You Have No Reason to Read This

I’m mainly writing this so I can look back on it later with fondness. I know that’s what a journal’s for, but it’s my blog and I’ll do whatever the fuck I want with it.

Anyway, what a whirlwind weekend! I pulled a 15 hour shift at the pub Thursday night, then left straight from there for O’Hare. I was there with plenty of time to spare, but I was exhausted, so I ended up passing out at the gate for a while. I jumped up right before they were ending boarding and closing the doors, and shuffled my way to the only window seat that had no windows.

The big guy spilling over into my seat didn’t stop me from passing out 30 seconds after buckling my seatbelt, but he woke me up maybe 30 minutes later to tell me we were all getting off the plane for some reason. I got off and succumbed to my love and constant want of cheese danishes and coffee. This combo is, in fact, the cure for all that ails you in life. Give me that COVID-19 – I’ll either cheese danish my way out of it or die happy trying (please don’t actually give me the corona virus – seems like it sucks).

Over 60 passengers either cancelled or changed their flights, so the plane was nearly empty after boarding round 2, and I got a whole row to myself (and the window seat had a window). At that point I was too amped from the sugar and caffeine to sleep, so I just read for the entirety of the flight. Given how tired I was, I’m not totally sure how much of that information I retained, but I know I stared lengthily at words on pages, so…

One short bus ride later and I was at the hotel. I ordered baby back ribs and a carne asada flat bread, both of which were awesome, and also consumed some low quality television. My plan was to read and maybe exercise, but exhaustion won the day and I fell asleep around 5pm. I woke up briefly at 9pm, answered some texts, then promptly returned to my slumber before waking up at 5am, just before my alarm.

After that much sleep I felt fully ready for some productivity. I stretched, listened to a podcast on wilderness therapy, lifted weights, and by the time the sun was up, got myself dressed and down to the complimentary breakfast. I made it to the campus just in time for a guided tour that was pretty short because it’s a pretty fuckin’ small building.

That let out in time for me to realize I had way too much caffeine, but “it’s okay because there’s a guided meditation that’ll help bring me back down” I told myself crackily (eye twitches were involved). It did actually help a lot. I made the intention of my meditation a sort of mindfulness and lovingkindness combo. On each inhale I said, “Love, compassion, understanding,” and on each exhale I said, “Anger, frustration, nervousness.” Then I turned it around so I was focusing my energy on the inhale, then releasing as much positivity to those around me as I could muster when I breathed out. Ultimately I was drained of all my angst at the end of the 30 minutes, and I was ready for the interview.

Honestly, I can’t recall too many specifics of the interview. It felt like it went by very quickly, and I had pretty readily available answers to all the questions. At some point the interviewer pointed out that we were running low on time and had another 4 questions to get to, so I promised to curtail my long-windedness (or at least reserve it for my blog). Toward the end I said, “Regardless of the outcome, I’m really happy to be here.”

“I’m really happy you’re here, too,” she said. So I think that part went well enough.

At lunch I ran into a few other Wilderness Therapy folks. They were pretty easy to pick out – turns out many of us are loud and outgoing and outdoorsy. We chatted over combinations of organic, locally-sourced buffet sandwiches (gluten free and vegan options were available, obvi), then made our way to the front of the building where we were to gather prior to our group interview. We piled into whatever cars were most convenient and headed to a nearby park filled with ponds filled with geese.

We were to find out about one person on our collective meandering journey to the center of the park, then introduce that person to the group. My dude was from Chicago (turns out he was even in my bar, possibly on the same night I was), and also had a sincere interest in becoming a psychedelic-assisted therapist down the line. The whole group was smiling (turns out we all liked being outside), easygoing, and immediately vulnerable and open even in spite of being in front of complete strangers.

Next we did a warm-up that involved arranging ourselves by length of the trip we took to get there, humidity of our favorite wilderness areas, and size of whatever organism most resonated with us. Then we paired off again, and thought of a question that we hoped to have answered by the end of the session (to some degree or another). Mine was, “What are you fuckin’ pumped about?”

Then one person closed their eyes, and was silently led around by the other person. The eyes-shut person was tapped on the shoulder when the guide positioned them in front of this bit of scenery or another. The intention was to answer my own question via the snapshot images provided to me by my guide. He showed me a pond with geese in it, the snow-covered mountains looming in the distance, a clear path leading off into the wilderness, and then he sat me down on a log, and we chilled there for a second looking out over the golden meadows of the park. I mean, damn, I was pumped about all that shit!

There were some portions after that that were supposed to be more structured, but we were all so excited to meet each other and chat, that we went off the rails a bit. Ah well. Hopefully that doesn’t completely drop us out of the running. “Sean displays a clear inability to focus and follow direction,” sounds like something I’d have seen more on my elementary school report cards than my hippie counseling psychology master’s app review.

Everyone was smiles at the beginning, and everyone was even bigger smiles at the end. A small group of us met for drinks afterward, ate some very healthy food, then kept the drinking going on into the evening. Fun fact: brown gravy is not an ideal whiskey chaser, but it’ll do. Another fun fact: three mushroom caps can really fuck with your mouth’s willingness to participate in a California Love karaoke routine. I called it an early night and was back at the hotel by midnight.

I called down to the front desk, “Hey, you happen to have any weed I can smoke?”

“Sure, man. Come on down, I got you,” said the clerk. I fucking love Boulder.

I woke up early the next day and lazed around until checkout. Then I took the bus to a weed shop, and walked from there to the trailhead of my planned hike for the day. Did I say that I loved Boulder? I do.

I filtered my hike search by distance and exclusively looked at “Hard” hikes. They were not fuckin’ around when they called this hike hard – it was basically a mile and a half of steep, rocky stairs. Also, it was snowing that morning. So you had to be a fairly hardcore hiker to be out on that trail at all, but still, I got SMOKED by six people on that hike. That whole “there’s less oxygen at high altitudes” shit is real. I was huffing and puffing and loving every minute of it. “I can’t wait until I can do this all the time. I’ll be passing up the out-of-towners like these folks in no time! *weeze* *cough* *weeze*”

Did the weed help with the breathing? Probably not, but it sure did put a little extra shine on the whole experience. I made it to the top and down to a lovely clearing where I hung out drinking a beer (pictured above) for a while before making my way down the rest of the mountain. Then I walked to an awesome burger place, had a couple local brews, and basked in the warm after glow of a physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fulfilling weekend. Fuckin’ ‘ey was it sweet.

Here’s hoping I got in, but if not, I’ve got some pretty amazing adventures planned that can keep me riding that bliss wave. Either way, should kick some serious ass (but also I really hope I got in).

Drunken Sunny Sunday Morning

It was a painstakingly run of the mill Saturday night. The band played crowd-pleasing 90’s covers, everyone was happy, and stress levels were low until around 2am when I looked out the window and saw a line of 25 – all in black with leather vests and jackets covered in patches – marching toward the front door.

“Well tonight just got considerably more interesting,” I said to my coworker, who was already texting all our managers who were at the company’s other bar having their own shitty night.

My cousin was at the door, and I told him to go ahead and charge everyone cover because I could already see the hundred dollar bills coming out of their bulging wallets. These guys weren’t exactly regulars, but I knew a few of them well enough that under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have charged them. To mitigate any bad feelings that might have come up over the cover, I bought the guys I knew to be leaders a round, which seemed to keep everyone smiling.

My cousin was supposed to get off right at 2am, but I kept him at the door until 2:30am just so it didn’t look like I charged these dudes cover then stopped charging covers right after they paid. When time was up, I walked up to him and said, “Alright, I told our coworkers you’re no good in a fight, so go ahead and clock out.” He chuckled and walked away.

When he came back, he put his hands on his hips, smiled, leaned in close and said, “Yeah, I uh… I’m petrified right now.” Then gave a short laugh.

“Get out of here,” I told him. Honestly, you’d be stupid not to be scared, but those of us who had been door staff longer were more used to masking the level of unease that goes along with being surrounded by gang members.

These guys were a cut above the rest, though. They had their own security posted by the front door, they used hand signals to indicate movements of the higher-ups, they posted a lookout every time one of them went to the bathroom or went outside for a cigarette, and even though they were smiling, it was pretty easy to see how quickly that box of matches could go up in a heartbeat.

One of my regulars – a guy I generally like – decided to make the joke that he used to be a part of their bike gang, which is BEYOND fucking idiotic. Words like “stolen valor” were thrown around, and I stepped in between the bikers and this dumbass. “My brothers fought and died to wear this patch, motherfucker!” is a fun thing to have screamed over you while you’re trying to diffuse a situation.

“I guarantee that this idiot has no idea what he’s talking about right now, and he doesn’t own anything even remotely like a black leather vest with a patch on it,” I said, hoping that my voice adequately masked my internal “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck” monologue.

My coworker joined me in the middle of the fray, pushing the yelling finger pointer back a little. They finally walked away at the behest of the guys I had seen in the bar more often. “We just want to drink in peace,” they tell me with a fair amount of regularity. I believe them – I’m sure they get challenged all the time. But I’m also sure they come out on top of a lot of those challenges, so I’d rather just keep things contained.

I walked away for less than 30 seconds, then saw the guy previously referred to as “The Big Boss” and his security detail striding over to the regular. Oh boy, I thought and repositioned myself behind the regular. “That man watched his son bleed out from a gunshot over this patch. I’m the only thing in between you and the absolute hell all those guys over there want to rain down on you right now, so you better quit your fucking smiling and shut your fucking mouth.” Sounded like a plan to me!

He walked back to the other side of the bar, then sent a shot of whiskey over to the regular as an act of good will, but also clearly as a power play. We still walked the regular out to his Uber just in case, and I had a moment to relax.

Then some dumb motherfucker started yelling across the bar, “Yeah I see you looking at me! You gonna act on it or what?!” He was yelling at one of the bikers! Like… What in the actual fuck, man?!

Then he gets up, and starts walking over to them, chest all puffed out. Clearly this guy had a death wish.

Apparently he met up with them in the bathroom, and because he watched a few episodes of Sons of Anarchy or Mayans or some shit, he felt like he had every right to ask these dudes about their cuts (the term for their vests). Newsflash: he did not. Granted, they shouldn’t have used derogatory terms when they were telling him to fuck off, but also, why on earth would you not just stick to your fucking self in a situation like that?!

Eventually my coworkers had me walk away from the guy because we almost came to blows because I was “giving [him] attitude.”

“I’m trying to save your fucking life, man. Drop the bravado and please just go sit down.” He was having none of it. “I served two tours as a Marine!” he kept saying. Having me walk away was the right call.

Finally, the guy in charge of security had my friend close out everyone’s tabs and yelled, “Let’s go!” He swirled a finger in the air, and they all got up and left in unison. I shook some hands and thanked some of them for their level-headedness on the way out, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Sobriety didn’t survive that level of stress. “Fuck it,” I said after the bar emptied out, and I poured myself a beer. Four beers and two shots later, one of my managers came in to close the books, and clearly tired from dealing with his own night, was having none of our tomfoolery and told us to go.

Exhausted, I fell asleep on the bus. I woke up and thought, That cafe should be on the other side of the street. Apparently they let me sleep through the bus’s change in direction, which is annoying because I’ve seen them do everything but shake homeless people awake at the end of the line.

“Oh he’s clearly not homeless – he must be legitimately tired. Let’s just let him sleep,” I imagined them saying.

I hopped off the bus and spent the 20 minutes until the next bus at Dunkin Donuts eating things I really didn’t need and drinking coffee I shouldn’t have before actually going to sleep, but it all felt like the right call in light of my night. The sun was well above the horizon line by the time I got to my apartment, so I walked with my dog over to the lake to enjoy a moment of sunshine after a dreary night. It was a worthwhile relapse, but now it’s time to return to sobriety. Hopefully tonight’s a little easier.

Sobriety Day 9

I work at a bar because drinking comes naturally to me, and drinking comes freely to me because I work at a bar. I can wake up at 3pm, still hungover, pound down a Miller Lite or two, walk my dog, eat some greasy food, and still get to the train on time to be ten minutes early for work. I maintained that schedule for nearly two months without any real problem, but it’s easily the case that I was avoiding a lot of emotional and financial tumult boiling under the surface of my dulled awareness.

I happened to have two days off in a row, and the only money I had access to for those two days was the change in the jar on my counter. Luckily I worked a private party right before that, so I packed up three or four to-go boxes of leftovers to sustain me, but there was no feasible way I was putting any alcohol into my system. It was a sort of circumstance-forced rehab that I was honestly incredibly grateful for.

I had plenty of time to think about sobriety and its benefits during those two days. First, it’s always nice to remind myself that I have some modicum of willpower and self-control. Second, according to some very basic arithmetic, I figured out that I’d been spending my rent over again on alcohol and associated outings every month. If I just cut that shit out for 60 days, I could not only fix all my financial trouble, but I could also fund the ten day backpacking trip in the Great Smoky Mountains and still have some savings left over. Sure it sounds obvious when I lay it out for you like that, but nobody did that for me so succinctly, so I had to let gears turn for a while before getting there.

So anyway, like the title says, I’m now on Sobriety Day 9. Instead of my usual post-work beer, I’ll have a non-alcoholic beer, which provides me the same “cold glass bottle in my hand” experience, combined with a frigid, fizzy, semi-bitter liquid pouring down my throat. And really, it’s only a small step down from the experience of Miller Lite. I also drink a fuck ton of sparkling water, which is a similar workaround.

I can say with certainty my mind is clearer now than it has been for the prior two months, but I think my expectations for sobriety were a little high. Sobriety doesn’t instantly solve all your problems. Substances serve to numb you to the world around you, and to your own emotions, so when you take them away, you end up with a torrent of shit that you’ve been shoving into the recesses of your consciousness. Turns out that sucks. I tear up at the slightest sappiness in movies, I find myself angry at things I used to shrug off, and I find myself sad just randomly throughout the day.

Thank the gods for my already well-established mindfulness practices – they’ve given me the capacity to acknowledge that I am not my emotions and that none of those feelings are permanent. But it’s still fucking hard to experience no matter how much awareness you bring to the table.

I worked a private event the other night, and it was my job to ID everyone coming in and put on a wristband. My fingers fumbled with the task and I’d say, “Clearly I wasn’t hired for my fine motor skills.” They’d look at my muscular hands and biceps, and the ladies would all giggle. “Oh, and he’s funny!” I’d imagine them thinking. But internally I was damning my digits for not doing their fucking job, and questioning my bravado.

In my mind, sobriety was supposed to make me infallible. Turns out I still trip over things occasionally, drop something from time to time, randomly stumble for no discernible reason, and generally am reminded that even sober, I’m human and that means I fuck things up sometimes. I’m trudging through the muddy, emotional alligator-filled swamp that is my life with more clarity, but it’s no less laborious and it still hurts to get bit.

Still, though, it feels worthwhile, so I guess I’ll keep going. Cheers! *chugs Pellegrino*

Legalized

It was a gangbusters night at the pub New Year’s Eve. Nearly 500 people made their way through the door over the course of the evening, dumping cash and guzzling down booze. When the clock struck midnight, weed became legal in the state of Illinois. As it happens, one of Chicago’s few recreational dispensaries was only a few blocks from the bar and it opened at 6am. Since I didn’t get off of work until nearly 5am (and then drank heavily for 30-45 minutes after the doors were closed), I thought myself perfectly poised to get in before the rush, grab exactly what I wanted from the selection that had yet to be depleted, then bounce the fuck out happy and high as a clam (I’m assuming clams are big smokers).

In my slightly drunken stupor, I missed the bus stop and ended up coming at the place from the north. “No line!” I thought to myself. “Nailed it!”

As I got closer, I could see the beginnings of a line hidden on the south side of the building. By then it was about 5:40am, and I made it a little over three quarters of a block before finding the tail end of the throng of folks waiting for their weed. It was probably about 25 degrees, and the fuckers at the front had been there since midnight, which shocked me because stoners aren’t known for their forethought.

I took my place in line thinking, “Well I’ll wait until the doors open, see how fast the line is moving, then bounce if I think it’s taking too long.” At first, the line went at a decent pace. They were letting people in 20 at a time, so we’d move in big chunks. I imagined that most people there that early had a fairly decent handle on what they were looking for, so they weren’t wasting their time perusing the selection. Since I come from Cali where this shit’s been around a while, I knew my order well before I got in the line – it made sense that these early birds did, too.

I passed the time shooting the shit with the middle-aged folks around me. Everyone was in good spirits despite the biting early morning Chicago cold. Many of these folks had been waiting a whole lifetime for the day they could smoke themselves silly within the comfortable confines of the law, and it was finally here. Soon, the sun started to peak over the horizon, and I could tell the line wasn’t going anywhere for a while, so I offered to go grab coffee for my new friends while they held my place.

Initially I was excited to see a local coffee shop closer than the Starbucks, but of course they didn’t open until 8am that day and it was only 6:45am. I walked the extra couple blocks to the chain store that I’m significantly less fond of, its lights were mostly off inside, but I could see two barristas doing their opening shit, so I tapped on the glass and pointed at my watchless wrist. They held up seven fingers, so I waited by the door until they unlocked it. I got the coffee and a cheese danish (the guilty pleasure that I refuse to ever give up), and enjoyed watching the colors of the sky change while I waited for the bus.

When I got back to the line, I was hopeful that my little group made it farther along. “Maybe they’re already inside!” Silly optimism. They had barely moved at all. As if he heard the sigh of disappointment, a man who had successfully made it through the line drove by in his minivan, waving his canvas tote around outside the window and shouting, “EVERY DAY! EVERY FUCKING DAY NOW!” with so much joy in his voice that you couldn’t help but get swept up in it. The line cheered and clapped for him, and was reinvigorated to continue the standing and waiting. By that time, the line wrapped around corner, then went three blocks north on the adjacent street.

It was fucking cold. I couldn’t feel my feet. Dress socks are never the right call in winter unless you know you’re going to be inside, but in my defense, I very much thought I would be. They passed around hand warmers, and I immediately shoved it to the end of my shoe. Because there were so many people in line, we only got one each, so I had to alternate which set of toes I thawed. The coffee and the alcohol got me out of line three times so I could relieve myself in the alley, which was a much more justifiable breaking of the law before the sun came up, but no less necessary even after it did.

“You could totally just leave and come back later,” cropped up in my mind from time to time, but at some point I had been there too long to not see it through. Just before 9am they moved us into a different line so that we could give our phone numbers for followup when it was our turn. Bars opened early for the special day, so me and my little contingent went to warm up at one of the nearby drinkeries. Carafes of mimosas were $14, so I got one and turned down the offer of a glass in favor of drinking straight from the source.

Across the street was a highly-rated breakfast joint, so I pushed past the line of respectable people with kids and shit, and found a seat at the bar. I shot the shit with the young man sitting next to me. His tie dye shirt made it obvious that we had some things in common. I was my usual drunken ass of a self, making the bartender make me an old fashioned with maple syrup instead demerara. It was a’ight, but I was also too drunk to know. I honestly don’t remember if I paid my tab there or just walked out, but the breakfast sandwich and the service were solid, and I was a douche, so I certainly hope I paid and tipped well.

Around 11am, when I was about to give up and go home, I got a text telling me it was time to get in yet another line, as it was nearly my turn. “If my drug dealer made me wait five minutes in the cold, I’d be like, ‘Fuck this, I’m calling somebody else.'” I joked with the people in line 3 of the day. I finally made it into the dispensary, and spent about ten minutes procuring my shit. By the time I got out I thought, “Well fuck at this point my bar’s open again!” So I walked back there to tell my tail to my coworkers and friends and have a few more half-price drinks before heading home.

The combination of weed and alcohol kept me there longer than expected. Eventually I was woken up at the bar by a close friend who lived nearby. She had had a full night of sleep, so she was ready for some fun. I drank with her for some ungodly amount of time, told and retold my story of the morning to anybody who would listen, and shared the spoils of the battle with anyone interested in partaking.

In the retelling of my evening, my coworker said that his favorite part was when I picked my head up, looked at him eyes half-mast, and said, “Man, I’m so tired right now.” He noted that I could just go home. I did not.

I walked my friend to her apartment, then struggled for probably 30 minutes to get into her computer with every possible iteration of her password. She passed out sitting on the kitchen floor with me while I typed and retyped that shit more times than I can count. She lost her phone at some point in the evening and needed to get up for work early the next morning, and an alarm on the computer seemed like the only viable option. Finally I thought, “I bet this chick has an old clock somewhere in this apartment,” and found it after only a short time of rummaging through her nightstand.

I got her off the floor and took her to bed. Apparently that woke her up, though, and when someone insistently says “Kiss my pussy!” you don’t just turn and run. What kind of gentleman would I be if I didn’t muster up what remaining energy I had to comply? By 9pm I was finally on my way home. Obviously, I don’t remember much about that bus ride, but I’m sure I gave the homeless folks a run for their money in terms of how haggard I looked.

I don’t regret the time I spent being a part of such a monumental occasion, but I can say with certainty that I don’t care what drug they legalize next – I’m not waiting in another fucking line ever again.

Doing “The Work”

I was doing a guided meditation led by Sam Harris the other day, and at some point he asks you to focus on a strong emotion from recent history. My brain immediately went to the incident where some douche leaving the bar with drinks in his hand spilled beer on me (see my last post for the full story). Then I flashed back farther to a memory of my boss yelling at me.

He’s a larger guy – played rugby in college. He stood looking down at me, arms crossed, saying that I was acting shady and trying to give away merchandise and drinks without recording it. For the record, any time I give out drinks or merchandise, I enter it on a Comp tab. I hadn’t done that, yet, so when I handed one of our regulars a shirt for her birthday, it looked to him like I was just giving shit out for free.

“You really need to get it through your head that you’re not a fucking manager, Sean!” he said.

Reliving that experience pushed me farther back to my freshman year of college. I was in ROTC, and I was sitting with a group of my fellow cadets in someone’s shitty apartment. We were all drinking, and the guy in charge of the unit at my school (also a rugby player) snatched my glasses off my face.

I needed glasses since I was seven, my vision was absolute shit, and one of the forms bullying took for me as a kid was having my glasses knocked off my face. All the physical prowess and bravado I had accumulated by the time I was 19 went right out the window when I was sitting on that bed, and had my glasses ripped off my face like I was 8. I started to tear up, which only made him rip into me harder.

I finally got the glasses back, and got up to leave, but he followed me out the door.

“You gonna cry like a little baby?!” He slapped me across the face. Hard. “Huh?! What’re you gonna do?!” He slapped me again.

“What the fuck, man?! I thought we were friends?! Why are you doing this?!” I yelled, backing away from him down the sidewalk. More tears.

He finally retreated back inside. I don’t remember why. I just sat on the curb crying until one of my friends drove me back to the dorm.

He was never penalized. I never told anybody. He felt terrible afterward, but I’m willing to bet I felt worse. I was helpless in that moment. I couldn’t see, and I was being hit by somebody who I respected and looked up to. I didn’t know what to do. Should I have hit him back? Should I have told someone and gotten him expelled? Would I feel better now if I did any of that? Hard to say.

The guided meditation kept going for what felt like forever after that. I couldn’t recenter myself. My entire body tensed and my breathing went shallow. My dog snuggled up against me, clearly reading that I was upset and trying to soothe me. By the end of the meditation I had come back to neutral, but the residuals of my anger still reverberated through my consciousness.

In a podcast I recently listened to, a psychologist I respect a great deal said that the difference between a good therapist and a great therapist lies in their willingness to work on themselves. My friend recently commented on all the shifts I’ve made in my life and my aspirations of working in psychotherapy, saying that I’m making all these moves without addressing some of the root problems. She was referring to something slightly different, but this particular meditation session definitely felt like work, and it was fucking hard.

Honestly, I have a hard time with guided meditation sessions like this because my brain often goes to anger and sadness. Could I focus on happy moments? Sure could! But that’s not the route my brain has been trained to follow. Neural plasticity tells me that I can change that, and I know that to be true, but I also know that I’ll have to sit through countless more shitty experiences like this to get there.

Writing helps. Meditating helps. Exercise, eating well, getting enough sleep – all helpful in setting up the right embodied space to do the hard work of digging up your past and sifting through it for small flakes of hope and wisdom. It’s worth it, but boy does it suck.

Sticks and Scarves

It’s the end of a Thursday night, which for me means it’s Friday morning around 4:30 a.m. I’ve just closed down the bar and polished off two beers and about three and a half shots of Jameson in 30 minutes before catching the bus.

Earlier, a trolley full of drunk idiots in their early twenties rolled in. One of them drunkenly stammered over to the stage, so I watched him to make sure he didn’t try getting up there or assault the acoustic duo playing tonight. He spit on the floor, so I grabbed his drink from his hand, “You’re done, let’s go.”

Well, apparently this particular drunk idiot was the organizer of the bus, so that meant all the business he brought in would be leaving, as well. It’d been so slow that I backed off and told them they could stay if they agreed not to be fucking assholes. Tall order. Two guys darted out the door with a full glass of whiskey, a beer, and a full pitcher. I caught up with them across the street. I grabbed the drink and the pitcher, then had to wrestle the beer bottle from the guy, resulting in a beer-covered left shoulder and beer in my left eye.

“Don’t be a dick, man! At least give me the pitcher!” He yelled.

“Go fuck yourself, bro,” I said, looking him in the eye while I poured all three drinks onto the sidewalk. I stood by the door and stopped about ten more people from walking out with their drinks. Fucking full moons or Friday the 13th’s or whatever.

Anyway, I have “slacks” and “wings” written on my left hand so I don’t forget those things when I leave, but I already ate the wings and the slacks have gone missing. I did get a lovely scarf from the lost and found, so the night wasn’t a total loss.

At this hour, the bus is largely filled with homeless people riding back and forth across the city to stay warm and get some sleep. Admittedly, it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s homeless given that everybody looks pretty haggard between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. Everyone’s eyes are barely open, and they’re slumped into the support provided by their five layers of winter clothes and/or newly acquired scarves.

Many people nod off. The guy to my right who just polished off a styrofoam container of fried rice is snoring at varying volumes. A man in a three-piece suit is asleep against the window in the back. Those that are awake stare blankly at their phones or some meaningless fixed point in front of them. The man at the front is scribbling something on a napkin. Maybe it’s a poem? A piece of his memoir? A grocery list? A plan to overthrow a dictatorship? I won’t be asking because… well… it’s almost 5:00 a.m. and I’m in Chicago, and “mind your damn business” is the most surefire way to stay safe.

“Howard! Last stop!” The bus driver yells at the top of his lungs in the hopes he won’t have to get out of his seat to wake the sleeping passengers. I leave before I find out.

On my short walk home I find a pretty awesome stick. It’s got a good circumference and decent heft, so I grab it. One car drives by and I imagine they think I’m off to club somebody or rob them at stick point, but that’s not the plan (at least for tonight). I huck it into the little fenced-in park near my apartment, excited to show my dog when we get there in a few minutes.

Good news: he liked the stick. When he started eating it, it was time to go. Food and too-little sleep waited for us back at the apartment, and I needed to be back at work in less than 12 hours. At least my neck was warm, though.

Where The Wild Seans Are

While the breweries, dispensaries, and museums made for amazing time-consumers, the real reason I was in Boulder was to check out Naropa University, as their Master’s Program in Counseling Psychology with a focus on Wilderness Therapy is the coolest fucking program I’ve ever heard about. To give you a brief rundown, you spend two and a half years checking the boxes to become a licensed counselor, much of which is spent outdoors doing backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing, kayaking, and horseback riding all over the US. I mean… come the fuck on. How cool is that shit?

Anyway, the day of my visit started with sitting in on a Human Growth and Development class required for all first year students in the program. The teacher had been at it for 32 years. She was frank as all getout, full of fiery calmness, wonder, and humility, and she reminded me a lot of my aunt. She felt compelled to tell you things right as they cropped up in her head, and they were always relevant, informative, and entertaining, while still being kind of an interruption. I loved her.

The class started with a few minutes of silence and meditation, then a “bow in.” I read about the bowing before I got there, and it sounded a little on the hippie side for my tastes, but after actually being a part of it I think they converted me. After letting me introduce myself, the badass teacher picked up where the class left off last time – on the fourth of five developmental stages as defined by Robert Keegan. After about an hour and a half of lecture, we broke off into small groups of 4 or 5 and created arts-and-crafts renditions of the five stages. Glitter and paint and Elmer’s Glue were thrown onto large pieces of construction paper, then we went around describing our chosen visualizations. Then we went on break.

The second half of the class was taught by the graduate assistant. She started off with a one-word check-in on our emotional states, then we got up out of our seats to stomp our feet, grounding us in our bodies. The lesson was on post-traumatic growth, which can be an exhausting topic for everyone involved. Feelings get brought up, emotions run high as we silently launch into remembrances of our own traumas, and then we’re supposed to learn how to counsel someone on them on top of that. It was invigorating and a real reality check as to what this career involved. We ended the class with five pushups, ten jumping jacks, a final check-in, and a bow-out. Fuckin’ loved it.

I had some time in between the class and my meeting with the admissions counselor so I got some (of course the ingredients were organic and locally sourced) empanadas and a beer. I made it to the main campus (there are three, soon to be two) early, and read out on the lawn in between the buildings. The sun was shining, there were attractive people doing yoga and acroyoga in the grass, birds were chirping in the trees, and you could see the mountains in the distance.

I was wearing my Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) shirt, which just had the logo on the front. A gorgeous young lady in pigtails walked by while I was standing in the office waiting for the counselor, pointed at my shirt and said, “I love your shirt! MAPS, right?” I’m sure I blushed and said something meaningless like, “That’s right.” Honestly I was too drunk on awesome to solidify any of it into memory. 

The counselor was kind and knowing and wrote down the book I was reading so she could look into it later. While we talked I found myself thinking, “Oh that’s some hippie nonsense” with a fair amount of regularity, but when asked, I had to admit that I did indeed practice multiple forms of meditation (including mindfulness and loving-kindness) and yoga, I had a daily alarm on my phone to remind me to practice gratitude, and I journalled regularly about my thoughts and emotions. Fuck, I’m totally a hippie, sort of. Fit right in here, though!

Next I met with the career counselor, who just graduated from the program last May. She described her reaction to first reading about the program like, “Holy shit! This exists?!”

“Fuckin’ right?! That was VERBATIM my reaction!” I shot back at her. She, like pretty much everyone else I met, was beautiful and fit and authentic and captivating. 

I hit up a couple restaurants before making my way back to the hostel for an early bedtime, then I got up before the sun again, hit my weed vape pen, and made my way to the lobby for coffee and waffles. There was a second floor that was entirely unoccupied, so I read until the sun came up, and did some breathing and stretching exercises (the hostel beds were not the kindest to my back). Quick shout out to the Wim Hof Breathing Method – I definitely think it helped me adapt quickly to the lower oxygen up there even in the face of my extreme lack of cardio lately. 

Serendipitously, the trails were closed to bikes on Wednesdays, and the road leading to the trail was closed in the middle of the day, so I was completely alone for the duration of my four mile hike. It was serene and it allowed me a lot of time to integrate my experience in Boulder. The main takeaway being, “I’m gonna fucking love it here.”