Darkness on the Edge of Town

Trigger Warning: This post is about depression, suicide, self-harm, and other topics that might cause distress. Additionally, my dark sense of humor is present.

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I wrote (a lot) on the previous iteration of this blog about depression. I wrote about friends that took their own lives. Those posts, like those people, are gone now. Forever. Had I the foresight, I probably would’ve saved those posts on the one in a billion chance it might’ve helped someone. Consider this post their replacement.

Depression is like a shadow. It can be scant or it can loom large. If you’re not looking for it, you probably won’t notice it, but it’s always there. We all have shadows. There is no stigma to having a shadow. And shadows take many different shapes, but most of the time they look normal: just like you, as you are, most of the time.

They tell you to “look for the signs,” but it’s never that easy. My friend, he was big as life and one of the most outwardly happy and successful people I’d met. Past tense; because he’s gone now. No warning, no explanation. Talking about TV one day and the next day never talking again. Another spent his life saving people, saving families. Helping people. He never asked for help for himself.

Because shadows can be hidden. If people don’t want you to see theirs, you won’t see it…

None of us is an adequate spokesperson for mental health, because we’re all at least a little fucked up. But that’s an important thing to remember: we are all at least a little fucked up. That’s why it’s shocking when famous celebrities or comedians or successful businesspeople take their own lives and it seems like a shock. It shouldn’t. People are people, and none of us get out this alive. It’s morbid and it’s hard to talk about, but it is necessary.

Memento Mori. Remember that you will die. Remember you are fragile, but so is everyone else. We all know pain and disappointment and grief and hopelessness and bleak, endless darkness. No one is immune. If that describes you, know that you are notalone.

Like most kids, I had a hard time with high school. Sometimes I would go home after school, sit in my room, hold a knife to my throat and cry for hours. My family didn’t know, my best friend didn’t know… writing this now is the first time anyone besides me will ever know about that. And I’m sharing it for one very simple, specific reason:

I am glad every day of life that I’m still here.

It’s a cliche to say “it gets better,” but it does… then it gets bad again, and it gets better again, and up and down it goes. Life can be unruly and messy and downright awful at times. But the moments, the good moments, they’re worth every low. And you may not think so right now, but what if you’re wrong?

I was.

I would’ve never graduated high school. Never gone to college. Never kissed a girl. Never fallen in love. Never driven 120mph with my eyes closed. Never had a pet dog (let alone 3). Never fallen in love (for real this time). Never chugged a beer. Never seen a brother get married. Never seen my parents – my old nemeses from high school – grow old and retire to a little place on a lake in Maine. Never had a real, honest-to-God, GOOD slice of pizza.

In short: I would have never really, truly lived.

And if there’s one thing – even if it’s infinitesimally small – let that be the thing you live for… because not only is that small thing worth it, there’s always something else after it. There’s so much of this world that you deserve to experience, don’t cheat yourself.

The feeling that you’re all alone and no one knows how you feel… that is as empty and alone and as scared and as broken as a human being can feel. But there are 7 billion people on this planet, and billions more that have come before… so when I tell you we’ve all had that moment, I well and truly mean it. We just… don’t talk about it.

And that’s OUR fault. We should talk about it. We need to talk about it. Because in a world of perfect Instagram lives it’s important to know that the world – and every person in it – is an imperfect, fucking mess.

So please, please be an imperfect fucking mess. Try. Fail. Dust yourself off and fail again. Because the one time you get it right is worth all the failures. No one remembers the failures no matter how spectacular. For example, some of my failures:

  • I pissed my pants in school.
  • I alienated the first girl I ever had a crush on.
  • I shit myself on a school trip (I have control of my bowels now, I swear).
  • I was scared of my prom dates.
  • I flunked French. Twice.
  • I once told a comedian that I enjoyed her set even though no one else seemed to.

I’ve honestly lost track of all the embarrassing shit (most of which are also first-time admissions) I’ve done because in the grand scheme of things – because I kept going – they don’t mean shit (well, except the shit one).

I’m trying to keep this from being the kind of hokey schlock you’ve read before, but if I can quote an infomercial: “if I can do it, so can you.”

The world can be a real shitty place, but it’d be worse off without you.*

* Unless you’re the next Hitler. If so, disregard the above.

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Apparently I Like Getting Punched in the Face

I had my first sparring session earlier tonight. This was basically a training session to match people up for a “smoker” we’re doing on May 12.

I haven’t sparred in probably close to a year when there weren’t enough guys interested to keep it going. I got matched up with a guy named Jeff I’d never met before, who ended up being a pretty good dude. I felt like I did a pretty good job, but exactly two times I left myself open and exactly two times he fucking cleaned my clock with a right cross. So I’m sporting a pretty nice shiner around my right eye.

I actually felt like I generally did well. I did a good job of avoiding a lot of his punches, and I caught him with some nice combos. My big mistake, was weaving under his jab. I was setting myself up nicely for hooks and uppercuts to his ribs… but we weren’t wearing those giant boxing cups, so I didn’t take my shots. In hindsight, I should’ve just pulled my punches but instead I just left my big dumb face out there to get tattooed.

We went two rounds. The first was pretty even, a good feeling out. He came out tentative and I caught him with a real solid cross. That kind of woke him up and he caught me back, but it was a pretty even first go-around. The second round, oh boy. I did a fairly good job of making him fight my fight; I’m a southpaw, so I had him circling into my power punch most of the round, but I got gassed and toward the end of the round he hit me like he had bricks in his gloves. I got pretty wobbly-legged and was sucking wind, and though I managed to finish with a couple jabs and some strong dodging, I definitely stumbled getting out of the ring.

Overall, it was fucking exhilarating. Most of my previous sparring was with a coach, so he was pulling punches and using it as a teaching session (which I loved), but this was the first time really throwing hands with someone. One of coaches came up to me after and said that if I wanted to do the smoker he’d probably match me up against Jeff because “people would pay to watch that shit.”

Quite obviously, though, I’m willing to do it for free.

To Reiterate: My Beer Sucks

I got some more scoresheets back from another competition I entered, and – like last time – they were not good. But honestly, I actually feel much better about this than after the previous competition, and I have couple reasons why.

The scores – a 23 and a 24 – are roughly the same as I received last time (23 and 24.5), but the feedback related to the IPA (The Howler) matched up pretty closely with my hypotheses about why these beers were tasting and scoring so poorly.

“Good example of the style but misses the mark on the hop aroma & flavor which is quite subdued and not the correct type for the style, oxidized aroma & flavor detracts, very nice appearance, maybe an older beer? Watch the oxygen exposure post fermentation to control oxidation.”

Oxidation – mainly from poor packaging – is something that came up in every judge’s review of every one of the four beers, if not by name than by description. I am a pretty big noob when it comes to packaging for competitions, so this seems like an obvious area for improvement. It’s also worth noting that I’ve been drinking The Howler from the keg for a couple weeks now and haven’t noted any of the off-flavors the judges picked out. What I have noticed are their other critiques:

  • Low/subdued aroma – I had an abbreviated dry-hop on this beer in order to package it for the competition
  • Low carbonation – the beer was rushed and wasn’t fully carbonated when packaged
  • Low hop flavor – something I’d noted myself for a next pass at this beer.

I entered these competitions with the hope of getting this kind of constructive feedback. I think proper packaging alone would be enough to add 6-8 points to the overall score and move it up into the “Very Good” range. It’s a beer I enjoy and plan to brew again, especially with some guidance on modifications to improve it.

Frankly, I should have been entering competitions much earlier in my homebrewing “career.” This sort of feedback is invaluable even if it hurts to read. So I’ve bookmarked some upcoming comps; let’s up we start seeing some higher scores.

Cheers.

“Boxing Is My Yoga”

Mindful Movement: Boxing is My Yoga

Link.

Boxing is all about the perfection of movement, and the training of unity between mind and body. When the pressure is on, you seek refuge in your form. You don’t get sloppy. You don’t get wild. You get focused. When you’re under the pump, you tighten up your game, because you know mindfulness and maintaining composure are what will get you through. Hands up. Chin down.

Came across this article late last night and really enjoyed it (it’s short, don’t worry). I’ve been somewhat practicing this in my boxing classes, and I’m about as successful as I was/am with standard meditation. Which is probably a vast improvement considering all the distractions at the gym: blasting music, yelling instructors, and other people wailing away at heavy bags.

I’m bad at not comparing myself to others, but I think I’ve progressed a lot since I started and a lot of it is due to a focus on form and instruction. Like this article discusses, I enjoy the simple practice of honing down the basic punches. Sure, the shovel-shot/hook combo is fun, but the THWACK of a solid jab is fun, too… and if push came to punch, I’m much more likely to land a jab than a combo.

3K Push-up Challenge Update:

430 in and my lats are on fire. Also, I’m terrible at math and originally said this was a 30K push-up challenge. Hahahah. No.

April Challenge: 3,000 Push-Ups

So a couple months ago I hit my lowest bodyfat percentage ever at ~11%. Shortly after that – like a day or two later – I hurt my back while exercising. The back issue put me on the shelf for a couple months, and I’ve just recently gotten back into the gym.

As anyone who takes a long time off from the gym knows, you lose your endurance a LOT faster than you build it up. So I’ve been trying to ease myself back into the boxing classes and haven’t started lifting again yet. What I’m planning to help myself get back to lifting is to work on some bodyweight exercises in addition to the boxing (generally cardio).

This month, I’m setting a challenge of reaching 3,000 push-ups or 100 push-ups a day. The push-ups are generally done piecemeal (usually sets of 10 reps) throughout the day. It’s a way to build back up the strength and conditioning in my arms and shoulders so that I can get back towards my peak for boxing a little bit faster.

So far we’re two days into April and I’m at 140 of the 200 push-ups. So I’ve got some work to do.

Short update today, I’ll check back in later this week.

My Beers Suck. Now What?

I mentioned in previous posts that I entered a few beers into some competitions. Well, I got the scoresheets back on the first one of those comps and the results are… not good.

Woof.

Well, in the parlance and scoring of the BJCP they’re technically “good,” but here in reality where we live: they’re straight up bad. In fact, both beers got called “lifeless.” Ouchie.

To be honest, I knew one of these beers had significant flaws. The maibock definitely suffered from some fermentation issues, and had a noticeable green apple flavor that is a tell-tale sign of acetaldehyde. I also got dinged for no carbonation on both beers, which probably drove down the scores both because of the lack of carbonation (and it’s contributions to aroma and mouthfeel) but also from oxidation in the bottle. The stout also got dinged for diacetyl which I didn’t pick up but could be result bottling conditions.

So what now?

Obviously this was a pretty big shot to the ego, but a much-needed one. I get to enjoy my beers both as the output of my hardwork, but also under near ideal serving conditions. That’s not the case for other people, and it’s definitely something I need to take a long, hard look at improving.

For one, I need to do some more research on my Blichmann Beer Gun, because it clearly isn’t operating the way it’s supposed to in terms of bottling from the keg. I also think it may be time to ditch all of my fermenting buckets. I wouldn’t have thought fermentation was an issue with my process – outside of the lagers – but apparently I’m getting significant off-flavors.

I also probably won’t to look at how I store and care for my beer after it’s been kegged. Right now I’m sort of “between solutions” for my post-carbed beers. They tend to sit in a big chest freezer, but not constantly on CO2.

A big purge is on the way as the weather starts to get nicer around here. I have plans to dump a bunch of old brews and some unused equipment. I also plan to build a full-fledged kegerator over the Spring with some help from the guys in my homebrew club.

I’d been underwhelmed with my progress as a brewer over the past year, so this was a well-timed wake-up call. I’m going to revisit the basics and try to hone in every detail of my process. I expect 2018 to be an expensive year with a lot of trial and error, and hopefully some vast improvement.

Brew Day: Fury of the Claymore

Big doings at the homebrewery today. Took a day off from work to brew a Scottish Export ale for an upcoming club competition, and transferred my red(ish) IPA to the keg.

Kicked off around 10am, mashed in a little before 11:30am. I decided to do a 75 minute mash, because I did an extended mash on my Red(ish) IPA (now called The Howler), and I hit my target pre-boil gravity on that one. I also let the sparge rest for 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, I still came in at 1.038 pre-boil gravity, despite a target of 1.042. And though I made water adjustments to lower the pH, I naturally forgot to measure the pH of the mash. Because I’m dumb.

I did anticipate missing my target pre-boil gravity, so I set this batch up for a 75 minute boil. I broke a little from traditional Scottish ales and bittered with Nugget and added a 10 minute addition of GR Hallertau because I didn’t want to buy an ounce of Fuggles or EK Golding.

The brew itself went pretty well; I hit my pre-boil target volume and ended up with right around the 6 gallons I was expecting with a original gravity (OG) of 1.053 – off the target OG of 1.054 by just a hair.

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I made a yeast starter with some light DME, yeast nutrient and Wyeast 1268 Scottish Ale yeast on the stir plate. This thing was COOKING by the time I pitched it into the wort. I’d chilled the work to under 60°F before adding the 1.6L starter (a little over 60°F). 60°F is my target fermentation temperature for this brew. Jim from the homebrew shop said that this yeast throws some nice esters at a low fermentation temp. (He also chastised my grain bill and my hop additions because he’s a purist and a big Scottish ale brewer) You can check out the full recipe here.

Fury of the Claymore recipe

Tomorrow The Howler gets a quick turnaround to the bottle for a competition; I’ll post an update at some point if my 24 hour carbonation actually works. And tomorrow is also pizza day.

Cheers.

Deep Thoughts

A great philosopher (me) once asked (right now): can pizza every truly be disappointing?

The girlfriend and I hosted a couple of friends on Friday night. This is something we’ve gotten in the habit of doing because she wants to show off all the changes we’ve made to the house and I get the opportunity to practice my pizza skills. Oh, and friends and beer are cool, too, I guess. If you’re into that sort of thing.

The problem with friends and beer – from a pizza-making perspective – is that they can be very distracting. Case in point, I had spent a good deal of time getting everything prepped so that the pizza-making would be minimally intrusive on my hosting duties. But I managed to forget to take the dough out of the fridge to warm it to room temperature.

I did my best to get it up to room temp quickly, but alas the results were less than stellar. The pizza ended up being very thin in the center and had a hard time supporting the toppings. There were also some issues with ingredient sourcing; my local supermarket was out of fresh mozzarella.

Pepperoni and pineapple with shredded basil.

We also used different tomatoes for the sauce this time. Last time I’d used Muir Glen Fire Roasted Organic San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes and they were pretty good but had a very strong and distinct flavor. I liked it, but it was also markedly different than the jarred pizza sauce we’d been using. This time we opted for Cento whole peeled tomatoes, because that’s what Trader Joe’s had. I liked the more subtle flavor of the Cento tomatoes, but I had a harder time getting the sauce consistency and may have over-pureed them slightly, adding to a floppier, less stable crust.

Not my best work

Taste-wise the pizza actually came out pretty good. Not great, but not bad either. I definitely want to revisit the Cento-based sauce and do my pizza business with more focus.

Other assorted thoughts:

  • Next time I make pizza with pineapple, I intend to cook the pineapple slightly. Both to give it a slight char, but also to remove some of the moisture. This became a very soggy slice very quickly.
  • Something about switching between Bake and Broil on my oven affected the heat of the pizza steel. So did cooking two pies in close succession. The char and crispiness I wanted wasn’t present on this crust. Might be time to invest in an infrared thermometer.

Welp, that’s why we practice.

I’ll have some other updates coming this week related to beer; I’m currently dry hopping the red IPA and will be kegging that and entering it into a competition this week. I also (finally) got back into the boxing gym today after being out for two months with a bad back. So things are looking up…

Pizza, Party of One

Today was a day of cutting. This morning I got my haircut; this afternoon I help my friends cut down a bunch of trees; and tonight I cut into my first FROM SCRATCH homemade pizza.

So my friend Larry lives out in the sticks, and he had twenty-fucking-six trees fall during one of Nor’Easters in the past two weeks. Larry’s been awesome about helping me schlep appliances around, so I drove down with The Bean to help him toss logs around. I was late (there was a long wait for haircuts) so I tried to make up for it by going ham on some logs. I was – rightly – kept away from the chainsaws so I mostly just picked up tree parts and tossed them into piles.

But Larry also gave me a stash of beer from The Alchemist, which I brought home to drink with my pizza.

Ah, the pizza. So I’ve been reading Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish and it has been making me horngry. I finally got the chance to try my hand at some of the recipes in the book. I started with a batch of the “24-to-48 hour dough” with a sauce based on Muir Glen San Maranzo tomatoes.

This was my first time making pizza dough from scratch, and I fucked it up. Mixed the ingredients in the wrong order and probably over kneaded it. But it was still dough. The sauce I kind of nailed. So the dough didn’t expand as much as expected so I only got enough in the dough ball I selected for a 12″ pie. The sauce was pretty tasty; WAY different from what I usually do. The crust came out pretty good, but didn’t get the charring I was expecting.

Overall, a decent pie. I ate the whole 12 inches (hehe), so I clearly didn’t hate it. It does have the distinction of being probably the prettiest pie I’ve ever made.

Overall, a good first effort.

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Brew Day: Red(ish) IPA

Well, shit. Today was a productive Friday. In addition to my usual full workday (which on Fridays is not too strenuous) I managed to slip in a full brew day. I also tried out my first pizza dough recipe from Elements of Pizza, more about which at a later date.

Outside of missing the post-boil gravity due to a lot wind giving me a sub-optimal boil*, I hit my numbers throughout the day.

Today’s brew was my take on Troegs’ Nugget Nectar, one of my favorite easy-drinking beers. Generally speaking I find most “red IPAs” taste like hoppy cough medicine so I tend to avoid them, but Nugget Nectar tastes like a solid IPA that just happens to be higher on the SRM scale. Anyway, this beer – tentatively titled Ambrosia after the “nectar of the gods” – isn’t supposed to be an exact clone of NN, so much as a riff on it.

Here’s the recipe:

There’s more details on the BrewToad page for those who might be interested. Like I said above, the final OG came in a few points low so I dumped a cup of table sugar into the wort. It’ll probably dry out the beer a little bit, which would be pretty nice for the style. I’ve been drinking a lot of non-New England IPAs recently, and it’s a welcome change to not have a juice-bomb every once in a while.

* Regarding the shitty boil: I dropped some money on a pair of Anvil burners and basically set up a nice two-tier system with them. Problem is – especially with the shorter one – any time it’s windy it kills the intensity of the flame. I don’t think I screwed anything up while putting them together but I’ve noticed this issue multiple times. I’ve started keeping a partial lid on my brew kettle to keep the heat going, but I’ve missed my target OG a lot recently.

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This is only my second brew of 2018, but I’m definitely feeling a lot more confident with my brews this year than with some of my efforts from late last year. I’m hoping to have this batch ready in time for an upcoming competition.

I placed a stout and my shitty maibock (with a great name: Necro Romancer) into a different competition, so I’ll check back in with my scores/feedback.

Until then, time to drink some beers…