Monday, December 24, 2012

For The Love of Seinfeld

I've always been a huge fan of Jerry Seinfeld, and I am endlessly entertained by watching re-runs of Seinfeld over and over again. This week, I came across a couple new Seinfeld related things, and wanted to share. First, there was a feature article about Jerry in the New York Times. It was really well written, and gives a glimpse into his hard work ethic, and his genius. Second, Jerry has a web series called Comedians in Cars getting Coffee. Some are funnier than others, but the episode with Michael Richards (Kramer) is gold, "gold, Jerry".

Check 'em out: Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up by Jonah Weiner, New York Times.

Comedian in Cars Getting Coffee: It's Bubbly Time, Jerry with Michael Richards. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Coffeeshop Reflections

This is my latest column for the Durango Telegraph's La Vida Local. While alot of folks have powder on the brain this time of year, the winter is the time when I slow down and get alot of reading and writing done. Anywho, here's Coffeeshop Reflections: 

My favorite coffee shop in Durango is my second office, all part of a goal to put in 10,000 hours towards the writing craft. When I left behind the 9-5 world in my pursuit to become a self employed writer, I heavily considered two options: earning a graduate degree in creative writing, or simply writing creatively a lot. With the state of the economy and my unwillingness to go into debt the latter option won.

The coffeeshop portion of my writing day is always preceded by working from home. I am a writer that relies on routine. On an average morning I’ll drink three cups of murderous coffee, check Facebook 12 times, and ideally write 1,000 words. I work best when I’m working on several writing projects at the same time, coupled with a deadline. The words always pour out when they really have to.

These days I’m working on my second book, and the progress has been frustratingly slow. I don’t have a deadline, an agent, or a publisher. All I have is a vision. At the moment I live alone, and fighting with an idea in my mind, all by my lonesome, yielding little results, makes me question this pursuit to rely on my words to eat.

A lesson I learned from an artist friend of mine a long time ago always kicks in at these moments: when your art is not flowing it is time to recreate. So when I’ve reached that point of sheer lunacy because the vision from my mind won’t reach the computer screen, I typically get out my running shoes, and head out for a trail. After that I head into town.

Two years ago when first I moved here I was a stranger walking the streets of downtown. I was reveling in my new life, basking in the freshness of new faces, and just taking it all in. I settled into a routine, and started frequenting the same coffeeshop most afternoons, where I would sink into the ink of reading and writing. Since I didn’t know anyone I would rarely get distracted, and that was one of my most productive periods of writing I’ve ever had.

It was also winter, my favorite time to just simply be. I believe I’ve confessed in this column previously that I don’t drop my knees to the altar of skiing (I am happy to see it snowing out of my writing window at the moment though) so I am not possessed by that pursuit. This is good because I am obsessed with rock climbing for most of the year.

That winter I vividly recall reading Love in the Time of Cholera, an epic novel by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. That body of work had everything in a novel that I was looking for, and I was entranced by the love story told within its pages. It was the kind of story that made me want to be a writer in the first place, that someday I could hope to produce words that would put a reader in a similar meditational trance. At the same time, and probably at least partially induced by Garcia-Marquez’s words, I had a crush on the barista who seemed overly friendly when I ordered my daily cup of tea. My imagination ran wild as I read the love story, and when I finished the book I finally got up the nerve to ask her out. I got her number and asked for a date, but she never called back. Oh well, finding love is almost like finding a good book; both are elusive, but if you stay positive and keep looking you’ll find it sooner or later.

The changing of seasons always changes my coffeeshop habits. While I do revel in the calmness of winter, spring’s flavors are irresistible. Often, when the weather is warm, I’ll find my attention span shorter, sometimes floating to two or three locations in a single day.

One fine day this past spring, I was shopping for a wedding gift for my brother and his soon bride to be. I ended up at a local bookstore where I bought a journal. The intention was that they could write in it during their upcoming honeymoon in Southeast Asia. After that I headed over to a coffeeshop that I’d never been to, which had an outdoor patio. I sat down, and struck up a conversation with a woman I’d seen around town, but never talked to. It turned out she was a writer herself, and we had this immediate connection, as if perhaps we’d known each other before, maybe in another life. I read her the note I wrote to my brother and his wife in the journal, which began an instant connection of words that we share to this day. She’s now one of my most reliable editors, and helped me shape my first book together for publication. Together we are starting another Durango-related writing project, tentatively called The Durango Dream Zine.

After two years of living here and dwelling in coffeeshops I’m no longer a stranger. Anonymity has been traded for community. In my beloved coffeeshop world I don’t simply bury my head in literature, I have meetings and visit with friends. Still, on a cold wintery day, I’ll pull out my journal, sip a comforting cup of tea, and float off to a dreamy, Durango consciousness, and let some words write themselves. Or, I’ll melt into a good book, and take a journey without ever leaving the coffeeshop. And in these moments there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Birthday Challenge

Over the last six months I've been planning my Birthday Challenge. Originally I'd hoped to do it early, first in the summer, then when summer passed, the fall. Finally I ended up doing my challenge on my birthday this last weekend. Here's the piece, with links to two previous Birthday Challenge articles I wrote for Cheers.

Badger sending at The Golf Wall. 
Birthday Challenge Part 3, The Big Day

My favorite thing about climbing is that if you try hard enough you can always be a champion. It doesn’t matter if you are the best, it matters how it feels.

The Birthday Challenge is a concept passed from climber-to-climber, and I was first introduced to it by my good friend Shaun Matusewicz, at the age of 25. Nine years later I finally completed my first true climbing Birthday Challenge at 34 years young.

I’ve always been psyched on the concept, but my birthday is in December, a month when rock climbing and weather don’t always align.

Last spring, while climbing with a relatively new, but equally psyched climbing partner, Jonathan “Badger” Mitchell, we discovered our birthdays were three days apart. To top this off, we are only a year apart in age. I told him about The Challenge, and he thought it was super cool. Together, we decided we would do one together, except we’d bend the rules a bit and complete it in the summertime; with longer days and more sunshine it would be easier to achieve.

We immediately began training for the challenge, doing extra pitches after we’d normally retire for the day. At the peak of the summer we reached 20 laps at our local sport climbing crag, The Golf Wall, an overhanging wall of limestone. Then like the summer does it faded away and we’d yet to do The Birthday Challenge. Our dream continued into the fall, but both of us hit the road more to climb. When I returned from my climbing trip I was beat up and had a couple nagging injuries. The Challenge would have to wait till next year.

But as our birthdays approached The Challenge still lingered in the back of my mind. My injuries were getting better, and I was feeling as close to one hundred percent as a 34 year old can get. At the last minute Badger confirmed he was in, so we figured out the details, and recruited our closest friends for belays and psyche.

The first day of December this year was a nightmare for skiers, but kind to climbers. The high was going to be 50 degrees, perfect sending temps for The Golf Wall.

We arrived at the wall at the perfect time, one of the three 5.10s was just going into the sun, and its reflection on the slick, steep grey limestone wall was an invitation to begin. Badger and I both agreed our first pitches were a little sloppy as our minds were on how big of a task we had ahead of us. We tried to remind each other to breathe and stay in the moment.

By pitch 7 I was very worried because I was already very pumped. I took my first hang on pitch 9, and thought in my head that I might not be able to do this. There were a lot of folks at the crag that day and I also realized my ego was afraid of falling on routes that I normally have dialed. I was afraid of failure.

 I failed again on pitch 17, a 5.11 that is an overhanging series of roofs; a climb I have so dialed I often warm up on it. Luckily it wasn’t a severe blow to my ego. I just kept on, and at 20 pitches I resorted to running toprope laps on a 5.10. I think I did 10 laps on this pitch, some were ugly attempts, I felt like a complete beginner thrutching for holds and totally losing all technique. Then a funny thing would happen, I’d remember to breathe and stay in the moment, and my technique got better on the next lap. The mind is the strongest muscle.

At pitch 30 I had a total bonk and consumed all my remaining food, just laying there, gone to the world. Slowly my blood sugar came back and I tied in for four more laps on the last route for the day. My dear friend Tim Foulkes who belayed me for 15 straight pitches was on the other end of the rope, and there’s something uplifting about having someone you’ve climbed with for a decade belaying you. After my 33rd pitch I got word from around the corner that Badger was done with his challenge, and had even led his last pitch. So, with some friendly competition in the air, I pulled the rope, put some quickdraws on my harness and led my last pitch.

At that moment everything aligned, somehow I had energy again, and I felt better at pitch number 34 than I did at number 17. I think I was getting in my own way about being worried if I could complete The Challenge. My mind was playing tricks on me.

After that last pitch all I wanted was a beer and food. After that it was time to dance and party…

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