Cookie: Glaciers -Vallée Blanche, France – Snowboarding Taught Me That I Am Not a Nihilist

He screamed at me, “Il n’y a pas d’hélicoptère pour te sauver” which in French means, there’s no helicopter to come save you. I didn’t respond. I was somewhere above 10,000 feet, in waist deep snow, and I could barely move or breath. I was on a mountain in France snowboarding and I had just crashed for like the fifth time. There were giant holes in the earth everywhere. I was beginning to realize that for all my training, I just wasn’t prepared for this. It sucked bad. This was type “3 fun” – but I didn’t know it at the time.

That never existed where I grew up – we just tried to kill each other in the playground, or on the way home from school. If you are like me and you have never heard of type 3 fun, let me explain. Basically, rich white people invented this system of “types” of fun. They range from type 1 to type 3 and almost always include some sort of outdoor activity. Essentially, almost none of the people who are into type 3 fun grew up in the inner city, so at some point in their late teens, early twenties or maybe even thirties, they realize that they need to risk their lives to feel alive. Go to any ski resort, mountain bike trail, or chat with a mountain guide and you will hear this nomenclature.

Since then, I have added my own new level, type 4 – with type 3 fun, mother nature is completely neutral and cold. She doesn’t actively try to kill you with all of her intellect and wisdom. But, humans do, and they are annoyingly crafty – that’s what I call type 4 fun, and I reserve it for war and combat. But, I digress….

 

Getting up the mountain didn’t scare me too bad, it was actually pretty fun. You take this cable car up to what they call the Aiguille du Midi, which in English means roughly middle shard, I guess because of how steep the rock point is at the top. It’s not until you enter the ice cave and then creep out onto the ledge, that things get real. There is an obligatory warning sign, saying you are responsible for yourself – but what you see past it is what gets to you. What is that ridge? What are those small black dots moving around at the bottom? Are those ants? God no, those are people. I have to go down that ridge? Down there? WTF, this isn’t Disneyland, this is a real glacier and it will kill you if you are not careful – hell, maybe even if you are.

 

When we started to rope up, I became starkly aware of my biological processes. My breathing, my smell, my vision, my heartbeat, my bowls. I was alive. I had to dig in my cookie jar to find the courage. I paid to be here right? I had to do it? What are you made of Scott? Not fighting a 6 year old over your Legos anymore. This is real. Worse, I had been in Europe for about two weeks at this point, and I had found out a week before that I had a baby on the way. This was a bad idea, and I knew it.

 

Actually, hiking down the ridge ended up being easier than I expected. It wasn’t until we got down to the “top” of the glacier, and the wind started to blow at 40 or 50 miles per hour, that I started to get nervous again. Once we started, it became almost perfect. The wind died away, the sky was blue, and the snow was great. It was absolutely beautiful.

 

This is when things got bad. As the snow got deeper, I crashed a few times, and the altitude was difficult to deal with – I couldn’t breath well. I couldn’t stand back up fast enough when I crashed, and the guide started yelling at me. It was just him and me, but he was in a rush, I have no idea why. I was at the point where I was saying to myself, “I will never do this again.” What the hell was I doing here? Then, it got worse….

The guide yelled for me to stop – we looked down, and I saw why. There were giant holes in the glacier, called crevasses. They would definitely kill you or hurt you very badly if you fell in. Worse, he had already told me that helicopters didn’t come up here (I now know that they do). We started to navigate down and around the giant, gaping holes in the earth, but at some point took a path that to me looked like there was no way through.

 

The guide seemed mad and uneasy, as if this was my fault. We came to a point where there were two giant holes and we had to go between them. It looked like there were really only a couple of safe feet to navigate through – like some kind of sick version of Angels Landing. It wasn’t until I returned home that friends, would tell me that this was most likely a snow bridge over a crevasse, not between. We should have been roped up.

The guide paused for a short amount of time, then gracefully slide his way between the the holes. He didn’t stop immediately after he made it through – I actually thought he might leave me. I started to get even more nervous. I looked down at my right hand, and I could see it trembling through my heavy coat and mittens. Fuck…

I paused, and this felt like the longest pause of my life. It’s hard to explain what happened during that pause. It was similar to crazy stuff I had done when I was younger with my best friend Chris Oblisk – that point just before doing my first back flip off of the railing of the 35 foot Doodlebug train bridge into the Cuyahoga river by our house – or that moment when I see the eggs in the air, about to impact a car load of gangsters in a 64 impala with a beautiful, glimmering, metallic paintjob. But, this was different. I couldn’t discern if it was because I was older and it had been a long time, or if it was because I had more responsibility now. I remember all of this going through my head standing there, looking down – in a split second…

I knew I had to control every part of my mind and body to make myself go through. I had never done anything like this – it seamed so remote, I’m not sure whybthat mattered to me. I was scared and I was mad – I was pissed actually. I think that helped. It felt like I waited 30 seconds, but from the video I took with the GoPro on my head, it’s easy to tell it was only about 3-5 seconds. I began to slide sideways, and my body did everything I commanded it to – I remember correcting my speed so that I wouldn’t fly over the edge. I made it. Actually, with very little physical trouble. It was all mental.


 

So, I did it – I really didn’t have any other choice. I put myself there, and I had to get out. I remember digging deep into my cookie jar right before I slid down. It was a strange sense of having “no control” and “complete control” at the exact same time. Well, that’s a new one.

So, that’s another cookie in my cookie jar. I have fought other men, been beaten and kicked in the head, but nothing has ever scared me as much as those crevasses. I guess that’s just a taste of type 3 fun – it’s not like it was 10 days in the dessert or anything. They say I’m cursed to want more, but I don’t think so. We shall see….

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Cookies in My Cookie Jar

Cookies in My Cookie Jar

Have you ever been scared, like really scared – like so scared that you question who you are? So scared that you reflect on what you want to be? I grew up that scared – it took me a long time to admit that to myself. I was a scared little kid and I was never sure who I was. In fact, until I watched this video by David Goggins, I didn’t even have the mental framework to see it this way. You might just dismiss Goggins as a psychopath, a genetic freak, or just so different from you and me that his advice is useless – but I don’t think so.

He made me realize that, we are all scared, we are all unsure of ourselves, especially when we are suffering. And, from this suffering, comes growth, but only if you reflect. Reflection with discipline is even better – like a martial art. Goggins mentions that sometimes, when he is suffering bad, he thinks to himself, “Am I this guy? Am I tough enough? Am I just a scared kid?” He’s says that when this happens, he digs in his cookie jar – three hell weeks (Navy SEALS), Army Ranger school, air tactical training, 67 thousand pull-ups (yes, 67 thousand) to train for the 4030 in 24 hours record he set back in 2013 – an then he remembers who he is, yes, he is that tough, yes he can do it. A lot of cookies in the jar say yes…

Now, I don’t have a cookie jar anywhere close to his, you probably don’t either – but, we do have cookie jars, and we can dig deep – probably deeper than we are digging right now. The cookie jar doesn’t contain things that you wanted to do, it contains things that you did. They caused you to suffer and grow. That’s why I am undertaking a project to document my cookie jar. I’ve discussed and told stories of these cookies many times, especially with some of my best friends. But now, I want to organize and clarify my mind, so that when I have these conversations, they are crisp and useful for the people I discuss them with. I want to be a better friend, more motivational, and I want to become a better person myself.

The Cookie Jar

  1. Cookie: First Grade – Mason Elementary School – Leslie, You Stole My Lego Space Shuttle From the Science Fair
  2. Cookie: Fourth Grade – Mickie Bright – Chris Calise and Mark Chase Me Home Every Day
  3. Cookie: Glaciers -Vallée Blanche, France – Snowboarding Taught Me That I Am Not a Nihilist

 

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Cookie: First Grade – Mason Elementary School – Leslie, You Stole My Lego Space Shuttle From the Science Fair

Cookie: First Grade – Mason Elementary School – Leslie, You Stole My Lego Space Shuttle From the Science Fair

It was the science fair at Mason Elementary School, 1982 and I knew exactly what I wanted to submit – a Lego Space Shuttle – It wouldn’t be until years later that the Challenger exploded. I would build it from scratch. Back then, there were no instructions for this shit, you had to build it yourself from white and black bricks. Hours and hours spent designing the shape of the space craft, the robotic arm that extended from the bay. I used almost all of my important Lego blocks to build it. This was high tech stuff and it had to be modeled perfectly. This was critical to a six year old’s brain and it was my chance to shine. Everyone would revel in it’s perfection.

Not quite – I had built my work of art, and submitted it to the science fair. It was accepted and on display at Mason Elementary School. It was on a typical four foot, folding table with the obligatory card board walls. I had a vague insecurity about it’s construction being actual “science” because it didn’t include math or chemistry but I was still proud nonetheless. I remember gazing at it that morning, reveling in all it’s beauty, before heading to class. The science fair table was sacred, and it denoted a thin red line, a social contract, which would keep my work of art safe from prying hands that might want to touch it. Not quite – somebody stole it.

I was heart broken when the teachers told me the Lego Space Shuttle was missing. They had no idea who took it – but I knew who it was. There was this kid named Leslie, and even to this day, I remember that we always had a little bit of tension. I don’t know how I knew it was him, but I knew! I immediately confronted him about it. In front of the teachers, he denied it. Once they were gone, he made some comment that didn’t admit that he did it, but challenged me to do something about it. The teachers weren’t going to help – the principal wasn’t going to help – there was nothing that my mom could do. We really didn’t have the money to replace my Legos, we were poor. I just wanted my Legos back – that’s really all I wanted.

At this point, it’s important to point out that I went to an inner city elementary school in the early 1980s, in Akron, Ohio – Rubber City – well, a failing rubber city where people had been losing jobs since before I was born. In fact, the economy shrunk pretty much every year I grew up. I don’t remember the exact demographics of the school, it was probably about 50% white and about 50% black, but on the playground, or walking home from school, I would often be a minority. On the playground, girls jumped rope and sang songs, boys beat boxed in big circles and did back flips off the outside school wall. I was friends with mostly black kids, but there were still racial tensions and everybody knew it – even at six years old, I had heard stories of white kids getting beat up, by groups of all black kids, etc. It was like mythos or legend. Every white kid knew, you didn’t try to fight a black kid, especially when he had three brothers, and you have no backup. It was madness, I couldn’t win.

I didn’t care – he took my fucking Legos, and I knew it! Besides, most of my friends were black too. It was a wash – I didn’t care. I was a scared kid, but there had to be justice.

I challenged him to a fight after school.

He gladly accepted. I was scared, really scared. What did I do? This was going to suck. His brothers and him were going to beat me up in front of the entire school – and I knew it. It didn’t matter, I had to do it now.

I remember watching that clock, waiting for the school bell to ring – like a fight bell in a boxing match. I watched the second hand tick slowly by on that old, school clock against that drab, tan, school wall paint.

The moment of reckoning had come. It was time to face my beating. I headed outside behind the school, to the grass field which would be my point of demise.This was like the first grade version of the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight, people were talking about it. There was already a huge group of kids waiting and this was back in the 80s when elementary school included 6th grade, so some of these kids were big, really big.. I remember apprehensively pushing my way to the center of a huge crowd of almost all black kids. It was intimidating and Leslie was already waiting for me – it’s funny now, but I remember it like yesterday, he had a 1″ afro in the style of Gary Coleman. Existentially, we probably even looked cute, but this was serious business to us. It began pretty quickly and I have to admit, I was pissed. I just kept thinking about my Legos. If I couldn’t have them back, I was going to try to punish him. We fought and fought and fought. I remember flashes – the ground, the school building, the smell, our grunts and yelling from the kids around us. It felt like forever. It felt like 40 minutes. In reality it was probably only seven.

To my surprise, his brothers did not jump in. To my surprise nobody else jumped in. To my surprise, I didn’t get beat up – I didn’t win either. It was a draw. We fought and fought, but neither of us could score the defining blow, or make the other kid give up. The crowd was not pleased, but everybody dispersed, and I walked home. All in all, not too bad. It wasn’t until years and years later, studying Anthropology, that I realized that there are social sanctions – it was probably quite unlikely that the crowd would have allowed his brothers to jump in to beat up a six year old. But, those complex social interactions were way too much for me to understand at the time.

The story doesn’t end happily ever after though. For weeks, his brothers did chase me around after school, in the hall ways, and on the playground. The teachers and principals in inner city schools can never do anything about violence, it was a way of life. One time, they caught me in the bathroom, pinned me down and held my head down by the toilet. I remember feeling so trapped. I hated not being able to move and I remember the white porcelain of the toilet bowl like the Eminem song. But worse than any of that, I never got my Legos back, that’s all I really ever wanted. There was a hole in my heart that lasted for years. That was the first cookie in my cookie jar.

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What Makes Good Music? Technical Or Appealing?

What Makes Good Music? Technical Or Appealing?

After talking to a friend recently, I realized that many people do not understand how competitive writing music is. When you walk into Guitar Center, pick up a guitar, sit down and start playing, only then do you realize that the guy next to you is playing rock opera that he has practiced like a million times, he is doing it to show off to other musicians. Then, you realize it is competitive. When you walk into a small, local instrument shop and the owner says to you, “this is a really nice guitar, you should check it out”, then instead of handing you the instrument, proceeds to rock out some ungodly complex riff, you realize it’s competitive. Finally, when you are in a band, it never fails, that if you play out enough, you will eventually have “friend bands” and “enemy bands.” Trust me, it’s as competitive as an sports or martial arts meet.

This is the evolution of music in general, but metal music makes takes it an impressive level. It’s competition taken to the finest. Basically, technical complexity is held above most other aspects. Melody, story, tone, are all held constant, but technical complexity is celebrated. Classical music is even more competitive, it’s music that is really only appreciable by other musicians and those who are very educated in music. Music by musicians, for musicians. It’s more of a technical endeavor like breeding plants or programming.

Pop music on the other hand, is written for the average person, sometimes to the exclusion of any technical merit. To consistently write music that is appealing is it’s own special challenge, this is why Nashville exists.

So, this brings me to the philosophy I am taking with my nnext band. I am not trying to write music for other musicians, nor am I trying to write music exclusively for the masses. I think there is a happy medium where the music is technically challenging enough to be fun, the lyrics contain subject matter broad enough to appeal to the masses, but deep enough to appeal to philosophers. The goal is to write consistently good music and I believe that is as big of a challenge as writing technically complicated music. Oh, and if we can do this consistently over and over and over, we will be better than any other band in the world!

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A Reflection on Travel and Learning in 2016

A Reflection on Travel and Learning in 2016

From a travel and learning perspective, this was one of the best years of my life. I did a ton of travel which I never dreamed would have been possible.  I have always loved cities and I continue to love exploring them, but this year, I started to get out into nature mo read more

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Quick Reflection on the Books I Read in 2016

Quick Reflection on the Books I Read in 2016

Walden by Henry David Thoreau I remembered being forced to read this in high school. I tried to tackle this again in 2016 but honestly, I got very bored and moved on. As an adult, I found a couple of things very lame. First, he could still hear traffic from the road and read more

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The Carbon Footprint of Teleporters vs. Force Propulsion Travel

The Carbon Footprint of Teleporters vs. Force Propulsion Travel

  Yesterday, marks the end of the historic 2416 election. The Crelian party made major gains in both the house and the senate. Though the robotic judiciary has yet to weigh in on whether the results will be accepted by the Artificial Intelligence Council, it is exp read more

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