On the coffee table

IMG_3787img_3796.jpgSometimes it feels like I enjoy the idea of reading more than I actually enjoy reading.

Of course, that’s not true.

But since Eleanor was born, I’ve found it difficult to make the time. Not only that but when I do have some time I’m too tired.

However, now that Eleanor is sleeping through the night (thanks be to any and every god there ever was), and we’re getting more rest (are we really, though?) I’ve been making an effort to read more.

And here’s what’s on the coffee table.

New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver. Lately, I’ve been reading poetry to Eleanor before her bedtime. Something about the cadence and rhythm of poetry helps her fall asleep. And it fills me to read these passages of nature and nurture to my growing bud.

And Father’s Day by my old friend, Simon Van Booy. I discovered Simon’s short stories in 2008 and he became one of my most beloved authors. A few years later, I had the opportunity to do a workshop with him in the Berkshires. It was divine. This book came out quite some time ago, but I’m truly enjoying it.

 

 

Living with an invisible disease.

IMG_2931A few weeks ago Grace went in for an MRI and met with a new doctor. She’s started a new trial medication for her chronic autoimmune condition.

At this point, it’s all par for the course.

We were talking the other night – Grace and I – and realized that it’s been 9 years since she was diagnosed.

And that just seems unreal, but more on that later.

She’s started a new treatment and we’re equally optimistic and cautious. It’s not that the other forms of treatment haven’t worked, but they haven’t worked.

I think anyone living with an autoimmune condition knows that nothing is certain. Not your treatment, and certainly not your health.

It’s funny – I’ve been with Grace since the day she was diagnosed 9 years ago and yet so many of the symptoms that make a home in her body are ever foreign to me. When you’re not always in pain, you don’t understand just how it affects every minute of your day. Every single aspect of your life.

Of course, being married to someone who is sick gives you a front-row seat to those challenges, but it’s not the same.

I don’t feel tired walking up the stairs.

Or getting out of the car.

Or showering.

For Grace, all of these things can just be – hard.

And when no one else can see it, and people have a hard time believing what they can’t see, it makes it all the more difficult.

So we’re hoping this new treatment might provide some relief, if not the magic cure we’ve always been looking for. But we understand if it doesn’t.

There’s still a richness to life, even if you’re sick. I think it’s taken us 9 years to get here, but it’s true. If for no other reason than it brought us together. And continues to. It’s our fight. And it’s our story.

There’s something to owning your story, isn’t there? Regardless of what your story is?

I’ll certainly be sharing more about this part of our story because I know there are so many others out there living with invisible illnesses.

It’s not easy, and you’re certainly not alone.

And this life can (and should) be beautiful all the same.

Free Solo featuring Alex Honnold

The Free Solo trailer has dropped and it’s – insane.

Alex Honnold finished his solo climb of El Capitan in the summer of 2017. As someone who enjoys recreational climbing, and gets into a gym a couples times a year, I can’t fathom the physical and mental strength it takes to do something like this. I have to imagine legit climbers find it even more intimidating.

This film is just as much about consequence as it is this amazing feat of climbing. Anyone who watches this film will be left wondering whether they could do the same thing – risk life and limb to achieve a dream – or why Alex would ever put his life in danger to begin with.

But I think Alex doesn’t really care about death as much as he cares about living. To live is to take risk, to challenge oneself. To live boldly and with consequence.

Of course, none of us would ever dare dream climbing El Cap without a rope, but we’re also not world-class climbers.

So I wonder – what does this type of living look like for me? And for you?

And maybe the consequence isn’t death, but then again it doesn’t have to be. So long as you feel more alive each and every time you do it.

 

Gear Review | Topo Designs Mountain Duffel

This weekend I sat down in front of the camera (actually, I was standing) and talked a bit about the Mountain Duffel from Topo Designs.

Topo Designs is a Colorado-based company that’s been building outdoor gear and apparel for the better part of a decade. Actually, a full decade. Founders Jedd Rose and Mark Hansen started building backpacks in 2008.

I’ve had the 40L Moutain Duffel for about 10 months now and genuinely love the bag. It’s versatle. It looks good. And it’s designed to weather the weather.

Check out the full review in the video AND a quick note: yes, I’m outta focus. I apologize. I shot the video while my daughter was asleep, and that was the ONLY window of time to get it done. Sorry about that. I’ll make sure I do better in future videos. Or maybe not.

I’m a writer, not a videomaker.

Making the most of our moments

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When was the last time you just took a moment?

When was the last time you just took one, deep, whole breath?

When was the last time you closed your eyes, felt your feet planted firmly on the ground? Felt the wind lapping across your skin, singing for your ears. Felt the sun (oh, the sun) press itself against you. Felt the time of day, and the day itself. Felt the sounds like a symphony played only for you. Felt the grass tickle (yes, tickle) your legs.

When was the last time you just took a moment? Just one, beautiful, precious moment?

It’s not easy, of course.

But it is always worth it.

Introducing Flog 001

 

I’ve always wanted to start a YouTube channel. A part of this greater story about exploring the intersection of fatherhood, the outdoors, creativity is talking it. Literally talking about it. As much as I love writing – and I certainly plan to do plenty of it – there’s an authenticity and intimacy that video affords us.

I hope you’ll take some time to watch the first video. Then head over to my channel and hit the red “subscribe” button so you keep getting updates on new videos.

And share it.

If you enjoy any of this, the best way to support Flats and Pines is by sharing and talking about this content.

How’d I discover Hudson Bourbon? Someone shared it with me.
How’d I discover Raymond Carver? Someone shared it with me.
How’d I discover Noah Gundersen? Someone shared it with me.

So – please. If you know someone else that’d like what we’re doing here, let ’em know.

 

 

The extraordinary will take care of itself

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I find myself imagining what Eleanor will be like in five years. Or ten. Or even twenty. What will move her? What will inspire her?

Maybe she’ll live in Paris. Or Vienna.

Maybe she’ll be a doctor, like her mother. Or a lawyer, or even a bartender.

And then I remember that I only have this moment with her – and the rest will come when it comes. She will be what she becomes by these moments, these very moments when she’s only 14 months, and trying a tomato for the first time, or running her hands through the mulch at our park, or picking flowers at dawn.

Indeed, the extraordinary will take care of itself.

Blessed are bare feet

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Blessed are bare feet, flashing against concrete too hot to the touch. Like they can’t get off quick enough. Like there’s nothing more exhilarating.

Blessed are bare feet, lost in the tall grass. Among the ants and dirt. Among the sticks and acorns.

Blessed are the bare feet, tender on sharp rocks, tender on pricklers, tender.

Blessed are the summer days spent with feet bare, feeling the earth solidly underneath you. Blessed is the feeling of earth solidly underneath you.

Who in the hell let me take this child home?

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Photo by Anastasia McKendrick

There was a shift.

And suddenly everything had purpose.

Suddenly, all of the things we had fawned over – the crib, the bassinet, the changing table, the clothes and cloth diapers – they had a purpose.
They weren’t just decoration.
They weren’t for show.
They were necessary.

Before Eleanor’s birth, these items were just an idea of what our lives would be like when the baby arrived.

And when she was born, they became tools. They had purpose. They were being used by our daughter. Seeing her, our baby girl, not even 48 hours old, laying in her bassinet; Seeing her, no more than 7 pounds, crying on the changing table; Seeing her, no more or less human than me, fully in this world; Seeing her scared me.

Who in the hell let me bring this child home?

What do I know about raising a child?

Who am I to bring another person into this broken world?

Am I really changing another diaper?

I’m not sure I had ever felt that scared before. Or tired. I kept finding myself looking at my wife and daughter asleep on the couch, or sitting on the rocking chair in our living room, or pacing the apartment, and I wasn’t sure I could do it. Be a dad, I mean. Be the partner my wife needed me to be. Be the father I so desperately wanted to be.

This isn’t about stereotypes. It’s not about physical protection or earnings. It’s about showing up every day. It’s about working hard to give my very best to my wife and daughter. Acknowledging my faults and my wrongdoings. Recognizing shortcomings and embracing growth.

You don’t know anything when you have your first kid. There’s no book that’s going to tell you what it’s like the first night your baby is in her bassinet, and your wife is barely asleep, still in pain, still store, still crying, heartbroken and she doesn’t know why,  and you can’t make it 5 minutes without getting up to check and make sure she’s still breathing.

There’s no book for that.

There’s no book for that first moment when you wish things were like they used to be, and you weren’t the parent, and you could sleep through the night, and you could sleep with your wife, and you weren’t always scared.

There’s no book for that.

Ultimately, you don’t know what it’s like until that first night when you keep thinking don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing. Who in the hell let me bring this child home? I don’t know what I’m doing.

With time, that feeling fades. But I’ve learned it doesn’t go away. You’ll still get up in the middle of the night to check that she’s breathing. You’ll still look at your wife and daughter and wonder how it is that you went from being a reckless college student to the parent of a child – your child. You’ll still look at your own father and feel like you don’t live up. You’ll still feel that pressure, but you’ve built the muscle to carry it further.

I’m not so sure I’m the best partner I can be for my wife. I’m not so sure I’m a good dad. I do know that I love them unconditionally.

I do know I carry them in my heart.

I do know I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.

I do know that I’m thankful they let me take my child home.

 

On the outside looking in – why community matters outdoors or online

 

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At this point, I’m used to being on the outside looking in.

When my wife and I moved to southern Illinois so she could study medicine, I suddenly found myself living in a rural town far removed from the people and conversations that mattered most to me. Bands weren’t coming to play shows there. Authors weren’t putting Carbondale on the list for readings. It wasn’t a hub for creativity or artists. And while I knew we’d only be there for a short time, I also knew that it was important for me to stay connected to art and music, people and places and it scared me that I was so far away from that.

In so many ways, those few years were difficult. Terribly difficult. But they weren’t all bad.

And all glory be to the internet.

The internet kept me connected. It kept me motivated. It kept me creating.

I discovered new artists and new musicians, bloggers and vloggers. I found a way to connect to creators and, as a result, I felt that I was, in some way, a part of a community.

Don’t get me wrong,  I was still on the outside looking in. But at some point, I got in.

Fast forward to now, and I’m living in Ann Arbor, a bustling Michigan city full of creatives and adventurers and breweries and restaurants and the like, working as a copywriter writing for Google and YouTube.

So it’s not too alarming to me that I’m again on the outside looking in, this time in the trail world.

Last year, when Eleanor was still fresh, and I was staring down the barrel of an unhealthy lifestyle and long commutes to see her and Grace while she finished medical school, I discovered the Ginger Runner and the trail and ultra running community. In so many ways it felt like I had found my people.

The problem was that so much of what was happening in that world seemed to be thousands of miles away. The epicenter of the trail world is somewhere between Boulder, Colorado, Arizona, California, and the PNW. There, the trails are wild and long. You can easily connect 10, 20, 30 miles together. You can easily find other trail runners and outdoor enthusiasts. It’s not just apart of the culture, it is the culture.

It’s not that easy in Detroit.

Of course, I didn’t need to be in direct contact with the community to run, but being apart of community is important. It inspires you. It holds you accountable. It pushes you and drives you forward. Why does anyone join a mosque or church, apart from the religious aspect? Why do we put so much value in having our sports team? Finding a community of people that share your values, that understand why something is important to you without you having to explain it, is…liberating.

It’s happiness.

So being separate from all of that, not being close to the mountains, or expansive trails, happening upon the community online and not in my own neighborhood, made me feel a bit removed.

Enter the internet. Again.

Being able to join communities like Ginger Runner Live, and chat with likeminded runners every Monday while listening to an interview meant that I was apart of a bigger conversation, meeting people of all abilities that love trails and live across the globe. Watching the Ginger Runner and Billy Yang films, or Semi-Rad’s REI documentary on running 100 miles – they inspired me to keep getting outdoors and explore the trails my community did have.

And just like I found myself at an agency writing for Google only 4 years after feeling like I had lost my shot at pursuing a creative career, I can see that feeling separated from the trail and ultra world isn’t actually that true, and that I’m only as separated as I let myself be.

I’ve had a chance to work with coach Megan Roche, a bright, brilliant, kind star in the ultra world, which has allowed me to be apart of the SWAP team of athletes she and her husband coach.

And here I am, running daily, finding my own trails, my own people in my own community and forging relationships.

So I might not get to run with Dom Grossman, or Gary Robbins, or even Ethan or Billy or Levi (like I could keep up with them in the first place). They might never know who I am. I might not have easy access to mountains or endless trails. I might not be in the center of the epicenter, but I am no less apart of the trail running community. And in turn, I can take that inspiration, keep running on my own trails, meet folks in my own running community and keep doing something that is meaningful and powerful and important.

Long live the internet. Long live the trails.