Tag Archives: Hope

In The Depths of Winter….

CamusAs we embark into February, many anglers are thinking: “This is as far from the beauty of short-sleeve, carefree, see-your-reflection-in-the-water fishing as we can get without coming back.” And you know what? You’re right.

My father was a philosophy major at Syracuse University, and I followed in his footsteps. We were both likely thinking the same thing: Examining the ideas behind ideas is fascinating and gives us a foundation for further critical thinking as move through life’s challenges and unexpected experiences… AND… this might serve as a good undergraduate degree for law school.

His favorite philosopher was a man named Albert Camus. Camus was famous for espousing existentialism, which focused on the absurdity, or absurdities, we encounter in everyday life. I recently purchased The Myth of Sisyphus at Barnes & Noble, in an attempt to greater understand the philosophy that drew my father in at Syracuse. Camus’s existentialism basically touted that life was a meaningless struggle unless… unless… we were devoted to cooperation, solidarity, and joint effort.

Camus concludes that to look elsewhere for meaning in our everyday lives is pointless, but we can find the exact, precise hope and meaning we are searching for in ourselves, in one another.

It is a strange paradox that years after his passing, I understand my Dad more with each passing day. He found his meaning in helping others, namely, those who were fighting uphill battles in courtrooms. He defended and supported people who almost no one else would.

Fishing the entire country showed me that our nation and the world that we live in is a an inherently good place, full of beautiful souls, and you only need to open your front door and find the courage to explore it to realize that reality in its fullest. Raising money for melanoma research deepened that faith in me more than I could ever articulate. People helped me on a mission through a tunnel where the light at the end is, right now, faint at best. The hope for a cure, like the hope to start a fishing magazine from scratch that readers all over the country love, read and contribute to, is existent, but it necessitates work and faith before we have something concrete to continue to build on.

One of the quotes most famously attributed to Camus is one that I think is appropriate as we head into some of February’s darkest, coldest, days.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned  that within me there lie an invincible summer.”

That invincible summer, in me, was created and maintained by hope and help from so many of you. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

 

Suicide Prevention Day

Blitzing Striped Bass
A nervous bird eyes a school of blitzing striped bass in Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

It seems that every day, thanks to social media, now has some significance, and some are more serious than others.

Yesterday, I discussed “celebrating your weirdness,” but today seems to bring a more pressing and difficult issue to the forefront: suicide.

Whenever I think about loving the water, the outdoors and fishing, I can’t help but think that part of it, even if we don’t realize it, is that it connects us to something ancient, instinctual, and animal.

Thousands of years ago men pulled fish from the ocean, not for sport or recreation, but to survive. To survive.

That is at the heart of our love for the outdoors: An ingrained, ancient need for survival.

D.H. Lawrence wrote: “I have never seen a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

Lawrence, I think, was speaking in admiration of an animal’s singular focus on staying alive, no matter how it went about that process.

Human beings are more complicated. We explore deeper questions, asking “What is my purpose here? What am I meant to do, or be? Am I succeeding to that end?”

Lawrence’s bird, I think it’s fair to assume, never questioned its purpose. From the moment it was born, to the moment it took to the air, searched for its first meal, and right up until the moment it fell frozen from the branch, it knew, instinctively and without hesitation, what it was and for what it was meant.

We can posit that the bird never wished that it were a fish, or wondered why it weren’t a giraffe. We can guess that the bird, until its death, accepted its bird-ness and did its best to stay alive, care for its young, and, perhaps, if animals can be said to experience these things, it enjoyed soaring over some beautiful country.

My point is this: perhaps it merits consideration that you are not supposed to be anything that you’re not, you’re not supposed to want more than you have, you’re not supposed to be taller, smarter, richer, skinnier, bigger, more tan (certainly not), more popular, better looking, worse looking, you’re not supposed to be able to play two instruments, or speak three languages…

Perhaps is merits consideration, that you are supposed to be… exactly the way that you are, even if the reasons for that have yet to be revealed to you. Maybe, like the bird’s destiny to live its life as a bird…

Your destiny is to be you, and you are in the process of shaping that future.

I think it’s worth considering that all of the great and terrible, beautiful and difficult, wonderful and heartbreaking things that happen to us are supposed to happen so that we can be created to be, exactly who we’re meant to be.

And that you, through everything you’ve experienced, endured, suffered, enjoyed, loved, hated, and dreamt of…

Are meant to be… you. And that our most singular focus, our one job, mission or goal… should be to become that, stay that, embrace that and be grateful for that, even if we don’t always understand it.

And since the you that you are is here, reading my blog… I just want to say thank you, and please, keep being you.

The Unheralded Hero: Bonnie Bach

13173206_10103005628732776_2807476143193203519_oI’ve written extensively in this blog about my father, a man for whom there are not words: he was tough as nails, moral almost to a fault and funny to boot. I’ve sung the praises of my grandmother, who amazes me daily with her strength and optimism.

I don’t, I don’t think, give my mother the credit she deserves… if indeed anyone ever could. Maybe I’m afraid to try to put into words what an inspiration she’s been and how much joy and hope she’s brought into my life… fearing that I’ll come up short.

Were it just the case that she was an amazing woman, who worked her way out of poverty to build a beautiful home and life for her son, that would be almost amazing enough in itself.

But for almost three decades she has struggled with Bipolar Disorder. This is hard to write, and certainly I never would without her permission. And it’s easy to see how far we’ve come as a society when we’re talking about medical advances in cancer research or battling diseases like leukemia, but our understanding and treatment of mental illness is, I promise you, far, far behind.

The doctors and medications that have failed her, at times spectacularly, would bring me to tears to describe. So I won’t.

Her perseverance through those disappointments, those medical attempts to provide her the healthy and fulfilling life so many of us take for granted, is stunning to the point where it almost defies belief.

Anyone who knows anyone who has struggled with mental illness knows that the word ‘struggle’ here is not at all an exaggeration. She has battled it every day with a courage I cannot imagine.

The oldest of 8 before losing a sister to leukemia,  she has helped her sisters whenever she could, and has helped her mom, my grandmother, more than anyone could have imagined she might be able to when their family of 9 was living in a second-story walk-up, using a dresser drawer for a crib for the youngest daughter.

On some days, I’ll either call or stop by the house and I’ll be telling or listening to a story, sharing a memory or a laugh, or talking about my crazy dream of building you a magazine… and I’ll just stop. A wave of realization washes over me about what this woman has been through, overcome, and what she continues to battle every day.

I don’t say it as often as perhaps I should, but not a day goes by when I don’t think: “That’s my mom, damn straight… and thank God she is.”

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.

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]

 

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.

Hope Makes Us Human: A Florida Story

DSC_0012 46
The Sun Sets Near Boca Grande, Florida

“Simple exchange of values. You give them money, they give you a stuffed dog.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Reading The Sun Also Rises during my first year at Syracuse University changed my life, and I became a devoted Hemingway disciple. It was this line, more than any other, that endeared me to the story. Jake Barnes, Hemingway’s main character, has suffered a traumatic injury in the war, and he’s come to hold one simple truth in life: You get what you pay for. In typical Hemingway fashion, the concept is illustrated with a blunt and simple metaphor when Barnes considers buying a stuffed dog.

I left a full-time job at 24 to live in a Jeep and fish as much of the country as I could for Outdoor Life Magazine.

I sacrificed a great many of the things we are taught to work for throughout much of our youth: a full-time job, a steady income, security…

I gained… well, I saw almost everything in lower 48. I spent 200 nights, exactly, sleeping in that Jeep and fished my way from remote northern Maine down to the Keys, out to San Diego and up to Seattle. That was my “stuffed dog.” A simple exchange of values.

This morning I met a woman near Palatka, Florida named Jackie Bliss. Jackie’s husband lost his father to melanoma, and Jackie keeps the bait shop she works in, Bob’s Bait and Tackle in St. Augustine, stocked with strong sunscreen. I gave Ms. Bliss a Catch a Cure shirt, and a few surveys to hand out for the magazine I’m hoping to build.

I’m hoping to create a beautiful publication, showcasing a side of the sport that all of us appreciate but perhaps we find hard to articulate. I’m hoping I can find writers and photographers to wrap words and images around the beauty that draws us all back to the water. But most importantly, I’m hoping to build a magazine that you’re looking for, that you want to read, and you can help me do that here.

I spoke with Jackie for a moment, and we smiled and exchanged stories. I told her about my father, and she shared some stories about her father in law. She said the T-shirt was her favorite color, and with that I was back on the road.

We’d both lost something essential in our lives, a loved one. But now we shared this appreciation for the time that we do have, and a fight for a better future. A simple exchange of values. What was never traded, sacrificed or given up, is the one thing that I believe, above all else, defines us as a species: Hope.