Pain

Yesterday, I went to my local clinic to visit with my doctor. My back had been killing me since last week, but I woke up yesterday feeling better than before. It still hurt to bend down and put on my socks, but at least it didn’t take me 20 minutes to get up from my bed in the morning like it did over the weekend.

I hadn’t seen my doctor in a few years, and when he came in to see me, he told me it was a good thing that I hadn’t seen him for that long. It’s always when something goes wrong, I thought. I talked him through what was happening, and he told me a story that helped him with his back pain. One day, he was bending over to put some sheets away when his back just gave out and he fell to the floor in pain. What helped him, he said, was wrapping a heating pad over where it hurt on his back for about an hour or two, and that made him feel better. After my visit, I drove to Walmart and bought a heating pad. I came home, learned how to use it, and sat on it for a few hours. My back did feel better, but it didn’t really solve the problem.

Only time will heal this wound, I think. Time and rest. So that’s what I’ll do.

Fixed

I received my fixed Fujifilm X-T20 camera yesterday. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I held the camera in my hands again. I attached the XF18–55mm kit lens to it, turned the camera on, and felt the same sense of joy I felt when I first turned it on back in 2018. The X-T4 is an amazing camera and it’ll be my main camera for the foreseeable future, but man, it feels good to have my OG camera back.

I haven’t been writing much in here anymore because I haven’t been taking pictures or writing in my notebook anymore. Every time I take a picture of something, though, I have a strong urge to write in here, and that’s why I’m back today. Writing without pictures documenting my day doesn’t feel right. I wanted to push through it, but that didn’t amount to anything. So here I am.

Fall is here, and the colors are beautiful. The coronavirus is still a thing, and our president has it. Some schools around us have had to shutdown because of active cases, and I feel like it’s only a matter of time before it hits us, too. The election is a month away, and I have no idea what to expect. I honestly don’t even know what I want to happen. I’m all out of fucks to give.

Phenology

I learned a new word today. Phenology is the close study of nature’s rhythms. It relates to the cyclical and seasonal nature of climate, plant, and animal life, and I love it. I’ve been checking in with the moon more this summer than I ever have, and there’s a calm and stillness I feel when I look up at the sky and see the moon’s current phase. The wildfire smoke has enveloped the West in a blanket of misery and doom, but it has given a new beauty to the red sun. That just reminds me how even in the most tragic and depressing of circumstances beauty still finds a way to seep through.

Basics

The basics start with my notebook and pen. I need to get my thoughts and feelings down on the page so they won’t eat me up from the inside. When I neglect my notebook, I let my depression win. On the first post of this blog, I wrote that every morning I wanted to write in my notebook before I wrote my blog entry. I veered away from that, but now I’m ready to veer back into it. Over the course of the summer, I came to the realization that I don’t want to be a fiction writer anymore, and I felt like that freed me up to try new things. Journaling still helps with my mental health, so I’ll continue to do that, but my photography has also helped a lot, too.

I feel like—and this may sound cheesy—I was born to be a storyteller, and journaling and photography are different ways of telling a story. I wrote last month about my desire to go on a long walk, somewhere in the 500–1,000 mile range, and photograph it and then write a long essay about it. I still have that desire. I would love to write that story, even if just for myself, so that’s something to look forward to. But I have to be healthy and strong, so getting back into a steady workout routine will be key. I’m actually sore right now from yesterday’s workout, and it feels good. Just. Don’t. Stop. I have to keep telling myself that.

Work is slowing down. The teachers and the kids have settled into a rhythm. Other than the masks, it feels like the coronavirus doesn’t exist. When I was a wildland firefighter, one of the biggest admonishments I received from my superiors was to never be complacent. Complacency is what gets people killed, and I feel like our school and our community are complacent right now. I hope we all get through this safely.

Fall starts soon. I’m ready for a new season. Just. Don’t. Stop.

Depression

For the past few weeks, and possibly the past month, I’ve been depressed. I had lost the will to do anything. I stopped writing in my notebook, stopped going on walks, and stopped taking pictures. I had broken my first mirrorless camera, and that made me more sad than I could have ever imagined, so I bought a new one. I love my X-T4, but unfortunately, that hadn’t been enough to kick me out of my perpetual sadness. So then I bought a new tripod. “Maybe,” I thought, “I need to go on something more than a long walk in the park and instead go on a hike up the mountains and take some landscape photographs.” I received my new tripod on Friday, but instead of taking it out with me, I stayed home and got drunk. I have been neglecting my todo list, my notebook, my camera, my guitar, my studies, my reading, my workouts, my meditations. I have been neglecting everything that makes me happy and instead I’ve been focused on the drinking, on the shopping, on all the indulgences that make me feel awful.

Today I meditated for the first time in a very long time. It wasn’t peaceful. It wasn’t life-affirming. It wasn’t anything positive. Instead, it was angry. It was dark. It was everything I had been feeling for the past month, and in that regard, it was a great session. It always starts with that first step. It’s picking up my pen. It’s changing into my workout clothes. It’s sitting down at my desk. I wrote in my notebook this morning and let all these feelings out, and it felt familiar. It felt… I felt like myself again.

I haven’t thought about suicide since my early twenties, and I don’t think I ever will again because I know there will always be better days ahead. Things might look black and white now, but I know colorful days are waiting for me, and it’s this mentality that has helped me stay alive. I don’t know if things will get back to “normal,” whatever that means, but I know I have to keep moving my feet to get to the good days. So here’s to the good days.

Mom

I’m breaking from tradition and posting a picture I took a few days ago. I think this finally frees me up from having to take a picture a day. Who imposed this rule? Me, but I wanted to see how long I could go. A few months seems laudable. This is a picture of my mom, and I really like it. She flies back to California tomorrow morning, so tonight will be the last day I’ll be able to hang out with her. It was a short trip, but I hope it was nice for her.

Twenty

My mom flew in on Sunday, and I’ve been hanging out with her and my nieces the past few days. I’ve been playing twenty questions with this lovely lady and have been enjoying the time with her. She has grown into a creative, honest, and amazing young lady, and I‘m eager to see her grow up. I moved to Montana a month before she was born, and I was there when she was just a few hours old, so I have a special affinity for her. Don’t tell anyone but she’s my favorite!

I took hundreds of photographs and filmed gigabytes of video, and I’ve been having fun going through them and editing them. I really do love photography.

Devourer

I haven’t been on a walk in a few weeks. It’s been work work work non-stop, and it’s been getting to me. Emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I’ve been coming home from work dead tired and unmotivated to do anything. I know it’s bad when I miss the slowness of life. I miss breathing and thinking and writing mundane thoughts in my notebook. Now it’s filled with anger and disdain. Is starting a Google Meet really that hard? Is printing to a certain printer? Has 21st century life really moved that fast for 20th century people?

I’m tired of this virus and I’m tired of the people who aren’t taking it seriously, who are only thinking of themselves instead of others. I feel like we’re a bunch of parasites eating through the earth until there’s nothing left. We need a great devourer to eat us up and give the earth time to breathe and rebuild.

Eternity

Taking the week off from writing felt both long and not long enough. Taking the week off from photography felt like an eternity. I missed not having a camera, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt the same way about writing. I have to come to terms with that. I’ve spent my whole adult life pretending I was a writer when really, what if I wasn’t supposed to be one? I’m not saying I’m supposed to be a photographer, but I never gave myself the opportunity to explore other interests outside of writing.

What I like about photography is that it puts me in direct confrontation with life. I have to be right there to take the photo. I can’t be at home and imagine a photo and have it exist like it would in my head. I have to be outside and in the world to capture it with my camera. I have to be close to the spider to photograph its beautiful eyes; I have to be with the bees to take photos of them; I have to be outside and walk around to find the beautiful flowers to photograph or the moon or anything else.

This summer has helped me step out of my inner world and into something much bigger. I started to expand my walls and go outside and explore the world, and I happened to take my camera with me. I bought the Fuji XF80mm macro lens in early July and discovered a new love. With each photo, with each session, I get better, and that feeling is intoxicating. Self-improvement has always been a great love for me, and it’s no different here. And now that I have my X-T4, I feel like the world has no limits, like I can do anything, and I want to. So let’s go.

X-T4

New camera. After I dropped and broke my Fujifilm X-T20 last week, I ordered the X-T4. It arrived yesterday, and my initial impression is that this is a mind blowing device. Everything about this camera is amazing. For one, it’s a bit bigger and heavier than my X-T20, and I didn’t think I’d like that but the extra room feels freeing. I love the new flip out screen and the dedicated ISO dial. I love that I can switch between stills and video and have the camera retain the settings for both. I love how quiet the shutter is. I love everything about it. I haven’t taken it out on a walk yet, so that’s something I have to look forward to. I want to get into the manual and really get into the nitty gritty details of this camera. I’m excited, I’m happy, and I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Hopeful

School starts today, and I’m not ready for it. I’m not ready for any of this. But I’m hopeful that things will turn out okay this year, that we will all stay healthy and have some sort of return to normalcy. I saw one of my very favorite students yesterday and all of my anxieties about starting the school year faded away, so this could be okay. Or we could have a breakout and have school shut down indefinitely. Positive thoughts.

A co-worker found this spider in a trash can outside, and he went out of his way to find me to show me. I think this shot turned out a lot better than I imagined, but I still wish the spider was turned the other way so I could take a photo of its eyes. But I love how the web turned out. These small creatures are both beautiful and gross, and I have a weird attraction to that feeling. Is there a word for that? Add that to my vocabulary list.

Unaware

The staff returned yesterday, and they’re back again today. School starts tomorrow, and I’m not ready for this. Why has time ceased to have any meaning during this pandemic? I had a dream last night where I was back at USC, and I went into Doheny Library. Dozens of students sat by the tables studying and more browsed the stacks. I waited in line to speak to one of the librarians. “I’m an alumni,” I said after I told him I didn’t have a library card. He looked at me quizzically. I did the math in my head and said, “I graduated twelve years ago.” “I’m sorry,” he said. “The library is only for students right now.” I looked around again and felt stupid. I had forgotten all about the coronavirus, and for a moment, I lived blissfully unaware of it.

These next couple of months are going to drain me psychically and physically, and I’m not ready for any of it. I still have so much work to do, and again, I’m not ready for any of this. I’m not ready for the emails and the phone calls and the text messages. People tell me I should be grateful they need me so much. Job security, they say. And to them I say, fuck that.

Phase

The Waxing Crescent Moon
The Waxing Crescent Moon

Checked in with the moon last night, and I immediately felt a peace I hadn’t felt for a while. Life had been overwhelmed by work and by my own laziness and unmotivated attitude. I stopped studying Japanese and playing my guitar and working out and reading books and even writing in my notebook. I’ve only wanted to distract myself with video games and television, with alcohol and comfort food.

I’m two months into this blog, and I don’t know where I’m going with it. The plan wasn’t to write every day, but here I am, writing every day. This has been my one constant this summer and now summer ends soon. School starts on Wednesday. All the staff return today. I’m behind on a few projects. I’m not ready for any of this. But regardless of how I feel, the lunar phases will continue like it always has, and I must, too.

Grey

I finally finished The Last of Us Part II, and I loved it. That seems to be an unpopular opinion about this game, but I don’t care. It was a great game, one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Humans are contradictory, hypocritical, and selfish, but we’re also kind, loving, and selfless. The world isn’t black and white, and sometimes there isn’t a clean way to view the world. For generations we’ve praised slave owners and murderers as heroes, yet we railed against others who were better than them. The rationale being since they’re on “our” team, then they’re okay, and since the other person is on “their” team, they’re not. Moral absolutism is a myth, and cancel culture is getting out of hand. But we’re also all on the same team. We’re humans.

I honestly don’t know where I’m going this. These are just thoughts and notes I’d like to remember later.

Insanity

School starts next week, and I’m both eager to see the kids but anxious at the same time. I’m not ready for the staff to return, but I’ll be happy to get back into some sort of rhythm again. For the past week, I’ve been playing The Last of Us Part II every chance I could get, and I’ve been having a lot of fun. I was even playing it for a bit just now, and for a moment, I completely forgot that the coronavirus was a thing. I was invested in another world and with other people. I wonder if there’s a word for that, this disassociation from one reality and into another one. I think that’s the perfect definition for insanity?

Mantis

After helping a co-worker with a computer request, I stepped out of the building and saw a shadow in my periphery. I looked down and saw this beautiful praying mantis standing still on the cement sidewalk. My heart stopped then grew with excitement. I sprinted to my office, grabbed my camera, switched lenses, and then sprinted back hoping she was still there. I felt so happy when I found her again in the same spot. I lied down on the dirty ground and began taking a series of photos of her. She let me get close to her, and she even turned her face to the left and to the right to ensure I got both of her good sides.

I’m having so much fun with macro photography that it might be saving my life, in all honesty. What makes me a bit sad, though, is the fact that I know I don’t have the discipline to go out there and shoot every day. I can try, and maybe that trying will reap more rewards than anything else. Here’s hoping.

Serendipity

Went on my first walk of the week yesterday on the prowl for a praying mantis, but I found this beautiful ladybug instead. I like how serendipitous life can feel sometimes, how the universe gives you something you didn’t expect but realized you needed all along. I needed to go on that walk yesterday. I needed to take my time on the creek bank and to go slowly as I scanned the world around me. I found those two ducks from last week in the same spot and took more photos of them. One of them didn’t look well, so I’m wondering if there’s something wrong with it. Maybe she’s pregnant? I’m not sure. I also found nature at its gnarliest:

I asked a friend what was happening and she said it looked like a fly eating a mayfly, and I said, “cool!”

I hope to find a praying mantis soon. For now, that’s my bucket shot, and that has given my life a meaning I need right now.

Burn

As I sit down to write this, there’s an active and loud thunderstorm outside, and it sounds beautiful. The lightning lights up my window every few seconds and then the crackle of thunder roars in the distance. I love thunderstorms. I love how powerful they feel. If the world ends, that’s how I would like it to be: loud and powerful.

Every now and then, I have the urge to burn bridges. To live with a clean slate. To start fresh. I had another one of those urges during this mini-vacation, but I didn’t act on it. Not yet, at least. I’m caught between my impulsive nature and my desire for a more rational mindset, and I think this conflict is what hurts me the most. It’s why I feel depressed a lot, I think, why I can’t control my anger sometimes, and in turn, my mouth. I say things I wish I never said, but once they’re out in the open, I can’t take them back. I can’t rewind time and start again. Life is not a video game, no matter how much I wish it were sometimes. I don’t know what to do about my nature, but at least I can listen to the rain fall and watch the sky light up with electricity.

Chill

Death Valley recorded 130ºF temperatures over the weekend. It wasn’t as hot here yesterday, but it was hot nonetheless. I spent the day inside in my air conditioned home and played video games, vegged out on lots of food, and otherwise spent life lazily. I’m doing the same today. I want to turn off all the devices I own that send me notifications because too many people from work are contacting me for help. I’ll be back tomorrow. Chill out.

One of my favorite things recently has been spending time in Lightroom editing my photos. My photos are nothing to cry home about, but I love tweaking this setting and adjusting that curve until I come away with something I think looks good. It’s an art form, a new way to express my creativity, and I love it. Now to ignore my depression because it’s kicking in and I don’t like it when it does.

Rainbows

I played The Last of Us Part II last night after eating half a dozen vegan burritos and downing four amber ales. In the game, I killed dogs sent to kill me and then their owners as I searched house after house for supplies and clues to where my friend went. I flashed back two years and spent time with my mentor and realized this was all his fault. His death is on him. The world is messy. It can’t be all sunshine and rainbows. Life has radicalized me against those who think this way.

I haven’t worked on my book in weeks, and I wonder if I even want to be an author. I haven’t gone for a walk in a few days. Trying to take one good photo a day is burning me out, so now I take pictures of my TV, a screen I look at for hours a day. For many days, my life is my TV, and is there nothing more American than that? I don’t go to work today or tomorrow, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I spend them indoors illuminated by the blue light of my OLED god.

Love/Hate

I reactivated my Instagram account last night and posted some of the photos I’ve taken for this website. I have a love/hate relationship with social media, and I was drunk enough last night to think it a good idea to return to one. That terrible beer with a skull on it? It’s grown on me. It’s still terrible but the 9% alcohol content helps. I had planned to return to both Instagram and Facebook once school started because many of my co-workers use Messenger for their communication with each other, but I think I’ll skip Facebook for now. Instagram is simpler, but it’s still owned by Facebook.

Is it just me or is it mind-numbingly difficult to be a moral human being in the times we live in? I disagree completely with how Facebook has dealt with viral misinformation and that it helped the Russians interfere with the 2016 presidential election, but Facebook owns Instagram, a service I really enjoy, so it’s tough to not be caught in its grasp. I hate Google for many of the same reasons and then some. I don’t like how they track everyone on the web for the sole purpose of collecting as much data as they can about us so they can then sell it off to advertisers and other companies. But I love YouTube and I love all the talented creators posting videos on it. It’s a great resource yet I feel morally conflicted to use it. And now there’s Apple and their monopoly of their app store. Epic is taking them on in attempt to loosen their grip over iOS and iPadOS, which is great, but Epic also isn’t infallible.

It’s hard to have a stance in anything. I’m for green energy but at what cost? Instead of burning coal and ruining the environment, we dig for resources by exploiting human labor. I’m vegan for many reasons, one of which is that I think whatever force powers my life is the same force that powers a cows life or a chicken’s life or a small insects life. But the modern economy depends on fossil fuels and on other stuff that hurts the environment anyway. It’s tough choosing a side when all the options have consequences I’m against. All that is to say that I’m out of beer, and I want more.

Hungover

I woke up this morning hungover and hungry. I bought another pack of beer with a skull on it, and it was terrible. School starts up in about a week and a half, and I’m not looking forward to it. Teachers and students are all making their way back on campus and I’m nowhere near ready for them yet. Earlier this week, the governor updated his mask mandate to include schools, which threw everyone on our staff and all the parents of our kids into a tussle. I’ve been wearing a mask all week, and you know what? I don’t like it. It fogs up my glasses and makes my beard sweat. But I’m still going to wear it. Apparently, a parent of a student tested positive for the virus and school hasn’t even started yet, so who even knows what’s going to happen in the long run.

It’s Saturday, and I’m headed off to work for a few hours before my mini-vacation next week. God knows I need it.

Absorb

I went for my first walk of the week. I wasn’t expecting anything special, but when I looked out across the creek, I saw these ducks relaxing on the water. I hung out with them for a bit and took a few pictures, but my session with them ended early when I ran out of memory on my SD card. I only have the one, and I figured that’s a good enough reason to invest in another one. I like how much easier it is for me to leave the house than it had been before. One of my goals had been to expand my walls beyond the physical ones of my home, and I think I’m succeeding. It’s a slow journey.

For the past few years, I’ve been following Craig Mod, a writer, photographer, and walker based in Japan. What attracted me to him was how he was living the type of life I wanted to live. He would walk hundreds of miles across Japan, take beautiful photographs, and later write about his journey. He would talk to people and learn about the land and eat new food and otherwise absorb the world in a way I wanted to do, too. Last year, he wrote this essay about his quest for pizza toast that has stuck with me since I read it. I’ve had this crazy dream to walk across America and do something similar to what Craig does, but I don’t know if I have what it takes. But there’s something about walking, photography, and writing that appeals to me so much. I wonder if I’ll ever get to do a long walk like he has done, something in the 500–1,000 mile range. Maybe one day.

Listen

It was a cold and cloudy day, and I spent a majority of it indoors. I skipped another workout because of my back, and as I sat on my couch and watched another episode of One Piece, I felt unaccomplished and lazy. “You should do yoga,” a friend of mine told me yesterday. “It’ll help with your back.” I said that I should, that I have Beachbody On Demand so I have access to quality yoga videos, but I didn’t. Instead, I watched an old man yank on Luffy’s outstretched neck and help him pull himself up from the water. Luffy then rejoined the fight and defeated the super strong fishman. I cheered and felt happy.

“I’m not a young man anymore,” I told my friend. “I can’t push through the pain anymore. I have to listen to my body.” My back continues to hurt, and I think I will take the week off from my workouts. I asked for next Monday and Tuesday off from work, and I’m going to spend those days relaxing. The weather should hit the high 90s early next week, and I’m hoping to drag myself out of my house and go to the river or the lake. I haven’t walked for a few days, and I miss it.

Dread

Sat down to take a breath in my office and wondered how much time I had left before school started. I looked at my calendar and realized it was still on July. I flipped it over to August and noticed the “Welcome Back!” message, and all I felt was dread. “All the teachers are coming back,” a coworker told me. “Yeah,” I said. “I think I miss the kids more than I do the teachers.” She laughed and said, “Me too. The teachers are just so needy.”

I’ve spent the last week taking down one computer lab and refreshing another. My fingers are sore from plugging and unplugging cables, and I’m tired from lugging desktops and monitors from one building to another. There’s a certain sense of accomplishment, though, when everything is ready and I push the On button on two dozen desktops and see them all spark with life. I’ve been at this job for six years, and I continue to feel joy when the machines I’m in charge of hum happily in the background. I can’t wait to see the kids use them.

Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris as his running mate last night, and I felt the same vibe when Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination twelve years ago. Four years ago, many of my coworkers and friends in Montana voted for Donald Trump to be president, a stark contrast from twelve years ago when my coworkers and friends voted for Barack Obama in California. All the pollsters and pundits predicted a Hillary Clinton win in 2016, and all the pollsters and pundits predict a Joe Biden win this November. I don’t know if I trust anything they say, but in my characteristically contradictory nature, I subscribed to the New York Times last night for the first time in my life. Other than unlimited access to their reporting, I wanted access to their crossword and their vegan recipes. Like with anything else, I’ll see how it goes.