Good at living, bad at life

2014 was a damn good year. 2015 so far has been exceptional for me.

I owe a lot of that to a shift in mindset. For a lot of my life I’ve been incredibly short-sighted. I’ve actually held it up as a personal strength as hump the walls crazy as that sounds. I loved not having a damn clue what was going to happen next and embraced it as being the way I am.

In my career, in my personal life and just in general I’d basically be rolling dice a lot of the time to see how my life was going to turn out on a regular basis. I budgeted for nothing and banked on everything being just grand.

A great example which rolls into how I shifted my thinking is in October of last year. I was in Korea with work and took some time after to travel south with friends. With zero planning I booked a room blind drunk in the early hours of the morning and got a pretty fantastic price the day before we left. I loved Korea, its people are among the friendliest of any country I’ve ever visited and I was pretty much in awe every day.

The hotel was pretty wacky. I never saw anyone who worked there and had to slip my passport through a tiny hand-gap in frosted glass. It’s walls were papered like a dead woman’s dress and the lighting came straight from the slumlord Autumn catalogue. Turned out it was a love hotel. You know, the kind of place normally rented by the hour.

10173522_10154734879335557_4313168636278876199_n 10462877_10154734903250557_884359085956912579_nCreepy Winnie the Pooh condom holder and 1999 era PC packed with escort profiles aside I figured it would be alright. Then I spent the night in a bit of a crisis as I realised the doors did not lock and arguments kicked off outside. People were getting banged hardcore and I could hear it all through paper thin walls. I ended up moving a desk to block the entrance out of paranoia.

Just in case.

That was awesome. It was a crazy night that gave me a flavour I would never have gotten if I’d booked early.

It was when we went to the mountain that I realised I had to change my thinking. We headed up Geumosan Mountain on the second day and halfway up I realised I couldn’t make it. I’d long had a bad shoulder and I was also crazy unfit. I kept on putting off seeing a physiotherapist because of how long I thought it would take to get results.

On an absolutely gorgeous cliff, that I can’t find pictures of, I was forced to stop and accept it was over for me. The summit was just unattainable and I’d have to miss an experience that would be once in a lifetime.

A few days later I took a walk to think about things and found myself sitting by the sea for a while. It got the fear in me. One day I wouldn’t be able to do such cool things and I was making that come up pretty sharpish if i didn’t get myself sorted.

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I kept on thinking about this and headed on up into the hills near Busan. The old school Conan soundtrack was on repeat and I couldn’t stop.

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The road gave way to a crossroads that headed off the beaten path and upwards and I figured fuck it. Trying to make up for what I’d missed I groaned and grumbled my way over dirt and through dust through the branches I saw Busan way back down and far away. Basil Poledouris kept me going with Theology and Civilisation rumbling through my skull.

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A short while later and my legs were getting tight. The longer I went the more silent it became, my phone battery died and it was all wind and rustling branches. Animal calls off in the distance.

Then a sound like forks against a plate. A scratching keen.

Every hair on my body and the few left on my head went up at that. Completely unexpected and echoing down the rocky hills. I followed it up to a ridge and a series of walls made from piled stone. Incense was winding through the air and a sharp citrus tang kept pricking my nostrils as I rounded the first wall.

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Kneeling with the city ahead framed by two walls and a sharp drop off to massive rocks that piled the hillside there was a girl dressed in black and a woman behind her stroking a pair of knives together. The older woman slipped the blades into the hooks of a white silk belt and twisted it tighter. I filmed none of this because it wouldn’t have felt right. I was a visitor.

The girl vomited hard and they chanted as I edged away.

After taking a brief break a little further up once the ritual or whatever was done and the women had left I got my iPad out and meant to take a short video of the place and almost had a heart attack when the older woman turned out to still be there.

I gave her a nod that she didn’t return and realising that it was getting dark began to make my way down through the woods. I wrote this incredibly pretentious note at the time: ‘It’s weird here, to me. European sunsets are a cut that bleeds the sky, here it’s like a decapitation. One second day, next night.’

Shifting slowly with my shoulder aching down on a fairly treacherous slope I  barely managed stay upright. Agility doesn’t come easy to me, I’m as graceful as a sack of stoats at the best of times. Several hours away from anywhere in a country I barely know in near pitch darkness is just a topper.

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Shortly after taking the picture I heard the drums and chanting. It wasn’t threatening, there was a real beauty to it and I was fascinated. For the second time I went against the woods and followed the sounds through a well kept temple grounds.

I stayed sitting to watch the congregation finish their prayers and chants and greeted the man who had led them as he left. ‘Anyoung haseyo,’ I said and in perfect English with a slight accent he replied with ‘Oh! You speak Korean.’

Hello was the extent of my vocabulary unfortunately.

I helped him carry his things to a comfortable house and thanked him for being so welcoming even though I had no understanding of what I’d seen. We chatted for a short while and he refilled my water bottle at a pool. I was absolutely staggered by the beauty of the temple and the art all around. There was a real elegance to it all that just added to the sense of wonder I had as a complete stranger.

That night when I got back to my new home, having fled the Love Hotel the night before when an opening came up at the hostel my friends had stayed, I couldn’t sleep and started to make plans for the first time in my life. It had to change. I wanted to experience more days like that day and be able to get to the top of metaphorical mountains as well as the real.

With a whole host of other goals I set these as the longterm ones to be done by October of 2015:

  • Finish my novel
  • Run Hell and Back, a 13 km obstacle course through mud and up mountains I’d done a year earlier.
  • Get involved in helping pass the referendum for same-sex marriage to Ireland

I swore I’d not shave my beard until I’d done these three things. I’ve suffered from depression in varying levels for many years and it’s easy for me to let the little things boil over if I don’t keep it on lockdown and it’s important I get some structure so a lot of the more minor points were about keeping moving and making sure I built a routine.

Korea treated me so well and I left with a real sense of myself that I don’t know if I would have found otherwise.

Returning to Dublin I built my Oath Board and punched out my plans. The stage was set for a new, more mature and sensible Matt Knott only on the first night back it was Halloween and after having an amazing night drinking and being roaring drunk I forgot to lock my front door.

Waking up the next day I stumbled into my living room to get precious caffeine and found a complete stranger asleep on my couch. I snapped a picture because I had no clue what was going on. She’d wandered in and made herself at home. Utterly confused she insisted it was her friend Paddy’s house and too hungover and jet lagged to be freaked out I gave her a jaffa cake, let her use the bathroom and sent her on her way.

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It was only later I realised she must have been in my room as I slept to get the pillow she left on the floor. A week earlier I’d spent a panicked night barricading my door in the Love Hotel like it was the apocalypse only for my worries there to catch up with me when I got home.

It was still hilarious. Scary. Weird. Hilarious.

The first thing I did is get booked in to see a physic and the guy was amazing. Made me question what I’d been worried about at all.

As for the Oaths, my novel is done and Ireland is now a blasted hellscape where roaming gangs of cybersexual sodomites trawl streets awash with blood for fresh straight meat, or people just have the option to marry if they want to for love depending on your perspective. It would be so exciting to live in the oppositions world but I’m so happy to have had a very, very minor part to play in the history of a cause that means so much to me.

I’ll write more on Hell and Back because that has its own little saga. In brief, if you’re in your thirties stretch before playing Basketball else your body will betray you.

Loving life is all about the stories and memories because that’s all we are when you get right down to it. I’ve done more in the first six months of 2015 than I have in many before it thanks to that relatively small failure on the mountain. Setting goals gives you a destination and a journey and that comes with its own set of adventures.

Don’t be afraid to slow down.

Forging a Sword

At around 3am one morning I figured that my living room needed a medieval weapon to make it complete.

The next step was deciding I needed to make it myself.

The third was finding a place that would let me do this quickly before sanity and sobriety got home and asked what the fuck was I thinking. Fortunately the internet was there to help and I came across the Forge of Avalon.

I fired a mail and booked in before telling my boss I needed a few days off to go and forge a sword. He was in agreement this was a thing that should happen.

I had no idea what to expect. I figured that at the end of day one I’d be lauded as a an exceptionally talented prodigy and flush with success be retroactively added to the history books as the greatest smith the world as ever known.

On a more honest level I knew that I’d suck.

I flew over to Glastonbury and met with Kate who handles the front end of the business. She’s an absolutely delightful woman who just looks mischievous and has an accent that can’t help but bring stories to life.

Then I met Richard, the Master Swordsmith and got a new found appreciation for why Kate is so good. Rich is not a PR person. He’s bellicose and booming and intensely protective of his craft. Shaking his hand was like meeting a mountain. I had an instant respect for him and by the end of the first day an absolute awe of smithing as a whole.

A professional

Long hot hours spent hammering on steel and being bellowed at for my incompetence were not in the brochure but they were appreciated. This wasn’t a simple task, it wasn’t fun. It was hard work and every criticism and moment spent watching as Rich, roll up in hand, inspected my work was draining.

At the end of the second day we got roaring drunk and smashed cans with a sledgehammer. I challenged Rich to hammer flat empty cans of Carling. The loser would have to down several full cans. Unsurprisingly, I failed and got even more intoxicated. We talked long into the night. Arguing and agreeing and giving me perspectives on my own life I hadn’t even considered.

At 5 am I walked back to my bed and breakfast through pitch darkness and decided to scale Glastonbury Tor with a gas lamp. There are llamas there and they scared the shit out of me. I was found passed out and babbling on the doorstep of the B&B and a few hours later I was back at the forge with a legal obligation not to use any machinery.

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A drunken fool halfway up a hill

I sweated, I shuddered and I kept at it.

When all was done I was immensely proud and exhausted. There’s so much cheddar in what I’m about to write that mice all across Dublin are heading to my house but it’s so true. It wasn’t about forging the sword it was about breaking down myself.

I named the blade Trust because you can have faith in humanity. You can trust people to be good. You have to have belief that against our biases and weaknesses there is something brighter. Trust in people.

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Ready for war

Kate and Richard are two exceptional people and forging Trust was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.

It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t easy but it was time well spent and treasured. The most fulfilling things we do are sometimes crazy and ill advised and we can’t even really explain why we wanted to do them in the first place.

Go a little wild and seek an adventure. It’s worth it.

Trust
           Trust

Do what you love

Anytime I get asked to give advice to kids about their future I feel like the driver of the bullshit bus.

‘Work hard, do your homework and eat your vitamins!’ Hulk Hogan always said that when I was a kid so I go with that. I never worked that hard, they had to lock me in a room to do homework and my vitamin C came from fruit flavoured alcopops.

I also say ‘do what you love.’

If you’re doing something you care about in your spare time and working on projects that you’re passionate about then who gives a fuck. You’re going to get better at it and you’re going to value your time. If you can be proud of something you’ve created or a team you’ve worked with then it’s all worth while and that can turn into success in other aspects of your life.

This is my attempt to get back to that way of thinking.

I’ve always loved creation. Building worlds and characters inside my head, but in honesty that’s where most of it stayed because it’s a hell of a lot easier to think you’re good at something than test it. Also nodding along to scenes only you can see while listening to Spotify is simpler than putting it to paper.

So I’m taking my own, and the Hukster’s, advice right down to the vitamins. Over the past year I’ve written a book called The Sane King. The kind of book I’d like to read. It’s about doing the right thing and larger than life heroes like the ones who taught me how to be a better person when I grew up. It’s violent and earnest and not at all cynical.

I hope people enjoy reading it but most of all I loved writing it. There’s still a lot of editing needed but when the day comes I put it out there I’ll be proud to stand by it and say ‘that bucket of bat-shit crazy is mine’.

Heroes are not born, but forged.

A lone warrior takes up the cause of a hunted boy. A desperate nation seeks to bolster its fragile army. A malevolent god feasts on the nightmares of men and seeks to bring ruin to all.

The wanderer, Rayle, stands against the preternatural forces lurking on the edges of civilization and sanity. In the bleak lands of the Wrack, he rescues Bray from brutal men. Swearing to help the boy seek vengeance for the death of his brothers, Rayle finds himself locked in a savage contest that tests both his strength of arms and will.

The Younger Union, losing its long war against a tyrannical enemy is moved to enforce ancient contracts. Tensions build as an idyllic farming community becomes the stage upon which the future of the north will be decided.

When events collide, and a monstrous power threatens to drown their world in blood, Rayle and his unlikely allies must fight to stop the tides of carnage. To win they must first survive, and to survive they must overcome their fears, doubts, and regrets.