A spooky afternoon mist across Milwaukee

Stopped and took a few photographs while riding home when I noticed the mistiness to the west. As seen from the 6th St. Viaduct, intended to complement the Milwaukee Art Museum; both designed by Santiago Calatrava. If ever I’m in a goth band this could be our first album cover. Picture taken with my phone as it was the camera in-hand.

Exciting News!

I’m thrilled to share the news that in February 2022, I started working at CBS 58 as an Assignment Desk/Web Editor. This means I’m behind the scenes researching and writing stories that will post online and/or will air during news broadcasts.

As you might imagine, after earning my journalism degree at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, my plan has been to transition into news. I’m pleased to report that moment has arrived. I appreciate this opportunity to work alongside, collaborate with and learn from everyone at CBS 58!

New Youtube Channel, First Video

I’ve been overthinking creating a new YouTube channel for some time and today I finally started one with a little video about cleaning out my basement workshop.

The name I’ve had in my head is “The Semi-Disciplined Multidisciplinarian.” So not catchy it’s preposterous. It makes me laugh. But the moniker fits what I do. Lots of various activities and I’m not always particularly religious about my attentions. So there it is. Check out this here new direction. I’ll add new videos as I do something entertaining and if/when it occurs to me to record it.

Mountain biking trail in Milwaukee

Living the Actual Dream; Actually Living the Dream

The other day I went mountain biking on a trail that, just a couple years ago (way back in my 30’s…), was daunting and exhausting for me to ride. I was surprised to observe that now riding this same trail barely got my pulse up to a point where I felt like I was exerting myself. I appear to have gotten better at this here skill.

So much of the media/advertising spin I observe seems to say that once we all exit our 20’s we’re just expected to languish until eventual death. That we’re projected to spend the rest of our lives spectating from the couch or bleachers. Paying bills, mired in a fog of obligations and belching ironic responses like, “Living the dream.”

“Is it yours?” I always ask people who say that, because I just can’t stand the corny gloom of it.

It’s possible to find new pursuits, to develop new skills, to change careers – to continue progressing as a person. And it doesn’t even have to be “I beat a catastrophic illness and woke up from a 14-year coma that’s why I’m running an ultramarathon between Greece and Zimbabwe – click like and subscribe…” epic. You can just do things because you’re not dead yet and you’re making your afternoon, your week, your life interesting for its own living sake.

Maybe I observe this because I don’t seem to see or hear it elsewhere. Maybe you haven’t either. Maybe I’m trying to convince myself. I don’t know the sudden reason for this prayful rant screed. Whatever it is, within the context of your own age and experience, life factors, perceived or actual limitations, I entreat you to pursue your thing rather than being lulled into the life of the passive spectator.

Autumn Hiking Trail in the sunlight with mist shadows

Strategies to Relieve Stress and Anxiety When Not Seeing a Therapist

In the past year I’ve noticed my level and frequency of anxiety has increased. Being a poet, topics like anxiety and depression are never very far from being possible companions. The combination of stress at work, changes in my personal life, and a pandemic as well…I’m generally a pretty calm person but my anxiety has become a greater encumbrance than at any other time in my life. 

I imagine therapists and/or counselors to speak with are great, but I’m not really in a position to spend the money on that. So as a result I’ve made a list of strategies to minimize stress and anxiety, and maybe you’ll find some benefit from these options too.

Exercise

When I say exercise, I don’t mean that you have to get a gym membership and lift weights or use incrementally operated machines, though that is an option. Exercise can be just about any activity that has you moving your body and should be whatever is enjoyable to you. 

Exercise lowers stress by increasing our heart rate for a short amount of time, but as a result our resting heart rate and blood pressure lowers. And anyone who has had a sudden increase in anxiety, or an anxiety attack knows that the primary sensation is an increase in heart rate. If in daily situations we start with a lower resting heart rate, it takes more to make our minds and bodies feel alarmed. 

Bicycle rider on overpass bike trail.
No need to be as speedy as this person blurring on by – the important thing is just being active.

For many of us exercise is entangled in all sorts of body perception challenges. Often, it’s immediately tied to appearance and comparison with what advertising encourages us to conclude is an ideal or healthy appearing result of exercise. For our purposes – exercise has little to do with our physical appearance. It’s all about how the process and the result makes us feel. 

We’ve been taught that exercising itself is a niche activity for which we need education for specific activities. That’s overall bullshit. Sure, if you’re embarking on bodybuilding read some books. Otherwise, our own bodies are entirely equipped to walk, run, ride a bike, climb, crawl, and all sorts of activities that we often embraced as children. I still find cutting and splitting firewood extremely gratifying. Just start moving and listen to your body. 

Crash country skiing, as I like to call it, during a cross country skiing jaunt with friends.

Embrace the seasons the Seasons – Make them Work for You

In Wisconsin, where I grew up, we have the gift of defined seasonality. Hot summers, and when lucky, snowy winters. When I was younger every fall I’d find myself growing depressed. Fall was the harbinger of winter, which meant the sun would dry up and I’d soon sit inside in the dark all winter long. My anxiety about the oncoming winter meant that I’d get depressed anticipating being depressed. What a terrible cheat! 

Eventually I learned the key to embracing and enjoying the seasons was to find something I enjoyed to do in every season. When it comes to seasonality, I’ve become a veritable outdoors evangelist. 

In Milwaukee, when Lake Michigan freezes, a handful of my friends screw studs into their dirt bike tires and ride the 15 inches of ice in the middle of the city.

For example, if the trails are dry spring through late autumn, I might go mountain biking. If the trails are too muddy I might go for a road bike ride. When fall swings around, I go bowhunting, which is a long way to say taking a walk and watching the birds. In wintertime, I love to go cross country skiing throughout the local county park golf courses. And, of course, there’s going for a simple walk through any nearby public forest too. Every city and town and far flung country Main Street has nearby nature haunts. There are bound to be some near you. 

For when the weather doesn’t cooperate with my outdoor aspirations, I have a year-round rock climbing gym membership. This location also enables me to do some of those more weight-oriented exercises to keep in good condition so that when the stars align I can enjoy being outside. 

A fire extinguisher. Seemed like a decent metaphor for anxiety relief.

Consider Diet and Caffeine Intake

One of the first things I noticed was that my long term coffee drinking habit started off my day with a fluttery jolt that I’d become accustomed (nay, addicted) to. Caffeine intake from coffee, energy drinks, or tea (though tea is generally less anxiety inducing than the former two) can completely throw off our entire day when we’re addicted to starting with it. For many of us it’s become an invisible factor we’re so accustomed to that it doesn’t even occur to us that we’re immersed within it. 

For example, if we realize our coffee blend has us awfully jumpy that morning we might try to offset that with food or sugar to “absorb” or offset the coffee cycling through our system. Then our entire day can become a race to balance a jittery high or recaffeinate from eating too many metabolism bogging foods. 

I decided to quit drinking coffee to minimize the daily anxiety I was walking around with. Without a doubt, I felt a little brain dead for a few days. The lack of caffeine and habit had me irritable and short-tempered, but within a week the moodiness subsided. I did notice for a few weeks my brain just felt a little …dull. I wasn’t much use for brainstorming and generally felt foggy in the head. 

But after that, I was surprised by how much better I became at problem solving, of thinking more effectively in a long term rather than short term sense. I became more philosophical, more inquisitive, more generally entertained by the world around me. I felt overall more relaxed, less anxious, and less tied to the ritual thread through my day of starting with an anxious jump and either chasing or lessening that feeling. 

Do I miss the coffee or the ritual? Not going to lie, I do. When I drink coffee now, it’s generally an occasion with friends. My coffee intake is probably akin to the way many people drink alcohol – socially and on occasions. When I do it in that way, it is pleasant and unique and not tied to a cyclical habit of ups and downs. Sometimes I’ll even drink decaf just to enjoy the flavor and the ritual of sitting out on my front porch in the morning. 

Stretch

This is probably one of the quickest and shortest examples of how to relieve stress or anxiety throughout the day. Are you at work and stiff from sitting or stressed from long meetings? Go snag an unused conference room for a couple of minutes to stretch and release tension. 

Sketch of Fats Waller drawn from the Phaidon Century photography collection.
Quick sketch of Fats Waller drawn for class.

Make art – and don’t worry about Capital “A” art

I’ve written poems for so many years I sometimes forget it’s also a coping strategy, or a way to re-contextualize life experiences. When I say make art it’s art with a small “a” not capital “A” art. Don’t worry about whether what you’re making is “good” or ready to show to other people on a wall. This isn’t about what other people see of you. This is about what you’re bringing out of yourself for yourself. And as such, a public-ready piece of art isn’t the goal. The goal is to expand your understanding of yourself and your feelings. 

A few years ago I was finishing up college and had some leftover credits to take fun classes. Having never really been into drawing I took a class out of curiosity. Like many crafts, an underlying matrix of standards and methods exists. But once you start working within those, you can really get into a groove. During these two-hour long classes, I’d get into the flow of drawing something (not anything particularly interesting – generally a collection of kitchen accoutrements with lighting to induce shadows) and I was surprised by how emotional it made me feel. 

The combination of using my brain in this different way combined with the physical act of drawing was overwhelming – in a good way. Fitting into the “man box,” I rarely exhibit emotion about anything. And here I was nearly crying over the experience of drawing a coffee pot. For whatever reason, this pursuit welcomed me to access an emotional response I’d rarely visited. The experience was liberating. Perhaps there’s an activity, an art, a craft (or several!) that can elicit this response inside you. 

If art isn’t the answer for you…Maybe it’s planning a garden, or creating spreadsheets to document your bicycle riding efficiency and progress (I have several friends who are engineers and totally geek out on data). Give it a try, let yourself be clumsy, silly, awkward – none of this is important. What is important is to calm your mind and after a few tries begin feeling calmer and with a greater sense of relief and satisfaction. 

Migratory warbler perched in springtime.

Experience the Outdoors

This can encapsulate a wide variety of experiences and abilities. Study after study proves that being outdoors improves our mood and outlook, reduces stress and anxiety, and calms our minds. 

For me, being outdoors merges with my embrace of the seasons. And I’m generally taking photographs while engaging in those activities as well. 

For some people with physical or logistical challenges, getting into the outdoors can be a burden. In that case, maybe for you it’s planting an herb garden on your windowsill, or having a heated bird bath outside of your kitchen window to view wildlife year-round. 

A morning mountain bike jaunt before work.

Incorporate into Your Daily Habits

When I was younger, I’d sometimes think if I wasn’t going on a backpacking expedition for weeks, or didn’t have the time to ride my bicycle to three other counties that it wasn’t epic enough and I shouldn’t bother. Though eventually I realized that the more often I was able to fit in a 10-mile bike ride or 30 minutes of rock climbing, the better I generally felt throughout that day and my week and outlook. 

Being in shape on the regular also has you in-shape so that when the opportunity arises to take an epic weekend trip, you’re healthy enough and on your game to jump at the chance, rather than bemoaning your lack of fitness. 

The more often you’re able to incorporate stress and anxiety relieving activities, the more you’ll be ready to confront everyday challenges, as well as the expeditions we imagine on our lunch breaks or mind-drifting long afternoons at work. 

The morning trails while mountain biking.

Not Our Father’s Sons: A Meditation On Activity in Adulthood

Growing up, I had an excellent time playing in the forests of Brown Deer Park, and after softball games playing volleyball and horseshoes at Rollie & Carolines. This was Wisconsin, after all, the land of “Sure, let’s play athletics – but first figure out the beer.” My dad’s softball team was a part of a bar league and afterward we adjourned to the bar and the adults did more weeknight drinking and us kids played and played. We even had a set of Jarts I recall enjoying as a kid. 

Making new friends while bike camping with Phil in Northern Wisconsin

I never questioned that my dad played softball with his friends – it just was. He had the gang of guys who’d gone to high school together that comprised the team. They’d settled ino their various suburban homes and gathered throughout summer to play at baseball with a beer mug in-hand, manual pump keg between the bleachers. It was the arbitrarily selected home team’s turn to bring the barrel. 

In my 41st year I think about this now, my father and his friends’ understanding of leisure activities and my own exploits. Yesterday morning, I got up at 5am to go mountain biking before work. When I was a kid, mountain biking was some lofty activity held sacred by those Western mountain states. For me it offers a daily sense of adventure. I’m not opposed to softball, but it’s a whole lot of waiting around (and I loved baseball passionately up until the second season of the 94-95 strike). I can ride a bike pretty much anytime, whereas baseball requires a team. 

Kettle Moraine trails yesterday morning before work

I reference father’s sons because I happen to be a son. My mother never seemed to have a particularly athletic drive. She often references her clumsiness, though she’s always been tough. In elementary school a kid was once picking on her older brother. She got in the kid’s face, who announced he’d, “Never hit a girl with glasses.” My astigmatism-eyed mother removed her spectacles, replied, “What about now?” and knocked the wind out of the kid with a gut shot. At 67 today, mixed martial arts came along too late for my mother. 

Part of what makes my friends different from our fathers, I think, is that we regularly, throughout every season, with intention, spend time being active. Whether it’s road bikes or canoe camping in summertime, cross country skiing in winter, hiking or indoor climbing when the weather is uglier than for either of the former – we move around on a regular basis. 

About to leave on a trip, circa…2013?

An important detail is that we check in on one another’s activities. If anyone isn’t able to join for what seems like a protracted amount of time – we reach out to check if they’re ok. Often, we’re all just busy with work and family life. But even then, we still reach out and ask how things are going and if there’s anything we can do to help. Often, that little tap is enough of a reminder that we all need to keep an eye on our physical and mental health. 

Crash country skiing in Lapham Peak

This bears underscoring: We don’t do this because we are exceptional athletes. We do these activities because we like them and they make us feel good. We’re not racers nor have some delusion of athletic mastery. There are no rankings or track times or statistics to live up to. We’re doing stuff because it’s there to be done and it’s fun and we’re not dead yet. So we do.

My dad’s friends gradually filtered away from the softball team. A common thing was they’d pull a hamstring running to first and while limping back to the dugout swat at the air, saying, “I’m too old for this shit.” And that would be it for them, they’d amble off into the shrugging sunset. At 41, I might now be several years past when my dad played softball. And when I think of them “getting old” and quitting, my first thoughts are: 

  • You didn’t even stretch – of course you pulled a muscle!
  • You’re been standing there with a beer in your hand until your time to bat!
  • You haven’t been active all winter and now you expect this jersey to fit over your belly and your body to suddenly sprint? Come on, man! Go for a run from time to time! 

Inactivity leads to a self fulfilling prophecy of “being old.” 

My father was from a different time and without fail every generation thinks: 

  1. They invented sex.
  2. They are wiser than the generation before them. 
It’s really handy if one of your friends spent college working in a bike store

It may sound like I’m swinging heavily into that second option and that really isn’t my intention. My father’s generation concluded they would work hard and then retire to a life of leisure and that would lead to happy healthiness. This might have been a fine idea at the time, but it won’t likely ever fit my restless nature. I can’t speak to their lifestyles because my dad is long gone and I haven’t seen most of his friends since the funeral. But my mother keeps me abreast of the surgeries and heart attacks and diabetes the gout and obits. It sounds like their bodies have been collapsing slowly for a long time. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s lifestyle. I’d wager a combination of the two and leisure proves harder on a body than steady activity. 

In talking about this with one of my friends, he suggested that they were probably tired from doing more manual labor types of work, and that may be true. In our current working culture we talk about work/life balance and all sorts of theoretical health benefits, but this much is definitely true: We sit in front of computers while our parents generation moved around a lot more at work. Work life, for many of us in this time in history, has become a lifelong extension of sitting in a desk in a classroom, we’ve just traded a computer for a textbook. And so for leisure we desperately raise our heart rates.

I’m not an ideal paragon of health. I’m from Wisconsin and I act like it. Cheese, sausage, beer, an extra half barrel of weight more or less evenly distributed throughout my body – those jabbing jokes exist for a reason.  But I plan on maintaining my general activity level long before and long after retirement (whatever that abstract means for an artist/writer/poet). And I’m fortunate to have friends who seem committed to a similar pursuit. And we move around often, usually stretching first, and most often waiting until afterward to revel in the beer.

And, who knows, maybe I just mountain bike because it’s a little dangerous I can’t find a decent set of lawn darts to throw around.