The Swamp of My Subconscious

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I sprawl out over the sun-baked earth as if shoved. My hands burn from the scrape, and my face lands flat on its side.

I get to my knees and blow dirt from my mouth. All around me is a barren wasteland. No vegetation or shade exists except for the thin dark clouds that block the sun’s warmth. The ground is a jigsaw of bleached mud, and there is no wind.

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Behind me is the thick iron gate of my consciousness. I don’t bother turning back; there’s nothing for me there.

I stand with shoulders slumped, alone in the familiar unknown. I shut my eyes tightly until my eyeballs throb. A muffled scream of frustration shudders through my body, and I pull my hair with my fists.

Even here, I can’t fully express myself. My pain and madness dwell too deep, like a volcano erupting at the bottom of the ocean. It passes quickly, and the tears evaporate before they can stream down my cheeks.

I look up to the sky and see nothing but endless grey. I sigh deeply and start the journey again.

I’m tired of this trek. It’s aimless and exhausting and repetitive. The same visions run through my mind as I put one foot in front of the other. I look ahead and see a shadow in the distance.

Instinctively I point myself in that direction, I know it’s probably pointless, but I can’t think of anything better to do.

A thought comes to me as the shadow grows bigger.

“Is this it?” I ask myself.

Something like hope flares in my chest, and my stout legs propel me a little faster.

I smell humidity, and my tongue begs for moisture.

The shadow comes into view. It’s a swamp. I stand on its edge, letting the moist air caress my face. It smells dank and mysterious, but it’s a welcome relief to the dry nothingness at my back.

Trees twist and tangle with each other; the space between the massive mossy trunks is black as pitch. The buzzing of mosquitoes, the long croaks of bullfrogs, and the strangled screech of some unknown animal bring sweat to my brow. Still, I yearn to explore, to make some final stand at the last secret of my scoured unconscious.

I have to see what lies within.

I push aside a giant spiderweb and step onto the spongey muck of the swamp’s floor. Mud sucks at my feet with each stride. My shirt clings to my body with sweat.

It’s surprisingly still in here, and close. I push through until the trees start to spread, and I stand at the edge of an inky black bayou. In the middle is a small island.boat-2-1553001-639x852

I’m not surprised to see a battered aluminum Jon boat leaning against the arthritic trunk of a Cypress tree. I wrestle it onto the water sending ripples across the surface. I grab the paddle hidden beneath the roots and climb in.

It’s like paddling through molasses. My shoulders ache with each stroke. It doesn’t take long before the hot sting of sweat streams into my eyes.

I run aground on the island. For some reason, I hurry onto land and look back to see what’s following me. I see nothing. The shore has disappeared, shrouded in mist.

The island rises behind me, so I turn and begin to climb. I crest the little hill and stop in my tracks. Four Frogmen stand there as if expecting me. They are seven feet tall with long muscular legs and arms wrapped in multi-colored skin. Small tunics cover their waists, and each holds a long spear with feathers hanging below the tips. Huge mouths frown at me, and their bulbous eyes stare unblinking.

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The one in front has green skin mottled with black and gold spots. He points a long amphibian finger at my forehead. Electricity shoots from the tip, hitting me on my forehead above my nose. It knocks me to the ground.

I get to my feet quickly, and we stare at each other again. They look at each other as if passing some unseen communication. I pull a knife from my waistband and crouch.

“A fight? Is that why I’m here? Come on then!”

The bullfrog in front steps forward on his webbed feet. Two golden balls sit at the hinge of his jaw, reflecting the dull sunlight. He drops his spear as the others spread out in a straight line behind him. They begin to croak rhythmically and pound the butts of their spears into the ground.

He raises his arms to the sky and springs forward. He covers the thirty feet between us in one leap. I look up as he descends, thrusting my knife into the air. His hand whips my arm to the side. He lands on my chest, pinning me to the soft earth.

His strong hands hold mine over my shoulders, and he opens his gigantic mouth as if to swallow my head. I twist one arm free and slice the soft white flesh of his belly. He croaks and rolls backward. I do the same.

I rush him headlong, letting out a primal war cry. He uses his gigantic frog legs to shoot forward, his eyes squinting in focused determination. We collide, his bulk knocks me to my back. I plunge the knife into his ribs. He opens his mouth in my face, and his tongue flashes out, wrapping around the blade. He swallows it down in one quick movement. His hands surround my face like a vise.

“Why?!” I scream.

His eyes soften a little somehow, then his tongue lashes out again. It wraps around my head and across my eyes. A burning sensation erupts behind my eyelids, and I scream.

He lets me up. I thrash around blindly, swinging my arms and spinning in circles. I claw at my eyes, trying to wipe the reptilian spit away. It doesn’t work, and the pain brings me to my knees. I lay defeated writhing in pain.

“See,” says the bullfrog, “Open.”

“It hurts!”

“Open. See.”

The pain has scrambled my brain. All I can hear is the croaks of his brethren. It drowns my senses; I have no choice but to obey. I force my eyes to open, and the pain disappears.

I rise and look out across the swamp. The mist is gone. Everywhere I look, I see life. The trees glow with energy, and my ears burst with the sounds of insects and animals. The black waters teem with life.

I sob uncontrollably as tears stream down my cheeks. I look to my guide. An aura of red and gold light surrounds him. I run into his embrace and feel the warmth of his body healing me.

He pushes me away, kindly, and removes a golden ball from his jaw. He presents it to me, and I accept it. I swallow it down in one gulp. My body transforms.

“You,” he says as he sweeps his arm, presenting the swamp.

I nod. I understand.

He returns to the three Frogmen. They thrust their spears into the sky. As one, they leap high and dive; I see their light streak below the surface of the water in opposite directions.

I gather my new legs beneath me and jump into the bayou. My slimy skin lets me slip through the water with ease. I plunge quickly and push off from the bottom with a mighty extension.

I break the surface of the water like a missile. The clouds part as I ascend. The sun shines on my face, and the air cools my skin. I hang for a second before dropping. I see the swamp is a mystery of hidden living things and its power throbs below me. I hurtle downward at incredible speed. The bayou rushes towards me, and I hit the surface of the water like a nuclear bomb.

I’m the epicenter of a massive shockwave. The swamp explodes outward, and a tsunami of water and living things rolls over the barren wasteland of my subconscious returning life to all that was dead.

I paddle the boat back to that great iron gate and open it. My frog skin sloughs off my body.

I return as a man.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

87 Flips

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“Dad! Can you smell that?”

This is never a comfortable question coming from a four year old.

“What Benny?”

“It’s Spring!”

I smile. He’s a few months early, but I smell it too. Last week the thermometer in my truck registered -4º F. Yesterday, February 5th, it was 53ºF and sunny.

Winter in Connecticut.

As a life-long New Englander I know I need to take advantage of the warmth, who knows when it will return.

“Okay boys, I am going to workout with the tire, so leave me alone for a little bit. I have to get to a hundred,” I announce.

“Ok!” they lie as they run from the playscape to the trampoline.

The tire was a gift. My dad picked it up from a farm equipment supplier. My wife wrapped it in a bow for Christmas.

My health journey is eclectic. I’ve spent years in the gym, I’ve trained for and run a half marathon, I’ve studied Judo, I’ve had two personal trainers, I’ve participated in mini-triathlons, and I’ve run a Tough Mudder.

I’ve been through a CrossFit phase, a rowing phase, and I am currently on a kettle-bell and functional strength phase. Yesterday, I inquired about competing in the Highland Games.

I know what I need to do, and my knowledge is extensive, I just can’t seem to find the one  workout that sticks.

My current workout is big, heavy and frozen to the ground.

I roll it behind the garden. It splashes down with a muddy thud. I inch my fingers under it and squat down. I pop it up easily. The mud splatters my shirt as it falls. Ten flips to one end of the garden, ten flips back to the beginning.

On and on we turn, the never ending cycle of man vs. exercise. My hands start to ache and my back is on fire. My legs are warming up and sweat stings my eyes. It doesn’t seem too hard at first, but soon enough I’m doing math:

“I’ve done thirty, that means I have seventy to go. No, wait, this length will be thirty. Ok wait, if the first length ends on an odd number and I am headed back to the start that means it will end on an even number…damn, now I lost count…ok so I think this is my third length and I am halfway through so…”

The grunts become louder. The rest at the end of the garden becomes longer. The boys want me to record them doing tricks on my phone, “Ok, but just for a minute,” I say with relief.

Mud from my fingers smudges across the screen. I am breathing heavily. Part of me wants to quit right here. I’m halfway through, that’s pretty good for my first time out, isn’t it?

I can feel the tire behind the garden. It’s mass has a gravity to it, pulling me back.

I go.

At flip number seventy, my mindset changes. It’s gonna feel so good to get there, to get to one hundred. Nothing can stop me. I am a machine. I can feel the mush transforming into iron.

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There’s just something about an outdoor workout.

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Yes! this is it, I’ve found what will get me healthy!

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This sucks, but in a good way! I am committed to this!

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“Dad! I have a bloody nose!”

I sigh as I pull my hand out from under the thick wet rubber. The kid is leaking everywhere. He’s tough but I can see a tinge of fear in his eyes.

“Ok, Bud, no problem, let’s go.”

We fumble our way into the house, shedding muddy clothes and boots as we go. 

I feel guilty as I head into the kitchen. We were out there too long. I have to get dinner made before basketball practice which is thirty minutes from now. I can see the tire  halfway down the garden path. It sits there waiting, wondering where I went. 

I didn’t reach my goal.

I failed.

The ache in my shoulders disagree with me.

I suppose it’s like life. We strive for our goals. They sustain us, they gives us hope, but sometimes we focus so much on finishing, we don’t appreciate the journey.

What if the mud and the sweat and the pain is what we strive for?

Who would we become? What would we value?

It might just make us love ourselves a little more.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

For proper tire-flipping technique check out this link!

 

In Need of Adventure

Seek.

“The key is on the table! Just go!” 

Something, or someone, is yelling at me. I can’t hear them. It’s as if they’re behind one of those police mirrors watching me try to escape that tiny, poorly-lit, soundproofed room. 

Still, I sense something so I turn. I put my hand against the cool silvery surface, and look into my own eyes. For a second something familiar passes through me and runs up my spine. It’s the answer to my quest. But just as quickly, the energy passes, and with a shrug I go back to my search.

For seekers like myself, we fear the same thing: There is no quest. There are no secrets to be revealed. Life is what it is, and you’re wasting it asking questions for no reason.

I rage against that logic for fear it will drag me down. I battle it with weapons like intuition, meditation, and prayer. I ask questions. I look closely. I think deeply. I listen to every word, every nuance you say. 

And sometimes, I act.

“In need of adventure. Saw tracks on the pond on the way to day care. Gonna try and skate around it. Not to worry I’ll stick close to the shore.”

I hit send and try to imagine my wife’s reaction. If we were face to face she would squint and look out the nearest window. Her muscles would tense and she would take a few seconds to respond. She’d throw out some sort of nonchalant response like, “Cool. The ice is probably thick enough,” which would translate to, ” Oh my God, you’re going to die an icy watery death.”

Luckily, through the power of technology, by the time she replies “Ok,” I am already laced up, and on the pond.

I take the first few strides wondering if the ice is indeed thick enough. The pond groans and stretches, and a crack races out from the tip of my right skate.

A smile creeps over my face. It isn’t my first time on thin ice.

The cold shreds through my flannel, and tears form at the corners of my eyes. My feet cramp painfully and my back is exhausted from my poor form.

It’s exhilarating.

I’m alone on the pond on a cloudy winter day. Logs thrust up through the ice, and trees bend low, their branches trapped by the frozen surface. Grass and algae suspend motionlessly beneath me, waiting patiently for the thaw. Groans, cracks, the scrape of my skates, and my breath are the only sounds I hear.

I stop to take a picture of a floating stone. I see its brother a few yards further. Who threw them? Some timid soul wanting to check the thickness? Some vandal trying to break the near perfect surface? Either way I thank them. It makes for a cool picture.

I stop to take a close up of the ice. Rows of tiny bubbles hang there in the thickness and it fascinates me. I try to wrap my head around this process. Can anyone ever say they watched an air bubble become trapped in ice? My imagination wanders, but my feet tell me it’s time to turn around.

I wasn’t out long, and there are certainly more, and greater adventures out there, but this one captured a piece of my heart. There’s something about the cold that helps define me.

Cold grey days are easy to dismiss.

Sometimes you have to seek to find beauty.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

 

Yes in My Backyard (YIMBY)

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The burning in my chest seems different than in the past. The burning in my legs is shocking to me. Confusion and doubt cloud my mind.

It’s only been two laps.

The course I created with my boys can only be described as small. Four corners form a square in the backyard marked by a small orange cone, our big red cooler, a bucket for “Yard Dice” (think Yahtzee on  sod), and an orange baseball hat. Two corners rest atop the small incline that is my lawn. 

  1. Sprint up the hill.
  2. Run backwards across the top.
  3. Grapevine down the hill.
  4. Lunges across the bottom.

These spur of the moment workouts always seem like a great idea. The kids are always begging to play with me outside, I DEFINITELY need the exercise, and well, there ya go two birds, one stone.

Plus, remember that scene in “Field of Dreams? Kevin Costner’s character playing catch with his dad? The sun was setting across a beautiful farm. Two men, with a tear in their eye, gulping down the nostalgia of father-son time. It’s simple and beautiful and what we, as fathers, all strive to achieve.

One lap into it and I realize I hate that movie. My son chooses DJ Khaled as our workout playlist, the three year old is falling every ten feet and pouts until someone picks him up and all I can focus on is the amount of gopher  tunnels ruining my grass. That and the imminent heart attack I’m seconds away from experiencing. The eight year old’s question-to-my-answer ratio is five to one. 

“Dad, can we play football?”

“No- what? We just started! We gotta finish what we start.”

“Will you let me play football for real?”

“Well- (light panting)”

“Mom says no but I really wanna play.

“Well-(heavier panting)”

“I’m gonna run around the house fifty times can you time me?”

“Sure but- ” (tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth)

“Dad! Is Batman a good-guy? What’s a vigilante?”

“Kind of…. (pant pant)Well (pant pant)…. I (pant pant)… don’t (pant pant)… reallyknow…”

“Dad! Ben’s crying.”

“Ok (Thank God!)…I should slow down and check on him.”

It doesn’t take long before a football has entered the mix. My sons pass it back and forth as they run, and Benny’s laughter echoes through our empty little neighborhood. I find myself jamming to Mr. Khaled every time I pass the first cone, and the sweat on my ancient tank top spreads like a badge of honor.

I feel great.

A little sweat, a little music, two of my favorite people in the world, and a beautiful outdoor setting. 

All it took was a step off my deck.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

 

 

 

DIY Fishing Excursion

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Took the boys fishing this past weekend and I wanted to pass on some advice. Better yet, below you will find a checklist to use  to take your children on a trip to the Great Outdoors. Nothing says bonding time like waking up early, casting a few lines into a swift misty river and catching dinner.

I wonder what that’s like.

Checklist

Fishing gear:

  • Fishing license
  • Bait (I do not suggest watching videos on ‘which bait should I use?’ The amount of information you find on different theories is depressingly vast. In the end you’ll come to the realization you can only learn to fish if you start in the womb, and your life has been wasted watching tv and going to work. The less you know the better. Just use earthworms, or, if you’re squeamish, use fake earthworms.)
  • Pliers or a knife to cut knots or tangles (This is your life for the next few hours. Remember to breathe.)
  • Mobile phone with GPS (You won’t get lost. It’s actually to watch videos on: How do I fish? How do I tie a fishing knot?  and How do I perform basic first aid?)
  • Fishing rod for every kid (Don’t bother bringing one for yourself. Your day will be spent knee deep in water retrieving lures stuck in trees, taking fish off of hooks, sticking yourself with various sharp objects, knotting hooks to line and pulling three year olds out of the mud/river/lake/pond. If you do not have enough rods for every kid, jealousy and boredom will set in. At the first sign of an argument, immediately end the trip and drive directly to the nearest fast food joint.)

Clothes:

  • Light quick drying clothes and water proof shoes (These cost a fortune. In the end they will commune with nature in a Ninja Turtles tee shirt, flat brimmed hat, orange mesh shorts and an over-sized pair of Crocs.)
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Change of clothes (This is essential. Five minutes after you cast your first bait your child will say they have to poop despite repeated attempts before you left to use the bathroom. They swore they did not have to go. They were lying to you. You are miles from a bathroom and you never thought to  bring toilet paper. Time to get creative. Luckily, you did bring an extra pair of underwear. Remember, every tree is a “lav-a-tree.” Or, immediately end the trip and drive directly to the nearest fast food joint.)

Planning the trip:

  • Know where you’re going the night before. A quick internet search will provide plenty of nearby options for ponds, lakes and rivers. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is awesome. They will even suggest places that are family friendly. I am certain other states have similar resources.
  • Get up early (Don’t worry, you’ll leave an hour and a half later than expected because you forgot they needed breakfast and all the gear you knew you had ready to go the night before is hidden throughout various rooms and bins in the attic, basement and shed. Get ready to sweat as you search frantically. If you’re going to curse, make sure it is under your breath and not directed towards anyone.)
  • Food and water – How long will you be gone? Do you need to bring lunch? Snacks? Always bring water. (NB If you are a man reading this, disregard. Just remember when you stop at the gas station, buy an extra sleeve of “Donettes.” Or, the second they start complaining about being hungry, immediately end the trip and drive directly to the nearest fast food joint.)

Extras:

  • Camera (The beauty of getting outside and doing something in nature is: even when it’s a disaster and uncomfortable and frustrating, they really are great memories. The stories of when it went rough are the ones you all will remember the longest, and with a laugh. Just do me a favor. Take one or two pictures. Stop trying to capture every second. Experience life in real time.)

 

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

Guys Night, Ruck Hike and Tiny Dinosaurs

Guys night. The rare and beautiful opportunity when my wife is out of the house and it is just me and the boys. Granted, it looks a bit different in my forties than it did in my twenties. The guys have been replaced by my sons, eight and three years old, and a night in the city is replaced by “bear hunting” in my backyard, but the foundations remain: pizza, fart jokes, junk food, jumping on the furniture, watching movies you’re not allowed to watch, and whenever possible, burping a response to a question.

It is total freedom.

I almost let the last one slip through my fingers. My wife sells environmentally friendly cleaning products called Norwex, as  a side gig, and as she left the house I felt I had everything under control. One son was watching Star Wars, the other glued to an iPad. It allowed me the time I needed to prepare for my foray in the weight loss battle: ruck hiking.

It is a simple concept. You buy yourself a quality backpack or rucksack, fill it with weight and go for a hike. It’s easier on the joints than running, and you burn more calories than walking, perfect. I channeled my inner sherpa and set to work filling my old hiking backpack with dumbells and whatever else I could find. In the end, I struggled to slip into a pack weighing over fifty pounds. I set it by the door so it  would be ready for me when I start my new exercise regime…tomorrow.

I wiped the sweat from my brow and checked on the boys. Everyone watching a screen and relatively quiet? Great.

I was dangling a piece of pizza over my mouth like a sword swallower when my mid-life crisis set in. It wasn’t your typical “I need a motorcycle, tattoo and abs” type of panic, it was more real, more intense. I heard two screens playing simultaneously from different rooms and I tried desperately to remember how long they had been watching a monitor. I had no idea. I flashed forward ten years. How many guys nights did I have left? What will they remember from this one?

The backpack eyed me disapprovingly.

Inspiration.

“Who wants to go for a hike in the yard?”

The three of us, all wearing backpacks now (they really do want to be just like dad!) set out on an adventure. My oldest had a light-saber, the youngest a juice box, water gun and a handful of popcorn to feed any bears we would find on our journey. We took pictures of mushrooms, battled the hated Empire, and pet the tiny bears and dinosaurs my son found as he held them on the tip of his tiny finger. “Pet him dad. Don’t worry, he doesn’t have teeth, and he’s happy.”

It was a glorious hour together. The weight of the pack dug into my shoulders, and bathed me in sweat, but I’ve never felt lighter.

Do something. Together.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC