Category Archives: Philosophy

All of Us

Here we are now, after the election, all of us in the same boat. Some are stunned that their unlikely candidate won. Others are stunned that they could be so blind, or so arrogant in their confidence. Being in the second group, I vacillate between fury and despair.

In traffic for work last Tuesday, the mid-90s, 1/2 ton pick-up in front of me taunted me with a variety of conservative bumper stickers. One stood out in particular: “Visualize No Liberals.”

This is about all of us. Visualize all you want, but you will never wake up and find yourself transported to a world conveniently devoid of people who are different than you. The world around us is the way it is precisely because those different people shared ideas, tried things out, got it wrong and still had enough tolerance for each other to try something else. People who value the same things that you do have good and bad ideas, just like people who value different things. It’s not a perfect world but by almost every objective measure- it is the best it has ever been.

The bumper sticker pissed me off because it seemed this person would much rather entertain a fantasy than take responsibility for getting to know the other half of the citizenry their government represents. A fantasy I’ve also let myself entertain on occasion, and that has never proven useful.

Strangely, I am thankful the election has forced me to reconsider my thread in the fabric of society. What do I want to stand for as an engaged citizen? Why do I (usually) cheer for the left side of the aisle?  What are my fundamental political priorities? I wanted to get a short list on the record (in no particular order):

  • Public policy rooted in real science that is peer-reviewed, transparently documented, and repeatable
  • Fundamentally equal treatment of all people by the government
  • A clean, safe, and healthy environment for people and wildlife
  • Infrastructure development that promotes urban density, defends farmlands & wildlands, and accommodates long term economic and population growth
  • Publicly-funded education that reflects and encourages the exchange of ideas amongst diverse groups of students.
  • High quality, accessible, and affordable healthcare for everyone
  • Proponents of rational and balanced foreign policy that minimizes military action at every opportunity
  • Maintain a capitalist market place, focused on upholding enforceable contracts, with subsides carefully considered as warranted for true public well being
  • Maintain a basic social safety net that supports disadvantaged people getting back into the workforce
  • Balance the federal budget, every damn year
  • Political discourse that is thoughtful, respectful, and remains focused on stuff that government actually does

In 2016 this seems like too much to ask of our government, but if no one asks- it always will be.

This is not a post about the silver lining. I’m still angry that America was foolish enough to elect an inexperienced misogynist. I’m more angry that just less than a quarter of eligible voters were able to take a fat, wet shit on 40 years of progress towards pretty much everything I care about. The responsibility I have to give a voice to these priorities just got heavier, and the weight is scary.

I have been trying to have more conversations with people outside of my bubble- and no one is arguing “yeah, I want dirtier air to breathe and worse schools for my kids!” Neither have I spoken with anyone that has said “I just wanted to vote for racism.” More often than it seems, we want the same things, but the method is different. I won’t ever tolerate bigotry, but I also won’t visualize a world without conservatives- their perspective is too essential in getting a true majority of people closer to what we all collectively want.

 

If You Loved Me

Sometimes you have to leave the things you love the most.

It’s my last night in Missoula. The house is cleaned, the truck is packed. I’m tired from driving back from my climbing trip, but have a few more miles to go. I don’t have the energy to type out all of the emotion coursing through my veins.

I’m grateful to be with some of my closest friends as I cast off, but leaving them is a double edged sword. I’m excited to work again, to explore a new place, to embrace the hustle and bustle of the city. And I’m scared. Of the bigness. Of losing the familiar smallness, of forging new friends, and breaking all of my patterns.

Scared of leaving this place that has felt more like home than any place that I have been so far.

Four years ago, I was in a very similar place. In the cycles of life, tipping past midnight will never be comfortable. And it is always necessary.

Uhaul truck, loaded truck, moving truck,

Keeping growing. Especially when it hurts.

The Next Big Thing

Slowly, the word has spread and I’d like to get ahead of it here. It’s time that Skander started getting after the next big thing.

Well. This is unusual.

Well. This is unusual.

It’s been a while since I’ve worn my suit for anything serious. I like to think I still look pretty good in it. On January 15th I tendered my resignation and drove to Seattle for back to back job interviews. It was the sort of affair that you would want to look good in a suit for.

I’ve limited some of the details that I have shared on this blog, but it became clear at the end of 2014 that my professional life needed to move in a different direction. Over the holidays, my family gave me another good nudge. I’m very grateful for the experience I’ve had working in Missoula, and hope to depart without burning any bridges.

I’ve wanted a Professional Engineers license for over 10 years. Since becoming a contractor, I’ve developed a much better sense of where I want to take my career, and the time-honored craft of professional engineering. I’ve also learned that the most fundamental tenant in all of business is trust- at the end of the day, when the client experiences what they thought they bought from you, you’ve built trust. That’s the key to success. I’m eager to fill out the holes in my professional skill set, and take my game to the next level.

The immediate hole is design. Design gives me the power and confidence that I can deliver on the vision of how I think buildings should work. I have a long term plan to make a big impact on the sustainability of our built environment- the sales and analysis work I’ve done in the past are only parts of the whole. I’m past the point now where I’m debating switching careers or “exploring”. It’s time to  plug the rest of the holes and get moving in a big way. That means letting go of the comfortable things. It means chasing the skills I don’t have, and finding next set of smart people to work with and learn from.

It was a rough drive to those first few interviews. Ellensburg, WA, 01.15.15.

It was not a comfortable trip to those first few interviews. Ellensburg, WA, 01.15.15.

Specifically, that means I am moving to Seattle. This past weekend I felt fortunate to accept an offer of employment from a firm that seems to value who I am, my somewhat non-traditional experience, and my intense drive towards sustainable design. The position is in mechanical design and I’m genuinely excited to get after it. I’ll have more to say once I actually start work on April 6.

I will miss the ever-loving shit out of Missoula, and Montana as a whole. While that won’t be fun, it is also worth mentioning that that my landing in Seattle will be significantly softer due to a really incredible woman I’ve gotten to know in the past few months. More on both of these items later.

The best cheap date in Seattle is on a ferry.

The best cheap date in Seattle is on a ferry.

 

Snow

It’s frozen water and air. There is a clarity that comes from all simple things. In the waxing complexity of my life, the simple things speak the loudest.

St Mary's road bitterroot, mt

Another good season begins.

Last weekend, Martin and I opened our the ski seasons on St. Mary’s (in the Bitterroot). Our bodies quickly remembered the easy rhythm of pushing skis uphill. Step, breath, step, breath. The closest common feeling is sitting in church. It’s a meditation. Quiet snow under foot, the smell of deep evergreen freezing deep in our nostrils. Perfect. Simple.

IMG_1017

avalanche pit, st. marys bitterroot, 11-23-14

Nov. 23, 2014 Avalanche pit. South aspect at 8000′ on St. Marys ridge. Numerous weak layers between 60-90cm from surface.

It is tempting to get caught in the drama of this world. The simple things cut it away.

For so long, I’ve defined myself by what I do. I have to change the way I think about myself in relation to the way I think about what I do to pay the bills. Some of the most put together people I have ever met have been unemployed or underemployed. I fear for them- and I know that my fear does nothing for them. In light of how I let my job both define me and consume me, their grace in that particular regard has always impressed me.

I should be grateful for having a job- but a lot of days I dread going to work because I feel like there is no way to win. There is no way for me to find peace with my career. There will always been more work than I can do. I will never ask the right questions, do the right things, or plan far enough ahead. I let the mistakes I make eat me alive, or at the very least, they crush my morale. You know all those quotes about all the great innovators failing a lot before they struck it big? I’m starting to wonder if I’ve got the guts for that. More often than not, my career has always been this evil nemesis in my life. I’ve never been able to master it, or even balance it. I’ve missed bluebird days, real friends in places of real need, and probably a relationship or two because I was more dedicated to my desk than my heart. Yet, paying the bills and “being a responsible adult” (e.g. saving for retirement,  compiling “professional experience”, etc.) can seemingly only be avoided for so long. There’s a balance there, and I’ve never even gotten close.

Seen at Costco.

Seen at Costco.

I spent most of this weekend stressed out and worried about how to make a major mistake at work come out right. I’m embarrassed to say that I also spent most of this weekend with 20 totally wonderful people that I feel deeply connected to. People that inspire the best in me. What did I accomplish in my worrying? Not much. What did I miss out on? Probably more than I will ever know.

Thanksgiving feast

So much to be thankful for- and this was less than half of it.. Don’t miss a morsel..

It is easy to think we have it hard, but the real fact is that most of the junk we deal with at the office is contrived. I know that it starts with me. It starts with remembering that I am not my work. That there is more to all of us than how we pay our bills. Indeed for most of us, the everything else is often the part that matters the most.

friends, sky, landscape, montana

These men matter.

I’ve said it before- the only real limits are the ones we create in our own minds. This time around- the only real problems are the ones we make in our own minds. Don’t let anyone, or anything, live inside your head for free.

No-Vember

(This post is about activism. First and foremost, please vote on Tuesday- it is the most important and functional form of activism. I really don’t care how you vote, just make sure you do it.)

The crisp air smelled of sage and yellow like the larches that rolled past the windshield of the work truck. I had spent the day working with a new employee, and the 3 hours in the car together left ample time for a deeply meaningful conversation that spanned religion, environmentalism, social justice, and fatherhood. One more sign that we are not your average construction company.

Something worth standing for.

Something worth standing for.

I joked about a stop at the local brewery on our way home, and Sam* politely offered to join me, but that he didn’t drink. We didn’t stop. After years of alcoholism, he’s been sober for a year and loving it. He pointed out that alcohol in America is a tragically powerful, chronically unrecognized drug that our culture is disturbingly casual about. I couldn’t agree more.

Thursday I posted a link on Facebook about Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly acknowledging his sexual orientation- a move that I applaud and that supports our cultural evolution away from institutionalized bigotry. One line in his statement stood out in particular though – “I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifices of others.” In the age of the “self-made millionaire” it’s unfortunately rare to hear one of the titans of business acknowledge the unknowable and invaluable contributions of others to their success. We all, even the titans, need each other. Secondly, he recognizes that we have a cultural aversion to activism.

The greatest blow our culture has suffered from the conservative movement is that activism has become a dirty word. That Mr. Cook’s statement has been heralded (even as I herald it) as admirable belies an assumption about speaking out. That making our most authentic and passionate desires known is an act of boldness, rather than an act of normalcy, is sad to me. We all have things that mean something to us. Our actions will always stand for something. In the pursuit of living fully, the greatest tragedy might be that we might let our lives slip away without being honest about what we stand for.

Sam’s commitment to sobriety reminded me of a commitment I made last year. No-booze No-vember. Some people prefer to celebrate “Movember” by growing mustaches, but I’ll re-up my commitment this year to stand for something a little bigger. I’m all for moderation. I also regularly enjoy good craft beer or locally produced wine. Alcohol warrants serious respect and taking a month off of drinking seems like a fitting way to check the casual cultural attitude that tends to prevail.

Join me. Or not, but think about what you stand for, and don’t be quiet about it. Our lives are too amazing not to stand for something.

*name changed out of respect for privacy.

practice

(ed. note: this started a few weeks ago as a note to a friend. photos are of compiled adventures. capital letters are omitted intentionally)

learning to go up. the canon, 5.11c, rattler gulch, mt.

learning to go up. the canon, 5.11c, rattler gulch, mt. (photo: helena mast)

practice is a word i have to remember and think about a lot. growing up, it got drilled into me to practice my cello. practice. always, practice. with that came some cool acceptance that i would simply not get things right the first time. they would require regular failure and slow painful progress. the desired outcome required grit, or perhaps just simple stubbornness.

we practice being in the mountains-

we practice being in the mountains-

-perhaps to learn to be better when we are together.

-to learn to be better when we are together.

somewhere along the line, after leaving my music career, i think i might have lost some of that willingness to practice. our generation just wants things. we want money, or a relationship, or a status in things, and we forget that often those things take hours, and days, and years, of practice to get right.

we practice building homes-

we practice better building-

-to build better homes.

-to build better homes.

i’m asking questions about how to practice better these days. reviewing results more carefully, and taking a more curious approach to trying to do some of the same common things just a little bit better. it’s easy to let intensity slip in, but more fun to laugh at while we keep it at bay. i’m still looking for the right definition of success in many of the things i do or attempt. i see many people with the same uncertain gauge of success- i’m not sure why me and my peers have such a hard time with this concept. we’ve figured out that we can’t define it with dollars, or map it out cleanly. we know when we’ve found success (the feeling is obvious), but it’s hard to see when it’s only looming on the horizon.

we practice the things that show our weaknesses-

we practice the things that show our weaknesses-

-because it is the only way to real strength.

-because it is the only way to real strength. roadside off-widthing, lolo, mt. (photo: sarah zugar)

i have a fear of failure that sometimes prevents me from taking real risk, or even giving my best effort. like all old things, it is time to let that fear pass. thanks to many people and partners that help me practice letting a little bit go each day.

Catalyst

My brother sent me a note and mentioned that he had found a clothing company that fit his values after following a link from this site.

If you’ve followed stickthefeeling for a while, you know that this isn’t really just an adventure blog anymore. I’ve been in flux about what exactly I would like it to be, but his note gave me some definition.

I want this site to be a catalyst for a life of abundance.

To inspire us to realize that we have more than we need, but nothing to waste. Abundance of adventure, of activity, but also abundance of the quality of life that I enjoy. A catalyst for authentic connection between people. For real energy conservation, and delicious local food. For our lungs searing on clear air as we climb each of our respective philosophical and geophysical mountains. For fewer physical things, less worry, and quiet. For deeper self examination, greater freedom, and a baseline of confidence that somehow my generation came up short on. That I come up short on.

that spot, just a random one on the trail. is sacred.

that spot, just a random one on the trail. is sacred.

In engineering, a catalyst lowers the amount of energy required for a particular chemical reaction to occur successfully, thereby increasing the likelihood of successful interactions and products. I’d like to think that reading this space might make it easier to find a better climb, a more passionate wilderness, or more joyful laughter.  After 3+ years of writing, it serves as a regular reminder for me to pursue what I want most. And what can be let go of to get the good stuff.

it is such a privilege to welcome others into our lives, even when that seems scary. (Photo: Trevien Stanger)

it is such a privilege to welcome others into our lives. (Photo: Trevien Stanger)

There is a place and space, and a time and people, that warrant our deepest, most fierce attentions. That time is now, and the things we need most are the ones we already have. The most important people are the ones we are with, and whether we trust it or not- the space we are in at this very moment, is sacred.

and silliness. don't forget silliness. (Photo: Trevien)

and silliness. don’t forget silliness. (Photo: Trevien)

The photos are from a quick trip up St. Marys peak in the Bitterroot last Sunday with Nick Triolo and Trevien Stanger. Two amazing men that make it easy for me to be more of who I hope to be, all the time.

“The realization that we have more than enough is irresistibly powerful.”

(ed. note: many others have written on the topic of abundance. I stole mine a while back after reading this, here)