Saguaro Man: Is this the real life? Or is this just fantasy?

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It was an hour or so into my 38th birthday when my friends all went to bed.

Not me.

I needed one last post-midnight stroll through the utterly insane fluorescent fantasyland of Saguaro Man. It didn’t matter that the temperature had dipped below freezing and a warm sleeping bag awaited me in my tent. I knew we’d be heading back to reality the next morning and I wasn’t ready to let go.

Saguaro Man is a regional Burning Man event for Arizona and surrounding states. Four nights of total off-the-grid live-in-the-now chaos in the middle of a dusty field outside Snowflake. 

Every time I turned to a friend to talk about how crazy something was, it’d get topped an hour later.

In one moment, we watched a burlesque dancer offer, ummm, titty sprinkles to anyone – man or woman – willing to lick them off her body. The next, two men stripped to their whitey tightys, covered themselves in peanut oil, and leg wrestled while suspended from a chandelier.

For my part, I wore pasties until the snow fell, danced for hours atop a bedazzled double-decker bus, slept thru subfreezing temps alone (despite my best efforts to find a tent-mate), and almost landed in an orgy in a theme camp.

It was anything but the real world.

Once, a fellow burner asked me what I did for work. I was truly confused. Am I even supposed to answer that question here? I don’t even like talking about it back in reality!

We returned to Tempe midway through my 38th birthday. I spent the next few hours lying around the house. After four days and three nights, it was jarring to be back in the real world.

What do you mean we don’t dance to the coffee shop music? What do you mean I can’t just hug that total stranger? What do you mean I have to put on pants?

Jarring indeed.

No girl. No gig. No sense of purpose.

Even before Saguaro Man, I was having trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy.

I started this blog in spring 2013 with the tagline No girl. No gig. Just the road. After spending my 20s defining my purpose by the pursuit of partner (and family) and career, it was time for me to spend some time without goals.

Four years later, those pursuits are dead.

On the girl front, I haven’t met a legit prospect in a year now. I’ve pretty much given up on the whole idea of a life partner. And, at this point, there’s almost no way I’m having kids unless I accidentally slip one past the goalie.

Sure, I may meet someone. But I’m no longer holding my breath.

The only dick pic I’ll ever send.

On the gig front, after four years of building, my business is finally on cruise control. I love what I do and only really do it when I want to. I paid off my house in April. The lack of debt and the lack of spending makes work rather optional.

Sure, I could build more business but I like the 3-1-3 balance. Besides, I have nothing to prove to anyone including myself.

All that said, pursuit of girl and gig does provide structure and a sense of purpose. The lack of those pursuits still messes with my head a bit.

For example, my sense of date and time is totally screwed. Also, I question whether I’m applying myself enough to the future – especially around milestones like my birthday and my re-birthday.

And, of course, the fuckits happen. I only woke up at 9:30 today because I set my alarm and limited my snooze button taps to three. Hell, you should’ve seen my kitchen two hours ago.

And, look now, I’m sitting outside in my boxers past midnight on a school night typing through an existential funk. #YOLO

No girl. No gig. And no more worlds to conquer.

I just finished season 5 of Breaking Bad. Walter White has finally climbed the ladder. He’s built a massive business empire and sits on top of a literal pile of money. And, yet, he’s unsatisfied.

And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.  

(FYI, I’m not as learned as I may seem based on that line. It was spoken by Hans Gruber in Die Hard.)

Unlike Alexander the Great, I’m not weeping. But I am questioning …

Now what?

If neither girl nor gig will provide structure and purpose and keep me rooted in the real world, then what the hell am I supposed to do?

Maybe this is it. Maybe I’m doing it.

Being. Experiencing. Living.

Wear a pink apron and nipple pasties. Ride a five-foot long penis and post the pic to Facebook. Stumble into an orgy – and next time maybe stick around for a while.

What else is there to existence besides all that we touch and all that we see?

A very dear friend nearly died of a rare kind of stroke earlier this year. She’s my age with a cool husband, two beautiful young children, and a booming career.

And yet, when we met for lunch a few weeks later, she didn’t tell me to find my purpose by curing cancer or inventing a longer lasting lightbulb a la Captain John Miller.

Her advice was a bit more, ummm, primal.

“Smoke all the cigarettes. Drink all the booze. Fuck all the women.”

That certainly sounds more like the Saguaro Man world than the real world. So, which is the real life? And which is just fantasy?

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De-Feeted, but Not Defeated. (Yeah, that just happened.)

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I was flying high on Christmas Day.

I’d just graduated a client to open a ton of free time heading into prime hiking season. My 3-1-3 plan (three days work, one day service, three days play) was within reach.

On Christmas, I flew up Camelback mountain, joked with Camelback Santa and his elves, and helped him haul his stuff down the mountain after his shift. Winter was all set to rock.

And then… Crunch.

On a light hike with two guys and a 7-year-old the next day, I mis-stepped and badly sprained my ankle. The next morning, I woke up with a cold I wouldn’t shake for two weeks.

The ankle sprain – which is still with me – threw me for a loop. I was ready to live big. Big hikes. Big trips. Big everything.

Suddenly, a Winter of playing in the desert transformed into weeks watching TV on my arse. I’d never watched so much college football in my life. Boohoo…

We met our service requirement by collecting $1500 and 2000 clothing items for Tempe teens at the Neighborhood Olympics.

Then football season ended.

Then a two-week minimalism project ended.

Then I got my taxes done. In January.

Then, de-feeted, I became defeated. (See what I did there?)

Finally, I realized that I was like way too attached to my ankle – not just physically, obvi, but emotionally too. My well-being was tied to walking and I needed options for when walking wasn’t one.

A Wasted Winter.

The injury came right around New Year’s Eve – a time for reflection, and anticipation, and making bullshit promises to ourselves. I’ve never been one for big hairy audacious resolutions.

I prefer to set intentions for incremental progress.

My injury forced me to do just that. I needed to fill three days of play with activities that didn’t require good weather, interesting landscapes, and a healthy body – none of which are guaranteed to us. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Work that core, ladies!

My calves are always lookin’ good thanks to Camelback, but my body is a little too soft for shirtless hiking selfies. Now, I’m working out nearly daily with weights or in yoga. Even if it’s just a half-hour, I stay active to stay happy and to defend against early onset dadbod.

2. Books, Jerry. Books.

I used to run at Tempe Town Lake or work at Cartel just to get out of the house. With a bad ankle and a light workload, I’ve discovered books as an excuse to be among humans. It turns out you can read in coffee shops and parks!

I’ve still got silly Game of Thrones for bedtime and a stack of spiritual books for the morning. Now, I’ve committed to a meatier read for times I need to get my body into public or into my hammock.

3. Do this more.

I was once asked in a job interview how many words I’d written. My answer: Most of them? In 15 years as a professional, I’ve never written so little for my job. I’m picking up the slack with more journaling, more blogging here, and more professional posting to The DRIVE and to Medium.

Side note: The blogging isn’t always easy. I’ve been working on this post for three months and I’m still not happy with it. Thanks for sticking with it!

Waste Not, Want Not.

These are not resolutions. They’re not measurable goals. I’m not setting out to lose 10 pounds, read a book a month, or sign a publishing deal. (Unless you know a publisher…?)

They’re just intentions.

I salvaged a wasted Winter by laying the groundwork for good things to happen. I dusted off my free weights and found a yoga studio. I picked up a few meatier reads at Bookmans – starting with 1984 in honor of you know who.

When I sprained my ankle, I didn’t know what to do to stay sane. Now, I know when, where, and how to do the good stuff when the need for good stuff arises.

Winter ended last week with PHX Startup Week and the Oscar ceremony.

Sitting on my patio, I think how excited I am for Spring.

The garden is producing. The sunsets are rockin’. My calendar is filled with staycations downtown plus weekend trips to hike Chiricahua National Monument, kayak the Colorado River, and backpack across Catalina Island.

That last one should be especially epic. I just hope my ankle is ready to haul around a forty-pound pack for four days.

If not, thanks to an un-wasted Winter, I’ve got fallback options now.

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On his only hike of the season, the male of the species spots two females approaching on the horizon, sucks in his gut, and prepares his opening line. Thus, the mating ritual of Hominidae Meanderus begins.

Minimalism: How I Protect My Treasures from Moths and Rust

 

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As I do every year, I spent Christmas morning reading the Sermon on the Mount.

As a non-Christian, the Jesus origin story doesn’t do much for me. But Jesus’ teachings – summarized beautifully in the Sermon – are fantastic.

Truth be told, some of the Sermon gets under my skin. The word Hypocrite is sprinkled throughout the Sermon. The hypocrisy lives on today and it irks me.

This post began in my journal as an airing of grievances against the Hypocrites, but I’m turning the other cheek – and turning the calendar to 2017 – with positivity.

Go F yourself, 2016. Here’s to a dope 2017!

If you’re still stuck in negativity, I totally get it. You might read my post How I’ve Recovered from Trump before continuing.

Still here? Great! This post is about minimalism and a Sermon on the Mount passage that I really love – Matthew 6:19-20.

Jesus was a Sandal-Rockin’ Minimalist

I think it’s fair to say that Jesus was a minimalist. Beard and sandals. Giving unto others. Lack of McMansion in the suburbs of Nazareth.

Dude didn’t even build a megachurch or rent a stadium to deliver his most important message. He just stood up on a hill (a Mount?) and started droppin’ knowledge bombs.

And maybe my favorite knowledge bomb of the Sermon is recapped in Matthew 6:19-20.

“Do not store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.”

Wait! If you have trouble with the Heaven word, just stop and breathe. Heaven doesn’t have to refer to the afterlife. Instead, think of it as the when or where or how through which you reach peak spiritual fulfillment.

And the when or where or how is rarely a treasure stored up here on earth. It’s rarely (never?) a material thing.

That’s why, for the most part my treasures are stored up in my own Heaven – in the relationships I’ve built, in the causes I support, and of course the roads that I meander.

As far as I’m concerned, those are all moth-, rust-, and thief-free zones.

OK, So Maybe I’m a Semi-Minimalist…

Admittedly, I have more than a few material things stored up here on Earth.

For example, I’ve got an absurdly American-sized TV and I watch way too much of it during bowl season. Also, I splurged on vanity plates for my Subaru this Christmas. (It may seem a little thing but I resisted the, ummm, vanity of it for years.) vanity plate on subaru outback

And I do love the idea of home. A kitchen where I can prepare food. A backyard where I can relax, garden, and host guests. A king sized bed where I can store unfolded laundry.

Hell, I even started a retirement account as part of my adult-ing initiative last year. It’s 100% safe from moths and rust but quite vulnerable to the thieves who prowl Wall Street.

I don’t think having a little bit of money and owning a few things makes me a bad minimalist.

I just ran five Ziploc bags through the dishwasher! I think it’s a minimalist act to simply follow the adage: Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Or do without.

That mindset is good for the planet, good for the pocketbook, and good for the soul.

As far as I’m concerned, minimalism isn’t about living out of a backpack or dining out of dumpsters.

Minimalism is about balance.

Minimalism is about Balance … and Gratitude

Living in post-WWII America comes with some pretty sweet financial perks. We are part of the most powerful economic engine in world history.

To enjoy the benefits of minimalism, I don’t have to be a pauper.

I just spend less and appreciate more.

By denying that American urge to have exactly what I want exactly when I want it, I’ve cultivated deeper appreciation for Little Free Libraries, the clearance shelves at Fry’s, free admission days at museums, and the five boxes of girl scout cookies I found at Kings Canyon National Park last year.

I make time for sunsets. I get excited to shower in grimy smalltown YMCAs after days of camping. I attach fond acquisition memories to almost all my material things.

I’ve been incredibly blessed financially, both as a child with hard-working dedicated parents and now as an adult with a rewarding and flexible career.

But for the most part I store up my treasures in relationships, service, and experiences.

To me, that’s Heaven. That’s where God (or Universe or Spirit or Source) resides.

And, to quote JC, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

“You cannot serve both God and money.”

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Camelback Santa

Coal? WTF Santa?!? Guess I’ll try harder in 2017.

I’m Back! How I’ve Recovered from the Tragedy of Trump

Warning: This post does not shy from the fact that Trump is a liar, hatemonger, and sex predator. Disagree? Cool. To quote Jay Z, if you don’t like my lyrics you can press fast forward.

I’m back … in more ways than one. Well, two actually.

First, I’m back on the blog after a 10-month hiatus that included 10 amazing days in DC, a fourth Meander to Seattle and back, and a relationship with a lovely lady that wasn’t meant to be.

It’s been so long that a Facebook-free friend recently asked if he’d been removed from my email list. Hope you’re seeing this, Brett! Thanks for the reminder to blog. 🙂

Second, I’m back from the election of Donald Trump.

The hateful campaign and distressing result were incredibly painful for me, just as they were painful for many of you.

Here’s how I journeyed through the five stages of grief before finally recovering from the tragedy of Trump. If you’re stuck in the first four stages, be sure to read through to the final two.

american with an america cup

I love America. Just ask the last co-Meanderer who shoved my camping cup into long-term storage.

Stage 1: Denial

I kicked off my 2016 Meander with 10 days of touristing and lobbying in Washington DC. I left our nation’s capital convinced there was no way such a great country would elect such a pig.

That confidence held until the last few weeks of the campaign. As I stumbled into conversations with more and more closeted Trump voters and as I formulated my Colin Kapernick theory, my eyes opened.

Soon, I was freaking out. I attended my first political rally. I shared my fears on social media. I challenged cocky liberals to do more. I watched cable news and addictively read campaign coverage on my smartphone. I tried to convince myself that FiveThirtyEight was right and that everything would be OK.

As the votes rolled in, denial didn’t serve me.

Stage 2: Angerwrong on the internet

On Election Day, my freakout compelled me to push back against the impending Tragedy of Trump.

I went on the offensive declaring that my vote was for all the ladies who’d been “grabbed by the pussy”. All the Latinos who’ve been eyeballed by Sherriff Joe. All the LGBT folks, dark-skinned folks, and everyone else who’ve been stepped on by assholes like Trump.

The anger didn’t end there. It lasted for days as I became what I loathe – one of those people who can’t come to bed because someone else is wrong on the Internet.

Anger didn’t serve me. Neither did the gin and sodas.

Stage 3: Bargaining

I tried to make sense of it all the next morning. I made excuses for Trump voters because I deeply love some of them. (In another rationalization, I still can’t bring myself to say Trump supporter.)

Hey, it’s not their fault. They just value local autonomy, gun rights, and abortion bans. Besides, their minds were poisoned by Fox News and fake news. They were tricked into voting for the pig.

On some level, I knew I was lying to myself. People who voted Trump weren’t necessarily liars or sexists or racists or homophobes themselves. They were just saying that those things were OK from the leader of our nation.

Bargaining didn’t serve me. In fact, it drove me into Stage 4 as I questioned myself.

Stage 4: Depression

Sitting atop Camelback Mountain that Friday, I pulled out my notepad to journal. Then I sketched a peace sign, a heart, and an American flag. The peace sign found the piece of paper first.

I just so very badly wanted the pain to go away.

George Bush’s reelection disappointed me, but I didn’t despair. Good person. Bad president. Trump is a bad person (presidential skill TBD) and I was depressed that so many chose him.

Depression didn’t serve me.

But the seeds of recovery were planted when I descended Camelback and posted my drawing to Facebook with an offer: “I’m around all weekend. If you wanna talk, hit me up.”

Stage 5: Acceptance peace love america

I invited communication – first implicitly by being so vocal on Facebook and later explicitly by telling y’all to hit me up. And hit me up you did.

I talked with gays, non-citizen legal immigrants, and Muslims. I chatted with men who actually looked to me for answers. (Does that mean I’m a grown ass man now?)

And, yes, I talked to Trump voters. Some were respectful. Some have since been unfriended.

The conversations reminded me that I wasn’t alone. They broke the isolation of working from home and of keeping quiet publicly to avoid closeted Trump voters.

Finally, acceptance served me. Trump was president-elect and no amount of cable news or Facebook arguments or whining with friends would change that. So I opted out of it all.

Stage 6: Action

Did you know there are only five stages of grief? I think there should be six. After all, acceptance is awesome. Action is awesomer.

Over the course of my conversations, a new call to action emerged. I found myself pushing friends to opt out of the negativity and opt in to service. And I pushed myself to do the same.

For example, I was filled with volatile negative emotions as Thanksgiving approached. A normal holiday with my family involves about 50 people, a decent percentage of whom are Trump voters.

So, I opted out.

I spent the morning with my immediate family then left to volunteer with the Humane Society. Sure, there was some election talk. The outcome of this election will be horrendous for animals.

In those conversations too, I challenged friends to reroute their negative energy toward service. To make a difference in their local communities. To take action.

After all, the impact any individual can have on the federal level is small. The impact any one of us can have locally is huge.

And, now, I challenge you to take action.

We have four years until we can right this wrong. How will YOU make a difference in the meantime? Hit me up with your answer.

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Be sure to have your neighbors’ backs. The assholes behind me certainly won’t.

 

From Man-Boy to Real Grown-Ass Man in 7 Years

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To hear my female friends tell it, there’s a plague on the dating scene.

Man-boys are everywhere.

The man-boys are afraid to call rather than text to set a date. They’re unclear about their intentions and string women along. They visually assault women they haven’t even met with unsolicited dick pics.

(BTW, is there such a thing as a truly solicited dick pic? If so, text me.)

The plague is so bad that most women have given up using the word Men to describe us these days. Instead, they use the word Guys.

You’re letting us off the hook ladies. You’re not challenging us to live up to our potential.

And neither is society. Instead of preparing boys to provide as men, we’ve developed a culture of taking man-boys who move from mom’s bosom to girlfriends’ bosoms to wife’s bosom.

Sure, most of us can earn a paycheck. We can pay our bills and cook something more impressive than ramen. But can we give back to our communities, mentor the next generation, and meet our loved ones’ emotional needs? Or are we too busy playing Call of Duty and looking at porn?

Take. Take. Take.

For what it’s worth, there’s also a plague of woman-girls. These are females who are so afraid of confrontation that they’d rather ghost than decline a suitor’s interest. Or they’re so afraid to be rejected themselves that they lose themselves and parrot their partner’s behavior.

Don’t believe me? For the latter, just look up the “cool girl” speech from Gone Girl.

But this post isn’t about woman-girls. After all, I don’t really know much about them. If I did, I’d see the signs and not go on so many second dates with them.

This post is about man-boys. I know a lot more about them. I used to be one.

From Boyhood to Manhood

Seven years ago, I was a boy. A 29-year-old child.

skinny man-boy

I was a skinny 29-year-old man-boy in August 2009.

I didn’t know how to care for myself, let alone others. I was a taker, rather than a giver. I took from women. I took from family and friends. I took from the world and gave almost nothing back.

Then I found my way into a group of Men who changed my life. At 29, I was almost always the youngest person at the table. (Sadly, even at 36, I’m still almost always the youngest person at the table.)

And these were Real Grown-Ass Men. Respected community and business leaders. Strong fathers and husbands. Patriarchs. Providers.

I learned to be a Man in their company. I learned to be vulnerable, to share my emotions, to live in alignment with my values, to be a giver rather than a taker of spiritual energy in the world.

It didn’t happen overnight.

For example, my Timehop app recently reminded me that January also brought the fifth anniversary of the day I picked myself up from my engagement’s end. After neglecting the basics for four months after our split, I finally bought a bed online, hired a housecleaning service, and shopped for actual groceries at Trader Joe’s – all in a single morning.

A man living in a house that hadn’t been cleaned in five months, sleeping on a borrowed twin bed, and scrounging up food at the office is hardly a man. And he’s certainly not a Real Grown-Ass Man.

It was exactly seven years ago this month that I began to look to this group of Men for mentorship and guidance. Today, I’m a mentor to younger Men. I’m a provider of energy back to the broader group. And, of course, I’m still a (sorta) humble recipient of guidance from my elders. It’s been one hell of a journey.

Masculine Rites of Passage

These Men were my guides from man-boyhood to Real Grown-Ass Manhood. There wasn’t a formal ritual marking my transition, but there was definitely a coming of age.

Coming-of-age rituals were commonplace before the Industrial Revolution. Elders took a boy from his mother and prepared him – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – for adulthood. (It’s kinda like when Obi-Wan ushered Luke away from Tattoine for training.)

Now what’s left? Frats have induction rituals for 18-year-olds man-boys, but they’re more about indoctrination and machismo. They’re not about learning to provide for the tribe.

There are also holdovers of the old rituals. A bar mitzvah is an ancient tradition. However, a modern 13-year-old doesn’t emerge from his bar mitzvah and begin courting and joining his dad at the office.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t think a 13-year-old Jew or an 18-year-old frat boy needs to be ready for Manhood in modern society. The crop will still be harvested without their contribution.

I certainly wasn’t ready at 13 or 18. It took me until well into my 30s to get there.

At 36, I’m not perfect and I’m pretty sure that I never will be. I mean, it was less than a year ago that I was still drinking too much.

Even today, I act out of my old man-boy self from time to time. I allow the dishes to stack up and my hair to get too long. Or I swipe right on women who are clearly not a match. Or I think with the wrong head.

I even get too busy or lazy to call a woman and I text her instead. But I swear that the text never has contained and never will contain a picture of my dick.

Now that’s the sign of a Real Grown-Ass Man.

You’re welcome, ladies.

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Lewis and Clark National Historic Park

In honor of a seven-year journey, here’s a throwback to the seventh national park of my first Meander.

Yes, I would like fries with that shit sandwich

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I sit staring out the living room window like a cat toward the road. My coffee cup warms my hands. I pray. I fill half a page in my journal. Not much to work through.

I set it down and head into my office to begin my day.

I feel content and serene today. Very peaceful. Very light. That’s a big improvement over the shit sandwich of separation I served myself back in October.

burro in petting zoo

Part of my drive to serve is a new volunteer gig with the Humane Society of the U.S.

The sea was angry in October, my friends. I was angry about Donald Trump. Angry about dating etiquette. Angry about those darned Phoenicians looking down on Tempe. Just angry. I wanted separation, rather than union, between myself and everyone else.

What went wrong? Working too much. Isolating at home all day. Dating the wrong women. I spent time focusing my dating intention during Meander 2015, but I found myself once again investing energy in women who weren’t right for me.

The anger subsided as I committed to daily exercise, less work and more service, coworking to break the isolation, and getting my mind right about women.

Now, there’s serenity and contentment. That’s fueled a drive to serve – to be a giver rather than a taker of spiritual energy – and a drive to create things like this blog post.

More than Serenity and Contentment

I know from past experience that the universe offers more than serenity and contentment. And, as I sit staring out the window, I miss the way it used to be.

I’m not talking about those Big Amazing Moments where I’ve been overwhelmed by wonder at beautiful sights and moving experiences. I’ve certainly had those – from one of my first big solo hikes at Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon, to an hour sitting among the bees buzzing around my flowering broccoli, to a cup of Fairytale hot chocolate on the foggy Mendocino coast.

No. Here I’m talking about Long Stretches of Spiritual Growth. These are times when I’ve chased a shit sandwich with deep commitment to my practice and been rewarded by spirit’s presence in my life.

I miss that. I miss being inspired.

When the nightmares returned after my ex moved out in 2010, I sat up in bed every night. I took inventory of my day and prayed by candlelight before retiring. If I woke from a nightmare, I relit the candles and repeated a safety affirmation again and again until I fell back to sleep. Eventually, the nightmares went away.

“God’s love is abundant. I’m protected at the level to which I am open.”

When my job at Bulbstorm was most challenging, I dedicated my mornings to preparing mentally for the day. I explored my character flaws and trigger points through daily Enneagram work. I scripted how I’d answer simple questions like How was your weekend?. I broke my isolation by stopping at each teammates’ desk on arrival. When, confused by stress, I perceived people turning against me, I’d return to my Enneagram work to identify the trigger and then sweat it out on a run along the canal.

“Jane is my teammate and wants what’s best for the team. We’re all in this together.”

When I had the big breakthroughs in my first Meander, they were preceded by weeks of disconnection from my smartphone and a regimented morning practice of prayer, spiritual reading, and journaling. When old pain or fear surfaced during long lonely hours on the trail or on the road, I rewired my thinking with specific affirmations.

“Past partners are in the past. My true partner will be waiting for me when I’m ready.”

Waiting for an Exclamation Point

As I stared out the window, I first thought that the Big Amazing Moments were unique from the Long Stretches of Spiritual Growth.

Upon further reflection, I think they’re inseparable. The Long Stretches are preceded by hard times and punctuated by Big Amazing Moments. And the punctuation tends to be an exclamation point.

My victory over my post-breakup nightmares in 2010 was punctuated by my Thanksgiving trip to Las Vegas to explore Red Rock (and see Roger Waters perform The Wall!). The worker bees in my garden inspired me after digging out of the low-points of my Bulbstorm days. The foggy Mendocino coast blew me away only after I recovered from the volatile first half of Meander 2013.

The funny thing is that it’s hard for me to recognize that I’m in a Long Stretch until it’s punctuated by a Big Amazing Moment.

It turns out that I’m in a Long Stretch now. Serenity. Contentment. Giving. Creativity. Duh! I just didn’t recognize the Long Stretch without the punctuation.

I leave for a three-night backpacking trip at the Grand Canyon on Tuesday. Big Amazing Moment booked.

Bring on the exclamation point!

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snow at Grand Canyon

PSA: Spike in Shirtless Hiking Selfies Imminent

This is a public service announcement. Analysts warn that a spike in the number of shirtless hiking selfies posted to my Facebook profile is imminent.

This month, one of my clients hired an in-house marketing professional – and fired me.

Don’t worry! These things happen. I work with startups and startups grow. Eventually, I get replaced. This is a good thing as it means my work for the company has helped them (in at least a small way) to achieve their goals.

Besides, I was busier than I wanted to be anyway. As I wined in October while pondering so many friends’ rush to marriage and marriage-type things, I prefer to set aside Fridays as work optional. Alas, it was Sunday that was work optional through most of 2015. Not anymore.

Flat Iron

Not quite shirtless, but close.

Now, I’ll have more time on my hands to play. But there must be more to life than just play. It can’t be all shirtless hiking selfies.

I’m taking advantage of the loose schedule to formalize a balance about which I first journaled in Yosemite National Park in the first few days of last summer’s Meander.

Four days of work. One day of service. Two days of play.

Four Days of Work

I used to think that hoping to be passionate about one’s work was unrealistic. When people said they didn’t believe in their company’s mission, I thought, Why would you? It’s just a job. The best you can hope for is to be on a great team with a great boss. It doesn’t matter what you build.

Eventually, I realized that I was wrong. There are definitely people out there who are passionate about what they’re building.

I’m passionate about helping others build what they’re passionate about building. I’m passionate about entrepreneurs. (I recently wrote in more depth about this topic for the Phoenix Startup Week blog.)

I love facilitating entrepreneurs’ success in my own small way. I don’t want to start anything. I want to help them start. I don’t care about the product. I care about the people.

One Day of Service

Service has been a big part of my life for years. I’ve been involved in Tempe Leadership since 2012 and with Phoenix Startup Week and the #yesphx movement since last fall. Both these organizations align with my passion – helping others achieve theirs.

I’m not terribly passionate about community gardens or bicycle advocacy or even underprivileged kids. But, in my work with Tempe Leadership, I can help people who are passionate about those causes make a difference.

And Phoenix Startup Week keeps me engaged with the entrepreneurs with whom I most enjoy working.

Aside from adopting my Meandering lifestyle, Tempe Leadership and Phoenix Startup Week are the biggest things to happen to me over the last few years.

That said, in the words of my late-blooming friend Michelle, it’s time to Level Up. That’s why I’ve started down the path of becoming an official advocate of the Humane Society. I’ll focus on agriculture issues, because, ya know, I love animals so much that I don’t eat them.

Few work-life balances allow the flexibility of contributing a full day to service. Instead, folks give financially. I’m grateful to be in position to give time and fill my cup in person.

Two Days of Play

If there’s one thing I’ve mastered in the last three years, it’s play. Over the last three summers, I’ve spent 290 of Arizona’s hottest days playing on the road between Tempe and Seattle. And I’ve sneaked in smaller trips during the cooler months as well.

So many have served me in my Meanders. Opening their homes. Putting me on their rafts. Challenging my stubborn ways.

I do my best to pay it forward by opening my own home to meanderers, hippies, and nomads passing through the desert.

Of course, play isn’t all about giving back. It’s selfish. It’s about getting out into the community, putting in some desert trail miles, and making my first descent into the Grand Canyon later this month.

It’s time to work less and serve and play more! People of Facebook beware. The shirtless hiking selfies are coming.

Superstition Wilderness

The Rush to Marriage and Marriage-Type Things

I’m very very busy these days.

Throughout my two-and-a-half years as an independent consultant, I’ve mostly marked Fridays as work optional. Lately, it’s more like Sundays are work optional. (Eventually, I’d like my weeks to be three days of work, one day of service, and three days of play.)

I sometimes wrap my workday as late as 7. My mind is fried. It’s not as bad as the Bulbstorm days. Not even close. But, after seven or eight max-effort billable hours, I’m spent.

I move to the couch or the patio. I want someone to talk to. I’ll share about my long day. Then, I’ll put it away. I’ll listen to her. It’ll be nice to not hear the words startup or Hubspot or leverage.

I remember how, after a long night at grad school or working a Diamondbacks game, my lady would greet me at home with a Jack and Diet. And we’d sit and talk. That was just nice. Not so much the Jack and Diet. But, ya know, the intimacy and stuff.

Usually when I think about a potential relationship, I envision myself as the rock. In times like these, though, I’d like a lady in my life for support. For sanctuary. For me.

The Rush to Marriage and Marriage-Type Things 

A friend pointed out recently that a lot of my blog posts are about my love life (or lack thereof). Will you still blog when you meet someone, she asked.Lenin in Fremont

Don’t worry, y’all. I don’t seem to be in danger of meeting someone anytime soon. Compared to Washington, the dating landscape in Arizona is a barren wasteland. When I return home and update my location on dating websites every fall, I weep at the sudden lack of choice.

Indeed, the blog will go on.

That said, if the love lives of my peers are any indication, the courtship may not last long when I finally do meet her.

Lately, several people in my social circle – and even women I’ve been into in the last year or two – are like totally suddenly paired off.

Married. Engaged. Pregnant. Whatevz.

It used to be jarring to see ex-flames from high school or college get married. But, we were in our 20s and, for the most part, years had passed.

For whatever reason, that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer. These days, it seems to happen fast.

Why?

Are biological clocks ticking?

Are people more comfortable financially and professionally now that the recession has ended? (Thanks Obama.)

Has experience clarified what we’re looking for? ( I’ve certainly gotten clear about what I want.)

Or, on the other hand, has age made us less discerning because, fuck it, why not?

I don’t know. All I know is people seem to be moving really fast all of a sudden.

My Yoga-Loving Veg-Friendly Could-Be Survivor

Three times this summer as I journeyed to and from Seattle and toward 90 days sober, I woke up from dreams so vivid that I could’ve sworn there was a woman sleeping in my bed (or tent). My heart craved a partner like my body craves Four Peaks nachos after a long day on the trail.

These episodes were a bit different than in the past though. Usually when my subconscious mind thinks girlfriend, it visualizes a specific person – an ex, a flirtation, whatever. Truth be told, there are times when certain Survivor castaways have sneaked in.

More recently, my mind hasn’t had any one template to present. For the first time in a long time, I have a clean canvas. No ex. No flirtation. Nothing.

Instead, there are just images. A red and black flannel. Holding hands in the Subaru. Dark hair in camping braids under a bandana. Yoga pants, obvi.

When I visualize her, I think I could be one of them. I could get swept up and fall fast. I mean, I’d prefer the falling fast to involve only emotional strings. Legal (a marriage license) and biological (a kid) strings are a bit harder to untie.

But, hey, fall fast? Fuck it? Why not? (Sorry Wendy.)

Sure. I could see that happening. I do try to be mindful about the dating stuff. But when my yoga-loving veg-friendly could-be Survivor walks into my life, it may not take long.

I’m ready. She’s out there waiting. Our meeting is truly imminent.

I’ll be there soon, my love. But first I have to finish this work assignment…

 

Blowing zeros and other happenings during 90 days sober

When a reporter asks at the end of The Untouchables what he’ll do once prohibition is repealed, Eliot Ness responds, “I think I’ll have a drink.”

My own prohibition was repealed just last week. September 22 marked the end of my three-month commitment to sobriety. For 90 days – including 70 on the road to Seattle and back – I limited myself to a single beer per day in a journey for spiritual clarity and awareness.

Now that I’ve reached my destination, a good reporter might ask: What’s next?

Well, I’m not exactly popping the champagne to celebrate.

I may have one beer. And that’s about it. It turns out that I’ve kinda liked my return to sober living.

The Departure

breathalyzer blowing zero

Mark it zero, dude!

When I departed on this journey back in June, I wasn’t looking for big answers. I simply wanted greater clarity and awareness – of my self and my surroundings – so that I could live in tighter alignment with my values. That’s integrity, Holmes.

As I said back then, alcohol and I have an unhealthy relationship. With alcohol in my life, I have less clarity and less serenity and less sensitivity to my emotions. I’m more likely to get confused, to bottle up my feelings until they boil over, and to just generally make mistakes.

I’m not talking about the dumb things we do when we’re drunk. I’m talking about the way regular exposure to alcohol and other chemicals affects you over time. It turns out that regularly pumping a depressant into your system fucks you up a bit. Who knew?

A 90-Day Journey

Sobriety led to one of the more memorable episodes of this third Meander.

After a day of rafting at North Cascades National Park, I volunteered to drive our van back to camp. When rangers at our campground spotted an open bottle of tequila in the passenger seat, I had to pass a Breahtlayzer to avoid a ticket. I blew zero (of course) and the rangers were cool enough to let me immortalize the moment with a photo.

It wasn’t until about 60 days into my Meander that sobriety really began to affect me. Fortunately, there weren’t huge emotional swings like on my first Meander when I despaired over crushing a duckling with my Subaru.

But there was emotion nonetheless.

On the drive from Mt Shasta to Lassen Volcanic National Park, I cried at the mariachi version of Mumford & Sons’ I Will Wait. I had listened to this song repeatedly while watching my nephews watch in Seattle, so I intuitively knew it’d cause a reaction.

Spontaneously, I found the song on Spotify and played it. My heart knew that I needed an emotional laxative.

After that, throughout the two-week trip from Lassen to Tempe, my emotions were heightened. But the peaks were flatter and the valleys were shallower. I experienced low-level loneliness at times. I looked joyfully forward to my return home. I was far too ecstatic about the twists and turns of Survivor reruns.

Again, this wasn’t the dramatic emotional roller coaster of the first Meander or my seemingly endless depression following my eruption seven years ago. And, you know what, I prefer this calmer, steadier manner of feeling.

Emotions good.

Chaotic mood swings bad.

My Companions on the Journey

To be honest, making it 90 days wasn’t all that tough. For the most part, people were supportive of my mission. I got zero peer pressure from old friends on a brewery crawl in Ballard. The ASU Alumni Association’s annual booze cruise in Seattle was a little dicier, but I expected it to be so.

After all, we’re Sun Devils, man!

Big thanks to Joe for serving as my accountability partner, to Stephanie, Astara, Wendy, and others for listening, and to my Seattle peeps for understanding why I wasn’t drinking around the campfire.

Henry David Thoreau said, “I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man.”

I don’t quite agree with that. I’ll continue to enjoy a beer from time to time.

But more than one? No thanks.

After 90 days of sobriety, I’ve decided that water – or a single glass of beer – is the only drink for a wise Matt.

WIN_20150724_103429

Just coffee for me. Thanks.

Defining my spiritual path so I can meet her on hers

On the second half of this third Meander, I’ve thought a lot about defining my spiritual life. For religious folks, it might be easier. There are sacred texts and revered teachers of the past and living leaders to help interpret both.

My spiritual inspiration is a hodgepodge of eastern philosophies like yoga, Ralph Waldo Emmerson, and the occasional Yoda-ism. I dig some of what the major religions have to offer. I leave the rest.

114 degrees in Death Valley

Is it hot out here, or is it just me?

So, why define spirituality? Two reasons.

First, it helps me to remember what fills my cup and prioritize all the stuff in my life appropriately. After all, the spiritual path is not always the path of least resistance. At least, not for me. I sometimes need a map to keep me on course.

Second, in my search for an equitably spiritual partner (equally yoked, in Biblical terms), I used to think “I’ll know it when I see it.” That has not proven to be true. Twice, I’ve fallen for women who had no long-term intention of proactively pursuing the path.

I used to think dating sites would help by forcing a potential match to identify her beliefs. Alas, the concept of spiritual not religious is just so broad. (Damn you, Match.com.) So, defining my own spiritual life helps me to know what I’m looking for in a partner.

Equally yoked or no thank you

I’ve thought about this second point a lot since my last breakup – and after each of the three breakups of consequence since my engagement ended in 2010.

I no longer want to invest emotional energy in women who aren’t on the path. I’ve even updated my dating profile. It’s now three sentences, one of which is something like, “If you don’t have an active spiritual practice, we won’t work out long term.”

In the past, I was afraid that being so open about this aspect of my life would limit my dating options. That may still be true. But fuck it.

It’s empowering!

Hell, I think everyone should do it.

If you’re eager to start a family, don’t go on a single date with someone who doesn’t want kids. If you want to share your faith in Christ with your partner, don’t respond to dating site emails from non-Christians.

Simple. Powerful.

Over the last six years, I’ve had similar fear about limiting my options by being upfront about my disinterest in alcohol. Again, fuck it. I’ve also updated my dating profile from drinks socially to drinks rarely. I don’t want it in my life. And I don’t want my partner or search for my partner heavily influenced by it.

But I digress. The point is that I’ve finally decided to define my deepest core values and put them out there for everyone – including potential matches – to see. Be yourself. Right?

Defining my spirituality

Now, imagine a potential match responds to my profile by asking, “What do you mean by active spiritual practice?”

Aha! I better think this through … and then write about it!

So, that’s what I’ve done. It’s long. It’s a bit stream-of-consciousness. And it’s definitely a work in progress. Because of all this, I’ve given these thoughts their own page where I can tweak and evolve them as I go. Check it out!

guy in hot spring

Hey girl. Plenty of room in this hot spring for two.