of the relationship you have with that person, and it’s often not their intention to be an antagonist. I don’t quite know how to approach this one, and luckily there’s no one in my life at this time who fits the bill. Occasionally I’ll find myself at odds with someone at work, especially in terms of mood, but that dissipates and reforms over the week. That’s not a toxic person, that’s life. You don’t have to let those people get out of your life and on with theirs. It’s the persistently toxic ones you have to confront.
P.S. Please don’t let the above paragraph let you think that I’ve lost faith in humanity, or that I’m in any way less affirming of the human spirit. I still firmly believe in people’s capacity and potential. I might wrestle with the concept of free will every now and then, or have something to say about the dark side like above. Kt once reminded me that like turning on the light in a dark room, the light casts out the dark. The good overwhelms the bad. It’s not light that creates shadows, it’s the things between the light source and subject. Whether it’s a physical, emotional or human obstacle, sometimes you have to declutter everything to find the source of light in your life.
Yesterday I encountered some frustration at work. I’m not going to lie, it was all selfish stuff that I was frustrated about. So today I turned that around and really dived right into being myself again: positive, ambitious, and energetic. No wet blanket could stop the fire today. Tapping into that energy meant I made things happen.
Somebody stop me!
— Drake, Back to Back
There’s a project I’m working on and it requires the analysis of data in a report, and the calculations occurring behind it. I think people might be surprised if I told them I haven’t studied math since I was 16 years old. Numbers and arithmetic aren’t my strong suit. I’m a linguistic type: language, reading, and writing are stronger. I can write a paper no problem, but ask me to do algebra and I’ll need to work at it for a while. I never let that stop me though, and I don’t make excuses. I help solve the problem. It just takes a little longer for me to get my head around it. Once I get it, I can explain it and sell it.
Sometimes it feels like we’re stumbling around in the dark, then the light comes on.
— paraphrased from Spotlight (a movie everyone should watch)
So here’s to staying true to yourself and making no excuses! Good vibes only!
Today we started with a light jog, and skated over invisible black ice on the sidewalk. I noticed something about the composition of the sidewalk, and where the ice was. So when a company (or maybe the city?) recently replaced sections of it, mainly due to tree roots, they failed to design their solution for all conditions. Heads up, this is about to get nerdy.
When the project ran, someone made a decision to use flat concrete instead of aggregate, so instead of a rocky textured sidewalk, it would be flat and smooth. To avoid slip risk, the top layer appears to be lightly scored. Although ice and snow are rare, they do occur. What would it have cost to use a similar product to the original? What were the trade offs? Does concrete hold up better against tree roots over time? It’s an architectural problem: concrete does not match the rest of the sidewalk.
I don’t really want technical answers about the sidewalk’s composition, but the project missed a use case: me jogging at five am, when there’s ice. I’m not saying they had to solve for that specific situation, but if ice and snow are possible then does it justify the additional cost? Is the benefit to the jogger worth it? Or was the decision to use concrete made in full awareness of the potential risk, and accepted as a trade off? The value proposition of using concrete must have outweighed the cost to go with original materials. Maybe concrete is the new industry standard surface, maybe the city mandates it for all sidewalk repair.
So now we are left with the architectural debt of that decision. We have to live with the trade off. To replace it again is too expensive, and to replace everything around it with concrete is too expensive. So we have to live with it.
It’s not bad as neither one of us fell over, but it cut the run into a pattern of jogging and walking gingerly over the ice.
‘Laughing just to keep from crying’ – Rory Gallagher, “Bullfrog Blues”.
I was dressed as Captain America all day yesterday. After some pre-gaming at my house, some friends and I went to a house party. They had savory croissants with meat, lettuce and cheese. I ate five of them and no one even noticed. I danced through the house to Rock Lobster by the B52’s. We bar hopped the rest of the night, until closing.
Today I watched the documentary Maidentrip about Laura Dekker who was the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Her story is very inspiring. Strong, independent, and a complete badass. That’s the kind of person I want to become. She went through some things I can relate to.
Although my own transformation is still in progress, I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress in the last eleven months.
I try to stack up all of the baller things I’ve accomplished: living and working in America; driving my dream car; adventuring; and travelling (even as far as Costa Rica in eighteen days!). Playing soccer and trying to stay in shape. Partying with friends until the bars close. Dancing. I’ve got it together. I can manage the things that need tending to. I handle those responsibilities one at a time, shutting everything else down while I tackle a particular problem.
A feeling has been creeping up on me. I’m not homesick because I don’t miss Australia. I’m in a kind of fight or flight mode. Just when I think I’m okay, and swimming along, something will happen that threatens to pull me under. Usually money problems, like an unexpected bill. I impulse buy Nutella one time, and spend weeks fighting the resulting breakout. I notice how small my arm muscles have become. I’m treating these little frustrations as emergencies. I think it might be a while until I’m no longer in that state of mind. In the meantime, I’m trying to minimize disruptions to the fragile stability I have.
Sometimes it’s tricky to see the big picture of what I’m doing, and what I’m about. I know I’m headed for greatness, and while I might not have a nautical charts to guide me, I have enough confidence to keep moving, even when the wind isn’t with me.
‘Dancin’ through the fire, ’cause I am the champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar!’ – Katy Perry, “Roar”, (Roar).
There’s a punk scene called ‘straight edge’. It emphasizes a clean lifestyle: abstaining from alcohol and illicit drug use, sometimes extending to promiscuous sex, pharmaceutical drugs, meat and caffeine. It was born out of a reaction against the perception of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’ being part of the punk subculture. It developed into a reaction against those things in more mainstream culture, and so spread to other ‘socially endorsed addictions’ such as caffeine. Most people would point to the song “Straight Edge” by Minor Threat as an expression of straight edge values.
I’m a person just like you
But I’ve got better things to do
Than sit around and fuck my head
Hang out with the living dead
Snort white shit up my nose
Pass out at the shows
I don’t even think about speed
That’s something I just don’t need
I’ve got the straight edge
I’m a person just like you
But I’ve got better things to do
Than sit around and smoke dope
‘Cause I know I can cope
Laugh at the thought of eating ludes
Laugh at the thought of sniffing glue
Always gonna keep in touch
Never want to use a crutch
I’ve got the straight edge
I’ve got the straight edge
I’ve got the straight edge
I’ve got the straight edge
These lyrics do accurately present a definition of straight edge culture, and reveal the attitude behind these values. Referring to people who participate in those activities as ‘the living dead’ and laughing at the thought of activities they engage in is a hostile rejection of their behavior. Telling those people ‘I’ve got better things to do’ is equally confrontational. The opposition comes from the fact that these are strongly held feelings, with a sense of commitment to abstinence. However, the song remains negative, both towards substance use and the people who participate in it.
Someone who shares these feelings might find something reassuring in the lyrics, or at least recognizable. I had a moment, hearing the song for the first time, where I thought: ‘Oh, I don’t do those things. I guess that makes me straight edge.’ It wasn’t a euphoric revelation, it was only a recognition of familiarity. I made those decisions and choices to abstain from similar things, and continue to uphold those values. I didn’t arrive at those conclusions through negation. It wasn’t a reaction against anything or anyone. It was about fulfillment of my own potential.
I wanted to be in control, alert, safe, and healthy. So I stopped drinking when I started driving. I never did try illicit drugs. I enjoy sport and felt that substances would affect my performance. I don’t like the idea of casual relationships, and so casual sex was equally unappealing for me. I did drink coffee for a short time. After three weeks in Japan, I had detoxified and my body rejected the taste. So I stopped drinking it.
I made these choices as a response to my own experiences, and in order to achieve my own goals. It was not about disrespecting the choices of others, or out of disagreement with the availability of those substances. I was asserting my individual freedom to choose, and my ability to do so requires that the alternative path exists. I can’t abstain when there is no such thing as alcohol. As such, I would not deny anyone the freedom to choose for themselves. I do not actively recommend my lifestyle to anyone else, as that would be an imposition.
‘I can’t handle no liquor, But these bitches can’t handle me. I can’t control my niggas, And my niggas they can’t control me.’ – Kanye West, “Hold My Liquor”, (Yeezus).
The context of my decisions is a social one. I exist in a community. As such, that community has default positions relating to substances, and while tolerances are made for exceptions and alternatives, for the most part people are encouraged to participate in the behaviors of their social culture. You aren’t forced to drink because everyone else does. You are invited to share in the fun, to belong, to participate, to be a part of the community (your friends, family, company, society, etc.). The bar is the center of American social life. As such, and even before moving here, I have become comfortable around alcohol and people consuming it.
However, despite those default positions, people are almost always respectful of my decision not to drink. When I tell people I don’t drink, they usually respond with ‘That’s cool. Good for you. It’s smart and healthy. I bet you’re saving a ton of money.’ They don’t push the issue, or strongly encourage me to drink. I’m sure it would be the same with other substances. They can probably sense the strength of my opposition as well. After abstaining for so long, I have developed a confidence which backs up my ability to say ‘No, thank you, I don’t drink.’ I think that firmly ends any attempt to change my behavior. If someone did push the issue, they would receive a lyric from that well known Rage Against the Machine song: ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’.
The straight edge lifestyle cannot sustain itself solely on reasons to say no. It cannot simply be a negation, a rejection or a rebellion. It must find positive and encouraging reasons to say ‘yes’. Not to drugs, alcohol and promiscuity, but to the healthy, aware, and incredibly fun way of life that abstinence allows individuals to discover. I have discovered a love of dancing: the physical exertion, the release from stress, nervousness, and self-conscious modes of thought that inhabit everyday life. One of my friends even said ‘Ben has more fun sober, than we do when we’re drunk.’ That’s a hell of an achievement for someone who values sobriety so highly. That’s my ideal of being straight edge: to party harder than anyone, and remember everything. I live this way because it feels right for me, and I know that it’s necessary for me to achieve the high standards of greatness I’ve set for myself. Not just at parties, but in life.