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2016: A Spaced Elegy

So many low points.

So many illnesses, deaths, heartaches, heartbreaks and stabs to my soul. So many slaps across the face, tears in their wake, shouts thrown into the night. A few bad decisions, a few good ones that turned out to be bad, and a few too many days alone… that was 2016.

Eff off, 2016.

Eff off, 2016.

But I don’t want to talk about those, as I’m not even close to alone on that. Most people appear to have had a shite 2016. Most people were so glad that the calendar turned to 2017 that they expected some sort of magic moment on Jan. 1, like they’d turn on their phones and all the pains and woes of the world would have been eradicated by Prince and David Bowie, who came back to fix the world aboard the Resurrectium Falcon piloted by Carrie Fisher with Leon Russell riding shotgun.

They expected Donald Trump to tweet something benevolent on New Year’s Day. WRONG.

They expected all 25 pounds they’ve gained to just magically shake off Sunday morning.

They expected their wishes — people to grow a soul and do the right thing – would come true.

Reminds me of that horrible phrase my stepdad used (may he rest in peace… thanks 2016) – “wish in one hand and shit in the other, and see which one fills up fastest.”

So yeah, let’s leave the wishes in the dust. Let’s leave 2016 in the dust too, but first, the miracles of 2016… yes, they were there, just fewer and far between.

mountaopI climbed this mountain this year. My heart was broken, wrung out, on the 60-day DL for repeated fractures. I wanted to see Dr. James Andrews and have him put me on the exempt list. (Sports humor, y’all…)

It was the first warmish day of an incredibly long, warm , beautiful Connecticut summer, and I climbed this mountain. Me, who used to weigh 315 pounds. Me, who had never shown much interest in hiking before… me, who found that it was life-saving.

Me, who a few months before was in “the best relationship of my life” only to have it disappear in a few short months. Me, who had it “all together.” I was not OK on that mountain that day, not on the inside.

But I was much better when I left. After I had gotten to the top, laid down and spaced out for an hour or so, listening to the world teach me lesson after lesson, dripping with the time-honed wisdom of the trees and breeze.

I had a staredown with a buck, keeping my quiet while he and a fawn behind him traipsed through low underbrush.

buckstaredownI watched as tender new June leaves danced in the intense mountaintop wind, and as the sun beat down on glittering quartz-filled rocks. I heard crows everywhere – Connecticut is home to enormous, beautiful crows – and the warblers were out at every treetop. Mountain laurel was blooming and the forest floor carpeted with moss and new grass. But the higher I got up the mountain, the quieter it got and the flora and fauna more scarce. It also got more peaceful. A peace I’d never really felt.

I lay on that mountainside and felt the elements underneath me and around me. I felt the heat of the rocks below me. I gazed into the abyss and realized how close I could be to violent death should I amble too far and tumble off. I nearly fell asleep in the peace, though my heart was racing. I looked up at the brilliant sky and I cried out at the top of my lungs, saying aloud to everything that could hear: “THANK YOU.” I meant it. I still do.

ontopofoldsmokyThe mountaintop brings gratefulness. I had to climb it to find that out. And though I’m not anywhere near fitness perfection, I’ve climbed two mountains in my short hiking career, and multiple trails have welcomed me for their miles of glory. I have come to find solace and strength in the quiet brilliance of a mountain trail, and I don’t question anymore why that is – especially after that day.

I was broken. Broken by a man who I still don’t understand, and probably never will. Broken by life and its many foibles. Broken by death, grief and misunderstanding. I was fixed when I came down the mountain. I’d be dinged again later, but at that moment, I was OK. I spent the weekend camping and the rest of the summer planning to do what would make me happy.

Maddie. My heart.

Maddie. My heart.

Part of that happiness, I didn’t realize, would be adding to my family in the form of Maddie, my senior citizen Golden Retriever who makes me so very happy. Going to get her was an adventure – a first date (and there would be no second) in the car to gather her up from Maryland. Once she was in the car, it’s like the guy didn’t exist. Kevin Durant left the Thunder the next day and all I could think about was the joyful red girl lying on my living room floor. She’s been about the best thing to happen to me in a long time. And her owners wanted her to be put down. How lucky can I be?

So a few months later, I moved to a place that’s not far from the mountain I hiked that day – Washington, Ct. – to be closer to nature and the people who appreciate it. I am a mile from hiking now, living in a tiny village with real people who do real things and make real memories.  There are family farms out here that are 300 years old. There are places I can walk in, pick up fresh produce and leave cash in an “honesty basket” without ever seeing the farmers. There are memories to be made here by the boatload, and I will make them, I can tell. It was a whim that I moved here, but it was rooted in a need to be where the peace is. I felt something, and I don’t think I’ll be leaving here anytime soon.

I went to LA to hang with Renae for her 40th birthday. We also went to the first Rams preseason game... or should I say, the first DAK PRESCOTT GAME!

I went to LA to hang with Renae for her 40th birthday. We also went to the first Rams preseason game… or should I say, the first DAK PRESCOTT GAME!

I traveled a ton this year as well… and realized that city life is just what I have to tolerate when I travel. I spent a few days in Nashville (sick) to cover the SEC Tournament in March, and then spent several at Disney World (sick) with people I love. I took two trips to Oklahoma and Texas (sick), went to Los Angeles (healthy, but exhausted) to celebrate my BFF’s birthday, and finally moved out to where I really wanted to be (and got sick almost immediately. For two weeks.) Since I’ve moved out here, traveling is about the last thing I want to do. Long weekends at home are spent, with me hardly ever leaving, and not feeling like I’ve missed out.

I spent quality time with family and friends, and have already had my parental figures, one sister and one brother over to the new house. Considering I live far away from everyone, that’s a big thing. This year, I’ll spend more time with friends, if I can pull myself away from my haven out here.

Oh, and I should mention — my career, bracing for all the change of the coming wave of technology — is ever-changing, as usual,but still one of the most important things ever for me. I’m just glad that I now have something that can shut off the work voice on my way home — my new scenery. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still count my lucky stars and pinch myself every now and again. FIVE YEARS AT ESPN. What the hell.

So yeah, the year that started off beautifully quickly landed in a heap on the ground — wings broken off, smoke and ash blocking the fresh air and taking hunks of my humanity with it. But I rebounded. I made some mistakes along the way, I said some things I shouldn’t have, and I spent a few months in a dark place. But it went away. And now there is light. There may be no answers for why it went the way it did, but I’m not going to worry about that anymore. Not everything has a reason. Sometimes, life is just bullshit.

But you gotta find a trail to get over the mountain of bullshit to get to the mountain of peace. It’s there. Just look.

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Watching the birds (and wheels): John Lennon’s lessons are alive and well

Ringo may be my favorite Beatle – but only because he’s an underdog, and I always support underdogs.

But let’s be honest here… John is really, truly my favorite.

That’s because I’ve always wanted to be like Mr. Lennon. Our birthdays are a few days (and 30 or so years) apart, and that may have something to do with it.

Lennon’s vision of peace, love, understanding and doing what you want with your life has always emboldened me, made me feel like I wasn’t alone for being this big ol’ sap with a bit of a revolutionary bent and a romantic heart the size of the Harlequin library.

In times like our current political climate, I wish John was here. I wish he could put into beautiful words and music what we’re all going through – and urge us to give peace a chance. Because, let’s face it – that’s what we should be after. We should be encouraging that in all walking facets of life, not just looking for our side to win.

But politics is not why I decided to write today.

It’s another John Lennon song that has my attention today, and it’s helped me get through some stuff in the past:

I feel like I’ve reached this point in my life. As I sit here on a fairly gorgeous fall day in my little mountain town, I’m thoroughly happy watching the birds at my feeder. All different types have made my backyard home, with a few more babies coming each day. Tiny tufted titmice, charming little chickadees, bodacious blue jays, charismatic cardinals and nutty nuthatch (they eat upside down from the feeder and kind of bob-and-weave when they fly. They’re hilarious.) New to the party are the glorious goldfinch (wearing fall brown), brown-headed cowbirds, a Carolina wren who lives in the pocket of a huge maple, and the various and sundry sparrows that dot this canvas. Oh, and of course the ever-present mourning doves, who strut around looking for seed on the ground (I wrote a short song with that exact line in it a few months ago. I’m weird, OK?)

I have other things I should be doing, but I don’t. I agonize over that. That’s a point John makes in this song –

“People say I’m lazy

Dreaming my life away

Well they give me all kinds of advice

Designed to enlighten me

When I tell them that I’m doing fine watching shadows on the wall

“Don’t you miss the big time boy, you’re no longer on the ball?”

That passage could be applied to many parts of my life. Don’t you miss the city? Don’t you miss the easy commute? Don’t you miss dating and grocery stores that stay open past 6 p.m.?

Not yet. (Maybe never on the dating, but alas.) But again, I’m still getting used to it, and I find myself wondering WHY I don’t miss those things. Is there something wrong with me? How can such a social person enjoy hermitude so much?

Well, how could John Lennon give everything up for Yoko? How could he walk away from the most famous band of all time?

I’m sure he agonized, just like me, and I’m sure writing “Watching The Wheels” was kind of a protest of that agony. But I know – because he’s a self-doubting, balancing-act Libra – that he did agonize.

I enjoy loud craziness. I enjoy people. But in my home, I could sit for hours just looking out a window, alone, not really thinking about anything at all.

But then the chores pile up and I call myself names.

Why?

Because I’m not listening to THIS LINE enough:

“I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round

I really love to watch them roll

No longer riding on the merry-go-round

I just had to let it go…”

I hereby would like this to serve as an attempt at “letting it go.” I would really rather not brutalize myself for enjoying my life instead of folding clothes. And as a Libra (I don’t know how much I believe in all this stuff, but I am a textbook Libra) I must balance. I must make time for folding clothes or else I will feel like a failure.

But not when there are five birds at the feeder, taking turns eating the high-quality seed I put out for them. Order. Kindness. Patience. All on winged display.

They’re so beautiful. Most of them don’t fight with each other, though I did just watch a male and female cardinal chase each other around. They just exist. I NEED to see this.

We all should. Why am I kicking myself for being lost in a moment?

John wouldn’t let me, that’s for sure.

“People asking questions lost in confusion

Well I tell them there’s no problem

Only solutions

Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind

I tell them there’s no hurry…

I’m just sitting here doing time…”

Doing time. Balancing. Watching the nutty nuthatch scamper upside-down down that same tree where the wren lives. Wondering how he keeps his balance. Wondering where they nest. Hoping I see it someday, but not feeling like a failure if I don’t.

From my little writing/birdwatching nook (some folks call it a dining room, but not me!) I am decompressing. Learning, though in a different way. This is what I came out here for.

I am done agonizing over why I enjoy it.

So back to the beginning – literally. The first verse of the song would have been enough:

“People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing

Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin

When I say that I’m o.k. they look at me kind of strange

Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game…”

 

Thank you, John. I’m no longer riding on the merry-go-round. At least for today. Balance and all…

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