Taking A Cold, Hard Beating In Life

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Photo Credit: M&R Glasgow Link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/glasgows/2200685325/in/photolist-4mt65r-ekrgJt-a6vJdG-5FH4VD-uF9ih-8XjWpc-rG1Ab2-rzxLc5-waqrBf-v1cxSC-u87vbu-tnA3Gy-wnFUzk-qMamXQ-qTnkp1-tFD3rq-7UTZAg-7Fk5f2-hMPcyx-dQCf9W-wTyKP-bWiVm2-72FndA-cJWEi-6dS18j-kja511-jAnYzN-p8LucZ-8txYwK-cE5u1w-63Sp2P-ku75L6-bwDfTi-csKbXb-cB5abE-4RGYkK-63WCb7-762KYT-7v33Ly-762Jb8-4AE4Gy-766Fij-5x79sv-6KiwBU-63WCmE-5TGymf-4LHZv2-5HyVxA-63WC27-63WC6j  The last nine months or so have delivered a few harsh blows in life, the latest of which has left me reeling with fear, and the blast radius has affected some of those closest to me. It happens to us all. I’ve put a lot of time and work into transforming my once permanently cynical mentality. But none of us is immune to a breakdown from time to time. The last few days, I’ve found myself uncharacteristically asking which day will be the one where I finally throw in the towel. A small but significant memory has begun to show up for me repeatedly, no doubt a result of this damned positive brain training I’ve been practicing the last few years.

I’ve dabbled in several martial arts forms over the years, including Aikido, Hapkido, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Jeet Kune Do, and Kempo Karate. A few years back, I entered Faglier’s Kempo Karate in Augusta, GA, home of some of the biggest badasses of the CSRA. I’m proud to say I’ve trained on the same mat as local MMA champs Jason Faglier (Sr.), Jason Faglier (Jr.), and Alex Faglier. Until that time, I had mostly trained in controlled application of joint locks, chokes, throws and takedowns. Faglier’s was the first dojo I had visited where they routinely practiced full contact sparring, and anyone could try it.

I appreciated this new opportunity, figuring if I was ever to gain real confidence in a street fight situation, I should probably learn to take a punch and give one back. So I dove in head first as usual. I picked one of the biggest, baddest mofos in the dojo and asked him to spar with me after class. Go big or go home, right? His name was Matt. He was an advanced brown belt, MMA and competition experienced, and he also happened to outweigh me by around 80 pounds of solid power. He cheerfully obliged. Come to think of it, perhaps that should have worried me.

Anyway, we chomped down on our mouth pieces, gloved up, and stepped onto the mat for three rounds. Around, oh, fifteen to twenty seconds into Round 1, I was gasping for air like a chain-smoking asthmatic. I was in pretty considerable shape at the time, but let me tell you something: Being winded in the gym with a jump rope is one thing; it’s another thing altogether when you add The Iceman, delivering shots to your rib cage like a jackhammer to a Popsicle stick birdhouse. I dropped my gloves to insinuate I was done. He swiftly replied by delivering a solid right cross to my jaw. It’s hazy, but as best I recall, I believe I momentarily saw a grinning purple unicorn wearing gold clogs, a Black and Mild clinched between his teeth, tap dancing on Matt’s left shoulder.

I shook my head and regained my focus. “Never let your guard down,” Matt said in a lowered voice with a piercing stare. “Never give up.” It was obvious I was going three rounds with him whether I felt like it or not. Round 2: Shot to the nose. Dazed. Another shot to the jaw. Dizzy. Shot to the solar plexus. I was fighting the urge to yark. Round 3: By this point I was secretly just hoping for a knockout blow to put me out of my misery. I was struggling to keep my gloves up. But every time I would drop my guard, he would deliver another shot to my face. “Stay with me. I know you’re tired, but you can’t quit. Come on, man, stay with me. Stay with me.

After three eternities, the Round 3 bell rang, and I realized I was still alive. I had survived three rounds with one of the best fighters in the dojo. He grinned with spirit, slapped me on the shoulder, and told me I’d done well. And he reiterated, “Never, ever, EVER give up.” We bowed and exited the mat. I could only assume what he meant by “I’d done well” was that I hadn’t vomited, had a seizure, pissed myself, or offered up the ghost. He had pushed me WELL past my level of comfort. But he had ignited a fire deep within me to push on, despite several very convincing urges by my mind to throw in the towel. See the first paragraph. Sound familiar?

Every visit to the dojo after that I would step onto the mat with him again. I took beating after beating . . . at first. But then something began to happen. After several weeks, I discovered I could take several hard hits in succession without losing focus. I could swiftly respond with my own flurry of strikes and maintain my defensive guard. I could anticipate an incoming strike based on his body movements. I could spot holes in my opponent’s defenses. And I could make it all three rounds and still have the stamina to go three more.

Some blows in life can leave you in such a state of shock and dismay that you’d swear you could hear the gentle whisper of Death offering sweet (albeit false) relief. Whenever I take a crushing blow in life, or several crushing blows in succession, as seems to have been the case these last several months, when the panic sets in, when I feel like I might puke or pass out from the sheer stress of it all, I start recalling those same sensations as I went head to head with Matt. In my mind’s eye, I can see and hear him, voice lowered, determined stare, urging me to press on, to never give up, to stay with him, even as he beat the shit out of me, because he saw something within me that I didn’t see within myself, and he knew he would be doing me a great disservice by letting me throw in the towel.

I can still feel those body and head shots like torpedoes, rattling my chest and brain, leaving me dizzy and gasping for air, not unlike the aftermath of some of life’s atomic bombs, but slowly etching a permanent message onto my heart and soul: that though I may feel pain, guilt, fear, panic, anger, sadness, frustration, hopelessness, and a whole host of other vivid human emotions at any given time, and though they may FEEL very real, even debilitating, at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, at my core, I’m still a fucking gladiator.  See Two Breakthroughs, Part 2 of 2: Fearless

For what they’ve taught me, I’d like to acknowledge my friends at Faglier’s Kempo Karate for being a part of my mental and physical training. You can find them here for more details.

If I took pictures of every injury I’d sustained in martial arts, I’d have a small bible. Here are a few minor injuries:

After Percocet. Broken and dislocated.

Head contusion. Bow staff to the temple.

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First Album Release and the Quest For Perfection (Which Is BS, By The Way)

Superglue NightmareI’m thrilled to have just rereleased the Superglue Nightmare Demos, number one of my first three albums released from 2002 to 2009. These albums are raw and far from perfect, and after enough internal conflict and angst to fill three psych wards and still have enough left over for both sides of the Caitlyn Jenner debate, I’ve yet again found myself fumbling (and occasionally just walking) down the path of self discovery. Current life lesson: Peace with imperfection. Let’s discuss this elusive bitch, er, beast that is “perfection.” It’s a pandemic that has infected every human mind in history at some point or another.

We humans have this obsession with flawlessness, with the way things SHOULD be, but aren’t. Then at some point, we have this big revelation and decide that being flawless is crap, and we’re not going to give a shit about our flaws anymore! What you see is what you get! Then we have a meltdown because we realize we’re not flawless at being cool with our flaws. So then we do some yoga or meditate or pray or stab our spouse or something, after which we arrive at a peace with our newfound discovery: that everything ALREADY IS flawless, for better or for worse! Perfection! We just didn’t see it before! And that makes us better than you, because you haven’t made that particular discovery yet. But it’s OK, young Grasshopper. Here, you can bask in our flawless glow. 

In December 2014, you may have read my post about splitting with a promising record label. In January 2015, after dealing with some frustration, I picked myself up again and started making plans for a Kickstarter campaign to fund the remainder of my half-finished Tripp Powell & Co. debut album, Vintage Revival. I also began working on a publicity album entitled The Shotgun Sampler. The premise of The Shotgun Sampler was to put a few original songs from each of my first three albums onto one compilation for distribution. The album was so named for the manner in which I intended to release the compilation: quickly, without worrying about over polishing it, just to give fans a sense of my original sound. I’ll give you three guesses to see where this is going.

So four months later, I’m still working on the finer points of this “quick” album release, finding myself averaging 4-5 hours of crappy sleep per night, sucking down one to two energy shots per day, juggling my paying job (nursing) and my non-paying job (music), in the middle of my worst ulcerative colitis flare ever, frail and sickly. It took me that damned long to admit to myself and to everyone else that I was stressed out of my mind. After all, I’m the positivity guru, right? I’m beyond stress . . . cough, cough, BS!, cough, cough. And the ultimate stressor? DELUSIONAL SEARCH FOR PERFECTION. I found myself completely sold on the notion that this musical venture should be flawless, perfect and without mistakes. Are you starting to smell what I’m stepping in?

So once again, I picked myself up (side note: NEVER GIVE UP; thank you John Eliopolo), checked myself into the ER for a jump start to wellness, started therapy with a great new GI doc, picked up the kettlebell once again and started putting on the muscle with an old trusty (and absolutely brutal) weight gain regimen (thank you, Time Ferriss and Pavel Tsatsouline), and took the following detours:

  1. The Shotgun Sampler can go to hell, or at least collect dust on an earthly shelf for a while.
  2. All three of my first albums will be hitting online stores, starting with the Superglue Nightmare Demos. Look for the next two in the coming months. They each have imperfections, and dammit, I’m cool with that.
  3. Vintage Revival will be postponed, but is still very much alive. I’m leaning toward giving Kickstarter another shot later this year for funding.
  4. In the words of my good friend and mentor Javier Silva: “Get your shit out there and start playing live! Get messy! Make some mistakes!”

My friends, we human beings have the misconception that there is a way life SHOULD be, which causes us to resent and to resist the way life IS. Consider my notion that this musical venture SHOULD BE flawless, perfect and without mistakes. See where it got me? A pretty fair shot at taste testing different soil types and contributing to flower growth, if you catch what I’m saying. Have a look into where you expect perfection, or where you try your best to portray it. True, passionate, amazing life isn’t for the polished, the refined, the flawless. It’s for getting dirty, making mistakes, and loving yourself and those around you all the more for it. 

“I’ve learned so much from my mistakes, I’m thinking of making some more.” -Cheryl Cole

Tripp Powell & Co. are rehearsing and gearing up for live shows in the near future. If you’re itching to get your hands on a copy of the Superglue Nightmare Demos pronto (and you should be!), you can find it here. Expect it on iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Rhapsody, Slacker, Amazon and all other major music outlets soon. Cheers.

Flat Tires And The Great Cosmic Joke

Flat tire.

Flat tire.

I’ve been on a money kick lately. The last several months, through a possibility created through the coaching of friend and mentor, Javier Silva, I identified a huge loss of power around my personal finances, and I put the kibosh on previously unrecognized frivolous spending. I’ve needed new tires for a while now. I started shopping around in July.

After deciding new tires were out of the question, I began to do some serious homework around how to inspect used tires. For THREE MONTHS I shopped. One night, I randomly looked on a local classified ads site. Lo and behold, there was a very nice set of “lightly used” Michelins listed within the last six hours, and they were just the size I needed. I called the next morning and went to the guy’s house. Very nice neighborhood in a prestigious area. They were taken off a company car per protocol to replace tires every three years, regardless of condition. I inspected all four tires and they passed. I took them to a reputable tire place. The guys told me I’d made a good choice. Happy to have this checked off my list, I had them installed.

The next morning, I drove about 30 miles to work down the interstate. About 2 miles from the hospital, the back right tire blew out. I pulled into a parking lot, hoping it was something minor. It wasn’t. This freaking tire looked like it had been on the wrong end of a drive-by shooting. I called work and informed them that I’d be late. I then proceeded to get the jack, lower the spare, etc.

Still dark at 6:30 AM, I’m in a deserted parking lot, changing this damned tire, cursing under my breath, envisioning what I’d have to spend on another set of tires, thinking about having to dig into my savings, watching my hard-earned money float away like piss into the wind. In that moment, as I was cranking off the last lug nut, I happened to look over my left shoulder. Above me, in the distance, a bright and full moon hung quietly, with wispy   gray clouds passing over it like transparent curtains. I became aware of the stillness in the middle of town in the early morning. It was eerie, but not disturbing, if that makes sense.

Directly I became aware of how small I was. I became aware of how, in the grand cosmic scheme, in the great wide world, a flat tire in the middle of a quiet town was utterly meaningless. I actually laughed out loud at myself. It was completely absurd that this event should bother me so. I was alive. I was breathing. I could smell the morning air. And if I should have to deplete my entire savings account, it was completely within my power to build another savings account.

One could say I “became present.” That is to say I became aware of what was occurring in that exact moment and stopped surrendering myself to the stressful, chaotic and reflexive machinery that was my subconscious stream of thoughts on auto-pilot. My friends, one of the greatest discoveries I’ve made in life thus far is the identification of those thought processes which regularly find themselves in my stream of consciousness. If you can identify those thoughts, you have the ability to change them. But be warned: Doing this regularly can cause loss of cynicism and anxiety and complete transformations of one’s worldview. I am the evidence. 🙂

Vent Once, Don’t Repeat

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I was once shadowing a preceptor in the hospital setting who was providing me with on-the-job training. He would go perform various medical procedures, and I would observe and sometimes assist as needed. This was a large-scale hospital with many different departments.

One afternoon, we were called to the neurological (“neuro”) floor. My preceptor for that day had been called to insert a central venous line into a patient. Apparently the neuro floor staff had a reputation for being arrogant. I could sense that my preceptor was on edge on the way there. When we got there, we found out who the patient’s nurse was, but she was nowhere to be found. We asked around, because my preceptor wished to converse with the nurse before the procedure to make sure everyone was on the same page. Of a sudden, the patient’s nurse popped her head out of the staff break room.

“What do you want?” she asked my preceptor curtly.

“We’re here to do the central line,” my preceptor replied.

“Yeah, I don’t know if that’s gonna happen,” said the nurse, her head disappearing back into the break room like she was some kind of sporadic meerkat.

My preceptor was visibly frustrated. “This happens every time I come to neuro. They’re all assholes,” he said. He then began perusing the patient’s chart, searching for an order for the central line, which apparently did not exist.

A few minutes later, one of the desk phones rang. The meerkat popped her head back out, answered the phone, had a brief discussion, and hung up. She then cast a glance at my preceptor and said “Yeah, I’d hold off on that” before disappearing back into her burrow, leaving us still clueless as to whether or not anyone needed our services.

My preceptor had now gone from Dr. Cox’s normal demeanor in Scrubs to almost Jerry Maguire being fired. “Does no one need a f&%$#@g central line!?” he exclaimed, grabbing his supplies and storming out of the neuro unit. On the way back to our unit, I accepted the opportunity to be of service to him by allowing him a space to vent. He didn’t require much coaxing. “They’re always assholes up there. They think they know everything. I’ll be damned if I’m going to put a central line into a patient when her nurse is more concerned about her quesadilla than she is about her patient. . .” And so on, and so on.

During the rest of the day, our work, as usual, carried us to different sections of the hospital, during which my preceptor would “vent” . . . to intensive care, to registration, to radiology, to emergency medicine, to medsurg, etc. He would also continue to “vent” to me en route to different departments. It began to occur to me that as these “vent” sessions progressed, they were becoming less about the act of venting and more about perpetuating the original offense. I began to explore this phenomenon around my own life.

Soon enough in the days which followed, something happened in life which frustrated me. I don’t recall the exact event, so let’s just say it was an intoxicated patient who had come to the emergency department for an emergency syphilis check. I called my girlfriend afterward. In our usual manner, she asked me if I wished to vent or to get feedback (we are routinely up front about these type conversations beforehand, so that advice is not provided when it is not requested). I told her I wished to vent, and vent I did. But standing in the space of this new exploration around venting, I began to become present to how attached I was to the event which had just triggered my anger. My girlfriend was present to it as well, and gently reminded me of it, in addition to how much I was judging this patient who was clearly uneducated about the purpose of emergency medicine. I colorfully told her what she could do with her crap advice. She laughed and reminded me again, only this time with more aggression and some colorful language of her own. (What? Psh . . . I don’t love her).

Anyway, after I hung up the phone with her, guess what I had the strongest, most compelling urge to do? I’ll give you a hint: I doesn’t involve productive communication. The string of these thoughts and experiences led me to realize that we as a society have a great misunderstanding around the act of venting our frustrations.

Around this time, I created a little experiment for myself. It was simple. Anytime any event occurred which produced enough anger within me to feel the need to vent, I allowed myself to do just that. The catch? I was only allowed to vent once. I could vent to the person of my choosing, but only once. Afterward, I had to let it go and move on. This experiment produced some anticipated results; some surprising ones as well. In summary, here is what I discovered:

  1. a rapid decrease in the number of times I was triggered and felt the need to vent about anything
  2. a rapid decrease in the amount of time it took to let something go when I was triggered
  3. a surprising realization of longstanding issues about which I still felt the need to vent (after which I vented once about each issue and let it go)

My friends, this personal experiment eventually became a way of life for me. Here’s the long and the short of it: There is a world of difference between getting something off of your chest (or venting) and welding yourself to a point of view. Most of us do not truly know the power of the word. Language is creation in action. Be careful, dear friends, that vent sessions do not become disguised creations of bitterness and resentment. The more you vent about something, the more likely it is to become a permanent part of your thinking, which is counterintuitive to the purpose of venting.

Vent once, and let it go.