Sunday, April 20, 2014

Life and its lessons

Greetings gang, I hope everyone had a great Easter weekend!  Growing up I never thought much of the bunny-bedecked holiday, but as an adult I've really come to enjoy the atmosphere it creates.  And the fact that there is great food involved in the affair doesn't hurt a bit.

Over the past couple months I've been thinking a lot about happiness.  Some people are just naturally more prone to be happy and carefree, while others are naturally predisposed with feelings of anxiety, depression, or melancholy.  I've always considered myself very fortunate for falling into the first category, especially after developing close friendships over the years with people who experience the latter category.  But, even for those who are more commonly happy, there are obviously still periods of time when sadness hits, and they're forced to face feelings they aren't accustomed to.  I've been in one of those periods for the past while (unfortunately my venture into the world of women's college softball didn't completely cure me), and last week I finally realized what was going wrong in my life.

There are some people who can just set course in a one direction, and go that way no matter what, and having that set course brings them comfort and peace of mind.  Changing course for these individuals takes an extreme amount of energy and time, and as they are changing course they're riddled with doubts and fears and regrets.  There are also people like me, who can set course in one direction, but then as the journey progresses, they can turn left or right or turn completely around, all the while doing so without doubts, fears, or regrets.  But people like me can also face the feelings of being trapped and confined if they need to stay a certain course, even when they want to make a change, or they change course so often that they end up going in circles.  Neither of these two types are better or worse than the other, they both have equal virtues and vices, but it's been important for me understand and embrace which one I am.

What I've come to realize is that for the last 8 months or so I've been plodding down a path which I convinced myself was for the best, even though it never felt right, even though that feeling of confirmation never came.  I've been doing so because I'm a grown-up, and I need to do what grown-ups do.  And I've attributed my unhappiness to simply being in a foreign environment, outside of my comfort zones, going through growing pains.  And while those things have surely been part of my melancholic feelings, I've come to terms with the fact that there is more to the situation.  What really brings me true happiness and fulfillment is living life true to what feels right.

I would rather fall flat on my face doing something that I know is correct, even though it's a leap into uncharted territory without promise of success, than walk placidly down a path that leads to a place I have no heart in going to.  Life has so many opportunities for joy and helping others, but those things can easily be missed if we're just plodding through life without being alive and full of individual purpose.

I fully acknowledge that there are times when life requires the sacrifice of complete control over ones course, because the older we get, the more obligations and responsibilities we acquire (which can be a great thing).  I also fully acknowledge that there are other times when we need to step up for ourselves, take control, and make changes for the betterment of our personal situations (which will often times have positive ripple effects for those we interact with).

This post will probably sound foolhardy and selfish to some reading, and to others it might be just what they need to see.  I just hope that anyone who comes across this post is reminded that life is not something that should be passively experienced, but vigorously explored.  We should all strive to achieve great goals, but we shouldn't be afraid to take the path less traveled sometimes.

"In all of living have much of fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." - G. B. Hinkley

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sporting Weekend

Happy Monday! Even though it never really got cold here (my deepest sympathy to those without year round palm trees), I went on an early run this morning around Tempe Lake and could feel summer in the air. I love this time of year. Now for the shocking details of my weekend.

I, Daniel, attended not 1, not 2, but 3 entire softball games in a 48 hour period. You might be wondering, "But Dan, how is that even possible!? Were you forced to go? Did you catch lesbian? Your life really is pretty sad, huh?" Let me tell you folks, I asked myself all these questions too in the beginning. From the first game I attended though, something magical happened: I had fun. While I don't pretend to understand all the hows and whys, all I know is that I had a legitimately good time. And guys, I was there alone even! I'm pretty sure something similar happened in an episode of "LOST", so we'll all have to watch that show again to understand...enjoying softball has something to do with polar bears on tropical islands and giant buried magnetic vortexes...
Photo evidence that I actually went to these games

The whole reason I originally went to the first game was because a great friend from Salt Lake City, who coaches softball, was in town with her team, so being a good friend dictated that I attend at least one of her team's game. After the first game she and I went to dinner, and I admitted how much I enjoyed the match. Having grown up a baseball fan; and by "fan" I mean I loved going to baseball games so I could sit in the grass, eat hotdogs, and have "sports bonding time" with my brothers and dad that wasn't basketball; I understood the premise of softball, but I was full of questions after having seen an actual game.

Daniel: So, I noticed that most of the players had ponytails. At what point in the game is it appropriate for the opposing team to grab and/or yank the hair of the other team's players?

Maggie: Never. 

Daniel: Ah, I see, interesting. Ok, so in baseball when the batter punts...

Maggie: Bunts. 

Daniel: Tomato Tomahto

Maggie: No...

Daniel: So in baseball when the batter bat-bumps the baseball, he runs really fast to first base. I noticed that when they do the same move in softball, they don't really run that that a technique of some kind?

Maggie: Are you actually asking why softball players don't run as fast as baseball players?

Daniel: Exactly! They just seem so slow.

Maggie: I can't handle your questions right now.

Daniel: Ok, enough game talk, we played well tonight, that's all that matters.

Maggie: Thank you! I'm relieved that not every aspect of the game was lost on you. The player who hit the home run in the 6th inning was so excited, especially since her fiancé was here for the game. Did you see that hit?

Daniel: Sure sure, the ball went really far, but what about the fiancé? Is she a softball player too?

Maggie: He.

Daniel: Huh?

Maggie: She's marrying a man.

Daniel: it's like an alternative softball kinda wedding?

Maggie: You realize that the majority of softball players aren't actually lesbians, it's just a stereotype.

 Daniel: Hmmm. So is everyone else on the team open to her new age relationship, or are they super pissed?

Maggie: .......

Friday, April 11, 2014

That time with the Father

Last night I found myself sitting alone in a large conference room with an elderly clergy "Father" , engaged in one of the deepest conversations I've had in years, and I couldn't help thinking to myself, "How the hell did I end up here, in this moment?  What choices brought me to this point? This could be the beginning of a good joke, 'a priest walks into a conference room....'"  It was one of those moments in life where using the word "Surreal" doesn't feel cliche at all, but it feels like the exact purpose for the word.

The Father and I were both attending a work-related broadcast, and we were the only two who came to that particular viewing location.  We sat silently listening through the first half, and then during a break we introduced ourselves.  And when I say "introduced ourselves" I mean that I made an awkward joke about how I couldn't pull of the "stiff white collar" look as well as he does.

We started chatting about why we were attending this lecture, what impact the information would have in our respective work, etc.  While we were talking, all I was thinking about was how random life is, that I would be chit chatting with Father so-and-so on a Thursday night, and that we were the only two people there.  And then, out of nowhere the Father said, "It seems to me that we have a unique opportunity before us.  I can tell that your character runs deeper than mindless banter, and I was hoping to discuss some thoughts I've been having of late.  We can either continue talking about nothing in particular, or we can actually talk about something that matters to both of us."   After a moment or two of hesitation, during which time I'm sure my easily read face registered embarrassment, then confusion, then suspicion, then intrigue, I responded, "Why the hell not Father!" (cue another look embarrassment).

For the next hour we discussed everything from the trinity, to Ukraine, to how literal the Bible actually is, and so on.  Neither of us were trying to convince each other of anything, we were just sounding boards for each other's thoughts.  And I've got to tell you, I loved every minute of it.

As I was driving home after the broadcast and talk with the Father, I was hit again with how surreal life can be at times.  These opportunities come along all the time, but we aren't always looking for them.  Whether we're shopping at the store, reading in a coffee shop, standing in a drum circle, running at a park, or folding laundry at home, there are moments that just hit you, and cause an almost out of body experience where you look down at that moment and think, "How did I get to this moment, in this place, doing this thing?"

 The best part about these moments is that, for me at least, they aren't always some dramatic event, but more so a simple set of circumstances that remind me how unique life is, even when it looks mundane on the outside.  After being in a bit of a funk the past couple months, it's really nice to have a bit of a wake-up call and reminder that life isn't something to be passively experienced, it's something to be actively lived and appreciated.

Monday, April 7, 2014


Let me tell you a story about a Phoenix.  My friends friend had this Phoenix once who was really cool, and sometimes he'd save people from giant snake monsters and would cry magical healing tears and yada yada yada.  Now let me tell you another story about a Phoenix.  I live there.  The end.

There was a time (basically the entire span of my life up until two days before I moved when I had to sit myself down and have a major intervention with myself) when I used to think Phoenix was the city dreams went to die.  Sure, I grew up in a desert surrounded city.  And yes, I fully love the western-state lifestyle.  But Phoenix...despite it's epic name, always held such a grimy emotion in my mind.  

Most of my disdain for the area can be linked back to a childhood memory I have of traveling here for a weekend Mormon "temple trip".  Although I was too young to actually attend the temple at that time, my family, along with many members of my childhood church congregation, would do a large road trip every couple of years to Phoenix to attend the temple, which was the closest one to where I grew up.  

On this fateful trip, I remember being so excited to be traveling to this majestic land which apparently had palm trees all year, even though it wasn't near the ocean (I learned this fact, along with all other facts in our encyclopedia series.  Remember those?  No internet was kinda great sometimes).  I remember devouring all the information I could get on the city, and being mesmerized.  Travel, even at a young engage, completely enthralled me, and Phoenix sounded as foreign and adventurous as Egypt to my so naive.
As my family loaded into the mini van, my two older brothers and I immediately began posturing for the best seats in the back.  Out of nowhere my Dad turned around in the front seat and instructed my brothers that I got the middle row to myself.  Guys, I would pay good money to go back and see my face, because I still remember feeling like the Heavens had opened and said, "Dan, we're your number one fan.  You're alright kid".  And my Dad, bless his heart, couldn't have been more excited to deliver the news to his oh so naive and foolish youngest child.  Just as I had finished arranging all of my books and pillows for the best seven hours of my life, the van pulled to a stop in front of a house that I vaguely recognized.  Then I saw him, Chris, one of my brother's friends from church, the first person to expose me to true, raw, unfiltered body odor.  The kid I avoided standing near anytime I saw him due to the most pungent odors one can imagine.   And in that moment, like a plush rug being ripped out from under your bare feet that were so enjoying the soft textures and warmth, I realized that this trip was going to be a real bastard.  And so, for the next 72 hours, Chris and I sat next to each other, shared a motel sleeper sofa together, and discovered the sweat inducing heat of Phoenix together.  

Though most of my Phoenix memories are still tainted to this day by memories of unearthly human odors, I am enjoying the process of creating new and exciting memories of this city for myself.  Although it's hard to imagine and know where in life we'll end up, it's liberating to realize that the past doesn't have to control and pollute the future forever.  At one point, we can just move on, and not look back, and leave the gross memories for something bright and new.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

And then there was one

For the past week I've been sick with the dreaded strep throat.  Now before you close your browser so you don't get infected, I'm on meds and am no longer contagious (or am I?).  Streppy and I have a rich history together that spans back to my early childhood years.  When I was about six years old, she visited me for the first time and left a distinct memory in my impressionable mind...avoid her at ALL COST.  But, as luck would have it, she has continued visiting me. Every. Single. Year. since I was six.  Sometimes she even visits twice a year.  And before you get preachy on me about how I just need to wash my hands, not touch my face, and stop making out with anything that moves, let me just inform you that I was a consistent germaphobe (yup, really) all through my teenage years up until I served a two-year Mormon mission, at which point all of my OCD ways were demolished one-by-one.  Thankfully this post isn't about strep throat completely, so relax.

The reason I'm bringing up being sick is because my annually visiting "friend" taught me a new lesson this time:  I'm actually capable of feeling alone.  Don't worry, this isn't a sob story, that's not my style.  The reason why this new feeling is worth mentioning is because I can't pinpoint a time when I've actually felt lonely before.  And what's exciting about actually acknowledging some loneliness, is that it's yet another step in "growing up".

Before you start think I'm some kind of sociopath, let me explain.  My personality type has always been the "comforter" more than the "comforted".  And I have zero qualms with that, I'm glad that's my natural inclination. And I've always been very comfortable being alone.  I'm the guy who goes to movies alone, or sits in coffee shops for hours reading, or the guy that's hiking alone and is slightly too chipper in his greeting to you.  I get it, I don't sit next to people who are alone in movie theaters either, they are usually creepers.  But there's something about being sick and living alone that makes thoughts like, "If my strep throat progresses into a collapsed lung and I die in my sleep, no one will even notice I'm missing for at least three days."  Don't act like you've never thought you had a terminal illness even though it was just a cold.

About a year ago I was living on a remote tropical island called Palau.  The population was minuscule, the island was tiny, contact with friends at home was limited, but I had never been happier.  You'd think this would've been the perfect breeding ground for loneliness, isolation, etc., and it was for some, but because I had moved out there with my best friend who needed my support, I never felt the sting of those feelings.  I think when you're providing the comfort, it's easy to forget you might have similar feelings too buried somewhere.

Fast-forward to today, and I'm living in a new city without any close friends, and only myself to focus on.  When you don't have someone to take care of, you finally have to start taking care of yourself, which is sometimes tougher than we want to admit.  Over the past months, since moving to the desert, I've had ample time to do some long overdue self-reflection, and I've realized that this guy has got a lot of growing to do still, and this time separated from my typical M.O. will be unquestionably valuable to myself and future relationships. While I'm still the guy who enjoys his alone time, my dear Streppy has reminded me of the importance of friends and where to place your value in life.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

That thing you do on paper and canvas

About a year and a half ago I started a new hobby: Painting.  When I began, I imagined myself picking up the paint brush (I started with acrylics), and immediately discovering a hidden talent.  I literally dreamed about being a master artist while I waited for my paint supplies to arrive in the mail, and I was certain that painting would be the one thing I could humbly brag about at dinner parties for years to come.  "Oh, you saw my painting in the hall?  Why, thank you!  I just picked up a brush one day in my twenties and voila! Well, yes, the Smithsonian asked for an exhibit, but I just can't imagine they'd want my hobby paintings for a national exhibit." etc.  From the moment I tore off the cellophane wrap to my "art supply" package, I had the foreboding feeling that painting and I would have a bumpy road ahead.

I've always known I'm not the most typically "creative" person in the world in the context of art.  I like the boxes that we're supposed to paint outside of.  Having inconsistent coverage of paint irks me, and I end up repainting until any imperfection is rectified.  In other parts of my life I'm usually annoyingly carefree and easily pleased, but this is not the case with painting.

The first "painting" I finished was my attempted at copying a painted flower on a business card from Mexico.  Not only was I copying an imagine (like I said, creativity is not my forte), I was doing so with the precision of a five year old.  When I displayed my creation to Eli at the end of the day, he looked at it dumbfounded.  I'm sure he was trying to determine whether this was a joke, or if this was the painting I'd been working on for days shrouded in secrecy.  After a long pause, he said, "Oh wow...this is the painting you've been texting me about all day at work?"  I looked down at the painting, making sure I was holding my masterpiece and not one of the botched first attempt paintings, and was relieved to see I was in fact holding the right one. "You better believe this is it!  On a scale from 9-10, how much do you love it?!"  To his credit, he immediately wiped off his initial shocked and replaced it with a face I imagine parents have the first time their kids bring home crappy "art" for the first time from school.

Since this time, I have continued painting similar "art" with little progress in the talent department, but with tons of progress in the creativity arena.  And if for nothing else, I have a real personal appreciation for the role painting has played in my life thus far.  Too often I get caught up in getting certain things to happen just as I want them to, and forget that sometimes the process itself is the most valuable part, and not necessarily the outcome.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Words are hard

Over the past couple years I've written "first posts" to nearly a dozen blogs, but I never pulled the trigger due to a whole bucket of reasons.  So why now?  Well, I've moved to a new city where I know no one, and it's given me lots of time to contemplate...I've also exhausted all of my other excuses in the "better use of time" category.

Although I have no clear intent for this blog, one goal is to simply share aspects from my life that have been especially meaningful.  Having grown up as a very bashful, shy, and sheltered child, I've come to appreciate the unique and bizarre paths life takes us down. To anyone who happens upon this blog, my posts will probably sound mundane and generic, but maybe there will be a few people out there who will find some pleasure in what's shared.

One of the things that's kept me back from ever publishing that initial post is feeling an overwhelming pressure to make the first entry funny/meaningful/insightful/tasteful/interesting/thoughtful/appropriate...thankfully for all of us I've disbanded such ambitions.  And please, for our mutual well being, let's just accept the fact for now that this blog should never be used as an example of grammatical prowess.

I know this is a brief all important first post, but I'm hopeful that future posts will be a little more free flowing once I get passed this formidable first-post obstacle.  Here's to learning new things about a guy who's been sitting in a coffee shop for over an hour stressing over a four paragraph long blog post.