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.
Creepy 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.