Hope Like Calculus, Hope Distorted

File this one under: if you know, you know.

Went guitar shopping today.  I had gone to the store (Manchester Music Mill–holy crap, this place is awesome) thinking I’d pick up something modest and a tiny amp to play at home.  There were a couple of reasonably priced Jazzmasters on sale, and it’s legit been four or five years since I’ve plugged in, so the voice in my head was steering me towards the budget section.

I tried a few of the smaller, lighter instruments and kept finding myself back in the heavier section.  One of the salespeople was super nice and encouraged me to try as many as I liked, and he didn’t make a peep when I plugged in and sounded like garbage.  (This is huge; music and especially guitar store employees are stereotypically pretty arch–think that IT guy skit from SNL but with facial hair and maybe a ponytail.)

By fifteen or twenty minutes in I was pretty giddy.  “This is such a great place,” I said to the guy.  “Christ, it’s been so long…your prices are cheaper in here than online.  I think I can take a step up.”

He told me that he’d be happy to work with my budget and see where we could take some more money off.  Enter the red Gibson.

When I plugged in and found the right gain setting then just sat there and let it feed back, I felt this twin wave of joy and disappointment.  Joy that I’d found that sound again–that I made that sound again, that howl and wave that I can always get my head in and out of, that somehow I would want to stand in for my actual voice and words most of the time.  That noise.  That is who I am.

But disappointment, a sharp jab of sadness, that I had willingly deprived myself of this feeling for so long.  Because…I couldn’t spare the time?  I wouldn’t spare the time?  I thought I had nothing left to share?  I don’t know.  I let that howl hang out in the air for someone else to grab and get inside of for way too long.  Never again.  It’s mine.

I hit an E5 at seven and pushed the Gibson towards the amplifier.  Some dude across the room took a step back, turned his head.  I got inside of that noise and felt the guitar in my hands, and then my eyes teared up.

Goddamn it is good to be home.  It is so fucking good.


Lessons Learned From Rocky 1 to Rocky 3

One of my favorite Cornershop songs.  (Actually one of the only two ones I know and like.)  Did a podcast today that should be up in a few days and before the interview we spent a decent amount of time talking about lessons we’ve learned over the years and I did mention I had this blog sooo……….

Here’s the hardest, most important one if you are bent on starting your own business, particularly one that you hope will enact your heart somewhere out into the world:

It is okay to want to make money.  You should, in fact, plan to do that.  Your business (you know, the one with your name on the insurance binding) exists to serve you and to serve your family by serving your customers and employees.  Healthy, happy, profitable businesses make the world and especially their immediate surroundings better places to be.  There is no valor in being a martyr to ‘the grind.’

I’m not sure if it was the Catholic upbringing, falling into the pit of apologetics (not the good kind, but the apology kind), handing out discounts like candy to make people smile, or what, but it took me a good five or six years to realize a person shouldn’t feel badly charging what they’re worth.  The right people will appreciate that, they will see that you work hard to fill that exchange with value, and they’ll stick around.

There is this sort of toxic soup around cost that can make it hard to understand these things.  Living and working in a small town, I see this all the time.  It is as though things are expected to materialize and services to be rendered at no cost.  Engaging in that dialogue and being around that sort of diseased magical thinking can be incredibly disheartening and it can rob you of a significant amount of your pride in a job well done.  None of those things are happy and healthy.  Get a good amount of gone between yourself and that sludge.

In my mind, the antidote is a clear and present meditation on greatness.  Does that sound corny?  Probably.  But what I mean is to take yourself back to the start–when you were dreaming, when you had the fire to believe that your idea deserved a seat at the table.  What do you burn for, what do you ache to be?  What would you still do if they took it down to zero and started everything over again?  Start there.  Think big and start small.  Plan to be great.  Look for people who want you to be great.  Find one or two who demand that from you.  They’re out there.

Read great books.  Look at great art.  Learn about people who went hard in the paint at their dreams.  Folks who designed intricate bridgework, built skyscrapers, wrote novels.  Stand tall and aim high.

But start.  Now.  With alacrity and a bold heart.  As Ronnie sang, “you can do this…if you try”


Some Of This Stuff Is Private

Some of this stuff is private.  The things I say to myself in front of a barbell.  Some words, some names.  Sometimes just sounds.  Sometimes listen you fuck, you finish this fucking lift.  That’s not private; it’s listen, you fuck.

Sometimes it’s this word, just this something you say over and over and over again until it becomes what you do within an exhale, then within the inhale, then within the howl between breaths.  And when you get inside your own wind, when your need is that acute and the word is an intake hiss, you feel like the fucking ocean.  Illimitable in domain, formless in shape.  Just this big, sucking maw.

On Sundays a few summers ago, I would squat and push the Prowler.  Every Sunday was pretty much the same workout.  10 sets of 6 on the safety bar, 3 sets of 12 goodmornings, and 8 prowler sprints.  It was my church.  I’d come in here, open the garage door, turn up the music (Hellacopters, Pixies doing Memphis and Head On, old Kenmore Square shit like the Joneses and the Neighborhoods), and go to work.

Those were some of the best days.  Maybe it’s crazy to remember so many moments from workouts, from training.  The way the sun felt walking back into the gym, thinking how I’d forgotten Unchained was on that playlist, bent down beat down on a bench, not sure if I could do another one but making a deal–okay you have two left but you only have to do one.  And then well fuck, you only have the one left and it’s going to hang low in your brain like some stupid bauble you had within your reach so fucking do it.  Empty the fucking tank.

You don’t have to prove anything to anybody is what Rowdy Roddy Piper said.  That’s your mantra.  Fucking see you later, tootsie, and you do the last push.

Hold fast to the truth here: that you are making memories.  Every bead of sweat, every stink of work: you own it.  Every time you put yourself through this shit, you are making memories.  How hot it felt.  How cold the water was when you were done.  The nap you took, still wet from your shower.

You wish every day could be like this.  Not every day will.  Maybe not many days.  But every now and again, you live one that you’ll remember for the rest of them.  You made it.


Write what you know.

Moments, usually after dark but sometimes just after sunup on the weekends.  You wonder when it will all come together.  Then you wonder if you’d even recognize together if it bit you in the ass.  And whether that’d be enough anyhow.  Days sink into each other, after all.

You are supposed to rise above.  This is what everyone tells you, what every book says.  But you get into your head and do your work in silence, in dark rooms, alone after everyone has gone to bed.  You dream, and you feel ten million miles removed from the people two flights of stairs up above.  They are at the destination, and you want to bring them something of permanence, then everything.  You want to bring them your love expressed in this work, done in solitude.  In a world where the screamers and attention-seekers always win, always fucking win, you hold to your conceit.  The more people yell, shout, call the world over to their corners, the harder you bite your lip.  The problem is that eventually, you bleed.

So the challenge is alchemy: crimson, thick with iron, into stone.  Stone doesn’t move, but you can carry it.  Maybe this is your rock and there is your hill–that the work may be most of what you get out of the whole deal.  That the work will have to be its own reward.  Now–bite down on it.  Bleed into it.  The acid you taste is resolve.  Make this rock your presentation, what you hold in and bring out of your heart.  You would carry it over hill and dale, in the cool of the plain, under a desert moon, now that you know.

Thanks to SB for the prompt and KM for the read.  Treasure is where you find it.


Seems like a good place to stop.  Didn’t think I’d get to 200 posts here; it’s waxed and waned and I’m proud of some and slogged through the others.

Cheers to those of you who hung in there and thanks to those who provided feedback.  Putting stuff out into the world like this invites silence and it was always meaningful to hear that it had been received on whatever level.  I’d originally conceptualized this as the arm of an online training endeavor, plus writing…something.  Then it was my diary of sorts.  Now it’s just a thing I remember to water every now and again and really just hope my kids will like someday.

Time to bring it back to the vest.  Peace on out.

Beast, Badass, Nightstalker

Yeah, Nightstalker doesn’t totally fit.  Was going for aggro.

We had a great post in our members group today from a fellow who mentioned that he might have wanted to go a little lighter and easier in his formative years of training.  To his credit, he noted that he might not have been able to come to this conclusion without pushing that envelope on his own.

The thing is, showing up three times a week is so much harder than pushing through one hard deadlift or burly squat.  It’s not even close.  And yet, we exalt these singular moments as though there were no preamble; hell, we exalt failed reps if the lifter makes enough of a cacophony and fuss over themselves (hashtag ‘the grind’).  I see this every day.  Beast.  Badass.  Nightstalker.  It’s no wonder our kids think practices are boring and nothing under 90% ceremony is worth doing–we fixate on spectacle.  And it can be incredibly frustrating to swim against that current when day in and day out the most impressive things you see are the people that just keep showing up.

This is perhaps odd to admit and may come off as a humble brag, but one of my proudest achievements is putting in the work it took to squat 450 and deadlift 600 without being told how badass or whatever I was, or to have built a business without hearing some garbage like “you deserve a vacation.”  What does that even mean?  People in steel mills for 30 years deserve vacations, not folks who’d like to have a few more three-day weekends.  I’m proud to have put in the work it took to lay the foundation. That’s its own reward, and not hearing contrived piffle meant to curry favor or flatter makes me feel like I’m acting like I’ve been here before and people are picking up on that.  That’s huge to me.  I hope that we have created a place where that’s celebrated too.

So I guess here’s to walking in the door.   Even if the door is in your own house.  When you show up, even if it’s just for yourself, you’re doing the hardest part.  As the JAMC sang, that’s the hardest walk.  From A to B.

Coach as Caregiver

One of my favorite films is Diary of a Country Priest, directed by Robert Bresson and based on a novel by Georges Bernanos.  I won’t spoil the plot, but it’s a beautifully shot meditation on the nature of care and the integral function of solitude in the life of the caregiver.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of coaching as care, really before it becomes anything that might resemble education or encouragement.  One of the things that we tell our coaches at Woodshed is that their first duty is to do no harm.  From that fountain, you develop the practice of care: about your profession, about the athletes under your watch, and about your fellow coaches.  Sometimes one track outpaces the others for a time, but you get there.

Solitude in the life of a professional coach means a certain distance, particularly from your athletes.  This can be hard to navigate, particularly for the newer coach.  I remember my first few years of coaching, which alas coincided with the first few years of our gym.  I sold, went to sleep, sold some more.   I was on twenty hours a day.  We were building something, and my understanding as a sole proprietor was that folks had to like you, like really like you, if they were going to stick around.  At some point I realized I had bought myself some friends, but not necessarily to the benefit of my business.  When the first domino fell, I was left with the fuzzy notion that folks who had met my family and heard my stories should just be cool, goddammit.  Of course, that’s incredibly narcissistic and bad business to boot.  People-pleasing usually is.

Years later, our community has grown to twice that size.  I care deeply about our members and coaches, and I know that feeling is largely reciprocated.  But while I have shared significant swatches of life with many, in person and virtually, there is now a productive distance in effect.  My triumphs, struggles, and issues shouldn’t be fodder for the relationship between coach and athlete, or between manager and employee (Christ I hate that word)–my job is to give care, not receive it or ask for it.  This is the splendid isolation that Warren Zevon sings about, a position and a vantage you willingly and completely inhabit.

I knew I was onto something when a friend and I jokingly compared how infrequently the folks in our circles check in on us.  This is as it should be in the life of a professional coach; our people should walk into the gym understanding that it’s about them, not us.  This I know.

The funny thing is, I’m less sure than I was ten years ago about how you ought to teach someone to squat or deadlift.  The more you learn, as it happens, the less you’re sure.