Tag Archives: Montana

Maximizing the Summer of Life: Are Your Aspirations Happening?

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.” –Salvador Dalí

Hello friend,

Today marks the beginning of the end of my favorite time of the year. I know I am not supposed to be sad on the day of my children’s birthday parties, but I can’t help it. This big, celebratory day for our family is invariably tinged with a sense of loss for me. With one child born in late July and the other in early August, party day just happens to mean that Summer–my glorious, holy, magnificent, all-things-good Summer–is starting to wind down. And that always sends me reeling between sorrow and panic as I fully realize for the first time what I will miss about my season (EVERYTHING) and what I haven’t checked off my To-Do List (SO MUCH).

This year, like all the others, I came into Summer with an ambitious list of all the things I wanted to do before school started up again and Autumn signaled its inevitable return. But this year was even bigger than all those other Summers, too. It was to be the first Summer since my kids were born that I was “off” with them, the happy consequence of working in the school system. So, as we rolled into June, I was aiming high, imagining the biggest kinds of fun and adventures (despite the smallest kind of budget). It would be grand, and we would come away with memories to last a lifetime. I was glowing in anticipation of my season. My Summer.

What was I going to do? Lots!!!

I was going to be the king of day trips! The kids and I–and occasionally my wife–would escape the house in the morning before the heat of the day was upon us and drive out to an area lake or waterfall or forest for a hike and possibly a swim. We would get to know all of these places that we have heard friends and neighbors talk about for years, gems within an hour or two of our house that we never seemed to have time for in years past. We would go at least a couple of times per week and knock one cool spot after another off the list. It was going to be fantastic!

We were also going to do a lot of extended trips to visit family at the lakes for long weekends on the water and around the campfire. The kids would bond with their cousins the way I did with mine as a child, making the kinds of memories that still leave me with the warmest feelings for those people I no longer see very often. Memories like fireworks, sleeping outside, Capture the Flag, tubing, building forts, and telling ghost stories. As I would be tickled by the children’s shared joy and bonding, I would also be fortifying my own connections with my siblings and parents. And of course, simply basking in life by the water. The best!

In addition to these short and medium trips, we were finally going to take a real family road trip. My long-awaited, much-anticipated return to the mountains of Montana was at last going to materialize. This time, instead of me hiking solo up the trails and tenting in the backcountry, I would be showing my kiddos around and introducing them to the magic of mountain lakes and endless sky, waterfalls and bighorn sheep. It would be everything I have been dreaming about in the nearly-two decades since I made the last of my many visits to my favorite land. A reconnection of my heart, mind, and soul. Everything.

Along with the many adventures big and small, this was also to be the Summer when I reconnected with my first love, Tennis. It was a given that I would teach my kids to play, as I do every Summer. But I also would make a habit of getting my own practice in, returning to that place of purity in the joy I feel when the ball strikes the strings and the exhilaration of chasing after the next ball, relishing the challenge of synchronizing my body perfectly to the rhythm of this violent-yet-fluid dance. I was going to be a player again!

These were the dreams of my Summer just two months ago. The mere thought made me happy. Taken together, they seemed ambitious but still realistic. I could do it!

But did I???

I am disappointed to report that, as with most of my ambitions, while I have occasionally hit the mark, on the whole I have not done very well.

On the Tennis front, I have mostly failed. The children, I am pleased to say, are becoming players. They have had lots of time on the court, and it tickles me to see them enjoying the process, challenging as it is. Score! On the other hand, their old man has been a major disappointment. I have sneaked out and found a wall to hit against a couple of times–reminding myself, happily, of the way I passed most of the Summers of my youth–but have not been ambitious enough to find people to play with regularly. I remain a rusty, has-been/wannabe tennis player. Bummer!

On the adventuring front, I wish I had tons of scintillating tales to share from locales across my state and all the way to the Rocky Mountains. Alas, I do not. We have been to the lake cabin to visit family a couple of times–one weekend and one week–which was wonderful (though admittedly not as often as I had envisioned). The local day tripping, however, has been a resounding FAIL. It seems like there is always one little errand or item on the schedule that has kept me from being ambitious enough to do the required research and commit to taking the trips to the waterfalls and forests. The truth is that it is simple laziness on my part, a laziness that I now plainly regret.

I have, in the place of those deeper adventures, found something to soothe my conscience a bit, or at least distract me from my guilt: library events. Yes, I said library events! At the start of Summer, I found a big, magazine-like brochure published by the county library, advertising all of the events hosted by the several branches in our system. I sat down and spent what felt like the entire day loading them into the calendar on my phone, feeling unusually like a responsible parent as I did so. Anyway, we have played with Legos, made bookmarks, seen magic and comedy shows, and created all sorts of other arts and crafts. And we always come home with even more library books, which assuages my guilt from not being outside adventuring, which is, of course, where I ought to be.

Speaking of adventuring, the biggest disappointment from my Summer ambitions has been my failure to execute the dream road trip to Montana. It pains me to even write about it now, knowing both that it hasn’t happened and, more importantly, that it won’t happen. Not this year, anyway. As painful as it is, though, for this disappointment I feel I have some excuse. We were in the midst of a lot of job uncertainty and transition this Summer, and the financial strain that comes along with that. So, despite my fantasies, the big Montana trip turned out to be not exactly realistic. Not this year. Next year, though…..

All of this both bums me out and freaks me out. I hate the feeling that I am not meeting my Summer aspirations with actions and that I am running out of time on my season. I am creased.

Worse, though, is that my fragile psyche then doubles down on the sorrow/panic carousel when, in my ponderings and journal entries of the week, I realize how this annual ritual is a microcosm of my feelings about my existence as a whole and my place in the great Cycle of Life. I see that this whole emotional swirl around “Oh, how I have loved this beautiful, blessed life of mine!” and “Oh crap, I am running out of time to pack more dreams of adventure and accomplishment, service and impact into my fleeting little life!” is just me with Summer, every year. Just substitute “Summer” in for “Life” and you have a pretty accurate picture of me today. It’s just a thumbnail representation of me at this point in my own journey.

Loving its gifts, already lamenting its passing, and panicked that I need to maximize the joy and opportunity in every remaining moment. That is me in Life. That is me at the end of July.

How about you? Where are you with respect to your ambitions, both for the Summer and for your life? Open up your journal and give an accounting of your inner and outer worlds. Start with the Summer itself. What aspirations did you hold for the season when it began? Was it more about revving up your life with some new adventures or toning it down with some serious relaxation and self-care? Were you hoping to travel? Were there books you wanted to read (or write)? Who were you hoping to spend more time with? What were you going to do with your fitness? Were you going to work less or more? Were you hoping to reduce your stress level? How would you be of service? Was there something–some hobby or passion or joy–that you had gotten away from in recent years that you were going to get reconnected with? In what area was your life going to improve the most? Were you hoping to be happier this Summer? At two-thirds of the way through, how are you doing? Are there plenty of items on your To-Do List checked off already, or are you like me and needing to cram a lot into the final month of Summer in order to feel satisfied? For which type of ambitions have you been most successful? Fitness? Travel? Self-care? Career? In what areas have you clearly fallen short to this point? Is there time left in the season to make up for those shortcomings and create a success story? What type of actions will that require? Are you still invested in making it happen? Now pull back and ask yourself all of these same questions about your life in general and where you are on your journey toward the end? Is your reality matching up to your aspirations? How far off are you? Are you willing to take the necessary actions to raise yourself up to your ambitions, or have you resigned yourself that it is too late to be who you once believed yourself to be? When you look at your current spot on what you believe to be your path through LIFE, what do you feel? Panic? Satisfaction? Sorrow? Peace? Resignation? Gratitude? Bitterness? Relief? Apathy? Excitement? Disappointment? Fulfillment? Regret? Acceptance? Does your feeling about your Summer to this point match your feeling about your life to this point? Leave me a reply and let me know: How well are you maximizing your season?

Seize it all,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your circle. Together, we can rise to our greatest ambitions!

P.P.S. If this type of thinking appeals to you, I encourage you to check out my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.

The Dream Summer Road Trip

Hello friend,

“To travel is to live.” –Hans Christian Andersen

My sister sent me a photo this week, and my mind was instantly transported back in time.

It was the Summer of 1993. I was 21 years old, and my best buddy Johnny and I were embarking on a grand adventure. He had a blue Chevy Blazer—“The B”—and we packed that thing to the gills! We pictured ourselves as these rugged outdoorsmen, ready to sleep with the animals, catch our meals, and tear up all the trails of the great Rocky Mountains. The truth is that we were complete amateurs at everything and thus basically packed every item we owned into that car–you know, just in case—so that there wasn’t an inch of space left anywhere, including on my feet and lap. Camping gear, fishing gear, groceries, cooler, big garbage bags full of clothes, and a sweet, old-school camera that belonged to John’s old man (we thought we would become a couple of modern-day Ansel Adamses). Oh yeah, and our bikes on the back. You might have thought we were leaving for a year. We figured a few weeks.

As any two fools would, we set off on our eleven-hour first leg of the trip around ten o’clock at night. It was a narrow, two-lane highway across the pitch-black night of the empty prairie, lined with occasional white crosses where people had gone off the road and died, which served as not-so-subtle reminders to stay awake. There was no one out there but us, but our souls were on fire with visions of the mountains as we made our way through the night powered by Mountain Dew and Chicago’s “Greatest Hits 1982-1989” album. A couple of flatlanders headed for the high country.

In life, there are a small handful of exquisite moments when you are on the cusp of something truly game-changing. Something deep inside you is doing cartwheels because it knows that what you are about to experience is so special that you will never look at the world the same way again. Driving West across the black emptiness that night, I knew I was in the midst of one of those moments.

Those next few weeks were pure Bliss for me. I felt so much like a kid in a candy store every second of the day. Glacier National Park was our first and most-dreamed-about destination. Though I had skied every year in Montana when I was a kid, Glacier was like nothing I had ever seen before. The sheer majesty of the place was absolutely heart-stopping. I felt drunk as I climbed the steep trails, jumped across boulders in the middle of the rushing streams, and dipped my feet into the icy-cold, crystalline waters of the mountain lakes. I had found my Paradise.

It pained my heart to leave Glacier after those dream-like days of exploring, but I was buoyed by thoughts of all the unexplored miles ahead of us. We were just getting started! In the days that followed, we made our way through Western Montana and down to the shores of the Madison River, where my brother happened to be living in a tent for the Summer. He schooled us in the beauty of fly-fishing for a few days and led us up a crazy trail on our mountain bikes. After that, we headed South through the jagged Tetons and on down to the Great Salt Lake in Utah, where my other brother lived (not in a tent). Then it was time to turn back North and start for home.

On our last night on the road, again in the dark of night, we pulled into a remote Forest Service campground on one end of the Beartooth Highway outside of Yellowstone. The rain was pouring too hard to even attempt to get out and set up the tent, so we laughed at our luck and stayed right there in our seats for the rest of the night, because, as I mentioned, there was not even a hint of open space in the car, not even to recline our seats. It was a short, uncomfortable night, and we pulled out of our spot at first light to climb the Beartooth Pass, one of the most beautiful drives anywhere in the wide world. At the other end of the pass, all that was left was the last nine or ten hours to home.

It was truly one of those epic, journey-of-a-lifetime kind of deals: adventure, bonding with friends and family, and episodes both touching and silly, all set against a backdrop of Mother Nature’s most spectacular beauty. It was the best of times.

So, when my sister sent me a photo a couple days ago of her passing through Glacier National Park with her family, the memories came flooding back. It reminded me of all of the great Summer roadtrips I used to take out there. After that first trip 24 years ago, so enchanted was I that I made a point of getting to Glacier every Summer for several years in a row. It always left me completely spellbound.

Then my life changed. I moved further away and took on more commitments. I hate to admit how many years it been since I have been to my Glacier, or even to any of the mountains of the glorious Western range. So many years.

What my sister’s photo produced, in addition to the glow from thoughts of those halcyon days, was a fantasy of another epic trip to the mountains and open spaces of the American West. And the road.  

As much as I would love to do it again with my old buddy Johnny—and he would be up for it—and as much as I bask in a solo adventure, my life these days is about building wonderful memories for my kids and expanding their view of the world. So, this time anyway, this fantasy is a family road trip.

Here’s how I see it. We load up the car—though, maybe since it’s a fantasy, we say it’s a small RV–with camping gear and cool beverages and venture the two longest, least scenic days of the trip across our Minnesota, North Dakota (spending the night at my old house so it is just like leaving on my trip with Johnny), and Eastern Montana. We spend a day in Lewistown, Montana with my brother’s family. From there, we go straight for Glacier, where we spend a few days hiking in my Paradise and driving the Going To The Sun Road, stopping at all the scenic lookouts and taking in the bears, mountain goats, and big horn sheep. We may even give my wife a break from the tent and stay at the Lake McDonald Lodge.

Fully refreshed and invigorated from Glacier, we will head South through the Flathead Valley, through Missoula, and down through the Bitterroot National Forest into Idaho along the Salmon River. We will cut West across the Boise National Forest and into the middle of Oregon, turning South at Bend and through the forest to Crater Lake and beyond.

Leaving Oregon, we will come into all new territory for me (I have done the California coast, but never the Sierra Nevadas). We will travel inland through the many National Forests of Northern California before hitting the big National Parks: Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia, finally cutting across Death Valley and zipping past Las Vegas on our way to the Grand Canyon.

From the Grand Canyon, we will turn back North to check out the National Parks of Utah: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches.

By that point, I will be in serious need of seeing big trees again, so we will drive a little faster North through Utah and back into Idaho, veering slightly Northeast toward Jackson, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton is connected to Yellowstone, the oldest National Park in the world. We will spend a couple of days in that geological playground before getting on that same Beartooth Highway that Johnny and I took all those years ago. But instead of heading for North Dakota this time, we will turn back Southeast out of Montana, through Northeast Wyoming, and into the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, where we will check out Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse carved into the hillsides. And from there, it is a mere 600 miles straight back home.

Boom!

Now, I realize that would get to be a pretty long trip (I am guessing a solid four weeks). I only know a few people who vacation for that long, and I am not one of them anymore. I have a shorter, smaller/“realistic” fantasy, though. In this case, I would start the same way through Glacier, but instead of leaving for Idaho and the West Coast from the Bitterroot Valley, I would work back toward Yellowstone, then hit Mount Rushmore on the way home. That could easily be done in less than two weeks. We would see a ton of beautiful country and make memories that would last a lifetime. I am grinning from ear to ear just thinking about it!

How about you? What does your dream Summer road trip look like? Open up your journal, your road atlas, and your Google Maps and start plotting the route. What part of the country comes immediately to your mind? What gives that area such a spark for you? Is it a famous landmark? A happy personal memory? Somewhere you have always wondered about? Somewhere a friend recommended? Is your fantasy trip to one main spot or a multi-spot journey like mine? How long will your trip take? Could you imagine moving to a spot on your trip? Have you been on this trip before? If so, how long ago was it? Who would you take along, if anyone? Who has been your favorite road trip partner in the past? What makes a good road companion? Does the vision of a long road trip stir the same type of romantic notions in you that it does in me, or are you more like, “Just fly me to my destination as quickly as possible.”? What would an adventure like this mean to you? Describe your most epic road adventure to date. How does your fantasy trip compare? How likely are you to take this dream drive? How soon can you make it happen? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is the itinerary for your dream Summer road trip?

Grow your world,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, pass it on. Happy trails!

Slasher Films, Heights, & The Principal’s Office: What Scares You Most in This World?

DSC_1155“Don’t be afraid of being scared. To be afraid is a sign of common sense. Only complete idiots are not afraid of anything.” –Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game 

Hello friend,

It was a perfect afternoon for Spring skiing in the magnificent mountains of Montana. It was the early 80s, and I was a boy of no more than ten. Every year when I was a kid, we would load up the family truckster and cross the flatlands of North Dakota to those beautiful mountains, one state away but feeling like a whole other planet to me. By the time that fateful day came around, I had been on skis for several years. I was an intermediate—not better—but I had fumbled my way down some pretty serious terrain with my daredevil older brothers and our mountain companions.

We usually shared our family trips with other families—a couple of crews jammed into a condominium down in the valley by night and spread out all over the mountain by day—and that year’s trip was no different. My partners for the day were my brother Jacques and our friend Mike, both a year or so older than me, and both fearless. They would go full-speed over the biggest of jumps and then zip through the woods to find more of them. They never worried about getting hurt and never minded breaking the rules in their search for fun and adventure. In this way and more, I definitely proved to be the odd man out in that young threesome.

I was the scaredy-cat of the group. When they threw caution to the wind, I made sure to catch it for them and keep it safe. But that had always been me. I was the kid who took every warning and cautionary tale to heart. Although I came by it naturally, my worrisome mother put the fear of many things in me, including such things as motorcycles and snakes. She was sure the “loads” smoking in the alley across the street from the middle school were big trouble, and I became obsessively frightened of them as a little kid. I was terrified of Mr. Medalen, my elementary school principal (and every principal thereafter). I remember being in his office when I won the school spelling bee, and I was still sweating bullets thinking he was going to grab my ear for some offense I didn’t know I had committed. I was—and still am, I must admit–that way around police officers, too. I also never liked scary movies (though perhaps that is because I shouldn’t have been watching “The Amityville Horror,” “Friday the 13th,” and the like as a second grader), and I always feared hurting myself if I went fast on bikes, skis, or skateboards. I guess caution and fear were just in my nature. So, it’s no surprise I was not the leader of the pack with my brother and Mike that day on the mountain. Oh sure, I followed them off the same jumps and through the same woods, but I did it with less speed and more fear than they did. They were older and cooler; who was I to argue?

That is how I found myself, on that loveliest of mountain afternoons, scared completely out of my wits. It all started with mischievous Mike, who had skied the mountain the day before we had arrived and claimed to know where the best trails were. He led a large contingent of us—adults included–on a beautiful, untouched powder run earlier in the day. Of course, the only reason it was untouched was that we had to ski under the out-of-bounds rope to get to it. This, of course, terrified me. I was just sure we would be discovered and banned from skiing at the resort ever again. I could not believe my parents were allowing it to happen. I was the youngest from both families and powerless to say anything. I was nervous the whole way down, certain of our imminent capture and punishment. To my great relief, we made it down and back inside the ropes without incident.

Later in the day, though, as closing time rapidly approached, the three of us youngsters split off from the group, and the real adventure began. Mike said he knew about one other special run for us. As we casually cruised down one of our usual runs, suddenly Mike—with Jacques right on his heels—darted to the right and under the out-of-bounds rope into forbidden territory. Dread instantly consumed me. The run behind the ropes was called “War Dance.” I was familiar with it, as each morning as we drove up to the mountain in the family van, I could see its imposing moguls, steepness, and especially its “cliff” cutting right across the middle of the run. It looked like the last place I belonged on that mountain. Since it had a name and a rating (definitely black diamond), I assumed it had been open at some point in history when there was enough snow to cover over the branches and rocks of the cliff that bisected the run and had to be navigated to make it to the bottom alive. But I had never seen it open and had no plans to visit if it ever did. Clearly, Mike had other plans.

With my heart in my throat, I ducked under the rope and raced to catch up. The top of the run was much flatter but full of deep powder from lack of use. My adrenaline was fueled by the potential for capture, the dangerous cliff and steepness that I knew were up ahead, and finally, a race against the clock. It was the end of the day, and by taking that turn under the rope, we were headed to the back side of the mountain, where the only chairlift was about to close and there was no other way back to the lodge and our families. We needed to get to the bottom alive, without getting caught, and fast!

As we drew to a halt at the top of the cliff, we were all stumped as to how to make it down to the next tier. The snow just stopped, and in the ten or fifteen vertical feet before it began again, there were only rocks and twisted branches. I was as scared as I had ever been. I skied side-to-side from one tree line to the other, trying to find an opening, a path that would not lead to death or dismemberment. Finally, seeing no way to ski around it and knowing we were almost out of time, I made the fateful decision to take my skis off and carry them on my shoulder as I climbed/slid down the cliff. Shaking with fear, I inched my way down, then watched as my companions abandoned their fears and skied right over the tangled branches and rocks, both miraculously making it without breaking a bone or a ski.

Feeling some relief that the cliff was in the past, it seemed like all that was left was an all-out sprint against the clock. Unfortunately for me, my troubles were only beginning. On the steep face of a mountain that was covered in deep powder, getting my skis back on proved to be a nearly impossible endeavor. While Jacques and Mike made their way over the moguls and finally a beeline to the long catwalk that led out of the woods and toward the lift, I fought with my equipment to get the snow cleared just enough to get my boots clamped in, however tenuously. Sweating profusely and hearing the clock ticking in my mind, I finally got them on and did my best to catch up.

As I pulled out of the woods and caught sight of my partners approaching the lift up ahead, something was eerily missing from the scene. People. No one was there. Our side of the mountain was closed for the day, and even the lift operators had gone up the mountain. Terror filled my heart as I drew nearer to the base of the lift. Our one salvation was that it was still moving, carrying its hundreds of empty benches up the mountain. For a brief moment, I thought we might get off scot-free. We hadn’t been killed on War Dance, no one knew we were out of bounds, and now we were going to make it to the top so we could ski down the other side of the mountain and see our families again. Hallelujah!

As I poled my way toward the lift, Mike tried to jump on quickly, but in his haste, lost his balance and fell off immediately. As he collected his equipment and put it on again, Jacques hopped on to the next one. Nearing a fear-induced coronary, I eventually made it to the line. Just as I was hopping on, Mike clicked into his ski and made a leap in from the side to join me on my chair before it ascended. He just made it, but he knocked me off in the process. In a desperate panic, I gathered myself, reassembled my skis and poles, and climbed safely on a chair.

And that is how we rode: Jacques way up ahead, then Mike in the middle, me in the distant rear. We could hear each other by shouting, but no one was in the mood for banter at that point. After all of the drama, at last we were on our way to safety.

And then, the lift stopped dead.

My heart felt like it stopped right with it. It was my worst nightmare. Gripped by fear, we all started shouting for help, hoping desperately that someone on top of the mountain—someone far out of our sight—would hear our calls and start the chair again. We yelled and yelled, but nothing happened. The chairs just sat there, dangling from their cable high above the ground. I was in shock and disbelief. Could we make it through the night in the cold? What if I fell asleep up there and slipped off? Might the Ski Patrol make a final sweep of the mountain and rescue us? Were we going to be banned or arrested? The only certainty seemed to be that if we survived, our parents were going to kill us.

When we finally gave up our shouting, there was an eerie silence over the mammoth mountainside. Not a soul in sight except for Jacques and Mike, a couple of kids dangling high in the air above the frozen earth. Trapped. I felt so small and powerless. And afraid. I was really, really afraid.

As I poured over the dangers in my mind and prepared to settle in for the toughest night of my life, Mike, ever the impulsive one, yelled that he was going to jump. Jump??? He was the highest up of any of us, and it was absolutely the worst idea ever. Even with all of these years to think about this, I am still fairly certain that he would have been killed by the fall. At the very least, he would have broken both of his legs and other bones in the fall (with skis and ski boots on, remember). I looked on in horror as he let go of his poles, imagining him about to take the same long, slow fall to the hardened snow far below. He turned sideways on his chair, shimmied one leg and cheek off the edge, and…..

The chair started moving.

I heard the breath finally come out of my lungs. My friend’s life had just been saved, and we were going to get to the top of the mountain that day! Relief does not even begin to describe what I felt. Of course, I was still scared to death of the consequences facing us at the top of the mountain from the resort staff, and at the bottom of the mountain from my parents. But that was so much better than the fear of seeing my friend jump to his death or freezing on a chairlift all night. I learned on that fear-filled day that there are degrees of awful.

As it turned out, we got off easy on all fronts. The lift operators stopped the lift three times before I finally touched the ground—once before each one of us got off at the top so each guy could dangle there one last time and be bawled out individually before they set us free. None of us said a word as we skied down the other side of the mountain. When we finally made it to the lodge at the bottom, we found our parents in their usual spot at the bar, having hardly noticed that we were late.

My nerves were shot. My body was all knots. I was traumatized. As I listened to Jacques and Mike re-tell our tale later that night to our older siblings, I was amazed at how they were able to make it sound like a fun adventure that they would happily repeat. Their bravado astounded me. It was just another great story in their growing catalog of daring-dos. Not me. The thought of getting into more trouble or risking my life only brought back all the feelings I had lived through that day. I don’t need any more memories like that. That one has never stopped haunting me.

How about you? What scares you most in this world? Open up your journal and your memory bank, and write about your most frightening life experiences. Which events jump out at you? Are they from childhood or adulthood? Are the details vivid in your memory, or do you just remember being very scared at the time? What are your big ones? Physical pain? Punishment, like my fear of the principal? Heights? Snakes or bugs? Dogs? Confined spaces? How do you do with horror movies? How much of our fear is innate and how much do we develop through negative experiences, especially as children? Overall, how much of a scaredy-cat are you? Do you wish you were more or less fearful? Can you think of times when your fear has helped you? Is fear mostly a waste of energy, like worry? Like most things in life, it’s complicated and different for all of us. How does it fit into your life story, both past and present? Leave me a response and let me know, What was your scariest day? 

Own your story,

William

P.S. If my story made you think of your story, share them both with someone. Boo!

A Hermit or a Family Man: My Life of Extremes

DSC_1068“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” –Douglas Adams

Hello friend,

Have you ever had a moment when you wanted the life that was exactly the OPPOSITE of yours? Maybe you met someone who embodied everything you wish you were. Maybe you had a crisis moment when you realized for the first time that all of the decisions you have ever made were to please someone else, and you ended up feeling trapped by those decisions, living a life that seemed not at all your own. Maybe it was a promotion or job opportunity—maybe even a marriage proposal or pregnancy news—that you knew was supposed to feel like a dream come true but somehow felt like a nightmare instead. Maybe it was just an ordinary day when you looked in the mirror and finally admitted that none of your surroundings—your home, your career, even your people—are what you would choose them to be if you could start from scratch. You considered this body and this life you inhabit and thought, “No, this isn’t me at all. How did I get here?” It is a classic case of mistaken identity. And the identity is yours. But, which one is the mistake: the life you are living or the one you imagine you should be living, the opposite life? Sometimes I wonder….

When I was in my mid-to-late twenties, my parents gave me the most amazing gift. They allowed me to come home and just do the things I was passionate about. Even though I am sure they wondered what the heck had become of their once-promising son, and would he ever get his act together—I am afraid they are still wondering—they didn’t press. They didn’t demand that I pay rent or get a job or be out by the end of the year or any of that stuff. They simply allowed me to go through my process.

As it turned out, that was the period of my greatest and most lasting growth as a human being (see my post “The Year That Changed Everything” to understand more about this period). It was during that time that my spiritual overhaul was completed. I found a level of Bliss that I hadn’t known before, and its legacy has been uninterrupted happiness ever since. I was also reading at the pace of a book per week and filling up several pages in my journals every day, loading and unloading my mind at a breakneck pace. It was the most amazing time. Like a dream come true, really.

Interestingly, I spent most of that period alone. Sure, I lived in the same house as my parents, but I passed the days without much in the way of human interaction. Though I traveled frequently during this period, I very rarely left the house when I was in town. I wasn’t hiding from anyone; I simply preferred to be alone. God and my journal were my companions, and that seemed like plenty. Those who knew me teased me that I had become a hermit. I accepted the label; it did not offend me in the least. If you had offered me a furnished cabin in the mountains of Montana and enough money to sustain myself for life so that I could continue my reading and writing, with the two conditions being that I could never have a girlfriend/wife and never have children, I would have taken you up on it without a second thought. I had no interest in the wife or the kids. I loved kids and thoroughly enjoyed being an uncle, but I just didn’t want my own. Same with the wife. I had other fish to fry. I wanted to write books and change the world. Hermithood suited me just fine. I was downright blissful and couldn’t imagine a better way for me to live.

Then I met a girl.

Isn’t that how everyone’s story changes? That is definitely how mine changed. Even though I was deeply in love, for the first several months I was sure that she was making a huge mistake being with me, because I could not possibly be the one to be a husband and a father to her future kids. I felt guilty for allowing someone to fall in love with me. I didn’t want that burden. I wanted her to release me so as to not break her heart down the road when her biological clock was ticking and she finally had to accept that I was never going to be that guy. Because I wasn’t. Really. I mean it!

Fast forward fifteen years: “Hello. My name is William, and this is my wife and our two children.” I am exactly the guy who I was sure I could never be! Exactly! I live in suburbia and have a job and a mortgage. I spend every possible moment with my kids and keep strict boundaries around my time so as to be absolutely available to them. I am your basic husband and father. Not much more or less.

How the heck did that happen??? More importantly, how can I sit with that, knowing what I just told you about my years of hermithood and self-focused personal development? Am I a fraud now, or was I a fraud then? Is it possible that I was being authentic then and authentic now, that my Truth somehow changed over the years? Am I just in denial now because it would be too difficult to face the truth and my betrayal of who I really am? If this is a charade, can I pull it off for the next fifteen years or so until my kids are out of here, at which time I can resume my life of enrichment that was so rudely interrupted by Love? Am I the hermit, or am I the family man?

The truth is this: it’s complicated. I love this family life. I really do. My wife and kids mean everything to me. Fatherhood has brought a completely new meaning to my existence, and I am so honored and humbled to be called upon to perform the role for my two angels. They bless me in every moment, and I am thoroughly grateful. I can hardly imagine a world without them in it.

And yet, if you made me imagine it, I would picture that quiet cabin in Montana, with me—and only me—inside, hammering away at my latest book. Solitude. Hermithood. It is weird to think that I could go from this extreme of doting Daddy to complete solitude in one fell swoop. But honestly, I could. I have a few times done the thought experiment where I wonder what I would be doing if my wife and kids somehow magically disappeared from existence. Nothing gruesome or anything that would involve mourning their loss—it is just a thought experiment—but just what if they were not here? One of the big questions of the experiment is, obviously, “What would I be doing differently than I am now?” That question is probably left for a different post. It is the other big question of the experiment that is probably more relevant to today’s topic, and that is: “Since these guys are everything to me and so enriching, would I get married and/or have children AGAIN if they disappeared now?” 

The revealing answer is: Absolutely NOT. I wouldn’t. I feel like I have so many other things I want to do to follow my passions. Even though my heart is so full every day with my family, I could not be convinced to do it again. As truly happy and fulfilled as I feel in fatherhood, one pair is enough. One wife is enough. The itch has been scratched. I will pass on the second chance.

Does this make my current setup a fraud? Does admitting that I wouldn’t do it again somehow devalue my present life? I don’t think so. I think it is just an admission that I failed at doing every one of my passions at the same time. I went from one blissful and fulfilling existence directly into another very different but no less blissful and fulfilling existence. I think I can be blamed for not keeping my writing plans on track and for getting too far from Nature, but some of the rest is simply the way the Universe has its own plans for us despite our best intentions. I felt completely authentic before I met my wife and kids, and I definitely was not looking for them. I was open, though, open to what the Universe might put in front of me. In them, I have been treated to a life that is so indescribably beautiful, and I am deeply grateful for that. And yet, I don’t feel like it is a betrayal of them or our beautiful life to admit that I wouldn’t look for replacements if they were no longer with me. My hermithood was amazing, too, but in a totally different way.

So, as it turns out, Life is not so cut-and-dried. We are extraordinarily complex creatures, not cartoons that can be portrayed with a few brushstrokes that never change. Each of our paths is unique and meant to be traversed by our own guiding lights. In my case, it appears that I can be both fiercely solitary and incredibly family-centric in the same lifetime. I will be the best father and husband I can be, and I will try not to be at war with my solitary side. I will give myself these moments late at night in my basement, writing letters to you. They will have to suffice for now, because both my soul and my family call me to be here in the people world for them. I can only be me, in whatever form that takes. My Truth shall set me free.

How about you? What is your true state of being, and how does that mesh with your current lifestyle? Open up your journal and try to distill yourself to your purest form. What do you see? In your vision of The Real You, what kind of work do you do? Does your vision have a spouse? Children? What stirs the heart of your true self? How does that vision spend its time? Is it solitary or social? Now look at how you live your current, “real” life. In what ways is it different from your vision of your true essence? Are the differences merely window dressing—subtle things that don’t stray far from your vision—or is there a real, stark disparity between who you believe you are and the life you have constructed in this world? How far apart are you and your vision? Far enough apart to be alarmed at the disparity? Do you feel like a phony because of it? Do you think this exercise will cause you to make some real changes in your life in order to more closely align with your vision, to “right the ship,” so to speak? What would you start with? Are we really as complex as I am suggesting—able to be truly happy and fulfilled while living very different lives from what we thought was our essence—or am I in total denial? Can we really compartmentalize large aspects of our being for long periods without negative results? What part of your true nature are you keeping at arm’s length? Leave me a reply and let me know: How closely does your lifestyle reflect your true nature?

Be unapologetically you,

William

A Mother’s Son: My Favorite Memories of Mom

 

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“But behind all your stories is your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.”  –Mitch Albom

Hello friend,

I am a Momma’s boy. I admit it. Totally and completely. Guilty as charged.

My older brothers were always great at being my Dad’s boys.   They had the same interests, and their personalities fit together just right to make that manly-man relationship dynamic work. Even today, they are always on—or planning—some hunting or fishing expedition together, or telling stories about the last one. It is neat to watch them together and feel that kinship, that bond. I love how it works, even if I am relegated to watching it. Some circles, it seems, are not meant to expand. Our affinities cannot be forced. A square peg doesn’t fit into a round hole. Momma’s boys don’t make it onto the crew at Deer Camp.

But, Momma’s boys do get to share an indescribable, unbreakable bond with their mothers that is unlike any other. And, in addition to that special connection, they get to share a journey. They do LIFE together. They follow each other in spirit, because that is their destiny; it’s how they are wired. But the luckiest pairs get to actually ride along with each other in person, making beautiful memories as they go. I have had that lucky ride with my Mom.

I actually have a difficult time thinking of many specific moments with my mother, because she just seemed to always be there. She was at the helm on so many family roadtrips that were jam-packed with one happy memory after another. She was with me at every tennis match in every little town tournament I ever played in, all of which I remember. She has helped me pack and move my stuff all over the country on my long and winding path through this life, always supporting me. She has traversed the highways and byways of America with me as an adult—from Gettysburg to Glacier–always in search of new ways to educate me about our history and this great land. In these years when my mind and my life have seemed to be all over the map, my sweet and tireless Mom has been my faithful companion. My rock. The memories of my beautiful life begin and end with her.

What do I remember? Well, beyond my childhood days of uninterrupted love and wonder in her care, there are a few days and moments that stand out for me in our adult relationship. [Writer’s Note: It is really, really cool to get to be best friends with your Mom when you grow up, even while feeling that you will always, always be her little boy.] These are a few of my favorites:

When I decided it was time for me to leave Los Angeles in favor of wandering around Europe and figuring out what was next in life, my Mom, of course, got in the car and drove down from North Dakota to help me lug my stuff home (did I forget to mention that she is a saint, too?). On our way back, we stopped in Montana to see my brother for the night. We scooped him up in town and headed out to find a campsite in the wilds of that majestic land. He led us to a quiet, solitary spot along the river in a place that was aptly named Paradise Valley. I remember sitting on the river’s edge writing in my journal as my brother artfully casted his fly over the water, my mother looking on proudly. It was beautiful in every way. Later in the evening, we cooked dinner and told stories over a campfire, which invariably gives a conversation an air of simple Truth and authenticity. It was me and two of my most favorite people on Earth. It comforted me to know how much my Mom enjoyed spending that time with us. I felt pure there in Paradise with her.

A few years later, after wandering a bit but mostly secluding myself in my parents’ house to read and write, I decided to move (again) to Ohio to get my doctoral degree. I had also fallen in love and was going to be living in the same place as my girlfriend rather than across the country from one another. It was an enormous psychological leap for me to leave the friendly confines of my childhood home after a few years of holing up there in complete Bliss. It was probably comparable to my first day of kindergarten. Thankfully, in both cases, my Mom was there. She, of course, trailed me in my stuffed car as I rocked the UHaul cross-country for the umpteenth time. I remember standing there with her in the parking lot of my new apartment as she was about to head back home and leave me there to start my new life. We had just had the gift of a magical window of a few years to hang out and know each other as adults—a gift that very few parents and children receive–and now it was all ending, likely never to return. The gravity of that life-door closing was palpable. It had been an amazing ride. Through my tears, I said to her, “I feel like I am saying goodbye to my best friend.” I was.

Several years later, I found myself in a hospital room on a warm August night, dialing the phone with tears (again) rolling down my face. Following years of effort and heartbreak, I finally had a baby of my own. My angel, India. Since having the reins turned over to her by my Mom that day in Ohio, my wife had grown to understand the special nature of my relationship with my mother. I didn’t have to fight too hard to be allowed to give my first-born child the middle name of Jacqueline, after her grandmother, my Mom. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. So there I was on the phone that night, a tidal wave of emotions on an exposed nerve as I prepared to tell her the news. When I told her we had just had a baby girl, of course she asked what her name was. I could barely choke out the words, knowing how much the namesake meant to me and how much it would mean to her. There was a short silence on the line after I told her, as it seemed she had momentarily lost her breath. That moment was pure LOVE. It was every bit of my timeless, perfect connection to my Mom, only now it was cloaked in an all-new layer. This was the legacy, the next generation of a special relationship full of a lifetime of special memories.

I can only hope to be half the parent to India Jacqueline and her brother that my mother has been to me. I dream about the trips I want to take them on, to places I only know about because my Mom took me. I pray that I can be the friend to them that she is to me, the one they want to traverse the roads of Life with and share their proudest moments with. I hope that one day in the distant future—maybe when they have kids of their own—that they will look back fondly on the memories they made with their old man along the way, wishing they could pass on those same kind of memories and feel that same kind of special closeness. That would do my heart good. I will teach them well about the one who started this magical chain. My Mom. Thanks for the memories…..

How about you? What special memories do you have of your mother? Open up your journal and your heart, and write about the moments with her that have shaped you and stayed with you. What are your favorite moments? Are they big things, like trips or major events, or tiny, simple moments when everything is right just because Mom was there? What are the best adventures you have been on with your mother? What are your favorite intimate moments with your Mom, when it was just the two of you? Which memories that you have with her would you like to pass on to the next generation? What do you appreciate most about what your mother has brought to your life? Does she know how grateful you are? Maybe today is the day to let her know. Leave me a reply and let me know: What is your favorite memory of your mother?

Thank a Mom today,

William