Thursday, April 7, 2016

At The End of Your Rope

I love the magic of the printed word. The last “La Vida” I wrote, titled “Two Front Teeth” about my friend Lucas really reminded me of that—it was the most popular piece I’ve ever written for the Telegraph. How do I know that? Comments. And, not comments on a Facebook post, real life feedback from people in real life, you know, the original social media: talking to people.

            A little background on that piece—I wrote it in Joshua Tree while I was on a climbing trip. It was a very sentimental piece about a bad thing happening to a good man, and I felt more comfortable writing those sentimentalities knowing I wouldn’t be in Durango when it was published. I was planning on being on the road for a while, and I liked the idea of not being around when it was published. Why? I don’t know, but maybe we’ll get to that. Part of writing is discovering personal truths.

            But then, my piece got bumped, and I ended up being in Durango when it was published. In the end I was glad I was because so many people were psyched on it. And I learned an important lesson: don’t be afraid to write from the heart.

            This last year I’ve been trying to write directly from the heart. I finally got my life story on paper—and finished a memoir I’ve wanted to write for years, called American Climber. I’m celebrating the release of it Monday at Maria’s. While writing the book I realized something else I should celebrate: the fact that I’m alive.

            You see when I was 20 years old I was depressed and suicidal. Without exercise and positive energy I naturally lean towards depression, and at the time I was addicted to a whole cocktail of substances, which created a mindset of delusion and hopelessness. One night I snuck out of my parent’s home and ran away from Illinois, leaving behind a trail of notes, and I’m sure a lot of tears from my loved ones. They probably thought there was a chance they’d never see me again.

            No one heard from me for nearly a month. I drove all around the United States, looking for a former girlfriend who I thought would be my salvation. This was 1999, pre-cell phones, pre-checking the Internet 100 times a day, and I never found her. I fell asleep at the wheel more than once, and only narrowly escaped death. I punched my dashboard in anger countless times and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. I wanted to die. I had nothing to live for and thought I never would be happy again. My great-Grandfather killed himself, so I guess there’s part of that running through my blood. Other family members have suffered from depression.

            And that’s the state of which I arrived to Colorado. I never found the girl, and it would be many years before I climbed out of that existential depression. But, I found Colorado.

            My healing began with nature. I got into climbing and found something that provided a high that wasn’t a drug. I found an amazing community in Gunnison. I discovered that life was worth living. The day I first arrived in Gunny I stopped thinking about suicide and I started thinking about living life again. 

             The thing was though I never told anyone my story. Even my parents never realized how depressed I really was. For a decade plus I kept that secret in the deepest place of my soul. Then, one day, it wanted out.

            It came out in the form of a short story, which later became the foundation for the start of my memoir. It felt very therapeutic to write it all out, and share my story with other people who it might help. One day my dad finally read it and told me he had no idea how bad it was for me during that time. It was also therapeutic to share that with my family, but now I’ve wondered why I kept it in so long, and what permanent damage to my psyche it inflicted. Holding onto pain makes pain much more severe, like a boulder constantly pressing down on the heart. I wonder how much pain I passed onto women I was in relationships with because my heart was not free.

            So I’ve been talking about it. I’ve been writing about it. I feel much more free, and every time I face the pain of the past I try to sit with it, acknowledge it, and learn from it. Now, it’s my time to share.

            Nothing breaks my heart more than when I read about a young person who has committed suicide. It happens all the time, and it is always a permanent solution for a temporary problem. I know what it’s like to live without happiness, but I also know what it’s like to live with it. Since my dark days I’ve had so many complete moments of joy—whether that be in the embrace of a lover, high up on a cliff with a great friend, or even just sharing food and drink with loved ones. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars”.

I just hope every depressed person knows that it IS temporary. Once you get through the darkness there’s a whole lot of light, energy, and hope on the other side. Depression is often just a sign that you need to change some things in your life. Though I lived with severe depression for an entire year, and subsequently suffered from it for another decade, I honestly rarely get depressed anymore.

            I don’t think there’s any sort of formula for a depressed person to find happiness. I do think it starts with telling someone how you’re feeling. Then there are little choices, like going outside for some fresh air and some exercise, or picking up your substances of choice—there’s so many evil drugs out there these days. None of these decisions are easy. I know people have suffered much more deeply than I ever did. Most of them suffer quietly. Depressed people can be professionals at hiding what is really going on. Trust me, I know.

            That’s the greatest lesson I’ve learned through my own personal journey—keeping pain and depression inside is the worst thing you can do. Set it free, life is beautiful, and worth living, especially here in the junction of the mountains and the desert.

This piece was originally published in today's Durango Telegraph. 

My new memoir, American Climber, is now available. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

American Climber - Kickstarter Launched

After a decade of writing, and re-writing, my memoir, American Climber is finally complete. It is a 75,000 word tale about my life experiences with climbing—a sport that saved my life—coupled with reflections on the dirtbag climbing lifestyle.

The hard part—the writing—is done, and now the challenge is very simple: get the word out about my book. The best way any reader can help with that is by supporting the Kickstarter campaign. Rewards are affordable, starting at $10. An advance copy of the book is $25.

Thanks in advance for your support, and I hope you're living the dream.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

If These Walls Could Talk (a poem)

(note: this piece is part of a poetry collection in the works. it's been a while since I've written much poetry, but recently after meeting another climbing-poet I've been inspired.)

You could say the Joshua Trees
Planted all the seeds for the dreams
Unwilling to be the same
Unwilling to play the game

And isn’t that the way community should be?
Isn’t this the place they call the land of the free?

Just fucking close your eyes
And watch the sunrise
Just forget that this
World is full of shit

If these domes could speak
We would get a sneak peak
Of what it would have been like
To solo the walls with such balls
That a rope could be —
A forget me knot

And not just high balls
Climbing it all —
Like Michael Reardon
A light shining as bright
As his hair —
Blond and right on
Like a comet shooting through space

If these boulders could whisper
What would they deliver?
A four page letter about the better
Things in life: shared food, drink, and laughter
After all what the fuck else do you need?

Oh yeah, that too
But if these walls could talk
They’d prefer making love
Because there’s enough fucking fucking
Going on in this goddamn world

Yeah the love that has been made
That’s the shit
That’s the IT
That what make the J Trees
Get their swerve on
Leaning towards the infinite

If the Cyclops could talk
It might reminisce over you
And the thousands of others
That looked through its eye
And saw the light, the hope

If Course and Buggy could speak
It would teach
The way Peter Croft
Practiced his craft
And found the oneness
The Buddha would have been proud of

If these boulders could whisper
They would surely deliver
Stories of lovers like puzzles
Two pieces locked together
And rocked the boat
All night long
And then looked to the stars
For dessert

If Hidden Valley could rally
Back twenty years ago
To a young Dean Potter
And meet the necessity of his invention
Of his perplexing desire to fly
But of course the first man to fly, had to die
But that can’t stop the tears from my eye

Just like the first people to climb
On ropes made of twine and hemp
Ate up so much danger they either became
Full of fear or fearless
But less is more and its more likely
Their consciousness carried a touch of grey

So let’s take it there

While urban contemporaries
Write that the dirtbag is dead
On their apple computers
Made of precious metals
Here in J Tree there are ten and twenty
Women and men
Living out of bags
In the dirt
It’s that simple
The dirtbag is alive

If these walls could talk
They would tell us
No one ever complained
Back in the day
No one ever had the luxury
To hate the un-forgiveness
Of slabby granite mixed with sweat
After all it was all that existed
Before climbing went sport
Before climbing went plastic

J Tree just brings the truth to life
And some people don’t like
What they see when they look into
The reflection of direction
That a Joshua Tree points to
Some people don’t like it
That a Joshua Tree lives longer
Than they will
So that’s why we kill
But if we accept what the trees speak
We can write poetry til infinity

So who are we?
Are we hippie?
Are we hobo?
Beatnik or dirtbag?
We are in Cali
So we can be
All these
We can be
We want to be
If this is the land of the free

If these domes
Let their minds roam
They would tell us to come home
Come home

Come back to that place
In your heart that is
The hardest to get to

Come back to the desert
Come back to the skeleton
Get away from four walls
And listen to the walls 

If you'd like to support Mehall's writing you can make a contribution here

My books, The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed are both available online, at the Zine site, and on Amazon. 

My third book, a memoir, American Climber will be published on April 11th.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Two Front Teeth

who loves Colorado? This guy.
All Lucas wanted for Christmas was his two front teeth. At least that’s how the story goes. On Halloween, he was dressed up like a Storm Trooper from Star Wars, having a banner night at a local bar, and proudly showing off his costume that took months to make. Then, something happened, the kind of thing you never want to happen on your favorite night of the year: he got sucker punched right the middle of the face. The drunken attacker ran off, and before anyone had a chance to catch him, he disappeared into the night.

photo stolen from Lucas's Facebook page
            I found this information out a couple days after Halloween. The last couple years I’ve snuck away to the desert, I love Halloween and costumes and all the fun that comes along with it, but the bar scene isn’t really my thing anymore, so instead I prefer to party down under the light of the moon.

            I ran into Lucas at the grocery store shortly after finding out. I felt bad for him and I felt that awkward kind of guilt when bad things happen to good people. He didn’t have any replacement teeth yet so he spoke with a lisp. One of the first things he said after finding out I already knew what happened was, “I probably had a huge smile on my face when it happened.”

            That’s the kind of guy Lucas is. He finds the positive when the worst happens, always looking for the silver lining, even amidst a touch of grey. I’ve gotten to know Lucas well because he’s my co-worker. We work in a busy restaurant together. I’ve worked in the food industry now for twenty-one years, off-and-on, but mostly on. Something I’ve noticed is that you see someone’s true character when they are under stress. And, with Lucas he never fails to suck it up and get the job done, even when he’s running around like a chicken with his head cut off, like we often are at work. I’m always happy when we work the same days, because I know he always steps up to the plate and gives his best.

            Lucas and I also have the same name. Sometimes he goes by Lucas, and sometimes Luke, but he seems to prefer Luke. He told me when he started there he really wanted to go by Luke. But, I was already there, and my Mom named me Luke because she didn’t want me to go by and abbreviated name. So graciously he conceded and let me be the Luke. That’s the type of guy he is. Always thinking of others first.

            It didn’t take long for me to understand why Lucas was in Durango. He’d just graduated from CU in Boulder, and wanted to do the thing that many of us do in Durango — get a job in the service industry, buy some time to decide what’s next, and most importantly have time to get outside and recreate in this beautiful place. For him it’s skiing, fishing, and hunting. I don’t really do any of these activities, but I respect his passion, and I think all outdoor people can relate to each other. When he comes back from an adventure, telling me that he woke up at like three in the morning to hunt ducks, or fish, I’m always impressed by his dedication to his passion. Without passionate people, life isn’t worth living.

            In the meantime I’ve watched him become fully engaged in the culture of Durango. He loves each and every holiday that involves costumes, and spends countless hours constructing his own outfits, like the Storm Trooper one he sported for Halloween last year. But after getting his teeth knocked out Lucas started to lose faith in the community of Durango.

            My fellow co-workers all were concerned about his situation, especially after we learned that his expenses were totaling up to be thousands and thousands of dollars. I thought it would be cool to have a little poker night fundraiser. Lucas and I always talk about poker but we both rarely ever have the same night off, so we never get to play together. I told my boss, Cody, about this and he suggested we start a Go Fund Me campaign. I’d never started one, but the very next day after our conversation, Cody started the page, and tagged me in a post on Facebook. I shared it, and so did several other friends and co-workers. In the blink of an eye a thousand dollars had been raised. Then another. In a week it was already almost five thousand dollars!

            Then came the poker night. It was inspiring how many people wanted to help out. My friend and poker mentor Travis, who had never met Lucas, offered to help organize the event. We decided to make the night a surprise, and my bosses arranged for both of us to have the night off — a rarity considering we are both night managers. My other boss Mike, ended up working that night, and arranged for a pony keg and free food. His girlfriend told him they would be having a date night, and somehow, he never found out that we’d been secretly planning the evening.

            Everyone came over an hour before he was supposed to arrive. It was a cool and quirky mix of Durango folk: his friends and family (two of his cousins live here), our co-workers, my poker friends, and my climber friends. There were many people there that didn’t even know Lucas, but when they found out what happened quickly decided to come over and support the cause.

            His girlfriend Liz decided to blindfold him, and he watched as he hilariously walked across my icy driveway, and then up my stairs. When Liz took the blindfold off of him he was stunned. The first thing he said in a very endearing voice was, “You guys are ridiculous”, which was quickly followed by, “Wait, who is at work right now?”

            The poker game was epic, 15 some people playing into the wee hours of the night. During the break in the middle, Lucas told me about how he was losing faith in the community of Durango during this whole thing, but then all of that went away once the fundraiser started and people rallied to support him. Later he would tell me what a cool assortment of people showed up. I thought about that for a minute. I thought maybe it was his group of people, or maybe it was mine. But, then I realized that it was bigger than that — it is the community of Durango that is so awesome and supportive.

            Not to dismiss the problems we have — there’s more than one evil person running around committing acts of violence — and it’s not just violence, its drugs and homelessness and 99 other problems that ail of community and our larger society as a whole. But, if we are strong enough to support people when something bad happens, even people we don’t know, then that’s a start, and that’s the essence of community, a common unity.

If you'd like to support Mehall's writing you can make a contribution here

This piece is published in today's Durango Telegraph

My books, The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed are both available online, at the Zine site, and on Amazon. 

My third book, a memoir, American Climber will be published on April 11th.