Sunday, March 27, 2011

On the "Rockys" in my life

Ever since I was a kid, I have always found inspiration from the heroes of action and adventure movies. I attribute a lot of this I guess to living a pretty sheltered life in the backwoods of upstate New York and having few real life heroes per se, outside of family members. In the 80s, if you had asked most any boy in America who their heroes were, I would wager most would have said a character from an Arnold Schwarzeneggar or Sylvester Stallone movie, perhaps Indiana Jones or Hulk Hogan or Superman close runner's up. I grew up loving them all, but it was always Rocky that inspired me to exercise and want to get in shape. Though Rocky IV in all its Cold War propaganda glory will always be my favorite, and the one that to this day stands as the main inspiration for me wanting to do pull-ups as a kid, there are numerous sequences and songs throughout them all that I still can't watch without being on the edge of my seat wanting to destroy whatever obstacles are in front of me, pulse pounding, veins filled with blood.

On the bike tour this past fall for several weeks I was sad that among all of my endless precautionary items for every emergency that I packed, one of the main lapses in judgment I seemed to space out on was, well, the inclusion of a soundtrack for my adventure. As Pinar and I biked on and on, I began to get a little bitter, honestly, that she had brought an mp3 player and was lost in song somewhere ahead of me, while I had only my thoughts to listen to. Sometimes that can be good, others...not so much. One thing is for certain however, and that is during times of intense physical challenges, upbeat and/or aggressive music can work wonders at helping you to find the strength to overcome whatever obstacles are in front of you, whether that be a giant hill, another ten miles before sunset, or the ability to ignore the cold chill in your bones in the morning. The day that I finally gave in and bought an mp3 player at a Walmart, it should be no shocker to anyone who knows me that one of the first albums I downloaded was the best of the Rocky soundtracks. Pedaling off down the road from the Fred Meyer parking lot that day, listening to "Eye of the Tiger" for the first time in months was a communion with my inner child I had almost forgotten about, so wrapped up in the logistics of each day's ride. It was a reminder of a part of me that existed long before this current journey, a fearlessness I found as a kid through music that as silly as it might have seemed to some people, gave me strength that day in ways that nothing else could have.

I wrote the following in an email to a friend last October about that day:

"I was sleeping alone inside the burned out guts of a redwood tree in the middle of the first forest I met in California and it grounded me back to remember more about who i was, knowing that i could be doing all this alone right now--that, regardless of if we have a lover, best friend, adventure partner to brave the daylight with, whatever....ultimately, we are all alone each night, anyway. Being in that tree took me back to my childhood, when i spent hours and hours alone with trees, in my imagination, where every day was a game and nothing mattered. Things were so easy. I've been really nostalgic or sentimental or whatever on this trip, thinking of my childhood. Riding bikes, playing in nature, every day always worked out. A snickers bar on the table when i got home from school, Hulk Hogan on TV and everyone a hero in my head.

In the end, you have to be your own hero. You have to love yourself. You have to know that you are capable of anything and look forward to those challenges, not be frustrated. We keep downloading silly adventure movies in cafes along the way that we watch while camping. Goonies, Indiana Jones, The Matrix, Star Wars....they only seem to prove this point.

The Rocky soundtrack isn't what gets me over hills. It's not a challenge to myself to be like Rocky, it's a challenge to myself, to be like ME. To stop hiding, to stop being afraid, and to let the deepest most inner secret parts of me, fears and bullshit and all, out for the world to see. Throw it all on the table each day and risk my comfort and sanity to be passionate and inspiring to others, to elevate us all higher into one euphoric dreamlike consciousness where we know and believe that we can ALL be superheros--we can all find, create, and nurture happiness in ourselves and others. We can all kindle our adventurous spirits and find our inner Macguyvers or Indiana Jones. We are all Goonies. We can all have fun...

I'm still learning this. or developing it, like a magic trick, perfecting, to every day become a more powerful and clever wizard to pull the wool over people's eyes just for a moment before pulling it back again and showing them that there are in fact, no strings. This is the way that it is. This is the way that you can live as well."

My "eye of the tiger" however would immediately lose its fire shortly after I mounted my new stereo on my bike
and in Trinidad, California, on October 21th, 2010, I would lose yet another large piece of a front tooth while eating a roasted panini sandwich. This was the day that I would take the first picture of my mouth in years, similar to the one that is now on its way to becoming viral it would seem, in an effort to try to let the reality of my situation ever sink in,

staring at myself in the bathroom of that cafe that afternoon, feeling completely alone and powerless. Shortly before that moment, as my best friend was dancing outside on the phone, having just received word over the phone that she had gotten accepted into the college of her dreams, I could not have been on a further planet, emotionally, as I wrote these words in my journal:

It is hard now, to think back to how I felt that day. Though it has been over five months now, I am still haunted by the intense feeling of loss I felt that day.  Though she held me as I cried myself to sleep that night in our tent on the beach, my mind could not have been further away. My problem that night, every night for years, was not one that love or hugs alone could fix.

We had been to hell and back on a hundred different horses it had seemed over the past year of adventures together, with my shoulders more often than not hefting a lot of the burden. But on this day, finally, it was written all over my broken face that things would simply not be the same. Though we may have rolled across the Golden Gate Bridge together, the fact that our own internal struggles were very different could not have been more clear. Now, more than ever, I knew that the only real obstacle in my life to my own success and happiness was myself. To find my Apollo Creed I need look no further than my own mouth. The real battle I had left Phoenix with my closest friend to face, and left New York even 5 years before, was one with myself, over the regrets of my past.

All I had wanted for years was to have a big climax of my movie like in Good Will Hunting and cry on someone's shoulder while they tell me "It's not your fault," and to somehow be okay with it, and move on. I still never was granted that wish, and I think I have also reached a point where I don't care anymore. I can't blame my parents or my family my whole life any more than I can blame my friends for not being mind-readers. I used to always think that if my friends never asked me about my teeth that it must have meant that they were uncomfortable with me. It never once occurred to me that maybe they didn't know my secret because I went to such great lengths to hide it, and it was in fact only me that was uncomfortable with myself. I always imagined people talking about about me after I left the room, inquiring to my friends what had happened to me, like I was missing an arm or something. "Oh, you mean you don't know about the accident?"

But I've come to a new place of acceptance, for the first time in my life. There was no accident. I refuse to any longer be sorry for myself, and though my hands have ten fingers I could point at others for the rest of my days, I am proud that for the first time in my life a few months ago that I began to finally instead make a fist with them, like Rocky, and take a stand. If you will recall from Rocky 3, the real enemy he had to face, was his own fear. To look oneself in the mirror and not be ashamed of what you see has been a test I have struggled with for years, but I am finally learning to face these old pictures of my mouth as an enemy that with the help of you all, my fans, that I feel I am in constant training to overcome. The ironic part, is that though my words often dance in and out of metaphors in everyday speech, of movies and reality and everything in between, I couldn't help but find significance in the fact that when I first began to share the story with the world of this epic battle I was about to face upon my return to Phoenix a few months ago, suddenly, two more "Rockys" entered my life. The first, as you all know by now, is my wonderful student dentist I ended up with, Rakhee Patel, that with each new appointment feels like my coach and tag team partner as we each knock out another few rounds toward that final championship smile, so far away but so well on our way to the finish. The second, though only somewhat of an acquaintance in the past, Rocky Yazzi, happened to read my story on facebook at the perfect time when he needed a little inspiration I guess, and a reminder that all of us in our own ways were suffering, but it's whether we choose to do it together and ask for help, or doom ourselves to lives of isolation and self-pity, that makes all the difference. This is of course, only me speaking.
Rocky recently recorded this song and video before moving out of his home and saying goodbye to parts of his past. If you listen closely you can hear how his compassion for my current predicament inspired the second verse.
Rocky is throwing me a benefit this Wednesday night in San Francisco's Mission District at the El Rio if any of you happen to be in that area.!/event.php?eid=153236068069644
I have a few more weeks before my next appointment, but I presume my other Rakhee is home training for her presentation on me due very soon.Thank you both, for all of your continued inspiration and for always being in my corner during this fight. Here is one more cheesy video, dedicated to all of us:

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