I didn't do shit tonight. But I did it like a champion.

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I've got a free pass tonight. My wife is out of town. The boys are busy (thanks Fortnite!). The dog is fed.

I rolled out of the house on a mission: notebook in hand. I planned to Write Great Things. Writing has always been a good outlet for me (and a good inlet too). I've been away from it for a while.

I've been thinking lately about the downside of optimism. Or conversely, the upside of pessimism. Maybe I'd scribble up some kind of positive/negative duality thing. I'm sometimes a little to clever for my own good, and I knew this was probably that. But what the hell, I'll start there and see where it goes.

I headed to The Weary Traveler Freehouse. I've scrawled the better part of four screenplays there, along with endless gibberish for Bring Limes. When it comes to writing, I'm a little superstitious. The Weary has always come through for me: A small table two or three back along the side wall. A Hopalicious please. Notebook. Sharpie pen. Trust the process, as they say. 

And then. And then! Nothing happened. The blank page stayed blank. The insights stayed unsighted. Writing's like that sometimes/most of the time. Kind of how fishing and catching only occasionally overlap. 

So instead, I just looked around. Occasionally I'd tap my pen and furl my brow to create the illusion that I was thinking. But I wasn't thinking. I was just taking things in. There was a loud and awkward breakup happening somewhere behind me. And at the table right in front of me, what I'm pretty sure was a first kiss. They weren't teenyboppers, these two. They were an older couple, a bit out of their element, who spent the first part of the evening looking for conversational common ground. Eventually they found it. After they left, I had one more beer and then I did the same. Smiling like a goof as I stepped out into a light rain.

The notebook went entirely unused. I didn't accomplish what I wanted. But still. I want what I accomplished.

 

 

News I can lose

Like a lot of people these days, it seems, I've taken an interest in simplifying my life. My intentions are good. My aim is true. My follow-through, unfortunately, is for shit.

I did read a book on essentialism. I've watched many tiny houses being built on HGTV. And I've converted my Instagram feed almost exclusively to people living in vans down by rivers. But that's about as far as I've gotten.

So. The weeks around Memorial Day were especially busy with a bunch of work related whatnot. One night, around 2 a.m., I climbed into bed completely beat. I thought I better chill for a while before going to sleep so I opened up the Apple News app. The next 45 minutes were spent drinking from the Geyser of Dumb. Although I needed none of that information at that hour, I silently pressed on. Spiritual self-immolation. The alarm went off early and I knew the 45 minutes I spent "keeping informed" would have been better spent sleeping.

By extension, I realized that all the time I've spent keeping up with the news would have been better spent doing other things. My phone settings showed that I spent, by far, the most time on the News app. It was a wreck on the side of the road that I couldn't stop staring at: porn stars and animatronic politicians and people pointing fingers at whatever they decided to hate most that day.

As I was contemplating all this, I learned that the President of the United States of America was meeting with Kim Kardashian on prison reform.

It was the little nudge I desperately needed. I immediately deleted the News App. Also: No more CNN. No more Huffpost. No more keeping an eye on Fox News just to see what they're up to. No more. Done. 

My initial plan was to extract myself from the news, and everything that goes with it, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. (Summer of love!) I assumed doing so would be difficult. That I'd need to check in from time to time.

Yeah... nope! I'm several weeks in, and I haven't missed it at all.

I was at the gym the other day and accidentally glanced up at a CNN screen. The graphic included the words "U.S." and "Canada" and "War." I looked away as quickly as I could. I don't know if it was referring to a trade war with Canada or, you know, a war war. I still don't. But I figure if it was the latter, someone would have mentioned it to me by now. It's not the speediest system, but it's noise-free. If ignorance is bliss, and yes it is, I'm totally fine with that.

On being a man's man

 Nick Offerman

Nick Offerman

I watched a biography on Ernest Hemingway last weekend. His was an interesting existence. Although I'm not a Hemingway fanatic, there are definitely aspects of his life of which I'm envious (his brevity, his time spent in pre-Castro Cuba, the entirety of Old Man and the Sea). There are other aspects of which I'm not. One in particular is Hemingway's whole "man's man" schtick. 

A real man's man doesn't spend his entire life trying to convince people that's what he is. Much like, for example, an intelligent man would never say "I have a good brain" or "I have the best words."  You, Mr. Best Words Good Brain, are an idiot. And you, Mr. Hemingway, are overcompensating.

A man's man defines himself based on his own standards, not the standards put in place by others. It's that simple. Whatever his individual standards may be, a man's man lives up to them with confidence and consistency. A woman's woman does exactly the same. And so on. Gender and orientation actually have nothing to do with the concept.

Which brings us to Nick Offerman. Like Hemingway, he's also frequently referred to as a man's man. This is in large part because he played one so perfectly on the television set as Ron Swanson on Parks & Rec. Ron was a character, of course. But there's a lot of overlap with real-life wood-working, whiskey-sipping, bad-assing Nick.

I came across this interview with him in Men's Health. The whole thing is a great read. But his comment below really stood out. Because this, to my standards anyway, is what a man's man sounds like.

You’re synonymous with being a man’s man. What was the last thing that made you cry?

"I went to theatre school. I took two semesters of ballet. I’m the sissy in my family. I cry with pretty great regularity. It’s not entirely accurate to equate me with manliness. I stand for my principals and I work hard and I have good manners but machismo is a double-sided coin. A lot of people think it requires behavior that can quickly veer into misogyny and things I consider indecent. We’ve been sold this weird John Wayne mentality that fistfights and violence are vital to being a man. I’d rather hug than punch. Crying at something that moves you to joy or sadness is just as manly as chopping down a tree or punching out a bad guy. To answer your question, I recently saw Alicia Keys perform live. I’d never seen her before and the sheer golden, heavenly talent issuing from her and her singing instrument had both my wife and me in tears. What a gorgeous gift she has. Her voice is so great. And I had no shame [about crying.] If you live your life openly with your emotions, that’s a more manly stance than burying them."

How come nobody told me!

 PaintBar, Madison, Wisconsin, October 15, 2017

PaintBar, Madison, Wisconsin, October 15, 2017

The other night I parked in front of PaintBar. It's a place I've driven past a thousand times. Walked past it too without ever really looking inside. 

I assumed it was a community art center of some sort. I assumed they used the word "Bar" in the same way that Apple uses it in "Genius Bar." If you've ever been to the Genius Bar, you know it's not a bar at all. Nor is it especially genius. I'd have suggested "Apple Condescending Nerd Table" as a more accurate name but, you know, marketing.

Anyway, I was parked in front of PaintBar and I glanced in the window as I passed. What's that I spy? With my little eye? A bottle of Citradelic IPA next to an easel? Can it be that PaintBar is an actual bar? A woman saw me standing outside like a dope and waved me in. And just like that, my painting career was underway.

For 15 bucks they set me up with a canvas and as much paint as I wanted to slather. It was late, on a Sunday, so there were only a few of us there. I have to admit I was a little uncomfortable when the woman who got me started came back to see "my work." I am, I know, a shitty painter. (Or at least I was the last time I checked in middle school.) Her response? "I love how you're taking it in an abstract direction!" She seemed to think I had some sort of choice in the matter. But it made me feel good anyway, or at least good enough to continue.

The fact is, I really enjoyed painting. The whole time I was there, I kept thinking "How come nobody told me!"

Except: I've always known painting existed as a thing. And I knew PaintBar, based on the name alone, was probably worth some additional investigation. I just never gave painting, or PaintBar, a try.

The reasons are familiar: I was too busy to look into it. I was too cool to look stupid. I was too focused on what's next to look at what's right in front of me. None of these are good looks.

But long story short, I gave it a go. Now the world has one more shitty painter. I have one more thing I'm shitty at. And that all sits just fine with me.

Mic check one two...

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It's been a long time, I shouldn't have left you...
Without a strong rhyme to step to
 – Rakim

Hi! Remember me? John? Perpetual underachiever prone to fits of unwarranted optimism and profanity?

Yes! Of course you remember! Because you're one special motherfucker and life is beautiful!

Anyway. I'm back.

I'll save the details of my whereabouts, perhaps, for another time. Suffice it to say it was a weird bouillabaisse of a summer – a mixed-bag kettle of road trips and stasis and sorrow and sun. Disparate ingredients thrown together and clumsily seasoned by the untrained hands of a hungry fisherman.

On the bright side, fishermen know how to stay fed. They know how to work with whatever they've got. They know that eventually the flavors come together. Eventually the bones fall away.  Eventually they'll feel full again.

I'm feeling full again.

So if you please... kick it Rak:

Dance wit the speaker 'til you hear it blow
Then plug in the headphone 'cause here it go

On the road with my mom, the bad-ass.

Last weekend my mom and I met in Los Angeles for a wayward run down the coast. According to the Google machine, the drive to San Diego takes two hours. We wisely gave it four days.

The first morning found us on Manhattan Beach at 6 a.m. The grey dawn was working its way up to 60 degrees – water temps were cooler than that. A line-up of wet-suited surfers bobbled out along the second break.

Locals only. And my mom. 

I had a surfboard that I snagged from our AirBnB. She had a body board. I have no idea if she's ever used one before. I realize now that I never asked. In my defense, she was in the water and paddling out before I had a chance to inquire.  

We got pounded by the waves that day, and the next, and the days after that. It's what the ocean does best: it reminds us of where we stand. It pounds and pushes and puts us in our place. But then occasionally, whether we deserve it or not, it lets us ride. Fast and free and grinning like children.

Life can be the same way. And so it came to be, for four days last week, that my mom and I rode fast and free.

From sea level, to the rooftop bar at Hotel Casa Del Camino, to the wonderfully curvy road leading to the 6,000 foot peak of Palomar Mountain. And then down, down, down, lost maybe a little, until we finally dropped right into the heart of San Diego as if that was the plan all along. Music loud, top town, fueled by joy and a massive cache of roadside-stand strawberries.

Along the way, I learned that my mom can road trip like a champion. I also learned that, as a child, I had trouble pronouncing "T" sounds. So when I wanted my toy truck I'd yell "Fuck!" Or when passing the fire station: "Fire Fuck! Fire Fuck!" This anecdote has no bearing on our road trip, other than it never would have come up otherwise. Also, I'll add, it makes me very very happy.

I've always recommended taking any road trip, anytime, headed anywhere, alone or with anyone who's wired right for road trips. It's never a bad idea. But if you haven't tried it with your mom? Damn junior! You need to get on that!

Whatever happened to happy?

I've been away for a while.

My last post, back in May, might have suggested I finally fled to Canada once and for all. Although I did consider just disappearing into the woods, I ended up returning home with a cooler full of walleye and a sheepish "I can't quit you 'murica" grin.

You wouldn't know I'm back, though, from the look of things around Bring Limes HQ. I've been laying low as of late, in a deepish funk for reasons that took me a while to fully understand. Nothing I considered sharing here felt right (except for this sweet-ass jazz/surf video which wasn't embeddable but oh man hit this link because it's so cool).

Nothing I wrote seemed, I don't know, appropriate?

The fact of the matter is that we're living in strange times.

That's not a political statement. That's a no-shit-sherlock statement. Calling these End Days, I hope, is an overstatement. But it sure feels like we're experiencing the end of something. The continual squelching of compassion, the suppression of hope, the fear. The feeling is palpable and, on some days, it seems inescapable. Good old fashioned happiness, it seems, has gotten harder to come by.

But here's the other piece: Being happy is only part of the challenge. Just as problematic is the notion of seeming happy. In a world that's grown wobbly and dark, happiness has fallen out of fashion. Sure we're allowed to momentarily enjoy things – a majestic sunset, say, or a duck confit salad. But true uninhibited joy? It's become gauche – a guilty pleasure that, at best, should be indulged in the privacy of your own home.

Being outwardly happy, in 2017, has become an indicator that you're either ignorant, tone-deaf, or Chance the Rapper. Lil Chano gets a well-deserved happiness pass. But the rest of us? It feels sometimes like we're just trying to avoid the ignorant/tone-deaf label. We've become the Great American Congregation of the Appropriately and Respectfully Subdued. 

I know happiness isn't a switch that we can just turn on. But that doesn't mean we should keep it in the off position all the time either. On a recent flight to Boston, I realized that's what's been holding me back. How do margaritas and clam bakes align with Manchester and the Paris Accord and the perpetual waiting for shoes to fall? The short answer is that they don't. Last summer, I was accused (by me) of ukulele-ing while Rome burns. I see now that Rome was merely smoldering at the time. These days? Holy shit. 

Like a lot of people, the ways of the world have been wearing me down. I didn't understand how much until this past weekend. On Friday evening I took my son and his two buddies out on the boat. My head was kind of elsewhere (see: all my gibberish above), but they asked to go so off we went. As we eased out of the ShoreStation, they were already excited. As we passed the Slow No Wake buoy they were giddy. When I put the hammer down – laughter and high fives all around.

Out on the open water, with our faces tilted toward the setting sun, I realized this: It's okay to be happy. As one of the kid's bracelets reminded me, it's okay to laugh.

And so laugh we did. I swallowed a few bugs along the way, but that's alright. The world could use a few less bugs anyway.

Pornstar Nation!

Looking to add more sophomoric giggling to your next road trip? Here's something that might help.

A couple years ago we road tripped from Madison, Wisconsin to Midland, South Dakota (aka "the Bud Light in a bottle" capital of the world). All told, it's about a 10-hour drive. At some point, I noticed that one of the exit signs featured an especially pornstarry name. And, looky there, so did the next one. 

I've logged quite a few miles to quite a few places since then. And yup, this little game works pretty much everywhere. Here's a small selection of what you might find on your next drive to Midland, South Dakota.

Mister Sunshine

"Money don't make you happy. It just gives you a better quality of unhappiness."

Larry Woods was a millionaire. Today he's a shoeshine man. As a flamboyant businessman in the 1980s, he was royalty in New Zealand. As a shoeshine man today, he's still royalty in New Zealand. Only now its his wonderful perspective on life, and his connection to people, that drive him. He's known far and wide as Mr. Sunshine.

This three-minute documentary, made my Eldon Booth and Alex Lovell, shares Mr. Sunshine's story. The world could use more of him. Almost as impressive as his perspective? My lord this guys got style. Gobs and gobs of style. And a voice, seriously, that I could listen all day. 

 

Busting out of travel ruts

Ruts suck. That's just what ruts do.

The quickest way out of a rut, for me anyway, is travel. Some kind of an adventure to shake things up. But lately I've come to realize that my approach to travel has fallen into a rut of its own.

The root cause is one that I'm actually thankful for: over the years, I've fallen into a slew of annual trips. Buddy trips, family trips, and so on. Many of them are little more than long weekends (or regular weekend-length weekends). A few are longer. But I've accumulated a bunch of recurring commitments.

Given my hillbilly ways, many of these getaways include the word "camp," such as Trout Camp, Deer Camp, Ice Camp, etc. There are also several that go by "The ______ Trip" such as The Canada Trip, The River Trip, The Utah Trip. You get the idea. Each of these outings includes its own recurring cast of characters, a recurring location, and a recurring set of dates on the calendar. To be clear, I love them all. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to reconnect regularly with people and places and activities that I love. However. While these getaways get me away, they don't get me anyplace new. What I'll see on them, I've seen before. What I'll do, I've done before. And so on.

I've also noticed that even my non-recurring trips have recurring commonalities (typically blue sky, white sand, and mangoes for miles). If you're going to fall into a rut, of course, that's a helluva rut to fall into. But it's a rut nonetheless.

So anyway, all this has been on my mind lately. I've been thinking about how to get my brain onto a different track. Then, just a few days ago, I stumbled across what might be the world's finest oddball travel destination idea generator. It's the Explore tool on KAYAK.com. Just enter your home airport, adjust the $ slider, and it will tell you everywhere in the world you can get to for that amount. 

Why I dig it is this: The process doesn't start by asking "Where do you want to go?" (Obvious rut bait!) It starts with "Here are all the places you could go."

I quickly learned that 89 bucks can move me all over the U.S. (round trip, tax included). Of the options, Houston caught my eye. I've never been to Houston. I've never considered Houston. Left to my own devices, if I'm headed to Texas, Austin wins every time. As a result, I've been to Austin quite a bit. I've stumbled 6th Street. I've got a favorite spot for breakfast burritos the next morning. I know Austin. I dig it.

But I see that for the price of 10 six-packs or, say, eight jugs of Cheer laundry detergent, I could wake up in a place I've never been before.

What if I up the budget a bit? For less than $500, I can get to Oslo, Barcelona, or the Philippines. Or Lima, Guangzhou, or Copenhagen. And yeah, I see flights to plenty of my old haunts in the Caribbean too. But it's the farther flung, more rando destinations that are capturing my imagination.

I haven't even looked at when these rates are available. I assume they're short-notice though, and/or awkwardly timed. I could set preferred dates and see what comes out. But for me the random timing somehow adds to the appeal. After all, getting out of a rut is rarely a smooth transition. More often than not it's a herky-jerky affair. A sudden lunge. A clumsy up-and-out and grace be damned.

But then. Then! You're free. On your way to a different place entirely.

Mesmerization and cracks in time

You may have noticed a dip in activity around these parts as of late.

I'd like to attribute it to several months at sea with only occasional wifi access. Or maybe an extended session with a purloined case of Plantation Pineapple Rum. But alas, no. Shit just got busy, as shit does.

To help stay sane during this stretch, I leaned heavily on a new ukulele. She's a real beauty, wonderfully figured willow, in the tenor size: a bit bigger than the itty bitty soprano most people think of when they think of a ukulele. To be clear, when it comes to the ukulele I'm not what you'd call "talented." Or even "a musician." I mostly just fall in love with certain chord progressions and loop them over and over. There's nothing fancy about it whatsoever. As Leonard Cohen put it: "It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift." But it's mesmerizing to me. And it can make 20 minutes feel like I just spent an entire weekend away.

The other thing I started dabbling with recently is meditation. I liked it from the start, combining the breath awareness of yoga (and freediving for that matter) with the blankness of driving four chords into the ground on a ukulele. In its own way, meditation is mesmerizing too. An hour spent meditating can feel like a lifetime, in the best possible way. 

It's an interesting word "mesmerize." One of those that sounds like what it means. It originated with Franz Mesmer who was a German physician (1734-1815). He had a theory of energy transfer between animate and inanimate objects that he called animal magnetism. In 1843, Scottish physician James Braid expanded the theory to include hypnotism which... ah hell, Wiki page here.  My main point: Mesmerization = Hypnotism. I'll move on. 

When we're mesmerized by something, it's like discovering a tiny crack in time – a place to explore, or just hide within, that's completely removed from the machinations of the day. Fly fishing, drum circles, laying on the ground and looking up at the trees...they've all provided me with spiritual hidey holes over the years. Places to expand or recover or just chill tf out. 

Invisible Oregon, the video below, did the same thing for me this morning. 

For the record, I didn't think I needed to see any more time lapse videos in my lifetime. Of course many of them are beautiful.  But at a certain point, I came to the conclusion that I've probably gleaned everything there is to learn from fast clouds and twitchy trees. I was wrong about that.

Invisible Oregon was shot by Sam Forencich using infrared converted cameras. They capture the infrared portion of the spectrum which produces amazingly ethereal imagery. It exists somewhere between conventional and thermal photography, both technically and visually (here you go nerds). 

But "hey, pink trees!" is far from the whole thing. Sam's landscapes are stunners, the edit is fantastic, and the sound design takes it all to a higher level. 

I truly find it, yep, mesmerizing. If you could use a little escape, I'd suggest full screen mode, some headphones, and seven uninterrupted minutes to climb inside. 

On catching songs and other things

There was a pretty awesome article in the New York Times a few days ago called Three Iconic Musicians on Artistic Creation - And Its Importance Now. It features Kendrick Lamar, Beck, and Tom Waits, all three of whom I adore. And all three of whom are really articulate about their music. 

This quote right here though, from Tom Waits, really stands out to me. It's about songwriting, of course. But in a way it's about life writing too. Good energy attracts more of the same. 

Paul's Boots + the Many Feet that Filled Them

I was in southern California last week for a photoshoot. We were about five miles off the main road in the mountains of the Cleveland National Forest when I heard a voice: "That's my hula hoop!"

It came from an area where I knew we didn't have any crew. I looked over and saw two people coming up a trail that I didn't realize was there. If you're going to overhear a single snippet of dialogue in a wilderness setting, "That's my hula hoop" is about as good as it gets. Two fully loaded backpackers, a man and a woman with dreadlocks both, passed by with a friendly "hey bro" and disappeared down the trail to the south. 

That's when I first noticed a small trail marker: Pacific Crest Trail. We were on the famed PCT and I didn't even know it. The trail runs the distance from Canada to Mexico (the PCT is the trail in Cheryl Strayed's book, and the movie, Wild). I like to think that the hula hoop duo started their journey on the British Columbia border. When I saw them they were about 20 miles from Mexico. 

Anyway, this sighting got me thinking (again!) about thru-hikes and routes like the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Appalachian Trail, or even the Superior Hiking Trail along the north shore of Lake Superior. On my flight home from San Diego, I pulled out an issue of Backpacker magazine that I had been carrying around unread for a few weeks. And what do you know, coincidentally (or sign from the universe?) it was a special thru-hike issue.

Now, getting to my original point: Paul's Boots!

One article that hit me especially hard was a tribute called Paul's Boots. It's about a man named Paul Evans whose dream it was to hike the Appalachian Trail. He never made it. But Paul's boots did and it makes for a great read

It also makes for a great documentary which you can watch below. The film tells the tale of Paul's Boots, of course, but then also expands so far beyond that – telling the tales of all the wonderful people who volunteered to bring Paul with them on their journey.

The AT stretches 2,181 miles. And yet, the sense of community and caring is about as tight-knit as you'll find. This story captures it all so well.

The Books of John

I'm not a scrapbooker. Those big-ass ziq-zag scissors always intimidated me. I'm not a diarist either, nor do I capture every detail of my day on social media. As for my biographers, sadly, they'll find that over the years I've archived zero correspondence for them to work with.

My occasional scribblings on this site notwithstanding, I've come to believe that experiencing life is much more important than recording it. A photo of a long toeside turn on a snow/surf/skate board simply can't compare to the feeling of an actual long toeside turn on a snow/surf/skate board.

But wait! However! Nonetheless!

Trips are different. Every major trip I've taken in recent years has included a journal. I've never come close to filling a journal on a single trip, but I start with a fresh one each time anyway. That way, one or five or 10 years down the line, I can pull that book off the shelf and revisit a time and a place that, otherwise, would be limited to hazy generalities. 

The things I document when I'm on a trip, and how I choose to document them, are random at best. I've found, to my taste anyway, that the highest quality journals are the ones where quality was never a consideration. If quality was the goal I'd cut my word count by half, my rum intake by a quarter, and my "illustrations" entirely. But no. Fuck that. Instead I've decided to go all in on doodles and gibberish – as conceived and executed by a remedial first grader.

This past weekend I desperately needed a getaway. I pulled a few journals off the shelf and added some coffee and Wailers to the mix. I slowly settled in. As it turns out, a return to St. Elsewhere was exactly what I needed.