Putting flavored coffee in one of the carafes and not telling anyone. Holy hell.
Thanks to the omniscient power of the internet, I recently reconnected with my best friend from middle school.
My friend and I will forever share the bond of having spent roughly 87 percent of our seventh grade year in search of dirty magazines and effective places in which to cache them. But our present lives have somewhat less in common. He’s an attorney, and I’m a writer. He lives in a red state, while mine is solidly purple. How the social media gnomes knew to suggest our connection suggests a powerful and alarming kind of magic. The kind of magic that I would very much like to exploit for my own wealth and self-promotion.
Regardless of whatever voodoo orchestrated our reintroduction, I’m glad to have had the chance to reconnect again after two decades. In the process of catching up, though, my childhood friend asked me a question that I wasn’t quite prepared for.
He asked me what it is, exactly, that writers do all day.
I would have relished being able to offer some eternal aphorism like, “The writer’s life is a pendulum that sweeps a diurnal path between espresso and Scotch,” but that’s simply not the case. Sometimes I choose bourbon instead.
So what is it that I do all day? Well, I wake up most days around the same time, scratch the itchy bits du jour, drink far too much coffee, and then hope the ensuing BM will be every bit as gratifying as I had imagined it would be. Two or three mornings a week I treat myself to a round of torment-for-hire. But that’s about where any sense of continuity ends. After that, every day is different.
I certainly enjoy days in which the words begin flowing during breakfast and continue their progression all the way through to the evening at 120 to 150 beats per minute (today is shaping up to be so). But there are also days in which I’m not so much a wordsmith as a citizen of Emerald City:
We get up at twelve and start to work at one,
Take an hour for lunch and then at two we’re done.
There are times when I furiously tap away at my keyboard before I forget what I need to say. And then there are times when I suddenly realize that I’ve been staring out the window for close to half an hour.
Some days I write for this blog. Others, I write for clients. On still others, I write content for my upcoming book. My choice of what to write depends as much on how many checks I’ve received in the last week as it does upon the whimsical neural patterns that narrowly escape sleep’s greedy clutches when the cat jumps on my head at four o’clock in the morning.
You see, there is no realistic description of what a writer does all day. It’s different for all of us, every day. The romantic image of the contemplative author who allows hour after hour to saunter by as he alternates between chewing his pen and scribbling down little fits of inspiration is nothing more than that. A romantic image. An illusion.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I was just staring out the window, and I saw a couple of windmills that need chasing. But don’t worry. I’ll be back in time for the Scotch.
My friend Morgan and I had planned to go backpacking this past weekend. But with Colorado’s recent historic floods having shut down many auto routes into the mountains, heading west was clearly not in the cards. So, in light of the devastation that our communities had endured, we did what any caring, concerned citizens of the Centennial State would have done.
We went to Wyoming.
Now, one’s particular view of Wyoming usually goes one of two ways. Either
- Wyoming consists of snow-capped mountains, geysers, fumaroles, and grizzly bears who have developed an appreciation for the finer nuances of Cheetos
- Wyoming consists of shotguns, mudflaps featuring silhouettes of nekkid ladies, and Jesus.
Fort Collins is closer to Cheyenne than it is to Denver—if not culturally, then certainly geographically—so I feel somewhat obligated to say that there’s far more to Wyoming than nekkid lady mudflaps. For example, many of Wyoming’s mudflaps feature silhouettes of Jesus holding a shotgun.
But I digress. Seeking some face time with Mother Nature, Morgan and I drove up to southern Wyoming’s Snowy Range, which is simultaneously the most descriptive and least original name ever bestowed upon a group of peaks, at least by those who are not French fur trappers.
The hiking itself was fairly easy as these things go. No major ups or downs, just a nice, long walk on an undulating, uplifted plateau dotted with alpine lakes. In an unusual reversing of roles, however, the sleep situation was easily Class IV+, and I could have benefited from some rigorous pre-trip conditioning.
I normally snooze pretty well in the backcountry. Not great, but pretty well. I have a reasonably cushy sleeping pad. My sleeping bag is thirteen years old, but it’s still going strong and is comfy down to 30 degrees. And my tent is one of those extra light backpacking models that, like women’s undergarments, costs more despite being made from less fabric.
The tent consists of an inner mesh bit that you actually sleep in, which keeps out bugs and provides a vital escape route for freeze-dried-Pad-Thai-induced mountain farts. And then there’s a waterproof fly that goes on top and keeps out the rain and—I honestly believe this—bears. You stake down the tent’s corners and guy the fly out taut so that when things get gusty, your shelter doesn’t tumble gaily down the hill in the manner of an enthusiastic wheel of Double Gloucester.
The wind in southern Wyoming is, however, so potent, so vicious, so maddeningly aggressive, that on the first night of this particular trip, it pulled the staked guy lines right out of the ground. Were I not actually lying in the tent at the time, I’m convinced the rain fly would have been transformed into a most festive orange kite.
You see, Wyoming is one of the top producers of wind in the United States. They export very little of it, though, so there are vast gobs of wind just whooshing about the place. In fact, there’s an old, homespun Wyoming joke that goes something like this:
Q: How many Wyomingites does it take to change a light bulb?
When the sun finally came up, Morgan and I emerged from our respective tents and cursed lavishly while we heated water for coffee. Morgan had fared somewhat better than I thanks to a strategically sited group of trees (one of only six in Albany County), but not by much. The wind had made our tents shake. It had made the lanterns sway. It had made us hold our pee far longer than we normally would.
The Wyoming wind was disruptive. It was unnerving. It was wild.
I can’t wait to go back.
My wife and I went camping over the weekend. Camping at Labor Day is an annual tradition of ours, dating all the way back to back when we began dating. Every year we fill the Subaru with enough food and gear to comfortably occupy a minor principality, and we drive—more or less exclusively in second gear—up to the mountains.
We always look forward to this little weekend getaway. For one thing, it falls at the beginning of the school year, and as you may know, teachers and students are best introduced to one another by exercising a level of caution one might normally reserve for a pair of epileptic house cats. So having a holiday straight away is A Good Idea for all involved.
But we also go because it’s just so much nicer up there than down here this time of year. While Fort Collins bakes in the heat of a pertinacious summer, the 10,000 foot contour on the topo map is pretty damn comfy. Cold, even. Certainly chilly enough to justify an evening campfire. Though, to be fair, finding oneself in possession of firewood is also sufficient justification for an evening campfire.
This trip was particularly memorable in that we were accompanied throughout our stay by a small yet demanding family of moths.
I hate moths. Can’t stand ’em. I’m sure scientists would say that moths serve a purpose, but to me, they’re just little airborne fits of anxiety (the moths, I mean). And all the data I’ve gathered suggest that if moths do have purpose, it consists wholly and entirely of driving me mad.
A couple of the little buggers flew into the tent one night at bedtime, resulting in the author’s flailing about with a magazine for a duration far longer than he would readily admit. I’m sure it would have proven entertaining to outside observers, but as our geographic region of interest is largely inhabited by moose, we can only speculate.
I was, however, vindicated the following evening when I fired up the Coleman lantern (And I do mean fired up in the most literal sense possible, as lighting a Coleman lantern involves mating a burning match to a small jet of refined petroleum. The resulting fireball never fails to delight and alarm me.). Immediately after having lit the lantern, no fewer than three unlucky lepidopters charged directly toward the little lighthouse and were instantly disarmed. Or dis-winged (unhinged?), as it were.
And it was in that very moment that I realized why moths are attracted to light.
It is because they are so very dim.
I love it when customer service representatives, airline agents, and recorded messengers tell me about The System. As in, “It will take two business days for The System to update,” or, “It doesn’t look as if you’re in The System,” and, “We are currently experiencing higher than normal wait times as our System has just dined upon a small pony and is enlisting additional CPUs in the digestion thereof. We thank you for your patience.”
To me, “The System” evokes images of a sophisticated suite of omniscient computing hardware—complete with gratifying beeps and blinks—that untiringly crunches along, just so I may be told that the reason my luggage has not yet arrived in Boston is that it has just landed in Austin.
In all likelihood, though, The System is nothing more than the CEO’s retired desktop, relegated to the basement, where it spends its final years beneath an accumulating layer of dust, pliers, and dried Mountain Dew.
Inspired by a certain show concerning a certain city in the Pacific Northwest, my other half and I recently convinced ourselves that it was time to bring back a bit of the 90s in our own particular way:
Yes, the time was ripe to dust off the old inline skates, which we would discover, following a decade of storage, could also accurately be described as ripe. I was pleased to find that I had apparently purchased a new set immediately prior to skating’s having gone out of fashion, while Ginny’s specimens offered up a timeless palette of forest green on purple. In the distance, one could hear the gentle whir of an Orange Julius in its formative stages.
And so it was, that on a sunny morning in early June, I donned my skates, rolled out the front door, and, with great fanfare and enthusiasm, tipped forward onto the front lawn.
I am not naturally athletic. That I have made it nearly 35 years without having broken a bone or lost a limb ranks with Congressional accomplishment in terms of probability, and any physical accomplishments I claim are more the result of stubbornness than of inborn talent. Gin, on the other hand, can ski, swim, and skate all at the same time, often while talking on the phone.
So, having stood up and regained my balance, I spent the next half hour attempting to catch up to my fiancée. Her efficient, coordinated movements supplied much needed Yin to the Yang that was my flailing, swearing, and failing to brake. Casual observers could have been forgiven for thinking I had been drinking, which, regrettably, I had not.
In the end, we executed a surprisingly uneventful loop around Old Town Fort Collins, including several grade crossings of railroad tracks and Himalayan descents and ascents of those little, bumpy, rubbery bits that carry the sidewalk down to the road. I made it home in one piece, thankful for having maimed nothing more than my pride.
I’m stubborn, and I expect we’ll probably give it another go soon. So if you’re out and about in Fort Collins, keep your eyes open and remain alert. And if you see a couple gracefully gliding hand-in-hand down the street, you may breathe easily because it’s definitely not us.
As our population continues to expand, conscientious citizens should maintain and develop an appreciation for how our behaviors and environments affect other creatures. One creature in particular, which could at one time have truly been called wild, has now become so accustomed to humans that inter-species conflicts are almost routine. This animal, once it has developed a taste for human food, will seek it out at every opportunity, increasing an already tense relationship between man and beast.
I speak, of course, of Felis catus, the domestic house cat.
There was a time when my cat was content to eat little nuggets of fish-flavored whatever-the-hell from a bag. He would sit patiently and await, night after night, the ensuing precipitation of crunchy morsels. This is the food upon which he was raised, a perfect blend of nutrition, flavor, and consumer advertising for his inactive feline lifestyle.
Then, one day, he happened upon a plate, thoughtlessly left atop a kitchen counter by a human whose actions can only be described as careless and/or non-negligibly inebriated. Who knows what it may have held. A congealed fleck of mozzarella? The neglected detritus of a tuna sandwich? One of those little crunchy bits that are from time to time discovered within breakfast sausages (the white pearls of the processed meat kingdom)?
We may never know what first gave him the taste for people food. All we know is that he is now obsessed. And surprisingly epicurean. The list of foods for which my cat now begs includes—but is not limited to—cultured butter, yogurt (both Greek and affordable), yellow curry, tomatoes, baked potato, olive oil, and Camembert. He comes running at the slightest clink of cutlery against crockery. Even the sound of Wellbutrin tablets falling from pill jar onto counter now arouses his attention. (Every cat owner uses Wellbutrin at least recreationally, I promise you).
So I beg you. Clean your dishes with haste. Close the butter dish. Conceal the cruets. Do it for yourself. Do it for the cats.
Not long ago, I hired a personal trainer. If you’re not familiar with personal training, it is an advanced stage of Stockholm syndrome in which the hostage pays his or her captor to supervise his or her own torture.
I am, of course, kidding: my trainer is exemplary and has more patience than a mildly sedated Tibetan monk. You know those cooking shows where teams are challenged to produce ten courses of gourmet bliss using only Bisquick, four shallots, and an overripe flounder? My trainer would eat all of these teams for breakfast. Partly because contestants are valuable sources of protein, and partly because, in working with me, she’s had to make the best of mediocre raw materials.
The thing with trainers is that as soon as you can manage an activity with only minor discomfort, they either make it harder or make you do more of it. Something about “progressing,” they say. My personal nemeses in this regard are burpees. These sound quite innocent, like the wee belch of an infant who has just finished a bottle of malt liquor. But they are actually named for their inventor, Lucifer Burpee. One is executed (ha!) in the following manner:
- Stretch for a couple minutes as this delays the inevitable.
- Jump in the air.
- Upon landing, drop to a squat and put your hands on the ground.
- Throw your feet back behind you so you end up in a plank position.
- Do a push up.
- Spring your feet forward so you’re once again squatting.
- Pause for a moment to puke.
- Go back to step 2.
- Repeat until you beg for Death to brandish his scythe of mercy. This usually happens after approximately one burpee.
Amusing aside: I initially wrote “Seth” instead of “Death.” Don’t you think the specter of one’s own mortality would seem much less ominous were it named Seth?
When you see burpees demonstrated, you think to yourself, “Okay, I can jump. I can squat. I can do a push up. Shouldn’t be too bad.” And then five seconds later you are at step 9.
Despite this, I wholeheartedly endorse hiring a personal trainer. They design a program just for you, they make sure you actually show up, and you can casually bring them up in conversation the way other people mention their therapists, yoga instructors, and Ph.D.s.
I would recommend mine, but I don’t know her real name. She simply goes by Seth.
I have come to accept that I was born without the gene that enables one to fold a fitted sheet.