2/17/2020 – And Not to Yield

“Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

~ ulysses, by tennyson

Yesterday was my birthday. I didn’t go out partying, I didn’t plan a big day with a bunch of activities, I didn’t even do anything outside of the ordinary. I made breakfast, read the news, went to the gym, did some grocery shopping, and followed that up by meal-prepping for the upcoming week while the NBA All-Star game played in the background.

During most of the day, I couldn’t help but sift through the normal thoughts one has during these semi-meaningful arbitrary milestones that we set for ourselves like birthdays. How am I doing? Am I working toward what I want? Am I where I thought I would be? Am I where I should be? Am I loved? Do I love? Do I have passion? Am I still curious? Am I inspiring myself appropriately? Is this still interesting?

At some point while I was wandering the aisles of Whole Foods and pondering these thoughts, the quote from Tennyson above crept into my head and stayed there the rest of the day until I had a chance to sit down and reread his poem, “Ulysses” (also known as Odysseus, of Homer’s “The Odyssey”). I previously read it at some point in college, but had found the old english vocabulary to be boring and therefore indecipherable for my underdeveloped brain. 

But this time around, I found a lingering resonance that I can’t quite define.

The poem takes place after Odysseus/Ulysses has returned home to his family, and he finds himself, for lack of a better term, bored. He has become part of the experiences that have shaped him during his adventures abroad, and he longs again for the great unknown, the call of the wild. He decides to leave his ruling duties to his son, and to rally his crew again for one last voyage at sea, with the final two lines of the poem offering a defiant refusal to bow to age.  

“Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

While I read and reread the lines of Ulysses to make sure I was pulling as much meat off the bone as I could, and organizing my thoughts for what I thought would be a triumphant and defiant topic here in this column, I had my Spotify account on shuffle in the background. On my third read-through, the soft, delicate tones of Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” began playing. I stopped thinking, stopped reading, closed my eyes, and relaxed in my chair, listening as the gentle piano notes danced lightly around the room, filling the air.

As the composition progressed, drifting from the serene innocence of the opening to the dramatic ascending notes immediately following, then to the peaceful rolling motifs blissfully drifting around seemingly without direction in the middle of the song, until the melody quietly slowed into its wispful, melancholic yet satisfied end, I found myself experiencing emotions I had never let myself feel in the song before.

I felt the bliss and insecurity of innocence. I was lured by wonder. I felt the weight of helplessness, of being completely out of control. I felt the sting of pain. the bittersweet melancholy of love lost. I felt the release of healing. I felt the breathlessness of love’s first spark. I settled into gentle comfort. I felt cautious, and hesitant. The pull of curiosity. I felt the gentle confidence of true beauty. I felt hope.

I sat still as I allowed these emotions to wash over me, unsure of what it was I was experiencing, but trying to remain present nonetheless. Amid a fog of confusion, the song ended and I wiped the tears from my eyes. 

I looked at my notes on “Ulysses” and tried to make sense of how this poem could lead to the emotional experience I had just had with “Claire de Lune.” 

I am still not totally sure of what this experience is significant of, nor do I think these two works of art relate to each other in any way. 

But as I look back on my 37 years of life, I find great comfort that I can find such identity and resonance from a piece like “Ulysses,” knowing that though I may not have the accomplishments I hoped to have by now, I still possess a dogged determination to strive, to seek, to find, and that I am not yet ready to yield. Not any time soon. 

And yet I also find comfort that I can derive such passionate, emotional identity and definition from a piece like Claire de Lune, a song I’ve heard a hundred times in films or shopping malls without more than a thought of its recognizance. And yet, suddenly I can be moved to tears when it inexplicably decides to reveal itself to me in an intimate moment.

And as I grow through my experiences, and I continue to marshall the strength not to yield, I will continue to be increasingly open to these emotions that for most of my life I have avoided. For I am only recently realizing that they make me strong, not weak. Where the strength of my convictions and ambitions offer the form, my emotions and vulnerabilities offer the color, and together they weave the most beautiful tapestry I am only just now becoming aware of.

I am not yet where I want to be, and I am still learning who I am. But I know that I have a lot of life left to explore. And for that, I have hope.

To strive, to seek, to find.

The Virtue of not Actually Feeling any Better

Every morning i wake up, since the beginning of the year, I’ve been reading from “the Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday. It has been a useful way to begin each day with a thought, quote, or idea that I can attempt to carry with me throughout the day and give me something to chew on & think about.

February’s running theme and focus has been on “passions and emotions,” two things i’ve never been short on. Perhaps the easiest way to see my emotions get the best of me is when I’m playing sports. Sometimes my tunnel vision in the competition for a W is so intense that I completely forget about my manners, and i say or do things i regret later. Or perhaps it is when I’m driving and I have to endure the insufferability of hapless, oblivious drivers with no respect for concepts like flow of traffic, or merging appropriately, or focusing on the road instead of one’s mobile device.  All of these things get me quite worked up. But obviously these minor things are indicative of a greater battle I have been fighting most of my adult life with managing anger. I’ve gotten better in the last couple years, but anger is a devil that one never completely vanquishes once it has a hook into your emotions.

One thing I’ve noticed lately in particular is that little inconsequential things have been getting to me. Like not even anything worth speaking of. So small, I can’t even articulate a proper example accurately. It might be something like my phone taking an extra couple of seconds to execute whatever command i’ve just issued it. Or missing a yellow light when I’m not even in a hurry to be anywhere. But these little things happen, my blood pressure faintly and momentarily spikes, and I inexcusably might let a quick, unnecessary obscenity fly. There’s no reason for it, and it means nothing, but for half a moment, a mild form of tourette’s appears to take over, and the anger monster makes a brief appearance before disappearing back into its prison cell of domestication. 

By most accounts, this seems like a victimless crime. There’s usually no one around, and the moment passes and I move on. But I can’t let go of why I allow this to happen. Perhaps it’s just a side effect of how hard I’ve been focusing on getting back into shape with extreme diet and exercise (seriously, I’ve never worked as hard in my life at watching what i eat and working my ass off in the gym as i have in the last 45 days), and moments of low blood sugar yielding short bouts of “hangry” are breaking through like some sort of micro seizure. Or maybe I’ve just been experiencing moments of weakness a little more frequently lately.

When the calendar flipped to February, I was both wary and excited to see that “Emotions” would be a theme. Excited, because i relished the chance to focus on improvement, and wary because growth is rarely comfortable. I am enthused by the opportunity to turn a weakness into a strength, but aware that such a mission will be painful.

Just two days ago, the topic for the day was “Did that make you feel better?”   …Rather than recap it, I’ll just quote directly:

“The next time someone gets upset near you — crying, yelling, breaking something, being pointed or cruel — watch how quickly this statement will stop them cold: “I hope this is making you feel better.” Because, of course, it isn’t.”

On my first thought after reading this, the theatre of my mind played this scenario out and I laughed out loud at how much worse saying something like this would likely make things. But on the 2nd reading, I felt shame. Shame of the knowledge that this piece was specifically for people like me. Why? Because a logical examination of this behavior yields only one result: that losing your cool simply does not accomplish anything. And if it does not accomplish anything, why should it make one feel any better? If I look back, I can’t say that behaving badly has ever made me feel better. In point of fact, it has always led me to regret something.

But the best part of this learning process is the strategies and tactics for improvement you gain when doing the work, and for this topic, the latter half of the writing suggested the following:

“The next time you find yourself in the middle of a freakout… just ask: is this actually making me feel better?”

The answer will undoubtedly be “no.” I won’t feel any better in that moment. And the shame won’t suddenly evaporate. But I will be using this new tool, this strategy to improve. And I’ll suddenly be aware. And I’ll be doing the work. And that will make me feel a little better.

2/3/2020 – One play at a time

The Monday after the Super Bowl. The day of the year with the most unplanned absences in the American workforce. Also known informally as Super Sick Monday. While many fans don’t make it into work the day after the big game due to too many frosty beverages, or perhaps they are too stricken with grief due to their team’s loss on the world’s stage, Super Sick Monday is probably an appropriate hangover for a season that monopolizes our Sundays for 6 months out of the year.

But before we all hang up the cleats for 6 months til the next season, I want to spotlight something that inspired me a few weeks ago. It was in the Chiefs that just won yesterday’s big game (sorry to any of you grieving Niner fans!), and it was their leader, Patrick Mahomes’ determination to put one foot in front of the other that shone more than a bright light on his athletic ability, but also on his ability to inspire greatness in his teammates.

You probably remember it if you were watching. The Kansas City Chiefs were facing the Houston Texans in a divisional playoff game that got off to a shockingly unexpected start. On the 6th play of the game, Texans QB Watson connected with receiver Stills for a 54-yard bomb down the field for a touchdown. On the very next play set, frustrated by an inability to generate any positive offense, Mahomes and the Chiefs were suddenly shaken up when their punt was blocked and Houston scooped the ball up for an easy defensive score.

A couple play sequences later, Houston was punting back to KC when kick returner Tyreek Hill dropped the return, allowing Houston to recover the ball and score again on the next play. A few plays after that, Houston kicked a field goal for another score.

Suddenly, in a matter of a few minutes, the Kansas City Chiefs were down 24-0. No small margin in the NFL, the Chiefs were now facing a bleak outlook. It would now take 4 trips down the field to catch up, assuming no more scoring from the opponent, neither of which Kansas City had been able to accomplish thus far. Their season appeared to be over before they could even get a chance to get anything going against a Houston team that had stepped into the game and punched the Chiefs right in the mouth at the opening bell.

But something interesting was happening.

Patrick Mahomes could be seen on the sideline encouraging and rallying his troops. He was walking back and forth shouting messages of positivity to his teammates, instructing them to put everything they had just experienced behind them and forget about it. 

He wasn’t sitting down, hanging his head, lamenting about how he could have such poor luck right out of the gate of this playoff game. It wasn’t his fault that the last 2 touchdowns scored were due to mistakes by his teammates in plays where he wasn’t even on the field. It would have been completely understandable if he had been filled with anger at his teammates for their lackluster play thus far in the game. But was that his response?  No.

In his post-game interview, Mahomes explained that he was encouraging his guys to “go do something special” and take it “one play at a time.” He knew there was a lot of football left, and he knew how good his team could be when they were at their best.

2 plays later, The Chiefs scored their first touchdown. On their next possession, they scored again. Then they forced a Houston fumble and scored again. On their next possession they scored again and took the lead, 24-28. But they weren’t done. They would score 2 more touchdowns before the stunned Houston offense could do anything. By the end of the game, Kansas City would put up 51 points in a commanding victory.

Asked after the game, wide receiver Sammy Watkins admitted thinking they had already lost the game before they turned it around, saying “A couple of times, I was like, ‘This is over.'”  But his teammates Mahomes & Kelce encouraged him and made him believe. They showed him there was a plan.

And what was that plan? What do you do when the deck is stacked against you and clearly the cards are not falling your way?  The solution is simple: One Play at a Time. You don’t dwell on the past, and you don’t dream about the future. You stay present, keep your head down, and you focus on what is immediately in front of you. You go to work.

Mahomes knew if he could get his teammates to focus on that simple instruction, they were talented enough to come back and win that game. He remained confident in his team’s abilities, he knew they had prepared appropriately for the match-up, and he knew that nothing had really changed if he zoomed out and took a bird’s eye view of the entire game. If they took it one play at a time, they could do something special.

And now they truly have. Congrats to the Kansas City Chiefs on winning their 2nd Super Bowl. They have a special player in Patrick Mahomes and we all hopefully have many years ahead of us getting to watch him showcase his leadership skills both on and off the field. One play at a time.

Patrick Mahomes displays leadership in Super Bowl win

the new motivation

**i’ve been writing a Monday morning motivational email for a little over a year now as a sorta “positivity message” to focus or meditate on throughout the week. The small group I’ve been sending it to have offered positive feedback, so i’ll be sharing them here now going forward**

It’s been a few months since i put out this weekly motivational.  I decided to take some time away from writing these after what was, admittedly, an epically frustrating end to my 2019. Coming from what was supposed to finally be my big moment, professionally, 2019 went from all things pointing straight up and to the right, and resulted in a total collapse of everything i had poured myself into the past 3 years.

The purpose of this is not to talk about the past, but to focus on the future. But to summarize: the small but successful company i built for the family i work under got consolidated into a larger corporate entity, which was then captained by poor leadership, resulting in calamity. then, just days before a new product launch and in the middle of HUGE contract discussions with major retail companies around the country, an ignorant (and inaccurate) political news cycle affected my entire industry segment, which led to a premature shutdown of my product/project/division.  Needless to say, i was incredibly discouraged the last 3 months of 2019.

——

“I understand that everyone goes disappearing

Into the greatest gray

That covers over everyday,

And hovers in the distance”

~counting crows, “up all night

——-

That lyric segment is from a song i really love called “up all night.” it’s a song about disillusionment and realization, and beginning to understand that eventually autopilot just doesn’t take you to new destinations. And that’s where i’ve been the last few months. In a sort of hazy gray. Not a deep, dark black. I’m stronger than that, and i’ve been through much worse in my life. But i’m not sure i ever really knew what this song was about until recently.

But the frustrating circumstances (i wouldn’t quite call them failures. Let’s call them “unsuccesses”) of the end of 2019 elucidated a few defects in my armor, which i may never have paid any mind if i had gotten everything i had wanted last year, and hit the home run that i was so close to hitting.

firstly, i had no specified discipline in my game. Just raw determination. I was often working 80 hour weeks, flying all over the country to deliver sales pitches, staying up all night in weird hotels, sometimes in airports, making phone calls at all times of the day and weekend, with little-to-no social life. I allowed personal relationships to deteriorate, i stopped participating in my favorite hobbies, and i buried myself in what seemed like the workload equivalent of 10 men. Some might look at that with admiration, but i can tell you it was foolish.

what it made me realize was actually something i’ve already written about in this very column, but clearly hadn’t realized i wasn’t doing enough of:

Passion without discipline is wasted.

the last 3 years, i burned with passion. But i eventually burned out. Sure, i could have been supported better by my organization, and perhaps that support would have fueled my passion a little longer. But i now realize that i would likely still have landed right where i am now. eventually.

second: much of what i was doing, wasn’t as much for myself as i thought, if i’m being honest with myself. It was also for others around me. and what i failed to account for is that much of that audience was not really receptive to my message (these emails, but also my general message & behavior/mentality/culture). Regardless of how altruistic i wanted it to be, the driver eventually became the accountability of “i have to get this motivational out this morning or people will wonder what happened,” instead of “i want to get this done, because I need it for myself” (and if i’m completely transparent, there was also an aspect of aspirational embodiment i was hoping for. Of speaking the version of myself i wanted to be into existence).

i wasn’t feeding myself. I was feeding ego. I thought my message could be a rallying point for the things my company lacked, so that became the focal point.

But i’m done with all that. I’m doing this for me now. and i’m going deeper. if you’re reading this, it’s likely because

  1.  i know you were previously receptive to the message, or
  2.  you’re a dynamic individual who inspires, encourages, or collaborates with me, and people like that enjoy messages like this.

So let me start 2020 with a hint of the new discipline. It comes from a book that was recommended to me (i’ll talk more about it in later writings) by a good friend named jonathan, who has been hounding me for months to start writing these things again (thanks jstein. your words picked me up and dusted me off a number of times last year, a few times very literally). Here it is:

control your perceptions
direct your actions properly
willingly accept what’s outside your control

I am learning to accept what’s outside my control. I am learning to control my perceptions. And i am now directing my actions properly. It’s monday, let’s go get it.

The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride

about 5 years ago, i began riding motorcycles.  it was a small piece of a rather pedestrian rebellion that would begin to reform how i viewed my life and how i wanted to live it moving forward, but i still consider it a very important part of who i have become and what i have accomplished in the years since.

honda cb 550i bought a 40 year old honda bike with the intention of restoring it and converting it into a “cafe racer,” a throwback homage to the classic bikes of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. the steve mcqueen era.  unfortunately it didn’t take long for me to realize that i was in way over my head.  my first crack at working on carbs and rewiring the electrical system in the bike was pretty miserable, and finally after one day going on a short ride to a nearby watering hole with some friends and getting stranded outside the front when the bike wouldn’t start back up again, i decided being part of the “built, not bought” crowd wasn’t something i had the patience or affection for.  i went to my local bike dealer, erico motorsports, and reserved a brand new moto-guzzi v7 racer.  she looked 50 years old and was every bit of apparent “vintage” that i wanted, minus the maintenance or authenticity.  but hell, i didn’t care.  i just wanted to ride.

View this post on Instagram

I have the best morning commute…

A post shared by Miq (@wephilistines) on

eventually, after many mountain rides through the rockies and my first scary car accident (which i somehow walked away from, fortunately), i stumbled into a fun new event on facebook called the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride.  it was an event that had started in australia where guys with bikes like mine (or cooler) would get dressed up in old-school dapper fashion and then go on a ride around town.  it looked incredible and i had to be involved. i found that some guy had volunteered to host, but then mysteriously ghosted everyone weeks before the ride, leaving the facebook group in disarray.  i emailed the foundation organizer in australia asking if there were any details and how to get involved, and he suddenly made me the ride organizer.  i was not ready for this.  my rides usually consisted of me picking a road and seeing where it went.  the pressure of planning a ride for a city like denver, even if it’s only 15 people, was more than i wanted.  i just wanted to dress up, show my bike off, and make some new friends.

nevertheless, i started emailing anyone i could find that had shown interest on the facebook page, and luckily, i found a couple guys who had done an unofficial distinguished gentleman’s ride the year before.  guys who actually knew what they were doing.  they agreed to help me plan the ride and route.

now, 5 years later, what resulted from that ride was something that has greatly strengthened my interest in riding on two wheels, and my local community.  every year in september, richie, spencer, justin, and i get together and plan out a new ride for the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, which has turned into a worldwide phenomenon benefitting research and prevention of men’s prostate cancer, as well as suicide prevention.  last year, denver was a top 15 fundraiser in the world, raising more money than hundreds of other cities in america, europe, and asia.  250 people rode and participated in the denver ride.  it is something that i am very proud to be part of, and this year i am seeking to continue the tradition.  if you feel inclined to donate a couple dollars toward preventing men’s prostate cancer and/or suicide prevention, please do so at my fundraiser page on the DGR website:  https://www.gentlemansride.com/rider/brandonmiq 

and if you’d like to get a taste of what the ride is like, have a look at this video i made of last year’s event:

native den

while i haven’t been active on this blog recently, i’ve been anything but inactive.  i’m starting up a music project with some friends, hopefully it will carry on the name we philistines, but that will be determined down the road.  i’ve also started up a new business building quality-made, modern furniture and home decor accessories with a close friend of mine, called native den.  the first step of getting the name out there is creating a youtube channel, which i am happy to report now has its very first video on.  if you like DIY projects that you would actually be proud of displaying in your home without shame, and you like to make your home look like a restoration hardware catalogue without the accompanying price tag, then watch my new video below.  if you like it, subscribe and share the video with your friends!  we also have a step by step guide for you to follow along in the build to create your own of this really cool free-standing industrial toilet paper holder, just follow the link.

the plan is to release new videos every 2-3 weeks for the rest of the summer, so if you don’t see blog posts here but are wondering what i’m up to, this is a great way to keep up with me…

and again, thanks watching/reading/listening.

the charm of the Adriatic

looking back on my time in croatia, montenegro, and bosnia & herzegovina, it was a strange time, but a wonderful one.  i was traveling with a friend, which i had not had the luxury of for most of my trip, so i was never alone during these weeks.  but before that, i had just begun to grow accustomed to being alone, and was starting to enjoy the introspection that came with it, and the peace of mind that had started to evolve and emerge from my thoughts.  nevertheless, traveling with my friend dave, who was not a seasoned traveler, forced me to take command of situations with more authority and efficiency than i had ever needed to, and exposed to me just how far my development had come since my early days in london, paris and berlin, of following other travelers i had met like a lost puppy.  i was now the veteran, and it took me by surprise.

putting together this video was really fun, not only because i wrote and recorded the sountrack, but also being able to re-live the scenes and memories.  the balkan states are fascinating, co-mingling the hope of the future with the tragedy of the past, there are few places i’ve been where both sides of that story were always nearby, and i still regret not being able to make it further into the balkans to explore all the other interesting countries in the region.  i will return.  someday.

not alone

i’ve been periodically working on a new song over the last couple months whenever i could find time between the job, raising a puppy, and having too many hobbies.  i finished it last week and just hadn’t had a chance to publish yet.

it’s a brooding track, and not particularly light-hearted, but these types of emotions and thoughts are wont to be evoked during the cold winter up in the rocky mountains of colorado.  bundle up and enjoy…

a winter wander in plitvice, croatia

it was dark, and we hadn’t seen a street sign, a building, even a streetlamp in over an hour. we had seen nary a clue that we were even traveling in the right direction, but had seen no other roads headed in this direction on the map, so we pressed on faithfully into the night, expecting any minute to find a sign.  

the roads toward the interior of croatia were much smaller and more narrow than the decidedly more oft-traveled corridor of the adriatic coastline, thusly making it more difficult for me to progress toward my destinations at the breakneck (and slightly illegal) pace that i had grown accustomed to in rural europe.  despite my frustration, i found a silver lining in the intricacies of the winding country roads, and the fun that came with the need to test my maneuvering skills at a high degree of mastery. dave, on the other hand, didn’t share my navigational enthusiasm.  

whitewalkereventually we found the turnoff we had been looking for and made our way through a tiny town with few amenities or notable attractions.  a light snow was now falling and the ground had accumulated a sheer white layer, making it almost difficult to look directly at with the bright headlights of the car beaming directly onto it.  i approached each turn with a degree of caution, conscious of the fact that i had turned down the rental company on their offer of all-weather tires only a week ago.  

dave guided us to a house, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, that he had found on airbnb.  as we pulled into the designated parking space, i humorously remarked,
“…and this is how it ends.  in the pit of some croatian farmer’s barn, never to be seen again.”  dave laughed and exited the vehicle, walking into the house of the property owner to handle the check-in duties while i gathered the bags.  a few minutes later we were claiming beds in our apartment for the night and unwinding from a long day of driving.

it was a homely little apartment, but it was just what we needed. it was quaint and quiet, and removed from any hustle or bustle of a normal city.  very different from the place we had stayed the night before in the oceanside town of zadar.  a self-proclaimed “design hostel,” it was clean and minimalist with eccentric aesthetics.  we were the only ones staying in a place that had capacity for at least 80, and our shared-bunk dorm felt like a sick mix between a hospital and a room from charlie’s chocolate factory.  tall ceilings, narrow spaces, the walls were candy-striped with disturbingly contrasted orange and white and the bunks had stiff shutters that could close off from the outside world, allowing the sleeper to create a cocoon.  i wondered if i had missed the part where they assigned me a straightjacket before locking me in the room.  

zadar, croatia
zadar at night

zadar had actually been a pleasant surprise, and i had found myself wishing that i’d been able to stay there longer than the twelve hours i gave it, especially if i could come back some day in the summer.  that

sea organ zadar, croatia
the sea organ

evening, as i walked along the harbor admiring the sunset, i stumbled upon the Morske orgulje, or “sea organ,” an architectural object and experimental musical instrument that produces sound through a series of pipes inset the marble ground i walked upon, powered by the waves of the ocean that brushed up against the side of the marble and into the pipes, pushing air out and producing the unpredictable chorus.  it was truly one of the most uniquely creative things that i had seen on my travels, and also one of the most unexpected.

after a few minutes of unwinding, a knock at the door sounded.  it was the daughter of the property owner with a gift:  homemade rakija.  dave and i both expressed our deep gratitude and accepted the gift, but when we closed the door, we exchanged more knowing glances.

“oh man.  good thing they only gave us these small glasses, this stuff smells stronger than the cherry stuff we had the other night,” dave warned cautiously.

“it is!” i spat out as i coughed down my first sip.  “way stronger!  i think this is peach flavor too.”  we did our best to finish the drink (which i estimate to have been about 2.5 shots worth of alcohol), but neither of us could make it all the way through.  apparently this was the old man’s special recipe, and he distilled it right there on property.  impressive, but not for the faint of heart.

the next morning we arose early and set out to find plitvice lakes national park.  after a 20 minute drive, the windy snow-covered road led us to a parking lot that seemed out of place with the rest of landscape that we had grown accustomed to seeing.  we deduced that this must be the place.

following an oddly unnecessary footbridge over to what appeared to be an empty visitor center,  a tourist bus pulled into the lot and parked while we attempted to figure out where to go and how to pay for whatever it was we were supposed to be seeing.  i laughed as 5 people got off the bus that could hold probably 50.  eventually we found a walking path and assumed that if there was a pay booth somewhere, clearly no one cared if we paid or it would have been more obviously located.  we started down the path perplexedly defiant.

bird's eyethree minutes later we were staring down a cliff surveying a wintery panorama of emerald blue rivers and lakes fed by icy white waterfalls.  i had never seen anything like it.  like a croatian iguazu, we had found a legitimate natural gem in the harsh balkan cold, and there was no one around to spoil our enjoyment of it.  dave and i excitedly bound down the switchbacks until we were at the water’s edge, walking on man-made wooden planked walkways across the water and staring up at the looming waterfalls.

the ice and frigidity of winter had obviously restricted the water flow, somewhat muting the normally powerful display of water in nature in this protected croatian landmark. but we knew we were getting to see a very different side of an oft-photographed sight, and the narnia-like effect that the white winter had on the place gave the atmosphere an eery yet striking touch that made me forget about the bitter cold and enjoy the moment.

dave and i separated for a while, wandering toward different parts of the park and periodically meeting back up in different areas to make sure we weren’t lost.  during that time, i tried to focus on being present, enjoying the moment and not worrying about the future or plitvice walking on waterthe past, or letting my mind wander too far along pointless reveries.  i was getting better at this.  i remembered back to the beginning of my journey, being a total mental mess, roundaboutworried about where i was going in my future, sad and victimized by my past, and always paranoid and conscious of the strangers around me and what they plitvice down in the valleythought of me.  rarely did i have these concerns any longer. occasionally i might be aware that i was out of place in a situation, or i might want to impress someone appropriately, but seldom did i have any social anxiety about my foreign status or my ragged appearance.  i just didn’t care anymore, and i felt liberated.  and nowhere more did that carefree comfort truly reveal itself than when i was
away from congested society and out into the raw of nature.  the worries of life and society seemed to fall by the wayside whenever i wandered a dirt trail among the trees and the rushing water and an unending sky. a light snow and fair breeze coerced the water gently from its course atop the cliff to the basin below, transforming a calm stream into a drifting cascade.  it was peaceful here, and i never wanted to leave.

dave and i reconvened aboard a ferry that carried us across the main lake and to a new section of the park for us to explore for a few more hours.  eventually the cold won out, however, and dave and i decided it best to seek warmer temperatures.

The next day we were on the road again, and before long we were slipping and sliding our way through the streets of zagreb, the capital city of croatia.  a heavy, wet snow had been falling for hours before we arrived, and still fell, as we searched for parking near our hostel.  we checked into yet another modern “design hostel,” impressively marked with comfortable yet minimalist furniture, modern decorative art, and clean lines throughout the architecture.  croatia knew how to put together a solid hostel.

we spent another pair of days exploring the old and new in a city that dates back at least a thousand years.  exploring old churches and cemeteries, and a few bars in between, zagreb seemed to be a large city without much of the draw that tourists journeyed to the adriatic coast for.  but there was charm in that.  it was a different side of croatia, more business-like, more straight to the point, and the unassuming nature of it put one at ease.  it was easy to go about your day and take the city in without feeling the pressure to make sure you had checked off all the necessary boxes to prove to yourself it had been worthwhile.

colorful rooftopsour time came to an end however, and dave and i said our goodbyes to croatia.  we rose early before the sun and city, and sped hurriedly to the airport.  in our early morning haze, we pulled up to the front gate of the departures section and began preparing to offload our luggage.  we both sat uncomfortably for a moment, not sure what was wrong.  suddenly, it hit me.

“damn!  this is a rental car!  where’s the rental office?!”  i exclaimed, suddenly wide awake.  dave looked back at me blankly.  panic set in, we were already likely late for an international flight, and we had forgotten to return our rental car.  

dave turned on his iphone, hoping he could locate the rental office nearby, while i pressed the gas pedal, determined to find it the old-fashioned way.  

cemetery walls“i don’t get it.  google maps says we’re on top of it,” dave said, perplexed.  we both looked around.  nothing.  i drove to the end of the airport road.  nothing but office buildings, no rental lots.  i turned around and went back to the entrance of the airport loop. dave kept poking at his phone screen with futility, much like he had the entirety of our time in the balkans.  google maps didn’t have as high an adoption rate here as it did the rest of europe and the US thus far, hence the wild inaccuracies we had experienced almost everywhere we had gone.  

little yellow houseafter a few minutes of driving around in a panic and yelling obscenities at dave’s iphone, i hooked my head left and searched east, across an empty field and down what appeared to just be a service road.  i whipped the car illegally across traffic and sped down the road without saying a word.  dave, recognizing that i was in one of my zones, said nothing and held on for dear life, trusting that i knew what i was doing.  i barreled into a parking lot and up to the front door of the europcar rental office.  dave stared at me incredulously.

zagreb cemetery“how did you see this?!” he exclaimed as we walked briskly to the door.  i didn’t answer, frustrated as i realized that no one was at the office yet.  someone was late to work.  annoyed, i repeatedly rang the bell and pounded on the door, unconcerned that no one could hear it.  

a few minutes later another car entered the lot and 2 men in ties rushed in to open the office.  embarrassed, he was aware that i knew he was late. i said nothing and noticed that he was working at a pace faster than what he normally might.  he processed our paperwork and drove us back to the departure gate.  dave and i grabbed our bags and sprinted through check-in and security, barely making our flight.  
as the plane climbed into the morning sky, i exhaled deeply, relieved.  dave began laughing, unprovoked, and it was only a matter of seconds before i was laughing with him.  

“i don’t ever want to fly with you again” i said jokingly, and our laughter grew even louder.

i would miss croatia. and bosnia and montenegro as well, and the mysteries of what lay beyond the boundaries that dave and i had pushed haunted me.  i would be back someday, to explore sarajevo, and bucharest, and albania, and macedonia. to sail from the northern tip of croatia all the way down to the southern isles of greece, when the summer sun beats down upon the blue sea and is cooled by the mist on the skin and the tradewinds blowing through the hair.  i would most definitely be back someday.

but now i returned to amsterdam, to celebrate the new year with the dutch, at the party of a lifetime.
keeping warm by Brandon Miquelon
—————————–

today’s song has been out for a few months now, but the more i listen to it, the more it becomes a part of me.  it’s called “dark bird is home,” and it’s by the tallest man on earth.  it’s a song about separation, and learning to grow and cope with change and loss.  this song makes me feel so many emotions when i hear it, and it has earned a place on my eternal rotation.  tallest man will be performing in denver, co this summer and i plan on attending.  feel free to join me.

a croatian christmas party, in split

we arrived in split in the middle of the night.  after a couple hours of getting lost in the dark of the midnight bosnian countryside, we had found a main highway that led us across the border into croatia.  dave had dozed off and i laid down on the accelerator, taking full advantage of the expansive and luxurious toll road highway cutting through the middle of croatia. periodically dave would stir awake, and i would bring the car back to a normal speed so he didn’t get nervous, but the second his eyes were closed, i had the machine back above 120 miles per hour.

despite the success of cultural exchange that had taken place in the restaurant between dave and the restaurant owner, i had been disappointed that i’d not been able to convince dave to stay longer in bosnia.  bosnia & herzegovina was some sort of wild frontier for me; a place i could attempt to get off the grid again and find some truly unique experiences, and maybe even push deeper. i had begun to realize there were so many cultures in the balkans that i knew next to nothing about, and now my interest was piqued.  but alas, now i was in split. and instead of being able to enjoy it, i was thinking of neighboring lands that seemed never further away than they suddenly did now, despite never having thought of them before that day.  to say that i didn’t partially hold a little silent resentment toward dave at the time would have been a lie, and for a couple days there was definitely a tension between us that i had created. Continue reading a croatian christmas party, in split

it's okay to not know where you're going