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So I Turned My Arm Black…

I’ve been thinking about tattoos for almost as long as I can remember. I’ve been fascinated by them for about thirty years, as a matter of fact, in all kinds of ways. Long has been my want to get tattooed, and it’s been a very long road to be comfortable enough with myself to bring myself to go and do it.

When I got posted to Victoria, I started to do things a little differently. I started to actually allow myself to be me. Some of this came out of some really great therapy work, and the rest of it just came out of sheer will to want to do things for myself. For the bulk of those thirty years where I’ve been thinking about getting tattooed in a bigger way, I finally decided to do something about it.

I had been worked on previously by a fellow named Mikel Johannsen, who, at the time, worked out of a shop in Victoria. He’d traveled to Red Deer and I met him there to work on a smallish piece on my right arm, but the time had come for something bigger. After seeing the Bobby McFerrin video on the power of the pentatonic scale, the idea started forming to do something related (abstractly) to melody on my left arm.

I sent a long essay to Mikel, hoping he could transform that into action.

By this point in time, Mikel had moved to Kelowna, and I’d been posted to Victoria. It didn’t take much to put two and two together, and the next thing you know, I’d booked myself in to start my sleeve.

First session was in March of 2015. I walked into the shop in Kelowna, Mikel pitched his idea, and we went for it.

The first session was outlining three of the five figures in dots. 

Of course, I’m not that smart, so as soon as we were done, I jumped in the truck and drove straight to a friend’s retirement party in Vancouver, then crashed the night at the house of one of my bestest friends, before heading onward to Victoria to start my new job.

Part of the joy of my new job is that Kelowna happens to be in the turf we ordinarily serve musically, so when I found out that we were booked in to play in the Okanagan that summer, I booked another session. On this go-around, we filled worked on filling in the figures with more dots.

Mikel and I talked and talked throughout the whole process – he had a background in audio engineering, having worked for a spell at Nettwerk Records in the 90s, and we had different, though occasionally similar, tastes in music, which always led to great discussions. On this session, we were exploring some of the nuances in music, and for the figure on my lower arm, we talked about how sometimes music just didn’t go where you expected, and things could be random, hence why the patterns aren’t as regular on that piece.

Flash ahead to Christmastime, and I made a quick trip up to see my folks between having finished my work run for the year and having the kids with me over the holiday. Squeezed in a quick session with Mikel to start and finish figures 4 and 5 (inner arm for both). A spicy affair, for sure, as the tender fleshy bits got mangled.

At this point, things started to diverge a little on the path of where I expected this piece to go. I had an idea in my head that I had pitched to Mikel as a next step, and it didn’t exactly go where I wanted it to. I had wanted to have a very subtle background in the negative space between the figures, using music motifs. What ended up coming out was a little less subtle, and altered the course of where we would be headed. For this session, I flew up to Kelowna for a day trip – I found out that cheap flights were available from Pacific Coastal, and so I used as many modes of transportation available to me as possible to make this session a reality. At the end, the result wasn’t exactly where I wanted it to be, but Mikel and I decided to just let it sit, give it a little time, and come back to it on a future session. He took pics, but never posted them, and this one shot was the one I snapped in the airport on the way home:

I liked the blue, but it didn’t end up where I wanted. Mikel agreed with this, too, and so in Feb 2017, again, while on tour, back into the seat I went, having the outlines of the figures shaded, to allow the blue to be sent farther into the background.

Both Mikel and I felt a lot better about this step in the process, and we just let it sit for a while. A lot longer than I’d anticipated, really. I had made plans to get worked on in April of 2017 when Mikel just happened to be in Victoria, but I’d developed a bit of a rash and we both decided it wasn’t worth it to push things.

In the end, I took a bit of a break. I’d look at my arm, and it just felt incomplete, and disjointed, not entirely like what was going on in my head for some of the time. 

Time has a tendency to march on, and things happen along the way. Births, deaths, marriages, divorces, anniversaries, birthdays, major crises, minor crises, celebrations, etc. I just came up to my 40th birthday, and in the spirit of doing things for myself and myself only, I decided that a birthday tattoo was in order.

So in comes the fear part. Like I said, things felt incomplete on my arm. I knew in the back of my mind that there was a quasi-nuclear option – blacking out the negative space – but that it would take a certain amount of personal fortitude to carry it out, and more, a certain amount of fear in the acceptance of what that might look like for those around me, especially those nearest and dearest to me. I don’t consider myself to be particularly hardcore. I’m not a heavy-metal type, not a real rock and roller, just a guy who likes tattoos.

I know that perception in others shouldn’t matter, but at the same time, if I’m going to be spending any kind of time, whether it’s public or intimate, with someone I care about, appearances do kinda matter. I mentioned to Kristy about the idea of filling in the negative space and she thought that would be a fine idea.

As it turns out, it was the best idea. 

Another summer, another Okanagan tour. I booked myself a rental car, had some space in the daily schedule, and made the trudge to Mikel’s new shop in Kelowna.

We got straight down to work, filling in the blanks. I had expected it to be worse off the bat, but it really wasn’t. I’ve seen videos of folks talking about their blackout sleeves, and read reports that it wasn’t as bad as single needle or lining. They aren’t wrong. It hurt, yeah, but not in the way I thought.

Mikel’s a trooper. Between him and I, we just blasted through, stopping basically only to pee or grab a quick mouthful of food or some water.

About 5 hours in, that’s when I started to hit the wall. Our time was coming to a close anyhow, as I had to get to work, and we were only about 80ish percent complete. My body finally decided that the tank was empty and enough was enough, so when Mikel put the tools down for a quick break, that was the end of things. 5 1/2 hours is a long time to sit and get blasted like this.

So that night, due to all the trauma I just caused myself, my arm swelled up by a good 30%. My elbow ballooned, and I still had a show to conduct. We all powered through, and in spite of the self-inflicted injury, I slept remarkably well. I did get a couple instances of very, very fat hand, so much so that it was quite painful and I could move the lymph back into my forearm. I spent a fair bit of time with my arm above my head, trying to drain things out.

I still had a shoulder cap to deal with though, and through sending pics to my sister about what I’d done, found out that she was going to be in Penticton on Saturday, which happened to coincide with another down spot in the schedule where I could sneak back to Kelowna. So I borrowed her truck, ran back, and got my shoulder capped.

An hour back in the chair, much realization that endorphins don’t regenerate that quickly, and lo and behold, it’s done.

It’s bold. Like, really bold. And you know what? I LOVE IT. (yeah, I can hear you saying “well you’d better love it because it’s not coming off” – I gotcha.)

This sleeve seems to confuse people. My poor dad got to see it in its full swollen glory on my birthday, the day after it had been done (it got even fatter the next day). He had no idea what to make of it. Reactions so far have been positive (at least to my face), and certainly, for my kids, there’s been an adjustment period. People are drawn to it, not knowing what it is they’re looking at. A sleeve is one thing – they’re fairly common. A black (or mostly black) sleeve, on the other hand, seems to be confounding. 

Healing has been interesting – I’ve been shedding what Mikel called “black cornflakes” all over the place. I’m almost done the first molt off of the second session, and there’s a little residual flakiness just as things finish settling in and the skin heals up a little better. My arm has returned to its usual size, and aside from some ouchiness in my shoulder (just some expected bruising), I’m good to go. I know there’s some touch-up work to be done, which I think will take place later this fall (yay, we get to redo the elbow!). 

I’m so thankful to Mikel for his steady hand, calming influence, and artistry through this process. Thankful as well to Kristy, who has way better artistic sense than I do, and as a gentle guide.

Cycling Infrastructure

I kinda die a little on the inside when I read about folks who have such hate for the bicycle. I really wish it weren’t so – there’s so much joy, especially here in Victoria, for the ability to ride bikes in fair weather for more than half the year.

And if there was ever a case for cycling infrastructure, Victoria’s starting to make a point. Yes, I get that the Pandora (and now the Fort) lanes are frustrating (I concur – why would you put a two-direction bike lane on a one-way road, and also complicate every single traffic rule for cars along the way), but also, too, those lanes provide a measure of protection for those of us that use two wheels.

Let me be clear – for as pro-bike as I am, I also acknowledge that bikes aren’t absolutely everything. Transportation systems are just that – systems. They need to be able to cover off a wide range of modes of transportation for the entire population, not just the spandex-riding elite or the dead-dino-burning set.

I read “The Enlightened Cyclist” earlier this year after having spotted it on the shelf at a friend’s place. Some of it was pretty preachy, but there were a couple of takeaways in there that were worth noting. Specifically, it was the need for everybody to just chill the fuck out and realize that NEITHER of us are going anywhere. We each have sacred obligations to not kill each other (wilfully or not). So if we all just calm down and respect each other’s space, we’ll all be much, much better.

So back to infrastructure, because this is where things get good for bikes. I live along the E&N Rail Trail and there was a small section through the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations that had yet to be built. Levi and I had been biking up Admirals Rd, and that, in and of itself, was an exercise in maximum patience, creative language, and near misses for both of us, especially through the shittiest months.

Once the trail had opened, however, it provided a link for us not just to make the commute to work/school that much easier, but to provide a safe, stable route to get all kinds of places, and really open up a world of possibilities.

So with both hats on, here’s how my Saturday went down. Talia has art class out on Latoria Rd. As much as I’m game for long distance riding, she’s not at this point, and that’s ok, so I drove her to class. I also had a few errands to run in the two hours that she was there, so I took care of those in the truck (including picking up my race package for the Oak Bay Half.

Once I got home from T’s art class, though, she was off to a sleepover at a friend’s house. Rather than drive her the 1.5km, I got her to ride her bike – it’s E&N all the way, with one traffic interface along Island Hwy (covered by a traffic light). No problems, at all. She’ll be riding home by herself later.

After I dropped her off, I had some more errands to run downtown (needed a couple of things from MEC, and some brewing supplies). E&N to downtown (lovely ride!), did my one stop at MEC, then headed back across the new Johnson bridge to head along the Goose only to find that my favourite homebrew shop was only a couple hundred metres from the trail.

A quick jaunt back across Selkirk Trestle and lo and behold, Vic West Fest was happening. So many people out, taking in some music and other festivities.

Sunday presented its own opportunities, too. Levi had a birthday party downtown, so rather than drive, the kids and I rode. T and I had a lovely dinner together while Levi played laser tag. We rode home in what T calls the Golden Hour, when everything is bathed in that picturesque hipsteresque instagram fading daylight.

Best of all, we did this mostly on bike lanes and dedicated paths.

Bike to Work (and school!) week is now happening. Levi and I hit our first Celebration Station today, and are planning on several more this week. It was so wonderful to see so many cyclists along the Goose and E&N. Tomorrow will be breakfast at Janion Plaza, again, taking advantage of as many bike lanes and paths as we can on our way.

Well, that was a thing.

So nine weeks ago, I leaned over to Kristy and said “yeah, I think I’m going to run a half-marathon.” I knew about the Oak Bay Half from my friend Roy, so I went online, paid the fee, and promptly looked at the calendar.

Nine weeks to go.

Next stop: Google. “9-week half marathon training plan”.

Ignore the safety warning that said you should only do this plan if you’ve got at least a half-marathon under your belt and have been logging steady miles. Check. (yeah, I’m that kinda stupid – oh yeah, and it was still hockey season for the first month of training, too, so bonus!)

Started running. Felt good. Started running more. Still felt good. Ran a hell of a lot. Felt awesome. Started running less. Tried some new shoes. INJURY. Like, WTAF.

Stretched, debated, freaked out, stretched more, talked to people, stretched again, got out my old shoes, arrived nervously this morning, ate a banana, stuffed a gel down my neck, turned on the tunes, and ran.

And ran.

And ran.

Vital stats:

1:38:27 total time (from the gun)
1:37:51 tape to tape
66/628 overall
20/71 AG bracket
55/289 by gender
4:39/km average pace

Splits:

5km: 23:09
10km: 45:51
20km: 1:32:01 (+46:10)

I texted my friend Jas, who lives in Oak Bay, and mentioned to her that if she happened to be out and about on Sunday morning that I’d make certain times at certain spots for viewing. Jas and her gang were there in full force, cheering me on, and it was such a boost to how I was feeling through the race, especially as the kms started to pile on, especially the last sighting just before the 17km mark (the final hills).

I definitely ran this faster than any of the training I’d done. All the way along, whenever I did my long runs, I always felt like I had lots of gas left in the tank. Today, I got over the line on fumes, which tells me I did something right.

Got a quick message a little later from my friend Beth in Halifax, who is a running/triathlon/awesomeness machine. She sent me a copy of the rules and minimum times for the CAF running championships, and yes, I did cross the line in time. Going to submit my time to the base gym and get myself onto the team going to Ottawa next year!

I really couldn’t have done it without all the encouragement from so many people. From Kristy, who gently provided all kinds of support, to Roy, Shawn and Robyn who peeled me off the ceiling when shit was going sideways, Andrea, who provided some good framing to some of the problems I was facing, and so many others along the way. I feel good about this.

“He’s Going The Distance / He’s Going For Speed…”

Another weekend, another long run.

This week was the start of the taper to my training runs. 6.5/8/6.5 mid-week (including a couple of speedy runs), then I swapped my Saturday and Sunday runs so that I did my 5k first, and the long run on Sunday.

Saturday’s 5k just plain felt good as I got underway, and so I decided to kinda push things a little. In the end, I PB’d it, clocking in at 22:06. I’m quite happy with this time, I have to say.

Planning was key to Sunday’s run. I have been using Runkeeper for the last few years to track things, and it’s been fun to see my progress as things go along. It’s also been immeasurably handy for picking out routes that make sense. For Sunday’s run, I departed View Royal, ran along the north side of the Gorge to Tillicum Rd, across the bridge, down Craigflower to Banfield Park, where I got onto the Galloping Goose. Past the new pedestrian bridge, I made my way to the West Bay Walkway, down past Work Point to Saxe Point, and home along Admirals Road, with the last of my trek going around Shoreline Trail. 17.7km in around 1:40. At that pace, I probably had enough left in the tank to notch things up and really chase it home for the last 3.4km.

Again, thanks to Runkeeper, I got some valuable info about pacing. I take my audio cues every km so that a) I know where I am in the run, and b) so that I have an idea of whether I need to pour it on or not. For my long runs, I’ve been just loping along, seeing where I end up naturally. These last two runs have been fairly quick by the long-slow-distance book, and realistically, my last three or four weekends have been pretty close to race pace.

Examining my pace over the course of this distance though, I think to how I was feeling underfoot and in conjunction with how my body was moving, and there were times when I made minor adjustments that seemed to make a world of difference. Specifically, if I loosened up my hips, I found that I could fly without causing myself any additional cardiovascular load, causing my pace per km to drop substantially. Looking at the chart for the last 3-4km of today’s run, I went from about a 5:54/km average down to 5:30 or better.

Week 8 has me doing three 6.5km runs mid-week – I’m going to experiment with race pace and changing my mechanics a little before a shorty (2-mi) on Saturday, and a 12-miler (19.31km!) next Sunday. I’ll have to resist the temptation to just finish the job…

11.26km/7mi

2nd longest run ever today. The awesome part about it was that it felt good through and through. I wasn’t going to win any races at this pace, for sure, but it was the first time I actually felt like I had hope in what first seemed like a daunting task of doing a half-marathon. My natural slow pace runs about 6:30/km (10:28/mi). In order to make a 2:00:00 half, I need to shave that down to an average pace of 5:40/km (9:07/mi) or so, and even then, that only leaves me a 25-second margin of error. The speed work is helping, albeit ouchy. Today was also important in that I learned that knowing a course really helps psychologically. I knew the route to and from where I was headed today, so I could mentally wrangle how far I’d gone. Also helping today was that I was outside, with fresh air, scenery, and tunes, unlike last week when I was holed up in a fluorescent-lit hotel gym on a treadmill and my headphones died a third of the way in. I love being outside, plain and simple.

Tomorrow is my shorty run, clocking in at 5km. Next week sees the same distances mid-week (6.5km/8km/6.5km) and my long run will be 12.87km (8mi), my longest ever. I guess this is really starting to happen!

Playlist: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/playlist/long-run/pl.u-GgA55dgF2o9B8

Playlist – 9.65 km/6 mi

I’m going to start sharing what I’m running to – that said, a third of the way into my run today my headphones died which made for a long slog on the treadmill…

  • No One Knows – Queens of the Stone Age
  • Hate to Say I Told You So – The Hives
  • Redbone – Childish Gambino
  • Do It – Tuxedo
  • Hard Candy – Counting Crows

After that, I was left tuneless…

I have another 15 tracks on this list which I’ll add a few more to and it will become my 7-mi run next weekend.

Badminton. Badminton? Badminton!

I’ve been trying to motivate my teenager to be more active, and this has been met with varying levels of success. He has a tendency to side towards things that are either sedentary (the scourge of blue screens) or inherently dangerous (free climbing, for instance), and hasn’t yet fully discovered the freedom afforded to him by riding his bicycle. That said, he’s made some strides in this department which are commendable, like bringing his bike to school on days where he has appointments, so he can take himself where he needs to go without the parental taxi.

He’s expressed that his favourite unit in Phys Ed class is when they do badminton. Somewhere, buried deep in the recesses of my mind, was a reminder that “oh yeah, you’ve got access to a badminton court and gear at the Base Gym, and you can get into the place for free!” I’m a sucker for a court sport, too, so this made sense all ’round. It’s nice that the younger kids are able to self-manage, so leaving for an hour or two is easy, and plus, the gym is so close to home that once the new E&N Rail Trail extension is open, we’ll be able to ride there, day or night (be damned if I’m taking that construction zone in the dark! It’s bad enough during the day…)

So we went.

Elijah and I had a great time. He’s a good badminton player, and he beat me, three games to two. We had a number of good laughs along the way, broke a sweat, and mostly, got him active. For a kid who’s been struggling with mood, I could see that he was truly having a good time. We’ll be doing this again soon!

Rebooting and Hacking

I’ve consciously been trying to reinvent myself. Certainly for the last two years, this has been the case, but I’ve been making an even more focused effort over the last six months. I’ve been challenging beliefs, challenging methods of operation, and really trying to make better sense out of what it is that I do on a daily basis. My focus right now is to be more effective at being me. Sounds a little bit hippy-dippy, but I do know that there are a number of ways with which I can streamline my life and be better at being me.

Kristy introduced me to this North Node thing. I’m not usually a big astrology guy, as there are a lot of factors that I know I can control and take care of myself, and I’ve poked around a little bit inasmuch as I’ve had an astrology chart done, and sure, you can draw inferences from one source or another and make things apply to your life, bending your circumstances to match what’s printed on the page. That’s basic psychology and belief stuff. Writ-large, though, this North Node stuff was fairly accurate. I’m not going to say that I’m going to rewrite my life based upon this, but it certainly gives me some food for thought as I go through this next phase of transforming my life.

For as organized as I appear to be, and for how tightly my shit might look like it’s wound, at the centre of my being, if I don’t have some kind of routine to keep me in line, I’m rudderless and slovenly. I’m totally content to lose myself in social media or news reading, or to neglect tasks like bed making, laundry-doing, dish-washing, etc. There are times when this is totally okay, and I get that, but by-and-large, I know that I need to do better.

Enter the written routines. I’ve noted over time that I’m far more productive if I have procedures and schedules in place, rather than trying to wing it. For as much as I’d like to pretend I’m spontaneous, I think I just need to admit to myself that I’m not. I value routine, I value the ability to work within a box. I value the idea that *these* tasks need to be accomplished inside of *this* space in *this* amount of time. That North Node thing said that I can accomplish in one hour what most folks do in five. I work well under pressure and on deadlines. I’ve got a pretty good track record in that department. Time to do that in other parts of my life.

I’m going to try out the written routine thing for a little while and see where I end up. It’s not exactly going to be stuff like “brush teeth” or “wash face” but more things like “prepare breakfast smoothie the night before” or “ensure dishes are washed before heading to work”, or “get your fucking ass out of bed and do some kind of fucking physical activity in the morning you idle bag of water…” Oh wait, hangover from the army… But you get the idea. And I’m still going to write in my requisite social media time, because, dammit, facecrack.

The hopeful end-state for this is that I’ll be able to make oft-neglected things more of a priority by scheduling them in. I’ve got VAST tracts of my day that conceivably (and frequently) go unchecked and unaccounted for. Using lists and procedures, I get the sense that I can hack my life into being more productive than I already am.

Okay, I get the sense that some of you are snickering and nodding along thinking that this is easy-peasy shit. Sure, for you, it might be, and I applaud you. For a dude that struggles with this stuff, it looks and feels really daunting.

So I guess I’d best stop losing myself in words and get on the horse…

How the f–k did we get here?

On more than one occasion in my life, I’ve uttered that statement. Really, the chain of events is simple, but when you’re watching an explosion take place in super-slow-motion, you sometimes forget about the mechanics behind it.

In March 2014, I was hauled into the boss’ office (after being recalled to work in the middle of the night for a drill — ahh, the Army). Along with three of my fellow Warrant Officers, we had been loaded on a four-month-long course in Borden, Ontario, departing in two weeks’ time. Binary decisions: Take the course, run the risk of promotion. Don’t take the course, don’t know if the opportunity would ever come up again.

I took the course.

The day I passed my last performance check, I got the phone call. On the other end was my wife, telling me she’d become emotionally involved with another man. I was due home in three days, and suddenly thrust into an unknown world.

Three months later, I got hauled into the Sergeant-Major’s office, this time telling me that the Branch valued my leadership and that I was being offered a promotion and a posting to Victoria. Decision was mine. Again, binary decision: take the posting, go to Victoria, be the Chief. Don’t take the promotion, but still likely get posted, not to Victoria (likely to Winnipeg). The decision seemed to be fairly simple. I took the posting.

Victoria always was where I wanted to end up – my intent was to get here, take the foot off the gas, and just coast. I tend to be a chronic over-achiever, though, and may have peaked a little early. For reference purposes, I still have just under 16 years left on my contract with the military.

Shortly after the machinations were underway, my wife told me she wanted to separate. This happened six weeks before I was due to drive to Victoria. Nothing like coming into a new post with a whole lot on your mind.

Upon arriving, whether by accident or coincidence, I decided to get out and meet some people. I won’t mention my method of approach, as that isn’t relevant, however, I did end up becoming acquainted with some locals, and getting a chance to explore the region. And then, there was the 14th of April.

I’d successfully negotiated my way into drinks with a woman, and by the end of that night, had managed to get a solid second get-together planned. And another. And another. And wouldn’t you know it, love had come back to town. I’d been rather bummed out about my existence, but it happened on the 18th of April – I decided that I wanted to be happy. And in declaring this, I was able to make it happen.

Her name is Kristy. She’s a musician, a composer, a photographer, a lover of food, of dancing, of quiet, of activity, of all kinds of things that I’d only dreamt were possible, and that she herself embodied.

Since then, we’ve set about making our own set of memories together. It’s a fun road, one I can’t wait to explore more of.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy3V2Tl4g3s I gotta stop watching stuff like this otherwise I’m

I gotta stop watching stuff like this otherwise I’m’a cut off all my digits.