Category Archives: Hope

Melanoma Monday: Please Read

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St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, and one of many beautiful reasons to live as long as you can.

Today is a day dubbed “Melanoma Monday,” by a group seeking to raise awareness about sun safety, not just for anglers, but for everyone.

Here’s the thing about melanoma, and all skin cancers for that matter: When you get diagnosed, it hits your life, and the lives of your family, like a ton of bricks.

This isn’t the type of illness where you’ve smoked for years and part of you saw it coming. We’re not talking about people who aren’t… we’ll say… “nutrition conscious” and know that sooner or later it’s going to catch up with them. Those types of cancers or illnesses, while devastating and unfortunate, are like car accidents that occur when someone’s speeding and running red lights: You hope like hell they don’t happen, but at the same time you’re aware to some degree that they might.

Melanoma is not like that. And I’ll stipulate here, that yes, there are people out there tanning on a regular basis to achieve that perfect glow. They’re not the people I’m talking about here. I’m talking about anglers and outdoorsmen who just consider sunscreen as something to “maybe put on if they happen to remember.”

I’ll share my family’s story, not for sympathy, but because I believe it’s one that many families probably share, and one that we need to prevent at all costs.

My father, a hapless driver, was in a minor car accident at the age of 74. It was nothing serious, a fender bender, but they asked him to allow some X-rays just to make sure nothing was broken.

Nothing was broken. There was, however, melanoma spread throughout his body: Stage IV. As many of you know, there’s no Stage V, unless it’s Heaven.

That is how you get told you have six months to live. You’re in a fender bender, doctors run some tests, and then you’re having the most grave, terrifying conversation of your life with a doctor. You’re consoling your wife and calling your son with the news. I’ll remember that phone call forever, just sitting on the stairs of my Red Bank apartment, holding my phone in my hand, wondering how to phrase the news to my then girlfriend, wondering if I should drive home immediately, wondering if it were a dream, wondering if I could just go back to sleep and wake up and have it not be real.

But this is not a story of sadness, the human condition is not despair, the default emotion, for all of us, if we can maintain it, is hope. My father’s hope turned a six-month death sentence into two-plus more years of life.

My tattoos tell a story I am too shy to share, and my first one was four Gaelic words surrounding a cross and a shamrock (our family’s maternal side are Gillorens from Kilorglin, Ire.). One of those words is Dochas, which means, and I’ll quote directly here: “Hope: bringing faith to the future.”

Until we are broken, that is our default emotion that, despite whatever hardship, we return to again and again: Dochas… hope… faith in the future. And that’s what I’ll summon today, Melanoma Monday… faith that we are ever closer to the cure.

The Heart and Soul Behind Catch a Cure

12091395_10102696255289636_8511669274550224479_oI’ve had a few very kind anglers praise this project, and my ambition to eradicate skin cancer from our planet, and I’m grateful for every kind word, but I’d be remiss to take some kind of credit when there are people, and one specifically, who might not be blogging, who might not be on Facebook, but who is a hundred times the human being I will ever be, and who inspires me every day.

Pictured above is Marilyn Jones, my hero and my best and oldest friend. Ms. Jones, or ‘Nana’ as she’s know to those of us close to her, reminds me every day, every time I’m home, and with each phone conversation, how strong a human being can be, what we can endure, and how we can remain positive.

Marilyn Jones was born in 1934 into poverty, and has worked almost every day of her entire life. More than that, she has created a unique, accepting and loving atmosphere for her seven children and 13 grandchildren… a place where we all feel “home,” in a way we might not anywhere else.

When grandchildren started coming (I was the first in 1986), Marilyn closed up the doors of her yarn shop, where she knitted amazingly beautiful garments and sewed anything that needed mending, and began caring for the next generation. She watched me, my younger cousins, and a host of fortunate toddlers in Upstate New York and saw them through to the beginnings of adulthood. I have friendships to this day that were born in that daycare, and some of my closest friends are from those earliest days.

I am not, nor will I ever be a good enough writer to express how kind and compassionate, strong and beautiful of a woman this is, and I’d do her an injustice just in trying. In a single day, she’ll tell me she’ll mend ripped jeans, cook something delicious for dinner, tell stories from her past that will make you laugh until you cry, or cry until you laugh, and do it all in such a way that reminds you that there is nothing in life you cannot overcome… indeed she has been faced with and challenged by the most heartbreaking of human conditions, whether that was losing loved ones, suffering medical difficulties herself, or… most recently, losing her beloved West Highland White Terrier, Duffy.

But before she even has breakfast or reads the paper, takes her myriad of medications that keep her functioning as best she can, she has an idea for what to do that day, what can be accomplished, what problem can be fixed, what hope can be sewn where there was none before.

She is everything, every day, that I hope that I might some day become, and I am the most fortunate of men to have had her presence in my life for as long as I can remember.

Road Tunes: The Soundtrack Behind Catch a Cure

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Fishing with Clarence Clemons in 2010 was a dream come true.

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

This quote is one that, depending on which stage of life you’re in, might make sense to a greater or lesser degree. If you’re a young person inundated with the various forms of streaming music, free music, YouTube music and every other kind of music, music might just be a constant part of life you are able to take for granted.

If you’re a little bit older, and remember getting a cassette for your birthday, that you could put in the tape deck of your first car, maybe music for you, like me, is the soundtrack to escape, freedom and discovery that paves the potentially rocky path from adolescence into adulthood.

I said recently in a blog that part of the reason behind Catch a Cure was my love for the open road, but that’s only part of the story. Were that ride down the East Coast and out to the Pacific, or that first Catch a Cure, or this most recent one, a quiet one… it might not have been undertaken.

On the road, with the right radio station on, the little nagging thoughts in your head, the worries, concerns, the self-doubt, fear or anxiety…those bumps seem a little smoother as you roll over them, the shocks in your soul respond a little more lovingly, forgivingly.

We all have our own music, and the fact that it is ours, that we discovered it, however we did, is part of what makes it so endearing to us. But the true beauty of music is that, no matter how personal it is to us, we get to share it with a community of people we might not know otherwise. If you are the only fan of a given musician or band, well… I think you’re mistaken if you believe that you are.

With that in mind, in hopes of connecting with more of you music-lovers out there, here are the top three bands that kept the bumps in the road on both journeys less jolting, because the musical shock absorbers were there to help me take them in stride.

Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street Band: This guy, and his musical catalogue, almost defies any attempt I’d take at describing what he means to his fans. I fell in love with Bruce at the age of 18, and 13 concerts, one tattoo, and one trip fishing with saxophone player Clarence Clemons later… suffice it to say it’s only gotten worse. I am one of those Bruce nerds who could debate the different lyrical versions of Thunder Road with you well into the wee hours of the morning, and if you’re of a similar mind, I hope we fish together some day. But for those of you who aren’t, I’ll quit rambling romantic about the Boss. Suffice it to say he is, and always will be, number one in my book, my first radio pre-set, and a concert I’ll always try to make it to if it’s at all possible.

Pearl Jam: I believe in a lot of ways these guys inherited the Rock throne from Bruce, or at least co-occupy it at the moment. They’ve stood up in defense of important social issues, they’ve written passionately about the political climate in America, and year after year, they’ve produced important, incredible and highly enjoyable music. Like Bruce, Thank God, they have their own Sirius radio station. I once drove 14 hours to Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, and slept in a parking lot for two nights, to attend Pearl Jam 20, the celebration of the band’s 20th anniversary.

The Gaslight Anthem/The Horrible Crowes: I’m grouping these bands together, because they’re headed by the same frontman, Brian Fallon of Red Bank, New Jersey. If Bruce is the old guard in my musical collection, and Eddie Vedder’s the now-accomplished Rock Star, I think Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem is the budding “future of rock and roll.” (Bruce nuts will get that reference…) When I lived in Red Bank, I’d run into these guys once in a while and they could not have been nicer. I’ve seen them in concert a handful of times now, and Fallon is equal parts rebel and poet, and I’m hoping his bands, his solo projects and his musical efforts are the beginning of a career as long as Bruce’s.

LOTR: The Tolkien/Cancer Connection

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 1.22.19 PMAlright, I’ll start this off with a fair warning: I’m a nerd. Certainly that word has had several meanings for different generations, but I think for the most part it implies that you care about something more than, perhaps, you should. For better or worse our society sees Apathy and indifference as “cool,” and so emotionally investing yourself in something risks your being called names. I’ve been called most, so I’m hopefully developing a thick skin. Who was, for all intents and purposes, the “King of Cool”?

I’ll give you a clue: He died driving a Porche in a reckless fashion, the same one in which he lived much of life. His legend is forever cemented in the immortality of youth and apathy toward danger. James Dean did, arguably, the “coolest” thing anyone can do: He died young and seemingly unafraid. We might give lip service to condemning that kind of behavior, but look around… we as a society are on our knees praising it. Hendrix, Cobain and Dean are all almost revered in popular culture.

When I was in High School, I absolutely fell in love with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was halfway through Return of the King on a school night, and I feigned illness the next day to stay home and finish it. Yeah… I was that bad. Something about (skip this if you’re not a LOTR fan) a King like Aragorn, disguised as a simple Ranger named Strider, was tremendously endearing. Perhaps we all want to believe that we are “more,” beneath the way we present ourselves to the rest of the world, and that concept embodied in Tolkien’s pages, and later on the screen, was an endearing one to a high school kid who got cut from every team he ever tried out for, save for bowling (They didn’t make cuts).

The most endearing thing about Tolkien’s work, which manifests itself in a great deal of literature, though… was a simple concept: Hope despite hardship. Tolkien chose hobbits, not kings or soldiers, to save the fate of the universe from evil overtaking it. Sure, a wizard helped… but ultimately it was a tiny creature from the Shire that defeated Sauron’s empire. To solidify my Nerd status, I’ll pull a second reference from Christian Bale’s portrayal of another of my heroes from youth: Batman. He says to Katie Holmes’ character at one point in the movie: “I am… more.” He was, in the movie, as was Frodo… “more,” than he appeared to be.

That kind of inspiration, and I’ve drawn it from several places, is what keeps me fighting this disease when I ask myself nagging questions like: “What will $4,000 accomplish against an illness that persevered, killing millions, despite trillions of dollars being devoted to cancer research?” What difference will this make?”

I try not to get too religious in my Catch a Cure ramblings… because I’m aware we all have our own faith… but a baby born to a carpenter in a manger might have seemed like an unlikely hero to save all of humanity at the time, too.

But Tolkien isn’t some obscure author you have to search through pages of Google returns to learn about. His work is published in dozens of languages, read around the world, it has become a million-dollar movie franchise, and he has a fanbase that spans the globe.

And although his prose was incredible, his understanding of language, fascinating, and his ability to tell a story, almost unparalleled… I don’t think that’s what has kept his works alive long after his passing.

I think that the central premise of his work is simple: Although the world at times can make us feel small and insignificant, that does not mean we are incapable of accomplishing incredible things.

As Tolkien illustrates… it wasn’t an army that destroyed the symbol of greed and evil… it was a small hand connected to a small creature… with courage much larger than his size might indicate, dropping the ring into the fires of Mordor.

And I know that millions, if not trillions of dollars have been spent fighting melanoma, the disease that killed my father… but when I read Tolkien, and stories as inspiring as his… I’m reminded that it’ll be the final dollar that funds the study that finds the cure that matters as much as all the ones that got us to the point where it might. And a dollar? That… that I can scare up, thanks to the help and support of so many companies, and individuals, that have come to my aid in this endeavor.

[And if you’re one of the 12 people who read this, please keep the secret of my not being cool to yourself]

 

Another Fishing Magazine? Why?

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This redfish was caught in the backwaters near Georgetown, S. Car. in 2010.

Thanks to the people at B.A.S.S., Tyler Wade especially, this past trip had a dual purpose. The first, which I’ve no doubt bored you with to death, was to use the generosity of our sponsors (Get Vicious, Native Eyewear, Sunology, Rick Roth at Mirror Image and our original sponsor, Buff) to deliver a roundhouse kick to melanoma, a disease particularly dangerous to outdoorsmen, and one that unfortunately my family has more experience with than we’ve ever wanted. Thank God the people at the Melanoma Research Foundation are working tirelessly to stop this disease in its tracks.

The second was to go town to town, shop to shop, and try to give future readers a chance for us, together, to build a fishing magazine, by asking them exactly what type of magazine they want to read, what magazine they think is missing. With Emerson’s help, I’ve designed a survey to do just that. I couldn’t hit every town with water, but by God I tried. From Oklahoma to Florida, Georgia to South Carolina, the Outer Banks to Delaware and back to my native Northeast, I tried not to pass by a tackle shop without stopping in.

But before we build something, there’s the essential question of: Why? And it’s one I’ve been asking myself since the notion of my own publication first came into my head, probably more than two years ago… initially just the kind of crazy dream you have that won’t leave you alone.

There are objective reasons. I believe we’ve seen quality, print fishing content become more scarce for a number of reasons. The recession hit boat manufacturers especially hard, and since much of the fishing content we read is supported by ad dollars from boat companies, we did see a lot of the content we loved come close to vanishing.

But there are still great, great publications churning out tremendous fishing stories. Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, The Drake, The Fly Fish Journal, Saltwater SportsmanFlorida Sportsman, and recently, Anglers Journal, all routinely amaze me with stories told in unique and beautiful ways about the waters we love.

So, why another fishing magazine? Part of it, certainly, is that I think there’s a type of fishing content that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. We see a lot of great content about trout and salmon fishing in the fly-fishing magazines, bass fishing gets its share of coverage, and magazines like Marlin and Sport Fishing do a great job of depicting the beauty of offshore fishing. But for us inshore, conventional guys, without the money for a boat, and especially those of us who love the southern coastal states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia… there’s less content than I think we’d like to see.

But I’d be remiss to leave out the essential factor that is at the heart of this mission. From about age 9 or 10, when our father, or an aunt or uncle, first shows us how to make a tepee out of kindling, stuffed with newspaper, and start a fire, we have an inherent and undeniable desire to create something of our own. This desire is more often attributed to men than it is women, but I think that’s an unfair bias that hopefully we as a society are moving away from. Without women, after all, there wouldn’t be any of us to create anything.

And I’d be lying if I said that the desire to create something of my own accord, from scratch, from the ground up, wasn’t a big part of my motivation for trying to build a fishing magazine for you, because it certainly is.

But here’s the thing about building something, whether that’s a fire when you’re 12 or a magazine when you’re 29…

If you build it alone, and just for yourself, whatever meaning it has will be minimal. Of what value is the warmth of a campfire if not shared? It’ll keep you alive, but that’s about it.

I designed this survey, and went town to town, shop to shop, dropping it off… because I want to build this magazine together. I want to share the beauty of this sport, that I’ve loved my whole life, with new friends who feel the same way. I want to create something they’ll love, yes… but I also want their input so that we might build it together. I don’t want to pave a one-way street where I’m delivering you a product that I hope you’ll like. I want a path that goes both ways, where I listen and use what feedback you’re willing to give so that the warmth of a combined love for the sport is all the greater, and so that it grows. I was reminded of this core ideology today when I heard a phrase that I’d heard before, but one that has a new meaning to us at each stage in our lives: “Nobody wins unless everyone wins.”

No matter how beautiful, poignant or intelligent of a magazine I might start… it’d be nothing without readers who enjoyed it and contributed their unique experience toward my continued effort to improve it. They’d have to love it for me to love making it. I couldn’t win unless they, unless you, won by embracing the content I hope to create.

I’d be honored if you’d help, and as always, thanks for reading.

 

On National Puppy Day

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These dogs were borrowed, from Chris Senyohl in Seattle, for future Puppy-Day blog post material.

There are some holidays that, for better or worse, you’d never know about were it not for social media. I couldn’t help but notice, scrolling through Facebook, that today was National Puppy day.

It was sort of a bittersweet realization, as sadly my grandmother (and best friend, Irish inspiration, source of wisdom, and all around hero) recently lost her West Highland White Terrier, Duffy. He lived a long and mostly happy and spoiled life, and we all know that all dogs… well, I won’t finish that. But still, losing a pet is hard for anyone with a heart.

It got me thinking about animals, and the role they play in our lives. My father was, if anything, a workaholic. He’d spend 14, sometimes 16-hour days at the office. He was a man of few words from a different generation than we inhabit today. Conversations were usually short, matter-of-fact affairs that involved one of three things: 1. Will the Sox beat the Yankees this year? 2. Are you keeping your grades up, and/or 3. Has Syracuse got a Sweet 16 team this year?

But, for us, dogs were a Godsend. If my father was about one thing, it was physical fitness. So, no matter the weather (and we get some stuff up here in Upstate New York that stretches the definition of ‘weather,’ anywhere else in the lower 48) he’d walk our golden retriever, Maggie, every Sunday, for about 2 miles, or 45 minutes. I, of course, jumped at the chance to spend this time with him, and tagged along. I’d later follow, to use a corny metaphor, in his footsteps and walk her every day during my high school years.

Were it not for dogs, and Maggie in particular, I don’t know that we’d have shared those Sunday hours together for more than ten years. If you figure we walked her for 50 Sundays (and rarely did we miss one) per year, for ten years, that’s 500 hours, 500 in-depth conversations (or sometimes quiet walks) that I got to spend with my Dad that I might not have otherwise.

That’s what I got to thinking about on National Puppy Day. I don’t have some grand conclusion to draw about dogs, fathers or the limited time we all get to spend here, some of it with those we care about. I’m just grateful we had our Golden, and that she brought us together.

A Word (or Two) On Anglers

When I was 23 years old, I undertook a mission for Outdoor Life to fish the entire country. I was young, naive and had more ambition than was perhaps healthy at the time, but my goal was to see these United States, while I was young and crazy enough to do it from the back of a Jeep.

I saw a great deal of the country, and as many of you know… My God is it beautiful. There are not words to describe the Outer Banks at sunrise, the Keys are like pieces of Heaven that mankind hasn’t totally ruined yet, New Orleans is one of the most culturally rich places you might imagine, the forests of California, especially when you’re so close to the Pacific, are the stuff outdoorsmens’ dreams are made of and Seattle… don’t get me started on Seattle. As a writer I can’t help but thinking this all sounds cliche and repetitive, but it’s true, so what the…

But I discovered something I wasn’t looking for on the road. On a bare-bones budget, I was sleeping in parking lots in the back of my Wrangler… which I wouldn’t recommend unless you happen to be crazy, like I undoubtedly am. But what I discovered was that the people of this country, and fishermen especially, are more genuinely giving, helpful and beautiful souls than I might have imagined anyone to be before that trip. In the past decade or so, if we had any illusions about how evil human beings could be, those crumbled with the twin towers, I saw them explode on Boylston Street at the Boston Marathon, and whether it’s a greater access to a constant news cycle, or the world is in fact getting “more evil,” we’re reminded every day the depths humanity can sink to in its darkest hours.

I was looking through pictures of this past trip when I decided to write this. I was looking at an image of Steve Niemoeller, a guide with BassOnline in Florida. Steve was kind enough to help not once, but twice on my initial Catch a Cure effort.

And I don’t mean that the guy just took an extra hour and got me on the water… he took me out for an entire day, then texted me later during the trip to fish a second time with his grandson. On this most recent trip, he had suggestions and ideas for how to best utilize the project to raise money and awareness for the cause. The guy did everything but crop and caption my photos for the gallery. It was astounding.

But Mr. Niemoeller’s kindness is, if anything, a microcosm of the overwhelming generosity I’ve found from almost every angler I’ve encountered between Maine and Seattle. I don’t think I am, nor do I try to be, a pessimist about human nature. But not even the most optimistic human being could reasonably expect the kindness I’ve been shown repeatedly from so many fishermen like Steve.

Were I to name-check the anglers from Maine (Jeff McEvoy) to Montana (Angler’s Tonic blogger and FR&R editor Greg Thomas, pictured above ice-dancing with a trout in Montana) who just, without any incentive whatsoever, went out of their way to help out a fellow fisherman, this blog would be a novel. And maybe some day it will be.

B.A.S.S. Social Media editor Tyler Wade saw my message about Catch a Cure through the Facbeook messaging app, and went out of her way to reach out to me, and help set up this project. This wasn’t some big-deal businessman reaching out via conference call… this was a young man mad at melanoma and wanting to make a difference in a positive way. Each sponsor who got on board did so in much the same way: opening and e-mail and getting on board. Native Eyewear, Sunology Sunscreen, Buff, Get Vicious and Rick Roth at Mirror Image… Thank you all.

There’s a beautiful, and relatively new, fishing magazine, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should check it out. It’s called Angler’s Journal and the prose and the photography in this magazine are some of the best I’ve seen in print in a long, long time. I reached out to editor Bill Sisson, hoping I might share the story of this trip and what it has meant to me, and before I knew it we were talking on the phone. Try reaching out to the editors at the Boston Globe or the New York Times (I have). I’m certainly not implying anything negative about these publications, but at a certain point in an editor’s career he or she presumably gets too busy to read a note or an e-mail from someone who, for all intents and purposes, is a nobody. Except the people I’ve mentioned above: they weren’t too busy, they made the time.

At Emerson College where I’m working on my graduate degree, a professor named Gian Lombardo went above and beyond so that this trip might work in a capacity to survey the audience for a forthcoming magazine, helping me create a survey to assess a potential readership for the magazine I’m hoping to build for you.

For the entire decade I’ve spent trying to work in this industry, I’ve been reminded again and again of the impact that humility, kindness and compassion can have on a life. Indeed the people in this business have saved mine more times than I can count. I was fresh out of college and working construction when I reached out to Field & Stream. A few months on a roof in the beating sun had gotten me pretty desperate for an alternative source of employment. Now this is Field & Stream we’re talking about… the Field & Stream. Not only did they bring me on as a paid editorial intern, they kept me on as a web intern after that, giving me more experience than anyone at 21 could have asked for.

I never would have been brash or bold enough to apply for a job at On The Water Magazine in Cape Cod, but I did send them a story idea. Chris Megan and Kevin Blinkoff took a chance on a 22-year old young man and gave him the opportunity to be an editor at a fishing magazine before he’d had almost any experience in that field whatsoever.

And that cross-country fishing trip that I attempted? That would not have even been remotely possible had not Gerry Bethge of Outdoor Life believed that I, or anyone for that matter, might even be capable of such an undertaking. I ask myself daily if I did that opportunity justice in my attempts with words and images to share it… and I don’t think I’ll ever know that answer. On that journey I got to meet Jerry Gibbs and John Merwin (rest his soul), two of best writers and most well-known content creators this industry has ever seen. Both invited me into their homes. Neither could have been nicer about it.

In truth, a lot of what might seem like courage is in reality a combination of self-doubt and anger with the disease that took my father. Had I actually considered the prospect of fishing the entire country from a Jeep, I might never have tried it. But since I deemed it almost impossible, I figured: “Why not?” It was only the people I met and fished with on that journey, and these most recent ones, that made them anything more than a tumbleweed of an aspiring writer going where the wind took him.

And the motivation behind Catch a Cure is less altruistic ambition and more of: “I have  to do something for this to make sense in my life.” And hopefully the funds raised will make what difference they can, and you can contribute here.

And this trip, and the one that preceded, have made sense. They’ve not only made sense of why, perhaps, melanoma came into my family’s life… but they’ve made sense of the world for me, and restored my faith that it’s an incredible place full of tremendously kind, helpful, altruistic, caring and genuine individuals. “Thank you,” to those of you that’d have aided this effort, and made it possible, is nowhere near enough. Nowhere near enough.