It’s been quite a while since my last entry, and I’ve done no traveling recently to write about, though I do have several trips lined up and more in the works over the next 18 months. Winter in the Midwest was dry, but drab and depressing as usual. But now comes the reinvigorating part of the year. Coming out of that 4 month slough of gray, cold misery, I have the pleasure of watching nature’s annual Spring rebirth from my desk at home. The trees and bushes are beginning to show signs of life again, the finches are building their new nests and hatching their young a few feet away from my balcony, and I can finally open the windows again. The dog is also content to lay in the warm sunshine a little longer, especially on the weekends when Dad is home in the mornings. Today is also the second straight day of mostly sunny skies after about 10 days of clouds and rain, so I think many around here are feeling a little more inspired and lively. I’ve seen a fair number of walkers pass by this morning.
Oh and briefly, for anyone who read my prior entries covering my visit to eastern Europe, apologies for not posting the final day entry from Helsinki. Basically, we had about 18 hours of layover time in that city before flying back to New York, so there wasn’t much time to see or do anything. It wasn’t even a crash course in Finnish culture or history. Just a quick snapshot, half of which was spent in the hotel sleeping or eating. There just wasn’t much to write about except being tired, so you didn’t miss anything. That being said, here’s a photo of an obscure spot in Helsinki. This is the Sibelius Monument, named after composer Jean Sibelius, and is made up of over 600 welded steel pipes, resembling an organ and a sound wave, and weighs approximately 24 tons.
I had intended to use this blog for travel-related posts, but seeing as I work full-time with limited paid vacation time, and I’m not independently wealthy and therefore cannot travel as frequently as I would like, in order to keep posts coming (as originally intended), I’m going to have to start using it for more than just the topic of travel. However, I just haven’t felt any significant inspiration over the past few months, which anyone who echoes my sentiments on Winter will surely appreciate. But…I woke up this morning and saw a memory on Facebook that gave me a few ideas for the entry that follows. Most of it is just my spur-of-the-moment thoughts, with a few of those key points buried in the margins.
The memory itself was a photo of me at Five Guys with a few triple double bacon cheeseburgers and a large order of fries immediately following a successful showing at my second amateur bodybuilding competition. See below.
I say successful – I walked away with two first place trophies, adding to the one I collected two weeks prior in my first competition. That day, six years ago today, was the last time I’d get on stage in a banana hammock in front of a bunch of people I don’t know, after having depleted my body over the preceding 13 weeks and feeling like a deathly curmudgeon on the final day. It was something I had aimed for for years, and for which I certainly anticipated my passion to continue. But situations change, people change, life throws you some off-speed pitches, and you roll with the flow. The win that night didn’t feel the same as the win two weeks prior. I cried several times after that first win, but the second one just didn’t feel the same. All I really cared about after getting my trophies the second time was eating food and the fact that it was all finally over.
That same morning around 04.30, if memory serves, my cousin died at a very young age; younger than me by 9 months. She was a month away from her 26th birthday. As much as a shock it was to get the news that morning, just as I woke up, starving and dehydrated, I felt like I just had to remain emotionless and continue to go through the motions one final day. That’s not intended to sound callous, and as cliché as it sounds, it did actually make me want to give it a little more that day in memory of her. The emotional response would just have to wait until after. The funeral itself was for that piece. I suppose, to get briefly philosophical, it’s also a situation where you’re confronted with the fragility of life, you’re own mortality if you will, and is therefore a great opportunity to apply the “give it all you’ve got (and a little more)” approach. Besides, I’d already poured my entire being into prep for the preceding year, so what was a little more application of energy (which I didn’t have) now? To use bodybuilding parlance, “Ain’t nothin’ but a peanut!” Thank you, Ronnie Coleman, for that infamous quote.
That day marked a turning point for me. I didn’t know it yet, but I was finished with bodybuilding. I continued to practice it and planned to compete again for another two years, but I never did put myself through the misery of contest prep again. I felt different at the core after having gone through it, but it took my mind a bit longer to catch up with my gut. I had wanted to compete for so long, and I had revolved my life around the gym, eating, and bodybuilding for nearly 10 years at that point. It was a hard thing to let go of, especially the mindset. And it really is a mindset to me – the eating, training, sleeping, rinsing and repeating, day after day after day – and mindsets can be changed if you want them to. I guess it just took me some extra time to realize and admit that I wanted to. Several injuries over the next few years sidelined me for months at a time, which gave me a lot of time to read, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries – to educate myself on the things that interest me using my own methods. I would have to change, no actually develop, my life philosophy, basically beginning at square one. Not that most young people really have life philosophies, but I certainly was a long way off from where I felt I needed to be, as well as where I wanted to be. Bodybuilding had been my life for years, and that didn’t leave a lot of time for reflection, questioning, reasoning, or development of the self. Development of the body, sure, but not the self. No worries – I’m not going to spell out my entire life philosophy to-date here. That would be far too tedious to write, a bore to read, and pointless to document, since philosophy is so fluid and subject to change over time.
I really don’t even recall how I first got started on the path I’ve been following since then, but I recall a few different things that at least contributed to me continuing to follow it. The first node that comes to mind was a late night discussion I had with my childhood friend, Ryan, that ran into the wee small hours of the morning about two years prior. He took me down some avenues to give me a glimpse of how the world works, and since then, I had done a little more reading here and there, but bodybuilding still ruled my life for a few years. It wasn’t until I had checked competing off the list that I began to feel free to move on to the next chapter in life. I started to view bodybuilding as a thing of the past, something I’d already proven I could do; I had no aspiration to become a pro at it, so why continue to do it? Experience completed. Mission accomplished. Move on to the next. But what was that? What would I do now for fulfillment?
Enter podcasting, books, and more books. I think the first I stumbled on was probably the Joe Rogan Experience, but I have no idea how, when, who the guest was, or what topics were discussed. For anyone who has ever listened to that podcast, you’ll understand how quickly your reading, documentary, and follower lists can grow. Within months I had subscribed to a dozen or so of his guests’ podcasts and other references from the show. The one that really stands out in my mind is Graham Hancock, an incredibly brilliant British author and journalist, with a very unique curiosity for the ancient world, an objective eye, and an uncanny ability to wordsmith it all. I immediately began reading Graham’s books, which led me down other avenues, each of them reaching, seemingly, to infinity.
I had also begun to develop more of an interest in history at the midpoint of my time in college, but I had not done much more reading in the 5 or so years since. I am fortunate enough to have two living grandfathers in their 90s, one a great-grandfather, and each of which served in Europe in World War II. So it would follow that with an interest in history, as well as that family history, I would be inclined to do some reading about WWII. I believe I started with a few books from Richard J. Evans, another fantastic author from across the pond, covering (very scholarly) the rise, control, and fall of the Third Reich. I also quickly found Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast to be an incredibly gripping resource. That guy’s ability to weave in modern themes to historical events is absurdly entertaining. The same occurred with other podcasts, authors, etc. I quickly realized how my thirst for knowledge could spiral out of control. Most readers will understand my predicament: what do I need to sacrifice in order to digest all of the knowledge written in all of the books in the world? You’ll quickly realize that this is not a feasible endeavor, but there’s a piece of your brain that wants to believe it can be done.
I suppose the largest factor that contributed to this personal renaissance, for lack of a better word, was each opportunity I’ve had to see the world from a young age. I studied French in high school, and after graduation I was very fortunate to visit France with my grandpa. It was such a shock to me the first few days, since I grew up in the middle of corn fields, and the furthest I’d ever been from home was Los Angeles and Florida. It had also been a year since I had studied or spoken French, so I really didn’t recall any of it during the trip. Nonetheless, after a few days I fell into the swing of things, and it turned out to be one of the most impactful experiences of my life. I definitely caught the travel bug from that. Since then I’ve been able to visit a growing portion of the U.S., Europe, Egypt, and Jordan. Getting some first hand experience and insight into other cultures can really help to shine some light into the unknown areas outside our comfort zones. But many of us seem to fear it because we don’t speak the language, or because the media and government constantly rams fearful propaganda down our throats, keeping us mentally confined to our safe places. Is that really living? If we mentally confine ourselves to that existence, what are we living for?
I guess what I’m sort of getting at here is not to go through life with blinders on. In my case the blinders were bodybuilding (and self-absorption). It wasn’t until I completed my own selfish goals of competing and being the best on a given day, reaping the fruits of my efforts, and experiencing a great sense of accomplishment, that I was able to move on to bigger things and begin investigating my curiosity about the world in which I am fortunate enough to exist. I started around age 27, which is later than some and probably earlier than more. But it’s never too late to start to be curious about the world and beyond, and use that curiosity and what you gain from it to encourage others to do the same. If you aren’t already doing so, think about some of the random things you’ve found interesting, and go look for documentaries and books (even in audio format) on that/those topic(s) and indulge in some brain food. Maybe you want to learn a language. Could that be the catalyst to getting outside of your bubble and seeing the world? Check out the following sites for that: Duolingo, Fluent in 3 Months. And once you’re ready to take a trip, if you’re more comfortable going with a group, check out SmarTours and Gate 1 Travel. It’s also never too late to start trimming elsewhere to make time for these things. Work is a complete time suck for a lot of us, but what are we working for? Is it really that necessary to put in all those hours, considering what it takes from us, giving only fantastically valued cloth or data in a computer in return? Are you involved / participating in any extra-curricular activities that you aren’t all that passionate about? It seems to me that many of us just get caught up in the flow of things, lost in the shuffle, and before we know it, life is passing us / has passed us by, and confronted with the illusion of time and the inevitability of our own mortality, we start to feel that inner panic, like we’ll never fit it all in. So better to start now, regardless of when / where we are in life, and at least get in what we can. At least I think so, and surely, I am not alone.
“It’s human nature to stretch, to go, to see, to understand. Exploration is not a choice, really; it’s an imperative.” – Micheal Collins