Still The One: Tweet That.

(From a 2011 column, which popped up today in my On This Day feed. Feels appropriate somehow to repost.)

***

I take my unimportance in the world very seriously, since it frees up my day considerably when I acknowledge that the universe will exist without me, no sweat.

I also understand that the universe does not need pictures of me in a towel or my boxer shorts.  I’d be glad to pass this knowledge on to random members of Congress.  There is comfort in insignificance if you look at it the right way.

And although I’m weary of Rep. Weiner and all the rest, Sarah and Arnold and the summer stories like this that always crop up, I will say that there is a secret closely held by men of a certain age, men whose bodies are not suitable for framing.  Men who are sometimes short, or balding, or homely, or chubby, and often all of the above, and still have managed to sustain long relationships with lovely, alluring women without once sending them a suggestive tweet.  Men who have loved and lived with women they didn’t deserve, women who somehow tolerate them and aren’t tempted to place a pillow over their sleeping faces while they snore and forget to take it off.

But it’s a secret.

I will tell you this, though.  I had a very nice weekend, and it comes with a story.

I’d volunteered to help out some teenagers trying to raise money for a trip, which happened in the usual way.  That is, I found out after the fact that I’d offered to help. This is because other people know what’s best for me, and I’m married to them.

It was a good cause, a mission trip designed to be fun but also to teach young people the benefits that come from helping others, feeding hungry people among them. My daughter participated in a few trips like these when she was a teenager and came back with an appreciation for the lives of others and some skill with a hammer, always useful, so I was glad to pitch in.

The fundraiser involved a variety show, lots of people volunteering what talent they’d been storing in a closet somewhere.  If you’ve never been involved in this sort of project, if you’ve never seen perfectly ordinary-appearing people dust off their tap shoes or drag the saxophone out of the attic, you’ve missed a moment. You think you will laugh and poke fun, and you’ll realize later that the entire evening was infused with grace.  There is such hope for us, sometimes.

This was in my comfort zone. In college, needing a summer job, I got hired at a small dinner theater. I suspect they mostly wanted me to write skits for the show, although part of my job description involved singing and dancing. It was the first time I truly understood the phrase “comedy of errors,” but I had a great summer.

And I met a young woman, and so on. You either know or can guess the story. The next year we did it again. We even sang a duet, the sentimental and jokey “I Remember It Well” from the movie “Gigi,” two older people looking back on their long romance, remembering what they’ve forgotten.  We sang it every night, six nights a week.

Including the night we got married, by the way.  That was special.

So she and I were old hands at this variety show business.  I was given the job of emcee, no dancing required, and my wife accompanied some acts on the piano. She also sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” bringing down the house.  Of course.

Here’s the thing about my summers, long ago, spent on a stage in a college town: They were also infused with grace. I fell in love, I got married, I sang with my wife on the night we were wed. And when we were done, when we finished that last summer, packed our bags and headed for the Pacific Northwest, I knew my singing days were over. You can only fool all of the audience some of the time, and my time was up.

So 28 years later, when the suggestion came up that my wife and I sing together, I had some doubts. But we flipped through songbooks anyway, while we listened to a CD of accompaniment, and then we heard it.  A familiar intro, a few bars, a memory.

“We met at 9,” I croaked.

“We met at 8,” she answered.

“I was on time.”

“No, you were late.”

And we sang “I Remember It Well” until our faces got scrunchy and our voices caught. We settled on something from “The Fantastiks” instead. It went OK.

So here’s the secret, Rep. Weiner: Save your flirting for the one who married you, for she will be the one who tells you you’re not getting old. The one who remembers when you forget. The one who still loves you, who still dances with you, who still sings with you, after all these years.

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No Haven For The Hot

It’s slightly after 10am and 73 degrees outside, which is where I’m not. We’re supposed to have a high of 76 but I do believe that will be upgraded fairly soon.

It was 93 in Seattle yesterday, by the way. A record.

It’s always a little dicey when trying to explain warm weather in the Pacific Northwest. It’s almost always nice, seldom humid but not dry, just warm. I don’t blame people in other parts snorting at our complaints.

But it’s early June, and 93 is a bit warm for early June, or any day for that matter. We were expecting 60s. We tend to expect that.

And few have air conditioning, because there are few times we need it. Open the windows, turn on the ceiling fan, let the breezes begin. That’s what we do.

But 93 degrees is a new ball game. You buy new fans. You go to the mall. Or else you just go outside, where, again, it’s not humid or dry, just warm. Warm feels nice.

Inside, it’s not so nice. It’s actually kind of miserable, mostly because of its rarity. We survive. We drink a lot of water.

***

I wrote a column this morning about my 40th high school reunion. It wasn’t really the subject; that would be the future, or the future that awaited us. I did note, though, that the reunion committee, for what I’m sure are good reasons, but not that sure, scheduled this event to take place in August. In Phoenix.

Of course, in Arizona in the summer people just quickly move from air-conditioned places to air-conditioned cars, but when it’s 115 you still know. That’s August. I think I’ll pass.

***

My wife is currently in Connecticut, taking a seminar at Yale School of Divinity. Yesterday she noted the proximity of Grove Street Cemetery, where she’d heard famous people were buried. She’s going to check it out.

I told her to take a selfie in front of the grave of Walter Camp, the father of modern American football. Bart Giamatti, former commissioner of MLB and father to actor Paul, also lies in rest there.

Along with actor Raymond Massey, and a memorial to Glenn Miller (his body was never recovered after an airplane crash).

Eli Whitney is there somewhere, as is Noah Webster.

And Roger Sherman.

Sherman is an authentic Founder, the only man to sign all four founding documents (the Articles of Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution). He was also closely connected to Yale, and served as the mayor of New Haven, a position he held when he died.

I say get a selfie with him, too.

And he reminds me that the summer of 1776 was a particularly brutal one in Philadelphia, with high temperatures and stifling hot indoors. So again I apologize. 93 degrees isn’t that big of a deal. We don’t have to start a country or anything.

Roger Sherman
Roger Sherman
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That 70s Show

There are a dozen or so photographs of my father when he was in high school in the 50s, blue jeans with rolled-up cuffs, greasy and slicked back hair, cigarette between his teeth and a pack rolled up in his left white T-shirt sleeve, black leather jacket casually slung over his shoulder, smile across his lips that seemed friendly but simmering, somehow.

These pictures don’t actually exist, as far as I know, and also as far as I know they never did or would have. I can still see them.

I’m just superimposing a time, place, and culture over my father, reinforced by stereotype. He certainly always had that cigarette, and the shirt and jeans. He just wasn’t Fonzie, as far as I know.

***

I graduated from high school 40 years ago, on June 3, 1976. It wasn’t particularly memorable, although I’d mention that I got to graduate first (or maybe second, behind the valedictorian; I was student body president and got to lead everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance). There are other memories. It was fine.

This is the only picture I could find of that night, though. Mom has more, I’m sure, but now I wish I’d kept my clothes. If you’re too young to remember the 70s, this might be the polyester you’re looking for.

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The Miranda Mile

hamilton_miranda_grammys.0.0

I don’t think about luck. Don’t know, don’t care. Nothing looks like luck to me anymore. It just feels weird.

I’ve had several weird moments recently. The one I’m going to tell you about was the weirdest.

I picked up my wife on Tuesday at Seattle Pacific University, where she’s wrapping up the spring quarter, to drive across Lake Washington to an Italian restaurant in Renton, where we had the annual choir party (choir stops in the summer; small church).

It’s been called the Mercer Mess for as long as I remember, before and after a long, several-year project that completely changed that particular commute. It’s still a mess from the mid-afternoon until early evening, and we had to take it.

So we went slow. My wife drove, as she likes to do, particularly when she knows the way and I just rely on my phone. She was waiting on the sidewalk when I arrived, and I switched over to the passenger seat and she took the wheel. This is sort of important.

We’d just reached Mercer, in fact, at about the 10-minute mark, which means we essentially crawled the mile or so to reach that spot. My wife wanted to play some music from her phone, and while we waited at a red light, in the left turn lane, she had me search her purse for it. Then she searched. Then I called her phone. It was a long light.

I checked the Find My Friends app, which I often do when I’m trying to locate my wife, and it showed her phone was in the car. We just couldn’t hear it or, again, find it.

I’m tempted to talk about prepositions, since I love to talk about prepositions. But maybe George Carlin will do. Carlin always loved words and wordplay, but he went through a period when his act mostly consisted of riffs on the subject. One of his jokes along this line was about how he didn’t want to get on a plane, he wanted to get in it. Maybe you can see where I’m going.

My wife rolled down her window after getting a strange sensation from above her head and there it was, right where she placed it, on the edge of the roof on the driver’s side of the car. Her phone had a little joyride and no harm done.

I have no idea.

***

What she wanted to play, and did after the Mercer Miracle, was the soundtrack from Hamilton. She’s been playing it at home almost nonstop, and as I passed by her studio I heard rap and wondered. I wasn’t onboard.

I knew what a powerhouse talent Lin-Manuel Miranda was. I read the book it was based on. I was a big Alexander Hamilton guy. I was writing about him a decade ago. I looked.

I just hadn’t had the time, or the inclination, but now I’m a Hamilton guy. I think the universe wanted me to be.

***

You can’t study Alexander Hamilton, even casually, without thinking about factions. These founder guys were very concerned about factions. They got them anyway.

We now think of them as political parties, and in the past 30 years or so it’s become more binary as the two parties devolve into monolithism, which may not be an actual word. Hamilton and Jefferson started it, anyway, although it’s hard to draw parallels from 225 years ago. There was some bad blood at the beginning, at any rate, so there always has been.

For posterity, meaning future searches I intend to do of this very blog, here at the beginning of June 2016 there are still three viable candidates to be the 45th President of the United States. Only one of them appears to want the job.

And I assume she’ll get it. I’m not that excited. Maybe in the fall.

What’s interesting to me is Trump, of course, and how this plays out. I have no inside information, just journalism, but it appears to me that Trump has done what he threatened to do in 2012; run as a protest candidate, draw a lot of media attention, service his brand and increase his wealth. Which he says is 10 billion dollars, but which looks like a lot less. You don’t launch scam universities or sell steaks with your name on it, as Mark Cuban said the other day, if you have a bunch of billions.

I’m guessing that the Clinton camp wants this increased scrutiny to play out slowly, and for a really good reason: This is a bizarre scenario, and has been since September, when Trump started to look less like a joke and more like a candidate, albeit one who didn’t really want to be president, as I say, and obviously has very little idea about what the job entails.

I mean, the guy could just melt under the ego assault and be so damaged by this September that he’s no longer a candidate. Weirder things have really not happened.

Maybe the phone on the car roof was weirder, but again: I suspect the universe wanted me to appreciate Hamilton, and I do. Everything else is just history in waiting. This should be interesting.

The choir ladies and me.
The choir ladies and me.
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The Accidental Pedestrian

PrintI’ve thought of it as a whim for over a year. It has a whimsical feel.

And I guess it was, although I don’t think I live in a universe anymore in which whims don’t involve determinism at some level. I don’t trust this kind of randomness.

Not that I have a good explanation, but a year ago today I walked from my home, here in the north Puget Sound region, to St. Andrew Presbyterian church in Renton, which is in the south. Thirty miles by highway or, as it turned out, byway. I stuck with the latter.

I like to walk. It was projected to be a warm and sunny day. My wife would be waiting for me, as she had choir practice. The route looked fun. It felt like a challenge. I had plenty of time on my hands. And so on.

I called it a pilgrimage, finally, and it was, as long as you’re willing to give me some leeway on spiritual or moral enlightenment. This is a tricky business, being a pilgrim, and way more complicated than you might think.

For one thing, a lot of mental energy was expended on not getting hit by something. Cars, trucks, bikes. I crossed busy streets very carefully, but I was extra vigilant on the trails, as bike riders zipped past me without, usually, a vocal head’s up. I never saw another walker, so I assume that I was an anomaly on at least some of these, or at least on a weekday.

And then there were the last six miles, as I turned left and headed east. And up.

I drive up Coal Creek Parkway regularly these days, sometimes once a week. It’s never not on my mind, that walk, not when I do. If you know the area and are on Coal Creek someday, think of me at the intersection with Forest. That’s where I sat down, 26 miles in, and gave up. I’d run out of water, not carrying extra because hey, I was walking through cities. They have stores and such.

Just not where I was walking, not that last hour or so, and I was a little dehydrated. Out of gas. Able to walk but less interested. I texted my wife to come pick me up, but by the time she responded I was back on my feet, eyes focused on an imaginary horizon on an imaginary flat route instead of the hill I was climbing. A grocery store appeared a mile later, I got rehydrated, and I ambled the last three miles in an hour, taking my time. The entire walk took over 9-1/2 hours, although it was closer to 11 by the time I reached the church, counting breaks and lights, etc. I burned about 3600 calories, and climbed a total elevation of 2500 feet. Whimsical.

And I had some enlightenment, which I tried to explain to a friend who was waiting for me at the church with a cold drink. It wasn’t particularly grand enlightenment, but it’s all I got.

This is hard, I kept thinking. I’ve walked a lot, and a lot of it was hard for different reasons, but this was hard. It was a little stupid, too, but mostly hard. I didn’t need to prove to myself that I could do a hard thing.

I just needed to remind myself. That was my moment of clarity, unobscured by sweat and sore feet. The coming year might not be so fun, I was thinking. I might need to remember that I know how to do hard things.

I was right, by the way.

***

We went hiking in April with old and dear friends at Multnomah Falls near Portland. This followed two weeks of alarm, as a routine physical exam showed some blood test abnormalities and, by the way, I’d lost over 40 pounds I didn’t mean to lose. It wasn’t a mystery to me; I knew what I weighed. But hearing myself describe the past year to my doctor, with the lack of appetite, sleep problems, other problems, I suddenly realized what was going on.

People in recovery circles tend to use a vocabulary that employs flexible semantics; words sometime mean what you want them to mean. What you need them to.

What I’d engaged with over the past year had been carefully planned, well-documented self-destructive behavior. I’d call that a relapse.

Understanding that, I got a clear picture of what I’d done to myself. I went on a hunger strike to protest the lack of serenity in my life. I screwed up. I’d erased all I’d managed to accomplish over the past decade.

Or that’s how the semantic part works. Flexible, as I said.

But we hiked that trail, on that sunny but cold April morning, and it was steep and everyone was breathing hard, including our companions, both obnoxiously healthy and athletic people. Just not me.

“Chuck didn’t even look like he was breathing,” one of them said to Julie later. I was, but instead of the energy-poor, deconditioned self I expected, this was just steep. I live in the land of steep. I’ve walked a lot of hills. Including one that nearly broke my heart, a year ago today, and I remembered then that I know how to do hard things, and why.

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The Red Firebird

(NOTE: This is my May 25 column)

The Red Firebird

There is a fifth season, and it is upon us. I know about such things.

I’ve come to think of it as Wistful Season, and I’ve seen the best minds of my generation turned to mush at the sight of offspring walking across a stage to get a diploma, or gliding down the aisle toward the future. Other generations, too. This season spares no one.

Beginning around Memorial Day weekend and winding down as June does, Wistful Season is marked by culture, not climate, although weather has a definite part to play. Nobody wants their parade rained on.

It’s the time of year when we could all use a little help spelling “congratulations,” but I still think of it as wistful. While we celebrate as parents, for example, when watching our children graduate from somewhere, somehow, we also know what’s been lost. Childhood, some innocence, some duties. A lot of money, too, but I’m not talking about money.

Stories have a way of appearing to wrap up at this time of year, when of course they don’t. Millions of newlyweds, graduates, or entry-level employees are simply marking a milestone, a change, a new direction, and the rest of us eventually figure that out. And so we become wistful, aware that moments have come and are now gone.

We’re also aware, many of us, that we won’t know the whole thing. Most of us will never experience the full arc of another’s life story; we enter and exit in our own chapters. We’re left without knowing the ending, or else we just hear narratives from other voices, the parts we missed.

I know many of these narratives, as I’m sure you do. Family stories in particular are exchanged, enhanced, and occasionally exaggerated over the years. But not just family.

Here’s a little narrative for you: When my wife and I moved to Seattle in 1983, a singer and an actor, dreams in our pockets and maybe some quarters and dimes, we obviously had priorities. A place to live. Jobs. Trying not to smother a young marriage in its crib with the trauma and drama of moving far away from family two months after our wedding. Priorities.

Eventually, though, my wife would need a vocal coach. Dreams in pockets, etc. And during her second Seattle performance, playing a small part in a production of “The King and I,” she was given a name.

It turned out that we would move, following learning of our impending parenthood, to an apartment just two blocks from this teacher’s studio. This was convenient and also gave me my introduction to this woman, just beginning a relationship with my wife.

Her name was Roberta Manion, and it was a long relationship. My wife presided over the funeral service of Roberta’s lovely husband, Woody. My daughter grew up as a presence in that studio during her mother’s lessons, and eventually had a few of her own with Roberta.

What I remember sharply, though, is the day I met her, very early on, right about this time of year, when Roberta came by our place to pick up my wife for a concert or recital or something; who remembers? I just know that she drove a red Firebird, and I can still see her in my mind’s eye. She was in her mid-60s then, but we’d never seen someone that age who had her beauty, youth, and energy.

She was a true product of the Pacific Northwest, born in Spokane, moving to Seattle at age 12 and graduating from Roosevelt High School. She attended UW and Cornish, and during World War II she entertained the troops in Navy and USO shows. She was a presence and phenomenon, apparently, appearing all over the area in concerts and recitals, and on radio and television.

There’s a picture of Roberta from this time that hangs over my wife’s piano, a promotional shot that shows a slender, glamorous, beautiful woman, vaguely reminiscent of some combination of Lena Horne, Doris Day, and Audrey Hepburn.

When her career began to ebb, as they do, she became the woman I knew, a beloved and influential voice teacher in this region for 45 years.

As I said, it was a long relationship. My wife left her own singing career eventually and went to seminary, and Roberta finally retired and moved a little closer to family.

And last week, we got the news that Roberta Manion had passed away, three months shy of her 99th birthday.

Nearly a century of life, most of it spent around music, is surely worth celebrating. Her legacy is rich and powerful, and practically legendary here in the Northwest. My wife was one of her prize students, as well as eventually a colleague, but always a friend. We are wistful these days.

It’s certainly possible, if not probable, that Roberta sang for some of those whose lives were cut short during service to their country, whom we remember this coming Memorial Day. They have stories. We all do.

Those stories all have beginnings, and endings, and in some cases glorious middles. I’m drawn to these sorts of stories. I like to hear them, and I like to tell them.

So I’ve told you some of the story of Roberta Manion, a Northwest original, a spectacular singer, a friend, a teacher. I just thought it was a good one, and deserved to be told, and I was right.

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Green Grows

Two months into the season, and this is the springiest spring I can recall. Six months of especially wet fall and winter weather, although mild temperatures and no spectacular flooding or calamitous mudslides that I can think of, and now this: Wet and dry, a nice alternating pattern that, when looked at carefully, appears very spring-like. Things seem to be working, in other words.

This intermittency has made yard work actually sort of a pleasure this year. Of course, things are generally more pleasurable at the moment, having corrected (I assume) whatever chemical imbalance or deficiency I was inadvertently living with, having apparently decided that food was not all that important. Anyway. Talked enough about that. It’s much better.

So much better, in fact, that faced with a Saturday, with no alarms ringing anywhere in the house, I slept in. This is new; it used to be that once I woke, regardless of when or how long I’d been asleep, I was up. It’s been that way for years, but that was then and this is unconsciousness. I mean, it was almost 11 hours. I did a lot of physical labor and maybe it was that, or this sniffling and coughing that may be nothing or may be something else, but I’m not staying in bed because I want to avoid facing the world. I’m fine with the world these days. I just sleep more, or at least on some days.

And that’s good, I would say. But we were talking grass.

After one last mowing of the yard in November or early December, the battery in my electric lawnmower ran down, so I skipped a last pass over the back yard. Not a big deal.

But then February came, and March, and that battery just wouldn’t charge. I bought a new charger, which was inexpensive, and it did seem that the old one wasn’t working and this one was, but the charge wouldn’t hold and I got 20 minutes or so of stray power before kaput.

The battery is the thing, of course. And at over $300 for a new one, which had to be ordered from God knows where, with helpful but a little distant customer service, I just went and bought a new mower instead, for less than the price of the battery. It lasts less, but recharges in a couple of hours. I could probably do the entire lawn on one charge if it was just maintenance, or else do the front one day and the back the other. Not a problem.

Except during all this dilly-dallying about whether or not to buy a new battery or a new lawnmower, the grass still grew. Once I was fully equipped, the front wasn’t that big of a deal: A few passes over several days, bag, then mulch, then bag, etc., and we’re fine.

The back is where I’ve been wrestling, with one patch of grass at knee height by the time I started trying to attack it. This shouldn’t be possible, but with a combination of a line trimmer, occasionally some hedge trimmers (I was trying a lot of ideas), and just slow and steady, little bit at a time, helped by the weather to make it easier to do in sections, I got the rest of it yesterday. Not that it’s pretty, and there’s raking and more mowing and bagging, etc., still in store, but there’s a sense of accomplishment and some serious sleep at the end. I’ll take it.

None of this is important, except aesthetically. What’s important is I’m moving.

***

Otherwise, western Washington seems to be in good shape. Reservoirs are full, snowpack was normal, the lingering El Nino should give us plenty of warmth and sunshine this summer before we transition into another cycle, this one El Nina. And none of the weird political battles that seem to be going on in other parts of the country, radical legislatures and all sorts of alarm over bathrooms, are anywhere near.

Washington is sending the majority of its Democratic delegates as Bernie Sanders supporters, but other than the usual rallies and discussions, it all seems fairly calm. Bernie will come around, try to push the party left, and fight the Trumping of America. Hillary Clinton has been here before, in the equally rancorous nomination battle in 2008 (if you read back, particularly the comments, you’ll see the same sort of rhetoric; it’s kind of amazing). It’ll be OK, since the Democrats are definitely feeling Gryffindor facing off against Slytherin.

And there are plenty of Trump folks here, either enthusiastic or falling into line, but this is a done deal. Washington goes blue; no one will spend a lot of time here, from either campaign. That’s fine, too.

Me, I’m not so sure. Lots of resumes out there, no bites. And I’m applying for simple, clerical jobs, things I can do without thinking, just to bring in some money over the summer. I could do those jobs, although I admit to worrying about what kind of person I’d become. Maybe better. Maybe not. Not really a choice at this point.

For the time being, which I’m calling this rainy weekend, I’m considering my options open. I may watch the radar and attack some blackberry brambles. I might finally dig up a few areas of my lawn that need grass like they need…OK. They don’t need grass. None of this needs to be grass. Grass is just the default. This may be the year I scale that grass down to manageable, with bark and gravel and flower beds.

Or I’ll take the opportunity to deep clean the house as I can, mop and dust and do all those things that never seem appealing but won’t get done unless I do them.

And, again, the point is to keep moving. Sleep, check. Mood, check. Moving? Keep it up.

And keep my eyes on the prize. For a Muggle.

potter

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Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

I don’t really understand feng shui, although the concept seems sound, even removed from the mystical and spiritual baggage. This is why we clean our kitchens. For example.

But yeah. I can see how rearranging things in a certain order can create a sense of serenity in a room that you hang out in a lot. It’s not a complicated idea.

So yesterday I took this room apart and put it together in a slightly different way. Moved my desk from one side to the other. TV the same. Shoved the stationary bike against a wall, easy enough to slide out should I desire to pound the virtual pavement.

And dusted and swept, and all that. It seems to make a difference. Maybe it’s just new. I do spend a lot of time in here, so that’s probably it. It’s just new.

New is the new old here, if that hasn’t been clear.

***

I feel sort of cavalier and maybe a little dense when I write about this, since most of us (including me, of course) have battled weight problems. I just got into a weird situation, with (I assume) the residual of most of my entire adult life spent eyeing the scale, fighting off tendencies. And then it zoomed up into the stratosphere, not helped at all by drinking a bunch of fermented calories, and then managed once I stopped drinking and had inspiration to change my life. You can’t just drum up that motivation; you might need some fear, and from my perspective optimism helps quite a bit.

But that was me and this is you, so I’m a little embarrassed about having a problem – especially given my history of obesity – keeping my weight at a healthy level. Meaning up.

I’d note, though, that this isn’t about weight, really. I can be healthy at 167 pounds, but also at 157 pounds. It’s about nutrition, and of course depression and lethargy and other things. Which will happen.

Water under the bridge. I’m much better, and I’m hoping this will look like a blip eventually, just a hiccup of disordered eating that was corrected.

I want to point out a couple of things, which are a little esoteric and probably not of interest to you, just to me, but here goes.

Being a tad anal retentive, or at least a little obsessive about this sort of things, what I consider my weight is the lowest it can be. That is, first thing in the morning, no clothes (maybe boxers if it’s chilly), fasting. What a scale might say at 2pm, for example, has so little to do with this that I’ve become desensitized. Yesterday afternoon, in the middle of moving all this furniture, I stepped on the scale, fully clothed, having eaten quite a bit throughout the day, and with shoes on, and it said 173 pounds. This morning it said 164, and really the dry weight is around 161-1/2. One day of eating light will get me back there. I could do it tomorrow.

A lot of this has to do with just eating more, which means more liquid in my body, along with food, at any given time. So I’m guessing I routinely carry three pounds of temporary stuff in my body.

None of this is important except to note that as the scale goes up, my actual weight goes up slower. But it goes up.

The second thing is, surprise surprise, technology has really helped. My tracking app (MyFitnessPal; been using it for five years) has improved dramatically, and now I can scan a lot of bar codes quickly and get all the nutritional information loaded immediately. If it’s a whole food, like a banana or chicken thigh or whatever, I just look up the numbers and add them manually, and then I can use that from now on. My diet is varied but not all that varied.

So I can see what I’m doing. If you’re interested in this subject, you may know about macronutrients, which just means the big three: Protein, fat, and carbohydrates. There’s an eating philosophy that aims to keep these three at steady percentages of your diet. If you want to eat 2000 calories, you figure out what percentage of each of these you’d like to get. Since it roughly works out to 4 calories per gram of protein and carbs, and 8 calories per gram of fat, you could construct a plan in any way you like.

Me, I’d prefer to keep the carbs – which is always going to involve sugar – at approximately 100 grams, or 400 calories, or 20% of my intake, then split the remainder between protein and fat. This is where the app helps. This is where my preferences do not, so much.

I mean, it’s hard to eat enough without delving into sugar. But at least it gives me something to aim for.

***

And in the big picture, as long as I recharge my batteries and get back on track, none of this matters. Happiness does, and joy, and peace. It’s hard to achieve when we live in a world with mirrors, but reflections are backwards anyway. I prefer forward. That’s where I’m looking, anyway.

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Six Weeks

I went in for my follow-up appointment with the doctor yesterday, six weeks to the day following The Big One. I’d been rehearsing for a while.

It’s just that my lines kept changing. As every week passed, and I noted something new, or transformed, or alarming, or positive, the script reflected it.

Until yesterday, and who knows? I forgot to set an alarm, so when my wife woke me at 6:15 I was dead to the world, as I usually am these days. Sound asleep, but not deeply, or not deep enough so that I lacked the energy, apparently, to do what I did.

Which was to groan, roll out of bed quickly, take a shower, get dressed, walk to the bus stop, get on a bus, and arrive right on time at the clinic.

This is unlike me, even given the necessity. I would have least been dragging my sorry butt to the bus stop, but no. So there’s that.

And maybe that sent my careful script out the window, but the truth is everything is fine, good, better. My weight was up 7 pounds, and I told her how weird that was, and how my body image, pretty objective as the weight went down (I got nervous at my reflection, but hoped the scrawny guy I saw was just my imagination; it wasn’t) but disoriented as it went up. It was as if alarm bells were ringing a fat alert, even if I weighed something I would have considered the bottom rung of normal.

It wasn’t until this week, in fact, that it all settled down, and I saw the correlation between the scale and the mirror. Whew. I understand pretty clearly now the twisted perspective that our brains can force on us, or some of us, all of it fed by the culture and the era. We’re all supposed to be thin; you can’t be too thin. And so on.

I just answered questions, then, and kept it short. It was all good news anyway. The medication has some antihistamine-y effects, with dry nasal passages, throat, and mouth, but this is really minor, usually at night, and only occasionally produces a slight cough when things get too scratchy. A glass of water easily takes care of it.

And I explained to her a couple of things, mostly that I no longer was interested in poring over my lab reports, trying to figure out a diagnosis. Absolutely no interest in that anymore, to which she nodded.

“Because that’s my job,” she said, gently. It sure is.

And I explained to her my feeling that to an alcoholic, especially one who watches his behavior like a hawk, the act of keeping meticulous track of how much I was eating while I was eating way too little to sustain myself was not a warning sign of compulsive behavior. It shot right past the warning. It was a relapse.

And it was, I think. It’s a little esoteric to get into the weeds here, but I think you get it. For whatever reason, I slipped. I didn’t drink, and have absolutely no desire or intention or even thoughts about that; absolutely. But anyone versed in conventional recovery philosophy, particularly 12-step philosophy, knows that alcohol was only a symptom. I just had another symptom.

But so much better now. Enough so that my doctor postponed further tests, opting for watchful waiting. Since I have a high deductible and would be paying out of pocket for any further testing, which is not enormously expensive but it’s real money, I’m happy to watch and wait.

***

My current column is here, rambling as always but familiar territory for those of you who read this blog. Keep on walking.

walk

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On This Day

CaptureI also just realized that 2007 is the version of Word I own. And I know why: In the spring of 2009, when I was in Boston preparing to drive with Beth to Santa Fe, my laptop refused to tether to what passed for my cell phone in those days. Between me and the Verizon people, we finally came to the conclusion that there was something corrupted somewhere, and the easiest solution was to restore the computer to its original (factory) condition and start over. And that worked, and in those pre-cloud days I carried around an external drive with my back-ups, so restoring files wasn’t a problem.

Applications were something else. The copy of Word I’d been using had come from somewhere, a client or friend, and I needed Word, so I bought Word 2007. And I’ve been carrying it ever since, with no reason I can see to update at this moment.

***

How funny, then. I spent some time yesterday dancing around sentence structure until I figured out what was on my mind – in terms of writing a column – and wrote about that. And it bounced off of Facebook’s On This Day feature, which seems to be very popular.

At the same time, the story was breaking that a former Facebook “employee” (it could have been a contractor) anonymously claimed that there were actual people and not lines of code picking the news stories that flick through our feeds, and that conservative viewpoints were suppressed.

I could have added some more quotes up there. There are a lot of questions about this, but the biggest one seems to be: You get your news from Facebook?

Maybe so. I get it. Facebook’s apparent desire to be one-stop shopping for everything is seductive in a busy world, although it wasn’t that way in 2007. In 2007, in fact, Facebook was boring, or it was to me. The newsfeed wasn’t prominent, or maybe even there. Our posts had to be written in the third person (we were given the lead-in of Chuck Sigars is and were supposed to complete the sentence. I guess) and there were no pictures or links or videos or anything. Blogging was a lot more fun, and it wasn’t until that 2009 trip and the upcoming wedding that I remember Facebook becoming something closer to what it is now.

I don’t know what it is now. By the way.

***

We complain about the algorithm. Most of us don’t know what an algorithm is, and none of us know what this one is. We still complain.

There are tricks, and tweaks. I tried some of these but lost interest. I decided to hack my life instead. There was just too much noise, and I was adding to it. I put on headphones. I shut up. It’s been fascinating.

First, let’s just say that I know a thing or two about changing habits. Let’s just say.

Let’s also stipulate that I’m as engaged with, and dependent upon, our culture and technology as much as anyone. I panic easily, and usually when I don’t know where my phone is. It’s pathetic.

Guilty, then, of living in the 21st century, with its touch screens and always on mentality, with an unrepentant attraction to the bright and shiny. I’ve been swept away by the current and deposited on George Jetson’s treadmill. How do you stop this crazy thing?

I dunno. I just stopped.

For a week or so before I went dark, I ruthlessly hid any future posts from anyone who brought up politics or inspired controversy, or was so gullible and dumb about believing anything they read (apparently) that I felt embarrassed for them.

Not that this was their problem. I was the one who was looking for a fight. I was not in a good place, which helped this process immensely; much better now. Still, I’m surprised at how easy it was to kick the voyeur habit.

You write a post about your cat. Approximately a third of your 270 friends see it, half read it, nine click “like.” That’s your Facebook at work for you.

I just cut out the middle man. Who was also me, as it turned out.

I’ll probably see your cat post. If you put up pictures of your kids or grandchildren or garden or tool shed or a great sunset, I’ll see that, too. Or that’s what I see now, anyway. It’s fine.

It is, too. This is coming from a guy who’s spent the past six weeks trying to gain weight, which feels so counterculture and incorrect and un-American. Backing away from Facebook is nothing, trust me. If you’re feeling the same way, that it’s just too noisy and provocative, and you want to turn away but don’t know how that will go, I think you’ll be surprised. You don’t have to know everything about everyone, and you probably don’t want to.

And keep those cat pictures coming. They’re starting to grow on me.

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