Throw the map right out the window

Hi.

It’s been a while, but I’m still here. I just took a hiatus because I was busy falling in love. It’s been pretty great and finally feels like the pieces have fallen into place.

How did I get here? Hmmm…well, let’s see. I dodged a monumental disaster a few years ago. Proceeded to date something like 1,245 people. Connect with about 5 of them, but something wasn’t quite right with each of those, which left me exasperated and exhausted and forced me to give up for a hot minute, which led to me searching in unexpected places, and eventually brings me here.

Where is here? Well, it’s processing. It’s planning. It’s laughing. It’s sharing. It’s being stupid happy. It’s vulnerability. It’s compromise. You know, all the things it is when it’s right.

But it’s also realization. Realizing my instincts were right all along, even when I didn’t fully realize it or even worse, ignored them. It’s learning to trust and follow through on those instincts because after slowly doing so, I’m where I wanted to be all along. And that’s with a partner who subscribes to honest loving as much as I now do, no matter how painful the truth.

And it’s forgiveness. It’s learning to forgive myself for past mistakes and implementing the lessons learned from those mistakes to form a more complete, longer-lasting partnership.

Nope, I didn’t think this would be my path. I didn’t think I’d be one of the last of my friends to make my way to this point. I didn’t think I’d be 35 and just now finding my person. I didn’t think I’d be without kids at this point. Or without a obvious career path. Or house. Or dog for that matter. Hell, I just filled my first growler ever last night.

Sometimes, you just have to realize a particular road map is just not your map. As much as you wanted it to be or thought it would be, it’s just not your map. Maps, by their very nature, force you to focus on the future, while letting the present slip right on by, mile marker by mile marker. So have I stopped relying on a map? Probably not completely, but right now I’m more content with following the pull of magnets, orbit of planets, shining of the north star, and the lay of the land. Let’s see where we end up.

 

Cruel and Clumsy

An old habit of mine is when I’m sad or deep in thought I listen to the same song over and over. I’m sure many people do it. I’ve done it for years.

This morning I found out about the passing of Scott Hutchinson, the lead singer of ‘Frightened Rabbit’. He apparently took his own life; the result of a lifetime of struggle with mental illness.

The news has caught me completely off guard. It’s completely heartbreaking anytime someone has reached a point where they feel their only comfort is suicide. For me, this news is especially sad because of the significance of Scott’s music to my own life.

I went through a brutally bad breakup in 2014. The pain of it still lingers in some ways, but back then, it was debilitating. I couldn’t shake it no matter how hard I tried.

One day, more than 4 months after the breakup, I was just finishing folding some laundry and listening to music in my living room, when the song ‘Poke’ by Frightened Rabbit started playing on my stereo. I didn’t think much about it for the first few lines, but as I got up to take my clothes to my bedroom, the world just stopped.

The basket and I made it to the kitchen, when I just froze and broke down again. The first time in weeks. I cried so hard, but this time was different. This was an angry, bottomless cry. It came from somewhere I didn’t know existed and had a life of its own.

I threw the basket of clothes down the hall. I punched the pantry door. I punched the cupboards. And then I just let the sadness pour out for the entirety of the song. Each lyric brought with it a very personal meaning and a series of tears .

After the song, I called my parents, still crying. And the words that came out of my mom’s mouth will live with me forever and still tug at me today. “Jacob, that may have been the worst day of your life, but it was also the best day.”.

Those words still echo in my head from time to time because of how correct she was. After hearing them I turned my thinking around and just busted my ass to finish my dissertation and found an incredible job, career, and passion that I still have today. In other words, that moment changed my life, in part because I had someone to talk to.

I’m so saddened that Scott couldn’t find that comfort in his life and experience a similar turn around. If anyone knows anyone who might be showing the signs of severe mental illness, reach out to them. Let them know at least one person is willing to listen and to ease the load off their shoulders, even if it’s just a few ounces. That might make all the difference. It could jump start a new beginning.

RIP Scott Hutchinson

 

‘Life is cruel and it’s clumsy save its very best moments’

–Chris Pureka

Axis Mundi

I don’t know how to write what’s on my mind. I need to get it out, but I can’t find the words or proper train of thought. So let’s just get formulaic and see where it takes me.

The topic: my feelings for three different women. The problem: I can’t have any of them. The solution: who the hell knows?

This has been going on in some form for nine months. One-by-one they’ve entered my life. In all three cases, their entry into my atmosphere has been unexpected for one reason or another. One-by-one I’ve developed feelings for them. In one case, full blown love. In another case, strong feelings nurtured by an intial curiosity and innocence. And in the other, a nightly haunting of my dreams and sleep that follows me through the day.

I was in love this last year. That’s weird to say. I thought she was too. Maybe she was. Who knows? I thought the stars were aligning. Turns out it was just a bright flash before burn out. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. In some ways I’m mad. In an other way I saw it coming. She doesn’t have the courage to grab what she wants out of life. I don’t want that mindset in my life. And most disturbingly, I mostly don’t feel anything, which makes me really worry about my ability to understand what love is, especially within myself. Either way, I’m not done processing this yet, so I’m going to put this epilogue on hold for now.

Sometimes you get curious about life and the different ways people go about living it. This curiosity led me to a completely innocent conversation that has led me to a clear dead end. And I think that’s ok. I enjoy spending time with her. She is helping me process through things that have long been needed to be processed. I can absolutely see a future with her, but it’s just not going to be. In the meantime though, I’m learning a lot about different forms of love, including how people express love, take love, and share love. And I’m getting to understand something I’ve always wondered about myself and my own capabilities when it comes to love. In the end, I’ll hopefully have gained a lifelong friend at the very least. I miss you already and you’re still here. What an odd concept to wrap your head around.

And then there’s the third. I should just run. Gather all my logic, experience, scars, and precious time and just run. But this one has my feet nailed to the ground. I can’t take one step away, even if I really tried. And the whole time I watched as she slowly and unknowingly drove each nail through the flesh of my feet. How can you be 30,000ft off the ground and nailed to it at the same time? My nights haven’t been mine for a while now. I climb into bed each night knowing she awaits. But when I lay down, she’s not there. Hours later she sneaks into my room and into my bed without a sound. I never notice until I notice, and then it’s too late. We dance together the rest of the night until I wake up in the morning. Then I spend the rest of my day dancing around it, not understanding it or what to do about it. I have no idea how this plays out. I may not even have a say when it’s all said and done.

Brown Bird was a band that in it’s finality was a duo between a man and wife. They made beautiful music. Music that grabs you and punches you right in the solar plexus. They loved each other deeply. It’s clear from their music. He was diagnosed with leukemia in early 2013 and was dead a year later. She went on to produce a final album the two wrote together after his diagnosis. Their love will live on in her for sure, but also in their music. I think there’s a metaphor I’m trying to make here, but it alludes me. Maybe I’m just happy they got a chance to have each other, while also so sad at the same time that they were separated from each other far too early, before they got a chance to play it all out to a more satisfying finale. I don’t know.

 

Love Here Now. Be You, Just Be You.

This morning I feel capable.

I feel loved.

This week I feel different.

I feel happy.

I form chords again because of you.

I have a constant knot tied by you.

I will accomplish a lot in my life.

I am destined.

I am awakened, if only for now.

But for now is where I am.

So I am here.

And here I am.

 

“Love means patience, awareness, being present, and also knowing when to receive it too.”   –Matthew Silver

Matthew Silver–Love

Carrying the Baton of Conservation

In a small side room in a local community center, residents of the village of Brasso Seco, Trinidad have rallied around a local commodity. Cacao is connecting this tiny, out-of-the-way village to taste buds from around the world. The Brasso Seco Chocolate Company is a community-based company that uses locally-sourced ingredients to make some of the finest chocolate in the entire world. Combining sustainable farming practices and unbeatable ecotourism opportunities, the approximately 300 people of the village are working together to maintain the pristine rainforests and culture of this unique corner of the country.

A three hour drive to the northeast will take you to the village of Grand Riviere where locals are working to protect their own source of pride. Starting in March, thousands of Leatherback Sea Turtles make their annual migration to the village to deposit the next generation of turtles on the pristine beaches. In May and June, the beaches become so crowded with these 1,000lb giants, they often run out of room to make nests and end up accidentally digging up other nests. This is the site of the greatest concentration of the threatened Leatherback in the world. The locals have picked up the conservation baton via educational tours and eco-friendly community design and are doing their best to see that this species gets the best chance possible to persist long into the future.

Across the road from the beaches of Grand Riviere lies a trail leading into the forested hills of the Northern Range. Here in these hills is the last remaining stronghold of Trinidad Piping Guans, a critically endangered endemic bird with less than 300 individuals left in the world. And while some local residents are thought to still hunt the bird for bush meat, which is what originally led to the species’ near extinction, most take pride in protecting the Pawi (local name for the bird) and are quick to discuss all they know about the bird with an air of respect, providing a glimmer of hope for this once abundant bird.

Traveling south and east from Grand Riviere lies the largest freshwater wetland in the country. Nariva swamp is designated as a Wetland of International Significance and is the site of an active attempt to reestablish a population of Blue and Gold Macaws. These birds were extirpated from the island in the 1960s due largely to poaching for the illegal pet trade, but also habitat loss. Beginning in the late 1990s, reintroduction efforts slowly brought 30 individuals over from neighboring South America, in an attempt to restore this species to its native range. Today, with some luck, you can spot these colorful gems of the bird world flying over the canopy of this captivating wetland.

And while grass roots efforts like the ones listed above are making a difference and are almost assuredly the life blood of any conservation movement in the most remote areas of the country, greater funding and solid science are desperately needed to better protect the island’s ecosystems and organisms. This is where Conservation Leadership in the Caribbean (CLiC) fellows have taken up the conservation baton in an attempt to see that the Blue and Gold Macaw does take hold in Nariva for good. The fellows work to raise funding, conduct field-based research, and work with locals to build a sense of pride in protecting the Blue and Gold Macaw from the threats that still remain to this day.

In the center of the country near Arima, located at the end of a narrow and rough road lies Hamgel Field Station. Hamgel was established so field biologists and ecologists can have a place to set up a home base to operate out of while working to better understand and conserve the island’s natural resources. And this is where the CLiC fellows have gathered around a table on a pristine evening to have dinner with a group of young undergraduate ornithologists from Colorado State University.

The Colorado State University Field Ornithologists (CSUFO) have traveled 3,300 miles to Trinidad to take in the island’s diverse community of avian species and to learn about conservation efforts across the island. I have joined them to help better guide their interests and energy, but mostly I watch from afar as their collective maturity and knowledge is well beyond their years. Their razor sharp focus clearly indicates these students are serious about conservation and learning all they can in the short amount of time they have on the island.

As daylight fades and the plates of Dhalpuri Roti (local dish) slowly empty, the conversations build to a crescendo and I am just in awe. I’m in awe of these students and their genuine love for the world. They are exactly what makes this world a better place. And I’m in awe of the layers of conservation that are slowly building on the island, from villagers to scientists who have joined hands to protect this little corner of the world. Yes, Trinidad has not reached the level of success and acclaim that countries such as Costa Rica have achieved for their work in conservation, but the building blocks are there and it’s only a matter of time before Trini-based conservation is included in the same conversations as Tico-based conservation.

After six days and no more than 25 hours of sleep, CSUFO and I travel to the airport to head back to Colorado. As we stand in line to check into our flight, I sit back and listen to their conversations about this incredible eye-opening experience. These students and I bonded so hard with each other, with the locals, and with the island. It was truly a moving experience. And as the last bag was being zipped up before being checked in, I couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be a baton tucked into a corner, ready to spread the word of Trini conservation far and wide.

Penguins mate for life

We get better at life by living life. Along the way we fall, we crumble, we stand a little taller, we conquer. But we typically have to fail to get better. The ol’ ‘practice makes perfect’ idiom.

And that’s great for certain things in life. For me, I struggled with spelling, track and field, chemistry (the Niels Bohr type; see even there I’m mostly wrong. He was a physicist.), and chemistry (the dating type). But eventually I got good at all of those things (except apparently Niels Bohr chemistry).

Sure, dating is hard right now, but I don’t have a doubt in my mind I’ll be a good partner. I’ve been crushed, done the crushing, and went through the subsequent soul-searching and understanding. And because of that, I know I have what it takes to be a great partner.

But what about the things that life doesn’t grant a second chance? Like a first impression. Or grasping the reality of the slow loss of a loved one. Or the scariest of things, bringing a life into the world  and seeing it through until you’re gone.

I’ve never gotten a chance at procreation, but I honestly can’t wrap my head around the enormity of it. I have no idea how to prepare for it, even though it’s something I absolutely want. I have no idea how my parents did it and did it so well, but I’m glad they did.

I found myself sitting around a lake yesterday. It’s a spot where I took my parents almost two years a go. We spent the afternoon there, looking at wildlife and just being together. I went back there the day after I took them and just broke down crying because it meant so much to me to have that time with them. I will cry in an instant if I think about losing them. If that’s what it feels like to be someone’s child, I can’t imagine the feelings that must be ever present if you’re a parent.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say with this post other than just saying I’m still working hard to figure this whole life thing out. It’s tough work and we don’t always get it right, but we often get a lot of chances to get it right.

Penguins mate for life. Why do we complicate life so much?

 

Come on up to the house

Sometimes you come face-to-face with a decision you know is going to change you. Not just change your day-to-day, who you interact with, where you live, the music you listen to, or the food you eat.

It changes how you think, how you communicate, how you sleep. It changes how you walk, how you smile, how you hug someone. It changes how you experince the seasons, how you listen to music, how you say goodbye, how you evaluate truth, and ultimately how you trust your perception of the world as you experience it.

Luckily these moments don’t happen often. The mind and body probably can’t handle the constant shock, disorientation, and lack of homeostasis. At some point the ground has to be still. You have to be able to trust your footfall without your knees buckling.

Yet these moments are critical in shaping us as we inch closer to death. There’s no escaping it. By their very nature, these moments make us choose. There’s a fallacy in thinking we have the choice to act on these moments or not. But by not acting, you’ve also made a choice. Sure the choices differ and they may lead in completely different directions, but they are indeed both choices.

Is it better to know when one of these moments is staring us in the face? I’m not sure. My initial thought is to say yes because I think most of us like the option of having control over a situation. This gives up the perception that we are making informed decisions that will lead to the best outcome. But this knowledge also means you have to deal with the fallout of knowing you consciously made a particular choice. If things turn out for the better, then great, you did a good job in evaluating your options and set yourself up well for the rest of your life. If things turn out poorly, then you get to live with that regret, also possibly for the rest of your life.

But there again is another fallacy. Life isn’t a dichotomous key. There isn’t necessarily always a right or wrong option. Sometimes there are just options. I had one of these moments almost 6 years ago when I decided to say goodbye to my best friend.

Things haven’t exactly turned out how I planned since then. Not that I planned on ever replacing her. In my mind, you don’t just replace important people in your life like that, but I certainly thought I would have found another best friend and lover in that time. But here I am, still searching. But this isn’t about that search. This is about being born, living life, and throwing rocks in the lake and dealing with each subsequent ripple.

Does that mean I made the wrong choice? I don’t think so. For one, she’s happier than she would have been with me. I fully believe this. I’m not sure I was capable of giving her my best me and therefore the best life possible for her. Sometimes the right choice isn’t even about you.

And I also don’t want to act like I’m some kind of saint. I was infidelitous before I even said goodbye. I don’t regret saying goodbye. I regret how I said goodbye. I’m still sorry about this to this day. A ripple that I failed to anticipate.

But plenty of good has also come from that decision. I have a whole new career path that I’m in love with, even though I’m unsure where it’s taking me. I moved halfway across the country to a wonderful city. I have new friends and I’m closer to my old friends. I also experience life differently. I love harder. I’m more emotional. I’m more open with my thoughts and to other people’s experiences. I think overall this has made me a better person.

But I’m also a more lonely person.

This is the hard truth. This isn’t about seeking pity either. This is just me being long overdue honest with myself. I’m not religious, but this is as close as I get to a “come-to-Jesus” moment. This is one of those moments. It’s not as sharp and cut to bone as maybe I’d like. This is a foggy haze of a moment. A can’t quite see where you’re going, but know you need to get going moment.

And I need to get a grasp on this moment. I’ve tried and tried for almost a year now, but just can’t quite do it. Maybe it’s because I’ve failed to see it as a moment. I’ve been too busy with distracting myself and possibly feeling bad for myself.

For almost two months now I’ve woken up in the middle of the night every single night, rocked by what I thought were random dreams. And each time I lay awake for at least a half an hour. Eventually I started using that time to evaluate my dreams and finally found a theme. Every dream was about something I care about deeply and in some way have lost over time.

The night I had this revelation was the night I realized I was in the middle of this moment. It’s just that this moment isn’t a moment at all. It’s been going on for a long time and it’s time to make a choice. I need to accept my new life and learn to love myself. I need to let myself off the hook. I need to be me so I can be my best me for the people and things I care deeply about. I need to learn to embrace the ripples before the lake lies calm again.

 

All your cryin don’t do no good
Come on up to the house
Come down off the cross
We can use the wood
Come on up to the house

–Tom Waits