Run Down

Over the past couple of months, I’ve had to take two unplanned days off from work because I wasn’t feeling well; today being the second of those days. I’ve noticed that when I have such a day, if I take a good chunk of the day to just rest (sleep if possible, but if not, just rest and sort of not focus on anything), I get to feeling better rather quickly, that my ailment will rarely plague me much beyond that day. This leads me to believe I’m probably just not getting enough rest in general, which is what’s allowing me to succumb (to illness) and get to this point; as in the past, I’ve rarely had to take an actual sick day once in a year, much less two in a matter of months. I think I’ve been charging a little too hard lately: with work, weekend commits with family and otherwise, and on top of it all, not getting enough sleep throughout the week. It’s also been quite some time since I’ve been on a regular exercise routine/schedule, which historically has always made a big difference in my overall health. I think these things all add up until the body finally says “enough!” I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions, but if I were, I think mine for this coming year would simply be to get back to finding that balance. Work hard, yes, but realize it doesn’t have to occupy all of my time (not just actual work time, but time spent thinking about it when not working). Get back on the treadmill and at those weights. Turn the TV off an hour earlier and go to bed. Eat healthier, drink more water and less alcohol and coffee. Get back on the nightly walk schedule, even though it’s cold out. If I’m going to be of the most value to my family, my employer, and myself, I need to get back to keeping the machine tuned.

Take care of yourselves, all.

Cheers,
R

Calm

I find myself consumed with work lately. If I’m not actively working, I’m thinking about it. This isn’t by choice, as I’m certainly not some workaholic that doesn’t know how to have a life. It’s just that we’re that busy at work. It’s fairly stressful at times, to be honest. At times like these is when I really enjoy simple, peaceful images like the one above. I just find it very calming; clears the mind a bit. What I really need, though, is another hike like the one on which I snapped this image. Nothing is more peaceful than a good hike in the Fall! I shot this on a hike around Dry Lake, just outside Ely, MN, back in late September. It was absolutely beautiful, and I’ll definitely be going back sometime.

This image is now posted over in the Autumn gallery, along with another image or two that might be new since the last time you visited. Go check ‘em out. I’ve also posted some new images, both color and black & white, over in the Minnesota Landscapes gallery. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Once again, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate all of you that choose to follow my work.

Cheers,
Ryan

The Desert-Island Album List, Vol. 1

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I've been talking music a lot lately with family & friends; I think partly because I just started stepping back into vinyl recently, and also because I find I always fall into my music more when life sometimes gets a little more stressful, as it helps keep the balance. As such, for my own amusement, I've decided to come up with my own "top 10 records I'd want if stranded on a desert island" list.

Here's the catch: I'm only allowing myself one album from any individual artist/band. Otherwise it'd be too easy to fill up 70% of my list with three bands and not really think about all the varied musical artists that have had an impact on me over the years. I want to force myself to stretch and step outside the albums I play the most.

Given this limitation, it's going to take me some time to develop the full list; thus why this post was labeled "volume 1." So I'm starting with the three albums you see pictured above, in no particular order: 

  1. Sleater-Kinney's "The Woods"
  2. Tom Petty's "Wildflowers" 
  3. R.E.M.'s "Life's Rich Pageant"

Now, those who know me well might be shocked that I didn't also post Beatles, Stone's, Bowie, and Pearl Jam albums right away. Yes, those are also among my very favorite bands, and that's why they're so tricky: choosing just one album isn't easy! So some deliberation is required...

Now, back to the albums that are already chosen for today... Why these?  

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The Woods, Sleater-Kinney

If you're a Sleater-Kinney fan, you get it. Released in 2005, this was presumably their last album, as they essentially broke up after this album. And man, did they go out with a bang! They went darker, deeper, and more powerful in every way on this one. They employed a new producer on this one, and he really brought out the best in them here. Corin's vocals are more powerful than ever on this album, and that's really saying something. Her voice just grabs you and shakes you this one - it's captivating and awesome. I feel like Carrie Brownstein was also finally let loose on this album, showing us what she can really do with that guitar. Her work on this album is epic.  Janet Weiss, their drummer, is just awesome as always. I feel like she's one of the few drummers in rock that you really notice - you'd definitely notice if they tried replacing her with anyone else.

Lyrically, the album is easily their best, IMO. They put some work in on this one, and it shows. This is an album that makes you think, makes you feel. When they reunited and released their new album, "No Cities to Love", in 2015, it rocked, of course, but couldnt quite live up the level of "The Woods".

If I allowed myself a second pick from this band, it'd be their 1997 release, "Dig Me Out". That album is such a perfect marriage of punk and pop, light-hearted and yet rocking and lyrically strong at the same time. You hear influences of old-school punk, modern alt-rock, and the Go-Go's all at the same time.

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Wildflowers, Tom Petty

Overall, I won't be ranking albums on this list - with the exception of this one. This album I have no problem calling my favorite album by anyone, ever. Released in 1994, I picked this up when I was a junior in college, and it immediately spoke to me more than any previous album of his had, and I was already a HUGE Tom Petty fan. As I've gotten older, it's only spoken to me even more, as I think Tom's storytelling style tends to hit on a lot of themes that speak to us as we get more into mid-life; and this one does that in spades.

Also, I think the last three tracks of this album provide the best multi-track closing to any album ever. Any one of those three songs is beautiful and strong on their own, but played in succession, they're pure magic.  The last track, "Wake Up Time", is my favorite song in his catalog, and still tugs at the heartstrings every time.

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Life's Rich Pageant, R.E.M.

It's hard for me to articulate why this album speaks to me the way it does, but it just does. R.E.M. has been one of my favorite bands ever since I became old enough to start developing my own taste in music; I started with "Document", which was the popular album at the time (and the one that finally really broke them into the mainstream), and kept moving on with them from there. 

As I got more into adulthood, I found this was the album I kept coming back to when I just wanted to feel "free", if that makes sense. As such, this has become one of my favorite road trip albums over the years. In fact, my kids now just expect they're going to hear this one a couple times when we go on long road trips. :) 

So there's my initial three for the list. Stay tuned for more to come...

Youth, the Big Decisions, and the "Midlife Crisis"

I know I usually just post about photo and outdoor stuff here, but I need to shift gears here for a bit, write about some other stuff that’s been on my mind lately. To that end…

Youthful Decisions, Mid-life Effects
Not far back, I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine, the kind where you talk about stuff you’re going through, stuff other friends/family/coworkers are going though, etc. Being men in our mid-40’s, it centers around a lot of the typical mid-life stuff: work stuff, marriage/relationship issues, various life goals achieved or missed, etc. As I was reflecting back on this conversation, I came to a conclusion…

It’s insane how many life-long decisions we make when we’re still young and stupid! Think about it: marriage, career, kids, perhaps place of residence - how many of these decisions are we making that we tie ourselves to for our ENTIRE LIVES when we’re in our early twenties, when we’re essentially still adolescents?

Marriage
Many of the marriages that dissolve these days are happening at the mid-life stage and beyond, when couples get into their 40’s or even 50’s. Sometimes it’s because of a dramatic event like infidelity, but often it’s just because the couple “grew apart”. When many of these couples had made the decision to get married back when they were college-age, is it really surprising? How many of us are the same people at 40+ that we were at 20 or 25? Hell, looking at myself, I hardly recognize the guy I was back at the age when I got married. People grow and change; sometimes this growth/change for each member of the marriage happens in a complementary way so that the couple actually grows stronger, but what happens when they grow in divergent ways? Is it surprising that the splits happen then? So then, why do we make it so easy for people at such early ages enter into a legally binding contract that is meant to last FOR LIFE? Then, when it doesn’t work out, we make it incredibly hard to get out of. It seems crazy.

Career
Career choice is another interesting area where we make a seemingly lifelong decision when we’re incredibly young. Is it really expected that we should only have a professional passion for ONE THING for the entirely of our working lives? And that we should really know with certainty what that lifelong passion will be at 22? Now, one can ostensibly change careers at any point during their lives, but let’s admit that it’s not easy, particularly the further along the you get, and especially if you get established in a field that you’re experienced in and pays you well. Money doesn’t equal interest or passion, though. I love tacos, but I wouldn’t want to have tacos for dinner EVERY night for the rest of my life. We make such a decision about our work lives, though, and then we act incredulous when someone complains about their “great career” when they’re seemingly at the height of it: “How can they be burned out? They have everything!” (“they’ve got tacos!”)

Residence
I don’t think this issue is quite as prevalent as others, but it definitely comes up for many, and it’s usually tied to the other two issues I mentioned above. Often people have to make a choice on where they live very early on in adulthood, usually tied to the choices they made related to marriage or career, or perhaps just to be close to other family. Then they get tied into a mortgage… Later, perhaps they think, “this place doesn’t work for me anymore,” but then they’re stuck because their employer requires them to stay at their current location, or the spouse doesn’t want to move, etc. Again, tied to the choices of youth…

Why?
So the question is, why do we setup our society this way? Why do we suggest to everyone that they should lay out the plan for their entire life at 22, and if they deviate from that, there’s something wrong with them? “How dare you not still be in love with that person you committed to at 22, even though you’re both completely different now?” “No, don’t change careers after 20 years! You’re all set! So stick to that profession that you’re no longer interested in, because you should still be passionate about the same things you were at 22!” Etc., etc…. Does it not seem a bit ridiculous? It’s no wonder so many people have what’s commonly, dismissively referred to as a “mid-life crisis”. It’s no fucking mystery what’s happening with these people: they’re finding themselves stuck in these decisions they made when they were essentially still kids. Maybe the marriage doesn’t work for them anymore, but now they’ve got the kids, mortgage, etc., so it’s not so easy to get out. Maybe they’ve lost all interest in their career, but it pays the salary to support the kids, mortgage, etc. Is it any wonder they feel trapped?

Now, I’m not suggesting any of these things is a problem for all. As I said early on, many people get married young and grow together stronger throughout their marriages, more in love at 80 than they were at 20. Likewise, some people face retirement at 65 and still can’t imagine giving up the careers they’ve been working for over 40 years. However, all I’m suggesting is that, when they don’t, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised or demonize them. People can change a lot over the course of becoming fully realized adults, and if those changes require a change of course, why try to stop it?

2016: Year of Loss

A common theme that resonated across social media towards the end of 2016 was that 2016 could “suck it”, that we’d lost too many great people this year.  It certainly did seem that way.  A friend and I were recently talking about this, and we realized this probably has to do with our age, that being smack dab in the middle of Generation X, we’re finally reaching that age where all our heroes and favorite entertainers are starting to die off, given how much older they are than us.  For me personally, 2016 was a year of great loss not just because of losing some of these artists that meant something to me, but also due to other personal loss that really hit deep.  Following I’m going to write about the combination of these losses; in order of chronology, not importance.

January came out swinging, hitting us all with loss of David Bowie.  His death hit me far harder than I would have expected.  I’ve long been a David Bowie fan, have a handful of his albums and really enjoy all his work, but don’t know that I necessarily would have called myself a “super-fan”, collecting everything he ever did.  However, as I thought about it, processing why I felt like I was grieving almost as if a personal friend had died, I realized something: he had been a large part of the soundtrack of my life.  His music was around from before I was even born, and with every new genre that got spawned within rock throughout my life, he was usually at the forefront, practically creating it.  When you look at how often he reinvented himself throughout his career, always keep himself interesting and relevant, it really is amazing.  He was always there, always pushing us.  The day before he died, my wife and I were listening to his latest and last album, “Blackstar”, which I had purchased when it came out the day before.  As I was listening to the lyrics of some key tunes, I said to my wife, “I hear a man who’s nearing the end of his life, and just doesn’t’ care about fame and all that crap anymore.  It all means nothing.”  The next day we found out he died, that he had kept this big secret of his liver cancer from everyone.  He was telling us, though, if you really listened, through his music.  He still continues to have a profound effect on me long after his death…

March brought the defining, brutal loss for me.  On March 12th I lost one of my best friends back in Colorado: Jeremy.  He was only slightly over a month away from his 45th birthday when he surprisingly died from a heart attack that was triggered by an infection that traveled from elsewhere in his body.  He had no health problems that brought it on; it was just a fluke thing.  Just a week prior I had been discussing with him plans to go out to Moab with him and some other friends of his for a mountain biking trip to celebrate his upcoming birthday.  He was a great guy, loved by everyone who knew him.  I flew back for his memorial service, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a room so packed with people to grieve for and celebrate someone.  We’d all get together again a couple of months later for a little concert festival to raise money for the family he left behind, and once again, it was amazing how many people came out for him.  There hasn’t been a day since his death that I haven’t thought about him, and I still miss all the future conversations, outdoor outings, parties, and good times we now never get to have.  I’m now 42, and that just seems too young to already be losing my friends to natural causes.  I’m tearing up a little just writing this, so moving on…

April…  Now Prince!  Are you fucking kidding me?!  Now it was a trifecta for me.  As with many from my generation, Prince was one of the first artists I really got into as I grew out of childhood into adolescence, one of the first artists that was creating my soundtrack by my own design.  Also, his death carried a little extra weight for us Minnesotans, as he’s always been much more of a cultural icon here.  So many entertainers that hit it big leave Minnesota once they do, heading for the coasts, but he chose to stay with us, still loved us and this place we all share.  In the Minneapolis metro area, that was especially significant.  If you went to First Avenue downtown the first couple nights after his death, it was crazy to see the amount of people that came out and flooded the streets to honor him.  Same thing at Paisley Park down in Chanhassen, where they actually had to close down the road to traffic due to all the people there.  The feeling of unity among fans was really something.  But back to the loss, this was like a hammer to the head after I’d already been punched in the gut and the face.  I was pretty down after Bowie, flat-out depressed after Jeremy, and now comes Prince, too.  And the thing that really hit me about Prince’s death – it was on Jeremy’s birthday.  So I’m already sad, thinking about my friend, and then get hit with this - the twist of the knife.  I already felt done with 2016, and we weren’t halfway through…

September – loss in pride of company.  In September my company was rocked a very public, national scandal.  I try not to publicly write about my employer, especially in the negative, but I’ll just say “phony accounts” and you’ll know whom I mean.  Then it was also revealed that whistle-blowers who tried to expose the problem early on had been fired.  A couple months later there’d be an addition of unauthorized insurance accounts being opened, etc.  It was a slew of stuff, and I won’t pretend that it compares to a death, but after you’ve worked at a company for a long time (which I have), it sort of becomes part of your identity, and to see that part be exposed as a massive fraud – well, that hurts.  It hurts when you no longer want to utter your company’s name when people ask where you work.  It’ll resolve in time, but a broken glass never really goes back together perfectly; it’ll always look a little different after broken.  The bright side, if there is one, is that at least the area I work in wasn't involved.

November – loss of country.  Now, Trump supporters might get all upset here, but this is a post about how I feel, so they can’t tell me I’m wrong.  When America elected Trump, even if it was with the minority of the popular vote, it essentially validated all the hateful and fascist things he spouted for those who agreed with him.  If you’re on social media much, or ever read comment sections at the end of news articles, you’ve likely seen the rise of racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Islamism, and just all around white supremacist behavior that has accompanied his rise.  It’s been quite astounding to me, the sheer volume of it.  It was always there, under the surface, but now there’s apparently no reason to hide, as they have a champion heading to the White House.  Not long ago, you had to try to hide your racism, as it was generally accepted as a societal wrong and you wouldn’t want to expose it.  Now, though, with a prominent racist at the top, people are exposing it with PRIDE.  It’d be one thing if it were just hateful online comments, but sadly there were also many physical attacks against people in these groups in the weeks immediately following the election.  Many people who voted for him claim, “I’m not a racist, and I voted for Trump,” and knowing these particular people, I believe them.  However, knowing that these attitudes were part of the package, if you still voted for him you might not have been voicing hatred for all the affected minority groups, but you at least said you didn’t care about them, as you were willing to risk their safety for whatever your reasons were to vote for him.  Anyway, the result of this election has me feeling like I don’t recognize my country anymore, like we’re about to step about a century back in terms of social progress.

As a side note for November, I’d also like to note the loss of Leonard Cohen.  I didn’t really start following Cohen until maybe 5-7 years ago, but in that time I’ve really come to appreciate his work.  His lyrics really spoke to me.  I think above all else he was a poet; he simply put his poetry to music.  His lyrical depth is right up there with Bob Dylan, in my opinion, and I appreciated how he was willing to explore darker themes.  He wasn’t a lifelong, defining musician for me in the way Prince or Bowie was, but I’ve really come to appreciate him in these later years, and regret that we’ll no longer have his unique voice providing us new perspectives going forward.

December – loss of stuff and a cultural icon.  December was going by largely without incident, seeming like it might ease 2016 out in a nice, easy fade.  And we had the new Star Wars movie, “Rogue One”, coming out, which I was very excited about it! [side note: it kicks ass]  If only that were the only Star Wars news we’d be getting that month, though…  Sadly, as I’m sure everyone reading this knows, we lost Carrie Fisher on December 27th, just a few days after her heart attack.  For many, Ms. Fisher was never anything more than Princess Leia.  She was so much more than that, though.  Besides acting in many other great films, she was a very accomplished writer, stage performer, and brilliant crusader on issues like mental health and drug addiction, both of which she suffered herself.  What I really admired about her was how open and honest she was about her own tribulations whenever she spoke publicly.  I think she honestly disarmed many interviewers, as they didn’t have to probe to get to any secrets because she just threw it all out on the table.  She was a brilliant woman, and I think the world’s a little darker with her absence.

The loss of stuff was the burglarizing of our house on the night following Christmas.  I won’t go into detail about that, as I already wrote very recently about that.  That happened pretty much the day before Ms. Fisher died, so that was a nice one-two punch that week.

OK, so 2016 sucked, right?  No!  I’d never say any one year is all good or all bad.  Yes, there were some bumps in the road, but there were also some great times, including a few fun trips I haven’t even had time to write about yet.  I had a great cross-MN bike tour (from IA border up to Lake Superior) with my friend Morgan, had a fun beer tour trip with my friend Gene out in CA (though it was on that trip that I got the news about Jeremy), had some fun camping/hiking trips with my family at various MN state parks, had a fun backpacking trip with my friend Mark back in CO, and much more.  As you see new images pop up on this site, they’re all from good times I had throughout the year.  This year just had a little more on the loss side than most years, so I felt I wanted to write about that.  Overall I can’t complain, though, and look forward to continue plowing ahead in 2017.

Cheers,
R